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No Room in the Inn

pig-pen-innkeeperOne of the most famous characters in the whole Christmas story is one who doesn’t exist, other than in the reader’s imagination. The innkeeper, who turns away Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, isn’t recorded in the Scriptures at all. We are simply told that there was no room in the inn.

Looking throughout Jesus’ earthly life, we notice that the world he was born into does not find or make room for him. He never really fits in anywhere. His teachings are always surprising people. His actions are always being questioned by the authorities of the day. Even when those same authorities finally had him under their control, they had no idea of what to do with him. Caiaphas sends him to Pilate. Pilate asks the crowd what they would like to do.  After his death, his followers continued to have a hard time finding places to stay and ears to listen.  As a prisoner, Paul spoke out about Christ whenever he could but was told by his captor, “When I find it convenient, I will send for you.” (Acts 24:25b) No room in that inn either.story-of-christmasnativity

The only place he seemed to fit was as a child in the temple. He was perfectly at home but no one else, from the teachers there to his parents, understood. They were scratching their heads at his behavior while Jesus himself said, “Why were you searching for me?” He asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) He knew where he belonged even if no one else got it.
nativityJesus stirred things up from the time that he was born. The local tyrant reacted to his birth by ordering a mass infanticide. Shepherds and Magi reacted in worship. Jesus’ life would continue to cause people to rethink philosophies long held dear. He never seemed to fit in. He flipped lives around just as easily as he would flip tables in the temple. Some would say that he left havoc in his wake. Yet, those who stopped to listen, those who did find room for him in their hearts would disagree. They would say that he left them changed in ways that they hadn’t even imagined before and made their lives immeasurably better. Maybe not easier, but better.

 

Let’s make room this Christmas to hear his words and to live them out in our actions. If your heart is too crowded with the worries of the day, toss some out and make room for faith. Faith in the one who loves the whole world without reservations. Faith that a tiny baby born two thousand years ago will change this world one heart at a time.

 

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Find some room in your inn.

 

 

 


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A Christmas Memory

from last year…

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I have a great memory of singing Christmas carols with my mom many Christmas Eves ago. No one else would sing with her so I jumped in and we belted out a few. Then she tucked me in bed to await Santa’s arrival. Funny the things you remember. Well, I may not be able to carry a tune but I can still have fun with those Christmas songs that I love.

christmas music

It was a Silent Night, a Holy Night

in that Little Town of Bethlehem

When Angels From the Realms of Glory

those Angels We Have Heard on High

“Hark!”, the shepherds look on high, “The Herald Angels Sing”

What Came Upon a Midnight Clearchristmas music2

as Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

a message of Emmanuel

who brings great Joy to the World

That First Noel, O Holy Night

When Unto Us a Child is Born

One Small Child, tucked Away in…

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Christmas Shepherds and Quirky Fringes

shepherds-1Even though I identify as a Christian, that doesn’t mean that I can walk on water. I am not that good, not even close. I am a Christian not because of how wonderful I am but because of how good He is. Truth is, I have a very bad temper. I have a tendency to worry more about myself than others. I try to fight my own way through issues rather than trust in the One who wants to fight for me. I read the words of Scripture, go to church and pray continually just as we are told to do and yet, I forget everything when a dark moment hits and it’s always a struggle to get back to the One who loves me.

Does all this make me a “bad” Christian?

Consider this – God sent His Son to bring us back to Himself. He needed to get the word out there but mankind hadn’t invented 24 hour news yet. So He called on an unusual choice. God appeared to shepherds outside of town and told them to go and see the new King. They then “spread the word concerning what had been told them about the child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” Luke 2: 17-18.shepherds-2

Shepherds? That’s right! The guys who spent months living with their sheep outdoors. They would have been that loner sort of person who isn’t at home in a crowd and certainly not comfortable talking to the townspeople. I often wonder if the people they spoke to were more amazed at the fact that a shepherd had entered the town and wanted to speak rather than what they were actually saying. Perhaps the news of the baby sank in later after the shock of talkative shepherds had worn off.

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It is very comforting to know that God can use me as I am: somewhat quirky, often weak and scared. I feel like I am always living on the fringes, not always accepted by the church proper because I don’t always show the correct exterior or say the right things.But when God reaches out to someone like a shepherd, it shows me that I don’t have to be good to be a Christian. I don’t have to be smart to be a Christian. I don’t even have to brave and strong to be a Christian. What did the shepherds have going for them? Although they were good, smart, brave and strong in the ways the mattered to their profession, society wouldn’t have looked up to them. In fact, shepherds occupied one of the bottom rungs of the Judean social ladder. But they had the qualities that God needed. They were willing, faithful and obedient. Not that those qualities are any easier. I would say they are harder, but that is what we are called to. And it is what He will provide for you in the measure that you need it. Then stand back and let God handle the rest.

