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Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Years Day

Philippians 3:14 (New International Version)
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

On New Year's Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played University of California in the Rose Bowl. In that game a man named Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California. Somehow, he became confused and started running 65 yards in the wrong direction. One of his teammates, Benny Lom, outdistanced him and downed him just before he scored for the opposing team. When California attempted to punt, Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety which was the ultimate margin of victory.

That strange play came in the first half, and everyone who was watching the game was asking the same question: "What will Coach Nibbs Price do with Roy Riegels in the second half?" The men filed off the field and went into the dressing room. They sat down on the benches and on the floor, all but Riegels. He put his blanket around his shoulders, sat down in a corner, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby. If you have played football, you know that a coach usually has a great deal to say to his team during half time. That day Coach Price was quiet. No doubt he was trying to decide what to do with Riegels. Then the timekeeper came in and announced that there were three minutes before playing time. Coach Price looked at the team and said simply, "Men the same team that played the first half will start the second." The players got up and started out, all but Riegels. He did not budge. the coach looked back and called to him again; still he didn't move. Coach Price went over to where Riegels sat and said, "Roy, didn't you hear me? The same team that played the first half will start the second." Then Roy Riegels looked up and his cheeks were wet with a strong man's tears. "Coach," he said, "I can't do it to save my life. I've ruined you, I've ruined the University of California, I've ruined myself. I couldn't face that crowd in the stadium to save my life." Then Coach Price reached out and put his hand on Riegel's shoulder and said to him: "Roy, get up and go on back; the game is only half over." And Roy Riegels went back, and those Tech men will tell you that they have never seen a man play football as Roy Riegels played that second half.

As we enter the New Year let’s look forward to the great things that God has for us. We have each made mistakes in the past, let’s not dwell on them but press on to the goal that God has for us.

Dear Lord we thank You for the New Year that is before us. We pray that we would not get discouraged with our past failures but press on to the goal before us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Harpoon or Bible?

Hebrews 13:16 (New International Version)
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Bishop Stringer and his companion were facing starvation that late October morning. They had been returning home from the Mackenzie region of the Yukon when they were overtaken by winter. Even though it was early in the season, the amount of snow that fell during that first storm was enough to make them lose their way in the mountains. 

They didn't despair, however. Instead, they looked at their sealskin boots and wondered if they could be edible. The notes left in Stringer's diary are quite revealing: "Thursday, October 21: Breakfast of sealskin boot, soles and tops boiled and toasted. Soles better than uppers. Soup of small scraps and bacon…the last we had; hands sore; took a long time to pack up…" 

Isaac Stringer, one of the first to arrive in the Yukon, was aghast at the influence the whalers were having on the native population. Whalers supplied the First Nations people with alcohol and then took their women as their "mistresses". The consequences were devastating: alcoholism and disease, both sexually transmitted as well as common ones that the Inuvialuit had no immunity to, abounded. Very early on, Isaac succeeded in securing an agreement with the whalers that closed down the alcohol trade with the Inuit. Eventually he provided church services and literacy classes for both the Inuit and the whalers. 

His task was not an easy one, however. He often had to travel long distances in harsh conditions, and his eyes eventually contracted snow blindness, a condition that is quite agonizing and incapacitating. 

And his story isn't unique. Another bishop in the Yukon by the name of Bombas decided to live like the natives. He slept on the floor rather than in a comfortable bed, he dressed poorly and he gave away all of his possessions and money. He was well-liked, and as a result, he was quite successful in his ministry. 

Were all these sacrifices worthwhile? 

Ask the Inuit. They will say, "Yes!" 

We generally prefer to avoid unnecessary sacrifices. However some of our sacrifices are unavoidable and still others are commendable.

In fact the apostle Paul goes one step further and urges us to offer our "bodies as living sacrifices": "I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship." (Rom 12:1 NIV)) 

What does Paul mean by this? He explains it in the next verse: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." (Rom 12:2a) The rewards are astonishing, friends: "Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will." (Rom 12:2b NIV) 

This New Year's Eve let’s ask ourselves: What attitude are we showing those around us? Are we more like the whalers described here, tending to promote our own interests? Or are we more like these missionaries, willing to be selfless while undergoing sacrifices, having taken to heart the eternal destination of those around us? 

