Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year of the Cow Manure

As I reflect back on this past year, it seems that the When Life Delivers a Truckload of Manure on Your Driveway, captures the essence of it.  It's been a hard year, which might be the understatement of the century. Part of me wishes I could erase it from the calendar; rewind, change the clock and start all over again. But I can't to that. I can try to forget it, ignore it or even deny it.  But, the denial of reality is never a good thing. So, what do I do with the years like this, and the mess they leave me with in their wake? 

Oswald Chamber's devotional for today has over the years put a wonderful, gracious perspective on the end of the year, even the Year of the Cow Manure. Here it is, taken from My Utmost for His Highest, 


The God of Israel will be your reward. Isaiah 52:12

Security from Yesterday
“God requires that which is past.” At the end of the year we turn with eagerness to all that God has for the future, and yet anxiety is apt to arise from remembering the yesterdays. Our present enjoyment of God’s grace is apt to be checked by the memory of yesterday’s sins and blunders. But God is the God of our yesterdays, and He allows the memory of them in order to turn the past into a ministry of spiritual culture for the future. God reminds us of the past lest we get into a shallow security in the present.

Security for To-morrow
“For the Lord will go before you.” This is a gracious revelation, that God will garrison where we have failed to. He will watch lest things trip us up again into like failure, as they assuredly would do if He were not our rereward. God’s hand reaches back to the past and makes a clearing-house for conscience.

Security for To-day
“For ye shall not go out with haste.” As we go forth into the coming year, let it not be in the haste of impetuous, unremembering delight, nor with the flight of impulsive thoughtlessness, but with the patient power of knowing that the God of Israel will go before us. Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ.
Leave the Irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

When Love Grows Feet

As much as I wish I was more like the New York City police officer Lawrence DePrimo, I admit that sadly I am not.  When I grow up, I want to become like him.  In meanwhile, I pray that his good deed goes viral the way the photo capturing it did. As I reflect on his compassion, I feel convicted for I don’t spend anywhere near $100 on the footwear even for our whole family, and that in an entire year! Many times I walk by the homeless and the poor without doing anything. Anything!  I am appalled at the hardness of my own heart and lack of empathy. The more I think about it, the more I see myself as a colossal failure. I pray that God would deliver me from myself... that  He would help me be the kind of person He wants me to become in our needy world...

As I wrestled with my pathetic inadequacy, two somewhat related stories from the Gospel of John came to my mind - having to do with feet. 

Scene One

While Jesus is eating dinner with His friends, Mary comes along and pours a pound of very expensive perfume on His feet and wipes them with her hair.  The house is filled with the smell of perfume  As she is doing this, she is scolded by a thief and a traitor for such a waste, for, Judas Iscariot says,  money could have been given to the poor.  Jesus defends Mary’s deed. It's a symbolic act of preparation for His impending death and burial. As He is preparing Himself to become a love offering for our sins, He receives her actions as a love offering. It's a free-flow of reckless love, given and received. John 12:1-8

Scene Two

Fast-forward just one chapter, and in John 13, we see Jesus pouring water into a bowl, rolling up His sleeves and bending over His disciples' dirty feet and scrubbing the filth off of them.  Peter vocalizes what everyone else is thinking - an outrage over the unseemly role reversal.  Jesus silences his protests declaring Peter’s ignorance.  Then, he explains what just happened.  This simple, ordinary, needful deed, this washing of disciples feet, Jesus gives to His disciples as an example to follow. John 13:1-17

You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. John 13:13-15

The noble deeds of extravagant generosity and sacrifice have been done by noble souls through the ages.  I personally know some of them, seemingly ordinary men and women living lives of extraordinary humility, grace and jaw-dropping sacrificial generosity.  But Jesus, although commending such deeds of love, doesn't set them up as an example for all.  What He gives us as an example to follow is the lowliest, the most common, the dirty job nobody wants to do but needs to be done - like washing muddy, stinky feet.  Or as simple as giving a glass of cold water, sharing a meal, paying a visit or inviting a neighbor in.  This is not even a minimum-wage type of work and it doesn't require special training or certification. Insignificant and invisible to everyone but the One.

Now, that's something that everyone - even I - can do.  No excuses. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Whose Feet Do You See?

New York City Police Officer and...the Nameless Brother of the King

Then the King will say to those on His right,
‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat;
I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink;
I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
naked, and you clothed Me;
I was sick, and you visited Me;
I was in prison, and you came to Me.’
Then the righteous will answer Him,
‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or
thirsty, and give You something to drink?
And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or
naked, and clothe You?
When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
The King will answer and say to them,
‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine,
even the least of them,
you did it to Me.’
Matthew 25:34:40

Thursday, December 27, 2012

What the Poor Need - On Boots, NYC Cops and the Good News

“He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor..."

I admit this has always been a puzzling statement, especially in the context where the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed. Somehow it feels as if the poor got...errr, shortchanged... a little? For, what makes much more sense to me is not the poor have the gospel preached to them, but more along the lines, the poor receive the products and goods, and are, maybe, even made... rich?  But, that's not what Jesus said. 

Is that - having the gospel preached to them - what the poor really need? See, my practical, logical self is prone to questioning.

When I think of the presence of poverty in our world, it seems that much of it is artificially created and exacerbated by human selfishness and greed, the grabbing and hoarding. Then there is the reality of vicious cycle where poverty breeds more poverty, dependence on handouts creates more dependence, and so on and so forth. Proceeding with the downward spiral, the abject poverty spawns many intolerable evils - like modern-day slavery, or child prostitution.    Clearly, it's an extremely complicated mess - the political divisiveness over the issue just another evidence of its complexity. But, that doesn't leave us off the hook. Jesus says that we will always have poor with us and we can - and should - do good to them whenever we have - whenever we make opportunity (Mark 14:7) - like The New York cop  pictured above, did. The photo which captured the moment, unbeknownst to him, went viral and touched millions of people around the world. 

Let's clone officer Lawrence DePrimo! Let's stomp out bare feet from this world! If a cop can do it, if TOMS® can do it, we all can do it! 

This is all well and good, and should be continued.  But, Jesus said:

He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor...


I wonder if, in the midst of all the complexities of the presence of poverty, a thought, a subtle belief begins to settle in our minds and hearts that poor deserve to be poor, their poverty is an external evidence of their internal wretchedness - and perhaps even a just payment for their sins.  God's punishment, so to speak.  Entire religious and socio-political systems are built on this premise. This, then, in a warped kind of way, hardens our hearts and absolves us of the responsibility towards our suffering brothers and sisters. Is it possible that Jesus is addressing this insidious belief, as if saying,

No! Your poverty is NOT an indication that you are any more evil or sinful than all the rich people around you! Your poverty is NOT an indication that God loves you any less - on the contrary!  You have a very special place in His heart - and Mine, for your temporary condition should be seen not as punishment but as an opportunity for all those who say they love Me to show it by caring for you, without passing judgment. For, apart from My grace, each of them could become one of you with a blink of an eye. 

