“Be-(or “Not Be-)Attitudes” – The Road to True Happiness

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them …                                                                                                                                                                                 Matthew 5:1-2

The passage of Scripture known as the “Beatitudes” introduced what is arguably the most well-known sermon of all time,  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  I had always considered the Beatitudes beautiful, poetic, and sweet. To me the passage sounded philosophically profound, but not exactly practical. (At least I didn’t know what to do with it.)

Then one Sunday while visiting a church I didn’t normally attend, I heard a message that was the beginning of a series on the Beatitudes. There, in a formal, ritualistic setting, where frankly I didn’t expect to hear anything new or profound, the pastor approached this passage from a different perspective, as the story of Redemption. And although I heard only the beginning of the series, I could tell where the minister was going with it, and I pursued that train of thought in my own studies of the Bible.

Ever since then I have thought of the Beatitudes as a sort of snapshot of the gospel, a “Readers’ Digest version” of the journey of a soul from being utterly lost to being saved, mature, and Christ-like.

“Blessed” here means “happy,” and the “Be-attitudes” tell what the right attitudes are to be ultimately, truly happy. Although some of them do not sound happy at all (“poor in spirit,” “mourn,” “hunger and thirst”), when approached with the right attitude, all these things can lead to the kind of happiness most people can only dream of.

So here, step by step, are what I see as the attitudes we need when faced with the circumstances in life that are inevitable to all of us:

1.) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (vs. 3)

Each and every one of us sooner or later falls into in a state of spiritual bankruptcy. Some of us reach the point where we are ready to admit it, but some aren’t quite there yet; either we are blind to our own condition, or we are in denial. Either way, the wrong attitude can be a roadblock on the journey to true happiness.

WRONG ATTITUDE:Nothin’ wrong with me.”

RIGHT ATTITUDE:I’m lost!

 

2.) “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (vs. 4)

It’s not enough to realize we are woefully lacking in the spiritual area of life. Some see “spirituality” as more of a personality trait. They might figure, “I’m not that type,” and decline to pursue being “that type.” But denying that one state is better than another will only be another roadblock.

WRONG ATTITUDE:Yeah, I’m lost. So what?

RIGHT ATTITUDE:I’m lost, and this is bad!

 

3.) “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (vs. 5)

Contrary to popular belief, meekness isn’t weakness. It isn’t self-loathing or an inferiority complex. It is, rather, having an honest, realistic perspective of ourselves. In the spiritual realm meekness involves being willing to take responsibility for our own attitudes and actions, which is in fact a strong quality to have. As much as the “Blame Game” is in vogue these days, blaming others will only bring our salvation journey to a screeching halt. Whatever part anyone else has played in where I am today, the only person I have any control over is myself. I need the meekness to admit, “I am the one responsible for where I am.” This admission is the beginning of repentance, and a vibrant relationship with God requires repentance up front. Experiencing sorrow over our sins doesn’t seem like a very “happy” place to be, but it is the doorway to much better things!

WRONG ATTITUDE: “My life is a mess, and it’s bad, but it’s my parents’ (or my teachers’ or society’s) fault!

RIGHT ATTITUDE:I’m lost, I’m in trouble, and I am to blame.

Now if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to add, and I can’t do anything to help myself! which brings us to

 

            The Turning Point

4.) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (vs 6)

Now that we’ve faced up to our condition, recognized that it’s not good, and admitted that it’s our own fault, do we just sink into depression, self-loathing, and hopelessness?

I would say, “Without God, yeah …”

But we are NOT without God – or we don’t have to be! Jesus came to show us the heart of a God who loves us and pursues us, even when we run away from Him. The point of “hungering and thirsting” for something better, the point at which we decide to stop running, can be the turning point of our lives. Jesus said later in the same sermon, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) He is the One who can exchange our sin for His righteousness, and He wants to!

WRONG ATTITUDE:Poor, horrible me! I’m hopeless.

RIGHT ATTITUDE:I’m lost, it’s bad, and it’s my fault. But I want something better!

The Good News (the “gospel”) is that we can have something better. We were created for something better! Those who have reached the point where we realize our lost predicament, own up to it, and turn to God for the remedy – they are people on the threshold of what Jesus called “abundant life!”