Dear Lord we pray that we would be willing to sacrifice for those around us, so that we can bring them to You. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lesson We can Learn from Salmon

Hebrews 12:1b-2a  (New International Version)
 Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  

As I went through the freezer looking for something to fix for dinner I came across a package marked Salmon on it. This nice piece of fish came straight from Alaska via my brother who is a missionary to the many people who live there in the cold regions of Alaska.  As I pulled the Salmon from the freezer it reminded me of the show I once watched of the Salmon swimming upstream against the current. I thought of some lessons that we, as Christians, could learn from them. 

Each fall, adult sockeye salmon return to their natal stream, river, or lake, to spawn and bury their eggs. Salmon have the determination and perseverance to keep on going until they reach their final destination -- their spawning ground. Their journey is upstream against the strong current, which pushes them back many times. Sometimes they get caught, and then thrown back in, because of the “Catch and Release law”. 

Our Christian walk is like that of the salmon. We are battling against the evils of this dark world -- often going against the crowd. Many times, we, too, come against strong opposition, but we who believe in Jesus, when we die, will inherit eternal life. We, too, at times, get caught by Satan, and, although Satan doesn't release us, Jesus does. He is always with us, showing us how to be free from our sin. Jesus died on the cross for our sins so that we could win the victory over sin and death. 

God has a plan for our lives, just as He has a plan for the salmon. Let us persevere, then, as the salmon do, year after year, and run the race marked out for us. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus until, at the end of our journey, we have reached our final destination -- heaven. 

Dear Lord we thank You that You have prepared a place for us, and that You have a plan for each of our lives! We pray today that we wouldn’t get weary and discouraged. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lessons learned from the Purple Loosestrife

Matthew 18:11 (New American Standard Bible)
For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.

Have you ever seen the Purple Loosestrife?

Purple Loosestrife, is a beautiful but deadly flower that has meant the end of acres of Canadian wetland.

But how can this be?

Many species of amphibians, birds, insects, fish, plants and reptiles depend on healthy wetlands for their survival. When Purple Loosestrife, an European marsh-loving plant, sets foot in a wetland, it will quickly propagate and destroy any local vegetation. Its tenacious root system crowds out other native wetland plants, turning the habitat into a monotypic kind of culture (making sure only its specie remains in that area) that provides very little shelter and food to the wetland creatures. In fact, the only nourishment it provides is to bees and butterflies.

As it grows and blooms in this enemy free environment, nothing can be done to stop its ravaging effects on our environment. Pulling it out has only a temporary benefit, for the root hairs left in the soil quickly reproduce new plants. Hope seems to only be available by introducing its natural enemy, the European beetle, to the surroundings. But who knows what effect this would produce in North America.

There was another enemy introduced to our world years before Purple Loosestrife. Its effects aren't limited to wetlands, but encompass the entire planet. The longer its tenacious roots penetrate the soil, the more attractive it appears and the more people fall prey to its deceptions. In fact, no person has ever been left untouched by this enemy, which is none other than the hideous sin that crept into the Garden of Eden 6000 years ago. Humanity has never been the same, and none have ever been able to shake off its effects. None that is, except Jesus!

Jesus came to redeem the unredeemable. He reached out toward the untouchables. He searched for the lost. In one word, He was the remedy to the Purple Loosestrife of sin. Matthew 18:11 (NASB)For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.

But unlike the European beetle, we know the long-term effects of those who have welcomed and experienced Jesus in their life:

One day an atheist approached a renowned Christian professor with the following challenge:

"I want to debate against you concerning your beliefs. I don't believe in God and I will prove your student body that He does not exist!"

The professor looked at the atheist with sympathy and replied:

"Agreed on one condition. Bring a hundred people whose life were transformed by atheism to the discussion."

"That…that is impossible" stammered the atheist. "That can't be done!"
"Well what about bringing ten people then?"
"But…but…Do you really know what you are asking?"
"Just bring me then one person who experienced the beneficial effects of atheism and I will bring with me at least a hundred people whose life were affected by the one called Jesus Christ. I will bring drug addicts who were released from their addiction through the power of Jesus. I will get former alcoholics who were set free from this substance addiction thanks to Jesus. Former sex addicts will come as well and testify about the power of love from God Himself…"
The atheist quickly withdrew his request. He had nobody he could bring to defend atheism the way that professor challenged him to do.
Purple Loosestrife? Yes, quite a beautiful flowering plant, but deadly to its surrounding.
Sin? Very attractive to many, but deadly to its surrounding as well. What will YOU do about it?

Dear Lord we thank You that You came to be the remedy of sin. We pray today that we would hold on to that promise when sin comes up against us that we would be able to not give into it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Healing Hot Bath?