And I wonder if, perhaps, that’s what officer DePrimo saw… and was moved by compassion for one just like him, except less fortunate.  Less blessed. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Tossed with the Wrapping Paper

Every year our children, like most others, wake up at the crack of dawn on Christmas day and then wait anxiously FOR HOURS for their exhausted mom and dad to get up so they can open the presents.  When the groggy parents stumble out of the bedroom the kids still have to endure an obstacle course set up in the feeble attempt to guard our household against blatant commercialism of the holiday. We read an account of Jesus' birth from one of the gospels.  Then there is a sermonette (or perhaps a full-fledged sermon worthy of Charles Spurgeon?) on "The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment", and Attitude of Gratitude, and Dangerous Dragons of Greed and Comparison. When glazed looks and yawns begun to overtake our audience, we decided to introduce How the Grinch Stole Christmas into our tradition.

No matter what we, as parents try to do, however, when the little beasts are unleashed, the same thing happens every time.  They tear into wrapping paper, scan the gift - briefly determine whether they like it or not - and irrespective of the result of the assessment,  throw it on a pile behind their backs. Then they move to the next package while the sea of crumpled pictures of Santas, Snowmen and Christmas trees grows deeper and wider, threatening to overtake our living room. Sometimes I wonder if we have tossed away some gifts along with the pile of wrapping paper.

They never take time to truly appreciate their gifts, I grumbled yesterday. They just shred the wrapping paper and think that's all there is to it.  

Then, in a split moment, I realize I am not that much different.  So many promises of the Word of God - His amazing gifts to mankind - remain piled up behind my back, drowning by the turbulent sea of circumstances of our lives.

Jesus started out His public ministry by the following words from the Book of the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

Then He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. You could hear a pin drop in that room as eyes of all those who came to worship in the synagogue that day were fixed on Him. What does this young Rabbi have to say? Any new spin to the old word? What's for dinner tonight?

They heard these noble promises spoken long ago many times throughout their lives... perhaps grew a bit hard of hearing,  much of their hope and excitement by now dwindled down to embers, tempered by harsh realities of their everyday lives.

Then a gentle, soft-spoken bomb explodes in the room as the outrageous words of the young Rabbi reach their ears.

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

The Word became flesh and made His home with us... The law was given to us through Moses.  Grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. John 1;14-18

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Final Word

After He spoke
Long ago
To the fathers
In the prophets
In many portions and
In many ways,
In these last days
Has spoken
To us
In His Son,
Whom He appointed heir of all things,
Through whom also He made the world. And
He is the radiance of His glory and
The exact representation of His nature, and
Upholds all things by the word of His power.
When He had made purification of sins,
He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high… Hebrews 1:1-3

God spoke… and spoke and spoke… to Adam.  To Cain. To Noah. To Abraham… Moses… Prophets.  To the nation of Israel.  To pagan kings. Sometimes they listened. Most of the time, they didn't. Then, He spoke to Malachi and after that… He stopped talking! The Word became Silent?!!!

And there was Silence. For four hundred years.

There, of course, was still the written word.  The Law of Moses.  The writings of the prophets.  Psalms. Proverbs.Words on paper. Easily ignored.  Easily misunderstood when the heart and the intent of the One who spoke them are not seen and heard in them.  Most of all - disbelieved. 

During this period of silence there emerged a group of people dedicated to understanding, interpreting and applying God’s word to the last letter. They were devoted.  Zealous.  Passionate for all the right things.  Or so they thought.  But when God’s Final Word came, they missed Him completely.  In all their reading and studying, interpreting and applying, they became blind to the Living Breathing Word of God?!!!  What a sobering truth!

This Baby was such a surprise. This Son of Man was such a stumbling block. For the Word came not to be served but to serve.  Not to condemn but to save.  But, instead of being


He became condemned. Cursed. This Word that is Life - died. This Word that is Light descended into darkness.

He who is the fullness of everything, became empty so that by His emptiness we can be filled.

May He fill all your empty places
May He restore all your broken places
May He purify all your dirty places
May He melt all your hardened places
May He free all your enslaved places 
of body and mind
soul and spirit;
so you can serve Him
without fear
in holiness
and righteousness
all the days of your life.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Best Kept Secret of Christmas

Amazing as the incarnation, the birth of God's Son  is, the Christmas miracle doesn't end with Jesus in the stable.

When Mary heard the words of the angel Gabriel,

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35,

God created a precedent. Thirty some years after the announcement to Joseph's fiancée, the resurrected Christ spoke the following words to His disciples (they were actually in response to their question regarding the 'End of the World' – I guess the Mayans weren’t the only ones talking about it J):

It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. Acts 1:7,8

Less than two weeks after those words were spoken the amazing Christmas miracle happened again - times one-hundred-twenty! The Holy Spirit came, according to Jesus’ promise, not as a special celestial visitor for selected precious few but as a permanent resident for anyone who would believe. First it was the 120 disciples of Jesus, who overwhelmed Jerusalem with the message of repentance and God's love and forgiveness in Christ, now freely offered to everyone everywhere - regardless of age, gender, race, religion, nationality or social status. The city at the time was filled with visitors of every language and tribe.  It was a holiday season, filled with prayers, food, religious traditions and festivities probably not too much unlike our Christmas. But, ah, the surprise that God prepared for everyone that morning! As a result, about three thousand men and women became 'Bethlehem mangers' that very day. The miracle of this amazing new life - born of the Spirit of God - continues on, throughout the globe, to this day.

Christmas was never intended to be a solitary life lived by the One born in the stable. Jesus' life, death and resurrection, and His gift of the Holy Spirit to all who receive Him makes each of us a Bethlehemian stable. The Spirit-filled, the Spirit-led life is now the birth right of every child of God through faith in Christ.  

Thank God for His indescribable gift.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Last Day Your Last Day

According to Mayan calendar, today might be the last day for all of us. Whether you believe in this or not, the reality is that each of us, sooner or later, will get to experience our last day - my last day, your last day. For some it WILL be tomorrow. Nobody knows.  For some it was last Friday - the day that will go into history as the one which broke all our hearts.

Jesus' last day was also on a Friday a couple of thousand years ago - the Good Friday, also called Black Friday in the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition (which has nothing to do with the day after Thanksgiving shopping frenzy Friday observed religiously by many Americans) . The good news is, that's not where the world ends. It is a fresh, new beginning for Him, and for each of us, if we would simply receive the free gift of eternal life... welcoming Him into our lives, knowing Him, loving Him, and learning to love others the way He loves us.

