Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Cambodia and Christmas...

Today I was reading a devotional about when Jesus came into town....

In a nutshell, it was a time of celebration and the blind man was calling out and "becoming an embarrassment" so people were telling him to hush. (Luke 18:40) But Jesus stopped and called out to him. 

For some reason, as I read that devotion my mind raced back to my visit to Cambodia two years ago. It seems like so long ago and yet like yesterday. 

We had gone to help with Hard Places Ministries, a group that shares hope with the children and abused of the Phnom Penh. While we were there, the city was getting ready for a celebration. I don't remember what it was, but those in charge were obviously making sure they showed their best possible side. City streets were being cleaned up for the upcoming celebration and the police were in the park gathering up the "embarrassments" and running them out of town.  This was not the time to allow the ugly side of the city to be seen. 

Yet it was for that "ugly" part that we had come. 

We were there to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We hoped that in some small way, we could help those we encountered realize that Jesus saw them and cared. We walked into dark hallways to reach cramped dirty rooms that served as home to so many. We prayed and listened to people that struggled just to survive. We sat on concrete floors and shared hope at every chance we could. We taught and sang praises to Jesus at the base of a Buddhist shrine. We gave food to hungry children and the message of hope to any who would listen (which included, by the way, the very police who were there to "clean things up.")

As I read that devotional today, I was reminded of Cambodia...and Christmas.

I don't know about you, but Christmas brings out the Martha Stewart in me. Okay, maybe more like the "Oh my gosh, I've got to make this special somehow" side of me. I clean the house. Stuff our junk into closets, (oh come on! I can't be the only one that does that!) and put out our finest for all to see. I buy too much, eat too much, and stay up way too late. It's Christmas and everything is supposed to be merry and bright. I try to find the perfect gifts (which I never do - I am lousy at gift giving!) I try to cook, something else I am lousy at; and I try to create that picture of what I think Christmas is supposed to be. 

The imperfect parts, well, I try and tell those parts to "hush" and hide them away...time to put up the lights and make it look like all is merry and bright. 

For many, Christmas is not really a time of "celebration". There are too many hurts. Too many unresolved dreams. Too much life that has happened. Perhaps they've even given up trying to pretend that it's all alright. They figure, like those people in Cambodia, that they will simply be hidden away till the celebration is over...trying to survive.

And then comes Jesus.

He stops. He calls out. Those that have been hidden away are called to the front, not to be embarrassed but to be embraced. He says "come to Me" and be given rest. Suddenly, "the soul feels its worth."

Jesus sees the beautiful. He sees the merry and bright...but He also sees the worn and weary. 

He doesn't look away. He came...that is what Christmas is all about. 

To paraphrase a line from The Grinch...He came just the same. 

O Holy night....long lay the world, in sin and error pining...till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. (O Holy Night)

I don't have an end to this blog...perhaps it's because when Jesus stops and calls out to us, the story has just begun. Merry Christmas y'all.

 (To read the devotional by Ron Hutchcraft that inspired today's blog, click this link: Bare Feet, Boots, and A Man in Blue )

Luke 18: 35-43 (Message)
35-37 He came to the outskirts of Jericho. A blind man was sitting beside the road asking for handouts. When he heard the rustle of the crowd, he asked what was going on. They told him, “Jesus the Nazarene is going by.”
38 He yelled, “Jesus! Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!”
39 Those ahead of Jesus told the man to shut up, but he only yelled all the louder, “Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!”
40 Jesus stopped and ordered him to be brought over. When he had come near, Jesus asked, “What do you want from me?”
41 He said, “Master, I want to see again.”
42-43 Jesus said, “Go ahead—see again! Your faith has saved and healed you!” The healing was instant: He looked up, seeing—and then followed Jesus, glorifying God. Everyone in the street joined in, shouting praise to God.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In the middle of the mundane...

Just a short random thought for the week before Christmas.

That first Christmas, those shepherds had no idea when they started work that day what was about to happen. The world was troubled. Work stretched out before them with little change in sight. Maybe new bills came in the "mail" that day. It was just another day in a string of mundane days. 

But God broke through the night and Hope was born and suddenly nothing was the same.

