Category Archives: Christmas

Christmas Lights – Part 3

The next morning, it took Fred awhile to remember where he was.

 [This short story begins here]

When he looked around and remembered, he wasn’t sure just how much of what had happened had been a dream. Trying to get a better grip, he got up and splashed cold water on his face from the basin in the corner.  He quietly made his way down the stairs, thinking, “I’ll just leave a note of thanks and some money.” But Papa was just setting out a big breakfast of scrambled eggs and called him into the kitchen.

As they ate together, Papa said, “You are probably a bit confused just now about what has happened to you. It’s all right; don’t worry. That is the way it feels to most people when they come here. They wake up with a lot of questions, wondering if they have been dreaming or something. That is why I gave you the book. You are going to find a lot of answers in there. You will be amazed at how, the more you learn, the more questions you will have and the more you will want to know. Just keep that book handy.  Gradually, you’ll begin to get the hang of it.”

“What happened to me?” Fred asked.

“You had your heart fixed; you came to Life – real Life. That empty place in your heart has been filled with life and light. Jesus has come to live in your heart. You don’t have to protect yourself from being hurt anymore, you don’t have to be afraid to love and be loved. You don’t need to worry about being vulnerable. Now that He is alive in you, you will never be alone. You have been given a new kind of life and power – a new kind of light. It takes some getting used to, but as you will see, everything will be different. Oh, your car is still broken. It’s still cold and snowy outside. Your wife and kids are still gone. None of that has changed. Perhaps some of that will get fixed, in time – who knows? But you will discover as you leave here and go back out to your car, you will experience all these things with new peace, new power. But don’t worry: Trust Him, like He said. And, oh, by the way, let me be the first to say it to you: Merry Christmas!”

About an hour later, as Fred climbed up into the cab of the tow truck, he noticed how the snow, which had looked so menacing last night, now seemed to sparkle with beauty. The driver looked over at Fred, jammed the truck into gear, and growled, “Bummer to be stuck on Christmas, eh?”

Fred just smiled and said, “You know, the most amazing thing happened to me last night…”

The name of that story is, Christmas Lights. There are many kinds of light that we experience at Christmas.

  • There are Christmas lights on houses, for example. Some only see those lights from a distance, but others go over to get closer. The Wise Men did that.
  • Then there is the light that is an invitation, spilling out from God’s front door. Some see that light and walk on by, feeling a bit wistful but not going in. Others kick the snow off their boots, go in and accept a hot mug of cider and a seat by the fire. Mary did that.
  • Some are content to just sit in the glow of the firelight, and the lights on a Christmas tree – but others see a gift with their name written on it. As they open the gift to see what it is, they discover that the gift is Jesus, who offers to heal the wounds, take away the twistedness and sin, and light a lamp of life in the darkness in their heart.  Some say, “No thanks, I can do this by myself.” But others trust Him and receive the gift. Lots of times they wake up the next day, a bit bewildered. With amazement, they begin to learn what has happened, and how Jesus died to make it possible. They have heard these things before but now they begin to understand. It is like the dawning light of a new day – the thrill of watching the sunrise on Christmas morning – as they begin to see how it all fits together.

Of all the different kinds of Christmas light, that one is the absolute best. It is the light that Jesus lights in a heart that never goes out, the light of true life. Jesus said it like this: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Yet in the dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.”

Merry Christmas!  May you be blessed in 2017!


Christmas Lights – Part 2

I must be dreaming, Fred thought.

[If you haven’t read it, this short story begins here.]

But with a sense of creeping wonder, he began to untie the ribbon and open the gift. He looked inside the box and saw a very old book. “A book?” he asked, “Is this really for me?”

The old man said, “Yes, but that book isn’t really the gift, it’s just the instruction manual.”

Now Fred was sure he was dreaming, but he said, “Where is the gift?”

A voice, behind him said, “Turn around, Fred.” Don’t ask how he knew, but he when turned around he was looking at Jesus. Holding up his hands, Fred said, “I don’t know how you knew my name, or how you pulled this deal off – and I want you to know that I really appreciate your kindness and offer of a place to stay for the night – but I’ll be honest with you, I’m not interested in religion right now. But thanks, anyway.”

Jesus smiled at him and said, “This isn’t about religion, Fred, this is a gift. Don’t you want to know what it is? This is about fixing that lonely, empty, dead hole in your heart.”

Fred said, “I’m going to be all right. I’ll find a new home, get a new job and turn my life around. I don’t need sympathy – I’m a “can-do” kind of guy and I want to fix this by myself.”