Next week we’ll see what the remaining Beatitudes tell us about walking in that abundance, and how much further God’s grace will take us!

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank You for opening our eyes to our lostness, our misery, and our sin, and for making us aware that You offer a better life to those who desire it and turn to You. Thank You for being willing to free us from our old way of life. Make us willing to receive the new life You offer by faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Heed the Warnings

“[H]ow shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?                                                                                                                                                           Hebrews 2:3

I recently saw “Edge of Tomorrow,” the 2014 sci-fi film starring Tom Cruise. The film takes place in the future, as an alien invasion threatens the existence of humanity. Major William Cage [Cruise] has been accused of treason and forcibly sent into battle, where he is killed, along with every other member of the mission.

But then he wakes up, back in handcuffs, and is forced to relive the last day of his life again.

And again. And again. And AGAIN.

(“War of the Worlds” meets “Groundhog Day.”)

With each consecutive life Cage learns more about his situation, the people and creatures involved, and what not to do to get killed (along with the rest of Mankind), only to perish in another way and wake up, handcuffed, to try again.

At first Cage does all he can to convince the officers around him to believe him when he tries to tell them what is happening to him, and what is about to happen to all of them. He accurately states details about them and predicts what they are about to say (same things they said last time), but though they are baffled, they’re unyielding. So they continue to send the troops out in a “surprise attack,” only to be slaughtered by enemies who were expecting them – that Cage knew were expecting them.

How many of us have tried unsuccessfully to pass on the wisdom of our own life lessons? (And all the parents said, “Amen!”) Like Major Cage, we know that people ignore our warnings to their own peril, but screaming louder only convinces them that the messenger is crazy.

And how many of us have ignored the admonitions of others and ended up regretting it? Their shrill warnings have sounded crazy to us, so we write them off as madmen. (Indeed, there have been madmen making false predictions in the past, thus the dilemma.)

However, there is One who transcends time and space, One who has seen the future – He’s been there. Although His predictions are accurate, He, too, is ignored by multitudes of people. But we should heed His warnings, because He is not only all-knowing, He is all-loving. He has made the future known to us in His Word (the Bible). Some of His predictions are:

  • That conditions in the world – floods, wars, plagues, and famine – will increase in frequency and intensity. (Matthew 24: 7 & 8)
  • That the enemy of our souls will send false saviors, false miracles, and lies. We are to be on our guard against them and not be deceived; our only true Savior is Jesus Christ. (Matthew 24: 4-5, 11, 23-27)
  • That persecution of Christians will increase (Matthew 24: 9-10, John 15: 18-25; 16: 2-3) , but that we should persevere, because
  • Jesus is coming back for us, (John 14:18) to take those who are faithful away with Him to an everlasting reward (I Corinthians 15: 51-57). *                                                                                                                                                                                                              In “Edge of Tomorrow,” Cage’s goal is to save the world. God’s promises are infinitely better. The consequences for failure to heed Him are also infinitely worse.                                                                                                                                                                If we don’t get it right in regard to God’s truths, we will end up in the wrong place.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                For eternity.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Think about it: Get it right, spend eternity in a perfect place, in perfect bliss, with the perfect heavenly Father, being the Bride of His Son, the Prince of Peace.                                                                                                                                                                      Get it wrong, spend eternity away from his presence, in everlasting darkness, pain, misery, and regret.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                News, blogs, and self-help articles suggest a lot of New Year’s resolutions. But the best we can do in this new year is heed God’s warnings, and live for Him, day by day, from now on.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         For those who have never placed their faith in Him, the starting point is to acknowledge our sins, our powerlessness to help ourselves, and our need to change.  And since Jesus is the only One who paid for our sins Himself by willingly dying on the cross, the next step is to surrender our flawed lives to Him, with a willingness to abandon our sinful ways and follow Him.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      For all of us, the way to know His mind and heart is to read the Bible. The better we know God’s Word, the better prepared we will be for what’s to come.

    Prayer: Lord God, who sees the end from the beginning, thank You for giving us a glimpse into the future through You Word. Forgive us for all the times we have ignored Your warnings. We thank You for holding back Your judgment, giving us time to heed Your Word and repent. We thank You for receiving us as Your beloved children the moment we place our faith in You. And thank You that we can follow You confidently into the future, knowing that You’ve already been there, for You transcend time. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

    * There are many, many scriptures describing the future for this world and for believers in Jesus Christ. Those cited here are just a few. To be best informed, read the Bible regularly.

