Love Is For Losers

I hate love. I’m not talking about the “love” that appears around Valentine’s Day every year in the form of Hallmark cards and flower bouquets and heart-shaped boxes of candy. Or the “love” that puts butterflies in your stomach in those early days of dating and keeps you awake at night thinking about the other person. I’m not even talking about the “love” you feel on your wedding anniversary as you clink glasses in a toast and celebrate another milestone with a fancy dinner or jewelry or an all-inclusive trip to Bermuda (without the kids, no less!). Chocolates, gifts, romantic bliss? Who wouldn’t love those things?!

No…the “love” I’m talking about is real love. The kind that requires sacrifice on my part. The kind that involves me doing things I don’t necessarily feel like doing. If I’m being honest with myself, I hate love because it requires me to lose

When it comes to love, Jesus was the ultimate loser. Hear me out. Jesus — the Savior of the world, the bridge between God and us, the only One to ever live a perfect and sinless life on earth — literally lost His life on our behalf. And just because He didn’t sin, it doesn’t mean that He didn’t feel afraid. In His final hours, He begged God to find another way. In His final minutes, He asked His Father why He had forsaken His Son. And yet, with His final breath, Jesus prayed that the Lord would forgive those who were about to kill Him.

The reality is that often, love is less about the roses and more about the thorns. That was literally true for Jesus as soldiers placed a crown of thorns on His head before they drove nails through His body. Even as He hung dying, Jesus forgave those who hated Him most. If that’s not real love, I don’t know what is.

Before He was arrested and crucified, Jesus taught His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). Jesus was telling them — and us — that to love means losing our own agenda. To love means putting the needs of others above our own. And sometimes, to love even means making the ultimate sacrifice by laying down our own life. 

Who is God calling you to love — and how’s He asking you to do it? Is it your own spouse, who’s closed themselves off to you after so many years of emotional distance? Maybe it’s your child, who’s heading down a bad path in life and needs you to love them in spite of their decisions. It might look like forgiveness for a friend who’s wronged you in the past but doesn’t even know they need forgiving. And what about those who we’ve never even met but who are in desperate need of the good news of the Gospel? The homeless, the addicted, the mentally ill, the diseased… the one whom society deems “unlovable”?

If love is for losers, then I want to be a loser! So my prayer for each of us, is that we’d ask that God open our eyes to loving others by losing ourselves. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11)

Spiritual Pot Roast

There’s a story about a newlywed couple who cooked one of their first meals together as husband and wife. The young woman had chosen to make an old family recipe — pot roast — and she wanted it to be just perfect. When everything was ready, she pulled the pan out of the oven and cut both ends off the meat. Her husband, noticing this, asked, “Why did you cut the ends off? Does it make it taste better?” The young woman replied, “I don’t know. That’s the way my mother always did it.”

The next day, the new wife was visiting her mom and remembered her husband’s question from the night before. She asked her mom, “When you make pot roast, why do you cut the ends off? Does it make it taste better?” Her mother thought for a moment and then replied, “I don’t know. That’s the way my mother always did it. Why don’t you ask your grandma? It’s her recipe.” 

 “Grandma,” she asked during that call, “When you make pot roast, why do you cut the ends off? Does it make it taste better?”

There was a pause on the other end of the line, and then her grandmother answered, “When your mother was a little girl, we only had a small oven, and the pot roast wouldn’t fit unless I cut the ends off.” 

The moral of the story: Sometimes, we get in the habit of doing things a certain way because, well, it’s the way we’ve always done them! Whether it’s cutting the ends off the pot roast or carrying on some other pattern, routine, or family tradition, we’re creatures of habit — we thrive on familiarity. There’s comfort in predictability, because we can anticipate what comes next. Sometimes, though, sticking to the ol’ “tried and true” can hurt us. We might continue our substance abuse rather than seeking help. We may rack up financial debt instead of building our savings. Or the fitness plan we committed to on New Year’s Day is a distant memory as we settle back into work and school (and suddenly Netflix looks a lot more appealing than the treadmill!). Doing things the way we’ve always done them feels a lot easier than starting from scratch. 

It’s the same way in our spiritual lives. When it comes to our relationship with God, it’s easy to find ourselves sticking to familiar habits and miss out on rediscovering Him each day with fresh eyes and a fresh heart. Whether it’s attending church on the weekends just to check it off our to-do list, or our prayer life only consisting of a quick “grace” we say at dinner, we can get caught up in the routine and forget what it means to worship. When did you last make Him not just A priority, but THE priority? When did you last let yourself feel awestruck by His grace? When did you last set aside time just to sit in His presence? If your answer is “today”, then wonderful, keep it up! But if not, what could you do differently to make that happen?

