Category Archives: Blog

The Christ, Part 3

‘The time has come,’ the walrus said, ‘to talk of many things: of shoes and ships – and sealing wax – of cabbages and kings.’ ~Lewis Carroll

Last week the new season of ‘The Crown’ came out on Netflix. The series follows Queen Elizabeth’s reign in Britain. The glamour, the glitz, the war and worry, the ups and downs. She’s had it all.

The modern world views royalty as celebrity. We watch what they wear, who they date, what they name their babies. A royal wedding inspires fashions and photos; a royal death inspires love songs and lullabies.

But historically, being royal was dangerous work. You led the army against the enemies. You fought the dragons and the sea serpents. You laid down your life for your subjects.

A king, a strong king, was the salvation of the country.

Matthew’s gospel announces a king. Matthew begins with the lineage that highlights Jesus’s relation to the throne. Then he tells us that the current king was so fearful of this new king that he tried to assassinate him. Other kings, “wise men”, came to pay homage to this greater king. How did they find this new king? He was announced in the stars- divinely appointed as all true kings are.

When the wise men came they asked, “Where is the king?” John the Baptist announced “the kingdom of heaven is near.” Jesus also preached, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” People questioned whether Jesus could be the “Son of David,” the most notable king of Israel. A little while later, a mother declared that Jesus is the Son of David. And then he came riding into town on a donkey’s colt, the traditional sign of a peaceful king.

In the end, the governor asked if he was the king. Soldiers mockingly called him “King.” And finally, his title was written on the cross above his head. “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

He did exactly what a king is supposed to do.

He laid down his life for his subjects.

Bow before your king.

“Hark the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn king.”

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
    and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
    and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
    His rule will extend from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth. Zechariah 9:9-10 NIV

The Christ, Part 2

We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival. ~Winston Churchill

Christmas is a happy time- angels, children, gifts, singing. It’s peace, joy, hope, and love. Christmas is God’s graciousness and mercy. Fa la la and ringing bells. Sleigh rides, snowmen, and hot chocolate.

While shepherds kept their watching
Over silent flocks by night,
Behold throughout the heavens,
There shone a holy light:
Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

But Mark doesn’t have time for all that.

The first 15 verses of Mark are rapid fire. “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Isaiah predicts his coming, John says he’s coming, and then, BOOM, there he is!

Jesus comes down from Nazareth to be baptized. John is arrested, Jesus is tempted, and “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

What? No manger? No singing angels? No PRESENTS!?

No.

Mark is writing to a group of Christians who understand persecution. They’re being rounded up, taken from their homes, and set on fire to light Nero’s garden at night. They are the Christmas lights.

For Mark’s readers, it’s important to know that Christ also suffered.

He lost his family. He lost his friends. He faced ridicule, hatred, and persecution. He suffered at the hands of men and of Satan. His suffering was mental, emotional, and physical.

Mark spends his book writing about this suffering savior, and then he ends it this way:

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

 

Jesus’s birth was announced by angels, and everyone came to see the miracle. His resurrection was also announced by angels, and people ran to hide.

As you celebrate Jesus’s birth this month, enjoy the glamour and gift-giving, the cookies and crafts, the parties and punch.

But don’t forget that Jesus also suffered so that one day we can enjoy the ultimate celebration. Be sure to tell the end of the story this Christmas, too.

I heard an old, old story,
How a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning,
Of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins
And won the victory.


And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:37-39 ESV

The Christ, Part 1

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars. ~Og Mandino

My father proposed to my mother while they were out looking at Christmas lights. It became a family tradition every year to drive around town looking at the twinkling colors.

It was a tradition I continued with my own family. Though I don’t decorate for the holidays, every year we drive through the neighborhoods looking at the lights. In some places we have lived we have even visited special light shows.

Darkness falls like cold black waters in late December, but the Christmas lights offer warmth and hope.

John’s gospel opens with such a light.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John mentions light many times in his book.

Nicodemus, a member of the Ruling Council, came to Jesus at night, cloaked in darkness to avoid being seen. He talks with Jesus, wanting clarification of who Jesus is. Jesus answers with the famous lines- For God so loved the world that he gave his only son- and then spoke light into Nicodemus’s world-  “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light . . .” (John 3:1-21)

The Morning Star continued . . .

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (8:12)

“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (9:5)

John details a miraculous healing in chapter 9. A man born blind is healed and can see for the first time in his life. The Pharisees and rulers are baffled about what to do. They see the man in front of them, but they don’t see the God who healed him. Jesus says now it is the Pharisees who are blind. They have no light.

