Tuesday, December 30, 2008

WALKING BUDDIES: Part 25 - Breath of Heaven - December 27, 2008

The Lord himself will give you a sign:
The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son…
Isaiah 7:14

The Guttmacher Institute reports that in 2002 there were 746,820 pregnancies and 425,493 births in the United States—among women aged 15-19. More than 18,000 women in this age group become pregnant every year—in Indiana.

It is a scary proposition to bring a child into the world, no matter what your age. I was twenty-seven when my newborn babe Matthew was placed in my arms. I was ready to be a mom; I was in awe of the miracle taking place; I was head over heals in love with my baby boy—and I was scared silly!

In Breath of Heaven, vocalist Amy Grant captures what may have been Mary’s feelings when carrying the Child of God: “I am waiting in a silent prayer. I am frightened by the load I bear.” The load she refers to here is more than the weight of the growing child or the usual trepidations of an expectant parent. Mary was chosen to bear the spirit-breathed Son of God.

In Grant’s song, Mary prays: “Breath of heaven, hold me together, be forever near me…lighten my darkness, pour over me your holiness, for you are holy.” What was in frightened Mary’s heart as she waited in “silent prayer”?

By becoming pregnant out of wedlock, Mary disgraced her family, her betrothed, and her God, and according to custom, did not deserve to live. With a nod of his head, Joseph could have had Mary stoned to death. Interesting, isn’t it that Jesus, who was destined to die himself, was born to a woman who should have been put to death.

Fortunately, Mary had a good support system: God the Father, who deemed that she would bear his son; the angel Gabriel, who informed her of God’s plan; Joseph, a godly fiancĂ©; her cousin Elizabeth, who also became pregnant under suspicious circumstances; and the Breath of Heaven—the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ parents had to grow up fast, their faith and integrity challenged by his conception, their maturity honed over nine stressful months, culminating in a grueling trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, just as Mary was due to deliver. This young girl gave birth in a drafty stable, far from home and family.

While Mary’s circumstances occurred in the first century, many young women today find themselves in similar straights, having disappointed family, facing rejection, and dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. The Breath of Heaven gives life to their little ones, each created in the image of God. But life is a struggle, just as it was for Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

As you contemplate the birth of Jesus, pray for the little ones in our community who are God-breathed miracles deserving of love and protection. May we reach out to these little ones and their families as an act of worship—as we “worship Christ, the newborn King.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

WALKING BUDDIES: Part 24 - Believing the Unbelievable - December 20, 2008

How will this be, since I am a virgin?"
Luke 1:34

"Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Say what? Who said that?

“Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.”

Um, you have the wrong girl. And you’re creeping me out!

“You will be with child and give birth to a son…”

Hey, I’m still in high school—there’s no way I’m getting prego. Turn off that flashlight—you’re blinding me!

“…and you are to give him the name Jesus.”

If and when I do get pregnant, my boyfriend, Joe, and I will choose a name.

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

Just who do you think you are—a prophet? An angel? I’ve caught a few ‘Touched by an Angel” episodes, and, trust me, you’re no more angelic than I am ‘with child,’ as you so delicately put it.

“The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end.”

You’re talking crazy talk, but, just for the fun of it, I’ll play along. So, this small town, blue collar, Jewish son of mine is going to become some sort of bigwig in the Roman Empire—like Joseph was in the Egyptian Empire under Pharaoh?

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

You’re going to have to explain this overshadowing stuff to my Joe—and my folks. I’ll be grounded for life!

“So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Surely I heard you wrong. Next thing you’ll be telling me this kid is going to be the Messiah…

I have raised a teenage girl and I work with teenagers in my job as a therapist, thus my gut suggests that there was more to the conversation between Mary and the angel Gabriel than what is recorded in the Gospel. After all, both Abraham and Sarah laughed when a visitor foretold that barren Sarah would have a child. (Genesis 17:17 and 18:12) And Zachariah, father of John the Baptist, doubted the angel Gabriel’s announcement that his barren wife Elizabeth would bear a son. (Luke 1:1-23) So wouldn’t a virginal teenage girl be skeptical?

