THE REAL MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS

Unlike most of you, I have never carried a child in my womb, nor have I, except for a college biology film, ever witnessed the birth of a child.  I have no firsthand knowledge of this wondrous miracle, but I am fascinated by the facts.

At inception, the female egg is about the size of a grain of sand.  I believe that fertilization of the egg is the beginning of human life, and in that tiny, almost microscopic, mass lives the potential for greatness, for achievement, genius, tenderness, success, leadership, kindness, brilliance and the whole gamut of emotions.  Think of tiny fingers that will one day play Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto #3, feet that will run The Boston Marathon, a mind that will conquer cancer, a voice that will sway the multitude, and arms that will hold a loved one.

Friends speak of a difficult pregnancy and a hard prolonged labor, but they never say, “I wish I hadn’t done it.”  For when that child finally makes his debut appearance, howling in protest at his forced departure from a comfy, warm, safe abode, he may be red and wrinkled and uglier than lye soap, but that’s not what his mother sees.  He may not be a Gerber Baby, but his mother sees nothing but a miracle of life, a miracle of beauty when she first holds him close to her heart.

At this season, we are thinking, as we should be, about the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We are not sure when He was born.  Bible scholars, judging from historical events of the time, place His birth between 1 BC and 6 BC.  However, we are sure that He was not born on December 25, for shepherds would not have had their sheep in the fields in wintertime.  It is believed that He was born in September or October, meaning that He could have been conceived in December.

It is not important to pinpoint His exact date of birth.  The importance is in knowing that He came.  That is the miracle of Christmas.

We have a convoluted notion concerning the birth of Jesus.  Our beautiful Christmas cards portray Mary and Joseph in a neat open-air stable, a sweet, docile, haloed baby in a pristine manger filled with fresh, sweet hay, with well-groomed, well-behaved cattle in observance.

In reality, Jesus birth parallels the birth of that newborn in a hospital delivery room. There was blood and gore and pain and hard labor and sweat and tears.  This all took place in a non-sterile, dark cave, where the lowing, sweating cattle were stabled, and the acrid aroma of cow manure filled the air.  There was nothing romantic about His birth.

We have a hard time dealing with the humanity of Christ.  But the truth is, at His Father’s bidding, He left the glories of heaven becoming an embryo in the womb of a teenage, Galilean girl.  The Son of God submitted Himself to total oblivion for nine long months.  He relinquished His supernatural power and willingly allowed Himself to be hemmed in by time and space.

He was born a man-child, and as a man-child, he behaved as any newborn behaves.  He screamed when he was hungry.  He cried when He was wet.  Oh yes!  He did wet and mess His diapers.  Joseph, with babe in arms, walked the manure strewn floor, hoping disparately to calm the crying child, so everyone could get a little sleep.  At His birth, only Mary and Joseph knew He was God’s Son.  To all others, He was just another baby born into a poor family.  Only at the heralding of the angels did others become aware that this babe was special.

It is hard to understand that Jesus became as we are—human flesh and blood, but He did.  He did it for us.

Philippians 2:7-8 tells us, “…He set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!  Having become human, He stayed human.  It was an incredibly humbling process.  He didn’t claim special privileges.  Instead, He lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”      

II Corinthians 8:9 says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

The song says:

From a loving heavenly Father,

To a world that knew Him not

Came the man of sorrows, Christ the Lord.

In my wanderings He found me,

Bought my soul with His own blood,

Gave to me a peace the world could not afford.

 

Redeeming love, a love that knows no limit.

Redeeming love, a love that shall not die.

My soul shall sing throughout the endless ages,

With choirs extolling His great love on high.

This is the real miracle of Christmas!  His birth, His life lived on this earth as a man, His ministry, His crucifixion, and resurrection all result in His limitless, redeeming love for you and me.

You can experience His redeeming love. You can know the real miracle of Christmas.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

Christmas Past

CHRISTMAS PAST – RECYCLED

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL WHO READ THIS BLOG.  This has been a week of twenty-six hour days.  I have a wonderful idea for a new blog, but no time to develop it, so I will recycle a blog from Christmas gone by.  I do hope you will enjoy again the reminiscence from my childhood more than three-quarters of a century ago.

Please know that I pray for you the wonder of Christmas in Jesus Christ.  May His promised peace be a reality in your life.

CHRISTMAS PAST

I ADORE CHRISTMAS—EVERYTHING ABOUT IT!

I am awed by the blinding light of hope that descended upon this darkened world with the advent of Christ—the light that still shines in every dark corner. I love baby Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, the gold, frankincense and myrrh.  I’m reminded that all the beauty and brightness of Christmas finds its source in this glorious light.

Honestly, I am annoyed by people who complain about Christmas, and long for it to be over and done with.  Yes, it is tiring and sometimes stressful, but it’s a sort of happy tiredness.  There is a sense of satisfaction at what you accomplished today.  You just might be able to get it all done after all.

Today, I am thinking back seventy-five or eighty years to my first remembrances of
Christmas.  We lived poor, but my Mama always made Christmas special.  There was no money for fancy, expensive gifts, and we didn’t need them.  It is amazing what a child can and will love.