And as Jesus prepares to be handed over to death he tells his disciples, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light . . . so that you may become children of light.” (12:35-36)

John ends his book with the resurrection of Jesus. It is dark, just before dawn, and Mary Magdalene has gone to anoint the body with herbs and spices. It will be her last act of reverence for the one she believed was the Christ.

Only, his body isn’t there.

As the day dawns, and light floods the garden, Mary recognizes the risen Lord.

“I have seen the Lord!” she declares to all who will listen.

December is dark. Night comes early. Coldness descends. But lights break through the darkness reminding us that Jesus came into the world.

Have you seen the Christmas Light?


The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone. Isaiah 9:2 ESV

Gifts of Thanks

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. ~William Arthur Ward

He was a scrawny little guy with a head too big for his body. A definite descendant of Calvin the comic strip if ever Calvin grew old enough to marry Susie.

Dad had skipped town with another woman. His mother was all he had. She was a great mother; she took him to ball games, caught frogs in the reservoir, and told bedtime stories with gore and goo.

He loved his mom.

He loved her so much he was saving acorns in his desk for her.

As autumn turned into winter the strange odor seeping from his desk drew my attention. The acorns were filled with maggots.

I explained in no uncertain terms that the acorns were to be thrown away and the desk thoroughly washed.

He was devastated.

Those acorns were his gift to his mother. He didn’t see the maggots; he saw the great joy that he had picking them up during recesses, plopping them in his pants’ pockets, squirreling them away in the pencil box. He knew his mother would love them.

I knew she would not.

Then I became a mother.

As a mother of boys, I was gifted rocks, sea shells, worms, even a dead mole. I was regaled with fantasies, jokes, and riddles. I was serenaded, hugged, and kissed with sticky, filthy fingers and faces. Occasionally I even received a fistful of flowers.

I loved every single gift.

Why?

Because they were given in love and appreciation. Something my boys valued was freely sacrificed and offered to me.

I didn’t need any of the gifts my sons gave me, but I treasured them like a Kindergartner’s maggot-filled acorns.

God doesn’t need anything you give him. But if you freely offer him a gift, He will accept it with tears of pride and joy glistening on his cheeks.

What will you offer God this week?


Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV

Love Eternal

A pen never knows what it will write, a brush never knows what it will paint and a chisel never knows what it will sculpt. When God takes someone into his hands in order to accomplish a new work in his Church, the person doesn’t know what she will do. I think this might be my case: I’m only the tool. ~Chiara Lubich

A year ago I began working with a company in Beijing. I love the job, but it means my work schedule is a bit earlier than most Americans. Because of that, I haven’t seen the news in a year.

I now subscribe to a news source that provides a quick read of what’s going on in the world. I can usually get through it in ten minutes or so and have a basic idea of what is happening here and abroad.

Sometimes I regret that.

A few days ago I read through the headlines and fell to my knees in prayer. Poland was having a Supremacy March. An earthquake in Iran and Iraq killed hundreds of people just as winter is beginning. Thousands have been killed in the Philippines drug trade. Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Yemen are starving people and threatening war. Women are coming forward in unprecedented numbers to expose sexual harassment and exploitation.

The world is a tragic, sinful place.

In the early 1940’s a young Italian woman also fell to her knees. Chiara Lubich wondered what it would be like if everyone showed love. In a world where bombs fell because of hatred and greed, Chiara wanted love and peace to fall instead. Her desire turned into a movement- Focolare -that is practiced in 182 countries today.

What do they do?

Show love 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Love neighbors, enemies, strangers, and brothers.

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Chiara will be remembered for the love she showed and the movement she created.

God doesn’t ask us to start a movement that circles the world. He asks us to love, right where we are.

My grandmother will be remembered for years because she sent food to a family who had less than her own. My grandfather is remembered for saying hello to everyone he met on the street. My friend, Larry, will be remembered for extending a hand of friendship to criminals and druggies. I have friends that I will always remember for asking about my children, for helping me with needs, for listening, for praying, for being inside my life instead of on the edges.

You don’t have to stop a war. You don’t have to rescue disaster victims. You don’t even have to start a movement.

You do have to love the least of these. (Mt. 25:40)

What have you done today to love?


And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:30-32 NIV

To the Work

No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better. ~Jim Yong Kim

“Some people hold up signs saying ‘Will work for food’. If you think about it, that’s like slavery.”

It was a conversation with an eleven year old and he was talking about things to be thankful for. I’m guessing he isn’t thankful for work. I know he’d rather play video games or watch a football game than finish his schoolwork.