Luke 4:40 (New International Version)
At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.

In 1883, Frank McCabe, his brother William, and their friend, Tom McCardell, were out to make a fortune. Those living in the 1800s were notorious for "get rich quick" schemes, and the three of them were anxious to hit the jackpot. They had originally come to the area that is now called Banff to work on the railroad, but when the work stopped for the season, they decided to spend the winter searching for the key to their fame and fortune.

While hiking in the hills one day, one of them slipped, ending up with his foot in a stream of water. To his surprise, the water was warm! The three quickly followed the stream uphill to discover an interesting hole in the ground, nearly hidden by fallen logs. They quickly build a tree-trunk ladder (In all reality it was just a tree trunk!) and lowered it through the opening. William, the daredevil of the three, courageously descended the make-shift ladder to find himself surrounded by a sea of stalactites and sulfurous mists. A little farther down, his foot touched water. He shouted up the good news, and soon all three men had removed their unnecessary clothing, descended into the cave, and were joyously swimming in what turned out to be a huge, natural hot tub. They had heard Indian legends about the healing powers of warm, mineral-laced water, and they were certain that they had just discovered their ticket to richness.

Though the atrocious smell of sulfur permanently infiltrated the area, Tom and the McCabe brothers built a small cabin near the hole in the ground. They built a proper ladder, and began charging people to come and visit their hot spring. Government officials got wind of the ordeal, however, and after much heavy debate, the government was given the rights to the hot springs, a move that eventually led to the founding of Banff National Park, the first national park in Canada. What promised to be a ticket to richness for Tom and the McCabes turned into nothingness.

The federal government called the area "Caves and Basins". They built bathhouses, put in roadways and foot paths, cleaned out the area, and eventually built a pool that the basin could drain into. The naturally heated, mineral-laced waters were said to heal almost any infirmity, and despite the horrendously over-powering smell, the people came in droves.

Naturally, the waters didn't heal all infirmities, and soon the legend of the water's healing powers became limited to diseases of the skin, such as gout, chronic rheumatism, syphilis, stiff joints, gunshot and poisoning by mercury or lead. This didn't seem to affect enthusiasm however, for visitors continue to flock to the area.

We now know that these hot springs are beneficial for muscular problems and relaxation therapy, and sulfur is recommended as a common ingredient for skin ointments. Any other medical claims derived from these springs however, are highly questionable. What promised to be a pool of healing turned out to be a hoax.

So many people, not only in the past, but also today, and most probably in the future as well, have claimed or will claim to possess a miracle healing potion. Unfortunately, these are all hoaxes. It's true that some potions heal specific problems, but nothing can cure every illness or ailment on our planet.

There is one person who can heal all illnesses, however. While on this Earth, He healed anyone who approached Him: "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them."

This God-given power was transmitted to His disciples: "When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick." (Luke 9:1-2 NIV); and "The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." (Luke 10:17 NIV)

Jesus is the only one who can heal diseases. Sometimes He does it Himself, and sometimes He empowers others to do so, however nothing can compare to Him, and His power of healing is still available today. The problem is, it seems that humanity is more interested in trying human-made elixirs than in following Jesus. Remember, Jesus said: "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10 NIV) Water can be thirst quenching, even relaxing, but it can never fulfill our thirst for good. Only Jesus can do that. "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14 NIV)

Hot Springs are nice to visit, especially when your muscles are tense and you feel extremely tired, but only Jesus can carry you through adversity and heal you from addictions, disease and unforgiveness. If you have made the time to visit a hot spring, why not also take the time to find out about Jesus? Experience a full life through Him. You won't regret it!

Dear Lord we thank You for the healing you can bring. We thank You for the wisdom you give to our doctors to help heal us. Even more then the physical healing we thank you for the healing only you can give for our sins. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Lessons from the Buffalo

John 10:10 (New International Version)
I know of only one other being whose sole purpose of existence is to destroy: "The thief (referring to the devil) comes only to steal and kill and destroy…" 

 It has been estimated that when white man first discovered America, there were between 27 million and 100 million buffalo on the American and Canadian prairies. By 1889, there were less than a thousand! 

What happened to bring this near-disappearance of such a huge animal? 

Before Europeans arrived on this continent, Indians were the primary natural predator of the Buffalo. They used these creatures for food, for decoration, for clothing, for their dwellings … Every part of the animal was used. Without the buffalo, they would not have survived; and their sole purpose for hunting the animal was for their own survival. 

