Do not grieve (JAF Camp 2016)

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I just recently finished serving a week at Joni and Friends Southern Oregon Twin Rocks Family Retreat. This is my fourth year serving at this camp that caters to family with disabilities. These are families who fight for their loved ones so they can get proper medical treatment, education, and spiritual care.

These families travel across the nation to participate in four days of camp on the Oregon Coast, because there isn’t something like it where they live. While more Joni and Friends retreats are being set up, the need is so great that the demand overtaxes the supply. There are families who plan their whole year around these four days, that is how important it is to them.

This camp is a place where the campers can be kids, and families can focus on just loving each other rather than being on the defense against other people’s curiosity and advice. Here they are eagerly anticipated and accepted. They are not considered ‘other’ or ‘different,’ they are simply seen as someone to love.

Short-Term Missionaries (STMS) are volunteers who come and serve these families. They are all age ranges, from 10-80 at least, who are so eager to love on these campers that they save up all year to attend. This is not a camp where volunteers put in a few hours of work in the kitchen to have a free fun time. No, this is a place where STMS are paired with a single camper and their duty is to be their friend for the week. It’s a place where they are truly missionaries whose mission is to show these campers that they are deeply loved, exactly for who they are. We have STMS who do bake sales, garage sales, mow lawns, build birdhouses, and numerous other things, to raise money, because this retreat is that important to them. $450 is a lot of money for a 13 year old to raise, but they do! And now many of them are raising about that much money again, so they can serve in the next week of camp as well. The STMs love it just as much as the families do.

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All of our camp volunteers (STMS) Nearly a 100 kind spirited people giving of their time and money to serve

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Our whole family camp! Campers and STMS together

This year our camp verse could be found in Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” But, the verse is right in the middle of a sentence. What the actual sentence says is, “Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”” 

Nehemiah is an amazing book full of God’s mercies and work. It’s about the Israelites getting to go back to the Promised Land, after being put into the chains of slavery due to their sinfulness. It’s about a pagan king who listened to the voice of God and allowed his cup-bearer to leave and build the walls of Jerusalem once again. It’s about the eagerness of the God’s people hearing the words of the Lord once more. It’s about the joy of finding God after years of silence (on the side of the people).

In this section of Scripture, we find the people hearing the Word of the Lord for the first time in years. They were weeping because they hadn’t heard it for so long. But, this was a time to celebrate. The Word was available once more. It was being read from early morning till midday. And the people stood to hear it.

Do not be grieved. Don’t be grieved that before you didn’t understand the Word. Do not be grieved over the past deeds, because now you have the way to make your slate clean. Do not be grieved.

It is a time to rejoice! To revel in what the Lord has done! He has done the unimaginable and it must be savored. He has brought the Israelite nation out of slavery and out of their sin and has brought them back to their forefathers’ Promised Land. The pagan king funded the rebuilding of Jerusalem! How amazing would it have been to be there, to walk back into that land that was your father’s and know that you could come home.

Nehemiah is telling these people who were weeping over the loss of time and of the Word, to not grieve, to rejoice, because that joy of the Lord is your strength. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Rejoicing and reveling in the Lord gives you strength.

These families with disabilities know what it is like to grieve. Some days, it may feel like they can never find anything to rejoice, but then the joy of the Lord strengthens them. And this camp gives them that strength.

But, at the same time, these families know how to rejoice over the little things. Things that might seem inconsequential to us, but are major milestones for their loved one. And this camp helps them rejoice over them.

Joni and Friends Family Retreat is an experience like no other. It is hard to use words to describe it adequately, because there isn’t one thing similar to pull from to compare. It is often compared to Disney, as being the happiest place on Earth, because at camp, the campers can just be kids. No expectations to fit into any mold that one may insist on being the perfect one. No trying to remember the arbitrary rules of society so that one can be accepted. No acting a certain way so that you won’t be laughed at. No explaining why you do things differently than others, why you walk the way you do, or why you can’t speak.

These people at camp, they understand. They look at you, and see simply, you. You. The one God declares Beloved. You, who God created with great love. You, whose beauty can be seen as God intended, rather than as a mark against the plastic perfection of society. You, whose talents are marveled at, whether you can sing or draw, or throw a ball, or take your first walks on screen. You, you are celebrated for being you.