Worth Repeating

This year before the holidays I diligently wrote and scheduled ahead so I could enjoy family time without worrying about blogging for a few weeks. Well, now the pre-written blogs have been used up, and I still have family stuff going on.

For that reason, and because I have many new followers since last New Year’s, and  because this is one of my more amazing, what-are-the-chances?! experiences, today I am rerunning something you may not have seen. Enjoy, and I promise something fresh and new next week!

                                A Warrior’s Story

God is our refuge and strength,                                                                                                       an ever-present help in trouble.                                                                      He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;                                                                                  he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,                                                                          he burns the shields with fire.                                                                      “Be still, and know that I am God;                                                                                                   I will be exalted among the nations,                                                                                   I will be exalted in the earth.”                                 Psalm 46:1,9,10

 

I came across this journal entry from three years ago and just had to share it with my readers. This was probably the most exciting New Year’s I have ever had. Enjoy!                  

It’s New Year’s Day in Louisville. And in New York. And in L. A. And in Paris and Munich and the Middle East. And as far as I know, there have been no successful terrorist attacks.

There were threats, and as usual I prayed. I’ve been praying against terrorism daily since July of 2005. I had become frustrated with praying for the families of the victims after the fact and asked God how – with no idea where the enemy was or what their targets were – I could narrow down my prayer to be the kind of specific prayer He answers in my life – before these things happen. He had said (in His “still, small voice”), “Narrow it down to what they have planned today.”

Have these prayers been answered? I have a file folder full of articles – just the ones I’ve seen and saved – about thwarted terrorist attacks, some foiled by the authorities and some stopped by ordinary citizens who “saw/heard something suspicious;” some failed because the explosives didn’t detonate, and some failed because the perpetrator had a change of heart. Those are my favorite stories – where a former would-be terrorist is now a child of God – an evangelist, a church planter, an igniter of revival. (Glory!)

Do I think I personally have stopped terrorists? No … well, not exactly. I do believe in the power of prayer, otherwise I would not have prayed the same prayer over 4,000 times and would not be planning to continue. I do believe there’s power in consistent prayer and prayer by many people, and if an act of terror occurred because only 99 people prayed against it and 100 prayer warriors could have stopped it, I don’t want to be the weak link. Of course, GOD is the One who answers those prayers, but for whatever reason, I believe He honors consistency and unity.

I usually pray [these prayers] at night, because if/when I resolved to pray in the morning, there was always something to distract me or make me forget, so I just have a rule that I don’t lie down until I’ve covered our nation, leaders, military, intelligence, security, law enforcement, targets, and the terrorists themselves in prayer. If I am especially tired, it’s hard and might take an hour to pray what I should have been able to pray in eight minutes. (Some will call me obsessive, but I take this stuff seriously.)

Yesterday I prayed earlier in the day than usual and prayed specifically for New York City, Washington D. C., and Los Angeles. I had read that these cities were on high alert because of some threats. I had also heard that over a million people were expected to be in Times Square that night.

Marty and I didn’t go out for any New Year’s Eve festivities. We’re new in town,  and we haven’t made enough friends yet to be invited to any parties. So after babysitting the grandchildren … we turned to Netflix and spent the next 5-10 minutes browsing. After reading a few plot synopses, we settled on “Survivor” (or “The Survivor”) – a movie evidently about stopping a terrorist attack. I thought, “Good, it’ll remind me to keep praying for New York City.” So I said another prayer for those million+ people.

I prayed on and off even as we were watching the movie, and when I realized the terror plot in the show involved a an attack on Times Square on New Year’s Eve, I thought, What a coincidence! and kept praying.

At one point I was heating my shoulder pad in the microwave for an achy neck and noticed it was 11:53. I thought, Only 7 more minutes. I sat back down, and the film showed a sign in Times Square saying  “Only 7 minutes to go!”

I realized this “random” movie, that we “randomly” picked – off Netflix – and started at a “random” time was synchronized – to the minute – with our New Year’s Eve. (We couldn’t have planned that if we’d wanted to, even if we had known in advance what the plot was.)