When I was almost four, Santa brought me a little wooden doll’s bed.  I can still see it.  I must have had a dolly too, but I was thrilled with my little brown bed carrying it from room to room.  I don’t remember other gifts that year.  The bed was enough.  And, that was the momentous year, when my ten-year-old brother decided to set me straight about Santa Claus.

“There is no Santa!” he declared.

I didn’t believe him.  I still don’t believe him.  The little girl in me loves Santa.  For me, he takes nothing from the real significance of Christmas.  I have no trouble with beautiful things that have become tradition.

Mama always bought Christmas goodies—apples, oranges, hard candy and orange slices, nuts still in the shell, and old-fashioned chocolate drops.  They were the best.  They looked like little delectable mountains—strawberry, vanilla, and maple centers enrobed in dark chocolate.  Yummmm!!!

I don’t ever recall having a Christmas stocking.  My mother always divided the treats equally between family members putting them into little brown paper bags, one for each of us.  Those goodies were mine.  I could eat them all making myself sick ruining my dinner, or I could squirrel them away and make them last until New Years.

In my hometown, there was always a treasure hunt on Christmas Eve.  All the merchants on Main St. offered a giveaway.  If you held the right number, the gift was yours.  So, in the cold, early evening of December 24, Mama, June and I walked the few blocks to town looking in every shop hoping against hope that we held the magic number.  I don’t think we ever won anything, but just being there with the bright lights, beautiful window displays, and the bustle and clamor of other hopefuls was intoxicating.

More than one Christmas Eve I came home with an earache.  My little ears were sensitive to the cold December air.  Mama would awake to my cry in the middle of the night bringing a little cloth bag of salt, which she had heated on the back of the stove.  With a kiss, she placed the warm bag on my ear.  The heat and weight of it relieved the pain.  Or was it the kiss that worked the magic?

Christmas dinner was phenomenal.  Two fat hens roasted in the oven stuffed with Mama’s luscious cornbread dressing laced with an abundance of sage.  All week the house smelled of sugar cookies and mincemeat pie baking in the oven.

Mama made a delicious raisin, spice cake, but she always said, “It just doesn’t seem like Christmas until my coconut cake is finished.”

Mama’s three layer coconut cake frosted with airy White Mountain frosting and oodles of coconut was the epitome of Christmas in our house.  A slice of that cake and a helping of strawberry Jello filled with apples, bananas and pecans was the best bite of the day.

After I was an adult, I decided to improve on Mama’s coconut wonder.  I used lemon instead of yellow cake, and I spread lemon filling between the layers.  It was good, but it wasn’t the same, and Mama didn’t mind saying so.

The gifts were opened, the wrappings disposed of.  Of course, Mama always saved ribbons and the larger pieces of paper—wrinkles and all.

I can still hear her say, “Careful, careful.  Don’t tear it.”

She could press out the wrinkles and use the paper again next year.  That’s how you save money.

Our kitchen and dining area were combined in one fairly large room.  Today the open concept is greatly desired.  For us it was a simple necessity.

In those early years, we were all at home.  Nine of us sat around the table, bowed our heads and thanked God for His blessing, and devoured the wonderful meal Mama made.

We all knew well the import of Christmas.  We knew about God’s wondrous gift to this world.  Most of us had accepted that gift as our very own.

Not a one of us owned a checkbook or a bank account, but we were, oh, so rich because of God’s generosity.  Jesus made the difference!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given…And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Isaiah 9:6.

JESUS WANTS TO BE YOUR VERY BEST GIFT THIS CHRISTMAS.

 

THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW

 

 

THE TREES OF CHRISTMAS

I’m sitting here with a broad, silly grin on my face, because I have just finished decorating my Christmas tree.  I don’t know why that makes me so happy.  It just does!

I must admit that it becomes a little more difficult each year, and I was not quite sure I would be able to do it this time.  Because of my daily dosage of blood thinner, my doctor has warned me away from ladders, but you can’t trim a tree without a bit of climbing.  So I fudged a little, because my German angel couldn’t get to the top by himself.

The tree is gorgeous!  It is a bright, shining conglomeration of colors and shapes.  Alas!  It has no theme.  I have never cottoned to themed Christmas trees nor those decorated in only one color.  I just want to use all the stuff that I have collected over the years.  I am still using some of my Mom’s decorations.  They are old and faded and tarnished, but they are filled with sweet, sweet memories.  I say it again, “This tree makes me happy!”

In 1975, I was a brand new missionary in the country of Belgium.  Everything was good and exciting when I arrived in August, but as Christmas drew nearer and nearer, I just wanted to lie down and die.  I had never, in my thirty-nine years, been away from my family at Christmastime.  However, instead of giving in to despair, I determined to make Christmas as much like home as possible.  To that end, my roommate and I bought a large tree and put it in front of the French doors in our third-floor apartment.  Its beauty brought a bit of cheer to my aching heart.