Here your ticks are accepted. Here sounds that are voiced are cheered. Here you can run because its just so much, and we will run with you, rather than force you to stop. Here your mask can be left at home, and the real you can be let out to enjoy the world as it was meant to be. Here people rush to meet you. Here hesitation and fear have no place as you are loved. Here people will share their food and their space. Here the need for quiet is understood, but so is noise, and what a joyful noise to the Lord we make together! Here miracles happen on a regular basis, voices are found, friendships are made, love is given. Here, angels tread and God blesses those he calls his.

God’s love for you is your strength. He knew you when he placed you in that womb. He knew your life would be difficult, but he knew he wanted you. You were not a mistake. He rejoices in you, every minute of every day. He knows you and loves you just as you are. He gave you spiritual gifts to bless this world, don’t let anyone get between you and worshiping your Father. Share your gifts!

I know a camp where we are eagerly awaiting to celebrate them…

I highly recommend Joni Eareckson Tada’s biography if you have never heard about this ministry. Joni- An Unforgettable Story

http://www.joniandfriends.org/store/product/joni-unforgettable-story-discount/

You can also follow her radio/video series, many of which can be found here:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/

For more information about Family Retreat, please see:  http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/

For more information about volunteering at a Family retreat, please see:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/for-volunteers/

Grief Illiterate

I have had a phrase resounding in my mind for the last week that I haven’t been able to shake: “We as a culture, are largely grief illiterate.”

It was reporter Maria Shriver, who said this while she and Tom Brokaw were discussing the historic event of Pope Francis visiting the sobering Ground Zero memorial. The reporters talked about how the Pope’s itinerary was not going to have the religious man visiting the site of horrific terror. Because the former Pope had already been there. Pope Francis insisted he would go to Ground Zero, as well as visit with families of those lost on that horrible day 14 years ago.

Another reporter made the remark that with it now being 14 years since the Terror Attacks, the world has moved on. But that it was good to see the Pope taking the time to do something so visual for the families.

As if he was doing it for the PR.

I don’t know the Pope. I don’t know his thought process, but according to the public persona that he exhibits, I don’t think he did it so he would get good ratings.

Perhaps it was Pope Francis’ way of showing the families that they are not forgotten in a world that has moved on. That he still grieves over the senseless act that brought so much pain.

I agree with Shriver. We as a culture are very grief illiterate. We do not know how to grieve. We don’t know how to react when those around us are grieving. We become very uncomfortable.

We, thanks to an extremely misunderstood psychological model of grief, believe that there are 5 stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) and once we progress through one stage we won’t slid back into a former stage.

We forget grief is fluid.

We forget because we refuse to really enter into grief, and when we encounter someone who is really feeling their grief, we declare them clinically depressed. Even in that diagnosis, we refuse to allow the needed action of feeling grief.

There is no timetable for grief.

God has given us this amazing ability to cry. To cry tears of joy and of sorrow, and sometimes within minutes of each other. He has created a physical release for the emotions that must burst forth in someway, to relieve the pressure that has settled upon our souls. Salty prisms that pour out of the windows of our souls, reflecting to all who desire to see our deep pain or unbound delight. God created this gift that we refuse to use properly.

Around the world there are many ways cultures show sorrow over the loss of a loved one. Monuments are built to be a standing testament of their love, belongings are burned so that none other may hold what was once theirs, wailing in the streets for hours to let the world know that someone has died, wakes for people to remember, bodies dug up and paraded through town to show they are not forgotten.

Then there are the ones who in their deepest grief, erase the existence of the loved one from the family: names no longer mentioned, photographs removed.

So many ways to express grief.

Somewhere in between these extremes the American culture lies. Even with our morbid fascination with death, we fear it. It is an unknown, with no clear scientific idea of what is on the other side. With our melting pot of religions and cultures, we have a mishmash of ways to show our sorrow, but also an inability to really let it touch us.

Life and grief must go hand in hand. One cannot hold themselves free from emotions. If you do, you never really connect with anyone. But, it is as if we attempt to not feel deeply. We shush those who laugh loudly, turn away from those who cry, all in attempt to not be touched by the emotional confetti they are spewing.

Sorrow, mourning, and grief aren’t bad. They are cleansing in the most base form. It’s God’s release valve.

