Paying for the Privilege

I read a most astonishing article some time ago. Wealthy white American women are paying up to $2,500 for a meal and a gut-wrenching session about how racist and bigoted they are. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/03/race-to-dinner-party-racism-women?fbclid=IwAR12AvWdTyht5RV0vfBfZ5XUEnA4441GU8efLSX8xtdfePI2R9KEesCipI8 Over a fancy dinner, they discuss how their privilege has (arguably) caused them to ignore and/or deny the needs and rights of others, based largely on prejudices and fear.

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I won’t waste space to analyze all that I think is wrong with this scenario– but I will say the following:

  • $2,500 is a lot of money for most Americans, let alone many others around the world It’s more than most people spend in a month for groceries, utilities, and more, let alone one meal.
  • Talk is (according to the old phrase) cheap.
  • If having difficult talks over a plate of overpriced pasta and wine could really solve major problems, I’m shocked that we still have so many problems in the world!

I’m dismayed by this article. I hope that some good comes from these efforts, but I don’t expect such tactics to end racism, bigotry, or ignorance. These women are paying for a privilege on top of all their other privileges– the right to feel righteous and “woke” to lingering problems that have never personally touched them. It would not occur to them to invite 10 women who don’t look like them, don’t live like them, don’t speak like them, and don’t dress like them to come and share their dinner. They would not share their hospitality, their fine china, or their fancy dessert with a working-class woman with olive skin and an accent, or a single mother fighting to make ends meet and losing the battle– of any skin color. They might give another $2,500 to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen across town– they would not befriend anyone who needed those services, however.

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Most importantly, they are likely to believe that by “owning” their prejudices for an hour, they are absolved of their responsibility to “love their neighbor as themselves.” They can be comfortable in the belief that their feelings “do them credit” and make them better than others who “are in denial” about their “subconscious biases” and “micro-aggressions” toward the people with whom they interact (or routinely ignore). They may take high-minded actions to force the government to “deal with” people less fortunate than they, but they will take no steps to get involved personally with the families who suffer from injustice and poverty just outside the gates of their exclusive communities.

But another more insidious problem with the article is the way I can choose to respond to it. Articles like this are designed (on some level) to create anger, division, and a sense of disgust toward those who are considered “privileged.” I look at the hypocrisy outlined in this article, and I may assume that “privileged” rich white people are all alike. I may assume that the “problem” is their affluence and their indifference– that if they could be “made to” care more, or made to pay “their fair share”, poverty would disappear, and with it, prejudice and other issues that separate the “privileged” from the “rest of us.”

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But poverty, prejudice, injustice, and other issues are symptoms of a much greater problem– Sin. And Sin is a problem that can never be solved by sitting down over a meal or writing a large check or even learning empathy with others who suffer. In one very large sense, we all are “paying a price” for Sin. We live in a broken world, where Sin and its effects are felt by all. Even wealthy, healthy, “privileged” people suffer heartache, betrayal, loneliness, confusion, addiction, and loss. None of us has the “privilege” of being untouched by Sin.

And while each of us can and should be active in helping to mitigate the effects of Sin, we cannot eliminate them. We can never “pay” enough to make Sin and its consequences “go away.” Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ can do that. The real “privilege” in life is not great wealth, or social standing. It isn’t comfort and the ability to shell out a month’s wages for a single uncomfortable meal. It isn’t the temporary feeling of being more “virtuous” than one’s neighbor–and that brings me to reflect on my own actions and beliefs.

What “privileges” do I take for granted? What makes me feel “virtuous?” What makes me feel guilty or ashamed, that I would “pay” to have someone else make me feel “enlightened?” Jesus doesn’t call me to “feel” virtuous. He calls me to follow Him and become more virtuous. He has already paid far more than a month’s wages (or even a lifetime’s wages) to redeem me from Sin’s curse, and allow me to live with peace and joy– no matter my financial or social circumstances! I have the very real “privilege” of knowing Him! And so can anyone else who puts their trust in Him. Through Him, we have riches that cannot be sold, bought, lost, or traded. But they can be shared! I cannot rid the world of poverty, prejudice, greed, injustice, or death. But I can help others find strength, hope, relief, and joy in their journey, as I point them to the Savior. I can’t give a thousand dollars, but I can give a few dollars to a local food bank, or volunteer time to help others. I can share food or water or clothes with someone who is in need just down the street. I can listen to someone who needs a friend, and I can offer to serve where someone needs a helping hand. I can also give the benefit of a doubt instead of harsh judgment– even to those who seem hypocritical or “unenlightened” in their earthly “privilege.”

