CHRISTMAS: Glitter and Feed Troughs and a GIVEAWAY

MangerWhen I visited Israel in June, I was disappointed to find that most of the sites I really wanted to see were covered up by a church. Where was the cave-stable where Jesus supposedly was born? Somewhere under the floor of the Church of the Nativity—only a bit of the rock visible through an ornate peep-hole in the floor. Then there was the Church of the Multiplication, built around a mound of rock where Jesus probably laid the loaves and fishes before multiplying them. There was a Church of the Sepulchre, a Chapel of the Ascension . . . you get the picture.

I got a grip on my irritation by considering that the millions of pilgrims and tourists flocking these holy places would probably have worn them down by now, if they had not been protected by buildings.

Then my fellow tour group members, Agnes and Cienne, gave me a new perspective. These two sisters (both in their 80’s, I understand) were Catholic women, originally from Haiti. Whenever we walked by a church, our two Haitian/American friends went AWOL. They could be found inside, in sincere adoration. Guess the ornate woodwork and stained glass weren’t meant to hide, but to celebrate, the glory Jesus had brought to that ordinary place.

But I still wish I could see the rough cave where Jesus was born and a manger (feed-trough) like the one that became his cradle. Come to think of it, I did once–kind of. It happened when my son was born right before Christmas. The Nativity meant so much to me that year as I marveled that my newborn babe would someday be . . . what? Something amazing, no doubt.

I read and re-read the Christmas story in Luke and Matthew. Each time, I captured some of the awe and hope of that birth that was even more momentous than the one I was experiencing. That December the usual presents and decorations and holiday meals brought me special satisfaction because my heart knew what we were celebrating.

Every year, millions of us look to the glitter and excitement of the season to bring us joy. It’s like trying to be as happy as everyone else at a victory celebration . . . even though we didn’t watched the game.

This Christmas, how about peeling back the layers of holiday traditions and getting a heart-full of the Babe in the manger? Let the radiance of heaven-come-to-earth shine in your heart. That’s what the glitter of the season points to.

G I V E A W A Y

Please share your experiences and thoughts about a meaningful Christmas. If you do that today, you will be entered in a drawing for a chance to receive an autographed copy of Friend of Angels. The winner will be announced TOMORROW (December 20). If you win, you may receive it after Christmas–to extend your celebration by reading about what probably happened after Jesus’ birth. (If you prefer to buy one now to give as a gift, please follow this link.)

 

Occupied Territory

My first reminder of the military tension in Israel was seeing a police booth right out on a city street. Then there were the checkpoints before entering Jericho and Bethlehem. And the size of the weapons all the police (or were they military?) seemed to be carrying. They were not mere handguns, let me tell you.

It was a sobering reminder that this kind of tension has reigned in Israel, off and on, for thousands of years. It was worse in the time of Jesus than it is now!

At that time, Palestine—as it called then—was occupied territory. The conquering Romans held all military and political power. Their extensive building projects brought Roman culture to every section of the country. Much of it was offensive to Jewish faith. Roman soldiers could force any man on the street to carry their armor for a mile.  They ruthlessly crushed any sign of revolt, crucifying freedom-fighters by the hundreds and thousands.

It is not surprising that Jesus’ disciples believed he had been sent by God to deliver them from the Romans. In fact, one of the last questions Jesus’ disciples asked him, just before he ascended to heaven was, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6).

But Jesus was a different sort of deliverer than Moses, Gideon, and Deborah. He came because the whole world was occupied territory—dominated by Satan. His kingdom had no visible capital, government, or laws, but had infected the human race with its lies, anger, and hatred—causing turmoil and suffering in every part of the earth.

Jesus paid a high price to re-establish God’s kingdom of peace, love, and goodness which had been forfeited in the Garden of Eden. It too is an unseen, spiritual kingdom, and its effects are tremendous!

For the kingdom of God is . . . a matter of . . . righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom.14:17). 

18 Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.”  

20 Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds[a] of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Luke 13:18-21).

Making It Personal

  • Have you ever considered which kingdom occupies your heart?
  • Would you like to know more about getting out from under Satan’s rule and entering the kingdom of God, who loves you and gave his life for you?

 

Miracles – Where Do They Fit?

