Thursday, December 20, 2012

Born in a Barn

“Close that door! Were you born in a barn?”

Well…yes, He was. He was born in a stable of some sort, at least, likely surrounded by animals, and laid in a manger of hay. And He’s been leaving doors open behind Him ever since.

Many more years ago than her youngest daughter is old, my friend Terry had an encounter with God. While I don’t know the details, I do know that Jesus came knocking on her heart’s door one day, and she let Him in. Not only did He never leave, He left the door open behind Him, and countless others have followed His lead into her heart and life.

I joined that crowd when she began hosting a mid-week fellowship and Bible study gathering several years ago and literally opened the door to her home for a group of us who have been faithfully meeting there ever since. For years upon years now she’s rushed home from her job on a Thursday to start a meal for the lot of us and then sits on her porch and waits for us all to arrive. Enveloped in hugs and love when we do, we’re ushered inside for a time of food and friendly banter. When the meal has moved from plates to waists we move the dishes to the kitchen, break out the coffee cups, pens and worksheets and study the night’s lesson in one accord. The evening ends as it began, with laughter on the front porch as the crowd gradually dissipates into the cars that fill the driveway and heads for home.

As the last guest leaves and her door is shut on the night, Terry’s heart and life are still open and available. Because she freely shares her struggles and foibles, friends and acquaintances feel comfortable to be real about theirs around her and come calling on the phone or crowding a campfire in her backyard as together they search for the keys to dealing with the problems they face. More often than not her visitors find Jesus in their discussions with her, whether they open a conversation with Him on their own at that point yet or not. They are at least introduced to the Master Locksmith who can open any door that is closed to them, whether it be a physical door of opportunity in their lives, or the entryway into the heart of another person that was closed over an event that happened in the past. And it begins by responding to the pounding of their own hearts, and letting Him in.

I have a fear of facing a locked door on my car. Because the key contains a computer chip it is expensive to duplicate, and I haven’t gone to the expense of doing so again after the first spare was lost on a snowboarding hill and the second simply disappeared somewhere in the house. As a result I never leave my car casually anymore, but stop to make sure I’m holding the key in my hand before I exit the vehicle. Even so, I still remember the horror of accidentally dropping my lone means of entry into the trunk one day just as the lid to the thing came slamming down. And many of us live restricted lives because we’re similarly afraid of somehow dropping the ball with God and hearing the Gates of Heaven slam shut against us forever as a result.

Yet God doesn’t want us to live our lives in fear. Knowing that we were without the means ourselves to purchase our passage into His Presence, He sent His Son to rescue us. Jesus was born in a barn in Bethlehem for the sole purpose of reopening the door of communication between fallen man and the God Who still desperately loved His creation, despite their rejection and sin. With His death He made restitution for us all and reconciliation a precious possibility as Heaven’s portals swung wide open once more.

From the night of His birth, while yet in His mother’s womb as she and Joseph arrived at a crowded inn, He’s been knocking on doors that are closed to Him, seeking a place to be born anew. If this Christmas you feel strangely moved, perhaps it’s because He has come to you with a simple message from your Father‘s heart: The door is open. The porch light is on. Hurry Home.

 “For it is through Him that we …now have…(access)…to the Father…”
(Ephesians 2:18 AMP)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Happy Ever-Afters

“So much for my happy ending…”, a recent Facebook post began.

I knew the girl, but not her story, yet I could relate to her disappointment. I’m a huge fan of happy endings in movies, in books…and especially in life. But things don’t always work out that way. Loved ones die despite the best medical science can offer, relationships sometimes end on an unpleasant note, and doors slam shut on even the best-laid plans.

Too often we are then consumed with sorrow and loss over our lot in life. While grief is understandable and even to be expected, lingering depression over any situation is self-destructive and defeating. Yet once pulled into its web, it clings to us and seems to resist our best efforts to shake ourselves free.

Perhaps the problem is with our perspective. When such events occur our natural feeling to think that our lives are over and done, and mentally we close the book on our future and set it down. We give up hope for happiness and fulfillment because that which we longed for failed to come to pass.

Yet if we haven’t experienced a happy ending in a situation, perhaps it’s because we’ve not yet reached its end. As long as there’s breath in our bodies, our stories continue on. Each day brings a turning of the page as a new chapter unfolds before us, filled with characters and plot lines written in Heaven, but not yet experienced on earth. Opportunities for joy await us if we will bravely step into the future that lies ahead.

To a large degree we write our own happy endings. We can’t dictate the hand we are dealt, but we can choose how to play it. Life is simply a progression of choices we make that lead us in one direction or another. We can’t win if we fold. Better yet to turn another card and see what we can make of the next card in the deck.

Unlike a card game, however, life is not a game of chance. Every detail has already been scribed by the hand of a loving Father Who wrote and therefore sees our story in its entirety, while we simply struggle on, page by page. I’ve given up on many a book I’ve been reading because I didn’t understand or appreciate where the author was leading me. Yet there are some writers that I will stick with no matter what because I know from past experience that the story will come together in the end. Even more do I trust the Author of Life as He pens around even the difficult spots in my life to bring events to a happy conclusion, as He promises in His Word to do.

Sometimes we have to fight to bring those happy endings to pass. As if in illustration of this point, I came home from work last night to find that our puppy had shredded the bestseller I was currently reading. While relieved that for once it hadn’t come from the library, I was yet horrified at the thought of not being able to see how the story ended! The cover was torn into a million little bits scattered over the living room floor, the back ripped off, pages torn out. Quickly I gathered up the latter and examined the ruined remains. To my relief, while battered and chewed, the pages were still readable, and while the last page was temporarily missing, I located it in the litter around me and found that with a little tape it could be salvaged.

Some days end with our hopes and dreams similarly lying in scattered disarray about our feet. We have to dig through the wreckage of broken pieces to find what can be salvaged…a place to begin again from, a hope to build on. When we bring that remnant to God and place it at His feet, we find over time that He somehow is able to make all things work together for our good.

As the year draws to a close it’s a good time to consider that the story of our lives could well be doing the same. God wrote our beginning when He created us in our mother’s womb, and He had a plot line in mind before we were even born. But He allows us to chose the ending, a decision that will largely determine how things work out in the middle. He pre-wrote one possibility when He sent His Son to die for our sins, reconcile us to Himself and make Heaven available once more upon accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. Rejecting that offer, we can choose to continue to go our own way and accept the consequences that follow. No matter what dark turns our stories may have taken, a positive outcome is always within the realm of possibility.

Recently a young mother came through my check-out lane in the grocery store with her two little girls, the older of which was tickling the younger one seated in the front of the cart. Their delighted laughter filled the air and caught the attention of all of us standing near. I mentioned to the mother how great it would be to bottle up that happiness and offer it to a world so stressed and miserable and in desperate need of the same. And that is exactly what God has done in the gift of His Son.

On and on their laughter went, rolling waves of joy that absolutely arrested us, giving us no choice but to stop all our busyness for a minute and smile. As I did so, I heard His voice whisper in my ear, “That’s what Heaven sounds like.“ A happy ending, indeed.

May we similarly stop for a moment as the year draws to a close and let this thought tickle  our imaginations: The happy ever-afters we so long for could be just one choice away.

“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 1:6 NIV)
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