Because of Him,  each one of us can look forward to the day when all pain, all suffering, all sorrow, all hatred is done away with and we can be with Him face to face.

His last day is a doorway for our first day of life that is life indeed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My True Christmas Wish List

Some of my favorite people in the Christmas story come from the family of the Baptists - I don't think that's their real name, but their son John is most well-know for it. His mom and dad, for example, had quite a reputation with God. They were good, solid people devoted to prayer. Not only was that their job.  It was also in their blood.  Now, one would think that being righteous and blameless in God's eyes (Luke 1:6), and being the people of prayer amounts to something. Like getting an insider's scoop, a guarantee of an affirmative answer to one’s requests before the Almighty.  It turns out, Zacharias and Elizabeth, like many other faithful couples, were left to go without, empty-handed, for a long long time at least on one specific item on their prayer list. No babies, no burp rags, no onesies. No heirs, no godly legacy.  Funny how God sometimes appears to treat some of His best people.

But then, one ordinary day, a Tuesday or Wednesday, maybe, their wait abruptly ended. In fact, the answer to their prayers came in such an extraordinary way that Zacharias was dumbstruck. Literally.  I wonder if part of him stopped believing that God really listened. If it was even worth the bother dragging this before Him again and again.And then, there were the facts - he was old, and Elizabeth wasn't a spring chicken either. The angel was so offended by Zacharias disbelief he struck him dumb. I sure am glad I don't converse with angels on regular basis!

 Zacharias was left speechless until baby John was born, when God opened his mouth again. What came out were some of the most empowering and hopeful words I find in the entire Scriptures (well, you can wrestle with me over this one, but I sure love this prayer).  

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
For He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people…
To grant that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
Might serve Him without fear,
In holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
For you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways;
To give to His people the knowledge of salvation,
By the forgiveness of their sins,
Because of the tender mercy of our God… Luke 1:74-78

Being delivered from our enemies…
Serving God without fear
In holiness
In righteousness before Him
Every single day of our lives
Today… tomorrow… until we see Him face to face
Knowing our sins are forgiven
Knowing the price has already been paid…

Isn’t that the cry of our hearts?  Isn’t that what we really want – what we need - for Christmas? 

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Heartbreak of Christmas ...Connecticut, China, Bethlehem...

A week and a half before Christmas... shopping, presents, wrapping paper... parties, plays, winter programs.  A hurried kiss on the forehead, 'Have a great day', and off they go, and off you go... Not realizing it was the last time... not realizing the presents will stay unwrapped... unopened...forever.

The Connecticut heartbreak is everyone's heartbreak.  It could have been our school. My children. Yours. China's stabbed children are our children. My son.  Your daughter. For, no man is an island.  The senseless killings of innocent awaken unrelenting pain in each of us... in their faces we see our face, in their anguish, our anguish.

Just few days ago, I have written a post From Bad to Worse about often skipped over part of the Christmas story which has an uncanny similarity to yesterday's heartbreaking massacre . I feel like my heart is ripped out piece by piece just thinking about it....

Mary and Joseph didn't expect anyone when there was a knock on the door that night.  When the strange visitors saw the Child,  they fell at the His feet and worshiped Him.  Imagine that - respectable, educated, foreigners who traveled long distance – maybe months, more like years– now prostrated at a child’s feet? In worship?!! They also brought some interesting presents – not a Tonka Truck or Thomas the Train or even the latest LEGO DUPLO® set.  It turns out that the gifts were packed with meaning and value (for more on this, visit What are frankincense and myrrh?  The discerning can already smell a scent of death, already a perfume of suffering in the life of the little boy Jesus.

After the wise men left, Joseph was warned about the murder plot. They packed their belongings, got their family refuge visa and escaped for their lives. Soon after they arrived in Egypt they heard the news from home.

The unthinkable did happen. The worst kind of genocide against innocent baby boys. Precious children victims of the deranged king. There were screams.  The wailing. The tiny corpses. The entire communities wrapped in inconsolable mourning. Why? Why? Why?  Did some of the shepherds who saw the angels lose their babies that night? Was their Christmas Eve hope snuffed out by the thrust of the sword? By the recurring nightmares of that horrible day being re-played on the screen of their mind?

Often it is impossible to understand the mystery of evil God allows in this world. When the tragedy knocks on our door, we weep and weep and weep until we have nothing inside left... We gasp for answers…why, why, why?  We feel abandoned by God…forsaken by the Lofty One too far removed to relate to our human sorrows and heartbreak. But, God became human. He entered fully our broken world, from the day He was born until the day He died. They tried to kill Him before He was even a preschooler... and He grew up to be slandered, misunderstood, persecuted, tempted (yet without sin), betrayed, treated unjustly and finally crucified – dying a shameful, painful death of the worst criminal.  Oh, how we grieve His heart when we still think He doesn’t understand…  oh, how we add unnecessary pain to our deepest sorrows when we still believe He can’t empathize, can't relate to our suffering - yours and mine...

In all their afflictions He was afflicted…. Isaiah 63:9

He was …a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief… Isaiah 53:3

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? ... Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?Just as it is written,“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Romans 8:32-36

Please take a moment to pray for the victims and the families of Connecticut shooting, the stabbing of the Chinese children, for the perpetrators of these crimes and the grieving communities around the world.  Pray for all of us, as we raise our children in an increasingly hostile world with fractured families, disconnected communities, shattered values and most of all, separated from the healing, redemptive power of the love and grace of God found in Jesus. May God show His great mercy to us all.

How the Grinch Stole into Girls' Bathroom?

This week our fourth-grader brought home a permission slip from her teacher who requested a parental signature in order to allow her to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The teacher assured concerned parents that this Dr. Seuss movie contained no objectionable material which might be offensive or inappropriate for elementary school age children.

That same day, on the front page of our local paper, readers were informed that our county School Board voted for the protection of, among others, transgender identity and gender expression in area public schools.  In the name of ‘staying competitive and catching up with the Joneses,’ civil rights and freedom of expression, parents are now faced with a new reality in our schools which allows any male who feels like a female, to use girls’ bathrooms, and the other way around.

I admit that I am a bit confused and might be the only one who scratches her head over the apparent  irony of the double standard. On one hand we meticulously scrutinize Dr. Seuss for objectionable content. On the other, we fling our children’s bathroom doors wide open, inviting anyone who feels like it to come on in.

Sadly, any mother or father who might find this new policy “objectionable,” “inappropriate” and “offensive” runs the risk of being labeled hyper-vigilant, homophobic or intolerant bigot.  Unless, of course, the School Board institutes another policy, requiring signed permission slips to allow children to use bathrooms during school hours.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It Ain't Over 'til It's Over - More Thoughts on the 'End of the World'


Is there a way we can differentiate between the real and the false alarms about the end of the world? What is myth? What is reality? Do I need to know something about this cosmic final to ensure I am prepared for it? 

