Friday, December 19, 2003

Making History

It had been an incredibly hectic Christmas season (aren’t they all?). The businessman was busier than he had been in a long time. His fellow merchants encouraged him to seize the opportunity to make money while he could. This was their black Friday, a time to turn a profit. Nothing wrong with that. As Christmas Eve was winding to a close, he was ready to rest and relax.

You know how it is. Weeks of long days have worn you out. All you want to do is sit down with a nice big bowl of popcorn, think of nothing, do nothing. Just stare at the wall and breathe. So there he was, finishing up the days’ work at the family owned motel. His wife drying the last dish from feeding the over abundance of guests. The kids sweeping the floor and bedding down the animals. ALL of them are looking forward to that big bowl of popcorn. Made with bacon grease.

Then the knock. He and his wife sigh as they get ready to turn yet another weary traveler away. Opening the door they saw a terrible sight. A young, haggard man and a pale, quickly fading teenage girl, hugely pregnant. As the motel manager stands in the doorway, his wife looks over his arm and the kids peek past his legs to see the couple. In their hearts, in their weariness, they’re glad they have no room. They’d already turned many travelers away. There is NOTHING in them that wants to serve these people, but they all know that there is no way dad is going to turn them away. He will do whatever necessary to find a place for this worn out couple, not because he wants to but because IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO. And it cost them.

The innkeeper has gotten an incredibly bad rap for centuries. But check out the scripture. It does not say anything bad about him. Scripture states reality: there simply was no room available. Fact. But somehow Mary and Joseph were offered room in a barn. Maybe, just maybe, it was this maligned innkeeper. Rather than a villain, I think he is an example for us. Especially during this week leading up to Christmas.

HE MADE TIME. The innkeeper was busy, but he did not use it as an excuse not to do the things that were important. It wasn’t that he had time. We’ll never have time lying around, just waiting to be used. Time for the right things has to be MADE, seized, grabbed and used. This begs the question, “What are we busy with?” We’re going to busy!! Accept that fact. Life is not going to get unbusy and we can’t wait for the day when things slow down before doing what we should. The decision is to choose to use our time to do God’s things.

HE MADE ROOM. You may be thinking, “Herb, you don’t realize that I don’t have anything.” I can’t tell you how many times people have told me, “If I win the lottery, get a new house, get a better job, and on and on … THEN I’ll be able to do good things for people.” God doesn’t need our stuff, He needs us. Once we make ourselves available God, will use what we have. Look through the Bible to see Moses’ staff, David’s sling, Gideon’s trumpet, Jehoshaphat’s choir, Balaam’s donkey. Simple, every day stuff. God has made a career of using the simple things people have. He doesn’t use what we don’t have, how could He?

What did the innkeeper have? A barn. Can you see the other innkeepers on motel row as the innkeeper started clearing a place for Mary and Joseph? No beds, no rooms, nothing but a stable with animals and straw. His family had some food, perhaps a stool, some rags, odds and ends. They used what they had to make a difference that will be remembered for all time. Which shows us…

HE MADE HISTORY. What an honor to be the owner of the shed where God showed up to save the world! I am absolutely sure the innkeeper had no idea who was standing at his door. It didn’t matter to him. He did the right thing for people who needed him and, without realizing it, he made history. So can we, just don’t expect to know it at the time.

Let’s hear it for the innkeeper. Maybe no room in the inn, but plenty of room in his heart. There’s always room for what God wants as we kick out the clutter in the way.

Have a great Christmas.

Luke 2:1-7 (NIV) "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Valuing the Valuable

I looked around after walking and walking and walking. I was in the same place. How could this be? I had to be making progress. The sweat pouring out of my body told me so. The ache in my muscles could not have been for nothing, could it? But it was excruciatingly obvious I was in the same spot from which I started at least forty-five minutes and two miles before. Same scenery, same building, same place. In spite of great effort I had made no progress at all. Then I stepped off the treadmill. In my basement.

Did I getcha? Actually I did make progress because my purpose was not to get anywhere, but to get exercise. In fact, it was very worthwhile because I prayed for a while and then read a great book while I walked. If I had been trying to make my way to a specific, physical destination, the treadmill was wrong. When we want to cover ground, we need to get off the treadmill to travel on solid ground.

