There’s been a lot going on around here, both in our FCC schedule and in the lives of our FCCers themselves.
First off, Michael Uhler and his family said good-bye to his mother this week, as she passed away on Sunday. And I also found out this week that my friend, Tony Haddad, has stage 4 cancer and has been placed into hospice. Please keep their families in your thoughts and prayers. It’s always hard to lose a loved one, but it can be especially hard during this time of year, when everyone is trying to be so focused on being thankful and joyful.
But that’s what we’ve been trying to emphasize, as we came together this past week to give thanks as a church family -- that our thanks and our joy should never be based primarily on how we’re doing personally and on how comfortable our life situations are at any given moment. We need to follow the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer and begin with simply praising God for who He is -- His character over and above His blessings. Happiness is based on our circumstances, but joy is something far deeper.
My family lit the first Advent Candle in the service this week, and we spoke about the hope that God has given us -- not the hope that our lives will improve, or our situations will improve, or even that the world will improve, but rather the hope that there’s something awaiting us far greater than our lives, our situations, or even this world. We have a hope that comes not from everything being easy or turning out rosy, but from persevering through suffering, which itself builds a character that has learned to be strong enough to be able to hope no matter what happens, because our character has come to trust God’s character (see Romans 5:1-5). Christ died for us while we still had no character at all (see Romans 5:6-8), so I can’t begin to imagine His commitment to us, now that we’re being transformed into His character.
But what does “His character” even look like? We talked about that in our message this week, as we began an Advent series on the coming of the King of kings.
See, when we say “King,” we can’t help but form a mental image. When people awaited the coming Messiah, some of them thought He’d be a great rabbi, some thought He’d be a priest, some thought He’d be a prophet, and others thought He’d be a great, conquering king. And kings either impress us or fail to impress us -- but both ways, a “King” is all about impressions.
God was the king of His people to begin with, but they decided that they wanted a king that they could see, a king that looked as impressive as the kings of the other nations. Never mind that their king had parted seas and cracked open the earth -- they wanted one seated on a throne that the neighbors could see and be impressed by.
So God gave them Saul, who looked impressive (because he was so tall and... um...), but whose heart just wasn’t in it. Terrifyingly, the people were okay with that -- they were fine with a less impressive king, so long as he looked impressive to others.
Help me out here -- how important is that “outward appearance” thing to you? Do any of these sound familiar?
Your family looks good, so whether or not you’re all really sold out to God is secondary.
You judge the leaders in your church and nation by how they come across and how impressive their resumés are.
You decide how committed you are to your spouse by how they come across to you, rather than by how you commit yourself to them.
You spend more time each day making sure that you come across well to others than you do on investing in your relationship with God.
The litmus test list could go on and on.
This Christmas, let’s try to judge by the present, not the wrapping paper -- and let’s not try to impress other people with our wrapping paper, either. There was nothing in Christ’s appearance to draw us to Him (see Isaiah 53:2). Rather, it was the core of His character that has drawn people to Him for two millennia.
This Christmas, how can you and I help remind ourselves and those around us to look for deeper things to give thanks for, and to focus on who God is rather than just what we want Him to be, and how that reflects on us?