Access

Oh, the joy of commercials! Interrupting our favorite shows and leaving us in suspense (or giving us a snack break), they fill our TV screens to convince us of something we need. Every year at this time, my emotions remind me of the marketing genius behind these ads. You can’t help but crack up when, after watching a bunch of “kid” penguins jump into arctic waters and complain about the cold, one dad penguin tells the other dad penguin he’s “gonna jump in that hot tub over there”. And who doesn’t tear up when Alexa tells a new dad at the end of his first day home with the baby, “I’m reminding you Laura loves you and you’re doing a great job.” 😭

But one commercial I saw this season just left me feeling confused. The ad shows a montage of home videos in which people open a gift and then freak out about what’s in the box. The over-the-top nature of their reactions led me to assume that these unboxed items included things like a positive pregnancy test or tickets to a dream vacation. But it turns out it was just a smartphone. Really?

I’m not sure I would ever be that excited about a phone, but I can see why someone might. With the wifi or data connection turned on, a smartphone gives its user access to the unlimited information, communication, news, TV, movies, photos, and games the internet provides. It’s not about the phone itself, it’s about what the phone gives you access to and the speed and quality at which you can now access it!

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Christmas is a time for joy, but if you’re like me, you struggle to find it. If you’ve been around the Christian world long enough, you know that “joy” does not have to equal “happiness,” but I’ll admit that after 40 years on this earth and 20 years in ministry, Christmas is kind of old news. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that the “joy” of Christmas is not in the decorations, parties, presents, music, or even the yummy food. I know that joy is found in the celebration of the birth of a baby, but is this birth really something to get all excited about?

In his prophecy in Luke 1, Zechariah declared the reason for the great joy that would come from Jesus’ birth:

First, it was the joy that God “has come to his people” (v. 68) Rather than a constant striving to access the favor and benevolence of a higher power, this higher power came to His people.

Second, it was the joy that in coming, He “redeemed them” (v. 68) and gave them “salvation from [their] enemies” (v. 71). The concept of ‘salvation’ implies that God would bring His mighty power with Him and then use it in their favor to spare them from further pain or disaster.

And third, it was the joy that because of this salvation, they would be enabled to “serve him without fear” (v. 74). To Zechariah, this meant Israel’s worship of God would be “freed from foreign oppression and internal dissensions”* but we now see the bigger picture – that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the localized, personal presence of the Holy Spirit would now empower all believers to serve “in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (v. 75).

Paul puts this together for us so well in Ephesians 2:18 where he states that through Jesus we “have access to the Father by one Spirit”. When God came to us in Jesus, He gave us great reason for joy! Because this baby was born, I have access, through that way-better-than-LTE Holy Spirit connection, to the “holiness and righteousness” of the Father and, therefore, can “serve Him without fear”.

Over-the-top joy comes from knowing I don’t have to strive for access to God, I already have it because of Jesus. Joy comes from realizing I don’t have to hide my sin because the “tender mercy of our God” is on perpetual download (v. 78). Joy comes from understanding I don’t have to know it all because His Spirit’s GPS will “guide [my] feet” (v. 79). Joy comes from acknowledging that He’s the One with the power and ability to do the redeeming, so I don’t have to focus on results. And deep-seated joy occurs when I look around at the problems in this world, feel completely hopeless, but then am reminded that I am a “hotspot” of His Spirit and He is working through me “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death” (v. 79).

If Christmas has become old news for you, maybe it’s time to stand up and show some unreasonable joy.  Jump, leap, shout, freak out, do a happy dance (I can’t “floss,” but maybe you can?), or just sing at the top of your lungs!

Good Christian men, rejoice,
With heart and soul, and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss:
Jesus Christ was born for this!
He has opened heaven’s door,
And man is blessed forevermore.
Christ was born for this!
Christ was born for this!

*https://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/1-74.htm

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Avoid

If there was a term for the “fear of parking” I would have it. In addition to my nyctophobia (Bring on the sunshine – or at least a flashlight!), arachnophobia (Spiders are not friends), and public-toilet-o-phobia (Ew.), I also have a paralyzing aversion to finding a parking spot in a crowded place. Tight spots, backing out into traffic, and “Do I need quarters for that meter?” are not my thing.

In most of the places I frequent, I have multiple oversized parking spaces available to me and I can almost always find a pull-through. I avoid the smaller lots at crowded times and if I’m in an unfamiliar place, Google Maps “Street View” allows me to choose the coffee shop where parallel parking will not be required.

Last weekend, I took my 12-year-old out for a special lunch while her sisters were at their swim meet. We dropped Tim and the other two off, agreed on tacos, and were excited when there just happened to be a taco place we’d never been to just a couple of miles away! Unfortunately, I forgot to check the “Street View” and as we drove down Route 30 toward Wayne, my blood pressure started to rise. This location was going to require busy-street parking on a busy holiday-season-Saturday and I don’t do busy-street parking, especially on a busy holiday-season-Saturday!

When we missed the place on our first drive by, I stopped at the next light and was at a crossroads. Surely there was another place we could get tacos with easier parking – even if it meant a longer drive? We had all day, after all 😉

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Parking may not be on your phobia list, but we all have things we avoid because of fear. Memories of prior trauma associated with that thing or the mental images of future discomfort that might result push us to run in the other direction or at least stay parked where we’re at.

Four times in the narrative of Jesus’ birth, angels appeared as messengers from God to people, and all four times they prefaced their message with the same phrase:

And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. (Luke 1:12-13)

But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Luke 1:29-30)

And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (Luke 2:9-10)

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:19-20)

The repetition of this phrase makes sense – I’d be freaked out, too, if some supernatural figure suddenly appeared and started talking to me! The Greek word for “fear” in all four of these verses is “phobéō” which means “to fear, withdraw (flee) from, avoid”.* So, in essence, the angels were saying “I may be scary, but don’t run away!”