The start of a new year is always a good opportunity to take stock of life – to celebrate our growth in certain areas, and to acknowledge room for improvement in other areas. But the key to our spiritual life is that there’s always room for improvement! We can never “finish” growing in God. What’s your next step? Maybe it’s downloading a Bible reading plan on your phone, setting your alarm ten minutes earlier so you can have morning prayer time, joining a small group, or becoming part of a serve team at church. Let’s commit this year to relationship over ritual, and to trading in our busyness for His holiness.

Throwing Stones

We’ve all heard the saying, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” But recently, I’ve been reflecting more deeply on the origins of that phrase. In John 8, we find Jesus teaching in the temple in Jerusalem. The scribes and the Pharisees have brought before Him a woman who’s been caught in the act of adultery. They remind Him that according to the Law of Moses, this is a fatal sin, for which the punishment is death by stoning. And then they stand back and ask, “But what do You say?” This isn’t the first time the religious leaders have attempted to catch Jesus in a contradiction, a flagrant violation of the Law, an act of outright religious heresy. And when He doesn’t take the bait, they put it to Him again. Like vultures circling their prey, they push relentlessly, until finally Jesus utters those familiar words: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

Scripture tells us that “those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one.” (John 8:9, NKJV) With only Jesus and the adulterous woman remaining, He looks at her and asks, “Has no one condemned you?” She replies, “No one, Lord.” And with that, Jesus releases her with the parting words, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

It’s easy to look at this exchange as merely a “teachable moment”. We have a tendency to interpret the moral of the story as, “We’re all guilty. None of us can condemn one another because none of us are perfect. We’re all flawed sinners and we’ve all missed the mark.” And that’s absolutely true!  

But the lesson doesn’t end there. You see, we must remember that there WAS someone there that day who could have thrown the stone. In fact, it was the the same someone who uttered that phrase which caused everybody else to walk away. Jesus was without sin. Flawless in every way. He could have cast the stone. But He didn’t.

As much as this story is about suspending judgment, it’s even more about the incredible forgiveness of our God. Like the woman, each of us who have accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior were, at a moment in time, brought before Him for judgment. Like the woman, we had been caught red-handed in our sin, guilty of the ultimate punishment – death. And like the woman, we experienced the freedom He handed us when He chose to forgive us instead of picking up the stone, and told us through His actions on the cross: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” 

As Thanksgiving and Christmas draw near, we head into a season that’s both joyful and painful, depending on your circumstances. Holidays, homecomings, festivities, fun, love, laughter, are replaced for many by bittersweet memories, by the grief of lost loved ones, by fractures in families, by broken relationships, by job loss or health problems, by anger and heartache. The celebrations can be minimized by the chaos of the season. Tempers flare, and we’re quick to speak without thinking. It’s easy to get snappy with one another (Road rage in the mall parking lot, anyone?!) and to judge each other’s experience.

My prayer is this, not only for the coming holiday season, but for each day: in those moments where we find ourselves tempted to lounge in the seat of judgment toward others, may we remember the mercy and forgiveness that Jesus Christ first showed us. May we realize that He could have “picked up a rock” and condemned mankind for all eternity, but He didn’t. And when faced with the choice to throw stones or to offer forgiveness, may we reflect the greatest act of love the world has ever known.

Do The Math

Someone’s son recently started first grade, and he’s learning simple addition and subtraction. After the first week of school, he came home upset, calling his teacher “mean” and saying he didn’t want to go back to his class. His dad was understandably concerned and asked his son what had happened. The boy informed his dad that his teacher had asked him, “If you have six toys and I take away four toys, how many toys do you have left?” 

Well, dad knew his boy was good at subtraction and could answer the math problem correctly. Confused, he asked, “Why did that upset you? Did you tell her the answer was two?”

His son jutted out his lip and his eyes filled with tears as he exclaimed, “No! I told her I didn’t want her to take ANY of my toys! I like when I get more added, Daddy, but I hate when they get taken away!”

We can all relate to that little guy on some level, can’t we? We like when good things get added to our lives, but it’s a different story when they get taken away. And when it comes to our relationship with God, we find it easy to praise Him in the “addition” – but it’s a different story in the “subtraction”.