The thing is, a lot of people feel like their work, their job, is slavery. Toil, struggle, unfulfilling, just a paycheck.

Jesus tells his followers that their work is to believe in the one he has sent.

Hardly seems like work, right?

Until you start to understand what believing in him means.

Belief in Jesus means that you care for the sick. You visit the widow and give to the poor. You pray for your enemy. You have compassion even when you are tired. You carry your cross daily.

Belief is a lot of work. And belief is something you do all the time. Even at work- your job.

Are you a nurse or doctor? Do you pray with or for your patients? Do you go the extra mile to make sure they are taken care of once they are home?

Teachers, do you show your students how to care for others? Do they see you check on other teachers and offer a helping hand?

Mechanics, do you help neighbors with repairs?

Artists, film makers, and authors do you insist on quality that glorifies God? Do you share your talents with nonprofits, the church, or kids’ summer camps?

Waiters, are you patient with the noisy couple and their toddlers? Do you offer smiles and encouragement?

Prison guards, do you extend Christ’s love to your wards?

Peter tells us to live as free people, but not to take advantage of our freedom. We are to live as slaves to Christ. (1 Peter 2:16)

Are you a slave of the Master? Even at work?


Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. Ephesians 6:5-8 NIV

Treasure

We treasure the word of God not only by reading the words of the scriptures, but by studying them. We may be nourished more by pondering a few words, allowing the Holy Ghost to make them treasures to us, than to pass quickly and superficially over whole chapters of scripture. ~Henry B. Eyring

“These are two or three hundred years old.”

“And your mother lets you touch them!?”

I was teaching one of my ESL students about the idea of “passing down” things from one generation to another. He showed he understood by sharing some articles his family has in a box. He shuffled through the box as if he touched 300 year old items every day.

Well, he lives in China; perhaps he does.

Hilkiah the high priest found a book in the Temple. He knew it was the Book of the Law and very important. When the king sent his secretary to check on business at the Temple, Hilkiah passed the book along to Shaphan, the secretary.

Shaphan recognized its importance and passed it along to the king.

King Josiah also understood its importance. He feared for his people because they had not kept the Law for many generations. King Josiah sent men to the prophetess Huldah to find out what they should do.

How long had the book survived?

Hundreds of years.

How long had it been since anyone read it?

Hundreds of years.

So how did the men know to go visit Huldah?

Some people had hidden the Book of the Law in their hearts. They had saved it, passing it from one generation to another. A treasure not hidden away, but opened for children’s hands to thumb through, to play with, to ask questions about, to learn from and to teach.

Huldah was one of those people. She knew the ancient words.

Where do you keep the ancient treasure? Is it collecting dust on a shelf?

Do your children know where to find it? Do they play with it and thumb through it with confidence?

Do people look for you to share the ancient wisdom? Are you known as a prophet who knows the Lord?

Have you obeyed the command of God . . .

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Joshua 1:8 ESV

The treasure is waiting to be opened.


“Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.” Mt 24:35 ISV

Break Your Heart

Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate. ~Jon Bon Jovi

The crying Indian. Say it to anyone over 40 and they will know what you are talking about. It was a television PSA commercial featuring an American Indian canoeing, horseback riding, or walking through trash.

“People start pollution; people can stop it.” That was the theme.  He could be seen every Saturday while America’s youth watched Scooby Doo and Bugs Bunny. The different commercials always ended with a tear rolling down the Indian’s weathered face. His heart was broken.

God’s heart has been broken so many times. Cain killed Abel and the blood that spilled on the ground came from God’s own heart as well. People built the Tower of Babble because God wasn’t enough for them. Even as the walls of the tower cracked and split, God’s own chest heaved and shuddered. The hundred years before the flood must have tormented the Father as he prepared for what was coming. The rains fell and the water rose with the tears of the one who wished he could start all over. Then came the blackest day of all when they killed his Son, the Christ. Even the angels joined in the lament.

There are so many things that break God’s heart. Starving children. War. Hatred, racism, prejudice, bigotry. Lies, affairs, embezzlement.

Dishonest judges, crooked lawyers, and dirty officials.

God’s heart breaks when his creation is mistreated, when his children are cruel, and when his church is unholy.

Our hearts should break for what breaks the Father’s heart, but our hearts are so much smaller than his. We can’t have our hearts broken over everything, or we would never find the joy that God promises is ours.

Because of that, God gives each of us passion- that one thing that breaks our heart into action.

Does your news feed make you physically ill? Do you find yourself praying for politicians and leaders? Do you get updates from the UN, research and vote in every election, become frustrated with government? God has gifted you with a passion for politics and it’s time to run for office.