Lord, my prayer today is that I would pour out compassion– even on the ladies in this article–and on all who need it most. Your heart is that all of us would live in peace and lovingkindness. Help me to see my neighbors as you see them–ALL my neighbors. All the time.

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The real privilege is not of wealth or comfort. The real privilege is to learn to love and be loved as Jesus loves– freely, sacrificially, whole-heartedly and without limit. May we celebrate in that privilege today.

What God Didn’t Give Me

I’m very grateful for all the many blessings that God has given me– for Salvation, most of all. But God has blessed me with family, health, freedom, and so many other wonderful things. But there are several things God didn’t give me. Some of them are things I wanted (or thought I needed!) Others are things I never even imagined.

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God didn’t give me a pony when I was younger. God didn’t give me blonde hair. God didn’t give me the genetics to be 5’9″ tall, athletic, and thin– I never became a ballerina or a model. God didn’t make it possible for me to study in France my junior year of college like I had wanted. God didn’t see fit to make “Mr. Right” fall in love with me in high school or college. God didn’t give me children to raise. God didn’t let my father live long enough to walk me down the aisle when I finally got married. And I never won the lottery (probably because I don’t play!– but still…)

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It’s very human to look around and see what others have that we might desire– things that God did not choose to give us; even things that God has taken from us–and feel resentment, envy, and even anger. But we rarely look at those things others have that we would NOT desire. And we rarely look back and see how things we thought we wanted would not have been good for us, or how God removed things from our lives–even good things–for a better purpose. Sometimes, we cannot know or understand such things this side of heaven. But it might be a good practice once in awhile to look back and see what God DIDN’T give us– and thank Him for His wisdom and provision!

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God allowed me to get chicken pox as a child– but He didn’t let me get Polio, or Diphtheria, Scarlet Fever or Whooping Cough. God didn’t give me blue eyes like my dad– but He didn’t give me Dad’s color-blindness, either. God prevented me from going on a date with one cute and popular boy who asked me out in high school. And the one in college. And the one I worked with. But God delivered me to my husband a virgin, and free of the guilt and shame of a string of failed relationships. God took my father at age 68. But He healed my father after a heart attack at age 50 (the reason I never got to study in France). We had and “extra” 18 years with Dad, and while Dad was sick most of the last years of his life, we didn’t have to see him suffer years of pain, misery, and helplessness. And about that semester in France? Some of my friends went that year– and they were plagued by injuries, nationwide strikes, and other issues. God knew what I wanted in each case; He also knew what was best for me.

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Last year, I was diagnosed with Diabetes. God did not “give” me Diabetes. (That’s another mistake we often make.) God gives good gifts. (James 1:17) But we live in a fallen and imperfect world. Disease, injustice, pain, and heartache are part of this world. Someday, God will redeem the world and put an end to all of these, but for now, there is no guarantee that God will keep us in perfect health or happiness. So I’m Diabetic. I’m not grateful because I have the disease, but I am grateful for so many things related to it. I am grateful that I live in a time when treatments are both available and accessible. I am grateful that I was diagnosed, rather than suffering a coma or dying without help. I am grateful that I have access to healthful foods and the ability to exercise– two things necessary to keep the Diabetes under control. I am grateful that I lived for so many years without the disease. I am grateful for a supportive husband and family members who help keep me motivated. And I am grateful that nothing about having Diabetes changes IN ANY WAY God’s love for me, and His plans to give me eternal life in Him!

Are there things, people, or situations in your life that God DIDN’T give you? Healing that was denied, or blessings withheld? Hurtful things that He allowed to happen in your life? That He took away from your life? God doesn’t want us to pretend that all is perfect in our world. He knows the pain of NOT getting what we wanted, and the agony of losing what we did want. But He also knows the joy that we haven’t yet experienced– the joy of renewal; the joy of restoration; and the joy of completion.