In Scripture, Job understood the sharp contrast of gain and loss better than just about anybody. Known as a man who was “fearless and upright, feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1), Job had ten children, as well as thousands of sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys. He was considered the greatest of people in the region. He had it all.

But one day the devil came to God and challenged Him, telling the Lord that Job was only faithful to Him because God protected him and his family. So God allowed Satan to put Job’s faith to the test by destroying anything and everything that mattered to him. He lost his animals. His servants were murdered. His children were killed by invaders and natural disasters. And he himself was afflicted by excruciatingly painful sores all over his body.

Job’s incredible response? “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21)

Don’t get me wrong, Job had his moments of doubt. In fact, we spend the next 40 chapters reading about his cries of desperation to the Lord. But at the end of it all, after his back-and-forth dialogue with God, Job ultimately declares, “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.” (Job 42:2)

Job knew that in the best times of his life, God was worthy of being praised. And Job knew that in the worst times of his life, God was worthy of being praised. God’s goodness isn’t determined by our circumstances — it’s determined by His character. Even when the situation isn’t good, He always is.

I don’t know about you, but when it comes to my spiritual maturity, I don’t want to be a “first grader” who delights in the Lord when I’m experiencing blessing, but has a complete meltdown when it’s taken away. I want to be wise like Job, praising God as I journey through this life both on the mountaintops and in the valleys. At times Job questioned his situation, even wishing he was never born because the pain seemed too much for him to handle. In the end, though, he came back to the place where he started – the realization that the Father is still good.

It’s okay to question our suffering. God’s strong enough to handle our doubt. But when it’s all said and done, if we “do the math” correctly, we see time and time again that even in the seasons where it looks like God’s subtracting things from our life, He’s actually adding more, beyond what we can see or understand in our limited earthly perspective.

That first grader’s father had a heart-to-heart with his son that night, and the next day, the boy returned to school and apologized to his teacher for his outburst. He said to her in his cute little six year old way, “I shouldn’t have gotten so mad. You’re the teacher. You’re trying to teach me something. I’m ready to listen!”

In times of our adversity, when we question our circumstances, may we each have the wisdom and the spiritual maturity to look to our Heavenly Father and say, “You’re the Teacher. You’re trying to teach me something. I’m ready to listen!”

The Fifth Of July

What’s the first thought that pops into your head when you hear the phrase, “Fourth of July”? For me, it’s two words: “sacrifice” and “freedom”. There’s first and foremost a reverence about Independence Day that comes with remembering the men and women who went before us, many of whom paid the ultimate price, to make – and keep – our country what it is: free. But the Fourth of July’s a time for celebration, too – a chance to enjoy the abundant privileges of life in this Land Of The Free. I don’t know that there’s any day of the year that better focuses our hearts on gratitude, respect, and appreciation for both sacrifice and freedom, than July 4th.

But this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about the FIFTH of July. We set aside a day (and rightfully so) to intentionally remember and revel in an event of great magnitude. Our whole country stops and collectively basks in the enormity of the occasion. We CELEBRATE! But what about when the day’s over? When the parades are finished, the fireworks have all been lit, and the last refrain of “God Bless America” has been sung? For most of us, we’ll wake up on July 5th, and it’ll be back to business as usual, the festivities of the previous day already no more than a memory on Instagram.

The day we decided to proclaim Jesus as our Lord and Savior, to ask forgiveness for our sins, to accept His free gift of salvation…that day was our spiritual “Fourth of July”. We saw life through a new lens of freedom for the first time – freedom bought at a price, paid for by Someone else’s sacrifice – and it made us want to live differently from that day forward. On that day, we stood on the proverbial mountaintop, and the joy and gratitude we felt could probably be seen and heard by everyone around us because we just couldn’t contain our excitement! Over time, though, those “peak” experiences fade; the trials and tribulations of life in a broken world start to wear and tear at the euphoria we first experienced on that glorious day when we became part of God’s family forever. Temptation draws our eyes away from our Savior and back to our circumstances. And like he always does, the enemy comes barging in to crash the party. Eventually, our spiritual “Fourth of July” fades, and our spiritual “Fifth of July” becomes just another, ordinary day. 

But what would happen if we chose to live the same way on the Fifth as we do on the Fourth? With hearts intentionally full of reverence for the sacrifices made on our behalf, full of gratitude for the blessings and privileges we enjoy on a daily basis, and full of joy that comes from living in freedom not one day of the year, but every day of our lives? 

