The Christmas List

Gracie held her pencil above the last remaining blank page in her planner. “Ah-ha!” She lowered the pencil to the paper, then picked it up again. “No-o.” Who knew you could get writer’s block for a Christmas list?!? There were decisions to be made and gifts to be bought. Now was the time!

This was her moment: the quiet
half-hour before the chaos…
the calm before the storm.

She checked the breakfast casserole again. Still forty minutes to go. Everything else was ready. Her family was on their way. They would eat brunch, then hit the Black Friday sales. This was her moment: the quiet half-hour before the chaos…the calm before the storm. Tomorrow wouldn’t be any better. In fact, every day between this one and Christmas would be loaded with extra things.

Gracie pulled a box of Christmas decorations out of the hall closet. She needed to be productive, and If she couldn’t write the Christmas gift list, she would get started on the decorations. The nativity set lay on top.

She picked up the Mary. I bet Mary had a list of what she needed after the baby was born—things she had packed before they left Nazareth. Maybe she catalogued the donkey’s saddle bags as they trudged toward Jerusalem.

She grabbed Joseph in the other hand. Did Joseph have a list? Probably a list of places to check for lodging…doors to knock on so they wouldn’t have to sleep outside. Maybe he searched his memory for additional options as they trudged toward Jerusalem.

Gracie set both pieces near the center of the mantle. She bent down and collected the three shepherds. It’s always three, to balance the wise men. She thought about the shepherds’ journey into Jerusalem and sat down hard on the ottoman. They didn’t trudge toward Jerusalem. They were excited all the way into town!

Gracie pulled her phone from her back pocket. Ignoring the social media notifications, she opened her Bible app to Luke 2.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  –Luke 2:15-16

There was only one thing
on their list: see Jesus.

The shepherds “hurried off,” not because they were in a hurry—not busy-ness, Gracie thought, but because they wanted to get there as quickly as they could to see the amazing thing God had done…the Messiah He had finally sent to earth. There was only one thing on their list: see Jesus.

Mary and Joseph both had incredible responsibilities that first Christmas. It’s understandable that, in their exhaustion and the burden of their roles, they trudged toward Bethlehem. We are not them. All the work has been done.

She decided to put one thing at
the top of her Christmas list, one
thing that was easy to overlook.

Gracie still had to make a list of all the Christmas gifts to buy. She still had to get the casserole out of the oven and host her family’s annual post-Thanksgiving brunch. But she decided to put one thing at the top of her Christmas list, one thing that was easy to overlook, easy to let slip to the bottom of the list. Gracie wanted to see Jesus this Christmas.

She stood up and looked around. Then, she set the shepherds on a table across the room from the mantle. Each morning, she planned to move them a little closer to the mantle, and in those moments, she would contemplate the Messiah who came to earth for all of us. She would see Jesus.

What’s at the top of your Christmas list this year? Here’s a little #flashfiction fun to set the mood. Because my #ChristmasList is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Do you have a plan to see Jesus this holiday season? It’s easy to get distracted by all the responsibilities and obligations (both real and imagined) of the season. In the comments below, please share how you keep your focus through the holidays.

Blessed Are: Conclusion

Moses stood on the side of a mountain and delivered commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) to help God’s people behave. Jesus sat on the side of a mountain and delivered descriptions (Matthew 5:3-12) to help God’s people become His representatives. There’s an obvious comparison between the two. In fact, some people say Jesus is a second Moses.* (More about this connection in the introduction to this series, Blessed Are: Ten Commandments Turned Inside Out). Between the two Moseses, prophets, kings, leaders, and at least one simple widow show us all that God’s grand plan has always been about who we are more than what we do. Jesus was just the first to spell it out. Continue reading

Blessed Are: The Insulted

I'm happy to introduce you our guest writer, Carla Pollard for this month's
installment of our series, Seeking the Beatitudes in the Old Testament. You
will be blessed by Carla's insight, and you can read more about her at the 
end of this post.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  –Matthew 5:11-12 

David was God’s anointed leader for the nation of Israel. He was the giant-slayer, a conqueror, the one who was hailed as a man after God’s own heart. David, the shepherd boy who worshiped his Lord through music and song was a great leader and mighty servant of the Most High. Continue reading

Who God Shows Up For

A Canaanite woman came to Jesus, asking that her daughter be healed. After a somewhat peculiar exchange of words, “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment” (Matthew 15:28).