God didn’t give me a pony– nor the hard work of caring for it, or the heartbreak of losing it. God didn’t let me date the popular boy– but He gave me a man of gentleness and integrity. God didn’t give me children to raise, but He gave me grown children, and grandchildren to love. God didn’t “give” me the semester in France, but He did give me opportunities to meet people from France. He gave me opportunities to use the French language I studied– in Florida, Texas, and even the Dominican Republic! God didn’t let my father walk me down the aisle at my wedding. But He allowed Dad and David to meet and even know each other– years before we were married. God didn’t give me perfect health here on Earth– but there will be no disease or death in Heaven.

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Thank you, God, for all that you have given me– even Diabetes–and for all that you have allowed to shape my life. Help me see You in every detail of my life– the pleasant, the painful, the difficult, and the mysterious– and to praise You in every circumstance. Thank you for today, and for all the plans you have for it, and for me. Thank You for being You!

The Lion’s Share

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
Therefore I will wait for Him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24
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We live in a world of seemingly finite resources. We work hard to save money, save time, protect our joints, take care of our teeth, maintain our house or yard, repair our vehicle, conserve water, protect our air quality, etc.. And we work hard to ensure that we get our “fair share”–vacation time, wages, tax breaks, sale prices, the best return on our investments, the lot with the best view, the window seat on the plane or bus, credit for our hard work, and more.

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God’s resources are unlimited and bountiful. Through Christ, we are joint heirs to all the riches of God. God is our “portion.” And no one who trusts in Him will be left with less than a cup filled to overflowing (Psalm 23:5). We may not fully comprehend or receive our great good fortune in this life, but we will enjoy it the next for eternity! And there is no need to scramble and scrimp, worry, or wrangle trying to get it– it’s our promised “portion” and our inheritance.

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What a world of worry, stress, desperation, and trouble we might avoid if we carried this promise in our memory and LIVED it out. The prophet Jeremiah wrote these words– Jeremiah, the weeping prophet; Jeremiah, whose life was in constant danger as he watched his homeland being invaded, conquered, and exiled. Jeremiah, in the midst of his anguish, took time to write some of the most hopeful and joyful words of prophecy. Jeremiah knew that, even if the nation of Judah was conquered and destroyed, the LION of Judah would still bring ultimate victory. And to the victor belong the “spoils!” Jesus is our victor and our victory. His are the spoils of war to lavish upon those He chooses.

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Jesus (called the Lion of Judah, an image found in both Genesis and Revelation) has already given us victory over Sin and Death. And the “Lion’s Share” of the spoils– abundant life, restoration, redemption, and the Righteousness of God– are for all those who call on His name and worship Him in Spirit and in Truth! He’s reserved a “Lion’s Share” for each of us.

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“The Lord is my portion; Therefore, I will wait for Him.” ” I will trust and not be afraid.” (Isaiah 12:2) “You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (James 5:8) https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Waiting-On-The-Lord (See also Psalm 37)

Instead of scrambling for a “lion’s share” today, let’s call on the Lion, and allow Him to give us our “daily bread,” knowing that His portion is more than sufficient today and forever!

Looking Back

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Another year is nearing an end, and it is common to look back and take stock of what the year has brought to, taken from, or challenged us with…

It can also be a time of regret– things not done, opportunities not taken, mistakes not corrected, hopes and dreams unrealized.

I keep two journals– a daily planner, filled with goals I hope to accomplish and plans I hope to fulfill; and my prayer journal, filled with requests, praises, answers to prayer, and names of people and places I wish to lift up in prayer. I spent some time the other day remembering and reflecting on this past year.

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As I stop to pray over the next/last few days of 2022, I want to remember two things in particular: God knew everything that would happen this year. And God was “there” for everything that happened; not just aware of what was going on, but as close as our own breath–loving, caring, and providing strength and comfort in every moment. He shared our tears and our laughter, and sent us mercies in the form of friends, neighbors, and even strangers– “angels unaware.”

God knew that on January fifth, my mother would fall and break her leg, starting her on a sixth month odyssey of hospitalization, rehabilitation, assisted living, and finally, moving into a new living arrangement near my sister’s house. He knew that my mother-in-law would fall the very next day, breaking her leg and requiring a similar journey through hospitalization, and two nursing homes, before finally being able to return to her home before Christmas.

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God knew that I would be diagnosed with diabetes, and that David would face a challenging wound in his leg this year. Our lives and routines have been altered in ways we could never have predicted.

God knew that our extended family would face divorce, death, illness, job changes, and more. He knew that members of our church family would face cancer, heart disease, and death; just as many others would experience healing, weddings, and new birth.God knew what would happen worldwide– the death of a Queen, the changing of world leaders, war, famine, earthquakes and blizzards and hurricanes.

