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On This HOLY NIGHT
The Heart of Christmas
By Max Lucado, Jack Hayford, David Jeremiah, John Maxwell, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Thomas Nelson, Inc.
All rights reserved.
WHEN YOU FOLLOW A STAR AND FIND A STABLE
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The actress Helen Hayes once told a story about cooking her first Thanksgiving turkey. She explained that she wasn't a very good cook, but after several years of marriage, she decided to try preparing a turkey on her own. She sat her husband and son down before the meal and said, "This may not come out exactly the way you want it to. If it's not a good turkey, don't say a thing. Without any comment, just stand up from the table, and we'll go to the nearest restaurant and eat."
A few moments later, Helen walked into the dining room with the turkey. Her husband and son were already standing with their coats and hats on!
Our expectations definitely control our conduct.
We conduct our lives and our daily affairs based on what we expect from them. Kids provide a classic example. I would imagine that if you have grade school children in your house, you have no problem getting them up on Christmas morning. If you're like my wife, Margaret, and me, before you go to bed on Christmas Eve you pray, "Oh, God, let them sleep!" But the day after New Year's, when those same kids have to go back to school, it's an entirely different matter. Why? Because their conduct is controlled and influenced by their expectations.
What If You Follow a Star and Find a Stable?
In Matthew chapter 2, we read the story of the wise men following the star. And, based on that scripture, the question that I have for you is this: What happens when you've been following a star, and it leads you to a stable? What happens when all of a sudden, after thinking that something grand and glorious would be at the other end, you end up in the backyard of a barn? And there, instead of a palace and a king on a throne, you find a little baby held by his mother. It's nothing like what you had anticipated. How do you react when you follow the star and find a stable? How is your conduct affected by the outcome of your expectations?
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him." And when Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet, 'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah; for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.'" Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him." And having heard the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down to the ground and worshiped Him. Then opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1–12 NASB)
Can you imagine the disappointment the Magi must have felt when they finally ended up in Bethlehem? We know that they were expecting a mansion or a royal court. They even stopped at King Herod's palace to find out about this star and this child who was to be born.
Every one of us has had times in life when we've followed a star. Everything looked so promising, but we were to find out at the end that we were in a stable. Margaret's nephew Troy was a promising young athlete with a great mind. He was a good student in his second year in college. Troy was very handsome, and it seemed that he had everything at his fingertips. Then one night he was in a terrible automobile accident, thrown over one hundred feet from a car. He ended up in intensive care in a Columbus, Ohio, hospital. If you had looked at Troy just hours before his accident, you would have said, "There's a kid following a star. His future is unlimited." Afterward, we could only wonder if he had a future.
Go back to your high school graduation pictures and look at some of the kids whom you graduated with. Some of them started off with such promise. Perhaps you look at the things they wrote in your yearbook and think back—you were sure they would someday be a star. But now, as you look at them, you can see that life has been a disappointment.
College kids graduate with their diplomas tucked under their arms, ready to go out and win the world. But they find out that the jobs they wanted are not the ones that they got.
So many times I have stood before an altar and married a couple, so promising, so gorgeous. Everybody thought their marriage had tremendous possibilities, only to find out a few years later it was lying in ruin in divorce court.
Maybe it's your job, where you've been expecting a promotion. Finally the boss calls you into the office. As you sit there expectantly, you find out that you've been passed over—someone else got that position. You walk out of the office in a daze, realizing that even though you've been following a star, you ended up in a stable.
Maybe Mom and Pop are going to start a business. All their life together, they've regularly set aside a little bit of money for it. Finally the day comes when they can go down to the bank and leverage a loan, and off they go. They have such excitement as they open the doors, only to find out that they are a lot more excited than the potential customers outside on the street. They've been following a star—but one day they wake up and find themselves in a stable.
I've seen many people come to retirement age, and they can hardly wait to get away from the grind of work. All their lives they've worked so hard, and they finally get their gold watch. But they find out a couple of months later that retirement isn't really what they thought it was going to be. They get restless and unsettled. What happened? Well, they thought that they were following the star, but when they got to their destination, it was a stable.
There's a message that I preach to pastors at conferences called "Flops, Failures, and Fumbles." It's kind of my life story. In it I describe all the stupid things I've done in the ministry. It makes other pastors feel wonderful. I especially like to preach this message at the end of a conference when all they've heard about is success. It just kind of lets them know that everybody makes mistakes. Sometimes when you follow the star, it doesn't lead you where you want to go.
