The Switched Nativity

Jesus in the center.

Nativity pic 02I was carefully setting up this year’s Nativity display on the wooden shelf by the fireplace.   I meticulously turned individual pieces in incremental degrees until each one faced Baby Jesus in a stance that reflected wonder and adoration.

With a sense of satisfaction, I stepped back to view the final arrangement.

I sort of chuckled at myself, knowing full well that Biblical timelines do not place Jesus’ birth, first shepherds, and traveling kings all arriving in Bethlehem at the same time.  Still, I love creating a niche every year that displays that time-condensed version of the events as described.

Unexpectedly, I felt like the Spirit whispered, That’s not what it looks like today.  After that statement, a clear image flashed into my mind.  In that image, each of my Nativity pieces had been switched around and now stood in a completely different configuration.

Nativity SwitchedInstead of all attention focused towards Jesus, I saw Joseph, Mary, all three kings and even the shepherd, all facing one another in a circle of earnest conversation.   Their circle was closed and turned away from the Messiah.  He and the manger had been positioned at the opposite end of the shelf…alone, except for the company of a glass donkey and lamb.

The redesigned arrangement was thought-provoking.

I mused regarding the role each character might represent in today’s world:  the three kings would still represent leaders of nations, countries, and their respective political systems.   Joseph – perhaps a representation of men stepping forward to mentor, to “father” others, to model godly masculinity and leadership to the next generation; Mary — carrying the concerns, responsibilities and unique callings of women?  And the shepherd – would he represent a segment of the less fortunate in this world, or those who dedicate themselves to finding and winning lost hearts back to God?

In this Nativity’s switched layout, the people and those they stood for were not seeking wisdom or guidance from the Miracle Worker, the King of Kings who has government “rest on His shoulders,” the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa 9:6) though He was very near to all of them.

Instead, they talk-talk-talked only amongst themselves, solidifying their own worldview in which each was a captive, both a victim and perpetrator of the worldly system’s injustices.

light shaft in clouds, ver, origBut God is never static and never distant.  “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.”  (I John 3:8)  One of my favorite Old Testament verses is Habakkuk 1:5 – “Look among the nations!  Observe!  Be astonished!  Wonder!  For I am doing something in your days – you would not believe it even if you were told!”

God is always “doing something” in whatever days we find ourselves. 

Good days.  Bad days.  Days we anticipate with joy and even those days we face with dread and prayer.  A “perfect Nativity” in this life has yet to be fully implemented or fully manifested in any area of our earthly walk, our sojourner’s path through both the marvelous and the horrific.

“The reason the Son of God was revealed was to undo and destroy the works of the devil.” (I John 3:8, The Passion Translation)

God is never without purpose.

IMG_1679The essence of “The Christmas Story” is not diminished even towards those nations whose cultures and calendars forbid its acknowledgement or celebration.  God is always seeking His lost sheep, His captured children held deep inside satanic fortresses.  As the grace of the Holy Spirit is poured out on those who seek it, so it is also poured out on those who are standing with their backs turned away from Him.

There is a resounding “Glory to God in the highest” that is constantly shed abroad, a sharing to step into the announcement “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”

Peaches in October

It’s passing the middle of October.  Yet I am still attracted to the carefully-organized peaches on display at the grocery store.

My slow-walking-then-stop is accompanied by an internal conversation between common sense and my desire for yet one more delicious fruit….peaches in October?  They’re not going to be any goodstill, they don’t look too bad on the outside and I think I can smell a peach scentwhat if these were late-harvested peaches, and they really aren’t so old?

 Two peaches-in-October were carefully placed into the plastic produce bag and carted off to the brightly lit check-out stands.