I pray that hope breaks through the mundane and is born in each of us today. 

It's almost Christmas y'all!

Luke 2:8-14 (VOICE)

Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks from predators in the darkness of night. Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light—the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!

Messenger: 10 Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. 11 Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! 12 You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough.

13 At that moment, the first heavenly messenger was joined by thousands of other messengers—a vast heavenly choir. They praised God.

14 Heavenly Choir: To the highest heights of the universe, glory to God!
    And on earth, peace among all people who bring pleasure to God!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Christmas Carol...

Every year I look forward to all the Christmas movies, but one is by far my favorite. I absolutely love A Christmas Carol - two versions in particular, the one with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge and the Muppet version. That's why this random thought is about my favorite Christmas classic.

The main character of this story is, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge. He is right in there with the Grinch as the symbol of all that is against Christmas. Even his name sounds grouchy! I still remember the first time it hit me that there was something more to his name. 

I was in church and we were singing about raising our mind immediately bounced in its ping-pong way and I started wondering what "Ebenezer" meant. Even I could figure out that it didn't mean we were supposed to lift up Scrooge - that story was only a little over 150 years old. So, I did what any person would do; I went home and googled it! I discovered that Ebenezer refers to the Ebenezer stone.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah, and named it Ebenezer; for he said, "Thus far the LORD has helped us." So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. The towns that the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath; and Israel recovered their territory from the hand of the Philistines. There was peace also between Israel and the Amorites. (1 Samuel 7:12-14 NRSV)

One post I found mentioned Joshua and the twelve tribes setting up a memorial after crossing the Jordan. These stones were referred to as an Ebenezer. Literally, the word means "stone of remembrance" to remind us of God's presence and help in our lives. At the beginning of the story, Scrooge is just that - Scrooge. By the end, he is truly more of an Ebenezer - remembering and an ever present source of help.

This year, the ghosts of each of the Christmases really hit me in their symbolism. Each one is so much more than just a name.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is bright - like our memories. Isn't that usually the case...our memories of the past always seem more wonderful than they probably were. Ever go back to a place from your childhood only to discover it's much smaller than you remember? When I was little, we went to the City Park in New Orleans. I remember the huge roller coaster, the giant storybook characters and houses, the real cars I was allowed to was one of the most wonderful places I'd ever seen! Those of you who have been to City Park already know what I discovered when I returned there as an adult. Everything is miniature - even that huge frightening roller coaster! But that's how memories work. They can fool you. Maybe that's why it's so hard for the present to live up to what we think we remember. 

Poor Scrooge had painful memories that he tried to snuff out with the Ghost's extinguisher cap. I have to admit, I have a few of those....don't we all. The thing is, you can't snuff them out - they just smolder, waiting for a chance to burst back into flames.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is my favorite. He is a giant! That's what the present is - large and IN YOUR FACE!!! It's filled with the here and now and it demands your attention. The past seems bright, but the present simply IS! I find myself being ruled by the Present quite often. I am constantly putting out fires, unable to really concentrate on what is to come because the Present is just so dog-gone LOUD! Present is quickly gone - far more quickly than I realized he would be. (You'd think after dealing with over 52 years filled with "Present" I'd realize by now that it will so soon be done.)

Then there's the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He never speaks but only directs with his hand. That really does describe the future...unknown. All we can do is follow the lead and move forward to it. In the story, this ghost is depicted in a quite frightening way. To those who do not believe in God and His love, the future is a dark and scary place. I'm so thankful that I don't have to be filled with fear because I know who holds my future and I know He cares for me.

Jeremiah 29:11

New International Version (NIV)
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future

Yep, there's a lot you can learn from a familiar old story. No matter where or when I am, God is still there, a stone of help that will not fail.

Psalm 139:7-12
Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
      to be out of your sight?
   If I climb to the sky, you're there!
      If I go underground, you're there!
   If I flew on morning's wings
      to the far western horizon,
   You'd find me in a minute—
      you're already there waiting!
   Then I said to myself, "Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
      At night I'm immersed in the light!"
   It's a fact: darkness isn't dark to you; 
      night and day, darkness and light, they're all the same to you.

