Monday, December 20, 2010


God opened my eyes this morning to the realization that I want things to be easy. I wouldn't have thought this about myself I don't think. But it became pretty clear. You see I was lamenting to God that I have trouble staying focused when I pray the mind gets distracted and then races from one thought to another completely seamlessly. while I was at it, I shared with Him my frustration that despite my proclamation at the beginning of Christmas that I wanted to live this Christmas season as if it was the only one I would once again seems to have rushed along to where there are now only a few days left. I hadn't had an special experiences. I don't feel any new or special feelings. And in fact, I feel a bit distant from God. This definitely hasn't been the extraordinarily Christmas I had wanted. And that's when I smiled.. I smiled because I think I heard God chuckle a little bit. " you want it easy, John...." I had to admit...I guess that's true. Of course that's not how it works. Faith is something that grows through use...through struggle...through exertion...just like the muscles of our body. And just like our body, we can't waive a magic wand and suddenly be in shape. We have to work at it...we have to be persistent...we have to pursue it. And it's in that working out that we find the extraordinary.

I heard a great sermon this weekend. In it, our deacon laid out the Christmas story from Joseph's perspective. It was a powerful message...and I guess I should have seen this "it's not easy" message coming...because it sure wasn't easy for Joseph. I mean here was this guy who had worked and saved, built his business, arranged for a wife, and paid the dowry. Things were finally lining up. Finally he was going to see the fruit of all his labor. He would have a wife, start a family, and begin to build a real life for himself and his family. Only then he finds out, that Mary...the woman to whom he is pregnant. She insists she has not been with another man, but there really isn't any other explanation available. You can almost hear Joseph sigh. "So much for my plans. So much for finally getting what I had been working toward for all these years. So much for easy."

Now the law states that Mary should be taken out to the public square and be stoned to death (Deut. 22:23-24). And Joseph was a righteous man. He was a good man...and he obeyed the law of God. But amazingly, Joseph seemed to appreciate the heart of the law...the heart of God...more so then many of the leaders of his day...because he decided he would not publicly humiliate Mary...and he would certainly not have her stoned. But neither could he endorse her seeming adultery...and he could not live a lie...acting as if the child was his. So he decided he would divorce her quietly. Easy enough.

But of course as we know, God had other plans...and Joseph had a dream. In the dream God reassured Joseph that in fact Mary had not been with another man. That the baby she was carrying was God's child...and that he and Mary should name him Jesus...and raise him as their own. So that's what Joseph did. He took Mary as his wife.

Now I can imagine after that dream, Joseph was probably on a spiritual high. I mean talk about a mountain top experience! An angel appearing in your dream and giving you a message from God...that has to pump you up. Plus God was entrusting you to raise His Son. I mean talk about a vote of confidence. And so it is easy for me to imagine that Joseph must have expected that from here on out...with God watching over His Son...things would be...well...easy.

But then there was the census...and the trip to Bethlehem....and on top of that...there wasn't any room for them in they had to stay in a stable. [Imagine...your first act as the stand-in dad for God's Son is failing to find a warm, clean room for Him to be born...and instead having to settle for a stable.] And then there was Herod...and the flight to Egypt...and then Jesus getting "lost" in the temple...and so on. I think any idea that this would be easy....that God would roll out the red carpet of ease and miracles for them...was quickly shattered. But that should be no surprise to us. we've seen...strength comes through struggle...through work...and yes even through stress. And God wanted His Son...and his adoptive be strong. Just like He wants me to be strong in my faith.

And so I need to abandon this idea of easy....of wanting things to be easy. I need to recognize, appreciate, and embrace the fact that it is through the struggles and frustration and challenges that I grow closer to God. Not only...and not usually...through mountain top experiences or angelic dreams. It's through life...through the humdrum...through the mundane...that God meets me...and teaches me...and grows me...if I let Him. And so I need to let Him. I need to accept and believe that He is directing my path (Jeremiah 10:23). I need to abandon my plans...and simply let God direct my life (Jeremiah 29:11). I need to let Him work...and let Him work on me (Psalms 139:23-24). Then...if I let myself see it...I'll find that my ordinary life is actually quite extraordinary...not just at Christmas...but all year. It's really as simply as that. In fact, it sounds kind of easy.

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