White men hunted buffalo for very different reasons. These included the following:

1. For its fur and tongue (venison).
Buffalo fur was a source of great income, and Buffalo tongue was considered a great delicacy. After taking these two body parts, white hunters were known to leave entire carcasses rotting on the prairie.
2. For the fun of hunting.
Men with riffles on horse-back made a sport of hunting the buffalo.
3. To control Indians through hunger, and to force them into reserves. 

The government encouraged the large-scale killing of these animals. They were well aware that without the buffalo, the Indians would be forced to depend on the white man for survival. With the buffalo gone, they would be easily herded onto the reserves.

4. During the construction of the railroad, buffalo meat was used as a cheap way to feed foreign workers. 

In other words the near extinction of this animal was solely for money, sport and the manipulation of the indigenous populations of Canada and the United States. Nowadays, thanks to state and provincial parks such as Fort Whyte Centre, the buffalo population has increased merely to the 300,000 mark.

Mankind was destined for complete annihilation before God, in His mercy, stopped the process. However, the price was costly: "Since the children have flesh and blood, he (Jesus) too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death." (Heb 2:14-15 NIV)
Freedom and eternal survival is yours! All you need to do is accept God's offer of freedom. You no longer need to be slaves to sin. You can be free from addictions! God has paid the price for you, no matter how horrible your past might seem. Will you accept this freedom? 

The Buffalo is once again grazing the prairie grasslands in America, free of fear of hunting expeditions, safe within the protective boundaries of hundreds of state and provincial parks and reserves. Freedom can be yours as well. It's your choice. Don't believe what the destroyer of your soul suggests in your mind: "You are worthless! God will never forgive you nor free you from your past." This is a lie from the father of lies (see John 8:44). You are so important to God that Jesus willingly died for you so that you could have the opportunity to experience eternal freedom. It is yours if you just believe and accept His offer. He loves you! 

Dear Lord we thank You for coming to Earth so that each of us have the choice of freedom. We pray that we would share that with those we come into contact today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The True Meaning of Christmas

Isaiah 7:14 (New International Version)
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

This is a wonderful story of a Christmas Eve dream of Santa as he is known today and Jesus who is the Reason for the Season we celebrate each year.
By the use of carefully chosen symbols in the dream a wonderful picture emerges which points us not to Santa who is himself a fantasy but to Jesus, the promised one, the savior of the world.