We were cleaning house on December 23, when Ginny decided to vacuum behind the tree.  (You’d have to meet Ginny.)  All of a sudden, I heard a loud crash and a moan of despair.  My friend had knocked the tree over with the vacuum.  There on the floor lay the denuded tree among dried pine needles and broken ornaments.  There was no way to salvage it so, after I recovered from my urge to kill, we dragged it into the elevator and dumped it in the basement.  Through a series of unlikely, frustrating, even amusing events (another story to be told) we were able to replace the tree, and Christmas came and went without further calamity.

No one is quite sure how or when the Christmas tree originated, but we do know that, even in the middle ages, various cultures brought greenery into their homes in the winter time.  It symbolized life in those cold, dark days.

It is said that Queen Victoria’s beloved Albert introduced the tree into the English culture.

The story, yet unproven, that I love best and want to believe, is that of Martin Luther.

On a Christmas Eve, in the 1500’s, Martin Luther made his way home from vespers.  Walking through the snow-covered woods, he was struck by the beauty of the snow glistened trees.  Their branches, dusted with the soft white powder, shimmered in the moonlight and the twinkling stars overhead seemed to decorate the tips of the evergreens.

At home, he set up a small fir tree and decorated it with tiny candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth.  He told his children it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas.

I love the beauty of Christmas—the brilliant lights, the vivid colors, the tantalizing aroma of baked goods, the seraphic faces and shining eyes of expectant children, and the pile of gifts under the tree. But this beauty all wrapped up together is only a faint reflection of the beauty of Christ, who is Christmas.

I am continually blessed at this season when I realize that men and women, who deny Christ’s existence, who have totally rejected Him, who hate everything He stands for, continue to celebrate His birth.  O, they deny it, but by simply giving place to Christmas, they are confirming that HE IS!

So—for me—the Christmas tree is a symbol of life and light and hope that Jesus brought to this sad world at His advent.

Now, it occurs to me that another tree really plays the leading role in the story of Christmas, for the gift of Christ’s birth is incomplete without the magnificence of His sacrifice at Calvary.

1 Peter 2:24 says, “…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree (the cross), that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness…”  

 So, trim your trees, sing “O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” but while you celebrate Jesus” birth, celebrate, also, His death.  Let Him make Christmas complete in your life.

Remember the sun will come out tomorrow!

           

BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE IN UNKNOWN PLACES

 

            TAJIKISTAN!  Was there really such a place?  There must be, for I had been invited, by Missionary friends, to come for a few weeks of ministry.

I wanted to go, but I also wanted to know where I was going.  So, I went online to find this little mountainous, landlocked, poverty-stricken country tucked away in Central Asia—about as far away from home as you can get.  This little country with a population of only 8.7 million people is bordered on the East by China and on the south by Afghanistan.

In 1991 the Tajiks who, for seventy years, had been under Russia’s rule, gained their independence when the USSR was dissolved.

Tajikistan is considered to be a secular state with a constitution that provides for religious freedom.  However, this freedom comes with many restraints.

Ninety-eight percent of the population is Muslim, though many do not adhere to the strict lifestyle or religious practices of Islam.

My weeks, in Dushanbe, the capital city, were a whirlwind of activity.  I spoke for two women’s retreats, substituted at the “Silk Road Academy,” a school for missionary kids, and the children of other expats.  I preached at the international church, and so much more.

Though missionaries are not allowed in the country, everywhere I went I found these beautiful people.  They came, not just from the U.S. but from other countries and a number of different mission organizations.  Each one had an official job—medical doctors, university professors, linguists, engineers, cosmetologists, students, soil experts.  But—under the radar—they were all there for one purpose.  Quietly they went about their work taking every opportunity to share the gospel.

I met an amazing Korean couple from New Jersey, who were well into their middle years.  They had served fifteen years in Afghanistan.  Now in Dushanbe, they opened a Beauty School.  They were concerned for young people who had no direction, no skills and no way to make a living.  So the youngsters came and learned a trade free of charge, and while they learned, this Korean “Mom and Pop” quietly shared Christ with them.

My hosts had worked in Tajikistan for seventeen years. They came as youngsters with a baby girl.  There were no other American missionaries there at the time.  They found a place to live and hired a language teacher.   It is incredible what they had accomplished.  They had established a Bible training school for potential Tajik pastors, helped start an international church, launched a peanut butter and coffee grinding company, established a ministry to abused and abandoned women, opened and staffed “The Morning Star” café, personally training every employee, and planted an elementary academy.

Eve baked cakes and pies and cookies and took them to her Muslim neighbors.  She just wiggled her way into the hearts of these precious people letting the love of Christ flow.

“How did you do all this in seventeen years, I asked?

“We just loved the people,” Eve replied.

And—the people loved them.  People, who were not yet converted to Christ, were converted to this genuine love.

I was enchanted by the Tajik people.  I learned that the red haired Tajiks were the gift left behind by Alexander the Great and his army twenty-five hundred years ago.

I visited the mountain site where ancient Persian kings built their castles overlooking the valley where they trained their great armies.