Matthew 28:20
"I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age."

I think I'll close this Random Thought with the words of Tiny Tim, 
"God bless us, every one."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

All I want for Christmas is.....less

Yes, you read that right. All I want for Christmas is LESS! I don't want any presents this year, unless of course someone wants to buy me a new mop bucket (mine has a crack in it). Other than that I have all that I need. In fact, I've got MORE than I need. That is why this year, I have decided I want less for Christmas.

I want less clutter - to make more time to relax.
I want less drama - to make room for more joy. 
I want less (fewer) presents - to make more time to spend with those who I care about.
I want less food - I've already gained plenty this year...maybe we could give all that extra to those who truly need it.
I want less (fewer) excuses - so that I can spend time getting healthy.
I want less work - so I can spend more time enjoying life. (Okay - so I know I'll still have to work, but I'll bet I can find a way to make it more fun!)

I want less me - so I can have more of Him, the one who came as a baby that first Christmas so many years ago.

Anyone care to join me as we enjoy less this year?

Matthew 6:33 (VOICE) 

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too. 
Proverbs 15:16
It is better to live with less and honor the Eternal than to have riches and carry the burdens that come with them.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why a stable???

This is a repeat of a post from December 2008....but it's one of my all time favorites so I'm sharing it again.

The following "random thought" actually came about a year ago while teaching in Kid's Church just before Christmas. I don't think I've ever heard this fact, I had never thought of it before the words began to come out of my mouth that Sunday morning.

It was a typical Children's
Church service a week or two before Christmas. I had a wonderful group of kids, most of whom I had known since they were born. These children knew the Christmas story quite well, so making it real and new was quite a challenge. I had told the story and tried to paint a picture so that the children could experience the story anew. It was then that I asked the question - "Why was Jesus born in a stable?" Of course, the response was "Because there was no room in the inn." Then I asked a question even I hadn't considered before. "Why wasn't there room at the inn? Did God forget to make reservations?" Of course, we all laughed at such a ridiculous question. Obviously the birth of Jesus being in a stable was no accident....but why would God allow His Son to be born in a stable?

It's not like God didn't know when Jesus would be born. Yes, the city was crowded, but couldn't God have made room for this family in an inn somewhere? After all, He's God! He knew when the angel told Mary she'd have a son that they would be making this trip 9 months later! He could have made arrangements! I understand that there are many different views as to what this stable might have been, but it doesn't change the fact that a stable isn't a place for a baby to be born! That's where animals are born....animals like sheep and goats and cows. The kind of animal you'd use for a sacrifice.

You know, every time I think about that, it causes a lump to rise in my throat. Jesus, the King of Kings was born in a place where sacrifices are born. He was laid in a manger - the place where the animals would go for food....The Bread of Life, Jesus - born as a sacrifice.

This Christmas, as you take time to read the original Christmas story, may your heart be filled with the knowledge of God's love for you. Merry Christmas.

John 1:29 "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Don't throw yourself out at first.....

* You know, I love watching sports of every kind. Not on tv, mind you. I like to be there live and in person. Maybe it's my inner athlete that never learned to play sports, maybe I just love watching people; but for whatever reason, I love watching sports - especially when kids are involved. They still believe they can do anything....and perhaps they can. They believe that, even if they aren't all that good right now, they are just one throw, run, hit, or jump from greatness.

One of my most favorite memories is of a T-ball game I attended years ago. In that game, I watched a little girl do something that has stuck with me since. This tiny powerhouse came up to the plate to bat with all the expertise of a flounder out of water. Her helmet looked a bit too big, the bat looked like a redwood compared to her, and I'm pretty sure they had to stop her and tie her shoes for her before she started to swing. The first swing came - she missed. Then a second - missed again. Once more - it was a tip that sent the ball rolling slowly toward the pitcher. In true T-ball fashion, the entire outfield came running in to try and get that ball, but they simply weren't fast enough...not for that little girl. She ran forward and grabbed that ball and then promptly threw herself out at first. She was so proud! She had done what they could not! It took quite a bit of explaining, and I think I remember them giving her another chance, but I will never forget that moment. She actually threw herself out! No opposing team could do what she had done herself.