But God choose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise: God choose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:17

Paul continued this thought in his next letter to the Corinthians:

“For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Corinthians 12:10b

Maybe being on the quirky fringe isn’t so bad. Maybe it’s right where God wants me.

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That time I went apple picking with Santa

christmas-lightsAs my husband and I were putting up Christmas decorations yesterday, I was humming songs to myself and remembering when my kids were young and I would take them to see Santa. They would be so excited. Then I remembered an unusual Santa sighting I had about five or six years ago. My kids were high school age so they were way too cool to believe anymore but this Santa gave me pause to think.

It was late September and the apple trees on my property had produced some beautiful looking apples that fall. I still wouldn’t eat them, though. You see, the trees are about 60-70 years old and hadn’t been properly trimmed or pruned in at least 50 of those years. Apple trees only produce quality fruit for about 20 years and as the tree ages, the fruit loses its taste and crispness. Our trees had never been cut back so they were full grown trees rising 30 feet or so in the air. Though they looked beautiful in the spring, they are a pain in the fall. Dropped apples have to be raked off the ground so we don’t attract bees. When we first moved here 20 years ago, I had baked some pies with the apples and though the fruit was tasteless for eating, you could make a decent pie with them if you added enough sugar and cinnamon.

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That fall, the trees looked incredible with large heavy apple hanging from them. One afternoon, I heard a knock at the door. When I opened the door, I saw an elderly gentleman with wavy white hair and a full white beard. He had those crinkly blue eyes that make him look like he is always smiling.

“Good Afternoon, Madam” he began. I was staring at his t-shirt which had a picture of Santa in his sleigh with his reindeer swooshing across the sky. I looked at the t-shirt Santa and then looked up at the man’s face and thought, “No, couldn’t be”, but the resemblance was uncanny.

He laughed and pointed to the word “believe” written on his shirt, nodded his head and said, “I’m not in my usual work clothes today but you can believe what you are seeing!” I took a step back into the house while closing the door a bit for protection. “Can I help you?” I asked cautiously.

“Just saw those beautiful apples and wanted to ask your permission to come on your property and pick some. I can make some wonderful apple pies for some people who would appreciate them”, he said.

I kept shifting my eyes between the santa on the shirt and the Santa standing in front of me. Fearing retribution on December 24th, I didn’t want to take the chance of giving Santa old, tasteless apples to bake with. “They are not very tasty”, I warned him. “The trees are very old and the apples have no flavor anymore. They just look good but don’t taste very good, I’m afraid”.

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He crinkled up those blue eyes and let out a Santa laugh. “Don’t worry about that. I can work some early Christmas magic.”

Now it gets really strange because the next thing I know, I’m getting out the long apple picker from our garage and offering to help him. He didn’t want to be a bother and just applesaccepted the apple picker and went to work. He gathered about 2 baskets of apples, returned the picker and thanked me. I watched him drive off wondering what had just happened.

That was probably the last year that our aged trees produced any real apples although they bloom beautifully each spring. I never saw the man again and always wondered how those pies turned out and if the people he made them for truly enjoyed them. I don’t doubt that his “early Christmas magic” worked and he was able to make something tasty out of tasteless apples from old trees.

When I was very little, I used to think that Santa and God must be related somehow. They had so much in common. They both loved me and brought good things into my life. After the apple picking episode, I learned another similarity.

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God can take the junk in our lives and make the most beautiful art out of it.

God can take all the junk in my life, all my fear, doubt, anger and anxiety that hold me back and make a glorious painting that is the me He has always intended me to be. If Santa can make delicious pies out of inferior ingredients (and I have no doubt that he did), imagine what God can make out of us. If only we trust Him, If only we turn to Him in faith and stop trying to control God. Unlike Santa where we tell him what we want and expect him to bring it, God tells us to come Him with all our cares and worries and then step back and watch Him work. It may not always be brought to our homes with sleigh rides, jingling bells and flying reindeer but God will deliver what we need. And not just on Christmas Eve, but all year round.

So that’s my story of apple picking with Santa and all the strange ramblings of thought that came with that visit.

May your Christmas season be magical.

May your apple pies be flavorful.

And may the peace of Christ rule in your heart.

peace-of-christ

Merry Christmas!