The next morning, I discovered that the first peach gave me an “OK” eating experience.  Not as juicy or peachy as I would have liked; but peachy-tasting enough, a decent texture, and not too bad…for mid-October.  Then came Peach Number Two the following day:  the odd-colored flesh around the seed gave me warning #1.  The equally odd texture when I sliced it gave me warning #2.  Still, I took a bite…and I don’t know what the flavor actually was, but it definitely was not peachy, and it flew speedily into the nearby open trashcan.

Yep—in my book, peach-buying season really had officially ended.

The reality, of course, is that “peach season” had truly ended at least a couple months earlier.  I had hoped-against-hope that there were still a few “good ones” out there, although I knew the quality would be lacking, the flavor would have declined, and the texture would not be the same as an in-season, truly fresh peach.  Even armed with all these facts, however, the peach still looked so good from the outside I decided to give it a try.

And I felt like the Lord whispered, that’s how compromise gets its traction.  The enemy is a deceiver and what he offers is empty.

The seriousness of His statement gave me a jolt.  It was a weighty and unexpected thought when contrasted with my simple pondering regarding out-of-season peaches.

CompromiseSuperficial appeal.  I could picture myself standing with Eve in the Garden of Eden, contemplating that fruit as “a delight to the eye.” (Gen. 3:6)  The enemy always uses the same strategy — deception, misrepresentation.

Then Proverbs 25:26 came to my mind:  “If a godly man compromises with the wicked, it is like polluting a fountain or muddying a spring.” (Living Bible)

That description provides a vividly graphic mental image.  Although there is no moral consequence to unwisely betting on the quality of October peaches, with moral compromise does come consequence:  to our soul.  To our judgment and perceptions.  To our freedom and honesty in our walk with Him.  To our witness of Him to others.

The Message translates 2 Cor. 6:14-18 with Paul exhorting, “Don’t become partners with those who reject God.  How can you make a partnership out of right and wrong?  That’s not partnership, that’s war.  Is light best friends with dark?  Does Christ go strolling with the Devil?  Do trust and mistrust hold hands?  Who would think of setting up pagan idols in God’s holy Temple?  But that is exactly what we are, each of us a temple in whom God lives.  God himself put it this way:  ‘I’ll live in them, move into them; I’ll be their God and they’ll be my people.  So leave the corruption and compromise; leave it for good,” says God.  “Don’t link up with those who will pollute you.  I want you all for Myself.  I’ll be a Father to you; you’ll be sons and daughters to me.”

When I think of the phrase “gaining traction” I picture a car on the side of a road, slowly trying to enter the established lane.  It’s a deliberate, strategic, well-timed act that requires some element of friction between surface and tire to enable momentum forward.

In our lives, situations and people that generate friction seem to be abundant.  The momentum of the enemy to move forward into the lane of our lives is often easily achieved through simple and random interactions.

When Paul taught the Ephesians, “do not give the devil an opportunity,” (Eph. 4:27 NASB) it was preceded by several instructions, one which is phrased two different ways:  “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” (Eph. 4:25)

Laying aside falsehood.

Speak truth each one of you.

Don’t pretend your October peaches were picked in June.  Granted, that’s not scripture…but the principle is the same.  Don’t deceive yourself or others about the nature of what you contemplate. Through forgiveness and truth, compassion and  humility, keep your fountain clear, your spring of His life unclogged, and your lane of life cleaned of traction-enabling debris.

Shining On

Anyone who has ever watched or helped me decorate knows that one of my favorite things in the whole world is to position bright mini- lights that will shine in the darkness.

Any darkness.

Little white lights gleaming down a light-dimmed hallway or stage.

Little multi-colored lights glowing from the snow or tucked inside the boughs of a Christmas tree.  Miniature lights peeking through swags or runners of fabric, mesh, netting, woven into flower arrangements and loose sprays.

Even red-white-and-blue lights tucked into tubs of flowers and draped, as is the case on Memorial Day or Fourth of July.  

Lights in the darkness.  Transforming the atmosphere in which they gleam.

