Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas...no small deal

Isn't it interesting how Jesus' popularity skyrockets for 5 weeks at the end of the year. Granted, the holiday vernacular has changed in recent years to bypass His name, and once in a while a baby Jesus is stolen from a nativity scene, but by and large, Jesus is a pretty popular guy in December. Now, this isn't to say that he's not a popular guy the remaining 47 weeks in a year, but clearly, this is the time of year where His name is heard more. To put it mildly, celebration of the birth of Christ is a big deal. Most likely, from the very place where you read this, there will be some sort of Christmas reminder nearby. That could be a nativity scene on your coffee table, Elvis Presley singing "Blue Christmas" in the background, or perhaps it's the array of lights assaulting all darkness from your neighbor's home. With all the fanfare and celebration that revolves around the Christmas season, you'd sure image the first Christmas was a big deal. However, that wasn't the case. The most influential person ever to walk the earth entered it among no fanfare. There weren't songs playing, there weren't elaborately decorated trees, his name wasn't in lights, and people weren't gathering to light candles the night before. No, when Jesus entered this world, it was not a big public event (even though there were prophesies). Simply, a boy was born in a barn, and some visitors arrived. As my former college professor said, "With all that he was and that he would be, you would have at least expected him to glow in the dark." Instead, he arrived like any other baby; crying and vulnerable.

Perhaps that is the reason that Jesus' popularity is so high during this season. Many of us like to think of the unassuming and vulnerable baby Jesus instead of the controversial and powerful grown up Jesus. Baby Jesus is sweet and soothing. Grown up Jesus, when you get to the core of his message, transforms your life. You see, we're not always comfortable with transformation, or change that alters our worldview. When the Jesus the man says "...any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33), he's suddenly not as sweet and soothing as he seemed as a baby. Jesus the man destroyed the former the lives of those who followed him and rebuilt new ones. The baby Jesus did not. Maybe that's why we latch onto his name during the Christmas season. We'll conveniently forget about the man who calls us love our enemies, give away our wealth, and concede our wants so that we can celebrate him as a baby by giving and receiving presents.

This year, let's not only celebrate the baby whose conception was immaculate and whose birth was unspectacular. Let's celebrate the arrival of the man who changed the world by loving people. Let's celebrate the arrival of the most influential man in history. Let's celebrate the man who brought redemption. Jesus, God incarnate.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Mircales Don't Have to be on Christmas Day

Standing in a hospital lobby and soaked by cold November rain, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. My stomach knotted as I saw that Emily was calling…I knew that meant news about Chris. His operation began at about 8 am and all we knew was that the surgeon had finished about 10. With the knowledge that the surgery was anticipated to take between 3 and 4 hours, I had a bad feeling about the doc being finished so early. Before I even had a chance to say hello, Emily, her voice full of excitement and relief said: “You’re not going to believe this…they can’t find anything!”
“What do you mean they can’t find anything?”
I replied.
Emily: “As in the tumor is gone…the doctor said it isn’t there!”

The following day an MRI confirmed what the surgeon had found…rather what he didn’t find. Dumbfounded, he stood before Chris and Emily saying that he didn’t know what to say. “On Tuesday the tumor was revealed on the MRI…it was focalized (as he made a circle with his thumb and index finger). Today we can’t see anything but normal brain.”

People across the country and scattered globally were praying for Chris…fervently asking for healing, or for a miracle such as this. What an amazing example of God’s power!
Here are a few comments/ text message responses by people that know/love Chris:

“If anyone deserves a miracle, it’s Chris Morgan” - Lee Johnson

“I’m all over the place…smiling but crying at the same time. Just awesome! I’m mad at myself for ever doubting God’s power in this.” - Matt Bentley

“UNBELIEVABLE!!”- Loni Garcia

I wish I had the same faith my mom has…who said she was “going to pray for this to just disappear.” That sounded good to me, but I can’t say I ever truly believed that was a possibility. Looks like you were right mom.

Perhaps God is easiest to see when reality is without rationale.

How bout you? You see Him?

God wins.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

True Friendship

Today I write to ask for your prayers for a brother. Chris Morgan went beyond being my friend years ago…when someone is more familiar with the contents of your refrigerator than you are, it’s safe to say that they’ve reached family status. My brother Chris is battling brain cancer…and he needs your prayers. Thursday he will undergo his second operation in four months, this one to remove a 2 cm tumor.
Chris is the most loyal person I’ve ever known, and has always been there for me….even when I didn’t know I needed a friend there. For example:

We lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs in 1999 (Chris‘s senior year and my soph)…we were miserable…so after eating our weight in Applebee’s riblets, Chris sang off key the whole way home from Oak Ridge…I felt a little better.

In High School, within a span of 24 hours I went from having 3 dates to 3 different proms to 0 dates. Chris told me that I would have just spent a bunch of money, said something stupid, and that none of the girls really liked me anyway…I felt a little better.

In middle school, I got really mad at Chris for saying that I was too fat to be getting in a go-kart. After fussing at him he said, “Buddy, some guys are fat…and that’s ok”…I felt a little better.

We went fishing one hot summer afternoon…I was bummed because I didn’t catch a single fish. I looked to my left and see that Chris somehow fell in the water and got his shoelaces caught around a log. He had to carry the log to the shore to free himself…I felt a little better.

I was upset after a breakup in college. I didn’t care about the Steelers game on TV and I barely ate any of the pot roast and mashed potatoes on my plate…Chris knew that the situation was dire. That’s when he called me out for not putting enough effort in the relationship…and told me that he knew I felt guilty and that I had a phone that worked if I wanted to use it…I felt a little better.

We watched Tennessee blow an undefeated season by getting clobbered by Auburn on a rainy night in Knoxville…Chris said let’s eat as much pizza as we can…I felt a little better.

I was ditched for another guy by a girl I was kind of dating on New Years Eve 1999. Chris showed up at my door ready to drive wherever to whoop whoever. Instead we celebrated the millennium in downtown Kingsport with a random group of friends we found…I felt a little better

My beloved Black Lab Jake died on his 8th birthday. Chris cried too…and to this day he can’t ring the doorbell at my parents house because he expects to hear Jake’s bark and frenetic clatter of claws on the hardwood…I felt a little better

We were digging a hole in South Carolina and hit a gas line, breaking it. I beat myself up for not knowing the gas line was there. Chris said “Well, now you know it's there”…I felt a little better.

I have a million more of these stories, but I’ll stop. Notice that Chris didn’t really say anything too profound, and that he didn’t really do anything heroic here. (though there have been times where he has done both) What he has said or done hasn’t really mattered. What matters is that I’ve always known that he’s my brother , that he loves me as a brother, and that he cares. Right now the least I can do is to show him how much I care and love him as a brother. I do that now by asking you to pray for Chris…pray for the surgeons, pray for his wife Emily, and pray for his baby daughter Gracie. Ask God for healing. Chris has always let me know that I’m not alone in a tough time…Thursday I want him to know that he is anything but alone.