He commands us to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Because a joy shared is multipled and a sorrow shared is divided.

Much like Pixar ‘ s recent movie “Inside Out” says, joy and sorrow must go hand in hand. Joy makes the sorrow easier to handle because it reminds us of happier times, tells us that we can be happy again. Sorrow makes joy sweeter because it makes memories stand out, and teaches us to love deeper.

As a culture, we suck at expressing grief. It’s because we fear to be weak. Grief is all about being ‘weak’ in the face of memories. It’s about letting the memories run you down, chain you and drag you through every moment and conversation. It’s about the release of pressure on the soul and the cleansing of emotions.

Grief sucks. But, it’s necessary. You don’t have to cry to grieve. There is no set rules about how you HAVE to grieve or even when. Just make sure you do, so the pressure doesn’t force a release, ruining other relationships.

We have the ability, we always have the chance, it’s time to stop being illiterate in grief.

Even as I finish this post, we have more to grieve. Another shooting, another school, more senseless deaths. Even when answers might be found it won’t negate the need to grieve. One won’t just get over the shooting, those directly involved will always bear the emotional scars of this day. There will be days in the future when it will suddenly hit them out of the blue, and tears will come. And that will be a release for their beleaguered hearts and souls.

We do not need to be illiterate in grief. Take a moment to realize that Christ himself grieved. He wept over the death of his friend Lazarus, even though he KNEW he was going to bring Lazarus back to life!

Jesus Christ wept. He grieved. He grieved knowing that it was going to be brief. He grieved because it was good to do so.

So, take a lesson from our Savior. It is good to grieve. There is no set time, place, or length to assign grieving. So, please, when you see someone grieving don’t hurry them up, but sit. Stay awhile with their grief, because a sorrow shared is a sorrow divided. Don’t let them feel alone.

“You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same, nor would you want to. ” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler 

Praying for Saul

You are a young woman in a smoldering town. Clinging to your robes are your beloved children. Your husband was just killed for refusing to bow down to the militants who are pointing guns at you now. 

They are demanding that you renounce your faith in Jesus Christ of the Cross and praise Allah. Your life and that of your children are forfeit if you do not. But, you know the truth. Your life is forfeit even if you do cave. As a woman, you will be raped to the point you crave death. Then, to make an example of you, these Enemies of the Cross will either strap a bomb to your chest or that of your children, and send you to a crowded mall to tear apart the fabric of society. Your children will not escape just because you renounce your Savior. They will be raped, beaten, and given guns to kill others. Perhaps like that poor woman from the town next to your’s, the last thing you will see is your precious son pulling the trigger of that rifle and ending your life. 

You refuse to cave. 

Kissing the faces of your beautiful children, you tell them to be strong. That God loves them and that you do too. You look into the eyes of the vicious leader of the pack, and see the eyes of the handsome young man who walked 10 miles to flirt with your cousin. Neighbors and old friends are in this group of ISIS soldiers, people who frequented your husband’s shop and broke bread with you. Now their hands ran red with the blood of their friends while their eyes raged hate. 

Quoting your Savior, you pray in a loud voice that seems to be amplified, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Looking at these men who you once knew to be gentle friends, you say with a smile filled with peace, “I forgive you. The God of the Cross loves you more than you can hate. You may kill me, but he will still love you. I pray you find him soon.” 

The bullets ring out from the man’s gun, and your last thought is that you and your children will be standing in front of God before your bodies will even hit the ground. While hate may have taken your bodies, it didn’t take your faith. 

What is your first reaction to this fictional story? It is hard to read, probably as hard as it was to write. This story, while not based on actual first hand accounts, is similar to what is happening in the Middle East wherever the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria  (ISIS) soldiers go. Centuries old Christian towns are being razed to the ground, Christians are being forced to renouncing their faith or being killed, many times they are still being killed.

No matter what religion a person professes, if they oppose ISIS they are often tortured and killed.  Numerous Muslims are also being killed if they try to protect their Christian neighbors or are from the wrong tribal group.

If you look at the International Christian Concern group on Facebook, post after post is about the men, women, and children who are literally meeting the sword point at the hands of ISIS who demand they “Praise Allah or die!”

While I have not yet had my faith tested at sword point, I know thousands of my brothers and sisters have died because they refuse to turn their backs on their Savior.

