Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas

I love Christmas.
Christmas brings quiet times, family times, Christmas trees, lights, giving, baking, turkey dinner and all the traditions that accompany the season.  But there is something I don’t think I could do without at Christmas: snow.  I honestly cannot remember ever having a Christmas without snow.  For me, the two go hand in hand.  Take away the turkey dinner, but oh, not the snow.
The last few years, it has threatened to not be a white Christmas, but then at the last minute - last year it was Christmas Eve - the snow fell.  This year the same thing - the grass, a green-brown-dead color, the trees and shrubs all naked and brown, blah-like.  And I was, like the song says, dreaming of a white Christmas.
Then, yesterday, December 23, the snow came.   Soft, gentle, falling slow, pure white, heaven’s down.  I walked in it and there was quiet all around, like everything was standing still watching it fall to the ground and cover the death of fall.

As I listened to the silence I wondered why snow is such an important part of Christmas to me.  Then these words from a favourite song (Winter Snow) came to my mind:
“Could’ve come like a mighty storm......
            You could’ve come like a forest fire......
But you came like a winter snow, quiet, soft and slow
Falling from the sky in the night to the earth below”

Heaven’s down falls gently, quietly.  It covers life now dead, with a pure white blanket.
Jesus came at Christmas, quiet, gentle, from heaven, to cover us who believe, with His robe of righteousness, pure and holy.  To give life to the dead.

Jesus is the gift we celebrate at Christmas.  A gift of faith, hope and love.  A gift of life everlasting.  He doesn’t barge in all obnoxious-like, but gentle, waiting.  Holding out life to those who would stretch out their hand to receive it; like catching a falling snow flake, a gift can only be given if it is received.
As the snow falls around me, I stand in awe and give thanks this Christmas for:
-          a white Christmas
-          family, fun and silly times
-          full belly laughter good for the soul
-          the gift of Jesus, meek and mild, Saviour of sinners
-          Charlie Brown Christmas trees and lights that sparkle bright
Merry Christmas to you and yours.  May yours days be filled with the peace that transcends all understanding as you stand in awe of a Saviour who came so long ago, like a winter snow, quiet, soft and slow, and give thanks for the gift.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Big Mouth of Injustice Pt. 2 - The Reality

Shortly after I wrote my last post, The Big Mouth of Injustice, I read a post from Kirby Tyler.  She is currently in Uganda ministering with Sixty Feet to imprisoned children.  As I read her words, I couldn’t help but see real faces behind the injustice I had recently written about.  Real faces.  Real souls.  Real hearts.
There are millions of faces behind injustice.  I introduce you to three.  With her permission, here are Kirby’s words:
During our Christmas party at M2, I noticed a girl that I hadn’t seen before. She was listening to Kelsey preach and the tears were welling up in her eyes. Afterwards, I met Nadiah and found out she was brand new to M2. In fact, she was brought there that morning by her mother and aunt. Now, you would probably assume that she did something pretty awful since her own mother dropped her off at a prison. But, you’d be wrong.
The day before, Nadiah, refused to kneel down and greet her Aunt. The next morning, her mother told her they were going to the market but brought her to M2 instead. Nadiah is only 13.
A 17-year-old girl is living at M2 even though she’s been released. She was sent away by her brother to be a house-girl. Then he called her back to his house and tried to rape her. She ran away to live with a friend and when her friend’s house was broken into, she was falsely accused of theft and sent to serve her sentence at M2.  She has nowhere to go but back to her brother’s house.
If you’ve had the opportunity to visit M1 this year, you know who “Didi” is; the cute little Karamojong boy with the infectious smile. Didi was picked up by the police while begging on the streets.  He has a mother but she has never come for him. He doesn’t remember where he lives. He can’t be resettled. He’s been living at M1 for the last 8 months and would probably remain there for years…
…Unless, he had a place to go.  Since Sixty Feet began, they have dreamed of building a home where the youngest and most vulnerable children at the M facilities could live in a loving, nurturing, family-like environment.  A home for children like these.

A home.  It offers hope to children like these with no place to go. 
Do you have $10, $20, $50 you can share?  Would you be willing to use it to bring hope, to shut the big mouth of injustice, for faces, souls, hearts, like these three, in Jesus name? 
If you donate that $10 to Sixty Feet over the next 9 days (until Dec. 31) and it will become $20; $50 will become $100.  Some generous donors have stepped forward to offer a matching grant of up to $60,000.  So every dollar given (up to $60,000) will be matched and will be used to buy property and build two Christ-centered-love saturated-homes of hope for the younger children in the remand centers.
Is there a better Christmas present to give or receive than the gift of hope?

