Last night as I was wrapping presents way too late into the night, I had a moment of panic over the way too extravagant impact of gifts my children would be receiving today. The white knuckled accountant in me began to feel angry that I hadn’t kept better track of all that we had purchased over the past month and the Pharisee in me began to lecture on the future implications of a Christmas morning filled with so much stuff. I suddenly felt the shame of participating hook, line and sinker in the materialism of the season, the gluttonous and undisciplined pleasure indulgence. Then the person and work of Jesus gave me that life saving slap of grace and reminder of the beauty of all that Christmas is with a stronger voice than all the others.
Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8
As with all types of moral laws where I am naturally tempted to take one extreme or another, the person and work of Jesus offers me a third way. Tasting and seeing that He is good does not offer an endorsement for a name it and claim it theology of health and wealth because that would require taking the verse completely out of the context of the entire story of redemption being told from Genesis to Revelation. On the other end, it also repels the notion that true holiness is found in rugged stoicism and rejection of pleasure or the material world altogether. The great chain of being is not actually biblical, no matter how noble it sounds. Jesus became flesh and made His dwelling among us, God became man…this alone is an endorsement for His value of the material world. He did not come to redeem merely ideologically or ethereally but the fullness of His creation. Did all this go through my mind as I was wrapping presents? No, but here is what did: He gives us tastes of the good things to come so we can begin to grasp how very good He is and how very great His redemption is.
What this means practically is that I can stop the nervous rocking back and forth and leave the chorus of complaint about the materialism of the season as if the stuff is the worst opponent of God’s kingdom. I know we can set our hearts on it more than God too easily, but His grace actually invites us into that experience of anticipation and delight, directed even at trampolines and iPod Touches, to help our hearts grasp just a sample of an even better anticipation and delight in being with Him. He used a boat in a flood, a people wandering in the desert, a man in a whale finally communicating to those who until he arrived were not part of God’s family and many other tangible experiences to communicate the person and work of Jesus to His people throughout history. He absolutely uses the material to help us grasp what is too wonderful for our minds to conceive. It seems, at least for my heart, stinginess and cynicism are a far greater assailant to my faith than enjoying the whoops and hollars at the first sight of a material gift hoped for and received.
However, as it is written: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him— 1 Cor. 2:9
God has been really showing me, lately, how I have forgotten to believe in the impossible. For good reason, the reluctance come from the knowledge that not all the things I desire are for the good of His kingdom, that my sin is often far more involved than a desire for His glory and His honor, and then there is also the reality that in a fallen world, brokenness is often how this particular chapter leaves off without everything being tied up neatly on this side of Jesus’ return. Those beloved of God still die of cancer, are left by their spouses, go into financial bankruptcy and struggle with mental illness. But my response to the brokenness is to then view the world from sin’s limitations rather than God’s possibilities. I quit using my imagination, leaving my prayer that “His Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” as merely words uttered without any genuine expectation that it will.
After a lovely morning of presents and feasting and family, we gathered to watch the DVD Chad had received in his stocking – Never Say Never: The Justin Beiber Story. Yes, that’s right, we did. And guess what? It was inspiring. No matter how ridiculous the girls are or how Justin comes off in his photo shoots and sound bytes, his story is incredible. From an early age, he was a performer within his own home, slowly taking his music to the streets of Canadian town where he belted out worship tunes that are familiar to all of us. He’s been raised by adoring grandparents who still insist his room is cleaned before he goes to hang out with his best friends when back in town on tour. His mom loves Jesus and is often the one leading the whole crew in prayer before his concerts, with prayers that sound as heart felt and focused on her Lord as those prayed in hospital rooms and in Bible studies. The point is, no other musician has gone from home YouTube recordings to Madison Square Garden in a year and a half as he did. His talent is real and admirable.
When I roll my eyes at the opening of presents or the musical dreams of my own children, I am not representing the heart of my heavenly Father but rather the bah humbug of my self-protective, self-reliant, short sighted and self-righteous inclinations. I tend to only believe in what I can see or believe based upon what I see. I don’t dream with my children if I don’t see how their hopes could possibly come true. What if I began to ask God to take them places I can never get them? God is generous with His love and therefore in His provision. His generous provision sometimes looks like a talking parrot toy and spy gear, trampolines and iPod Touches and sometimes more like a warm cup of coffee and real conversation, a hug that keeps you from totally falling down, a light in my eyes that is not coming from my circumstances or immediate future. His goodness invites me to walk away from the accountant’s desk and take out the tight bun in my stoic hairdo and relax my fists. His grace invites me to be honest about my dreams even as I lay them in His hands to take and do with them what He will. His love, grace and goodness remind me to fix my eyes on an eternal reality which should color my present days rather than the reverse of this which is limiting His kingdom by my present sight. Even better than Justin’s story, the person and work of Jesus remind me also to never say never.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat. For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD. Is. 65:18-25