A Christmas God-Smack: Hearing Difficult Messages

As the sliding glass doors opened, the line was twenty people deep. The last place I wanted to be a week before Christmas was in the post office, surrounded by all the other procrastinators who were rushing to mail cards and gifts. I glanced to my left and there were only two people at the self-serve kiosk. I became hopeful and took my place in line. After quickly checking my Facebook feed, I started wondering why the line was not moving to my satisfaction. All I could see was the back of a middle-aged lady and a stack of large envelopes needing to be weighed and stamped. Her indecisive body language triggered a surge of frustration. Clearly, she had no idea how to use this simple technology.

Patience has never been my default reaction. I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and thought, “I wish she would just step aside so I can get my stamps and get out of here!” Before long, I got my wish. The lady turned around in confused embarrassment, gathered her letters in arm, and waved the next person forward. Shame seized my heart as I realized that she was disabled.

I immediately said, “God, forgive me.” Then I heard a still small voice:  “Instead of selfishly judging her, why don’t you help her.” That’s called a God-smack, a divine correction that snaps us out of a sinful mindset and opens the possibility of a different perspective. Waiting in line gave me a couple of minutes to reflect on the situation. The truth is, I had no pressing business, but my impatience triggered a compulsive reaction instead of a faithful response. Fortunately, shame got my attention and the gentle whisper of God allowed me to quickly correct course.

As the man in front of me went on his way, she waved me forward. After quickly buying a book of stamps, I said, “Let me help you.” She cautiously stepped in my direction as I smiled and clicked the icon to start. With a new found patience and kindness (what Christians call grace), I walked her through all the steps to get the right postage stamp for her first package. Then I said, “You got this!” and walked to the counter behind her to stamp my Christmas cards. I continued to glance up occasionally to make sure she didn’t need any more help and then said, “Merry Christmas,” as I left. My first reaction was not my best response, but neither did it have to be my last. This is grace in action.

Sometimes God speaks to us through the most unlikely people. Sometimes the way God communicates through others is subtle and easy to miss if we are not paying attention. And sometimes the message itself is hard to hear because it discloses character defects and further spiritual work. In this situation, God not only spoke to me through an unlikely stranger, but God also revealed remnants of impatience, selfishness, and judgmentalism lingering in my heart.

Reflecting on this situation raised an important question for me: How can anyone grow spiritually if they are deaf to these kinds of divine messages?

As you go through life this week, pay attention. Is it possible that God is trying to speak to you through someone else, even an unlikely stranger? Ask God to give you the courage to remain open to messages that might be hard to hear so you can grow into the likeness of Christ. And live in faithful expectancy, trusting that God has something to say and the power to say it if you will just find a little time to listen.

For more on this topic, see my message, “Reaction or Response?”

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Bah Humblebug! What is Humility and Why Is It Important?

As counter-intuitive as it might seem, the humble are the most powerful people in the world. They are also the most dangerous to those in positions of power, because they are difficult to manipulate with flattery or fear. God’s assessment of their life is what’s most important, so people pleasing is left behind. Since they do not feel compelled to project and defend an idealized self-image, the humble do not need the praise and admiration of others. This enables them to live authentically. In the teaching that follows, Pastor Mark explains how the virtue of humility has been distorted in our contemporary context. Drawing on the example of Christ and the Christmas story as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, he goes on to explain the true meaning of this virtue and why it is important for Christians today. The audio is also available on Pastor Mark’s iTunes podcast. Other messages in this Advent series can be found on Pastor Mark’s YouTube channel.