It didn’t occur to me until this morning that God was encouraging me about the power of my prayers, as I remembered the end of the movie, where one of the characters said to the woman who had stopped the terrorists, “There were a million people here tonight. And you saved all of them.”

Do I think I saved everybody in Times Square last night? Of course not. I do believe in the power of prayer, and who knows how many other people who believe in it were praying last night? And God is the One who answers the prayers, but for whatever reason, I believe He honors consistency and unity. And I don’t want to be the weak link.

– journal,  January 1, 2016

Prayer: Lord, we understand so little about the power of prayer, just that You want us to do it. Thank You for all the times You have proven true to Your promises and answered us when we cried out to you. Help us to be faithful, too, in whatever You have called us to do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Some New Year’s Tips for Atheists

When you ask, you do not receive, because …

                                                                                                        James 4:3a

To my atheist friends:

While the Christians in your life are talking about doing more in the new year to get closer to God – praying more, reading the Bible more, etc. – do you just wish you could get to the end of this coming year having proven to them that prayer is useless, that God doesn’t answer prayer, because there IS no God? Here’s a suggestion:

You could spend the year “praying” to their “God” and at the end of the year tell them that He didn’t answer a single one of your prayers. It may not dissuade them from their faith, but at least it might get them to leave you alone about it.

Oddly, the Bible gives some helpful guidelines on how to make sure your prayers don’t get answered. Here, then, are the

Top Ten Ways to Guarantee Your Prayers Won’t Get Answered*                                                        (With Apologies to David Letterman)

[10- 1/2, if you’re a married man: Disrespect and mistreat your wife. (I Peter 3:7) ]

10. Give God tiny bits of your leftover time and second-rate resources, and reserve the best for other things. Squander your time, but hoard your stuff; don’t tithe. (Malachi 3:8-10) Fill your day/mind with secular media nonstop, so God can’t get a word in edgewise. (Romans 12:2)

9. Avoid that person you’ve been having a problem with, or who has a problem with you. (Matthew 5:23 & 24)

8. Accuse God of not understanding how important this is; He’s just not as smart as you are. (Isaiah 55: 8 & 9) Believe that health and wealth are the most important things, and if you aren’t healthy and wealthy, God must not care about you. (II Corinthians 12:7-10)

7. Ask once. Then if nothing happens right away, give up. Say, “See? I knew it wouldn’t work.” (Luke 18:1)

6. After saying “Amen,” immediately tell yourself all the reasons God’s probably not going to answer. For extra assurance, tell others, too. (James 1:6 & 7)

5. Keep God confined to one small area in your life, away from all the everyday events and far from any guilty pleasures, bad habits, and secret sins; He wouldn’t want to be around all that stuff, anyway. (Psalm 66:18)

4. Make a list of all the bad things that have been done to you, and who did it. Memorize it and recite it often. Share it with others and invite them to be offended with you. (Mark 11: 24 & 25)

3. Ignore what God has done for you in the past, or complain about the way He did it or about what He hasn’t done. Whatever you do, don’t be grateful! (Philippians 4:6)

2. Ask not what you can do for God; ask what He can do for you.(James 4:3)

… and the Number One way to make sure your prayers don’t get answered:

Don’t pray. (James 4:2)

And now I’m going to close with a prayer for my friends who are believers:

Prayer: Lord God, we know You hear every one of our prayers, even those that are foolish. Thank You for not giving us what we ask for when we ask foolishly. We acknowledge that You know what’s best for us, You desire what’s best for us, and You are able to do what is best for us. All-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God, thank You that You are for us, not against us, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

*Excerpted from BARRIERS (So, if prayers are so powerful, how come mine don’t get answered?)      by Ann Aschauer, available on Amazon, or directly from the author (yours truly). Email me at bascha3870@yahoo.com for details.

God’s Gift to a Guilty Giver

“You will always have the poor among you.”  [Jesus] John 12:8a

For as long as I can remember I have known I am one of the most privileged people on the planet. Wanting somehow to make up for the advantages I enjoyed, I eventually crossed the line between desire to help the less fortunate and having to give it all away in order to feel good about myself. I had unwittingly bought into a subtle form of “salvation by works.”