I love the mental image and the Scripture that so often comes to my mind:  the apostle Paul teaching that we are “children of God, above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights (luminaries, stars)* holding fast the word of life…” (Phil. 2:15-16, *NASB footnote)

Lights.  Luminaries.  Stars, all adding a dimension of hope and vibrancy to the dull black all around them.  Demonstrating that darkness is not the kingdom that dominates wherever they are placed.

I think that both His Spirit and I share this delight — the pleasure and admiration resulting from the beauty and power created by dispelling the darkness.  When our Father observes His worldly creation from a heavenly throne and sees us, He sees the Light blazing within us, the Light He saw blazing within His Son:  “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:5)  The Message translates that verse, “The Life-light blazed out of the darkness; and the darkness couldn’t put it out.”  

I think my favorite translation of John 1:5 comes from the Amplified Bible:  “The Light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand it or overpower it or appropriate it or absorb it.”

Not understood.  Not overpowered.  Not appropriated.  Not absorbed.

That is a truly marvelous life-testimony.

How quickly we envision ourselves as the merest of flickers, Continue reading “Shining On”

The End of the World Has Slipped By Again

Concealing stormI was reading and deleting emails while waiting at the dentist’s office when I came across an email from Denison Forum dated April 23 that was titled, “Will the world end today?  How Satan uses end time speculation.”

I paused for a minute and consulted my calendar.  Today was indeed April 24.  My husband’s second root canal was indeed in progress.  The world indeed had not ended…and in the busyness of the previous day, I had totally forgotten its potential significance as an end-of-the-world date.  I  also could not recall the potential trigger for yesterday’s assumptive catastrophe.   Jim Denison’s article rescued me by explaining it was another alignment-of-planets situation, plus unpredictable “Planet X” thrown into the mix.

Planet X — really? No sighting of Godzilla or King Kong, shortly after, though — right?  Most folks had responded to this prediction with a dismissive shaking of the head, as I did.   Others, perhaps aware of Jesus’ words in Luke 21:25, may have given at least minor consideration as to whether or not this star alignment addressed “signs in sun and moon and stars and on the earth dismay among nations,” indeed signaling a significant event ahead for Planet Earth.  As I also did, for the briefest of moments.

My primary interest in the article, however, was to explore the second part of his heading: “How Satan uses end time speculation.”  Denison shared and brought it around to “Satan will do whatever he can to distract us from considering our eternal destination.”  Additionally he stated, “When the prophesied end of the world passes yet again, such fakery dulls our cultural consciousness to the real urgency of death and eternity.”

That statement caught my attention — but my thoughts were focused on an individual influence.  I don’t believe it’s just a dulling of the “cultural consciousness” that occurs as repeated Henny-Penny warnings fizzle to naught.  The fallout can have a much more personal impact, for our senses and intellect are always competing with faith as we search for a situation’s “truth” we can both believe and walk in. Continue reading “The End of the World Has Slipped By Again”

What Mary Knew And We Often Forget

baby feetThere are three passages in Luke 1 that are well-read and often shared. The first is Luke 1:38, in which Mary responds to Gabriel’s announcement that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and she, a virgin, would conceive a child. Her response is, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38, NASB)

I prefer The Message translation of Mary’s answer: “Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say.” (Luke 1:38)

Part of the reason I prefer The Message translation of this brief statement is the different perspective that is expressed: In the New American Standard translation (and many others), what comes across most clearly is that something is being “done” to Mary. In The Message, her willingness to serve is revealed more clearly, even dramatically. In The Message translation, you can almost hear an audible, “Ah-Ha!” as Mary receives a flash of divine revelation regarding the moment and time in history she is about to enter….Yes, I see it all now.

I find that…well…profound. And maybe even provocative. Encouraging. If God can reveal so amazing and outrageous a plan, this fulfillment of prophecy, in a brief second of time while Mary is in the midst of her mundane, daily activities…there is certainly hope and encouragement for us, Continue reading “What Mary Knew And We Often Forget”