The Biblical authors clearly take the closing chapters of human history seriously. Despite what many believe today, we live in a moral universe and are accountable to God for the choices we make. The bad news is we all fail the test - even people like Mother Theresa, or my perfect neighbor Bob.  The good news - remember the angels from the Christmas story..."I bring you good news of great joy"? - the good news is that Jesus took the final on our behalf, passed with flying colors and now extends His perfect score to all who will receive Him - no ifs, ands and buts.

The only dismissive ‘ifs’of the end times belong to the skeptical mockers: 2 Peter 3:3-13 . The rest are given words of strong encouragement and warning, as well as promise of great joy and hope I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11. In the Gospel of Matthew 24, Jesus offers some definite particulars regarding this time, but never a specific date. In fact, we are warned against anyone who claims to know the date (except, of course, God the Father). Continuing in Matthew 25  with the powerful language of parables (‘he who has ears let him hear’), He outlines some thought provoking scenarios regarding His glorious return – not as a tiny baby born in a manger, but as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Without doubt, there will be a lot of surprises that day. In fact, everyone will be surprised! For some, it will be a day of terror and confusion.  For some a day of shame and regret.  For some, all of the above, plus an amazing realization that their fumbling walk, their hard labor of faith is finally over. Our faith in the invisible Lord of the Universe and His unfailing word will become sight at last.

One final thought... regardless whether we are around for the End of the World or not, each of us, sooner or later, will have to face our last day. For some, it will be today. This inevitable reality of death, and its daily reminders - including the 'End of The World' predictions, calls for careful personal examination, and recognition that without Jesus none of us can ever be ready.  But, thank God that through Christ's atoning sacrifice and victorious resurrection He provided a way for everyone who receives Him to look forward to that day.

And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. 1 John 2:28

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

End of the World, Again?!!!

'Lucky', 'cute' or 'cataclysmic' the jury is still out on the meaning of today's date - December 12, 2012 or 12/12/12. The fascination with the numeric mysticism of the date might have been emphasized by the fact that it is lodged on the calendar just 9 days before December 21, which, according to the Mayan calendar represents the end of the world as we know it.   Most of us have lived through sufficient 'end of the world' days that worries about the fiscal cliff, the moral disintegration of our culture or perhaps what's on the menu for dinner tonight take greater precedence. 

The predictions about the end of the world are almost as old as the world itself. Most are false alarms which tend to make us complacent, casual and flippant. However, I wonder whether we might be missing an important point in all this…  I am not saying that we should be digging bunkers and stashing food supplies, but we all are familiar with the story about the boy who cried wolf... or a frog in a kettle.  

Some of us are also familiar with the account of the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, or Noah and the Great Flood - the sobering testimonies about the cataclysmic implications of our moral choices. By all cultural standards of his day Noah was a misguided lunatic. He built an enormous boat in the middle of the desert while calling people to relinquish their sinful, self-centered way of life and return to the Living God who created them.  When it started drizzling, they still didn’t believe him. When the flood was unleashed it was too late. Everyone perished except for his own family - eight people in all - and a bunch of animals.

Then, there is the story about a prophet Jonah and the doomsday warning to the citizens of Nineveh... Nineveh-ans heard the message, changed their ways, turned to God and He changed His mind. This was good news to everyone but the grumpy prophet.

The life of Christ which begins with the Christmas story – the incarnation of the Son of God - ends with the assurance of His return, often referred to as the Second Coming of Christ. The controversial topic has spawned both the obsession with the details or complete dismissal, placing the biblical revelation in the category of  science fiction, right along with all the other myths and superstitions regarding the end of the world.

So, how do we differentiate between the real and the false alarm about the end? What is myth? What reality? And is there something I need to know about this cosmic final to ensure I am prepared for it? 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Worth the Wait

 I heard there will be real snow at the party, I told my wide-eye kids several days before the big Christmas party we enjoy each year.

Seriously? REAL snow? In Florida? How can that be?!!!

I have no clue. But, that’s what the invitation says, REAL snow.

Living in Florida with very limited exposure to weather conditions conducive to snow, my children have suffered from serious case of snow deprivation  The tantalizing words on the invitation held a joyful promise that their maimed existence might finally find its completion.

When we arrived at the party, we were directed towards a small fenced-in area filled with a couple of feet of shaved ice, carrying an uncanny resemblance to real snow.  There was already a snowball fight going on, and an attempt at making a real Snowman (as opposed to the inflatable ones growing on nicely manicured green lawns). The line of equally deprived Floridian youngsters bubbling with excitement formed instantly.  

I left the kids to wait their turn, and went on to visit with friends and enjoy some great food in a festive atmosphere. Eventually I strolled back to the snow zone.  By this time the line was unbelievable.  Kids of all ages were waiting patiently for their chance to freeze their sandal-clad toes and form an ice-ball with their frost-bitten fingers.

Is THIS the end of the line? I asked in disbelief.  Several children shook their heads and pointed few rows back.

And you guys are standing here and waiting all this time, so patiently?  I was honestly shocked. Most of these children have grown up in the culture where waiting on microwave to warm up their lunch is tooooo loooooong.

Oh, Mrs. S., it’s soooo worth it!  One of them chirped, her face beaming with excitement.  We’ve already been there once, and it’s worth every minute of the wait!

I stood there, transfixed.  Waiting. One of the hardest things any one of us will do. Waiting is hard. It’s hard for children.  It’s hard for adults.  Sometimes waiting on God feels like the hardest thing of all.  But, when the wait is over, when we finally see Him face-to-face, like beaming children, we’ll be able to say,

Ooooh, it’s worth it! It’s sooooo worth it. This is OUR God and we’ve been waiting for Him… HE is worth it!

And it will be said in that day,
“Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

Monday, December 10, 2012

From Garbage to Gavotte

I just came across this inspiring, sobering, convicting video. It speaks for itself, so no additional words are necessary.

"The world sends us garbage.  We send back music." Favio Chavez, orchestra director

Saturday, December 08, 2012

From Bad to Worse…

One would think it was bad enough that the couple entrusted with the care of God’s Son were left hanging out to dry the night He was born, their accommodations falling scandalously short even by human standards.  Not to mention angelic host…

Mary and Joseph didn’t hear the angels sing that night.  They only heard a report brought to them by astonished shepherds.  After that, life begun to settle into a semi-normalcy.  Feeding, diapers, burping, more sleepless nights.  Ordinary couple with 'ordinary' baby doing all the ordinary things all ordinary parents do for their children.