Christmastime, especially, became a time of stress, guilt, and eventually sickness. I can remember at least four Christmases in a row being too sick and exhausted to enjoy the holiday.

One year on December 23, I had a rare quiet time after everyone else had gone to bed. A nearby stack of unanswered mail silently pleaded for more donations. Thousands of African children were orphaned by an A.I.D.S. epidemic. People were starving, in danger of freezing to death, left homeless by hurricanes, earthquakes, or floods. Veterans in hospitals wondered if anyone cared. Researchers were trying desperately to eradicate horrendous diseases. Women and children were being trafficked, and corrupt leaders were seizing power, threatening to make everything worse than it already was. Most importantly, millions were still without any knowledge of the gospel and in danger of leaving this world into a Christ-less eternity. I was a giver, but it seemed whenever I sent a check, ten more pleas for donations would arrive, hence the accusing stack of paper, robbing me of the peace of God.

Overwhelmed and on the verge of tears, I thought, I’m sorry, Lord, I just can’t deal with all this… Thank God He led me to get out my Bible and just start reading His Word.

I was in the 16th chapter of the gospel of Luke. I read about “the rich man who dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day,” and thought, Great, now You‘re going to make me feel more guilty? I started to cry.

Then the Still, Small voice made Himself heard: Just READ.

“At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. … The time came when the beggar died and the angels came and carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.” (Luke 16: 20-23)

Identifying with the rich man, I prayed,  Lord, I’m sorry! I haven’t given enough … The thought of so many sins of omission tormented me worse than ever.

But Still, Small Voice was persistent. Read it again.

“At his gate was laid a beggar …”

STOP.

I sensed Still Small Voice asking, Was the rich man condemned for not feeding every hungry person in the world?

No… but … 

At his gate was laid a beggar.” He was expected to help the person I placed in his path. You don’t have to save the whole world, little lamb. Just look around you.

Relief flooded my soul, as if I were discovering for the first time that we are saved by grace, not by works. (“DUH.”)

So, I asked myself, who is in my path? Immediately a local family came to mind. My dear friend, “Susie” had died a little over a year before, leaving a husband and seven children. I had been to their house the Christmas before to bring them cookies and had noticed that sadly no decorations were up, no tree, and no visible gifts. The youngest child, who could barely see over the countertop, was staring wide-eyed at the plate of cookies I had set down as I talked to the weary father.

I wanted to do more for them this year than a gift that would be gone in minutes. I considered what I could give them that they could enjoy together, and maybe make some lasting memories. I asked myself what kinds of things I remembered enjoying most as a child. Personally I had always loved being creative…

I went to the attic and found a box that was big enough, mentally adding a dozen or more things to my shopping list for the next day.

Christmas Eve I returned home with a large box of crayons, felt markers (washable!), water colors, colored pencils, sketch paper, tracing paper, unlined index cards, glue, scissors, Scotch tape, modeling clay, and two blank books. Since opening gifts is half the fun, I gift wrapped each one with a little note, such as “Make your own postcards!” on the package of index cards. In the blank books I wrote notes to the two teenaged daughters, encouraging them to write about the emotions and experiences that were impacting their lives. I placed all the wrapped gifts in the big box, wrapped it, and  –

Voila! The Creativity Box!

But later,  as I was finishing preparations in the early Christmas morning hours, another voice spoke to my heart, which I now realize was the voice of the accuser, the enemy of my soul:

What kind of cheap present is that to be giving a grieving family? A bunch of paper and junk from Walmart… !

In my insecurity I entertained the fleeting thought that maybe it was best to forget the whole thing. But then I thought, Well, I’ve done it, I may as well take it to them… and went to sleep for a few hours.

After Christmas brunch and opening gifts with my family, I went to Susie’s family’s house, accompanied by my father, who always loved surprising people.

When the kids saw the box, their eyes got big, and I thought, I hope they aren’t disappointed. I explained that this was a “Creativity Box.”

Before their Dad had even come into the room, the little guys were already tearing into the box and taking out the gifts.

