Taking Baby Jesus Out of the Manger

standard December 2, 2015 5 responses

Christmastime is here! One by one the boxes come out of the attic and treasures from years past are rediscovered.  A handmade ornament here.  A special candy dish there.  A picture of your child screaming while sitting on Santa-from-the-Mall’s lap.  Oh, the memories.

One thing that our family likes to collect is nativities.  We have several from around the world: Peru, Israel, and I even brought back one from El Salvador this year.  We have full sets from Willow Tree and Fontanini.  We have big ones and small ones.  Like I said, it’s our thing.

As I carefully unwrapped one manger scene to display, I was thinking of the sweet baby Jesus asleep on the hay and what an amazing gift it is that heaven came down to create this scene.  Everything is so serene, so tender and mild.

But I wonder, how content are we to let Jesus stay in the manger?  

The beauty of the nativity is that Jesus was born to provide salvation for ALL PEOPLE.

Luke 1:77-79 states that Jesus came for this reason:

to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.

Jesus did so much more than just being born on that Holy Night.  He grew up and He provided the world with what they so desperately needed…salvation and the forgiveness of their sins.  He came to provide LIGHT and PEACE.

In light of all this revelation, I decided to give myself a little Christmas Challenge.  I started with reading the Christmas story in Luke, but instead of leaving Baby Jesus in the manger, I will continue reading one chapter per day.  By Christmas Morning, Jesus will have died for my sins, been resurrected from the grave, and ascended into heaven. How sweet is that?!  I would love for you to join me in this challenge too!

This Christmas let’s take Baby Jesus out of the manger and make Him Lord of our life.

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray.

Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And take us to heaven, to live with Thee there.

Looking for Jesus in the Storm

standard October 14, 2015 5 responses

There once was a couple who took a cruise along the Caribbean where they were looking forward to a few carefree days of rest and relaxation. When they boarded the ship they met their room steward whom they instantly liked and they thought it was clever how many creations he could produce from bathroom towels. One night a storm started brewing, causing the woman to be a little nervous. Her husband, ever the optimist (and a heavy sleeper), assured her that there was nothing to be scared of and rolled over to catch some zzz’s. A few hours later he woke up to the boat rocking and he noticed that his wife was not beside him in their small bed. A tad alarmed he sat up but to his relief she came through the door. “Where have you been?” he asked? She calmly replied, “I was out looking for Jesus.” Well, by this time the man was wide awake. “Jesus?! Is the second coming happening?” She answered seriously, “No, Honey. Remember our steward’s name is Jesus? I was just checking to see if we needed to do anything in case the storm got worse.” This made the man chuckle, “Oh, you mean you were looking for ‘Hey-sus.’” And it was then that they realized that they were speaking of two totally different Jesus’. One had the ability to show them where the lifeboats were located, but the other had the ability to BE the lifeboat!

I was laughing hard when my friends told me their “lost in translation” story, but it got me thinking of the time that the real Jesus calmed the storms for the disciples when they were afraid. The gospel of Matthew tells the story like this:

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Matthew 8:23-27 (NIV)

I wonder if any of you have been in this same situation: you are cruising through life at optimal sailing speed when suddenly a FURIOUS storm appears and threatens to drown you in an instant. I know that I certainly have.

It’s one thing when there’s a chance of rain and you are prepared with your rain boots and umbrella, but it’s a totally different experience when a dangerous storm comes out of nowhere, leaving you not only drenched, but also scrambling to keep your head above the water.  As you’re gasping for air you decide to do the only thing you know to do. You go to Jesus and wake Him up. “Lord, please save me! I’m about to drown!”

Then you notice that He’s already awake. He says to you, “Do you really have such little faith in Me? Why are you so afraid?” You list out your reasons for being afraid, but as you speak them out you start to realize that He is bigger than all of your fears. Every single one.

And with a simple rebuke to the wind and the waves, the storm subsides and everything is completely calm. You begin to trust Him again to hold your today and your tomorrow. You bow down in reverence as you ask yourself, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!”

He whispers to you, “Of course they do. My name is Jesus. The One and Only.”

El Salvador: Land of Physical Poverty Yet Spiritual Wealth

standard September 30, 2015 5 responses

Last week I testified to God’s faithfulness to allow me to participate in a Mission/Vision trip to El Salvador with Compassion International.  I had mentioned that it was a trip of a lifetime, and it was! Just knowing that I almost didn’t get to go made the whole experience extra sweet and special for me.  I soaked in every moment.

“Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.”

Psalm 103:1-6 (NIV)

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El Salvador is a beautiful land with rolling hills and lush landscape, and it is sometimes referred to as the “Ireland of Central America.” But despite its geographical beauty, it is a place where poverty runs rampant as do the gang members.  The problem seems to lie in the educational system: public grade schools are conveniently located to the students, but the high schools are sparse, requiring extra transportation costs.  Many of the families cannot afford this extra cost so the child drops out of school making them an easy target for the gangs to pick up as a new initiate.

Our group of women could feel the oppression as we drove through the littered streets.  Gang signs were present on poles, marking their territory lest anyone else try to lay claim.  We were told to put our cell phones out of sight or else they would most likely end up on the black market.  An armed guard or police officer was stationed at most of the establishments we visited.  The average family monthly income in the rural areas of El Salvador is $120.  Let that sink in for a moment. That’s only $1,440 per year to support an entire family.  Yet even through all the impoverishment, I saw a land of hope.  And that hope lies in the faces of the children.