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Just Believe

santa-2I worked in a restaurant in a local mall for many years. As you can imagine, I have lots of great stories from that job, but my favorite story happened one Christmas about 25 years ago. One of the waitresses was a local college student who had started with us over the summer. In September, her father was transferred to Colorado and the whole family moved with him. All except for Marianne. She was enrolled in a local college and working at the restaurant so she moved in with a family friend and waved her parents, brother and sisters good-bye as they boarded a plane for Denver. She worked hard both at school and at her job. She always had a melancholy air about her and talked constantly of taking a plane to visit her family over Christmas break. As the holidays approached, she tried to book a flight home. She could only leave on either the 23rd or 24th as she had exams and then wanted to work as many shifts as possible while the restaurant was still busy and people were in a generous tipping mood. Mare (as we called her) knew that by January, customers would not tip as well as they would before Christmas and she would still have books to buy for the spring semester. Unfortunately, all the flights were booked and she was put on stand-by. She was not given much hope since flights to Denver can fill up a year in advance with all those Christmas ski vacation packages that are offered.

When she came to work that evening after calling the airlines, she looked so sad. Mare continued to the back of the restaurant to hang up her coat and check in. It was only 5pm, but mall employees would be coming in for their dinner break.  Our first customer was the santa-3mall Santa. He just wanted a quick sandwich (nothing that would make a mess in his beard as he wasn’t allowed to be out of costume as long as he was inside the mall). The hostess led him to a table in Mare’s station. “Santa should bring a smile to her face”, she said as she winked at me. As Mare tied her apron on, the hostess told her she had a special customer waiting for her. Within a few minutes, Mare returned to the serving area with an incredulous look on her face. “The guy is nuts!” she whispered to me. “He really thinks he is Santa. He told me that I would get home for Christmas if I just believe. I hope she doesn’t seat him in my station again, he’s kinda creepy.”

Santa came in a few times a week for dinner right up until Christmas Eve. If Mare was working, he would smile at her and ask if a flight had opened up yet. She would shake her head but Santa would only smile and say, “you’ll be home for Christmas, I promise.” Talk about staying in character!

Each time I saw Mare I would ask her if she had gotten a ticket home. Each time she would answer, “no”, with tears close to her eyes. We all invited her to our family gatherings to let her know that she wouldn’t be alone, but it was no use. The kid just wanted to be with her family for Christmas.

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December 23rd – Mare bounded through the restaurant doors with a huge smile on her face gave everyone a hug. It turns out that there had been one cancellation and a ticket was available for the next afternoon! She would be sipping eggnog with her parents within 24 hours. As she turned around, there was Santa standing in the doorway, waiting for a table to eat his early dinner. When he saw her smiling, he laughed a big Santa laugh and said, “Just like I promised! Always believe!” I’ve never looked at a mall Santa the same again even after all these years.

It was easy to believe in Santa as a kid. It’s such a great story of a kind old gentleman who brings presents and Christmas joy. Yet, so many don’t want to believe in the original Christmas story of a kind God who brings us the present of His own Son and the joy of salvation. Why is one story harder to swallow than the other? Is childlike faith something that is reserved for childhood only?

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I think of Mary, who was given an impossible job by an impossible visitor – and she
believed with a childlike faith

I think of Joseph, who was told to marry the girl and raise a child who was not his own – and he believed with a childlike faith.

shepherdsImagine the shepherds blinded by the glory of God, a sight that must have terrified them – and they believed with a childlike faith.

The Magi who found the signs that they had sought for generations – and they believed with a childlike faith.magi

Churches all around the world will this month be celebrating the incredible story of a baby who would pave a way that all may choose to follow. If you listen, you will hear the story of a God who reached down through eternity to lift us up in His hands.

“We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved.”

Acts 15:11

I remember peeking out my bedroom window on Christmas eve to see if any reindeer had landed in my front yard. I fully expected to see them! I also remember scanning the night sky hoping to see a star brighter than any other. I believed then. As I look back, I can see that to believe in the impossible is not just a Christmas story but a Christian story and sometimes it can be understandably hard to accept it all. Yet, just today I spoke with a friend who has been fighting with God all his life. I have been praying for him, praying that he would experience the peace that comes with surrender to God. Today he told me that he had surrendered his life to God and has never been happier. It has been a hard battle for him but it is not over. We all fight some degree of this battle every day.

“I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”

Mark 9:24b

It is not an uncommon thing to struggle with belief. This Christmas, as we struggle with the difficult circumstances in our lives that make the road ahead look impossible, think of Mary’s faith, Joseph’s obedience and the awe of shepherds and magi. They made a choice to believe and let that choice steer their lives from that day forth.

 believe…santa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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After the Election (or how to run a race with grace and mercy)

 

joggerFor months now, I have seen a man jogging past my home around 7am each morning. He carries a plastic bag with him which flaps in the breeze as he runs by. It was the bag that caught my eye. He uses it to pick up trash along the way. This gentleman will bend and pick up the stray coffee cup or fast food wrapper and can do it while barely breaking his stride. He will even cross back and forth to either side of the road if he notices a piece of paper on the opposite side on his morning run.