I read something the other day written by a pastor who had obviously visited a few stables along the way. He said:
My counselor has finally forced me to face the fact that I'm a failure in my ministry. Permit me to list my evangelical demerits: I've never been to the Holy Land. I mean, not even as a visitor, let alone as a tour guide. I wince whenever I see those ads that say "Go to the Holy Land" in a religious magazine. My wife even stopped buying Kosher wieners because they make me feel convicted. Every program I've ever started has failed. Our evangelism explosion didn't explode; it gave an embarrassed pop and rolled over and died. I attended a Church Growth Seminar, and while I was gone six families left the church. A refugee family that we tried to sponsor refused to come—the last I heard they were seeking asylum in a Chinese restaurant in St. Louis. Whenever I try Dial-A-Prayer I get the wrong number, usually a funeral home or a chicken carry-out place. I tried to Dial-A-Meditation, and the tape broke after the first sentence, which was, "So things aren't going well today." Our church teams never win any games. Baseball, basketball, volleyball, shuffleboard ... you name it, we've lost it. The town Little League champs challenged us and won. I am thinking of sharing all of this with our denominational leaders, but they're never around when I phone, and all their letters to me are addressed to occupant. I've been told that failure can be the back door to success, but the door seems to be locked and I can't find the key. Any suggestions?
That is the picture of a man who followed a star but found only a stable.
In Peanuts, Lucy sometimes feels like being the psychiatrist. One day, she puts up her little sign: "Psychiatric Help 5¢." As usual, her first customer is Charlie Brown. But this time she's so frustrated with him that she says, "Charlie Brown, sometimes I feel we are not communicating. You, Charlie Brown, are a foul ball in the line drive of life. You're often in the shadow of your goalpost. You're a miscue. You're three putts on the eighteenth green. You're a seven-ten split in the tenth frame. You are a dropped rod and reel in the lake of life. You're a missed free throw. You're a shanked nine iron. You're a called third strike. You're a bug on the windshield of life. Do you understand? Do I make myself clear?"
The beautiful part of the Christmas story of the wise men is what they do when they come to that stable. Through their actions, they teach us three things. I believe that all wise men throughout the ages have done these three things when they come upon a stable—to a place or situation that isn't exactly what they were expecting.
When Wise Men Find a Stable, They Look for God
Wise men of every age, when handed a difficult situation, don't panic about the problem, but hold steady and say, "God is somewhere in this stable of life. There's something I can learn. I'll hold steady because God is somewhere in this."
One of the things I like about the Bible is that the writers never try to make the Bible characters better than they really were. They just tell it like it was.
Look at Joseph, who was a very wise man. He understood how to find the good in the bad. Remember all the things that he went through? He was sold into slavery, lied to by his brothers. In a new land, in slavery, he was lied to again while working in Potiphar's house. He went through one setback after another. But finally God raised him up to be prime minister of Egypt. When his brothers came back, they apologized. What did Joseph say? He said, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good." Joseph had the ability to see God in the stable.
Look at Job, who found himself sitting on an ash heap. He was a good man who never did anything wrong. Yet there he was, going through persecution, loss of family, loss of fortune, friends standing around telling him to curse God and die. But Job didn't listen to their advice. Instead, he said, "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Job was able to see God in the stable of life.
Look at David, writing the Twenty-third Psalm in a cave while fleeing from his own son who wanted to take over his throne. David had the ability to follow the star, yet when he found the stable, he somehow saw God in it.
Look at the apostle Paul. Even while he was in prison, he was writing to the church at Philippi, offering an uplifting message and telling them to cheer up. When he came to a stable in his life, Paul was able to see God in it.
The difference between a weak Christian and a strong Christian is right here:
Weak Christians see God in only the good. When good things come along, the weak and immature Christian says, "Well, it must be from God, since everything good is happening." I always cringe when I hear somebody say, "Well, it's just working out so well, I know God must be in it." Not necessarily.
Strong Christians see God in both the good and the bad. The mature believer sees God not only in pleasures and palaces, but also in the barnyards and stables of life.
When Margaret and I lived in Ohio, we were in the process of trying to adopt our second child. We already had Elizabeth, and we were working with a wonderful Christian agency from Oklahoma City. We'd flown out and been interviewed once. And they were excited because they thought they had a boy for us.
When they called us, I was holding a conference in southern Ohio, and Margaret and I were together in a resort area with some other pastors. With great excitement, they told us that in three or four days we would have a boy. But the next day they called again and said, "We're sorry, but the state of Ohio won't let us bring the boy in because they found out that we only allow Christian parents to adopt children. They say we are not giving equal rights." The state had interfered.