And God was there for every moment, joyous or terrifying; heart-breaking and uplifting moments, personal triumphs and worldwide tragedies. Miracles and losses, devastating news from the doctor, and joyous answers to prayer.

Looking back can be painful. Dwelling in the past–even on good memories, can be unproductive. But looking back to see how God has provided in our need, given us strength for life’s challenges, and brought unexpected opportunities gives us cause to sing praises and cause to hope for the coming year.

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Thank you God! Thank you for bringing us through another year– hopefully wiser and closer to You. Thank you for the opportunities you’ve given, and those you will bring into our lives in the year to come. Prepare us to be patient, hopeful, strong, and kind in the time to come. And help us to share this hope and strength, kindness and endurance to those around us, by pointing them to You. Amen!

…And His Own Received Him Not

Today is Boxing Day. Some people will leave their Christmas decorations up for awhile longer; maybe even until after the New Year. Others will box up all the holiday trappings for next year. But the boxes and bags that held gifts yesterday are likely put away– some put aside; others in the trash. We laugh about toddlers and pets being more fascinated with the boxes than with the gifts inside, but most of us tear off the paper and rip open the boxes to get to the “good stuff” hidden inside. The ribbons and bows, the gift card holders and glittery greeting cards, while they delight us in the moment, pale in comparison to the gifts and the thoughts behind them.

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What a shame it would be if all the wonderful gifts under the tree remained unopened– boxed away for another year, just to be placed back under a Christmas tree in 2023. What a useless tradition it would be to give gifts that were never opened or used, or even seen!

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And yet…the Greatest gift of all–the very reason for the Christmas season– often remains boxed up and carefully preserved for another year. “Jesus is the reason for the Season,” as some people say. But have we RECEIVED Him? Have we opened up the gift of His coming; of His offer of salvation and reconciliation– or do we just enjoy the idea of the Baby in the Manger and the Wise Men coming from afar and offering gifts; the angels singing in the night sky, and the gentle animals in the stall?

The Gospel writer and Apostle John wrote that Jesus “came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” (John 1:11) God so Loved the world that He gave His son (John 3:16), but the gift remained unopened and ignored by those who should have welcomed Him. He grew up and lived among them– healed their diseases, spoke comfort and truth, laughed and shared sorrows with them– and they cried out, “Crucify Him!” God’s “one-size-fits-all” perfect gift– the “gift that keeps on giving” eternally!–was despised and rejected. And the Gift is still rejected, ignored, scorned, and unopened today.

All the splendor and glitter of the Christmas season will fade away– the decorations will go back in their boxes; the wrappings and trimmings will be forgotten. But the Gift! Let’s bring it out and use it– revel in it; wonder at it. God with Us. God reaching down and out and beyond to bring us Home–forever! And God giving us the privilege and the power to BE His hands and feet and eyes and lips as we minister to those around us! God holding us close as sons and daughters. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name..”(John 1:12) When we open this gift, we are not just recipients, not merely believers or followers– we are Children of God.

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Lord, help me not make the grave mistake of taking your incredible gift and leaving it in a box, or worse, opening it up and putting it back in a box for later. Help me to live in the “present”– in every way– and to enjoy the privilege of being Your child forever. Amen!

Christmas Prayer

Father, this Christmas, I want to

Confess that I have not really comprehended what Christmas really means. There are times throughout this year when I have not made “room in the inn;” I have not welcomed Christ in the “least of these.” I have not followed the star, or listened to the message of the angels. I have not come to the manger with gifts. I have been like the people of Bethlehem– asleep and unaware of the miracles taking place under my nose. I have not acknowledged that you are

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Here. Not just that you came. Not just that you lived, and died, and rose again. But that you are present with me–Now! Every moment! Forever. Here. Not just beside me, but indwelling…living in me and working through me, flawed and cracked vessel that I am. Living in and working through other ordinary people You send into my life (as You send me into theirs).

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Righteous Redeemer, help me to understand better Your Wisdom, Your Power, Your Glory, and Your Holiness. You did not come to rescue us from some failed plan or cosmic mistake. You are altogether perfect in Your plan of Salvation. Even when I cannot understand Your ways, they are higher and better than anything I can imagine. And Christmas, with all its wonder and glory and contradiction was never a surprise to YOU. It wasn’t Plan B. It was timed down to the minute, scripted to the very last detail, and part of the eternal plan of Salvation.