“Look, Dad!” one of them cried. “It’s a Creativity Box!” As the wrapping paper flew off each little piece, squeals of joy were heard that made one wonder what sort of costly treasures they were discovering. I suppressed a giggle as I heard things like “Look, Dad! We can make our own post cards!!!” and saw one little guy retreat to a corner and start molding the clay into something fantastic. The teenaged girls quietly read the notes in their blank books and smiled at me knowingly.

After a brief visit Dad and I left the happy kids, bursting with creativity, enjoying their Savior’s birthday.

The Still Small Voice was right. I can’t save the whole world, but there will always be a life within reach that I can impact, when I let myself be inspired by the true Source of all giving and all creativity.

Prayer: Lord, Jesus, thank You for saving our souls. Thank You for giving us the privilege of partnering with You in loving others. Help us see the needs around us and do what You direct us to do. Don’t let us forget for one moment that we are saved by Your death on the cross, not by our own efforts. In Your precious name, amen.

Some Holiday Advice to Christian Radio Station Programmers

No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer.                                                                                                                                                                                    II Timothy 2:4

The irony was not lost on me.

Christmas was closing in, and I was stressed, exhausted, and in need of a moment of peace and serenity. I knew I needed to be reminded of what the season was all about, and although I already knew the answer, I thought – What better than some heavenly music to lift my spirits? Our local Christian radio station was having its annual “Twelve Days of Christmas” – non-stop holiday songs for twelve days straight, leading up to Christmas Day.

I set everything else aside and tuned in expectantly to hear what God was going to whisper to me in that moment of solitude. I was a disappointed (and a bit disgusted) to hear an old favorite from the secular charts playing for the 999th time. Although a Christian artist was singing it, the lyrics hadn’t magically transformed the holiday ditty into a gospel message. Not ready to give up, I started slowly turning the dial to see if I might stumble upon another source of inspiration.

I stopped immediately when I heard a gorgeous rendition of “O Holy Night” by Josh Groban. I closed my eyes and sighed with contentment as I once again contemplated the words of my favorite carol. (Never mind that I already knew all three verses by heart – in English and French.) When the song was finished and the stress had dissipated, I wanted to make a mental note of what this other Christian radio station was. … As it turned out, it was a secular station.

If I may give a word of advice to the programmers for Christian radio stations: Go easy on the Christmas love songs. Now I know what you’re thinking,

“Hey, God invented romance!” Please understand, I have nothing against romance, but please take a moment to think about your target audience – the people you want to minister the gospel to. Consider that the people most open to the Good News are people who are hurting. Many kinds of pain become all the more unbearable at the holidays, when it seems everyone is happy but you. A person grieving the loss of a spouse may tune in to a Christian station looking for hope and comfort, and if you’re playing cheery songs about being with the one you love, you could unwittingly be rubbing salt into an already wounded heart.

NEWS FLASH: Lonely, hurting people do not feel like rocking around the Christmas tree.

This is the one time of year when it’s acceptable to the general public to be singing about Jesus. People may be tuning into your station who don’t ordinarily listen, who after the holidays may go back to whatever secular music they’re accustomed to. Why would a Christian radio station want to squander this golden opportunity filling precious air time with the same tired songs about cuddling by the fire and couples in love frolicking in the snow? We get enough of that music at the mall and the grocery store. In the unlikely event that anyone wants to hear even more of them, there are plenty of secular stations out there that are already airing them.

I realize that playing secular favorites might be seen as a sort of “sanctified bait” to get people to listen to your station, but personally I don’t think you need bait this time of year – it’s Christmas! For many people, even unbelievers, Christmas carols can bring back happy memories of Christmas past, and if it’s been a while, they may be paying attention to the words for the very first time!

“But we need variety.” Fine, then have variety. Mix the traditional carols sung by choirs with country songs about the birth of Jesus, such as Dolly Parton’s “Once Upon a Christmas,” and contemporary songs with substance, such as “Mary, Did You Know?” You might even throw in a song from Handel’s Messiah. There’s at least one recent winner of “The Voice” (popular enough to receive millions of votes) who is a person of faith and has recorded a Christmas album. When my son was a teenager, we even had an album of Christmas rap. One thing I love about “Jesus music” is that it comes in all styles. (Makes sense – He created music.)

If your station is like the one I used to listen to, I know you receive donations from thousands of supporters who believe in the message of the gospel and trust you to get that message out to many more people than they could reach individually. Please do so. Don’t waste a moment of this awesome opportunity to spread the Good News at the time people – especially hurting people – are most open to it.

