Is Your Tinsel in a Tangle? A Guest Post by Chris Wallace

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I’ve always looked up to my big brother Chris, and I’ve admired his witty way with words for a long time. He has a way with alliteration and knows how to turn a phrase in a new way that catches attention. What’s amazing is that while I sometimes labor over my writing words, working to find just the right word choice, he’s able to do this even while speaking without much thought at all. He can even do this bilingually, bringing out French words he learned in high school that I can’t remember even though I minored in the language in college. I especially appreciate his humble love for God and how he longs to follow Him well. I’m so glad he agreed to guest post for me today, on Christmas Eve. I hope you enjoy his words as I do. Merry Christmas!

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by Chris Wallace

That good old shiny, tin-coated, heavy lead tinsel was awesome! It had a dripping, glittering icicle effect hanging on the Christmas tree. You could fling just one strand at that Douglas fir, and it would cling to the pine needles like it was supposed to be there. As a little tinsel-totin’ tyke, I had a blast throwing pieces of it all over the tree, but when it came time to take all the ornaments down, it wasn’t so easy for me to take all those thin little strips off the tree without getting them all bent up and stuck together. And of course, just like my mom always saved all the bows from the opened presents, it was essential to preserve all of the glorious decorations for next Christmas, including the tinsel…you couldn’t buy the good stuff in the U.S. after 1972. Nowadays, most tinsel is just cheap, shiny mylar-coated plastic.

Why is it so important to us to decorate our Christmas trees and the rest of our homes with all that red, green and gold bling, and the lights on the house and the wreaths and so on? According to WhyChristmas.com,

“the evergreen fir tree has traditionally been used to celebrate winter festivals (pagan and Christian) for thousands of years. Pagans used branches of it to decorate their homes during the winter solstice, as it made them think of the spring to come. The Romans used fir trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia. Christians use it as a sign of everlasting life with God.

The first person to bring a Christmas Tree into a house, in the way we know it today, may have been the 16th century German preacher Martin Luther. A story is told that, one night before Christmas, he was walking through the forest and looked up to see the stars shining through the tree branches. It was so beautiful, that he went home and told his children that it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas.”

However it all started, many of us love the traditional trappings of the season as we surround ourselves with the beauty of all that reminds us of a source of Glory that we normally do not see in our daily lives. What exactly is this Glory we hear so much about in those classic Christmas carols every year?

As we read the redemption story in the Holy Scriptures in Luke 2, verse 9, “the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” The Glory of the Lord reminds us of the “Shekinah,” or cloud of intolerable brightness, which was a symbol of the divine presence in the Jewish Temple. Think magnificent splendor!

We long for the experience of this magnificent splendor. As creatures crafted in His image, we are drawn to the Source of the divine heavenly spirit that has been deposited within us. Yet we are often caught in a terrestrial tangle, straightening out the kinks in our inglorious daily quest for brilliance somewhere in the world around us. How do we find this Glory, even after all the glitz is in the garage?

I think John Piper is onto something in his book Desiring God (review here). In this magnificent look at our source of joy in God, he asserts that as Christians, our chief aim in life is to “glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” We experience this Glory when we allow ourselves to reflect His Glory by finding our joy in Him. So there is another component to this Glory, and it is joy! Joy to the World, The Lord is Come!

I think the thought is expressed well by John W. Peterson, who has written more than one thousand songs and fifteen cantatas that have sold more than three million copies. In this hymn he wrote in 1961, he recounts the powerful conversion experience of a man at the Montrose Bible Conference Grounds in Montrose, Pennsylvania:

O what a wonderful, wonderful day-
Day I will never forget;
After I’d wandered in darkness away,
Jesus my Savior I met.
O what a tender, compassionate friend-
He met the need of my heart;
Shadows dispelling, With joy I am telling,
He made all the darkness depart!
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul,
When at the cross the Saviour made me whole;

This man felt the true Source of Glory. It filled his soul, and he became full of joy. What is robbing you of joy this Christmas season? Is your tinsel in a tangle? This year, as you enjoy all that sparkles, will you look to Jesus the Glorious One to decorate the entire home of your heart?

A Hunger for God Review

I needed to read this book. It’s been sitting on my shelf for years, and I had picked it up earlier, but I’m glad I finally read it. I didn’t really know what the topic of the book was. I thought it was about being passionate for God, having a fire lit under me that I might follow hard after Him. In a way, it is, but specifically, it’s about fasting, a topic with which I haven’t spent much time. When I read verses such as Mark 2:20, when Jesus said, “But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day” I felt uncomfortable knowing I wasn’t fasting, but I didn’t really know what to do about it. I didn’t know anybody else who was fasting. Up until I graduated from college, I was training hard most of the year for my cross country and track teams, so I figured I probably shouldn’t fast while I was doing that. Once I had kids and was nursing, I thought it wouldn’t be wise to fast then, but honestly, most of the time, I just didn’t think about it.

I attended a Free Methodist college, which introduced me to fasting during Lent, but that only involved giving up one thing for forty days. It was a type of fasting, and I understood to some extent why I was doing it, but some years I wasn’t sure whether I had a double motive for doing it–was it ok to give up sugar both for God and for lessening my addiction to it? Should I even do it if my motives weren’t absolutely pure?

This book helped me a lot by encouraging me to fast more than just during Lenten season (Lent isn’t even mentioned in the book that I can remember), giving me reasons why people fast, showing me a biblical basis for fasting, and pointing out results of fasting through history. I do wish more had been said about how to fast–I still have questions about how long and how much to fast–but he does talk about that side a little bit, and I think I really need to talk to God about that. My fasting will probably look different than someone else’s fasting, depending on what God has called me to do.