Let’s challenge ourselves this FIFTH of July to wake up with the same deliberate sense of gratitude we felt the day before – not only for our temporary homeland here on earth, but for our eternal Home in Heaven with our Father. Let’s celebrate the victory that Jesus won on our behalf 2000 years ago, when He paid the price for us to become children of the Most High God. And let’s live on purpose for a purpose, knowing that we’ve been given the gift of true freedom in Christ – a freedom we’ll celebrate not for one day, but for all of eternity!

Four Gardens

Here in America, certain symbols signify the approach of Easter. Marshmallow peeps and chocolate bunnies abound. Parents scour the stores for kids’ matching outfits and toys to fill Easter baskets. We dye eggs and prepare big family dinners. But this season, the symbol I’ve found myself reflecting on is gardens. Not just any gardens, but four particular gardens. From the literal beginning of time, God’s made gardens a critical part of His story – and of ours.

It was in a garden paradise called Eden where God placed Adam and Eve, formed in His image, and He called His creation “good” (Genesis 2). He gave them all they could ever ask for, including a gift called the Tree of Life. Yet they still went searching for more, and in doing so they sent all of humanity spiraling into a life of sin from which we could never break free on our own. So God made a plan that He’d one day send His own Son to sacrifice Himself for us – to pay a debt He never owed, because we owed a debt we could never pay.

Fast forward through history, to one momentous night on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It was in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed right before He was arrested, and He begged His Father to change the plan (Matthew 26). We spend so much time focusing on Jesus’ perfect life, His sinless nature, His divinity, that we dismiss His humanity. We forget that He felt all the same emotions we feel, and that up to the last moment, He didn’t want to die. He asked God if there was any other way to carry out His plan to save mankind. But in the end, He accepted that He was the Plan – and that it was the will of God for Him to lay down His life.

It’s here that I often feel the urge to rush ahead to the third garden. See, I hate dwelling on the second garden. I hate realizing that I’m the reason Jesus agonized in Gethsemane, weeping with sorrow and begging for His life. I hate knowing that it was my sin that took Him from that garden all the way to the cross. But in order to fully appreciate the resurrection, we first need to grieve the crucifixion. We’ve got to recognize the weight of what He did for us before we can celebrate the burden He’s lifted from us.

Three days later, it was in the garden tomb near Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified, that He rose in triumph over death (John 19). Jesus took our sin to the grave when He died. I can’t imagine what those three days were like for Him. But every day I reap the rewards of His victory. It’s because of His death that my sin’s been buried forever. And it’s because of His resurrection that I’ve been given eternal life.

Which brings us to the fourth garden – my favorite one of all. It’s in the very last chapter in the very last book of the Bible that we read about the same Tree of Life that was in the Garden of Eden, only now it’s in God’s paradise, not the world’s (Revelation 22). That chapter tells us that the curse of death is gone, and that we, His servants, will worship Him forever. The story’s come full circle. The conclusion’s been re-written. The Lord, in all His glory, took what was destroyed in the beginning and redeemed it in the end – the same way He’s redeemed you and me.

This Easter, I’d like to invite you to take a walk in the Four Gardens. And as you do, may you worship the Gardener who planted each one, knowing that because of Him, your story’s been re-written!

“He is not here; He is risen, just as He said.” -Matthew 28:6

Waiting For Spring

Have you ever had a garden with perennials (plants that “come back” each year)? If so, then you know that a perennial plant’s life cycle revolves around the seasons — and that when winter comes, the plant enters a period of dormancy. It sheds its leaves and retreats into a kind of hibernation to protect itself against the cold. This season of inactivity is key to the plant’s later survival (revival) in springtime. Some would even call this dormancy a time of rest. 

But even though the plant’s gone dormant for a season, the gardener doesn’t stop nurturing its growth. Instead, they continue to care for it in preparation of what’s coming. During the cold winter, the gardener will break up the ground surrounding the dormant plant, just so the soil doesn’t “permanently harden”. Then, when the first new buds appear but aren’t yet in full bloom, the gardener feeds and waters it. And sometimes, the gardener has to submit the plant to the painful process of having its branches pruned so that it can produce more healthy fruit later.