Margaret and I sat in a room by ourselves realizing that the boy we had been expecting in a couple of days would not be our boy. We literally heard that bad news fifteen minutes before I was to go out and speak to pastors again. So we cried, trusted, and said, "God, Your ways are higher than ours. We don't understand this, but that's all right." Disappointed as I was, I went out and spoke.
That was in January. Two months later, Joel Porter was born. Little did we realize that God, in His sovereignty, had already chosen the boy we were to have, the boy who brings incredible delight to me, in all of his orneriness. His orneriness delights me because I was just like him.
In 1980, we left Lancaster, and I went to Marion, Indiana, for a year and a half to oversee evangelism for the denomination. It was the most miserable year and a half that Margaret and I have ever spent. I was traveling all the time, and she was staying home. In Lancaster, we'd left a beautiful home right next door to my brother, out in the country in the woods. We'd bought another home in Marion. In the year and a half we were there, a real estate depression hit, and houses went down in price. By the time we made the shift to come to pastor Skyline, we had lost over twenty thousand dollars on our house. But think of it—if I hadn't gone to Marion, Indiana, I wouldn't have come to San Diego. When I was following a star, I came into a stable. But God was there.
Here's the point. You may be walking into a stable period in your life. You've been following that star, and it looks so good. Then all of a sudden you say, "Is this it?" Remember, wise men have the ability to see God in the stables of their lives.
When Wise Men Find a Stable, They Offer Their Very Best to God
Wise men also give their best when they come to a stable. But that isn't our natural inclination. You see, instead of offering gold and frankincense and myrrh in the stable of life that we didn't expect, our temptation is to hold back. In fact, when we find a stable instead of a palace, we're often tempted to refuse to give anything, much less our very best.
The marriage isn't what it should be, and all of a sudden we say, "Well, maybe I want to hold back." We begin to stifle our feelings and to withdraw. When we come to a stable of life, to a time when we need to give our very best, that's when we're tempted not to offer the best we have. I think all of us need to go through what I call the "mirror test." Every day when I get up and look in the mirror, I need to ask myself, "Am I giving my very best in the situation that I'm in?" That situation may be one of many problems, or it may be one of great prosperity.
When the wise men came to the stable, they didn't withhold anything. They didn't look at one another and say, "You know, if we didn't leave anything here, we'd have this gold and frankincense for Herod. Maybe we should give it to him and his family. This is just a kid in a backyard stable. Certainly we don't need to give Him all of this expensive stuff."
The difference between the average and above average person lies in just three words: And Then Some. Great men of God, and great men of society, give their very best, and then some. They forgive people, and then some. They're always walking the extra mile. They're always taking the extra step. It's an effort.
Winston Churchill said, "The world is being run by tired men." He meant that those who really make a mark for God or for history cannot afford to function without sufficient energy. Those who make a difference are those who take the extra step, walk the second mile, give their very best to a situation, even when it doesn't look promising.
It's a joy to share this truth at Christmastime, because people can grab it. But sometimes average folks don't quite live up to it. A couple of years ago we took the kids to the Washington Monument. There was a two-hour wait to get on the elevator to go to the top. In my impatience, I walked up to the guy by the elevator and asked, "Is there any way we can make it up faster?" He looked at me and said, "You can go up now, if you're willing to take the stairs." I went back to the line.
Powerful, isn't it? "You can go up now, if you're willing to take the stairs."
You see, the average person in life wants to ride elevators. Average people want to get by doing the least, not the best. They're always saying, "How can I cut a couple of hours off work and do my least?" In America, this mind-set has given us shoddiness and a haphazard workforce, which has allowed other countries to dominate and become more powerful in industry. Why? Because we lost that extra effort that brings excellence.
Whether it's in preaching, or working in a factory, or at your own business, or within your own family, the mark of a Christian is that he will walk the second mile and turn the other cheek. A wise man or woman gives the extra effort, all for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Wise Men Find a Stable, They Change Their Direction
Have you ever had a stable experience that changed your life? I've had many. In my first year at my first pastorate, I made a hospital visit to a fellow who wasn't a Christian. I never witnessed to him, and I saw him five times. I was a "nice guy." Oh, I would pray a little prayer, maybe quote a little scripture, but I never talked to him about his soul. Then one Friday afternoon after I left him in the hospital, by the time I got to my car in the parking lot, he had died.
Excerpted from On This HOLY NIGHT by Max Lucado, Jack Hayford, David Jeremiah, John Maxwell, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren. Copyright © 2013 Thomas Nelson, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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