Statue of Elijah on Mt. Carmel where he confronted the prophets of Baal.

One of the mind-boggling thoughts that hit me—after visiting Israel—is how many supernatural events have occurred in that small country. The current state of Israel is smaller than the state of Delaware, but there have undoubtedly been more miracles per square mile in that land than anywhere else on earth.

Speaking of square miles, our tour guide pointed out that most of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee took place within one square mile. In that one square mile, he turned water into wine, feed 5000+ people by multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish, calmed a storm, walked on water, and healed countless people.

But miracles occurred in Israel even before Christ’s time. The prophet Elijah’s prayers resurrected a dead boy. He confronted  the 450 prophets of Baal (a pagan god) on Mt. Carmel with a spectacular result that left the observing Israelites saying, “The LORD—he is God!”

His successor, Elisha, performed sixteen miracles in all—the last one happening after his death. (A corpse was placed hastily in Elisha’s tomb. When the dead man touched Elisha’s bones, he came back to life!)

I said that Israel has seen more miracles per square mile than any other place on earth. But miracles happen all over this planet. During World War II, in Ravensbruk, a large concentration camp in Germany, Betsy Ten Boom shared her precious bottle of vitamins with other ailing women Her supply never dwindled. In widely separated parts of the globe, when believers have prayed, tidal waves have separated, and fires and tornadoes have changed course, leaving them unharmed. A friend of mine has strong faith in God’s desire to heal. When she went through chemotherapy for cancer, she did not experience nausea or any other symptom.

Where do miracles fit in the scheme of things? When is it appropriate to “bother God” for a miracle? Is it a sign of immaturity and weakness to ask for God to supernaturally solve a problem?

When my granddaughter was two, she didn’t want help dressing herself. “No! Nikki by ’erself!” she protested as she proceeded to turn her shorts backwards and put both legs in one hole. My point? God doesn’t want us lazy, but, on the other hand, he wants us to know our limits. If I did not let experts do things for me, my car would be in terrible disrepair, my computer would have me completely stumped, and I wouldn’t know how to read and spell.

Was the apostle Paul’s statement “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7), just a sentimental thought? Or did he mean that God would help us with the issues of everyday life? To what extent? Well, when we go to a human friend or professional, they put the full extent of their knowledge and skill into helping us solve our problem. Will God not do the same? And, for him, that means pulling some strings supernaturally. Not just once in a great while, but every day. If we ask.

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8 NIV).

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father (John 14:12 NIV).

Making It Personal

  • Will you ask God for his help today, and expect a miracle, if that’s what it takes?
  • Unless you expect miracles, will you be able to accomplish the God-size tasks he has called you to do?

 

It Just Looks Impossible

When was the last time you were discouraged by a seemingly impossible situation? Today? Let me share an encouraging thought prompted by my trip to Israel. (I just returned Sunday.)

My thought is related to the amazing agricultural success of Israeli kibbutzes (collective farms). Looking at the rocky, hilly terrain, I don’t know that agriculture would have entered my mind. Grazing, mining, rock quarries, yes—but not farming.

It did enter the minds of Israelis to coax crops out of the land. And they truly put their minds—as well as their backs and hands—to the task of arid-land farming.  For example, they shelter banana trees under mesh canopies, and cover the fruit itself with plastic bags. They deliver water to individual plants with a network of pipes, rather than sprinkling an entire field.

So on one side of the highway, a shepherd wanders down a rocky slope with a flock of goats. (What do they eat? I wondered. Maybe there’s grass on a different hill?)

On the other side of the road stretched picturesque rows of date palms, the gold of newly-cut wheat fields, and the green of vegetable patches. Flourishing crops in desert land only seems impossible.

I am reminded of Psalm 84: 5-6 (which was written in Israel, by the way!):

5Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs . . . 

Kathy Hamon, a vibrant speaker and founder of The Father’s Heart and Hands Ministry, has a saying that really impacted me. She refers to the inner and outer challenges in people’s lives as “opportunities disguised as impossible situations.”

Making It Personal

  • Which situations in your life are dry and barren? Annoying and unpleasant? Do you know you—with God’s love and grace—can make  it a “place of springs”?
  • Is your inner life a shambles?  God heals the broken hearted and helps them “restore the places long devastated.”