I was a guest at a Muslim wedding celebration, where the women danced with women and the men with men.  At the Muslim commemoration of “Abraham’s offering of Ishmael,” I ate fried goat in the home of a Tajik Rock Star, where a goat was sacrificed later in the afternoon.  I didn’t hang around for that one.

The next day, still celebrating, I sat on the floor in a farm house, by a beautiful carpet loaded with every kind of delicacy, and ate “Osh,” the national dish.  I was given a fork, though the nationals eat it with their hands, from a communal pot.

Each morning I walked across the road, tapped on a window, which magically opened, and for a pittance, I received a fresh, warm loaf of yummy bread—my breakfast.

Not dismissing the awesome snowcapped mountains, one of the most delightful sights I saw was a giant poster, displayed in a shop window, advertising “Snickers” candy bars. To my way of thinking, “Snickers” run a close second to peanut butter as the world’s ultimate comfort food.  I knew, then, I would survive my time in Tajikistan.

Sharing, laughing, eating, and worshipping with Tajik believers, who were won to Christ through love and faithful witness, was the most blessed of my experiences.

I think now of these committed converts, who have chosen a steep, uphill climb, and I think of those who are laboring faithfully for the cause of the gospel.

Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation…”

In all of our holiday celebration, let’s not forget our fellow believers in faraway places, and the beautiful people, who sacrifice in order to bring “glad tidings.”

 

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SWEET PEACE

 

My Mama, Maggie Lou, was married in a quiet ceremony, in her parent’s home, on Christmas Eve, 1917.

The war that raged on the Western Front, in Europe—“The Great War”—The War to End All Wars,” seemed a million miles away on that joyous occasion.

Mama went to live with her beloved Ed and his bootlegging father, on a dry land farm in eastern Oklahoma.

By her eighteenth birthday, in March of 1918, Mama was already pregnant with her first child.  Suddenly life, for this laughing girl, became serious.  She was now responsible for another life, and she awoke each morning wondering if this was the day her young husband would be called up to serve his country and perhaps die in a faraway place.

America, under the leadership of President Woodrow Wilson, had remained neutral the first two and one-half years of the war.  However, neutrality finally became impossible considering the increased aggression of the Nation of Germany, and our close bond with Great Britain.  So America entered the fray on April 6, 1917 sending 2,000,000 American boys to the front where 50,000 of them died.

In Paris, France, on November 11, 1918, at 11:00 a.m. an Armistice was signed, and the war came to an end.  The world was at peace!

Just after midnight, in the wee hours of November 12, while bells were still ringing, horns still blowing, and people still celebrating, Maggie gave birth to a baby boy.  Beautiful Levi!

The baby that she had carried in her womb for nine months was now safe in her arms, and there was no longer any danger that Ed would have to go to war.  Sweet peace brought healing to her troubled heart.

Peace is a rare and longed for commodity.  It is said that there are those who would give a “King’s ransom” for one hour of genuine peace.  The “War to End All Wars” was a hope never realized, for war rages somewhere in this world continually.

Many people and entities have tried to bring peace to our world.  The military can’t do it.  Diplomats have failed.  Governments are ineffective, and The United Nations is laughable for the most part.

War does not have to be nation against nation.  It is sometimes corporation against corporation or family against family, and mostly individual against individual.

Truth is, strife and discord begin at the grassroots.  I’m reminded of The Hatfield and The McCoy feud—a feud that lasted almost thirty years and has had repercussions for decades.

No one is sure, but it is said that the whole thing started over the theft of a hog.  However it started, it escalated to murder and mayhem, and the absence of any measure of peace.

I know individuals who hate to go home for the holidays, because of family infighting—so much for “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men!”

There are times when outside interference lays siege to my personal peace.  Last spring when I was rewarded guardianship of my sister, I heaved a sigh of relief believing that, aside from the annual reports I must file, I needed only to take good care of her.  However, last week, without warning, my sister’s attorney requested that I be removed as guardian.

I am devastated.  I am praying. I am crying, and just like you, I am wringing my hands, and losing sleep.   Sunday evening I was with a group of friends, who prayed with me.  Monday morning just as I was awakening, I saw the words, as on a plaque, “sweet peace the gift of God’s love.  Opening my eyes, I thought, “That’s a song.  I haven’t heard it in a hundred years, but I know that song, and the words came singing back.

When Jesus as Lord I have crowned,

My heart with His peace will abound;

In Him, the rich blessing I found,

Sweet peace the gift of God’s love.

 

Peace, peace, sweet peace,

Wonderful gift from above.

Wonderful, wonderful peace,

Sweet peace the Gift of God’s love.

 Later in the day, I read these words from Jeremiah 20:11.  “But the Lord is with me as a mighty, awesome One.  Therefore my persecutors will stumble, and will not prevail.”

 This promise is certainly a recipe for peace.

Finally, I believe, “THE WAR TO END ALL WARS” is the war that I wage within—the war that I fight against Christ and His authority in my life.  When I refuse to give Him control, I am filled with turmoil, hopelessness, and fear.  When I lay down my arms and lift my hands in surrender, the Prince of Peace comes in, and His peace remains.