So please, if you really want to be “the station with a difference,” ditch the secular songs about temporal things. Stick with songs like “O Holy Night,” and give the world the hope it so desperately needs.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for loving us so deeply that You would leave the glory of Your throne in heaven to save us. You exchanged Your glory for our shame. To atone for our sins, You suffered the pain, humiliation, and death on the Cross that we deserved, so that we might have Your righteousness and the eternal life we don’t deserve. As we celebrate Your love for us, help us not to forget that millions of people don’t yet know about that love. Help us not to be too wrapped up in our own interests to reach out to them through whatever platform You’ve given us, until everyone has heard the Good News. In Your name we pray. Amen.

Loaves, Fishes, and Toys

In keeping with the advent season, but still sticking with my usual habit of storytelling, the next three posts will be (true) stories from my life, set at Christmastime.

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.                                                                                                                                                                                                               Matthew 14:19

It was just before my nineteenth Christmas, and my boyfriend had driven to St. Louis from Springfield, Illinois, to visit my family and give me my Christmas present early. Being an engineering major, this guy did things in a more straightforward way than I     (a theater major) did, and that day was no exception. When it came time to exchange our gifts, he handed me a wad of cash and informed me that we were going shopping.

I wasn’t as deflated as many women would have been at the “un-romantic” nature of the present. For one thing, I knew that my college sweetheart was not exactly rolling in dough, and every dollar saved represented a skipped meal. The gift he gave me was an even $100, which (trust me) was worth way more when I was 18 than it is now! Secondly, he had a certain look in his eye that told me there was more to this gift than indulging in a shopping trip to get more “stuff,” which even then I really didn’t need. I wondered what he was up to.

I stuffed the cash in my jacket pocket to keep it separate from the money I had in my purse, and we headed out for this mystery shopping spree. When we got to the mall, my shopping buddy led the way to the toy store and directed me to start picking out toys.

“Toys?”

“Yep.”

“For who?”

“Children.”

“Boys or girls?”

“Both.”

“What age?”

“Any age. All ages.”

Still wondering what in the world was going on, I joined him in browsing the multitude of games, gadgets, dolls and doll houses, toy trains, stuffed animals, and any other trinkets that caught our eye. If they looked especially fun, of course, we had to try them out, and I was starting to feel like a kid again myself as we laughed at the walking, talking, beeping, squeaking magic that seems to materialize at Christmastime. We took the most appealing toys to the checkout counter, and I paid for them with the money from my jacket pocket. The clerk handed me the change, and I put it in the same pocket as we headed for another store.

What followed was an hour or two of fun, sampling more toys, picking the best ones, and paying for them out of my special stash, until we were down to just a few dollars in my pocket. We used the remaining cash to buy wrapping paper, ribbon, and tags and hauled all our purchases out to the car.

I don’t remember when this sweet guy informed me who the recipients were for these toys, but I learned in the course of our shopping spree that we were shopping for Christmas presents for the children at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where I had been doing volunteer work for the past three years. I was picturing the faces of those dear little ones as we brought one treasure after another out of the bags, and looking at the lavish collection of gifts, I was somewhat amazed at how many toys $100 would buy. In fact, I began to wonder if we had accidentally picked up someone else’s purchases.

We went through the inventory and remembered picking out and paying for every toy there. Oddly, when we checked the price tags, the items totaled over $125, not counting the wrapping materials. We got out the receipts, checked our math a couple of times, and the total came out the same. Somehow that hard-earned money seemed to have grown in my pocket. I got the feeling that Someone was smiling on us, and the little bit of “Christmas magic” was just the final touch that made it a perfect day.

That Christmas was quite a while ago, but I remember it well. What I remember most is discovering that my boyfriend was a good man with a big heart.

(Last summer we celebrated our 46th anniversary.)

Prayer: Lord, we know that You love us all – the rich, the poor, the strong, the sick, the elderly, the little children. As Your disciples, we are called to love them as You do.  Remind us that all good things come from You. Without You we can do nothing, but with You we can do anything You want us to. Thank You for the privilege of being Your agents of love. In Jesus’ name, amen.