Then there was a knock on the door.  When the strange visitors saw the Child,  they fell at the His feet and worshiped Him.  Can you imagine that?  These respectable, educated, foreigners traveled long distance – maybe months, more like years– and now they were prostrated at a child’s feet? In worship?!! They also brought some interesting presents – not a Tonka Truck or Thomas the Train or even the latest LEGO DUPLO® set.  It turns out that the gifts were packed with meaning and value (for more on this, check out What are frankincense and myrrh?  We all know gold, right?).

This is where most Christmas plays end. They lived happily ever after.  The end of Christmas.

After the wise men left, Joseph got a message about the murder plot. They packed their belongings, got their family refuge visa and left.

Soon after they arrived in Egypt they heard the news from home. The unthinkable did happen. The worst kind of genocide against innocent baby boys. Precious children victims of the deranged king. There were screams.  The wailing. The tiny corpses. The entire communities wrapped in inconsolable mourning. Why? Why? Why?  Did some of the shepherds who saw the angels lose their babies that night? Was their Christmas Eve hope snuffed out by the thrust of the sword? By the recurring nightmares of that horrible day being re-played on the screen of their mind?

Often it is impossible to understand the mystery of evil God allows in this world. When the tragedy knocks on our door, we gasp for answers…why, why, why?  We feel abandoned by God…forsaken by the Lofty One too far removed to relate to our human sorrows and heartbreak. But, God became human. He entered fully our broken world, from the day He was born until the day He died. They tried to kill Him before He was even a preschooler! And He grew up to be slandered, misunderstood, persecuted, tempted (yet without sin), betrayed, treated unjustly and finally crucified – dying a shameful, painful death of the worst criminal.  Oh, how we grieve His heart when we still think He doesn’t understand…  oh, how we inflict unnecessary pain on our own souls when we still believe He can’t relate to our suffering - yours and mine?

In all their afflictions He was afflicted…. Isaiah 63:9

He was …a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief… Isaiah 53:3

He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? ... Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  …  But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. Romans 8:32-37

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Bad News of Christmas

The bright neon NO VACANCY signs were lit all over the town. It was the busiest travelling week of the year, people milling around the narrow streets, all along the main road, compliments of the government bureaucracy at its worst.

Surely there will be a room somewhere, Jo muttered, looking at his fiancée’s protruding belly. Especially considering whose child you ….

I know… There MUST BE a place prepared for us… I can almost feel it.  Plus, it looks like it’s time… we can’t wait much longer.

They hurried as best as they could  towards the bed-and-breakfast at the edge of the town. This was their last chance  to find something for the night.  They were both confident that this must be it.  The flickering VACANCY sign boosted their hope.

Here we are – that’s it.  Joe let out a big sigh of relief.  I knew it.

They rang the bell and the senior manager came rushing from around the corner.  One look at the couple and he knew all that he needed to know… but there was nothing he could do.

I am so sorry, folks, but that was my very last room. The family just took their bags in.  I am completely sold out.

That’s impossible, Joe protested.  You are our last chance.  We have to be here tonight!

Very sorry, sir, but nothing I can do…You just missed it... I wish I could…

Mary’s eyes were brimming with tears.  It’s not like she was expecting a penthouse occupying an entire top floor.  Just a room, with a bed and some clean sheets… and perhaps a sink.  Could He not… Why would He not… … for His own Son?!!  Just missed it, he said?!!! This doesn’t make sense…few minutes too late?!!

Actually, the manager hesitated, I have... There is a place in the back… I don’t know, I’ve never let anyone stay there… ... it's... 

We’ll take it!, Joe interrupted.  I am sure it will be fit for a king. But, there was no moment to spare.  The baby was already on the way. ...

In the world governed by the pecking order of  prestige and privilege, one would think that carrying God’s Son would guarantee certain benefits and rights, if not notable luxuries. God's surprising ways didn't stop that night. Even to this day we have an opportunity to prove that the unfolding of God’s will is quite different not only from the way of the world, but also from our own expectations about the how’s and the when’s of His mysterious way.  For we walk by faith and not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7

How is Jesus challenging your beliefs and established patterns of thinking as to His will and His plan for your life today?  

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Christmas' Best Kept Secret

He was in the world, and
 The world was made through Him, and
 The world did not know Him.
He came to His own, and
Those who were His own did not receive Him.
But as many as received Him,
 To them He gave the right to become children of God,
 Even to those who believe in His name,
Who were born,
 Not of blood
 Nor of the will of the flesh
Nor of the will of man,
But of God.
John 1:10-13

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

What CSI, Criminal Minds and Christmas Have in Common?

An informal survey of the regular watchers of TV shows, like CSI, NCIS, Law and Order, or Criminal Minds would indicate that many viewers believe that real life police drama is not too much unlike the drama portrayed in the above mentioned fictional programs.  Those in the know would vehemently contest such findings, claiming that even the so called ‘reality shows’ are carefully choreographed acting.

With so much tradition surrounding the Christmas story, the truth about what the first Christmas truly was like can get buried under the mountain of myth and folklore.  I don’t necessarily want to dismantle traditional Christmas piece by piece, but I find the biblical accounts by far more engrossing than any debate about ‘holiday’ vs. “Christmas’ tree. For there I find a terrified teenage girl pregnant out of wedlock. A heartbroken fiancé. A shamed family. Angelic flash-mobs. Strange rumors. Extraordinary sightings. Astonishing announcements. Government enforced census. There was stress, loneliness, confusion… wonder…

I read the story and my head spins. Curiously, the most frequently recurring emotion through the story is fear. FEAR.  NOT busy, tired, or even happy. Being terrified is not the first emotion that pops into my head when I think of Christmas.  At least not until we get our credit card statement in January.

And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear gripped him. Luke 1:12

But she was greatly troubled at this statement… Luke 1:29

And fear came on all those living around them Luke 1:65

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.  Luke 2:9

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Matthew 2:3

Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, Herod the king, people of Jerusalem.  Afraid. Troubled. Terrified.

Fear is probably one of the most common human emotions. It envelopes a wide range of our shared experiences.  We all have been afraid at one point or another.  But, this fear has an additional component to our run-of-the-mill ‘afraid’. It’s what happens when the natural encounters, is invaded by the supernatural.  Most of our lives are lived with general awareness of the remote existence of a supernatural realm –  God, angels, demons, whatever. Fifth dimension. What we know we don’t know..  Then, one day, the curtain is ripped open and our generality is knocked out of us, together with our calm composure. All our natural-life little boxes are beyond inadequate to hold the experience. The only appropriate response is fear. We are terrified. As we should be.

Fortunately, God doesn’t leave us there.  In His word,  there are 365 instances of :

“Do not be afraid,…".  One for every day of the year. 

Do not be afraid,...