The world is in fighting mode—in hearts, in homes, in our streets, in legislatures, courts, and palaces.  From north to south, east to west, we are at war, but in the middle of all this chaos, you can live in peace.

Isaiah 26:3, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is fixed on You.”

God’s peace is a gift.  Give up your weapons, sign the Armistice, and fix your heart and mind on Him in exchange for perfect peace.

Your prayers are appreciated.

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD

I was going to jail.  I had never been in close proximity even to a city jail.  Now I was on my way to the State Penitentiary in Soledad, California.

The Penitentiary Chaplain, who was a friend of mine, had invited me to come preach to his inmates.  I said, “YES,” because I don’t know how to say, “NO.”

Soledad was a large prison with three cell blocks and hundreds, perhaps thousands of inmates.

Now driving down US Route 101 early on Sunday morning, my mind was full of questions.   Oh, my sermon was prepared.  My heart was ready, but my mind was in turmoil.  Why in the world did I do this?  How will I behave toward these men?  Will I smile at them?  Will I look them in the eye?  Will I pretend we are not locked up?  Will I be nervous or afraid?  Of course I had prayed and was still praying.

If I really thought about it, I knew I would be preaching to murderers, rapists, thieves, and every other kind of law breaker imaginable.  One lone woman!

I stopped at the Kiosk just outside the first chain link fence, proffered my ID, and walked through the gate that opened for me.  I was greeted by the chaplain at the second gate.  As though reading my mind, he smiled at me and said, “Just be yourself, they’ll love you.”

We entered a small chapel where prisoners were getting ready for service.  They came in their blue prison garb laughing and joking with each other.  They were friendly, shaking my hand and welcoming me.

These men were “short timers.”  They would soon be on their way home.

The chaplain sat at the piano, and worship began.  I discovered immediately that these men, who were locked behind bars most of the day, were free in spirit, for they sang exuberantly raising their hands and shouting the praises of God.  They were not required to come to service.  They came, because God had changed their lives, and set them free.

I found myself preaching to them honestly, as I would to any congregation, and, as the chaplain had advised, I was just myself.  I didn’t know how to be anyone else.

The second service was in the main cell block, in a real sanctuary built for that purpose.  When we arrived the three hundred or more seats were filled and men stood around the walls.  The orchestra was tuning up and the choir was taking its place.  An inmate stood at the pulpit ready to officiate.  I was amazed.  This church was fully organized with a board and ushers and musicians, all of them inmates.

When I stood to preach, I said, “I know why I am here.  Do you know why you are here?” I don’t know where that came from.  It wasn’t something I had prepared, but it set the tone for the morning.  The men laughed heartily and everyone relaxed.  I talked about “Walking with God” using the story of Enoch found in Genesis 5 and Hebrews 11.

At the close of the message, I asked those, who needed God’s help, to come forward for prayer.  They came eagerly filling the front of the sanctuary.  Without hesitation, I walked down the steps and moved through the crowd to encourage and pray with them.  What a blessed time!

At lunch, Chaplain asked me, “Well, what do you think?”

“I would rather preach to those men any day of the week than to a bunch of bored church members,” I answered.

“You know,” he said, “One-third of those men are lifers.  They will never leave this place.”

Then he told me the story of the man who led the service that morning.  “John” had been a pastor.   He knew the joy of serving God.  Then he fell into an adulterous relationship.  When his wife found him out, he killed her.  Now he is a lifer with no hope of freedom.  Thank God, he has found his way home.

He had EVERYTHING going for him, and he gave it all up for a moment of selfish pleasure.

I wept when I heard that story. In fact, I squalled all the way home, 186 miles.  Actually, I cried the whole week.  I didn’t cry because these men were being punished for their lawlessness.   I cried because John had given up EVERYTHING for NOTHING.  I cried because I realized, “but for the grace of God,” I could be in the same situation.  “That could be me!  That could be you!”  Don’t fool yourself.  None of us is immune.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Again, in James 4:6, “…God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble.”

The undeserved grace of God is a gift like no other.  No pleasure, great or small, is worth the forfeiture of God’s grace.

“…‘tis grace that brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.”

AMAZING GRACE!

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

           

What A Waste

It was early morning, and I was bouncing around in the back of a huge truck on my way to the city dump, in Calcutta, India. (The city is now called Kolkata)  I have sent tons of garbage to the city dump in my hometown, but I have never been there.  So, why in the world—why would I get up before sunrise to visit a dump?

Actually, this site, where 4,000 tons of new waste is dumped each day, is known as Calcutta’s Garbage Mountain, and it has become, for some twisted reason, a tourist site.  No wonder!  The dump covers sixty acres and is ten stories high.  It is permanently on fire from the combustible waste deposited there, and no one tries to put it out.  A fetid, unbearable stench hangs heavily in the air.

Amazingly, in 2016, Calcutta received an award for impressive waste management.  I dare say that the 30,000 miserable souls that live permanently on or around the garbage heap are not impressed.

