Thursday, December 25, 2008

Gifts Come In Unexpected Packages

Isn't that usually the way it is with the Father of lights up above from whom every good and perfect gift comes (James 1:17)?

But how often do we recognize this to be the case? God, in His grace, opened my eyes to recognize a sweet gift from Him in an unexpected package that I received last night (or rather, early this morning).

I left Morgan Hill (the city where I live) to come to my mom's house in Antioch last night later than I should have. It was around 10:30pm. And sure enough, I began to feel sleepy on the road only about half way to my mom's house. About 20 miles away from my mom's house, I was abruptly roused out of my drowsiness when I began to hear a sound from my car that I was certain it shouldn't be making. So immediately I pulled over to try to see what the problem was. My first thought was to check my tires. Front left? Fine. Back left? Fine. Back right? Fine. Front right? Flat.

I had stopped at a strange location (I wasn't in a traffic lane but to the right of me was a freeway entrance so I had cars on both sides of me) so I got back in my car to move my car forward to where I would be completely off the road and as I did I could smell what seemed to be burning rubber. Not good. I knew I couldn't move any further in my car.

So here I am just after 12am on Christmas day with a flat tire about 20 miles from my house and no clue what to do. I could call home to have someone pick me up but then what would I do with my car, especially since it was Christmas day? Looking up the road, I noticed what seemed to be the bright lights of a gas station. So for some reason, it entered into my mind to walk to the gas station to see if I might be able to find someone there to help me. A tow truck perhaps? I didn't think it was a good idea to drive my car there considering what I was hearing and smelling from it so, seeing that the nearest road sign said that the next exit was only half a mile away, I decided I would walk to the gas station.

That walk was more unpleasant than I ever thought it would be. With cars zooming past me on my left, not only was there a slight rain but there was a strong, chilling wind coming from my right. The wind combined with the rain made it feel like it was alot colder than it really was. It was dark, rainy, and cold and I had no clue what would transpire over the next couple of hours. How long would I be out here? What would happen to my car if I left it out here? This wasn't helpful so I began to call Scripture to mind...

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want...Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me...

Then I began to recite Romans 8, which I have been trying to memorize over the past month, which begins with: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...

No condemnation. That's a sweet truth to hear when it's dark, rainy, and cold and you find yourself in undesirable circumstances.

I only have about half the chapter memorized so I came to an end with: For I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us...

And it was as if God was asking me right then: Do you really believe that?

Yes, Lord, I believe you. I have been reading for the second time (and not the last, Lord willing) Future Grace by John Piper so I began to pray: I put my faith in your future grace, Father. Please give me grace. I am completely dependent on your grace and I trust You to help me. Thank You that You are my God, that You are ruling over all and that You are for me.

I began to wonder how cold it must have been for those shepherds who were traveling to see the newborn baby Jesus on that first Christmas morning. No matter how cold it was, their reward was still greater.

When I got to the gas station, there wasn't really anyone there. So I walked around for a couple of minutes, checked to see if there was an air machine, and then began the walk back to my car. The chill really began to pick up on the way back and I felt so cold that for a few seconds I didn't know if I would make it back to my car. I'm not kidding. Then I remembered this promise God gave to the psalmist: Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me (Psalm 50:15). And I began to pray: I bank on that promise, Father. I know that Your Son came so that this specific promise among many others would be Yes to me because of His life, death, and resurrection. So I call upon You. Please come and deliver me so that I may glorify You!

What if I went back to my car and found the tire just fine and no longer flat? Did I believe God could do that? Yes Lord, I believe You can. So I prayed for that to be the case. And then I found myself wavering back and forth: for a few moments I would feel confidently certain that the tire would be fine once I got back to my car and then I would see in my mind that flat tire. Oh Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief! While this battle was going on in my mind and heart, I noticed a car that had pulled over onto the shoulder as I was walking back to my car. Then it started to move towards me (I was walking along the same path I came) with its hazard lights on. As it passed by me, I noticed that this car also had a flat tire.

But as my car was coming into sight, all I could think about was that tire. As I came closer and closer, my eyes were locked on my front right tire. Would it be the same as when I left it? When I finally got back to my car, my heart sank as I saw that the tire was completely flat. All I could do was climb into my car and thank God that I was no longer in the cold. Just being in the car was truly a blessing.

I decided that my best bet would be to drive my car as slowly as I could up to the gas station. It had occurred to me that this was probably what the other car did. I thought to myself that if they could make it, I probably could. But I wasn't going to move if I again smelled that burning rubber. So, turning on my hazard lights, I began to drive no faster than five miles an hour. No strange sounds or smells. Good news.

It only took me a couple of minutes (I should have just done this in the first place. It was a whole lot faster than walking) to get back to the gas station. I pulled in to the spot right next to the air machine. Looking at my tire, I realized that putting air into it would have accomplished nothing because it was almost completely displaced from the rim. What was I going to do now?

When I had pulled into that spot in the gas station, I noticed that the car with a flat tire that I had seen driving towards me when I was walking was also at the gas station (as I had suspected). After I had checked my tire, I noticed that they now had a spare tire in the place of the flat one and were pulling out of the gas station. As they were getting ready to drive past me, they rolled down the passenger window and inside was a Hispanic man and what I assume to be his wife in the passenger seat and children in the back.

You need help? The woman asked me.

My tire is flat and I don't know what to do.

You have extra? The man asked me (referring to the tire).

I wasn't sure so I went to open my trunk to see if there was a spare there. And, sure enough, I discovered for the first time (I probably should have known this) that there was a spare tire in my trunk. So I told him that I did have an extra.