Our dog hasn’t been for a walk in a while. She loves going for jaunts. She covers twice as much ground as we do, back and forth, back and forth sniffing out varmints. I thought about putting her on the treadmill to get some exercise. She’s looking pretty lethargic, you know. I explained to Sheila, "Just put her on slow and let her walk. As she gets used to it we can speed it up … and see what happens." I thought I was being helpful. Well, sure it might throw her right into the washing machine, but hey, no pain, no gain. Sheila wasn’t amused.

If you’re like most people I see these days, you’re on a treadmill, too. Different from the one in my basement, but just as draining. It’s called Christmas. You know, the season of joy to the world, glad tidings, peace on earth and good will toward men. That’s not what I saw at Wal-Mart. It’s more like grab from the world, sad tidings, give me a piece of the earth and my will against other men. Especially during the wrestling match at 5:00 am on Black Friday by the $49 DVD players.

Does anyone believe this is an accident? That the season that is supposed to celebrate the coming of God Almighty to the world in human flesh has turned into a treadmill to nowhere? That wears us out and leaves us spent? Could it be it is a carefully designed strategy to cause us to miss that which is of utmost value? Think about it – if you attempted to prevent people from experiencing "God with us" what would you do? Wouldn’t you distract, disrupt, hurry, overwhelm, and appeal to their selfishness?

Immediately below our relationship with God, what is most important during the Christmas season? People. But what do the pressures of our culture cause us to zero in on? Material possessions and activity. Who made it a rule that we have to spend money that we don’t have, to do things that will wear us out and strain relationships with people we don’t take time to love? Who said that the tree, the decorations, the cookies, the dinner, the presents, the cards, the stuff all have to be perfect? How many times have we gotten upset with very people we are doing all this stuff for because the stuff didn’t go the way we thought it should go? Sure, we all have things we have to do, but does it really have to be like this? I have a suggestion.

We have 8 shopping days until Christmas. During these days, let’s create a conspiracy to value the really valuable – God and the people in our lives. Slow down, eliminate some of the activity, decrease the focus on material stuff and deeply enjoy the purpose of the season. Take time to just sit with God, hum some carols, (sorry, the musak at the mall doesn’t count), and allow God to refresh us. Make time to be with, really be with, not just occupying the same area with our loved ones. Realize it is okay to let some of the stuff go. Really, it will be okay. Pause to realize how fragile life is, that it is important to value our loved ones today.

Part of the problem is that we take it for granted that people will always be with us, so we don’t take time to value them. We get caught up with stuff, climb up onto the Christmas treadmill until we realize the "moments" that could have been during the season have passed us by. We didn’t make any progress at all in our relationships; in fact we made some of them worse.

I hope the following anonymous poem provides perspective. I wish I’d written it.

If I Knew

If I knew it would be the last time that I’d see you fall asleep,

I would tuck you in more tightly and pray the Lord your soul to keep.

If I knew it would be the last time that I see you walk out the door,

I would give you a hug and kiss and call you back for one more.

If I knew it would be the last time I’d hear your voice lifted up in praise,

I would videotape each action and word so I could play them back day after day.

If I knew it would be the last time I could spare an extra minute,

To stop and say, "I love you," instead of assuming you would KNOW it.

If I knew it would be the last time I would be there to share your day,

Well, I’m sure you’ll have many more, so I can let just this one slip away.

For surely there’s always tomorrow to make up for an oversight,

And we always get a second chance to make everything right.

There will always be another day to say, "I love you,"

And certainly there’s another chance to say our "Anything I can do?"

But just in case I might be wrong and today is all I get,

I’d like to say how much I love you and I hope we never forget.

Tomorrow is not promised to anyone, young or old alike,

And today may be the last chance you get to hold your loved one tight.

So if you’re waiting for tomorrow, why not today?

For if tomorrow never comes you’ll surely regret the day,

That you didn’t take that extra time for a smile, a hug, or a kiss,

And you were too busy to grant someone what turned out to be their last wish.

So hold your loved ones close today and whisper in their ears

Tell them how much you love them and that you’ll always hold them dear.

Take time to say, "I’m sorry, Please forgive me, Thank you, It’s okay."

And if tomorrow never comes, you’ll have no regrets about today.

Let’s celebrate this Christmas and New Year’s season by valuing what is truly valuable.

"Show me, O LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. 5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath. Selah" Psalm 39:4-5 (NIV)

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)