Many of these garbage residents are rag pickers or waste pickers.  One can find almost anything there including dead babies, smuggled chocolates and medicine, money and even gold.  These souls spend their days sorting through the “yuck” picking out recyclable stuff and burning rotting bodies.

When Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan in 1971, the population of Calcutta grew from one million to eight million overnight.  (Current population is fourteen million.)  The city had no provision for such an influx.

When engineers were asked for a solution, they replied, “Raze the place and start over!”

I was in Calcutta for the first time in 1980.  The sights I saw and the experiences I had sear the mind and make faint the heart.  Never before had I seen such abject poverty, such suffering.  Multitudes lived on the sidewalks sheltered only by a cardboard lean-to.  They drank from the gutters, and at dusk, they lit their charcoal burners to heat tea and prepare what meager food they had.  All over the city black smoke filled the atmosphere and settled on everything in sight.  Beggars were everywhere.  A trip to the market drew a throng of little black-eyed boys begging to be hired to carry parcels.

I was there for ministry, but I ashamedly admit that there were days I was reluctant to leave the house.  However, on that early morning, in 1980, we were on our way to “Garbage Mountain” not as tourists or to see the sites—we were there to feed the hungry.

The line had already begun to form before our truck came to a halt at the designated site.  It was all very orderly.  In single file, the line of women and children snaked through the wasteland as far as the eye could see waiting politely for the one nutritious meal they would have that day.  They came with their tin cups and other containers.

Each one was given a cup of milk and two substantial whole grain pancakes.  I don’t know how long we were there or how many people we fed, but after awhile they were gone.  I imagined they had found a quiet place among the rubbish to enjoy, perhaps, the only meal they would have that day.

I asked why there were no men in the line.  I was told that, if the men were fed, there would be no motivation to find work.

Our faithful, longtime, missionaries worked tirelessly.  They had established a thriving church, an elementary school, a feeding program and a hospital in Calcutta, and in every place, in every way, they preached the good news of Jesus Christ.  Yet, from a distance, stacked up against eight million “waste” people it seemed so little—too little.

The trip to the dump hung over me like an albatross.  I thought about those emaciated children gladdened by a cup of milk, and I wondered whether or not I had made any difference at all while I was there.

In reflection, I thought of the widow in Mark 12: 42 (The Message) “One poor widow…put in two small coins—a measly two cents.  Jesus…said…this poor widow gave more than all the others…she gave extravagantly what she could not afford—she gave her all.”

The “garbage dump” people around us are seldom lovely and appealing.  Sometimes they are utterly repulsive.  But in Matthew 10:31, Jesus, who cares when a sparrow falls, declared that the least person is worth more to Him then many sparrows.

Jesus asks us to look at the need around us.  He asks to give extravagantly, even what we cannot afford—to give our all.  In fact, Luke 38 (The Message) says, “Give away your life…giving, not getting, is the way.  Generosity begets generosity.”

You may feel that “your all” is not very much, but just as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, He will multiply your “gift” and make it more than enough.

Giving “all” brings bonus and blessing.

 

REMEMBER, THE SUN WILL COME OUT TOMORROW!

 

 

 

IN THE SHADOW OF HIS HAND

The country of India is a giant kaleidoscope of varying sites and experiences as conflicting as that of the Taj Mahal and Calcutta’s putrid city dump.

Having spent a month in ministry in various locations, I was actually on my way back to Belgium with a stop-off in New Delhi, when I experienced one of the most memorable of days.  I was accompanied by three gals, whom I had met in Calcutta—a missionary wife, the pastor’s Indian secretary, and a well-known gospel singer from California.  The four of us put our heads together agreeing that we had worked hard and needed some fun before I left the country.  Thus was born the plan to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra three and one-half hours south of Delhi.

Due to the generosity of our gospel singer, we were treated to two nights in a lovely, even luxurious hotel.  Our little Indian secretary had never seen the inside of such a place.  Just sharing her “wonder” and enjoyment of a hot shower was worth the whole episode.

We hired a taxi for our trip to Agra paying the equivalent of $12.00 for the round-trip.  We had hoped to leave early in the morning, but our singer, who was a bit of a “Prima Dona,” just couldn’t get her act together, so we didn’t leave until close to noon.

Our outbound trip down a narrow, two-lane, road, through barren, sparsely inhabited countryside, was uneventful.  We had been warned, however, that highway robbery was a very real danger after dark, so we must return to the city before nightfall.

Having arrived in Agra after 3:30 p.m. and being desperate to see the sights, we sort of ignored the warning.  After all, here we were, four pretty girls.  Who would want to harm us?  I don’t think we actually thought that, but the attitude was there.  Our driver was nervous.  He urged us to leave, but our “Diva” wasn’t ready yet.   Finally, when the sun was already dipping in the west, we agreed to go, but we needed a refreshing drink before setting out on this grueling trip.  Our henchwoman insisted that we stop at a hotel just outside the city.  The driver had no choice.