Late one Christmas Eve I sank back, tired but content, into my easy chair. The kids were in bed, the gifts were wrapped, the milk and cookies waited by the fireplace for Santa. As I sat back admiring the tree with its decorations, I couldn't help feeling that something was missing. It wasn't long before the tiny twinkling tree lights lulled me to sleep. I don't know how long I slept, but all of a sudden I knew that I wasn't alone.
I opened my eyes, and you can imagine my surprise when I saw Santa Claus himself, standing next to my Christmas tree. He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot just as the poem described him. But he was not the "jolly old elf" of Christmas legend. The man who stood before me looked sad and
disappointed. And there were tears in his eyes. "Santa, what's wrong?" I asked. "Why are you crying?" "It's the children," Santa replied sadly. "But the children love you," I said. "Oh, I know they love me and the gifts I bring them," Santa said.
"But the children of today seem to have somehow missed out on the true spirit of Christmas...and it's not their fault! It's just that the adults, many of them not having been taught themselves, have forgotten to teach the children."
"Teach them what?" I asked.
Santa's kind old face became soft, more gentle. His eyes began to shine with something more than tears. He spoke softly.
"Teach the children the true meaning of Christmas.
Teach them that the part of Christmas we can see, hear, and touch is much more than meets the eye.
Teach them the symbolism behind the customs and traditions of Christmas we now observe. Teach them what it is they truly represent."
Santa reached into his bag and pulled out a tiny Christmas tree and set it on my mantle." Teach them about the Christmas tree. Green is the second color of Christmas. The stately evergreen with its unchanging color represents the hope of eternal life in Jesus. It's needles point heavenward as a reminder that man's thoughts should turn heavenward as well."
Santa reached into his bag again and pulled out a shiny star and placed it at the top of the small tree. "The star was the heavenly sign of promise. God promised a Savior for the world and the star was the sign of the fulfillment of that promise of the night that Jesus Christ was born. Teach the children that God always fulfills His promises and that wise men still seek Him."
"Red," said Santa, "is the first color of Christmas."
He pulled forth a red ornament for the tiny tree. "Red is deep, intense, vivid. It is the color of the life-giving blood that flows through our veins. It is the symbol of God's greatest gift. Teach the children that Christ gave His life and shed His blood for them that they might have eternal life. When they see the color red it should remind them of that most wonderful gift."
Santa found a bell in his pack and placed it on the tree. "Just as lost sheep are guided to safety by the sound of the bell; it continues to ring today for all to be guided to the fold. Teach the children to follow the true Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep." Santa placed a candle on the mantle and lit it. The soft glow from its one tiny flame brightened the room. "The glow of the candle represents how man can show his thanks for the gift of God's son who was born that Christmas Eve long ago. Teach the children to follow in Christ's footsteps, to go about doing good. Teach them to let their lights shine before men that all may see it and glorify God. This is what is symbolized when the twinkly lights shine on the tree like hundreds of bright, shining candles, each of them representing one of God's precious children, their light shining for all to see."
Again, Santa reached into his bag and this time he brought forth a shiny red and white striped candy cane. As he hung it on the tree, he spoke softly, "The candy cane is a stick of hard, white candy. White to symbolize the virgin birth and sinless nature of Jesus and the shape 'J' to represent the precious name of Jesus who came to earth as our Savior. It also represents the crook the Good Shepherd uses to reach down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who, like sheep, have gone astray. The original candy cane had three small red stripes which are the stripes of the scourging Jesus received by which we are healed, and a large red stripe that represents the shed blood of Jesus so that we can have eternal life.
Teach these things to the children."
Santa brought out a beautiful wreath made of fresh, fragrant greenery and tied with a bright red bow. "The bow reminds us of the bond of perfection which is love. The wreath embodies all the good things about Christmas for those with eyes to see and hearts to understand. It contains the colors of red and green and the heaven-turned needles of the evergreen. The bow tells the story of good will towards all; and its color again reminds us of Christ's sacrifice. Even its very shape is symbolic, representing eternity and the eternal nature of Christ's love. It is a circle without beginning and without end. These are the things you must teach the children."
"But where does that leave you Santa?" I asked.
The tears gone now from his eyes, a smile broke over Santa's face.
"Why, bless you my dear," he laughed. "I'm only a symbol myself. I represent the spirit of family fun and the joy of giving and receiving. If the children are taught these other things, there is no danger that I'll ever be forgotten."

If we don't teach the children these things......who will?"

Dear Lord we thank You for the wonderful gift at Christmas that we celebrate. We pray that we would always remember to share our gift with others so they too can celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Apollo 8 Christmas

Genesis 1:1 (New International Version)
 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

On Christmas Eve, 1968, during the Apollo-8 mission, Astronauts Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders, beamed home this holiday message as they orbited the moon (appoximately 240,000 miles above the earth).

William Anders:
“For all the people on Earth the crew of Apollo 8 has a message we would like to send you”.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.”

Jim Lovell:
“And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

Frank Borman:
“And God said, Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.”

Borman then added, “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
It was an astonishing moment in history.
Less than a year later, on the historic Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin took communion on the lunar surface shortly after landing. He kept his actions secret for many years, but it was also an amazing event. It was the first time that a Christian had ever taken communion on the surface of another world.

Every Christmas, the wonder of what God did way back 2000 years ago, always hits me on Christmas Eve. In all of the billions of galaxies that this universe contains, why did He choose this one? Amongst the zillions of stars, why did He choose ours? And amongst the planets, why did He choose ours upon which to bestow life?

And then, amongst all of the great empires, kingdom, and nations on earth, why did God choose one of its smallest ones, Judea, to bring His Son into the world. And out of all of the cities and towns of that small kingdom, why was little insignificant Bethlehem chosen as the birthplace of the Messiah? And why not in the house of a rich, powerful, and successful person? Why does God allow His Son to be born and laid to rest in the feeding trough of a stable?

Because that’s how God, great and almighty, omnipotent and eternal, works.

God does what He wills, in ways and for reasons that remain a mystery to us. He makes promises and keeps them, so that we will benefit from His goodness, mercy, and grace.

Dear Lord we thank You for coming to Earth to bring Salvation to all that believe. May we always share that with others not only at Christmas time but throughout the year. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Love

Luke 2:11 (New International Version)
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

Here is a story that is a great example of Christmas Love.

 Christmas is for love. It is for joy, for giving and sharing, for laughter, for reuniting with family and friends, for tinsel and brightly decorated packages. But mostly, Christmas is for love. I had not believed this until a small elf-like student with wide-eyed innocent eyes and soft rosy cheeks gave me a wondrous gift one Christmas.