… Zacharias…” Luke 1:13
… Mary…” Luke 1:30
… Joseph, son of David…” Matthew 1:20

Put your name in there.  Put your family there. Your neighbors. Your friends.

… you shepherds...  Nurses. Teachers. Engineers. Writers...

...  for I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people.” Luke 2:10


Don’t be afraid.

I didn’t come to terrify you but to bring you good news. 

Of  great joy.

For everyone. 

Everywhere… Put your country there. Russia. Netherlands. U.S. Germany, Malaysia. Brazil. China. United Kingdom. France. Ireland. Philippines. Egypt. Sweden.  Your city.  …Your home address.

Good news. Great joy. Don’t be afraid. 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Advent Season... Just When We Think We Figured It All Out

I made a firm decision to declutter our Christmas this year and move to the garage next.  That was last Saturday. In the morning our neighbor Bob came to tell us that he is getting rid of an antique dresser. I have a soft spot for old gorgeous European junk and our son’s dresser has been repaired and broken more times than we can count. It was a carefully evaluated ‘yes’ before I went to his house to get it. I came back with the dresser AND an ancient music sheet cabinet.   As I said, I have a soft spot plus as a way to thank Bob, I needed to help him declutter his house. Later in the afternoon, he brought some home-baked cookies, an inflatable Frosty the Snowman,  a large ceramic Santa Clause, a dozen lighted candy canes, two reindeer and a matching snowman.

It’s for the kids, they enjoy it. Plus, it’s easier for you to set it up than for me, so this way we all get to enjoy it.

I couldn’t argue with that, but my internal agony was reaching a boiling point. I am supposed to get stuff out not keep getting more in!  Before I could send all the things (minus cookies!) back, my husband, our kids, and few of their neighborhood friends turned my decluttering Saturday into a Christmas decorating party - cookies and all. Feeling a bit like Scrooge, I admit I was begrudging the fact that somebody’s house was getting decluttered, and it certainly wasn’t mine. On the contrary!

Sensing the steam coming out of my ears, I marched into the back yard, where there was still some semblance of peace and quiet and space and blissful Frosty/Santa/Snowman/Reindeer-LESSNESS.

At least the majority of the stuff is on the front lawn, I deliberated.  The house and the back are still in reasonable order.

I took another deep breath, regaining enough composure to go back in. But, the sliding door was stuck. Inside, I noticed, the whole house looked like a bomb exploded, our family room furniture randomly stacked against the sliding door. I stormed around the house to the front, demanding answers.

What the…? Suddenly aware of eight pairs of saucer eyes glued on me in anticipated horror, I paused, rephrased the question, keeping lid on my temper.

What happened to our family room?  Why is all the furniture moved around?

Oh, I told the kids to clear out the space for the Christmas tree, so they can set it up, my husband responded calmly.  Is there a problem?

No. I slumped into the sofa. No problem. Let them set up the tree.

The four kids worked seamlessly setting up our giant artificial tree branch by branch. 

We need some Christmas music, announced the designated family musician.  You can’t decorate the tree without the music! With the radio on, the sound of Mary Did You Know? filled the house.  They continued working quietly and then, one by one begun to sing along….

The mystery of incarnation continues. Like Mary, we truly don't know when... or how of its wonder. May we remain open-hearted so we can receive all the good pleasure of His will, in chaos or calm, in silence or song.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Advent Season... Out of the Fishbowl into the Shark Tank

When my husband and I were making the decision regarding the educational path for our children, we tried to be as open-minded and without prejudice as we could during the period of gathering information and evaluating each option.  We welcomed our friends’ input and the wisdom they gleaned from their own personal experience as they sought what they thought was best for their children. The year our son entered Kindergarten, a private Christian school moved into a brand-new church building one block from our house.  Majority of the families we knew had their kids there.  It was a logical, natural, safe choice, a no-brainer, so to speak.  Great education, great community, Christian-based curriculum, a lot of fun. We also considered homeschooling, the freedom and the flexibility of schedule appealing greatly to our family lifestyle.   Then, there was the local public school, about half a mile away.   Virtually nobody spoke up in favor of this choice.

Why would anyone want to throw their children to swim with the sharks? They'll be eaten alive! Exclaimed one of my friends, bravely voicing what was on everyone else’s mind.  Only people who had to, send their kids there. Public school received zero popular votes in this unofficial election. But, we felt we needed to give it a fair shot.

Make no mistake. We love our children.  We would do nothing to harm them in any way and everything to protect them from unnecessary pain and suffering. We watch the news and renew our local newspaper and several magazine subscriptions. I cherish no particular liking for swimming with the sharks. But, something kept us pursuing the unpopular alternative.  I met with the principal. I requested to speak to a Kindergarten teacher. I had a list of twenty or more questions and used them to interview one of them. The kind lady retired later that year, but I don’t think the interview had anything to do with it.  We prayed, and prayed, and prayed as if our lives depended on it.  Well, in a sense, they did, at least based on the reaction of the people around us.  

Our agony of those days could be distilled down to a theological question: Has God given up on and deserted the public school arena? Has He withdrawn His presence, blessing and protection to the confines of homes and private Christian educational institutions?  And if that is true, can a loving parent remain loving and still send their children to public school? The answer to these questions appeared to be quite obvious to everyone but me.

Eventually our confusion was infused with sufficient clarity to help us set our feet on the path prepared for our family. In the process we got a tiny glimpse into the uproar which might have taken place in the heavenly realm when the Lord announced His decision to send His beloved Son into the world – and that, as a tiny, vulnerable, helpless human baby! Can you imagine the outrage? I doubt that the angels, too holy to be impertinent, would loudly question the unfathomable wisdom of the Almighty God. But, I could almost hear them whispering to each other,

Why in the world would He want to do that?!!! Especially when you consider what they’ve done to all His prophets? This is crazy! They’re gonna crucify Him!!!

Little did they know at the time that when they were saying this it wasn’t just a figure of speech.

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. I Peter 1:10-12

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Advent Season... Getting the 'Mas' Out of ChristMAS

Our next-door neighbor likes to point out how before we became parents, our garage used to be almost empty, neat and well organized.  Eleven years later, within the same square footage you can find everything but the kitchen sink.  Actually, I think there is a kitchen sink, or at least an old bathroom sink buried somewhere, under the layers of miscellaneous junk.  Of course, the meaning of the verb ‘find’ as applied in the above sentence is quite relative.  Our experience has taught us that you may search for an item, know it’s somewhere in there, but eventually the search is abandoned and the thing declared as lost.

Some of you may surmise that the key point in the above paragraph is that it’s about time for us to clean and organize our garage.  I will not argue with that.  But, for me, the key moment of our sudden descent into the life of chaos is when ‘we became parents’.  When our son was born, we knew absolutely nothing about babies, or parenting or any such thing. Even today, 11 years and two children later,   I certainly can’t claim expertise on either. 