We are told by Jesus that the world will hate us for loving him. That what he suffered would be our lot if we decided to follow him. He suffered the worst agony a man could while hanging on that brutal cross, suffocating to death.

But, even as he gasped for breath, he forgave the very men who were killing him.

That is what we must strive for. Instead of being like Simon Peter eager to use his sword at the soldiers,  no matter how hard it seems we are to lay down our lives.

Instead we are called to be more like Ananias who was called by the Lord Himself to Damascus to show a blind and stumbling man the way to God. Saul was a zealot, the most righteous of the Pharisees, and he self-righteously and perhaps gleefully carried out the executions of those who professed to follow that man who proclaimed to be the Son of God. It was his duty to weed out the blasphemy.

But, one day, Christ asked Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?” In other words, why are you killing my followers?

Can you imagine if God called out a man, a devout man, from the camps of the enemy? A man that who is known for his zealous religious beliefs to be confronted by the very Savior whose followers he is actively killing?

God has done it already! So be praying for that Saul in the ISIS camps. Pray they will listen to the voice and visions that are calling them away from Allah. Pray they will be confronted by the horror they are creating. Pray that God will create massive change throughout the hearts of the enemy.

Pray for ISIS. Not that they will be killed, but that they will be changed. That they will find Jesus Christ and accept him as their Savior.

Pray for the Pauls in the making. That they may speak loudly of the love of Christ to what was once their own followers.

Pray for the Ananias’ who are being called before the very men who would kill them. Pray for their steadfast faith that they will stand firm in the face of fear.

Only God can do the impossible. Only he can change hearts. And he will.

The young man looked at the bodies of the woman and children he had just killed. The words she had spoken reverberated through him, shaking him to the core. 

He didn’t understand these Followers of the Cross. How could they still smile in the face of death?  They weren’t the first to die by his hand. Nearly all of them had died with dignity. A dignity that he never saw on his fellow soldiers. There was a certain peace that he could see on their faces that never made sense. 

A month later, the young woman’s voice still echoed through his mind. He hadn’t slept well since. He kept seeing a man in white who kept beckoning to him. 

The young man didn’t want to listen to the dream man, but he was curious about him. After they had busted down the door of another Christian family, he had found their Holy Book, prominently on the table where the old husband had died. He had been reading it whenever he could, even slipping it into his Quran cover.

He was starting to believe that the Christians might have had something. He was starting look for this man in white. He was hesitating to pull the trigger now. And eventually he stopped. 

God was calling him out to change the world.

His Language is Spoken

I had the extreme pleasure of attending Joni and Friends’ first ever Global Access Conference recently. I am still struggling to put into words what I learned and to describe who I had the joy of breaking bread with while learning about their ministries around the world.

One thing that I can say with all certainty though, is that God is moving mightily among these people whom the world considers worthless.

I’ll be talking about it for some time, I am sure. I’d love for you to enter into the conversation with me, and perhaps it might get you thinking about your own church as well as your own interactions with those who are disabled.

The first topic we will look at can be found in the panel session I attended called “Learning to Speak Their Language,” which was about how to interact with children and adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness.

One of the attendees asked a question that is a common query in churches: “What if they can’t understand the Gospel?”

The panelist, who was a mother of a child who is non-verbal due to autism, said something that really struck me: “The Holy Spirit knows his (her son’s) language.

What a beautiful response! It totally wiped away any scientific, theological, or medical argumentation regarding what is human knowledge (in my mind). It brings it down to the most basic of beliefs–God knows my heart.

Theologically, we have decided that there has to be a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ where we verbally recognize that we are sinners and are in need of God’s forgiveness. In many instances, when someone says they want to believe, we tell them that they need to repeat after me, an example of such a pray can be found on The Blessing House website: Lord Jesus, I come before you and confess that I am a sinner. Jesus, I believe that you died on the cross, and that Almighty God raised you from the dead. I pray that you forgive me of my sin, and be my Lord and Savior. In the name of Christ Jesus I pray this request. Amen

This is based off of verses such as Romans 10:9 Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

We must first acknowledge that while having a ‘Sinner’s Prayer’ is not wrong, it is not Scripture based. The only prayer that we are told to pray is the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6 and Luke 11. There is no description of the prayer that we are supposed to say in repentance and acceptance of God’s forgiveness. There are no motions that we are supposed to do, no assigned person we are to do it in front of, nothing we are told to do but: Confess and believe.