I understand from this book that fasting is a physical representation of my hunger for God. One of my favorite quotes from the book expresses this well: “It’s a physical exclamation point at the end of the sentence, ‘We hunger for you, O God, to come in power.’ It’s a cry with our body, not just our soul: ‘I really mean it, Lord! This much, I hunger for you.’ ” (110). We fast, he says, not because “we are hungry for something we have not experienced, but because the new wine of Christ’s presence is so real and so satisfying” (42). We hunger for the fullness of God, so we express it through fasting. Another quote I love is, “Every time we fast we are saying with Jesus, ‘Not by bread alone, but by you, Lord’ ” (58-59).

Piper says that the fact that most of the Church in America doesn’t fast shows that we are comfortable with the way things are. We live in a time of great worship and prayer, but not as much fasting. This is very convicting to me. I do want to see change, but do I long for it, really hunger for it?

Yes, God knows if we truly hunger for Him without fasting, but Piper explains that God wants to see us actually live out our hunger for Him instead of just thinking it. In addition, as Piper puts it, “We easily deceive ourselves that we love God unless our love is frequently put to the test, and we must show our preferences not merely with words but with sacrifice” (18). Fasting proves to ourselves that God is more important to us than passing pleasures, which Piper says can be a greater enemy to our relationship to God than evil things. Many pleasures are gifts from God, but we have to be careful that we love the Giver more than the gifts.

One thing I was concerned about in fasting is whether it would become a pride issue for me. Would I think I was better than others if I did it? I’m still concerned about this, and as I head into this discipline, I do so with prayer that it won’t turn my heart that way. Piper does speak to this in a way that I think will be helpful to me: “Christian fasting does not bolster pride, because it rests with childlike contentment in the firmly established justification of God in Christ, even while longing for all the fullness of God possible in this life. Christian fasting is the effect of what Christ has already done for us and in us. It is not our feat, but the Spirit’s fruit” (45).

Another aspect I’m concerned about is whether I will do it in order to get what I want. I will fast for you, God, and then You’ll give me what I need/want. Of course, I wouldn’t say this on purpose, but I’m afraid that’s where my heart will be. Because, as Piper takes time to point out, God has responded to His people’s prayer and fasting in history. There are many examples of fasting being effective in hearing God or seeing Him move. However, he also is careful to say that fasting does not promise us what we want. Isaiah 58 makes clear that He wants our hearts to be right no matter what. Piper says, “If there is an unresolved pocket of sin in our life and we are fasting, instead, about something else, God is going to come to us and say, ‘The fast I choose is for that sin to be starved to death’ ” (136).

However, Piper argues that “It is good and right to want and to seek the reward of God in fasting” (76). He believes God desires to reward us when we seek after Him. I think he is right. For this reason, and because I really do want to see change in my life and in others’ lives, I do plan to seek Him through fasting. How to do that and how to do it with the right heart are still questions for me, but I don’t want to let that stop me from seeking Him in this way that He sanctioned in His Word.

I hope you’ll look into it with me!

Quotes from: Piper, John. A Hunger for God. Wheaton, 1997.

Suffering

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Suffering. There’s a fun topic! Do you ever feel like you’re not doing enough of it? Yeah, didn’t think so. Ever prayed for more of it? Probably not. But I would have to answer yes to both.

Lately, I’ve been reading Acts. I haven’t read it in a while, and I have been struck by the suffering the men joyfully underwent. Stephen’s face shone as he set his eyes on Jesus as his enemies threw large rocks at him to kill him (Acts 7). Paul chose to go back to Jerusalem after having been repeatedly warned by several people through the Holy Spirit that while there, he would be imprisoned (Acts 21). Paul went through A LOT of suffering (2 Cor. 11), but continued to do what would bring him more suffering, all for the joy of bringing people to know God.

I also just finished the last chapter in John Piper’s book that I talked about last week, Desiring God, which is all about joy in suffering. He brought up some verses I’ve wanted to avoid most of my life, namely John 15:20: ” ‘Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you, ‘ ” II Timothy 3:12: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” and other verses such as these. I want to forget about these verses because I haven’t seen this happen too much in my own life. I’d like to think I have been following Christ wherever He’s wanted me to go, but it really hasn’t resulted in much suffering.

It is true that many times I have chosen the harder way in life in order to do what I felt God was calling me to do, but after I read stories of missionaries who have been severely beaten and imprisoned for their faith and how it changed the lives of their persecutors, I wonder about my cush life.

You see, on top of this, I’ve had a taste of suffering in this life, even if it wasn’t for the sake of being a Christian (that I know of; Piper mentions that sickness and other seemingly perpetrator-less types of suffering might be caused by demons wanting to derail us). My suffering was nothing compared to what many have undergone, but cancer and death have taken a significant toll on my family, and I have experienced the pain of it. However, I remember the closeness I had with Jesus during that time, and I have longed for it in times of plenty. I have prayed for that sweet intimacy with Him again, going so far as to ask for hardships if that’s what it’s going to take. It’s worth it. And why not? He’s trustworthy. Look at Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. God won’t let us be tossed into the flames without being right by our sides through it.

I don’t want to suffer for the sake of suffering. I only want to be prepared to do what God wants for me so that I will gain the unspeakable joy that comes with closeness with Him, no matter what it costs on this earth.