But they were also saying, “The message I’m bringing may be scary, but don’t flee from it.” A baby born to an old woman? Another baby conceived by the Holy Spirit? A birth announcement made to shepherds rather than royalty?

For Joseph especially, he had every reason to run in the other direction. Rather than an actual appearance, Joseph’s angel showed up in a dream. How could he be sure his mind wasn’t just playing tricks on him? And even if it was true, was he qualified to be the dad of the Messiah? Yikes! And most importantly, marrying a woman carrying a child that wasn’t his might expose him to ridicule and rejection by his own people.

There’s an ounce of fear that prefaces every step of obedience and that fear often causes us to avoid it – or hang a right and drive clear in the other direction! It’s not our usual “phobias” per se, but the little things: social awkwardness, loss of comfort or security, opening ourselves up to criticism, having our weaknesses exposed, and the good old possibility of failure or frustration.

The instruction to “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” is less a condemnation on the feeling of fear, and more a charge to not let that feeling put you “to flight”.* If we’re listening, the Holy Spirit is constantly whispering our next steps in our ear – it’s how He works. Like Joseph, we may have reason to question: “Was that really from God or just my own thoughts?”. We may have a dozen reasons to believe we’re not qualified and we may have very legitimate concern about the criticism of others.

But, man, that Kalua Pork taco with Pineapple Chipotle Salsa, Cabbage, and Korean BBQ Sauce (and the smiling company across the table)? Totally worth it!

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P.S. For almost 20 years some very wise, trusted people have been telling me I need to publish the curriculum I write for Youth@Hope so that others can use it. And for almost 20 years I’ve avoided it because of my fear of it not being “good enough”. But on Monday afternoon, I hit that “Submit” button for the first time. And now I wait. And I’m kind of freaking out. Pray for me!

*https://biblehub.com/greek/5399.htm

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Wait

The Desilets family countdown is in full swing – only 196 days until summer vacation begins!

No, but really, our 7-year-old will gladly inform you that there are exactly 21 days remaining until Christmas. The decorations are up, the neighborhood lights (or light shows) are twinkling, and the smell of ginger cookies is in the air. The big day is coming soon!

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Waiting is hard. Whether you’re 7 or 77, any delay in receiving what you want or think you need is frustrating! Checkout lines, ticket lines, traffic lines, and restroom lines. Sign in, take a number, and we’ll be “right with you” – “Do you mind if I put you on hold?” The spinning wheel of a bad wifi signal, a video that won’t load, and, seriously? Two-and-a-half minutes of ads?! They said they would call you tomorrow – and that was three days ago. You know they saw your text, so why aren’t they writing back? The next phase of life, surely it’s going to get easier… And it seems like we’re always waiting for food 😉.

Most of our day-to-day waiting has an estimated end time, but it’s the unknown stuff that gets to us. Change seems slow, another day goes by, and the wheel keeps spinning.

In our fast-paced, fast-forward culture, waiting is hard – but waiting on God is even harder. We’re used to pushing buttons and making things happen, so when a situation falls outside of that ability, we get antsy. We know God has the ability to influence change and we trust that He is willing to use that power on our behalf because He cares for us. But about 99.9% of the time, we have to wait.

We’re all waiting on God for something – and we should be! The Bible is full of examples of faith-filled people asking for and expecting God to act. Through this asking and expecting, we take a posture of humility – surrendering control and admitting our need for Him. But sometimes we forget that in that surrender, we’re also waiving our right to speed up the process.

In Romans 15:4, Paul states that “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” When we think of our favorite Bible stories, we see a highlight reel of crisis points and miracle-moments. But like a movie or television show, we’re only seeing the “important” parts necessary for the story and don’t think about the significant amount of time between those events.

When you add up the numbers, you see that the Bible is full of hundreds of years of waiting. You see the 13 years between Joseph’s dreams and their fulfillment, the 14 years between David’s anointing as king and his appointing as king, the 40 years Moses was a shepherd in Midian before he returned to Egypt, and the 60-something years between Daniel’s refusal to eat the king’s meat and his time in the lion’s den. We forget that Abraham was 75 years old when God said, “‘I will make you a great nation’” (Genesis 12:2) and then not until 25 more years passed that Isaac was born. Where were you 25 years ago? Can you imagine waiting on God for one thing for that long?

It turns out there was more waiting than happening in the Bible and our faith-filled heroes lived their mundane, everyday lives in the in-between. Day after day they woke up, did chores or jobs, cooked meals, ran errands, and went to bed. I bet they even had to wait in lines (and they didn’t even have phones to distract them!)

But maybe the waiting was where things were happening. I want God to fix my problems, but maybe He’s doing most of that fixing in the times where it looks like He’s doing nothing. The waiting is where my heart is either softened to a place of trust or hardened to a lack of it. The waiting is where my motives are revealed – am I waiting on God to be who I want Him to be or am I waiting on Him to be who He is? If I’ve asked God to grow my faith, He’s going to make me wait – because it’s in the waiting where my faith does the growing.

As an adult, I’m not counting down the days until Christmas, but I certainly will be doing some waiting over the next few weeks! I can’t get everything from Amazon so there will be lines, and living in the same town as the largest mall in the country means one word: traffic. I’ve been challenged by my advent devotional this year to “learn to wait” by intentionally keeping my phone in my pocket during these situations.* The minutes might feel like an eternity, but I’m sure the waiting will be good for me!


*https://biblehub.com/timeline/
*https://www.thecommonrule.org/advent-edition

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