Now, it does say to confess with your mouth. This can be a hang up for those who are non-verbal due to illness, or some form of disability. But, it doesn’t have to be! Because, as God tells Moses, who is attempting to get out of the duty that God has set before him, in Exodus 4: The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

To echo the mother at the panel session: God made you and he knows your language. He knows your language even if you have never spoken before. No matter the language your heart speaks, God created it: Sign Language, Hiri Motu, Korean, Inuktitut, and English or the roughly 6,500 other languages in the world. The story of Pentecost in Acts 2 is proof of that:  There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language.

Why do we put human limitations on what God can do? Why do we make rituals take the place of the beauty of God’s encompassing love and forgiveness?

God knows your heart.

No matter your ability, God knows you. If you in your heart of hearts ask for God’s love and forgiveness, I cannot deny your salvation because you didn’t come to him the way I did. It is not my place to deny your salvation. It is my job to love you as a beloved child of God, and teach you the Gospel so you can know him.

Even if I believe that you might not understand, I am still tasked with the duty to tell you of God’s love and sacrifice to save YOU. Because when you stand before God’s throne, you will be judged just as I will, no matter the limitations that humans have placed on you. God will judge your heart to see if you have been made clean by his Son’s blood.

The Holy Spirit speaks your language and it is love.

So, to all the Christian believers out there, I urge you: Do not hesitate to reach out and speak God’s love to all you meet. No matter if you think they might or might not understand, God knows their heart. Do your duty with love and tell of God’s sacrificial love.

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Why the Shepherds matter

Last week, I mentioned the Wise Men and why I believe they are important to the Nativity narrative.

Today, I thought we would discuss why the shepherds were at the birth of the Savior.
Once more, God did not call the priests or the kings to come to the manger. Rather, he called the lowly shepherds to come and give witness to the miracle of the Messiah.

Why is that?

Shepherds were the working men of that generation.
They travelled far and wide to find good feeding grounds for their large flocks.
They held no sway in the courts, no power in the synagogues.
They may have had only minimal education, as they would not have been near a synagogue, or destined to teach in one.
Depending on how many were in charge of their flocks, many of them might have gone weeks without seeing another shepherd, as they roamed.
They were protectors of their flocks. They watched for predators and thieves, they sought out the lost sheep and worked hard to find them fresh water.
These men would have been alert to any change in their flock.
They would not allow one to straggle away, but would seek them out to bring them back into the midst of the flock. If one faltered due to an illness, they would have brought them up to their own shoulders and carried them to the place of that night’s rest.
These men would have known the exact number of sheep in their flock and would have accounted for each, numerous times during the day.

Why did God choose these men to be a the birth of His Son?

We do not know who the shepherds were that bowed before the Child. We do not know how many they numbered as that is not mentioned either.

But, we do know that an angel of the Lord came before them. “Do not be afraid, for I bring good news that will cause great joy for all the people. For this day a Savior is born in the town of David; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:9-12)”

Then they saw and heard the great host singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those whom his favor rests. (v14)”

And these shepherds went. I highly doubt they would have left their flocks alone, as that was their livelihood. And really, could you imagine these men who just heard from angels, doing Rock/Paper/Scissors over who got left behind to tend the flock while the rest went to see the Savior? I don’t think so.

I always like to imagine that these flocks flooded the small town of Bethlehem as these shepherds hurried to the manger. It was at night, and the awe inspiring vision of angels descending from heaven was still burned into their retinas, perhaps the sheep led the shepherds that night to their Savior. Or it could just be my writer’s imagination filling in the details.

I honestly do not know what happened to the sheep, what the shepherds did when they saw the Child, or what happened to them after. They did tell the story after laying eyes on the family, and people were amazed. But, what did they say? The common man would have believed them, but would have the teachers and priests?

The shepherds matter because they would have been culturally insignificant.

God does this numerous times throughout the Bible. He chooses people with no power in the courts or temples; women, slaves, Gentiles, and ultimately the low man on the working totem pole, to tell of his glory. He chooses these people to see glorious wonders; angels, the Risen Lord, prophecies and visions. They are chosen because God is not just the God of the rich or those who are proud, rather He is for the forgotten and belittled.