But Jesus said, “Fred, if you will simply trust me, I can fill up that empty place inside you. You have convinced yourself the only safe place in this world is to be all by yourself, with no one close enough to hurt you. But, no matter how much you fight to ignore it, no matter how much money you make, or how many fun things you find to do, deep inside, Fred, you know you are lonely. You are empty inside. Dead. But, if you will trust me, I can fix that. Not just for tonight, but forever.”

Fred started to work up a rebuttal. He told himself he wouldn’t let this guy get to him, that it wasn’t safe. He wanted to grab his coat and run back out into the night, where at least he knew what was going on. But despite all of those thoughts that were pulling on him, when he opened his mouth to reply, what came out surprised him. He said, “I’m not sure I know how to trust You. Can You help me with that?”

Before he had even finished saying the words, he felt a warm rush of something filling his heart. It was like a hot-spring had begun bubbling up inside him. It was like a candle had been lit in a dark corner of his heart and now the light was getting steadily brighter.” He tried to hold it back, but began to cry. All he could say was “Thank you, thank you.” For a long time he just closed his eyes and wept as the most amazing and confusing emotions swept through him. He felt as though he was coming to life in a way he couldn’t understand.

When he finally pulled himself together and opened his eyes, he was alone with Papa. With a smile, Papa said, “Let me show you where that bed is. You’ve had quite a night.” Bewildered, but grateful, Fred followed up the stairs and down the hall. Before long he was sleeping as he had not done in a very long time.

(To be continued…)


Christmas Lights – Part 1

When the car died, it didn’t just give out, but, with a violent grinding noise, the wheels locked up.  On ice.  After a slow 180, it slammed into the snow drift on the side of the road. Fred popped open his cell phone – “No signal.”  He slammed the heel of his hand on the steering wheel and cursed his luck. What else can happen, he thought? Out here in the middle of Nebraska, on a back road, middle of the night and it feels like it is 20 below zero outside. “Great. Just great. Well, can’t stay here or I’ll freeze to death,” he thought. He pulled on his heavy jacket, slammed and locked the car door, jammed his hands down deep in the pockets and started walking down the road. It was dark, he was freezing and he was alone.

As he walked along, looking for any sign of life, he couldn’t help thinking back on the events that led him to this exact spot. He had thought that his life was going pretty well. He had a nicer house than most of his friends could afford, his kids were doing well in school and in their sports. His job was stressful, but hey, that’s what it takes to make the big bucks. Too bad his wife hadn’t appreciated it. If she could have waited for just two more years, put up with the stress just a little longer, they would have been sitting pretty; they’d have been set for life. But somewhere, she got the idea that she needed to find herself, ran into someone who offered to help her do just that, and before Fred knew what happened she was gone. Took the kids, the house, a big chunk of money and pulled the plug. Divorce – that word sounded like an ax coming down hard to split a log.

But Fred was a survivor. He had resigned from his job, taken what was left in savings, and hit the road – heading west without really knowing where he was going. His only plan was to find someplace new with no bad memories and constant, painful questions. He would start over and do even better. Because, this time, he told himself, he wouldn’t make the mistake of letting anyone get close enough to hurt him. Never again. He’d have friends, might even fool around with romance but never again would he leave himself vulnerable. He wouldn’t need anyone. He would work and provide for himself. He would show his ex what she had walked away from. So off he went, heading west. But after the first day, the monotony of interstate highways made him crazy. He decided to take the back roads. What a mistake that was…

He had been walking for 20 minutes and hadn’t seen a single car or truck. “Probably because it was Christmas Eve,” he thought, “but I’ll be ok; just put one foot ahead of the other and eventually I’ll find some help.” After about another 20 minutes of walking, off to his right, on a distant hill, Fred glimpsed faint Christmas lights on a farm house. He came to a road that seemed to lead that direction and turned up it, walking ever more quickly as he approached the house. “Sure hope they are still awake,” he thought.

He was stomping the snow off his boots on the front step and looking for a doorbell, when the door swung wide open with warm, yellow light spilling out, sparkling on the snow. An elderly man held the door open and said, “Come on in, Fred.  Welcome, I saw you coming and I’ve been waiting up for you.”

Fred pulled his parka hood off his head, so he could hear better; it had sounded like the man knew his name but he knew that couldn’t be right. Knocking the last snow off his boots, he limped stiffly into the warm farmhouse, rubbing his hands together to get the circulation going.

“My car broke down and I wondered if I could call a tow truck,” Fred explained.

“You won’t get anyone to come out this late on Christmas Eve,” the man replied, “but come in, take off your coat and come over by the fire – I’ve just mixed up some hot cider. I’ll bet that will be just the ticket.”

“Thanks. My name is Fred – Fred Hoskins,  I’m just passing through.”

“Most folks call me Papa,” the farmer said. “I’ve got a spare bed. You can stay the night and we’ll try to get a tow for you in the morning, How’s that?”

