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Archive for December, 2011

Among my favorite songs that capture the essence of the Christmas experience is “Mary, Did You Know?” words written by Mark Lowry and music composed by Buddy Greene:

Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your baby boy
has come to make you new?
And the child that you delivered
will soon deliver you?

Oh, Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would give sight to the blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
would calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy
has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby,
you’ve kissed the face of God?

Oh, Mary, did you know—
The blind will see,
the deaf will hear,
the dead will live again!
The lame will leap,
the dumb will speak
the praises of the Lamb!

Oh Mary, did you know that your baby boy
is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
will one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your baby boy
was heaven’s perfect Lamb?
And the sleeping child you’re holding
is the Great I Am!

But, no, Mary did not know–not at first, anyway, and not fully.

She knew that her baby was special and that he would become the Messiah who would save his people, but she would not comprehend the full meaning of his messiahship until she began her daily walk with him during their life together and until she experienced his death and resurrection thirty-three years later.

She had to see his birth from the perspective of his sacrificial death and resurrection before she could fully know and understand.

And so do we.

Until we accept his grace and forgiveness through his death and resurrection, and begin our daily walk with him, we will never be able to fully understand or celebrate his birth and the true meaning of Christmas.

Only then does the real Christmas come alive for us. Only then are we able to really celebrate his birth.

And as we do, we will discover a magnificence, a glory, and a mysterious divine presence that will touch us in the deepest recesses of our beings–bringing comfort, strength, healing, and peace, no matter how trying and difficult life might become.

Oh, may you know and celebrate–really celebrate–Christmas this year.

********

(To view Mark Lowry’s concert version of this song, please view my December 20, 2010 post of “Mary did you know?”)

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During the recent Thanksgiving week as church members and I were in our church parking lot preparing boxes of food for needy families throughout Los Angeles, I looked out over the fog-covered San Fernando Valley below and saw the distant and majestic snow-capped peaks of the Hopper Mountain Wildlife Refuge to the north west and the Angeles National Forest to the north east.

Those mountaintops and the San Fernando Valley are constant reminders for me of our spiritual journey during which we encounter mountaintop experiences of joy, victories, and celebrations that are often followed by spiritual valleys of deep discouragement, hardship, and failure.

I think of Elijah’s experience on Mount Carmel when he, through God’s mighty power, was victorious over the 450 prophets of the pagan god, Baal, yet how quickly Elijah became fearful, depressed, and fled from queen Jezebel when she sent soldiers to kill him. (I Kings 18-19:18)

As in Psalm 23:4, the valley has come to represent the spiritually dark, harsh, sometimes dangerous places of life in which we experience failure, danger, defeat, despair, and depression, and where death is sometimes just a breath or a decision away.

I’ve journeyed through several of those valleys, the most difficult one in the early 1980s when I was out of work for 23 months and was almost homeless. In the midst of the ensuing depression, death seemed very inviting.

But like many Bible figures going through their own dark valleys, it was my willingness to cry out to God in my despair and to hang on to his promises found in his holy Scriptures that saved me from giving in to despair. Most importantly, it was God’s promise that he would not leave or forsake any of us that kept me going one day at a time.

These Bible characters, for example – Joseph (Genesis 37-50), Moses (Exodus through Deuteronomy), Joshua (Joshua 1-24), David (I Samuel16-I Kings 2; Job (Job 1-42), Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 1-12, especially chapters 3 and 6) – always turned to God in their crises and held on to God’s promises.

And we see in the following passages the many occasions during which David despaired for his life when various people tried to kill him, yet he cried out to God and clung to God’s promise of faithfulness to those who trust him:

The Crises                  David’s Responses
• I Samuel 19                Psalm 59
• I Samuel 21                Psalms 34 and 56
• I Samuel 22                Psalms 52 and 142
• I Samuel 23                Psalm 54
• I Samuel 24                Psalms 57 and 63
• 2 Samuel 22               Psalm 18
• 2 Samuel 12                Psalm 51
• 2 Samuel 15                Psalms 3 and 7

Mountaintop experiences are few and far between on our spiritual journey. Most of the time we live on spiritual plains where things are normal with every-day experiences. It’s here that we are content to go through our routines with few ups and downs. It’s here that we are safe in our comfort zones.

But every now and then our lives are suddenly interrupted with an unplanned crisis along our journey—sickness, death, unemployment, divorce, loneliness, abandonment, or some other unwanted event, some so severe that we wonder if we’ll ever survive. This is the dark Valley of Psalm 23:4!

Yet it is in the Valley that we have the opportunity to grow spiritually and be strengthened for life’s arduous journey ahead, for it is here that our self-reliance is likely to fail us and, like David, we have to rely on God to protect and guide us through the dark days.

Whether this Valley breaks us, embitters us, and defeats us, or whether it transforms and strengthens us to meet the challenges and become well-adjusted survivors of the crises, depends on how willing we are to seek God with all our heart throughout the whole Valley experience.

Some of us give up in despair if God doesn’t rescue us quickly, and we end up being bitter or angry with God. Some stop believing in him. Sadly, some take their own lives if they cannot find their way out of the Valley.

But we can be sustained, comforted, and strengthened during our Valley sojourn by relying completely on God through our fellowship with Jesus Christ and by being nourished through the daily study of Scripture and prayer.

And it helps to have a community of caring Christians who love and support us through our travail.

For any among us who might be going through the Valley at this time, take courage with these words from the apostle Peter:

Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange is happening to you. Instead, be very glad—because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterwards you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory when it is displayed to all the world. (I Peter 4:12-13, New Living Translation, NLT)

These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. (I Peter 1:7, NLT)

Now, you might be thinking, Come on! How can we be glad or joyful when we are in the midst of suffering and trials?

As someone who has gone through the Valley at various times in my six decades of life, I can testify to the fact that it is in the midst of the pain, tears, brokenness, and despair that we can experience a very special, deep fellowship with the living Christ, and it is he who blesses us with his joy and peace—and it is for this that we can be glad and rejoice!

I have always found great comfort, strength, and joy in God’s Word, from such passages as James 1:2-4 (NLT):

Dear brothers and sisters, whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.

. . . Romans 5:3-5 (NLT), where Paul reminds us that because of our faith in, and fellowship with, Jesus Christ:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation. And this expectation will not disappoint us. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

. . . and I Thessalonians 5:16-18 (New International Version, NIV):

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

So, no matter where we are in our spiritual journey at this time as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior—in the midst of a mountaintop high, on the pleasant plains where all is well, or in the dark Valley—

Rejoice and give thanks!

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