Fortunately, we were surrounded with a loving community of fellow-parents who were more than eager to help.  We were thrilled. In the process of being helped, our house begun to burst at the seams, being stuffed with what was considered to be 'the baby essentials', ensuring our son's survival  during the first few years of his life with such uninformed and incompetent parents.  Plastic of bright primary colors invaded our kitchen, living room and bedroom.   Even the master-bath wasn’t spared! Beyond the clothes, diapers and the crib, bottles, sippy cups and plastic sporks we were introduced to an excercaucer, swing, bouncy seat, high chair, booster seat, umbrella stroller, reclining stroller, wagon, bicycle seat...  We child-proofed our home with outlet covers, door stoppers, window locks and electric barbed-wire baby gates (just kidding). We obtained a collection of children’s books matching in size the one fit for the ancient Alexandrian library.  We got Baby Einstein’s videos which grew into Little Einstein  DVDs and, of course, all the indispensable educational toys to stimulate his little brain, motor skills and hand-eye coordination.  

Looking back from this perspective, just managing all the baby paraphernalia, supposedly designed to help us, was by far more demanding and exhausting than taking care of our delightfully laid-back, adaptable, content baby boy who brought sunshine into our lives by the way he ate until he was satisfied; and slept sprawled across my lap; by the way his face lit up when we played together and the way he wrapped his tiny fingers around my pinky. Of course, he soon morphed into a determined toddler, but that belongs to a different story.

We are getting ready for the celebration of the birth of another baby Boy. It's a season pregnant with opportunities, expectations, excitement and an entire spectrum of emotions. We all want to make the time meaningful in a lasting way. Perhaps even participate in the miracle of the spiritual birthing process, the coming of Christ-child into the hearts of our neighbors and acquaintances? But, before I jump in, I need to pause and evaluate. 

Am I making room for the arrival of the Son of God… or just adding to the well-meaning spiritual clutter of the season? Is it possible that in my zeal to be helpful I could be unintentionally contributing to the noise and chaos rather than relieving them… ?

Jesus doesn't need our 'helpful' paraphernalia, our frantic activity so we can get ready for His coming ... He wants us - you and me -so He can share Himself - His very life with us!  May He find ample room in our hearts so He can help us clear the 'MAS' - the mess and the clutter - out of CHRISTmas and the rest of our lives.

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

Friday, November 30, 2012

Advent Season... Yes, Virginia, There IS Life After Christmas

I've written this post last year after Christmas.  As I re-read it, it struck me as appropriate to re-post it at this time, right at the beginning of the busy holiday season, since it seems to put some things into perspective... at least for Yours Truly. May His gracious Spirit guide your feet into the way of His peace.

I seriously considered my daughter’s suggestion that we keep Christmas decorations up until Easter. Besides a very busy January and a few items on my schedule with slightly higher priority than stashing baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Rudolph away in the attic, the idea itself didn’t seem too far fetched. In my head, you see, the two holidays go hand-in-hand. Without Christmas there would obviously be no Easter, and without Easter… well, without Easter the Christmas would leave us bankrupt, not only in our wallets and bank-accounts, but emotionally deserted and empty-handed, even while surrounded by all the trinkets and toys, disillusioned by the hollowness of the hope that, like weight-loss commercials, grossly over-promised but never quite delivered. So, I was perfectly happy to, like some devout frog, jump from Christmas to Easter and back to Christmas, trying to live off the fumes of spiritual adrenaline each holiday provides and skipping everything in between.

Today, however, without any forethought or planning on my part, spontaneously snowballed into a Putting-Christmas-Away party. It started as a creative (or, rather, desperate!) way to keep my children distracted from killing each other by having them take the ornaments off the Christmas tree. But, very quickly the cleanup party gained momentum and soon it turned into an all-out ‘reclaiming our spaces’ effort. As the nativity pieces were wrapped into tissue paper and placed in cardboard boxes, there was a clear sense of... relief? … A relief that we get our home back, undisturbed by the massive God-invasion of the last month… But, somewhere in the back of my mind, I noticed I was breathing easier because Jesus didn’t remain frozen in time as some perpetual baby sleeping in a manger, but moved on and grew up into an inquisitive teenager, a robust young carpenter good at working with hands, in every aspect maturing under the cloak of ordinary until the appointed time.

Much of his life was commonplace – no global audience, no ‘likes’ on his Facebook wall, no blog, no Twitter, no choirs of angels applauding his every move, no wise men worshiping the ground he walked. The divine wrapped himself in a regular human flesh and quietly receded into obscurity, eating, sleeping, walking, talking, resting, playing, partying, working – just like us! And, in a strange role-reversal, perhaps by the very virtue of not shrinking from becoming human in all its seemingly boring ordinariness, he somehow breathed unimaginable dignity, worth and purposes into everything you and I might do on any given day of small things. Making it holy.

At the end of the impromptu cleaning party I stepped back and looked at our home, the tree out, the boxes up, the pieces of furniture returned to their usual spots. Everything was back in its place and to an undiscerning eye, life seemed to have returned back to just as it has always been. But, to everyone who welcomed His coming, nothing was as it used to be. Everything changed… or, at least begun the long, slow process of transformation of every detail of our life into something that God Himself inhabits.

Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart…

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Advent Season... Missing Jesus

As introduction to the Advent season, I am revisiting some old posts from previous years that were written as reflections on the birth of Christ.  I read recently that if we speak ( or write!) the truth, it will speak to others and it will speak again to us.  Well, here we are... same truth, new nuances... Isn't it interesting that of all the things that fill our Christmas, the one most easily displaced is Christ Himself...

During our recent visit to my husband’s family, my sister-in-law, who is the incarnation of care and sensitivity to the needs of others (qualities which for some reason seem strangely lacking in our little family), suggested that she and I decorate Mom’s and Dad’s place for Christmas. Neither of them has the health and energy for that kind of endeavor, and it would make their home more cheery and festive during the long, and sometimes lonely holiday season. Kids jumped at the idea, looking for any excuse to get away from the grueling vacation homework drills. The decorating party got quickly on the way with moving the furniture around to make room for the tree and getting the boxes with ornaments out of the garage. The kids carefully took them out, unwrapped each of them, celebrating the unveilings as if it’s Christmas already. The process went on for a while when they came across a tiny royal looking figurine.

This doesn’t look like an ornament
, announced my observant daughter. It doesn’t have a hook.

Oh, it’s a part of the nativity scene, darling, responded my mother-in-law. You know, I had that set all these years, and I never set it up. If you like it and think you can use it, you should just take it with you.

Since free offers is rarely passed in our family, the kids excitedly unwrapped the rest of the pieces – the sheep and the donkeys, Mary and Joseph, the remaining two wise men, a shepherd and a shepherdess.