“I wouldn’t want to impose…”

But Papa cut him off, saying, “I saw you coming from a long way off – and I’ve been waiting for you; I’ve got your bed all ready and it isn’t imposing. Now, come: grab your cider and let’s go sit by the fire.”

The next hour was spent, watching the flames dance in the fireplace, and quietly enjoying the soft glow of Papa’s Christmas tree. They talked a bit in a comfortable way, like old friends sometimes do, with lots of unhurried silence in-between the words. But soon, the lateness of the hour began to take its toll.

Fred said, “Perhaps it’s time I tried out that bed; I don’t want to keep you up too late.”

“Ok,” Papa said, “but before you head up, how about opening your present?” He pointed to a package, sitting under the tree.

“You can’t be serious, a present for me?”

“Take a look…” And sure enough, when Fred bent down and looked at the tag, there was his name, Fred Hoskins, written on the tag.

(To be continued…)

Night Light

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:2-7)

Merry Christmas!

Whose Life Matters?

Shepherds were outcasts, considered subhuman lowlifes.  Not welcome in town, they lived and slept out in the fields with the animals.  According to the American Journal of Biblical Theology,  “…because of their vocation, shepherds were considered unclean and could not take part in temple worship without ritual cleansing.  They were despised by the people, considered untrustworthy, and unable to testify in a court of law.”  Interesting it was shepherds to whom God initially announced the birth of Jesus. 

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  (Luke 2:8-11)

People who could not readily enter the Temple were chosen by God to receive His most important message.  He chose people considered despicable and untrustworthy, unable to testify in court to be His first witnesses.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.  (Luke 2:20)

 Those marginalized and rejected by society were the very ones God chose!   But why?  Why not chose people more respected and trusted?  The answer is contained in verse 10 above.  One little word; can you see it?

It’s the word, “all.”  The good news of great joy would be for all the people.   Why all the people.  Because all the people mattered to God.  He loved all the people.  He sent His Son as a gift to all the people.

Even you.  You matter to God.  This good news is for you.

To slightly change what Tiny Tim said, “God blessed us, every one!”

Peace on Earth 4

The “piece of cod that surpasses all understanding,” Swedes talk about is lutefisk.  It’s an apt description, but the whole thing is a pun from this bible verse:

 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:7)

Three questions:

  • What is the “peace of God?”
  • How does one attain it?
  • What does “surpasses all understanding” really mean?

The “peace of God” means a peace that is given to us by God, a kind of peace that is superior in all ways to what the world thinks of as peace.  It’s not an absence of conflict but a genuine wellness of soul which gives the wherewithal to go through seasons of strife without losing it.  That’s because it “guards our hearts” from going off into unproductive second guessing and “if only.”  Instead, it keeps our hearts and minds settled in Jesus.  That’s not some emotional trick.  We make our home in Christ, in His mindset and in His care.

This peace is given to us in response to our genuine prayers:

“…The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5b-7)

Mixing prayer requests with thanksgiving – real thankfulness – is a key to this kind of prayer and that kind of peace.  When we turn computer problems over to an expert, knowing he has the knowledge and skill to take care of it, we don’t waste time futilely trying to figure out how to fix it ourselves.  Same thing when we turn problems over to Almighty God, only so much better.

The phrase, “surpasses all understanding” probably means it is impossible to understand the peace that comes, much less to explain it logically.  But I suspect it also means the peace we receive is better than the understanding we yearn for in tough circumstances.  We cannot explain why God would allow this tragedy to have occurred but as we pray and, as He blesses our souls with peace, we discover that understanding why it has happened is not so important.  We have peace that comes from God, comes from knowing the God of sovereignty and grace, knowing He is on the case and somehow that is enough.  More than enough, it’s better.  It surpasses the mere desire to understand.

Unwrap Music

The mysterious thing about gift wrapping paper is it slows time to a crawl.  After I wrap a gift, I can hardly wait, and frequently fail to wait, until the moment the gift is first unwrapped.  The more special the gift, the slower goes the time.  It’s not just me, it’s a rule, a law of physics.  Which means angels in heaven must have had a very hard time waiting for Jesus to be “unwrapped.”

Think about it from their perspective:  In heaven, you hear about God’s plan to have His Son become a human and be born on earth.  Earth is a sphere that spins around some tiny speck of light way out in the universe.  Humans are creatures God made to live on that sphere.  And Almighty God has decided to send His Son there as a human! You can hardly imagine it, let alone understand it.  More amazing than if the Orkin man decided to become a termite.  And after Jesus has been “wrapped” in Mary, so to speak, imagine the gathering anticipation for the reveal.  Imagine how slowly those nine months would pass, worse than waiting at the DMV.  And how excited you would be to witness this miracle.  You would be ready to explode!

