Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever--Still a Great Christmas Story

I promise I'm not lazy. It's just that this morning at church I was  reminded of my favorite Christmas story (other than the original one), so I dusted off a post from Christmas 2013. The funny, poignant tale of an almost de-railed Christmas pageant still brings me to tears, and the message behind it rings as true as ever. If you've never read it, do yourself a favor. Purchase a copy and make reading it a Christmas tradition

Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Does the Christmas Story Confuse You?

What would Christmas be without a bit of confusion? Seven years ago grandson Brooks--two at the time--had this experience. Then a week or so ago, my daughter Kristin received an email from number two son's first-grade teacher explaining that when she had asked who in the class celebrated or knew someone who celebrated Hanakkuh, seven-year-old Bennett raised his hand. The teacher invited Kristin to come and share with the class ways in which she celebrates the Jewish festival.
It was a nice idea, and Kristin would’ve been only too happy to comply, but there was one little problem: She isn’t Jewish. And while she knows a lot about Christmas traditions, to my knowledge she has never participated in a Hanakkuh celebration.
When asked about it, Bennett said, “Mom, I thought you celebrated Hanukkah.” Further questioning revealed he’d confused Hanukkah with Advent—perfectly understandable in a seven-year-old.

I’m still laughing about this, picturing Kristin’s face as she read the email. But this episode also has me contemplating the idea that many Christians—even long-time ones—experience confusion about the faith they’ve chosen to follow. And not just at Christmas time.

And I think that’s okay.

One of the most reassuring statements I ever heard from a Bible scholar was “If you can’t live with questions, you’ll have a hard time being a Christian.” For years, I’d read with great interest books on Christian apologetics, seeking to alleviate my confusion with some of the more difficult concepts of the faith:
—Did all the Old Testament stories really happen?
—How is Jesus fully God and fully man?
—Why do innocents suffer?
—What is heaven like? Where is it located?
I felt I needed to defend my beliefs by presenting the logic or reasoning behind them. And when I couldn’t come up with absolute answers, I was frustrated. 

Being granted permission to have questions brought me to a place of peace and to a stronger faith. I now realize God doesn’t need me to “prove” His existence. He offered evidence of it long before I came on the scene. God doesn’t need me to answer questions people have been asking for millennia. And, frankly, I wouldn’t trust anyone who claimed to have all the answers, anyone who didn’t acknowledge a bit of confusion. The Apostle Paul himself admitted to seeing through a glass darkly, knowing only in part.

I still gain Christian inspiration from reading what Bible scholars and theologians offer in the way of explaining difficult concepts. But I read them for my own enlightenment and consideration, not with the intent of clearing up all confusion, whether mine or someone else’s.

The season of Advent is when Christians set aside time to reflect on Christmas—the time when God came to Earth as a baby. A baby who in adulthood willingly became the sacrifice to assure hope, peace, joy, love, and eternal life to all who believed in Him. 

Do I have the answers to all the hows and whys of this supernatural occurrence? I don’t. But I do know it happened. And about that, I have no confusion.

In this season of Advent, may you embrace the Wonder, the Awe, the Confusion, and the Certainty of the Christmas story.


Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Friendship International: A Miracle

My current English class includes these beautiful ladies from
Iran, Bangladesh, Morocco, South Korea, and China
Shortly after Some Form of Grace was published, a lady in my exercise class asked me if I would speak to a literature class she taught. Always looking for a way to promote my book, I told her I would be happy to. My book “gig” turned into an opportunity to connect with Friendship International, an international ministry that teaches English to a group of ladies from all over the world. 

I showed up at my first FI event—the 2018-19 welcome tea—unsure of what to expect, but it didn’t take long to get caught up in the excitement of both the staff and the returning students. Hugs and shouts of greetings and laughter filled the church assembly space. I quickly became aware that this program is not solely about teaching/learning English. It is about developing relationships and demonstrating Christian love a very tangible way.

Friendship International began in 1977, when a group of women from three area Southern Baptist churches began teaching English to international wives living near then Central State campus. The teachers began this ministry as a way to share Christ’s love, but they soon became aware of another need in their students’ lives—the need for friends, for community. Unable to speak English or drive and having small children to care for, the international ladies spent most of their time in their apartments. Their husbands, who attended classes during the day and spent evenings studying, provided their wives little relief from their isolation. After several months of prayer and planning and with the help of Dr. Ronald Paddock, the church ladies formed Friendship International Wives’ and Children’s Program. The name was later changed to Friendship International Women’s Program to include the expanding group of women who are in this country for a variety of reasons. The organization offers classes in English, Bible, citizenship, cooking, sewing, quilting, painting, embroidery, literature, and choir.
Nena Thomas who teaches the sewing class made
these darling Christmas trees--over 20!--to decorate the tables.

Friendship provides a place for ladies of different cultures and religious backgrounds to gather and be free from judgment for their countries’ politics or religious beliefs. So far this year, Friendship volunteers have had the privilege to share God’s word with ladies from thirty-five different countries. Few places in this world can lay claim to hosting to such an extraordinary event: Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu women—and even those subscribing to atheism—willingly attending a Christian church gathering while aware a Bible message will be shared.
No matter the country or culture, women are women, sharing desires and hopes for a better world for their families and friends. Friendship International relishes the opportunity to encourage them in the pursuit of these hopes and to plant the Truth of God’s Word in their hearts.

This is my second year to participate in FI, and I have been blessed in numerous ways. Last week, we held the annual Christmas brunch. Along with beautiful decorations and delicious food so lovingly prepared by the staff, music was provided by the choir. Listening to ladies from all over the globe sing of the birth of Christ is a true Christmas miracle. I never felt the hope for "peace on Earth" more strongly.