What teen (or adult) today would believe that they were impregnated by the Holy Spirit? (Although I have met a few young women who claim no knowledge of how they got pregnant!) Luke chose, not to focus on skepticism, but to shine a beacon on Mary’s faith—a childlike faith that led her to believe the unbelievable:

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord;
be it unto me according to thy word.”
(Luke 1:38 KJV)

How is God working the unbelievable in your life?

The Holy Spirit overshadows you and your life is pregnant with possibility.

“With God all things are possible.” (Jesus)
Matthew 19:26 NIV

Sunday, December 14, 2008

WALKING BUDDIES: Part 23 - Advent Conspiracy - December 13, 2008

The holidays sometimes bring out the worst in me.

As the countdown progresses from Black Friday to Christmas Eve and beyond, I sleep less, triggering the cross and cranky button in my brain.

I fret over the rising credit card balance as I repeatedly swipe my card.

And I quake in the presence of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future-weight gain—all the while taste-testing the cookie dough, nibbling on mixed nuts, and hoarding all the dark chocolate covered caramels in the Good’s deluxe 2 lb. gift box (the one I bought for my cousin; but then remembered she lives in Arizona and the candy will get all mushy in a hot UPS truck—so what’s a chocoholic to do, but eat it myself…).

Some days I just want to cry, “Bah, HUMBUG!” and hibernate for the holidays. Oh, but then I dream of chocolate and sleepwalk to my carefully guarded chocolate hideaway for a generous dose of serotonin and antioxidants. The mood elevator kicks in and I’m feeling fine, but then my blood sugar plummets from the sucrose overdose, so I head to the sofa for a nap—or back to the candy stash for another fix.

When the kids were young, I made a birthday cake every year and we sang “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. One year I was so out of control that I almost single-handedly devoured Jesus’ birthday cake. I’m usually indifferent to the cake, but this particular year was different. I intentionally purchased a white cake mix and frosting. I’d have to be in dire straights to eat something so “Blah, Humbug!” as white cake.

Well… I discovered that French white cake is dark chocolate’s European kissing cousin. I made countless trips to the kitchen that Christmas to slice just-a-sliver of cake. I polished it off in just under two days, six hours, and seventeen minutes.

Forever frosted in sticky, vanilla shame, I’ve not baked Jesus a cake since. Until I get to heaven, and am safe from gluttonizing Jesus’ birthday cakes, I might do well to join the Advent Conspiracy—an international movement that inspires us to replace consumption (chocolate or otherwise) with expressions of Christ’s compassion.

Here’s the plan: Give the gift of your time, presence, and relationship to loved ones and friends—and then with the money you save, make a donation to a worthy cause.

The Advent Conspiracy has overhauled my Christmas wish list. The clothes and books I asked for? Don’t need ‘em. What I really want is fresh drinking water, nutritious food, medical care, and barebones schools and school supplies—for those who do not have these simple things that I take for granted.

I especially want a goat (available via the India Gospel League for only $85). I think I’ll name her Grace. “Baa-a- (no humbug needed) a-a-a!”

How do you plan to honor Jesus this Christmas?


Monday, December 8, 2008

WALKING BUDDIES: Part 22 - Family Reunion - December 6, 2008

The Lord said to Jacob, “Go back to the land of your
fathers and to your relatives, and I will be with you.”
Genesis 31:3

Family reunions can be stressful. A pastor once told me that he does far more family counseling in the aftermath of Thanksgiving than at any other time of the year.

In some families, there are personality clashes that set everyone on an anticipatory edge, dreading yet another unfestive family fiasco. The stew of dysfunction is already brewing...

On the other end of the spectrum are the families in which individuals, or even groups of kin, haven’t spoken to each other for years. It may even be taboo to mention the outcast’s name.

After stealing his brother’s birthright and blessing, Jacob fled his family, fearing that his twin brother, Esau, might kill him. He’d not broken bread with his family for over twenty years. The cutoff in this family was cavernous.

And now God was instructing Jacob to return to the scene of his deceit. It was with both fear and longing that Jacob obediently set out with his growing family and flocks for a momentous family reunion.