God sees no distinction in the worth of a human. That is why the shepherds matter to the Nativity narrative.

He chose the common man to be the first to lay eyes upon the King of the Jews. No gifts to give, but perhaps the warmth of a flock of sheep that huddled together. They would have stepped in to that humble room, in their rough clothing, without having been primped for the encounter. They would have come as they were.

The shepherds matter because they are representations of the Jewish common man who sought the promised Messiah.

The shepherds matter because they are representation of the common person who seeks.

The average person is not going to come to God with gold and knowledge, rather with humbleness and brokenness and with nothing to give.

The Wise Men showed that God was for every human- not just the Jewish– no matter their background.

The shepherds show that even if you are not rich or learned, God is for you as well.

There was no mistake in who God chose to be there. Each person had a distinct purpose.

Those who He denied entrance to is also very important. Riches will not save you, nor will knowing all the ‘right’ answers.

The priests thought they knew when the Messiah would come and that He would come as a warrior to save them from slavery.

The Messiah came as a baby instead nestled in hay, to preach peace and forgiveness.

The priests refused to see the truth because it didn’t follow their specifications, much like churches today.

The Wise Men saw the truth in the star and believed in the prophecy. When they laid eyes on the Baby Jesus, they saw God.

King Herod was not chosen because he refused to give over power. He was fearful of any ‘King of the Jews’ rising and winning the power from him. That is why he ordered the slaughter of hundreds of little boys, echoing the Pharaoh of Egypt’s play when Moses was born. It was not done in power, but rather fear, much like the governments of today.

The shepherds did not have power, nor did they seek it, rather they saw truth in a humble home. They saw a baby in a manger who would one day be king. They saw God choosing to lay in hay, rather than sit on a throne.

They saw power wrapped in humbleness.

There is a purpose for why God chose certain people to come see His Son. For Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Savior of all Mankind is a shepherd as well. He seeks out all who are lost, gathering them to him. He protects them from evil and finds safe places for them to rest. When they are weary and can no longer walk on their own, Jesus puts them on his shoulders and carries them. He knows each by name and knows when one wanders away. He seeks each out.

Is it any wonder that God chose shepherds to be the first to see His Son?

Luke 2: 8-20
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[c]

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 ButMary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Why the Wise Men matter

I’ve always been curious about the men who came from the East. 
Imagine the scene: an undisclosed number of men studying numerous prophecies, the stars, and other occurrences in nature.They collected bits of information for years. They knew about the prophecies of the Jewish people, even though they weren’t Jewish themselves.
Suddenly, a star is noticed to be rising in the West, and they set out to follow it.
While we don’t know exactly how far in the East they were, church tradition says that at least one might have been a black, probably Ethiopian, and perhaps another being of Asian decent. How the tradition started I’m unsure, though later on the name of Magi became known as followers of the 6th century Zoroaster, which seemed to reach beyond Persia to Asia.
Either way the important thing here is, the Magi were not Jewish. 
These men followed the prophecies of a people they were not of. 
These men traveled a long distance to bow down in front of a king they would not be ruled by. 
These men were Gentiles. 
They were not only the first Gentiles to lay eyes on the King of the Jews, but also the Savior of the world. 
The Magi were men who were astronomers, fortunetellers, magicians, and seers. 
In the Jewish culture, those who practice star study, or anything related to magic, are seen as practitioners of evil, due to the very laws that God put down for them. 

Deuteronomy 18:10-11 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.