As believers, it can often feel like our spiritual life goes through “dormant” seasons because we can’t see new growth taking place. We might retreat into a hibernation of our own in our walk with Christ, feeling distant and isolated from Him. Sometimes all we can see is the long winter that lies ahead of us, and where we were previously blooming with joy and enthusiasm in our relationship with the Lord, our spiritual growth now feels stunted. But God – the Gardener – knows the process that’s taking place under the surface. He understands that faith is a growing process. And so, he continues to pour into His beloved plants – you and me, His children – providing us with the nourishment of His Word and the Holy Spirit and patiently waiting for us to respond again in our coming “spiritual springtime”. And yes, sometimes that means pruning us too, even when it’s painful, because He wants us to bloom and bear more healthy fruit in the end.

See, even as the plant can’t see beyond the dormant season, the Gardener is aware of what lies ahead. While the plant’s busy just trying to survive the winter, the Gardener’s delighting in the knowledge of what’s coming in the spring. And when the growing season begins and the plant bursts forth in full bloom and the Gardener sees the result of all of His patient love and care, He stands back, looks it up and down with great pride and joy, and declares that springtime has arrived once more.

The Big Picture

Have you ever looked closely at mosaic art? The kind where a bunch of smaller images make up one big picture? I have a friend who created a photo mosaic poster as a birthday gift to her brother. She labored over it for months. When it was done, the final poster – a photo of their family on a recent vacation – was 2 feet tall, 3 feet long, and made up of more than 800 quarter-inch square photos from their childhood. You needed a magnifying glass to see them all clearly! And yet when you got up close, each picture was preserved in tiny, perfect detail.

Here’s the thing. When you put your face right up to the poster, it just looked like a bunch of cute but isolated little images that had been scaled down and put in rows without any apparent rhyme or reason. But when you stepped back and looked at the whole poster, it became crystal clear that all of these individual pieces made up a critical part of the bigger picture.

I think our relationship with Jesus can feel a lot like that mosaic. Our limited human perspective can cause us to question God’s ultimate plan – for our lives, for our families, for our world, and even for our eternal future. It can seem like we’re each just individual squares moving through this life, placed in rows next to one another without any real rhyme or reason. We’re the spectators, the ones standing with our faces pressed against the poster looking (often with confusion!) at all the separate little squares and wondering how they fit together.

But God…He’s the Artist. The One who labored over every little detail. The One who created each piece with love and intent. The One who determined in painstaking detail the order in which they would go. The Artist doesn’t make mistakes; He makes masterpieces. Colossians 1:16-17 (NKJV) says, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” When God stands back to view His masterpiece, He sees each tiny piece. But He also sees the bigger picture. And because He’s perfect, His creation is perfected through Him.

Sometimes it’s not easy to journey through this life, through the triumphs and the tragedies and the milestones and even the daily grind, with only our narrow perspective. Things happen that defy reason, whether in our personal lives or in the bigger world around us. If you can say you’ve never once asked God, “Why?” then you’re either a liar or a saint!  As flawed people, we have a natural tendency to question things that don’t make sense in the scope of our limited human logic. But God knew before time began the role that each of us would uniquely fill in His grand plan for humanity. He created every one of us to live here, now, in this time in history, and gifted each of us with a particular purpose. As followers of Christ, we’ve been called to share the Gospel with the world. Jesus left His disciples with that Great Commission, and He leaves it with us still today. Plan A is you and me. And there is no Plan B.

One day, we’re going to stand before the Father, and we’re going to see the Grander Design that He made us all a part of, in all its glory. And on that day, we’re not just going to see the individual pieces anymore. We’re going to see the big picture. His masterpiece.

‘Nowhere’ vs. ‘Now Here’

Cue the January winter blues. The holiday decorations have been packed away for another year. The radio stations won’t play 24/7 Christmas songs again for another 11 months (this is a good thing!). The kids are back in school (again, a good thing!). And most of all: you’ve written the wrong year enough times over the first couple weeks that you’ve finally trained your brain to write 20189…oh, never mind.

It’s also the time of year when we feel inspired to ask God what His goals are for our lives over the next 12 months. As those around us make (and break!) New Year’s resolutions, believers around the world come before the Lord to seek His will. We feel motivated and inspired to “reset” our purpose and our calling for the new year – to walk more closely with Jesus, and to better align our plans with His plans (and that’s ALWAYS a good thing!).