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The first Compassion center we visited was extremely new, only a few months old.  Casa de Pan (House of Bread) is run by Carlos and Candy who have a passion for the children and love them with an agape love.  You could see the gratitude that Candy had for the Compassion sponsors and she teared up several times when describing how much this center means to each child that visits it. It is a place where they can come twice a week to receive a meal (of which they usually save as much as possible to take back to share with their families), tutoring for school, and a chance to hear about how much Jesus loves them.  Most of them do not hear from their parents that they are loved, much less that they are smart or valuable. The center tries to teach them that they have a hope and a future in Christ.

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(The children sang “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord” in English.)

After we visited with different families in the community, we returned to Casa de Pan to pray over those running the center.  But oh my were we in for a treat when Candy started praying over us with the rest of the center members praying out loud at the same time. The Compassion interpreter did an excellent job of translating, but it didn’t really matter. The Holy Spirit’s presence was so strong that it was all we could do to try to keep it together.  We had been to church…in the purest way! Praying for one another, lifting each other up to Jesus, knowing that He will supply every need.  These people are desperate for the Lord and it spills out into their everyday life.  It was a rich moment that I hope never to forget.

The Prayer at Casa de Pan

As I was leaving, I slipped Candy a $20 bill and told her that it was for the offering plate.  She was crying and telling me “Gracias, gracias, gracias!”  It struck me that I had spent more than that on a pedicure before I left, of which the paint was already chipping off.  I am sure that the twenty dollars I gave her went a lot further and will have a much more lasting effect than a pedicure ever could.  Candy had told me that through the church she and Carlos feed the entire community on Christmas Eve.  When I asked her where the funds for that came from she said, “The Lord always provides.”   That’s what I would call being “spiritually wealthy,” wouldn’t you?

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If you are interested in sponsoring a child from El Salvador, please contact me or visit compassion.com/elsalvador.  Release a child from poverty in Jesus’ name.

Top 5 Reasons Why We Love Reality TV

standard July 29, 2015 Leave a response

(Disclaimer: This post is neither meant to endorse nor condemn any of the following mentioned reality shows.)

As Americans we can agree on one thing: We love our Reality TV.

Why is it that each week we are willing to be glued to the television, faithfully setting our DVR so that we won’t miss a single episode of these so-called “reality” programs? Let’s examine the possibilities together, shall we?

1. We enjoy the competition.  To me, no one invokes the competitive nature in a person better than Survivor.  For over 15 years they have been engaging their viewers with who will “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast” this season.  The basis for the show is pure genius: vote out your tribe members one by one, but know that they must like you enough at the end to cast a vote for you to receive $1,000,000.  And if the end player has to lie or cheat to get to that point, so be it.  As Jeff prepares to tally the votes they assure him and their tribe mates that they would never act like that in “real life.”  It is just part of the game, or so they say.

2. We feel like it can make us smarter or teach us something new.  Don’t you feel as if you learn so much by watching a few episodes of Shark Tank?  I do.  The ideas and products that these people pitch to the sharks and how they are bold enough to ask for $500,000 in exchange for 10% of their company is simply amazing.  I always feel so sorry for some of the entrepreneurs who get chewed up by Mr. Wonderful.  And I often find myself talking to the screen, “Barbara, you should take that deal! Ohhhh, Mark would be a perfect fit for that business.  Don’t you dare say you’re out again, Robert!”  Yes, I usually receive sideways looks from my business-savvy husband when I do this, but I feel smarter.

3. We crave a good love story.  How in the world does ABC continue to have such a strong audience for The Bachelor or The Bachelorette when it clearly highlights the cattiness of women, the jealous nature of men, and uncomfortable rejection week after week?  The answer is simple: because we want to see a man pursue a woman and we believe wholeheartedly in love.  Never mind the fact that these potential couples are dating in NON-realistic settings and their love story rarely makes it past the “After The Final Rose” episode.  Yet we continue to hold on for the next “Sean and Catherine” or “Trista and Ryan.”

4. We know that our friends are watching, therefore we need to be “in the know.”  I realize that I don’t have the time to invest in watching a full two-hour episode plus a 30 minute “Results Show” per week of American Idol, The Voice, or Dancing With the Stars.  But I know that the next day in my Facebook news feed all my people will be talking about who got eliminated from AI or who Blake stole from Adam or how darling that couple was when they danced.  Is this really a good enough reason to waste my precious nighttime hours with my family? No, but sometimes it can be fun to watch with them.

5. We want to escape our own reality by watching someone else’s.  There is a reason why Duck Dynasty has made MILLIONS since it first made its debut in 2012.  That is because it provides an entertaining escape from our own lives by watching these self-proclaimed “rednecks” navigate the in’s and out’s of running a family business and blowing up things in the bayous of Louisiana.  And even though the Robertson’s will admit that not all that is portrayed on the show is truly their “reality,” they have wisely used their success to proclaim the name of Jesus.  Interestingly enough, the stars of Duck Dynasty and I live 30 minutes apart from each other, yet our realities couldn’t be any more different.  However, the one thing we do have in common is Jesus.

In the end, I think we can all agree that reality television is NOT reality, entertaining as it is.  However, you and I do have our own “reality show” to live in which WE are the “stars.”  Philippians 2:13-15 says,

“For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose.  Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world.