When, sometime later, we exited the hotel, wouldn’t you know, there before us, in the courtyard, stood a gigantic elephant bedecked in all his finery?  He wore a beautiful “jhools” or saddle cloth, a bright head plate adorned his forehead, and on his back was an ornate “howdah”-a seat for passengers.  How could we resist?  Would I ever have another opportunity to ride an elephant?  It was a blast.  In fact, riding that elephant and later, a camel, were two of the funnest things I ever did.

It was just bordering on dark when we resumed our trip, but the delays were not over.  Thirty minutes out, we had a blowout.  After the driver changed the tire, he insisted we return to Agra, because he had no other spare, but we were tired and hungry and vetoed that idea.  I am sure this kind man had never before faced a phalanx of determined American women.

Darkness had fallen in earnest.  This was no broad, brightly illuminated freeway.  Only occasionally did we see a pinprick of light from a distant dwelling.  It was eerie.  I became increasingly worried as I thought of robbers.  All of a sudden, up ahead, blinding lights appeared.  We were sure the jig was up.  Our California gal hid her expensive camera under the seat and stuffed her jewelry in her bra.

Instead of robbers, we encountered a military roadblock.  We were not allowed to continue our trip until other foolish drivers, traveling the same road, arrived behind us.  After some time, and a long line of vehicles, we had the safety of military escort back to the city. Arriving well after midnight, we were relieved, tired and hungry.

The warning we had ignored was real.  The danger was imminent enough to engage the Indian military, yet I doubt we lost any sleep over it.  Somehow, subconsciously, we felt immune to such threat.  It couldn’t happen to ME!  Could it?

We sometimes treat God’s warnings or counsel in the same manner.  We sort through scripture obeying what we want and ignoring the ones that do not apply to “ME.”

We live in a dangerous world, both seen and unseen.  At times we face danger because of our own foolishness thinking we will never suffer the consequences.  However, our only surety is in obedience, for when our steps “are ordered by the Lord,” we have the promise that He will uphold us with His own hand.

According to the Isaiah,  Jesus is our Counselor.  He instructs us, teaches, guides, and warns us.  If I love Him, I will obey Him happily knowing that it is for His honor and for my good.

Psalm 19:8-11 tells us, “The statutes of the Lord are right …Moreover by them Your servant is warned and in keeping them there is great reward.”

In Psalm 32:7, David itemizes the reward. “You are my hiding place.  You shall preserve me from trouble.  You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.”

This is a dangerous world.  Stay safe “in the shadow of His hand.”

 

WHEN LIFE IS NOT FAIR

“Life isn’t fair,” my friend exclaimed, as we walked toward the sanctuary.  She had been telling me about her sister, who was trying to decide whether or not she would undergo Chemo-therapy.

“No,” I thought.  “Life certainly is not fair!”

I sat in the morning service trying to worship and keep my mind on the sermon, but this thought troubled me.

I remembered my childhood, when we wailed at each other, because “You got a bigger piece than I did,” or “I’m going to tell Mama you won’t let me…  That’s not fair!”

As adults our sense of fairness is offended when we see the way powerful people get away with things, and why should some people be born into money and others be born into poverty?  The simple answer is, “The world has never been fair.”

However, by regulating, adjudicating or legislating, we have tried to do away with unfairness.  We give money to people, many of whom don’t even want to work.  Schools have done away with “Winners” and “Losers.”  Everybody gets a ribbon whether or not he ranked first or fifty-seventh.  But mandates don’t create fairness.

Many years ago, when I was a public school teacher, a father sat across the desk from me.  It was parent-teacher conference week.  His daughter was one of my fourth-grade students.

She was a pretty little thing, well behaved for the most part, and she did try.  But she was, on the best of days, a “C” student.

Her father, a psychologist in his own right, imagining that he had the upper hand in this conference, didn’t like what he saw on his daughter’s report card and was determined to change it.

“Look,” he demanded.  “You can change some of these grades.  Just put some more “A’s” on this card.  After-all, she’s a pretty girl.  She will grow up and marry well.  What difference will it make then?” He wanted to level the pathway for his daughter.  He wanted life to be fair.

Reality is that life isn’t based in fairness.  Some things happen that we don’t bring on ourselves.

After waiting seventy-six years, sweet Cecil came along, and we were married.  Five months and eleven days later, God chose to take him home.  That doesn’t make any sense.  All of my friends have enjoyed fifty years or more of marriage.  That’s certainly not fair.

I have envied my brother and his family.  They were always together for holidays.  On Christmas, when I called, I could hear the happy ruckus in the background, and I longed to be with them.

Now my brother, who is the best man in this world, is virtually alone.  His wife is gone.  His oldest daughter died last fall, and his younger daughter has moved away.  That’s not fair.  He deserves better.  I am sad for him.

And the list goes on!

I know that you can add your own story to my catalog of unfairness.

Ninety-nine percent of people think they are treated unfairly at one time or another, and the other one percent think they are not treated fairly enough.  We can spend our time complaining and never extricate ourselves from this quagmire of self-pity, or we can realize that whether we were born with a silver spoon, plastic spoon or no spoon at all, it’s not the circumstances, but what we make of them.  We always have choices about how we respond.  The greatest adversity life can throw at you affords another opportunity to look to Jesus for His “more excellent way.”