But what happens when we ask God to show us, “What next?”, and we’re met with what seems like silence? When we think we’re supposed to make big, dramatic changes, but He doesn’t open doors or move us forward in an obvious way? It can feel like we’re on a treadmill – we keep picking up speed, but it’s as if we’re going nowhere. Or are we? Could it be that we put so much stock in the idea of waiting for God to trumpet His will to us in some big, elaborate way, that we completely miss the fact that His will is for us to just take the next step – whatever we think that is – now, here, in this moment?

Proverbs 16:3 (NIV) says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and He will establish your plans.” Notice that it doesn’t say, “Wait until the Lord gives you 12 different signs to do something, and then do it” or “Do nothing until the Lord establishes your plans, and then you can take the next step.” It says whatever we do, give it to God, and let Him use it! For some, that could mean making big changes…and for others, it could mean continuing in what we’re already doing. There are those who will feel called in 2019 to pick up and move abroad to serve in international missions – just like there are those who will feel called to the trenches of the “mission field” known as parenting. Others will take occupational risks by accepting a promotion or starting in a new career field altogether. Some will graduate from school and enter a new stage in their lives, and others will go back to school, thereby entering a new stage in theirs. None is better or greater or more “noble” than another – but God can use ALL of them, because He uses ALL of us. What we do in this temporary life is minor compared to why we’re doing it. Are we reaching the lost? Sharing the Gospel? Spreading His love? If the answer is “yes”, then we’re doing exactly what we’re called to do, regardless of how it looks!

Our God doesn’t confine His will to monumental life events, nor to everyday tasks and routines – He’s in both. As believers, He’s given us the gift of the Holy Spirit so we can seek discernment, but also so we can live confidently and expectantly, knowing that whatever our circumstances are, He can utilize them for His glory. This year, instead of viewing ourselves as going “nowhere”, let’s rejoice in the fact that He’s placed us “now, here” for this exact time in history, to use the unique abilities He’s given us to make an impact on earth as it is in heaven!

Make Room

Even if you didn’t grow up in church, you’re most likely familiar with at least a few characters in the Bible’s Christmas story. There’s Mary, the teenage virgin who was told by an angel that she was going to give birth to the Son of God, the One who would redeem humanity now and for all eternity. And Joseph, who, when he learned that his soon-to-be wife was pregnant – not with another man’s child, but through divine appointment – chose to stand by her despite the scandal that it would’ve inevitably created in their hometown. Then there are the shepherds, who had a whole host of angels appear to them while they were out in the fields caring for their sheep (can you imagine what was running through their heads that night?!).

This Christmas season, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about another cast member in the story: the innkeeper. You know the one. The person who told the parents-to-be that he didn’t have space for them. The one who directed Mary and Joseph to an area out back, suitable only for livestock, not for a young mother to bring her newborn son into the world. The character in the story whose inability to make room for Jesus resulted in His first cradle being an unassuming manger, a lowly feeding trough.

Do you think Mary and Joseph told the innkeeper what the angel had told them – that she was carrying the Son of God, the King for whom the Jews had been expectantly waiting and praying for centuries? Do you think the innkeeper was there when the shepherds arrived, out of breath and filled with excitement as they recounted to the new parents the story of how a chorus of angels had filled the sky and told them to come to Bethlehem to see the Redeemer of the world? Do you think that only after the birth of the baby did it occur to the innkeeper that he’d been at the center of a holy miracle – and he’d missed it? Do you think that later, the innkeeper wished he’d made more room for Jesus?

It’s easy to judge him in hindsight, knowing what we know now about Who that baby grew up to be. After all, what Christian would say “NO VACANCY!” to Jesus? But we do say that sometimes, don’t we? Sure, not in so many words, but what about in our actions? Do we keep “Christ in Christmas”, but not in the rest of the year? Do we give God our wholehearted devotion when we need something from Him, but give Him less than our best when life’s going great and we feel like we’re doing just fine on our own? How about the fact that we’re so busy going into debt trying to buy the perfect gifts for our family and friends that we forget to even utter a “Happy Birthday” to our Savior? After all, maybe the innkeeper didn’t mean to shut Jesus out. Maybe it was just oversight. He was busy. Distracted. Wrapped up in his own circumstances. Sound familiar?

This Christmas (and beyond), I’d like to challenge all of us to “make room at the inn”. May we not get so caught up in the commercialism, the hustle and bustle, the “what” of Christmas, that we miss out on the “Who” of Christmas. May we not focus so much on the presents under the tree, that we miss the honor to seek His presence. May He find that we’ve made room, eagerly waiting in anticipation of the miracle that’s about to unfold. Merry Christmas!