Mark was an 11 year old orphan who lived with his aunt, a bitter middle aged woman greatly annoyed with the burden of caring for her dead sister's son. She never failed to remind young Mark, if it hadn't been for her generosity, he would be a vagrant, homeless waif. Still, with all the scolding and chilliness at home, he was a sweet and gentle child.

I had not noticed Mark particularly until he began staying after class each day (at the risk of arousing his aunt's anger, I later found) to help me straighten up the room. We did this quietly and comfortably, not speaking much, but enjoying the solitude of that hour of the day. When we did talk, Mark spoke mostly of his mother.

Though he was quite small when she died, he remembered a kind, gentle, loving woman, who always spent much time with him.

As Christmas drew near however, Mark failed to stay after school each day. I looked forward to his coming, and when the days passed and he continued to scamper hurriedly from the room after class, I stopped him one afternoon and asked why he no longer helped me in the room. I told him how I had missed him, and his large gray eyes lit up eagerly as he replied, "Did you really miss me?"

I explained how he had been my best helper. "I was making you a surprise," he whispered confidentially. "It's for Christmas." With that, he became embarrassed and dashed from the room. He didn't stay after school any more after that.

Finally came the last school day before Christmas. Mark crept slowly into the room late that afternoon with his hands concealing something behind his back. "I have your present," he said timidly when I looked up. "I hope you like it." He held out his hands, and there lying in his small palms was a tiny wooden box.

"Its beautiful, Mark. Is there something in it?" I asked opening the top to look inside. "

"Oh you can't see what's in it," He replied, "and you can't touch it, or taste it or feel it, but mother always said it makes you feel good all the time, warm on cold nights, and safe when you're all alone."

I gazed into the empty box. "What is it Mark," I asked gently, "that will make me feel so good?" "It's love," he whispered softly, "and mother always said it's best when you give it away." And he turned and quietly left the room.

So now I keep a small box crudely made of scraps of wood on the piano in my living room and only smile as inquiring friends raise quizzical eyebrows when I explain to them that there is love in it.

Yes, Christmas is for happiness, and song, for good and wondrous gifts. But mostly, Christmas is for love.

Dear Lord we pray that this Christmas we would show your love to all around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas "Cans" Instead of Christmas "Can'ts"

Philippians 4:13 (New International Version)
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

They had been friends forever. Or at least it seemed that way. Jenny and Cathy had attended school together since first grade. Now in 8th grade, they tried desperately to spend as much time together as they could. Next year they would begin a transition into the upper grades, where classes were larger, schools consolidated, and when they would begin to make educational plans that would set the pace for college and beyond.

"Let's make 8th grade fun!" said Jenny at the beginning of school.

"We'll have a blast," Cathy joined in.

The first few months of this school year were just that, everything two girlfriends would want, including boys!

Then suddenly things changed. Christmas was approaching and Cathy seemed to withdraw from the scene.

"Mom, I don't know what's going on, but Cathy doesn't hang out any more," said Jenny.

"Is she having trouble with her grades?" asked Mom.

"No, it's not that. I've been trying to get her to go shopping with me, like we always do at Christmas. She keeps saying "I can't." The Holiday dance is coming and I was hoping she'd be there, but she said she can't go this year. She didn't participate in the school play, and she dropped off the committee for the annual food drive. "I can't", "I can't" she keeps saying but won't say why. I'm tired of hearing "I can't," Jenny said in frustration.

"Then she hasn't told you?" asked Mom.

"Told me what?" asked Jenny.

"Cathy's mom is a single parent with four kids to raise. I don't know how she does it. Two months ago she lost her job. The whole economy thing has hurt many families. Cathy is probably just too embarrassed to tell you. I'm sure her mom just didn't have the money this year to let her do all those things," Mom said.

"Oh, Cathy. Mom I really didn't know," said Jenny.

"That's why her Christmas has been filled with "can'ts"" Mom explained.

Jenny walked away without saying a word.

Early next morning, before Jenny's family was awake, she headed down to the kitchen. Her mom was awakened by the sound of someone rummaging through the garbage.

Finding Jenny there mom asked, "What are you doing?"

"I just needed something for...my science project today," said Jenny.

"From the garbage?" replied Mom.

"Trust me," she said and headed off to shower for school.