Inspire me again with the wonder of Your Mercy and Grace. Help me to experience the Joy of the Shepherds, the Awe of the Magi, and the Hush of Heaven as You left Your throne to become a little lower than the angels who shouted Your Glory into the darkness.

Send me, as you sent the Shepherds, to make known Your wonders, as you sent the Angels to tell of Your Good News of Great Joy, and as you sent Your Son into the world to make reconciliation. Strengthen me as an instrument of Your Grace, as a Witness of Your Might, and as an Ambassador of Your Love.

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Transform my thinking. Build my Trust in You, that I would spend less time fretting about my daily needs and the unforeseen circumstances of my days, and more time praising You for what you have done, and will do, and are doing. Help me to embrace Your

Might, Your Majesty, and Your mystery. That the same voice that spoke galaxies into being and the same right arm that raised up empires was wrapped up in rags and laid in a Manger, meek and tiny. That Your glory was hidden in a cattle stall in a quiet village of a conquered nation. That Your plan to bring us life involved Your own painful death at the hands of people You had raised up to power That all of Eternity could be changed in a single instant, even as the Earth slept.

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Accept my adoration, incomplete and uncomprehending as it is. And equip me to Act in ways that bring You Glory and Honor. Advance Your Kingdom, and Thank You for making it possible to be reconciled to You.

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Sovereign Savior and Gracious Shepherd, let Christmas be born in me anew this season. Let me grow in Faith and Obedience. Let me shine like that first star– drawing others to worship You.

Amen.

Joy(?) to The World

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I don’t know about you, but I sometimes have problems with Advent Season. On the one hand, it’s a season of joy and wonder; a season of anticipation and expectation. But I find myself contemplating…and as the days get darker, earlier, and the snow falls, then melts, leaving everything brown and gray, I can’t seem to hang on to the joy. It slips through my fingers, leaving me thoughtful and even a little depressed.

I also find myself looking at the glitter and listening to the peppy music of the season and feeling as though all the “Merry” in Christmas is just a soap bubble, waiting to burst. I don’t watch much television, but it seems that every year the “holiday” specials and TV ads get more artificial and shallow. “Buy this!” “Turn up the Tunes!” “Wear THIS to the Holiday party!” “Eat this– Drink that!” “Get away from it all!” It’s more about escaping the ordinary, rather than celebrating the extraordinary gift of God’s Son. The more I try to get “into the Spirit” of the season, the more I seem to miss it…

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It is important to remember that this extraordinary Joy came INTO and THROUGH the ordinary. The angels didn’t announce to the shepherds that they could escape their duties and run off to a vacation cruise; Mary and Joseph didn’t celebrate their first Christmas surrounded by lights and mugs of hot cocoa. The wise men didn’t have a brand new GPS device to help them find their destination, or tasty cookies and fruit baskets to make the journey more “fun.” This “good news of great joy” was the birth of a child– an ordinary event–except that THIS birth was the fulfillment of God’s Promise and the Way, the Truth, and the Life!

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Many millions of people today will not have joyful circumstances to make the season “Merry and Bright.” But they can experience true Joy– the kind that comes from Knowing Jesus–and not just for a day or a season, but forever, in spite of difficulties, pain, and struggle. There IS joy in the journey, but it doesn’t always manifest as mirth and comfort.

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This season, it is our privilege as Christians to offer a different level of Joy to the World–the Joy of forgiveness; the joy of belonging; the joy of eternal Hope and Peace. It may not be in laughter or singing. It may be in holding a hand at the side of a hospital bed. It may be in sharing tears with those who are suffering. It may be sharing a crust of bread with real thankfulness, instead of a feast with stress. Joy doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t require wrapping paper sugar sprinkles. The best gifts we can give this season don’t have to be filled with merriment and laughter. They don’t have to be expensive or even filled with thoughtful intent. They should be the spontaneous response of love and compassion for those around us. Let’s give lots of hugs, smiles, and small tokens of respect and appreciation this year. After all, God’s great gift– the greatest of all– began as a tiny, wailing infant, hidden away in a spare stable, wrapped in rags. But “Behold!” It is still bringing great joy all over the world. (Luke 2:10)

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Let’s not trade certain Joy for temporary mirth this season. Reflect on the Reason, and not just the Season!