Where is baby Jesus?
 I asked suspiciously.

Hmm, it looks like He’s missing…

We all dived into the box filled with tissue paper, but no Jesus was found.

Jesus is missing,
 I told my mother-in-law. How strange… maybe that’s why you never set it up – it’s defective. Imagine that, Christmas without Jesus...

My words lingered for a few moments before silence settled on the room.

Hon… you don’t have to imagine… just look around - it’s all over the place.

I sat slowly down, sobered by the thought. In real life, just like in the defective nativity scene, more often than not Jesus is missing from Christmas. We may have all the other props in place, even the sheep and the donkeys, but the heart of the stage of history remains empty. The solemn admonition of the incomplete set inched a bit too close to home.

Mom, mom!!! We found Him! 
I was jolted out of my reveries by the excited screams of my children who obviously didn’t give up on their search.

We found Jesus!

May you and I, like the children who wouldn’t give up the quest until it is completed, also find Jesus at the heart of not only Christmas but also at the heart of every day before and after.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Advent Season... No Room

As introduction to the Advent season, I am revisiting some old posts from previous years that were written as reflections on the birth of Christ.  I read recently that if we speak ( or write!) the truth, it will speak to others and it will speak again to us.  Well, here we are... same truth, new nuances... Funny how different things at different times crowd into the place in our hearts reserved for Jesus and Him alone...

It shows up every year, some time in early December. Out of the dust-covered box lying dormant on the dirty garage floor, buried under loads of other dusty boxes, untouched for eleven months. When it first appeared in the middle of our living room, years ago, my husband and I were newly married, young and quite naïve. At the time, our lives were simple and our furniture few. Happy and ignorant, we went out to shop one of those after-Christmas clearance sales. We came back jubilant, hauling in the biggest Christmas tree we could afford. The tree was beautiful and tall. When put together branch by branch, it filled at least a half of our living room, imposing its glorious presence on all this empty space. We loved our tree.

Then, a friend gave us his old TV because he was moving to Australia. Later on, we bought an armoire to accommodate our newly-acquired TV and a matching stand to hold our collection of CDs and VCRs (DVDs were not invented yet). Over the years, we kept accumulating more and more stuff – a DIY project here, and a curb-side mall find there; then came our first child with all his accompanying paraphernalia and soon afterward, another with all the mentioned paraphernalia of a different, she color. So, bit by bit, mountain by mountain stuff kept marching across our doorstep. The stuff we needed, or thought we or somebody we know needed or might need some day kept ringing our doorbell. Slowly but surely, our huge house started filling up all its empty places, obliterating the memory of the simple life we once used to live.

The tree also seemed to grow bigger and bigger each year, transforming from a beautiful symbol of everlasting life that the birth of God’s Son brought into the world, into a household monstrosity, turning our home upside down each Christmas season. Every December, in order to make room for its ever-expanding (or so it seemed) limbs, we have to move the sofa into the guest bedroom, and the keyboard with its stand into our son’s bedroom, and the spare desk into the dining room, and the bench from the guest bedroom…

Honey, where are we going to put the bench?!!!

Making room for the tree has become our number one Christmas chore…er… I meant to say tradition.

This is insane! We need to hire movers or a chiropractor to set up the darn thing. We should just get rid of it. 
I turned to the tree as if it’s its fault.

We don’t have room for you! No room.

The silent echo reverberated with familiarity. No room… no room… no room… in… the… inn…

With sudden realization, a mess of conflicting feelings that must have torn the insides of the Bethlehemian inn-keeper settled in my stomach. I could imagine myself standing at the door of our house, eyeing a tired, frost-bitten couple with the baby on the way…

I am so sorry, but we have no room for you anywhere in the house…. However, there is a bit of space in our garage among all the boxes, and garden tools, and discarded toys, and bicycles… if you don’t mind…

I took a step away from the tree, staggered by its quiet testimony of the clutter overcrowding my life. The space and the time. What else got pushed out by the relentless torrent of unrestrained real and perceived needs, wants, desires, responsibilities, demands, requirements? Is all my worthless junk swallowing what is really precious before my very eyes? Do I even know the difference?!!! And, how in the world did I come to resent something I used to love and enjoy?
The evergreen assayer stood still, his lights blinking brightly.

Perhaps… what I really need… for Christmas… is to just to make… a little more room… in my life. So the Life Himself can come in.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

It's Worth the Trouble

Today, in a strangely counter-intuitive way, these words from Amy Carmichael's Candles in the Dark encouraged my heart greatly.  I am sharing them here in hope and prayer they are an encouragement to you as well.

"Don't be surprised if there is attack on your work, on you who are called to do it, on your innermost nature - the hidden man of the heart.  It must be so.  The great thing is not to be surprised, not to count it strange - for that plays into the hand of the enemy.

Is it possible that anyone should set himself to exalt our beloved Lord and not become instantly a target for many arrows? The very fact that your work depends utterly on Him and can't be done for a moment without Him calls for a very close walk and a constant communion of spirit. This alone is enough to account for anything the enemy can do."

Apostle Paul says that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  James brings it up a notch:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

The book of 1 Peter is full of encouragement for the suffering believers.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. I Peter 4:12-13

If we claim to be followers of the crucified Savior, we really shouldn't be surprised.  I guess at some point it gets to be our turn.  It may feel like it, but we know it's not going to last forever. And unlike those who don't know the Lord, we can enter into the suffering knowing it's not meaningless.  It's not for nothing.  The fruit these trials will yield one day will be well worth the trouble - both now and when we see Him face to face.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

Thursday, November 22, 2012

From Emptiness to Thank-Full-ness

Some of us have harder time focusing on being thankful even (or perhaps, especially!) on Thanksgiving Day.  We hate to admit it, for it feels wrong. Politically incorrect.

What kind of person are you if you can’t name a single thing  to be thankful for?!!!

The reproach stings as much as the loss. But, the loss is too deep. The pain too great.  It envelopes us like a thick cloud on a gloomy day.  It overshadows the sunny reality of God’s goodness and holiness, His lovingkindness and grace.  We know it’s there.  We know it’s true.  We do give thanks for many blessings we have received,  but the gaping hole on the inside leaves us gasping for that heavenly air. Empty-handed.

It may be the season of joy and thanksgiving. A season of overflowing bounty. But, not for everyone.  For me, for you, it might be the season of prayer.  Season of emptying.  Season of death.

Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep… John 4:11

The well is deep. 

Deep. Empty.

Season of empty deep. But, let us enter in - with open hands.  We may feel empty, but empty is also another word for open.  Let us open our hands and our hearts to the One who emptied Himself…

In faith

That He knows

That He is able

That He is willing

To fill our emptiness

With Himself


Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20,21