As Jacob drew near to his homeland, he sent messengers to Esau saying, “Your servant Jacob says, ‘I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now… Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.’” (Genesis 32: 4-5 NIV)

When his messengers returned with the news that Esau was coming to meet Jacob—with 400 men—Jacob was afraid and prepared for the possibility of being attacked. He divided his people and herds into groups which he sent out ahead of himself and his wives and children, each with a generous peace offering for Esau.

The pivot point on which this story turns is prayer. Jacob was in conversation with God, both in listening for God’s voice and in baring his heart to his intimately involved, loving God: "O Lord… I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness… Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau…" (Genesis 32:10-11 NIV)

Despite his long history of deception, God loved Jacob and gave him much more than the desires of his heart: “Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.” (Genesis 33:4 NIV) Gazing at Esau through his tears, Jacob uttered, “…to see your face is like seeing the face of God…” (Genesis 33:10 NIV)

Is there a rift in your heart and family that needs healing this Christmas? If so, may you be encouraged by the reunion of Jacob and Esau.

How have you been a Jacob, robbing your family of God’s blessing?

How have you been an Esau, betrayed and hurt?

Life is too short and too precious to waste even a nanosecond in hardness of heart or paralyzed in pain. Like Jacob, may you be obedient and repentant. And like Esau, may your face be as the face of God.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

WALKING BUDDIES: Part 21 - Deceived Deceiver - November 27, 2008

Based on
Genesis 29:1-30 NIV

Have you heard the latest on what’s going on with Laban’s girls?”

“No, I guess I missed that episode.”

The two women were gossiping while walking to the community well.

“Well, Lydia, overheard Laban’s servant telling one of my mistress’ maidservants that Laban pulled one over on his nephew, Jacob.”

“That young man who turned up out of nowhere claiming to be Laban’s sister’s son?”

“Yeah, that one—the guy who, rumor has it, was running from his twin brother, Esau, for some suspicious dealings.”

“Well, well, well…I’ve always been a bit leery of that one—too good lookin’ and too smooth-talking, if you get my drift.”

“Anyway, I’m sure you knew that Jacob agreed to work for Laban for seven years for the hand of his daughter, Rachael. The wedding was last Saturday and you’ll never guess what happened!”

“So, tell me, already.”

“Supposedly, the morning after consummating the union, Jacob discovered that he’d married Leah!”

“No! No way!”

“Yes, way! Laban gave him some lame excuse about it being the custom that the eldest daughter has to marry first.”

“Now, wait a minute. That’s not a lame excuse; that IS the custom.”

"Oh, yeah. Jacob was so distraught that when Laban said he could marry Rachel right away, if he promised to work for him for another seven years, Jacob jumped at the offer.”

“That Laban sure is shrewd, marrying off both daughters and getting fourteen years of labor out of Jacob, for free.”

“Well, you know what they always say: what goes around, comes around.”

“Hmmm…Jacob must have been quite a huckster himself to deserve such bad luck!”

“Don’t you know it!”

“So, what else is new?”

“WELL! I just heard so-and-so say such-and-such about you-know-who…”


What goes around, comes around? Or was Jacob simply reaping the consequences of his own poor choices?

I’m guessing that Jacob didn’t learn his lesson completely after deceiving his father and brother and fleeing for his life. I think it’s likely that he continued to be deceptive in his dealings with Laban. And Laban—a con man himself—was on to Jacob. Laban managed to out-deceive the deceiver, no easy task!

Deception continues to fan the flaming tongue of gossip—that’s why newscasts, crime shows, who-done-it novels, soap operas, tabloids and gossip columns are so popular. Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s…well, boring; it’s straight-forward, not intriguing.

While I would never admit this to a soul, I sometimes get a sick sense of satisfaction when a duper gets duped. It fortifies my “holier than thou” persona (when eroded by my own duplicitous omissions and commissions). And focusing on your dishonesty keeps me from attending to my own.

“Love makes the world go round,” but deception lends depth, contours, twist and turns. Imagine watching the in-a-perfect-world version of the soap, “As the World Turns.” No lying, cheating, betrayal, murder = BLAH!

Would you choose a perfect world, if given the chance?

I would, but only if I’m allowed to overindulge in chocolate and pizza—and drive over the speed limit occasionally!