It Came Without Ribbons…

In the Dr. Seuss classic, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” the bitter and devious Grinch tries to “steal” Christmas from the village of Whoville. He steals all the things the Whos of the village seem to need in order to celebrate a holiday he hates. He hates their gift exchanges, their feasting, their singing, and their general happiness, all of which serve to remind him of his own loneliness and gloom.

With mounting glee, the Grinch proceeds to pile up his hoard of goodies– presents, decorations, food, anything that could serve to make the holiday cheery and bright. He loads up all his stolen loot and takes it to the top of a mountain, where he plans to dump it. But first, he stops to savor the shock and pain he expects to hear as the Whos discover that their holiday has been ruined. He waits in the cold of a clear dawn to hear wailing and lamenting, but the sound he hears instead is singing…the Whos have come together to sing a hymn of gratitude and peace. There is no lamenting; there is no distress. Instead there is a peaceful acceptance that the new day has brought joy and goodwill that has nothing to do with all the trappings of celebration.

He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming. It came!
Somehow or other it came just the same.
And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so?
It came without ribbons. It came without tags.
It came without packages, boxes or bags.
And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!–Dr. Seuss
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The first Christmas came without any of the festive trappings we’ve added over the years. There were no groups of cheery carolers; no jingle bells and tinsel; no greeting cards or candy canes. Jesus came in the dead of night, in the midst of chaos and terror, as people were groaning under the oppression of an invading empire, being forced to travel long distances to be counted and taxed by their oppressors. There were no Christmas parties, no brightly decorated trees, no stockings filled with treats, no cookies and cocoa on a cold night. The gifts would come later– and they would be followed by death threats and exile! But Jesus came! He came just the same!

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This year, Christmas will come– with or without ribbons or tags. Christmas will come to those who are homeless, and those who are lonely in palaces and mansions. Christmas will come in spite of efforts to erase the holiday from our culture. It will come just like the dawn of each new day– quiet in its wonder and glorious in its simplicity. Christmas doesn’t come wrapped in shiny paper or announced with blaring horns and neon lights. Christmas comes just as Christ came so many years ago–wrapped in rags, laid in a straw bed on a cold, dark night; announced to simple people going about their business, signaled by a single star ignored by most, wondered at by others. Christmas will seep into the hearts and eyes of those with child-like faith and willing to sing when things are darkest.

God chooses to come in simplicity– He creeps like the dawning day; He sighs like a gentle breeze; He comes as a harmless infant, or a wandering teacher and healer. And when our Christmas Day comes without ribbons and boxes or feasting and lights– it will come just the same. Christ will enter darkened hotel rooms and alleys, He will sit beside hospital beds and in makeshift refugee shelters. He will sneak into homes where Christians huddle in secret, and He will knock gently on the doors of the lonely and the lost. Because Christmas DOESN’T come from a store. It doesn’t come from our bounty and our glittering decorations. It comes from the heart– the heart of God, who SO loved the world, that He came! And He will come this year, just the same!

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Fruitcake?

Poor Fruitcake– the butt of dozens of Christmas jokes. Someone once said that there were 20 Fruitcakes produced in France in 1541– and they are all still in circulation today! I know a few people who like fruitcake, but most people just make fun of it. Technically, it IS a cake, but it is mostly made up of fruit and nuts soaked in rum or brandy or candied for preservation. Fruitcakes can be mailed, shipped, and saved for months without rotting, but the fruits never taste fresh, and much of their flavor is overwhelmed by the sugars used to preserve them. Fruitcake is heavy, and sweet. It is full of things that are “good for you,” but the end result is not very healthful.

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I was reading the other day in Galatians, and a couple of days later in Philippians– two passages that speak of Christians producing fruit. Our lives are to be characterized by virtues and acts of service that bring health and healing, joy and peace to those around us. And these virtues are the products of our Faith in Action– of The Holy Spirit working in and through us.

22 But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23 gentleness and self-control; and here there is no conflict with Jewish laws.

Galatians 5:22-23 (Living Bible–emphasis added)

 So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

Phillipians 1:9-11 (The Message–emphasis added)
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“Fruit of the Spirit” is not something we can manufacture ourselves. Only God’s Spirit at work IN us can produce such fruit. And, while it is Fruit that will last, it doesn’t need to be dried or candied or soaked for preservation. Unlike the fruit in Fruitcake, the Fruit of the Spirit is eternally fresh and bursting with life and flavor. There is nothing wrong or evil about Holiday Fruitcake. But it cannot compare with fresh fruit for wholesomeness and healthfulness.