Maybe your gift is a passion for children. You hurt to see a neglected neighborhood child. You turn the tv off when “those commercials” come on because you just can’t watch. You surf adoption sites and support the children’s hospital. Is God calling you to social work or teaching in the inner city or a rural area, or maybe he’s calling you farther?

Perhaps you are at the other end of the life cycle. You are concerned about the elderly. You know who is alone in your neighborhood, their children live far away and can’t help. You hold doors for women with walkers and move aside for men with canes. You find yourself smiling and singing along with the dementia patient at the dentist’s office. Is God calling you to fight for elder rights or to volunteer at a rest home?

You can be sure God has asked you to do something. You are his hands and feet in a broken world. What are you doing to fix it?


And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it . . . Luke 19:41 ESV

A Mother’s Love

I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life. ~Abraham Lincoln

I used to help with a group that packed weekend food bags for needy school children. We filled backpacks with easy to open, child-friendly foods. Fruit cups, granola bars, and little boxes of cereal were favorites. The bags were sent home over the weekend when the children might not get to eat.

One backpack was replaced with a nondescript, plastic shopping bag. The child asked us to not send the food in the backpack anymore. His mother knew what was in it and would eat the food herself.

I was stunned.

Mothers are supposed to take care of their children, give them the last bite, look after their needs, put them first.

2 Kings 4 tells the story of two good mothers.

The first is a citizen of Israel, a poor widow whose husband had been a prophet with Elisha. After her husband’s death she had debts to pay and she and her two sons were left without anything- no food, no money, no nothing.

She called on Elisha to help her. He told her to collect jars and containers from her friends and neighbors then fill them with the little bit of olive oil she did have. She filled all of the containers and then sold the oil to pay off the debts. She even had enough left over to support herself and her sons.

The second story is about a rich foreigner. Elisha passed through her country on his travels and she noticed him. She asked her husband to build him a room over their house. In return, Elisha asked God to send her a son, but sadly when the boy was young he died suddenly.

The woman placed the boy in the guest room and hurried off to find Elisha. He traveled back to her house and raised him from the dead.

One woman was a citizen, the other a foreigner. One woman was single, the other married. One woman was poor, the other rich. But both women wanted to save their children. That’s what made them good mothers.

Are your children starving? Are their spirits underfed and malnourished? Perhaps your children are even dying from some unknown physical or spiritual malady that has you worried and afraid.

Your race, economic level, and marital status do not make you a bad mother. The trials your children are suffering do not make you a bad mother. No matter what your friends or your own mind might tell you.

Take to heart the example of the women in 2 Kings. These good mothers went to God for advice, for comfort, for help. They went begging, crying, running, gasping for help.

They were not denied.

Neither will God deny you.


But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:21-24 ESV

Keep On Walking

We may stumble and fall but shall rise again; it should be enough if we did not run away from the battle. ~Mahatma Gandhi

I was struggling to get to the end of the year.  It had been a class of crazy girls and my last nerve was shot.  I told a fellow teacher what was going on and that I wasn’t sure if I could get to the end of the term. She wondered whether we would be allowed to use the laminator next year.

We were both on a mission, but not the same one.

In Mark 8, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to suffer and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law. Not only will he be rejected by those in power, he is going to be killed.

Peter takes him aside and says stop talking like that; it’s not good for morale.

Then in chapter 9, Jesus tells his disciples again that he is going to be handed over and killed.

Their response? Which one of us is the greatest, perhaps next in line?

In chapter 10, they are on their way up to Jerusalem. Jesus explains again that he will be handed over to the leaders to be condemned, mocked, flogged, and killed.

James and John ask for the thrones to the right and left of Jesus. Power, they want power.

Jesus was surrounded by distracted and oblivious friends. He was telling them the mission God had given him, and they responded with their own interests and concerns. They weren’t listening, weren’t interested, weren’t capable . . . whatever is was, they weren’t.

What is the path God has placed you on?

Are you headed toward an overseas adoption surrounded by people who want to know why you don’t adopt domestically?

Are you moving your mother in with you while others show you pamphlets of nursing homes?

Are you buying a house on the “bad” side of town to serve others, while your friends leave crime stats on your seat at church?

Jesus continued walking uphill to Jerusalem, knowing his fate, knowing he wasn’t supported, knowing no one else understood – knowing God had placed him on that path.

God places each of us along the road to Him. Our route doesn’t look like anyone else’s, except for the potholes and obstacles. Jesus kept right on walking around them.

We are called to do the same.


And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Colossians 1:9-12 ESV