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.  He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.  In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth.  In his law the islands will put their hope."  Isaiah 42:1-4

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Big Mouth of Injustice

As I gather my thoughts to write this post, I gaze at the kids Christmas tree.  A tradition in this home since my son was old enough to cut a tree down by himself.  I think he was 9 or 10 – Dad’s a lumberman.   So each year the kids go off into the woods, pick out a small tree, I call it Charlie Brown, and they place it in our dining room.  It’s their tree.   It isn’t yet decorated, this year’s Charlie Brown, but it does have lights on it.  Unevenly spread around the tree the lights sparkle, some brighter than others, against the dark green backdrop of the trees branches, leaving large holes of darkness amongst the scattered lights.
But my post isn’t about the kid’s tree.  It is about injustice.  You see I am reading this e-book on my Kindle.  Kindle marketing guru’s added it to a list of books they recommended for me. (Nice of them.  Good choice.  Any suggestions for next week’s menu, Kindle?)  
The title of the book, “The Unlikely Missionary: From Pew Warmer to Poverty Fighter”, grabbed my attention immediately for two reasons:  One, if ever there wasn’t a missionary, I am she.  Yet the Lord has burdened this heart of mine for the desperate around the world, especially orphaned children.   Two, my greatest fear and worst nightmare is that I will be a pew warmer.    I don’t want to be the one in this verse:  if it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”  1 Cor. 3:15
I didn’t sign up for fire insurance.  And my heart won’t let me accept only that.
Now just so that we’re clear: It is by grace I have been saved, through faith – and this not of myself, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8).  My service, work, effort as a saved-by-grace-child-of-God, does not make me nor keep me saved.  That is not why I serve.  But His love is in me, it burns deep and I just cannot accept a comfy North American Sunday morning Christianity.
Back to the book......So there are challenges/put-into-practice suggestions at the end of each chapter.  The chapter I just finished has an ‘assignment’ to write about injustice and what it means.  And being the obedient student that I am (ahem, well the point is I did it), I began to research the meaning of this word and find references for it in my #1 resource:  God’s Word.
I start with the definition of “injustice”:
·         inequity;
·         violation of the rights of others
·         unjust or unfair action or treatment
·         wrong
·         oppressive
·         wickedness
During the act of injustice, someone is being violated, oppressed or being treated unfairly or wickedly.  And by definition there is someone committing the violation, oppression or wicked, unfair treatment.
My eyes have yet to see real injustice face to face.  Yet somehow this heart, it aches for the child, the orphan, unloved, neglected, abandoned, helpless, hopeless, and vulnerable.  The statistics, though apparently improving, are still mind boggling.  Injustice is:
·         147 million orphans in the world today
·         Children by the thousands, aging out of orphanages each day, left to face the world on their own.  The majority of them end up in prostitution, living a life of crime, or committing suicide.
·         Children abducted around the world daily and forced into prostitution or into an army or terrorist group
·         Children abandoned at prisons because no one can care for them
·         Children gathered off the streets and thrown into prison because begging for food is a crime
I could go on, but my stomach can’t take it (I told you He got the wrong girl).  My mind can’t even fathom what atrocities some of these children must live through each day.  The despair, the hopelessness, the injustice, it’s heavy. 
What can someone like me do about it? 
What can someone like you do about it?
Isaiah 58 tells us exactly what we can do about.  The wonderful, life-changing words of Isaiah 58.  The words the Lord used to WAKE ME UP a year and a half ago (a post on that someday maybe?).  Here they are:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:” says Isaiah, speaking to pew warmers,
to loose the chains of injustice, and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood.”  Is. 58:6-7
There is that word.  Injustice.  What does the Lord want me, you, all of us to do about injustice?  Loose its chains, untie the cords, set the oppressed free.  How?  Read the whole chapter and you will find He lays it out pretty clearly.
But there is something else.  There is more to it than just sending food and clothes to poor nations.  That just seems to feed a never satisfied void.  So what is it?  In my search, the Lord brings me to Job, and my heart skips a beat at these words:
So the poor have hope and injustice shuts its mouth.”  Job 5:16
Them’s fightin’ words. 
Ah, the glorious day when injustice will shut its mouth forever!  But there is a diamond, a glimmer of light in this darkness.  Hope.  So the poor have hope AND injustice shuts its mouth.  They are inevitably linked.  No option.  It does not say “or”.  It does not say “maybe”.  When the poor have hope injustice shuts its mouth. 
Is it really possible?  The end of injustice is HOPE?  Loose the chains of injustice with HOPE?  Set the oppressed free with HOPE?
This hope.  It is held out in the gospel.  It is the anchor for the soul, firm and secure.  It fills us with an inexpressible and glorious joy.  It is one of the three which remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is, of course, love.
Hope.  The word of life.  Held out in the gospel.  Given in love.  Taken hold of by faith. 
We each have a part in this and there is no shortage of opportunity out there to serve. There are so many organizations and so many missionaries around the world and down the street holding out the hope of the gospel, serving and sacrificing in love.  And they are shutting the mouth of injustice where they are.
But he’s got a big mouth so the job is not yet finished.  It reminds me of the kids Christmas tree.  A light shines, sparkles in the darkness, hope shining.  There are lots of lights on the tree, and what a beautiful sight it is.  But there are still dark, empty voids scattered around the tree, mouth gaping wide.
Injustice won’t shut its mouth completely, until the hope light shines in every corner of creation. 
In the mean time, it seems that God has given us clear instruction on what to do to fill our days between Monday and Saturday; to keep us from simply warming pews.