I live on a main road in my town so there is much traffic, both cars, joggers and people walking and that means a lot of garbage can get tossed aside. I regularly pick up papers and sometimes bottles and cans along the front of my property. This guy is the only person I have seen in 20 plus years of living here who not just joins me in cleaning up my property but he does this for every property he passes through. He is my hero.

As I was sipping my morning tea and gazing out the window, I saw him jog by. He bent over three times in front of my house and another two times at my neighbor’s home. In the background, I had the TV tuned to the morning news and the reporter was shouting about the “Race to the Finish” and what the presidential candidates would be spending their days doing.

As with so many others, I have felt great stress and anxiety over this election. I am afraid images (4)for my country and its citizens.  But this man and his simple act of community service have helped me refocus. This jogger has found a way to focus his end results, yet never so much that he misses what is right in front of him. He has made a decision to leave a better world in his wake, one piece of garbage at a time. He runs with an attitude of mercy for those who made the mess and displays grace when he pitches in to help clean up. Imagine what kind of world we would have if we all adopted this attitude. Rather than an inward focus which causes us to either ignore or complain about problems, what if we lived life with merciful and grace-filled eyes that would compel us to do more than just see the injustices that occur every day. Rather than shaking our fist at the car speeding by and throwing a McDonald’s wrapper out the window, maybe we simply picked up the wrapper, slipped it in our bag and carried on with our race barely breaking stride.

…live a life a love…

Ephesians 5:2

I am trying to adopt this attitude. While I have my own race to run, I don’t want to continue to miss what is right around me because I am so focused on end results. It’s a classic “stop and smell the roses” scenario. But this time, rather than just appreciate the beauty around me, take a minute to reach down and do my part in beautifying the spot that I find myself in.

il_570xn-729678921_t7xrAfter the election tomorrow, our country will refocus on the issues that face our nation. But we as individuals still have a job to do. Commit with me to leave this world a better place by rooting our actions in mercy and grace each day. Rather than looking for someone to blame for leaving garbage in my path, take a moment to bend down and dispose of the trash. Then continue on your way knowing that what you left behind is a bit cleaner, maybe even a bit better than it had been.

He has shown you, O Man, what is good, and what does the LORD require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. 

Micah 6:8

 

 

 

 


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Don’t Give up America

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One year, my church decided to give us kids little gifts on our birthdays. Maybe there was a little extra in the budget. More likely I just had a Sunday School teacher with a soft heart. In September, my friend got a fun pencil set. In October my sister got some sort of fall decoration that was beautiful. I couldn’t wait until November because that was my birth month. The first Sunday in November, the teacher asked who had a birthday coming (looking straight at me!). I jumped up to claim my gift. I opened the box and found two little black and white pilgrim candles. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful but what seven year old gets excited about pilgrim candles. I was disappointed but dutifully smiled my thanks to a well-meaning and very kind teacher. I didn’t want to hurt her feeling, but – candles? What a letdown.

But that’s the thing about November. It comes on the heels of autumn leaves against windy-day-leaves-1brilliant blue skies, apple picking, apple cider, hay rides and pumpkin carving. November 1st comes right after the sugar high of Halloween and getting to wear the costume that you spent all week working on. By November, most of those leaves have fallen and the few that are still holding on have traded their orange and deep red tones for a quieter soft brown. The trees are taking on a skeletal look as they stretch bony fingers against grey skies. People may decorate their homes with a token pumpkin and cornstalk but not much else. It’s the calm before the storm as they wait for the annual frenzy of Christmas lights. November and Thanksgiving are the quiet time between the “real holidays”.

But this year may be different with all the election hubbub that is swirling around us. I don’t know what will happen on November 8th. I have no words of wisdom to ease worried minds. Only this – November in an election year is a force to be reckoned with. Every news media outlet will be broadcasting right up till the last ballot is counted and the nation will turn weary and worried eyes to the headlines for that first stormy week or so. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the choices we are being faced with. It’s so easy to say, “I’m done, stick a fork in this November turkey.” But don’t. Don’t give up America. On November 9th, we will still have a country. It will look different and hopefully, we will start to see differences in our political parties as the effects of this hurricane of an election blow through.

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And something else to remember. On November 9th, God will still be God. He will still love you. He will still reach out to you. He will still guide you along the path the He has laid out. He longs to comfort you. Don’t give up, America.