A few days passed. Mom was concerned about how Jenny was handling all of this. But every time she tried to speak with her, Jenny would tell her, "I don't have time right now. I'm working on a project." Then out the door she flew.

Over the next few days they saw little of each other. In the hustle of a typical modern day family everyone seemed to pass each other like speeding race cars.

That is until Mom got a call one day.

"Mrs. Jeffries, this is Mrs. Cabrini. I'm just calling to tell you how wonderful your Jenny is. All of us here at the senior high rise have enjoyed her help so much. I don't know how we ever got by without her."

"Well, ... thank you, ... Mrs. Cabrini," Jenny's Mom said with some confusion.

After a few questions Mom found out what was going on, but couldn't understand why. Jenny had been working at the senior center, running chores, cleaning and decorating for many of the residents. Each of them gladly offered her money for all the great work she did. Mom just didn't know what she planned on doing with that money she made.

Then yesterday Jenny finally confessed.

"Mom, I know I should have told you about it. But I really needed to do this on my own," Jenny said.


"Please, Mom let me explain," Jenny nervously interrupted her.

"I was so angry with Cathy for not telling me about her Mom. I was angry because she wouldn't do all the things we always did at Christmas. She kept saying "I can't" and I couldn't believe that Christmas ever meant "I can't" so I decided to help."

Jenny then reached under her bed and pulled out a huge coffee can wrapped in red foil. Appearing to be very heavy, she carefully placed it on the table nearby, she slowly turned it around until Mom could read the note on the front. It said:

"Christmas "Cans"

Then she handed her a flyer that read:

"I have a best friend who can't find Christmas this year. She "can't" celebrate, she "can't" buy her mom a present, she "can't" even help others.

You see, her mom lost her job and it seems they "can't" do the things they always did at Christmas.

So I will do chores, run errands, help you decorate if you will help me fill this with "Christmas "cans," that is any amount you can afford to pay me. It will help me to help them.

There's a lot of things kids "can't" do, but I "can" do anything for my friend.

I'm doing this so she "Can" have a great Christmas.

Love, Jenny

Mom hugged her and as they sat there she thought about all the others in the community and throughout the world who "can't" seem to find their Christmas this year.

What "can" you do to help others?

Dear Lord we pray that we would find ways to help others be able to celebrate this Christmas in a meaningful way. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Check it Twice

2 Corinthians 4:18 (New International Version)
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

She had been waiting for this moment for weeks now. All the other kids in her class had already told Santa what they wanted for Christmas. Her mom had been urging her to make her list to give to Santa, but she just couldn't make up her mind.
"Why is it so difficult for you to decide?" mom asked her. "I have so many things to do and I can't keep asking you for your list."
"I know what I want but I don't know how to write it," she replied.
"Your brother made his list up weeks ago. Of course he wants the entire toy store, but at least he has a list."
"He's just a child mother!" she replied.
"Oh, and you're so mature at the age of nine?"
"I'll be a teenager soon!" she replied.
Although she had four years to get ready for it, that was something mom didn't want to think about these days. Time was always a precious thing to her. Even more so now that she lost her husband last year in a work related accident. Bills have been piling up and work difficult to find. On top of that, her own mother was seriously ill requiring her to visit her daily.
The holidays are normally quite hectic, but this one was particularly difficult.
Finally, one day while mom was visiting grandma, the young girl sat down to make her list.
She neatly folded the paper and placed inside the special green and red envelope, sealed it and left it on the table for Santa.
Just before bed time that day she told her mom that she did indeed make her Christmas wish list.
Her and her brother would place their lists together on the kitchen table and "magically" the list would disappear by morning reaching Santa through what they called "North Pole air mail."
Just before heading to bed herself, mom sat down to read her daughter's list.
Quietly and carefully opening it, she unfolded the paper.
It was blank.
"This has never happened before," she thought.
But how could she even ask her daughter about it. This was a letter to Santa and parents never see those things.
Lying in bed that night mom came up with the answer. They were planning on attending the church Christmas party the next night. Every year Santa would make a visit and give each child in attendance a small gift. Since Mom knew Santa personally, so she would ask him to make a point to speak to her daughter about the blank letter.
The party was festive and filled with holiday goodies. Music and laughter filled the small church basement as Santa made his entrance.
Mom stood by her children waiting eagerly for him to speak to her daughter.
"Well, Jessica. How are you? I got your list this year but, I'm a bit confused. It was blank. I even checked it twice. Don't you want any presents this year?" Santa asked.
Jessica motioned for Santa to come closer.
"What I want this year you can't bring," she said.
"Oh, but Santa has lots of things for good little girls and boys," the old gentleman assured her.
"I don't want things," she said. "What I want only God can give me."
It suddenly became very quiet in the room.
"But you can help me, Santa," Jessica said.
"Anything, Jessica," Santa said in his real voice and quite out of character.
"Will you pray with me?" she asked.
"Of course, what do you need?"
"All I want this year is for my Mom to be happy and my grandma well," Jessica said.
There wasn't a dry eye in the room.
Santa stood tall, clasped the hands of the little girl and began to pray.
"Oh, Heavenly Father, God of all that is good, please hear my prayer. Jessica has requested a very special gift this year. One that only You can provide. I am just the provider of things of this world. Things that have no real value. But you Oh, God, are the Provider of life and the Giver of everlasting love. This young child, with wisdom far beyond her years, asks nothing for herself, but for her mom to be happy and her grandmother well. Please hear the prayer of this child and bless her for her generous spirit all the days of her life."
And the people gathered there said "Amen!"
"Jessica," her mom said.
"Look, it happened already! I've never been happier in my life."
And so it will be for you, too, my friends. If you have made your list for Santa already, I urge you to "check it twice." For things bring only temporary happiness and God's Love eternal joy.