So now, God comes and says, “We’re getting a choir together to celebrate it when Jesus is born.  What do you think, would you be interested?”  “Are You kidding?  Of course I’m interested; I can’t wait!”  And after Gabriel is done setting the stage for the shepherds and gives the cue to the angelic choir director, how enthusiastic would your singing be?  This is probably a vast understatement:

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  (Luke 2:13-14)

Jesus is going to come again, this time not as a baby but as the King of Kings!  Time is creeping at an agonizing pace.  But, as we wait, you don’t have to try to contain your excitement.  You can get ready to pump your fist and sing!

Finding Joy

When you see the word “Joy!” on Christmas cards and decorations, do you flinch?  Do you ask, “Where’s the joy?”  So many do at this time of year.  Does holiday joy seem artificial, forced and frantic?  So many activities of the season hold the promise of joy but leave us feeling empty.

There is a reliable solution. But it’s not just for Christmas.  It is a prescription for joy that lasts beyond the season, revealed in this teaching of Jesus:

9As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-12)

Love is a primary ingredient, necessary for sustained joy.  If you know in your bones you are truly and unconditionally loved, it changes your mood from the bottom up.  Joy becomes possible despite circumstances that would otherwise sap it.  So Jesus begins His lesson with a reminder that you are loved by God – really!  The love Jesus extends to us is the same as the love God the Father extends to Him.  How much does The Father in Heaven, the One Who is love, love His One and Only Son?  That’s how much you are loved.   Really understanding that is step one.

Step two is learning to experience that constant love.  Jesus says if you keep His commands, you will “remain” in His love.  The word, remain, means to make your home in or dwell in the experience of His love as a constant reality.  Note that He did NOT say He wouldn’t love you if you didn’t do what He said.  He said you wouldn’t “remain” in the experience of being loved.  His love does not change based on what you do, your ability to experience this love changes.  Love must be known, it must feel real and deep in order to produce joy.  If you want to experience the love God has for you, get in step with how Jesus instructed us to live.

Jesus told us this for two astounding reasons.  He wants our joy to actually be His joy.   And, He wants for us to have joy that is complete.   Unadulterated.  Not faked for the season but bubbling up from within our souls in a sustained way.  That’s my wish for you, too.

“Joy to the World, the Lord is come…”

All the Way

Three small words bring tears to the eyes of parents on Christmas morning:  “Some assembly required.”  (Borrowed that line from my friend; thanks, Bob!)  If you have engaged in “some assembly” you have probably discovered there is a certain order in which everything must be done or it just won’t go together right. If you fasten the connectors on the axle before you have connected the crank, you have to take the whole deal apart and start over. 

John the Baptist was baptizing people as an expression of their repentance from sin and Jesus showed up to be baptized.  John was astonished and said, “No way… You should be baptizing me.”  Here’s how Jesus replied:

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:15a)

Translation?  This has to happen first, before I can begin the rest of my ministry, or the whole deal won’t work right.   God made a plan and each piece of the plan must be accomplished in the right order.

Which raises this question: Why would the sinless Son of God need to be baptized as a symbol of repenting from sin? You know He had to come to earth as a human being in order to accomplish the plan.  To leave His privileged position in Heaven and come to earth as a human was a big step down.  But He did it to identify Himself with us, according to the Plan.  He wasn’t born to royalty in a palace, but to a homeless, young couple who improvised a makeshift crib in a feed trough.  Huge step down, to identify with the lowliest of us.

How do you feel in moments when you have openly acknowledged your own need to repent, to turn away from sin?  Have you ever felt lower?  Probably not.  And it was to that place that Jesus descended, in the waters of John’s baptism, to identify with you, when you were at your lowest.  As He explained, It had to be done this way, or the whole deal wouldn’t work right.  “We must do this now to fulfill all righteousness.”

Jesus came all the way down, to rescue you.

For Best Results

Instructions for Christmas:
– Look at the gift under the tree.
– Check to see if it is for you.
– Receive it; pick it up and take it for yourself.
– Take off the wrapping, so you can see what it really is.
– Use it, play with it, try it out or put it on so you can actually experience the gift, not your preconceived ideas about it.
– If you like how it works, keep it close and wear it out.

Instructions about Jesus:
– He is God’s Christmas gift.
– Your name is on the gift card.
– Follow the rules posted above.

By the way, don’t be confused by all the shiny wrapping.  Jesus frequently sits under the tree, wrapped in distortions, sentimental fluff and religious nonsense. Open Him up and see Who He really is.  Also, don’t be limited by your own misunderstandings and preconceived notions about what He is like; take Him out of the box and start using Him.  You will be amazed!

“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him— –  (1Corinthians 2:9b)

Merry Christmas!