And—by the way, you are permitted to question God.  Jesus did.  He cried, “Why have you forsaken me?”  God understands you.  He knows your struggle.  He knows your need.  You can complain to Him.  He will not hold it against you, but while you are complaining, do a little listening.

This world often judges us unfairly, because we are judged by what we can do and the number of people we impress.  I am grateful this world is not my ultimate judge.

One day, after I have navigated the rocky shoals of this life, I will stand before my maker, God Himself, the one who said, “WHOSOEVER WILL MAY COME,” the one who said He would make no difference between “JEW or non-JEW, SLAVE and FREE, MALE and FEMALE.  He will be my judge, and His judgment will be absolutely fair.  He won’t care about how much money I have accumulated or how many people I have impressed.  I will be judged by three things only.

  1. Has the blood of Jesus Christ been applied to my life—is my name written in His book?
  2. Have I been faithful to Him?
  3. Have I obeyed His Word?

On that day, I expect to hear the words from Matthew 25:23.  “…Well done, good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Lord.”

In spite of this world’s unfairness, just be faithful to God.  Through His compassion, kindness, and love, you will receive more than you deserve, more than you can ever earn and more than you can ever hope for.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!

A DIFFERENT KIND OF FREEDOM

I sat in my living room floor, in Brussels, packing and repacking.  I was scheduled to leave the next morning for a teaching assignment in the country of Poland.  That was 1979, and the “Iron Curtain,” which divided the east from the west was a looming reality.

It would be eight years before President Reagan would stand in front of that dividing wall and demand, “Mr. Gorbachev, TEAR DOWN THIS WALL!”

Those under communist rule suffered cruel restrictions and limited resources.  I had heard frightening stories about attempts to smuggle Bibles and other religious materials into communist-controlled countries.  Materials were confiscated, the culprits jailed and keys thrown away.

Yet, there I sat surrounded by mountains of religious materials that were absolutely essential for the training of Sunday school teachers and other children’s workers.  In a brief moment of fear, I thought to cancel the trip, but, resolutely, I put everything back in the cases, and made the trip as planned.

Much to my relief, my luggage was not opened in Warsaw (that’s a whole other story), and after a short flight to Krakow, I was met by a friendly pastor and Peter, the young man who would be my translator.  We drove through the dark, snowy night to the town of Cieszyn on the border of Poland and Czechoslovakia.  Barriers, border crossings and armed guards were strange sights to this gal from “America, the land of the free.”

It had been arranged that I stay with the pastor and his family in their tiny, cramped apartment.  I was thrilled to be in a Polish home.  It didn’t matter that it was not luxurious.  However, I was puzzled by a conversation overheard between the pastor and Peter.  They were concerned because there was no room available for me in the hotel.

“What would the authorities say?”

“Can’t I just say I am staying with you,” I asked?

“No, that would be very unwise,” the pastor replied.

By the next day, a hotel room was available, so I went to the hotel, registered, picked up my key and returned to the pastor’s home.  On my last day there, I went back to the hotel, paid my bill, turned in my key and left without ever having seen the room in which I had “stayed.”  I did, however, have that essential piece of paper in my hot little fist—the paper that proved I had paid for a hotel room.  Such intrigue was beyond me, but it was part of the fabric of life for these people who lived it every day.

How can I tell you about these simple, warm-hearted folks, who opened their hearts and arms to me?  I believe they actually liked me—this strange American woman who went bareheaded on the coldest day, who insisted on drinking cold water in the dead of winter and devoured their delectable potato dumplings with delight.  They opened their hearts and minds to receive the simple teaching and materials.  They laughed at my silly jokes, and with tears expressed their gratitude for such help.  Then on the last day, they brought lovely gifts that I  cherish still.

On Sunday, after learning that demonstrations in Warsaw had canceled flights and stopped most trains, we rushed through the bleak countryside eighty miles to Katowice, the city made famous by Lech Walensa, to the railhead, where a train to Warsaw might originate.

The scene on the platform was one of bedlam.  It was almost impossible to get through the crowd.  Finally, the pastor and our driver picked up Peter and put him through the window handing my luggage in after him.  Then they hustled me up the steps and said their goodbyes.

The corridor and every compartment were jammed with travelers.  There was standing room only.

“I thought we had first class tickets,” I said.

“This is first class,” Peter replied.

After some time, we found a jump seat in the aisle, and Peter graciously offered it to me, while he stood for the entire five-hour trip.

Monday was a delightful day spent touring the beautiful old city of Warsaw.  Early in the evening, without incident, I boarded my flight to Brussels.  As I flew home, my heart and mind were filled with the people, whom I had just left.  These people lived in bondage and deprivation, yet they enjoyed a kind of freedom that many never know.

Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free…”

Galatians 5:1, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free…”

2 Corinthians 3:17, “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

These dear, fellow believers had found their freedom and hope in Jesus Christ.  They touched my life only briefly, and somehow I was changed forever.

Remember, the sun will come out tomorrow!