Therein, of course, lies today's random thought. I'm pretty sure I've been throwing myself out at first...and so have a lot of others around me. We have participated in helping the enemy of our soul in a way that it could not do in itself. It's as if the spirit of discouragement has attached its thorny claws to us and in raspy whispers only we can hear, it tells us over and over again we are not enough. We are not good enough, not smart enough, not cultured enough, not skinny enough, not whatever enough. It reminds us over and over of just how badly we blew it, AGAIN. It plays the stupid words we said over and over again inside our head like a broken record. It tries to convince us that when bad things happen, it is ALWAYS our fault. That we are being punished for being so inadequate once again.

I wonder if hermits separate themselves from the world not because of fear of the world, but because they are afraid they will fail and finally be discovered as inadequate...simply not enough. I know I have had times when I felt like I should just crawl into a hole so that I would do as little damage as possible. I say the wrong thing, act too quickly, live too loud, generally stick my foot in my mouth and then for good measure, stick the other foot in as well. I find myself desperately trying to learn what I imagine others must have learned years ago as teenagers, yet I am still trying desperately to discover what the "rules" are. Instead of getting better with age, it seems I'm getting worse! Buying wrong gifts, over doing, not doing enough, doing it too loudly, not speaking up when I should, forgetting the important things, being overwhelmed by the trivial....

It's not everyday, mind you. Some days I feel pretty confident in myself - followed closely by days when I realize just how inadequate I am. Like most, I've had plenty of times in my life when the spirit of discouragement and despair has tried to convince me to "throw myself out at first." That's the enemy's favorite tactic - to remind us just how human and "not enough" we truly are.

Here's the shocker - the enemy is a degree. I am not enough. I am in desperate need of a Savior. I need one who knows me and yet loves me all the same. I long for One who doesn't condemn, and instead speaks life into the cavernous hole in my heart and fills it. I want to be treasured as special...truly special. I want to feel His presence lifting me and reminding me that I am loved. I want one who doesn't remember my mistakes, but instead reminds me of the few times I actually got it right - because I waited on Him. I want Someone who will gently reach out and stop me from throwing myself out at first, before I've really even begun to play the game that day.

Perhaps you are like me this morning. You wake up to that feeling of dread in facing today's game - sure you'll mess it up somehow. I speak against that spirit of discouragement right now. I pray that you will recognize his lies for just what they are - an attempt to get you to throw yourself out at first before you even get started. God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a strong mind. He is right there with you, ready to guide your hands, steady your bat, and hit that ball right out of the park....just like your little kid dreams always imagined.

My words cannot fully express what is on my heart, but a song by Mercy Me does a really good job of speaking life.

Days will come when you don't have the strength,
When all you hear is "you're not worth anything"
Wondering if you ever could be loved,
And if they truly saw your heart, they'd see too much

You're beautiful, You're beautiful,
You are made for so much more than all of this
You're beautiful,You're beautiful,
You are treasured, you are sacred, you are His,
You're beautiful

I'm praying that you have the heart to fight,
'Cause you are more than what is hurting you tonight
For all the lies you've held inside so long,
And they are nothing in the shadow of the cross

You're beautiful,You're beautiful,
You are made for so much more than all of this
You're beautiful,You're beautiful,
You are treasured, you are sacred, you are His,
You're beautiful

Before you ever took a breath, long before the world began
Of all the wonders He possessed, there was one more precious
Of all the earth and skies above, you're the one Emmanuel loves
Enough to die

You're beautiful, You're beautiful
In His eyes
You're beautiful
You were meant for so much more than all of this
You're beautiful 

You are treasured you are sacred you are His
You're beautiful,You're beautiful
You were meant for so much more than all of this
You're beautiful,You're beautiful
You are treasured you are sacred you are His.

Today, as you come up to bat, give it all you've got. Don't be afraid that you won't be enough. Don't throw yourself out at first. Instead, know that you are loved....and give it all you've got - for Him who loves you no matter how you feel.

Beautiful by Mercy Me

*Repost from 2010. As always - thank you for reading!