They parked their car and the man pulled out of his car a jack and wrench of sorts. Within 10 minutes, he had replaced my tire.

We had talked for a few of those minutes and I learned that he was on a visit from Washington to see family in the area. When he got up from the ground, I asked him his name and told him mine. I asked Jaime if I could give him something for his help. He smiled at me and refused. All I remember him saying was something like, "It's for Christmas. Merry Christmas." I asked him if he believed in Jesus Christ, if he was a Christian. I'm not sure if he understood me because at first he said something like, "It's different." But then he told me that, yes, he did. I didn't know what else to say so I thanked Jaime again and told him, "God bless you." I got back into my car and felt so thankful for Jaime and his family that just before they had pulled out I got out of my car with a plate of sweet goodies I had received for Christmas and I asked them if I could give it to them. Jaime took it from me and said: thank you Chris. As I got back into my car, I waved at them one last time as they drove off.

Looking back, I wish I had told Jaime about how I had prayed to God and that he and his family were the answer to my prayer. As a side note, whenever I have encounters with people with an opportunity to share the gospel, I am always reflecting afterward on how I could have directed the conversation so as to have given a more effective witness for Christ. But I'm pretty sure that this interaction wasn't so that God could give something to them through me. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it was so that God could give something to me through them.

As I watched them drive off, for some reason the direction they went was a direction that was away from and not back towards the highway. Were they lost? Or were they simply going back from the way they came? Only God knows.

I drove home from the gas station last night at 1:30am in complete silence. I was driving so slow that it felt like the whole world was passing me by. But my reason for going so slow didn't have to do with my tire. I was in awe of the grace of God. Here I was not just back in my car and out of the cold. I was driving. I had called upon God in my day of trouble. He had delivered me. How was I to glorify Him?

When I was walking to my car, I had an idea in my mind of what God's deliverance would look like. And it was at that very time that Jaime and his family had driven by me with their flat tire. The answer to my prayer was right before my eyes in the very moment that I was praying! I just didn't know it. And you know what? This answer to my prayer is no less miraculous than the one I had envisioned.

It "just so happened" that I was only a half mile away from a gas station when I pulled over with a flat tire? It "just so happened" that I would get the idea to walk to the gas station and then see Jaime and his family as I walked back? It "just so happened" that it was only lightly raining and so that the rubber was no longer burning yet I didn't get completely drenched? It "just so happened" that Jaime and his family were just leaving the gas station as I got there? It "just so happened" that I had a spare tire in my trunk and Jaime had the exact tools that were needed to replace it? No way in the world. Yahweh was ruling and reigning over every detail, every thought, and every movement last night as He always is. When we consider the wonder of God's providence in governing all things at all times down to the smallest detail to fulfill His every purpose, is this not just as miraculous--if not more so--than a single miraculous event such as a flat tire magically becoming fixed? My answer to that question is that I'm glad God does it His way and not mine.

I've thanked the Lord many times upon arriving at my mom's house for bringing me home safely. But it has never felt the way it did last night. As I got into my warm bed last night, all I could think about was how cold it was when I was walking. When I got home, everyone was sound asleep. Who would have come to pick me up? I couldn't get out of my mind that the only reason I was lying there rather than sitting in my car or standing outside was because God had kept His promise. Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you shall glorify me.

I went to bed asking God why He let me get a flat tire. As I woke up this morning, I think I know the answer why. It was His Christmas gift to me (just on time to start Christmas day at 12am!). What do I mean by that?

The greatest gift in the world that God has given us is His Son. Jesus Christ was born into the world 2,000 years ago. And that's what we celebrate every December 25. But Christmas can easily get saddled with tradition and familiarity. And in the midst of Christmas, whether we realize it or not, we have lost God's Son. Yes, even us Christians. So this morning I found myself wondering what it would have felt like to wake up on this Christmas morning if the events of last night had not taken place. Yes, I would have been thinking that today is about Jesus like every Christian should. But good thoughts aren't mainly what God wants to give us.

This Christmas morning, I have felt the preciousness of knowing that the Shepherd is with me even as I walk in dark, cold, rainy valleys (Psalm 23:4).

This Christmas morning, I have enjoyed the comfort of knowing that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) when my circumstances seem fitting for one who should be condemned.

This Christmas morning, I have drawn confidently to the throne of grace to find grace for a well-timed help because I have a Great High Priest who has passed before me into the heavens (Hebrews 4:14-16).

This Christmas morning, I have been heard by the Father because I have made requests to Him in Jesus' name (John 16:23).

This Christmas morning, I have cashed in on promises that God has made to me because I know that all the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20).

So, do you see what God was giving me when He gave me a flat tire? I think I now do. He was giving me Jesus. And, in so doing, He was giving me a truly merry Christmas because I couldn't have asked for a sweeter gift!

May your Christmas truly be merry!

So from the bottom of my heart, I thank You again Father for the Christmas gift of Your Son coming to me on this occasion in the package of a flat tire. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Where Was The Son Of God ... ?

... on that first Christmas night two thousand years ago?

... on that first Easter morning roughly 33 years later?

The essence of Christianity (and no less its wonder) is in the answer to those questions: The manger wasn't empty two thousand years ago. And today, the tomb is.

No, I know this isn't original. But that doesn't make it any less worth saying and celebrating.

Merry Christmas!

And, no, I'm not six days early (or four months early for that matter because Jesus is risen indeed!). We celebrate Christmas only because of Easter. And Easter is only possible because of Christmas.