This Canaanite woman had great faith.

An influential Roman centurion in Capernaum requested that Jesus heal his beloved servant, but he knew Jesus didn’t have to be present to do a miracle. “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, ‘I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel’” (Luke 7:9). The servant was healed by the time the centurion’s representatives got home.

This Roman centurion had amazing faith.

And yet Peter—oh, Peter—who witnessed these and many other exchanges between Jesus and various Gentiles, didn’t catch that Jesus came for all peoples. He was so acclimated to his privilege (as one of God’s chosen people) that he couldn’t move beyond it without a specific, individualized vision from the Lord. Continue reading

The Gospel Trickled Out of Jerusalem

People like to say that, in Acts, the Gospel explodes across the known world. But it doesn’t really explode. It trips, tumbles, and trickles out of Jerusalem, sometimes one person at a time.

Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.  –Acts 10:43

Everyone.

Still, it took believers awhile to catch on to what everyone meant. Continue reading

Blessed Are: The Persecuted

Nobody in the Old Testament chose to be a prophet. They didn’t grow up answering, “I want to be a prophet when I grow up,” and plan their education accordingly. Consider Moses’ reluctance to speak for God (Exodus 3) or Amos’ declaration, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14). Then there’s the most well-known denial of God’s calling: Jonah, who heard from the Lord and ran the other way (Jonah 1:1-3). Speaking for the Lord was never one’s first choice and never accepted by others.

Jesus pointed his finger at the Pharisees and back through time, saying, “You testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute’” (Luke 11:48-49).

Being a prophet was never easy. Continue reading

Acts Progression: Philip and Paul

We’re making our way through Acts, talking about the situations and verses that rise to the top this time. Now we’ve come to my favorite story in the New Testament: Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40). Not surprisingly, I’ve already written a bit about this here on #NotAboutMe.

Philip 1
(c) Carole Sparks

In Things Not Said: Philip, part 1, we spend the whole post in Acts 8:26. Meeting Philip at the height of his career in Samaria, we watch his obedience take him down an unknown road–literally.

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  -1 Samuel 15:22

Philip 2
(c) Carole Sparks

Watch God arrange innumerable circumstances so that Philip and the Ethiopian cross paths at the right time. In The Right Place at the Right Time: Philip, part 2, we cover Acts 8:27-29 and rest in the confidence that God is in control.

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.  -Isaiah 55:9

Philip 3
(c) Carole Sparks

Finally! In Intersection: Philip, part 3 we see Philip speak to the Ethiopian guy, climb into his chariot, and share the Gospel. It’s Acts 8:30-40, and the principles for evangelism are clear.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  -Hebrews 11:6

I’ve also spent some time with Saul-who-became-Paul. Click on one of these links if you’d rather read more about Saul/Paul.

Paul inauspicious beginning
(c) Carole Sparks

Acts skips over it, but Paul spent three years in the wilderness before his ministry was effective. Paul’s Inauspicious Beginning pulls from Acts 9 and Galatians 1 to explore the early days of what became the most fruitful Christian ministry ever. The principles for us are clear.

An early post, “Do Me a Favor?” looks at the way we responded to God’s personal leading in our lives, using Ananias (Acts 9:10-19) as an example. There’s also a bit about my friends asking me for money.

This post, A Martyr Mindset, came up in conversation just this week. Sometimes our greatest personal sacrifice isn’t the path to God’s greatest glory. Sometimes we sneak out of town in a basket (Acts 9:23-25, 2 Corinthians 11:21-29)…or the modern-day equivalent.

A pile of previous, but still pertinent, posts on Philip and Paul as we progress through a pair of chapters in Acts. Both my alliteration and my #BibleStudy are #NotAboutMe.  (click to tweet)

With over six years of blogging now, I’ve covered a lot of territory. Which of these posts looks most interesting to you? I would really appreciate it if you leave me a comment on that post or pop back over here to let me know.