But, who are the very people God chooses to see the Savior of all mankind? The very people he warns his nation against.
That is why the Wise Men matter in the Nativity story.
According to Jewish culture these men should have been killed for practicing magic, instead they gave gifts to a baby who would grow up into a man who would be killed to forgive sins.
Their sins.
This is why the Wise Men matter.
These men would have traveled home to study the stars yet again, to wait for more of the prophecy to unfold. I wonder if they knew thirty three years later when Jesus was crucified. If they realized that the baby they saw in a humble home in Bethlehem, was the very one that was paraded though town being tortured and mocked.
These men though would have traveled back to their homeland, telling of the prophecy and the star. Of the virgin mother and the God-man child. They would have told of the truth seen in the stars and how they heard an angel speak to them.
What did they think when King Herod went after all the little boys? When Israel ran red with the blood of children, because of a king that feared being disposed?
Men who saw things in the stars, met the God who created them, born in the body of baby boy.
Men who practiced magic, saw miracles in a new star rising and angels warning them.
The Wise Men matter because they were the first Gentiles to see the Messiah.
The Wise Men matter because they were chosen to be in the presence of a God they do not know.
The Wise Men matter because they, rather than Jewish royalty or priests, saw the truth in a star, and followed it.
The Wise Men matter because they believed in the prophecy.
These men who came from the East have always fascinated me.
I hope you might look at them with some of that same fascination.
As a Gentile who is in love with the Savior, I’m thankful for their part in the Nativity story.
Merry Christmas!

If you would like to learn a little more about what the Myrrh, Frankincense, and Gold mean that the Magi brought to Baby Jesus, jump over to my friend’s blog where she recounts a fascinating sermon she heard: heidibay.wordpress.com 

Matthew 2 New International Version (NIV)

The Magi Visit the Messiah

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with giftsof gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.



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Teach Me to Love

Racism.
A nasty word that gets the dander up around the world.
As it should.
I’ve been watching America become more restless and more divided as accusations of police brutality are reported on while African- American men are being buried.
I watch churches and ‘well-meaning’ Christians be part of the divisions, as angry words are thrown like daggers at their brothers and sisters.
Ferguson and New York, two towns that have created waves across America.
Two men died, Michael Brown and Eric Garner. But, they aren’t the only ones.
The spotlight is being shined hard on those with a badge.

Does racism play a part in these deaths? I don’t know.
Does it play a part in the trials of those held responsible for the deaths? I don’t know.
Does it play a part in the everyday life of thousands of people? This, I do know.
Does the church need to step up and really face this issue head on? YES

I’ve been quiet about this issue, not because I’m afraid of working on it, but because so many people are adding their voice. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what you really think when you get everyone else’s opinion. But, silence can be even more damning that misspoken words.
There is so much anger right now.
Righteous anger is good, anger bound in hate is not..
No matter what type of video or reports come out, I do not know exactly what happened because I wasn’t there. I can’t say if an officer defended himself or acted out of hate. I can’t say if the men who died acted in violence or if they were innocent.
There has been accusations on both accounts.

I refuse to add to those accusations.
Adding to them will not help anyone. It just causes more anger.

So, the question I ask myself is this: “What does God want me to do?”

He wants me to love. Love people on both sides of the argument. God does. He commands his followers to do the same. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

There are no distinctions on who to love and who not to love. There is no command to not love someone. It is a blanket command to love EVERY single person that you come in contact with. “One another” does not mean to love the person who looks like you, talks like you, prays like you. God makes no distinctions. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.…(John 3:16-17)”

So why do we decide that God doesn’t mean “THEM”? Why do we, believers, decide that we live in a “Us vs. Them” world? It isn’t God who is causing this hatred, this distrust in our hearts. It’s not just our interactions of white vs. black. It’s all interaction with all races. I’ve heard some people honestly say that racism is only against the ‘black’ population… No.

No matter what color of skin you might have, what culture you might come from, what ethnic identity you might declare– you will have people hating what you ‘stand for’ in their eyes. We are surrounded in a world that ‘-isms’ us to death. And you and I will always be hated by somebody for something.

We do not live in a world that is ran by God’s command to Love one anotherBut, that doesn’t mean that can’t be one who does. I cannot influence one other person to love those that their history says to fear, if I do not live in love. 

The news with all of it’s fear, makes me honestly look at myself. What do I believe? How do I react? Am I fearful of the unknown? Do I believe in stereotypes? Do I let other people’s fear influence my relationships?

The only way the world will change in reaction to racism, sexism, class-ism, etc… is if individually we change. The only way that is going to happen is if we ask God to create that change in us, in all of it’s uncomfortable, painful, awkward, grace.

If you allow me the grace to change, will you be my friend? The only way I will learn, is if you help me understand. Teach me. Perhaps, you and I can change the world, if we look through each other’s eyes.

God loves you. He loves me. I pray we can both love each other. All lives matter. Because God has created us equal. No man has the power to say we are not royalty, for we are God’s children.