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Sometimes, we try to manufacture our own “Fruit of the Spirit.” And this can be far worse than a harmless but calorie-laden Holiday Fruitcake. Even those who are opposed to Christ can manufacture a certain amount of Joy, or Patience, or Self-Control. Anyone can appear Gentle or Kind when they choose. But, separated from the source of life and growth, we cannot produce fresh fruit. Our Joy may be soaked in Rum. Our Patience may dry up. Our Kindness may be candy-sweet, but hiding malicious or selfish motives. Or we may surround our fruit with worldly “wisdom,” disguising and transforming it with cake and nuts.

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This holiday season, let’s not become dried out or artificially sweetened in our acts of service and Love. Let’s be producers of Godly Fruit– Love that reaches out to the Lost, the lonely, and the “unlovable” with true love and not just sentimentality; Joy that bubbles up from a thankful heart and a transformed mind; Peace that transcends our current trials and circumstances; Patience that endures hardship without losing hope; Kindness that wraps itself around the unworthy and never tires; Goodness that knows no conceit and seeks no credit; Faithfulness that inspires and produces hope in a faithless world; Gentleness that smooths over troubled waters without being overcome; and a rock-solid Self-Control and steadiness that produces trust– not in our own power or wisdom, but in the One who produces it in our lives. We should be humble and grateful, teachable, and ready to forgive, encourage, and pray for others.

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Don’t be a Fruitcake this Christmas– be a Fruit Basket instead!

That Makes Me White as Snow…

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
For my cleansing this I see—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
For my pardon this my plea—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Nothing can my sin erase
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Naught of works, ’tis all of grace—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
This is all my hope and peace—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
This is all my righteousness—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

What Can Wash Away My Sin (Nothing But the Blood of Jesus) by Robert Lowry (emphasis added)
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Last week, I was out shoveling snow. It is not unheard of for us to get snow at this time of year, but it is not usual to have this much, this early. I don’t like shoveling, but I love watching the snow fall– thousands of individual flakes floating around, glinting in the light, and turning everything a pure, sparkling white.

It doesn’t last– the snow gets blown around, and the snow near the streets gets brown and dingy from the traffic. It turns slushy or gets piled up into heaps like so much garbage. The snow in the country gets crusty, even if it stays relatively white. It looks colder, harder, more brittle. There is something pure and magical in new-fallen snow that even snow itself can’t replicate. Artists have tried to capture it in paintings; scientists have tried to study it and replicate it; Hollywood has tried to use substitutes in movies (sometimes painted corn flakes, or sometimes soap flakes). There is still something about real, new snow that is unique and fragile and filled with promise–even in its coldness, it speaks of laughter and joy. (Maybe not while I am shoveling it, but…)

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God is the creator and sender of snow. He has storehouses of it (Psalm 135:7; Job 38:22) And it is the image God gives us of forgiveness. (Isaiah 1:18) The purity and softness; the glimmer and weightlessness; the crisp, other-worldliness of falling snow–that is the picture of a forgiven heart! Just as God sends snow to refresh the earth when it looks the most bleak and dead, so God sends forgiveness to hearts that feel cold and dead inside, weighted down and dirty with guilt and shame and Sin. God covers our sins with His forgiveness– and He brings renewal from the inside; new growth, new blossoms, new fruit from what was empty, barren, and used up. And even when snow gets dirty, or crusty– a fresh blanket of new snow revives, cheers, and brightens the landscape.

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God’s forgiveness is compared to snow, but it is far more powerful. White snow can cover up brown and barren trees and gray streets for a f, but God’s forgiveness comes, not in white, but in bright red. It comes through the shed blood of Christ, freely and lavishly given to wash away the scarlet stain of Sin. Red cancels out red, leaving purity and newness that comes from no other source. No artist can capture it; no scientist can discover its makeup; no Hollywood studio can recreate it; nothing on earth can compare or compete with its wonder and power.

Today, I am thankful for the message of snow, and even more thankful for the forgiveness that God offers. He may have storehouses for the snow, but His power to forgive is beyond measure, and His mercies are new every morning! (Lamentations 3:23)

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