Dear Lord today we pray that as we think about the things we want for Christmas that they would be things eternal. We pray that those that don’t know You would find You this Christmas. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Gift

1 John 5:12 (New International Version)
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

The gift was simple…the gift was small… But the promise it held was larger than life! 

What made it so special was that it was a gift from Mary Em’s grandmother. Gram had wrapped it in a beautiful scrap of red silk scarf.

Mary Em rushed to open it, but when the gift fell out, she just looked at it. It was just a seed – a tiny black seed. Why did Gram leave her a seed before she died?

Mary Em was eight, and her Gram had said she would be leaving soon on a trip to Heaven. Gram assured her that before she left, she would leave her a special gift…a gift beyond imagination.
The little girl clung to the promise of the gift as she saw her grandmother begin to fade away. The cancer had made her so thin and frail, but Gram still smiled and said Jesus would be traveling with her on this trip.

Even now, two weeks after Gram had left on her “new journey”, as she had called it, Mary Em clung to the promise. But a seed…? What had Gram been thinking? Tears of disappointment began to drip down Mary Em’s face. She had hoped for more. But what was there left to do now, except to plant the tiny seed.

An old clay pot was found behind the shed and filled with chilled spring dirt. She placed the seed deep into the soil as she thought of Gram. Two long months had passed and oh, how she still missed her! New tears of sadness and grief slid down her cheeks gently watering the seed’s new resting place.

As the days and weeks passed, Mary Em cared for the seed. She placed the pot in a sunny spot, watered it, and waited. As she waited, she remembered…Gram’s smile, the fun they had baking cookies together, the way Gram pushed her high into the air on the swing until squeals of delight escaped her lips. As she remembered, she didn’t feel as sad anymore.

Finally about a week into summer, the tiny plant poked its head above the soil and drank in the rays of sunlight. Every day it grew taller and stronger as Mary Em cared for it. The small plant quickly grew and soon bloomed into a beautiful red poppy – just like the ones Gram had grown in her garden!

Mary Em loved to wake up to the little flower every morning. It was like hearing Gram say “I love you” each and every day. But then one morning, the poppy began to droop and hang its head. Mary Em watered it more and moved it to a sunnier spot. In spite of all her efforts though, the little poppy shriveled and died. Mary Em couldn’t bear to throw it away. She just left it there on her window sill. Now it brought sad thoughts – thoughts of Gram’s sickness and death.
Many weeks later, the air began to chill and the leaves began to tumble off the trees. Winter was on its way. Mary Em decided it was time to throw out the remains of the little poppy. As she did though, tiny black specks began to fall. They were seeds!

That is when Mary Em remembered what Gram had said – “Winter may come, but that just means Spring is on its way.” With this thought, Mary Em began to smile. She now understood that Gram’s spring had come in Heaven! She also realized the preciousness of Gram’s gift. The real gift was a lesson about life, a lesson about Christ – wrapped in the red scarf of His love, the seed of our life continues to live even after death and leaves even more seeds behind to be planted in the hearts of others. Truly He is the gift “beyond imagination.”

Dear Lord  we thank you for that special gift You have given to each of us. We pray that we would make it our goal to share the gift with those in our life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.