"He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."  Mic. 6:8

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Awe of Peace

It’s is less than three weeks, 17 days to be exact, until December 25th.
Again, I say “Aaaaahhhhh”.
Some of you may notice the “rrrr” and the “gggg” are missing from my “Aaahhh”. 
This is not a typo. 
I admit, however, that there has always been, at this time of year, many “rrrr”s and “gggg”s in my sigh - or should I say grumble - but this year is different.   My grumble of stress and frustration has been transformed to a sigh of contentment, and peace.
A while back I committed to intentionally change how I walk through the Christmas season.  I decided to turn Christmas upside-down.  You know, God’s way, the way of the Kingdom.  It’s upside-down compared to this world and the way it thinks.  I wanted Christmas to be real.  To be what it is.  About Christ.  For this reality to abide in my heart and not be lost during the time of year when it should be most appreciated:
“...Christ Jesus who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death....”
Christmas is: The Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Creator of the universe, omniscient, infinite God, becoming a helpless, completely dependent, finite babe in a manger.  The gift of love wrapped in humility.  Why?  “...because he will save people from their sins.” 
Love.  Humility.  I want to just rest here.  These words, they have a quiet, gentle, peaceful reality to them.  I’ve missed that in too many Christmas’ gone by.  In our busy days it is easy to lose the quietness, gentleness, and peacefulness - these fruits that seem to permeate love and humility, a treasure as graspable as the morning mist.
Love and humility - they are inseparable.  Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  His greatest command?  Love each other”.  When you’re loving someone else, humility just happens.
When I started, I didn’t know how it was all going to come together, or what, exactly I was going to do to make this transformation.  But I did commit to reduce my spending on ‘stuff’ for Christmas and to give that savings away.  I also committed it to my Lord in prayer.
And He has made this transformation.  He has given me this rest, and I didn’t even see it happening, but I know that it has, because of this peace. 
He has made all the difference.  But these are some of the ways through which this change has come, which by the grace of God and He alone, has transformed stressful holiday “aagggrrrrhhhh” to peaceful Christmas awe:
  • Change focus:  For the first time ever, my kids and I sit down each day in this Advent season and we unwrap more of His love, and sprinkle some of this love around us each day.  How can your focus not change when you’re reading and learning more of God Almighty, and His promises of a Saviour all through the Old Testament?  He is faithful to His promises, and by grace He teaches us each day a little more, and He sets our eyes on Him, whose throne is in heaven.  And when that happens, our eyes are not focused on what has to be done, or what has to be bought and will they really like, or do they really need it, and where on earth is all the money going to come from anyway?
  • Giving gifts that give:  I have for the first time learned of gifts that I can give to those I love, and in the buying of these gifts I am giving to someone in need.  (Yes, I have had my head in the sand for the last .....well we won’t go there, but a long time)  These posters are a great example (also see the Family Rules badge at the top of my page).  As a gift, you are giving the Word of God, a great wall print and biblical family values.  But, you are also helping to build a home for abandoned and imprisoned children, a home built on Christ, because all (100%) of the funds to purchase this picture go to Sixty Feet.  And you’re giving even more, because during this Christmas season, all funds raised for this building project will be matched.  And the Lord multiplies.  There are many options out there for these giving-gifts.  Many Christian relief and/or orphan care organizations have stores on their website which offer products whose proceeds are going to support that organization.
  • Cut back and give it away:  In just two trips to the city I have completed 90% of my Christmas shopping.  Armed with a pre-planned list of who is getting what has reduced browsing, which in direct relation has reduced spending.  That is unheard of in my past - 90% of my Christmas shopping is typically a result of browsing.  And it is costly.  But this year I have saved money.  And I am giving it away.  There are SO many ways to give. It. Away.  Jesus just asks us to give it, in love and in His name - to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and the prisoner, defend the cause of the fatherless – down the street or across the world.  Obedience to this is amazing grace, peace and joy.
  • Here are some ideas for how you can give it away, in case you want to join me in this upside down Christmas journey – it’s not too late!
    • Sponsor a child in a variety of Christian organizations all over the world
    • feed the hungry by donating to your local food bank or by brining a Christmas basket of food to someone down the street
    • Why not help a family bring an orphan home - one less orphan in the world,
    • support the teaching of literacy to women in Asia so they can read their Bibles, or buy a sewing machine for a woman in India trying to break out of her hopeless poverty. 
How can you turn Christmas upside down this year?
Be Upside-down this Christmas
Spend 10% less this Christmas and give it away
Make an eternal difference this Christmas
Watch what the Lord does with it