The Best Gift of All

What follows is a guest Blog written by my son Brayden (11).  Brayden is quite a thinker and writer.  It was a blessing for me to see the thoughts growing in his heart.  I know it will be for you as well.  

It’s the same every year. December comes bringing Christmas along with it. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but sometimes, that spirit can be lost in all the hustle and bustle. Decorations, gifts, and parties add more and more stress to the holiday.

The world may say, “Everything has to be perfect, and your not good enough,” but that’s not what God says. He doesn’t call you to be perfect. He calls you to be you. By sending his son to this earth, he established that, yes, you are good enough for the grace of God. If God has grace for a lowly and humble shepherd, he has grace for you. Mary wasn’t perfect, neither was David, but they all had the grace of God. We’re all sinners, but all God needs is your heart.

This year on Christmas morning, try to remember the true meaning of Christmas. Not Santa, but Jesus.  Not the gifts we get, but the gift that has already been given 2000 years ago. Not in a palace but in a stable. Not a gift wrapped in paper but a gift wrapped in God’s love and grace. A gift that would save us all: God’s son, Emmanuel, God with us.

The best gift of Christmas isn’t that new fidget spinner.  It’s Jesus!

-Brayden Gallagher

 

 

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Remembering Ahead

People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.                         Samuel Johnson

 

Together we remembered it as if it were yesterday and tomorrow.  We gathered around tables this past Friday, eating ceremonial foods and retelling ancient stories.  It was  a celebration of the Passover, an event that speaks to us on many penetrating levels.

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It is a meal that takes us all the way back to a dark night in Egypt that ushered in a brighter time for God’s people.  It was a night of death in the homes of the Egyptians, yet in the homes of God’s people, the ones who had sacrificed a lamb and placed its blood on the doorpost, it was a night of redemption.  The Passover reminds us that sin has consequences.  Earthly corruption and oppression do not go unnoticed forever.  There is judgment, but there is a blood stained door post that leads to deliverance.

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It is a night that reminds us of the tears of Egypt.  Life under the thumb.  Life of hard labor.  Life of repressed hope.  A real time.  A real place.  A real need.  It reminds us of the bondage present around our world today, as well as, in our own divided hearts.  We lit the candles remembering the only source of true light.  Seeing that the more candles that burn, the brighter the room becomes, we are drawn closer to the source of light and pushed beyond ourselves to be faithful bearers of light.

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Like all family meals, it is a night of generational mixing.  A night of communal remembering.  Most of us are here to be reminded, which we need terribly.  But there are those who are just learning.  In a healthy family both are always present.  We are reminded as adults not just of past events, but of effective ways to teach…the value of symbol and ritual.  Dad why are we eating that?  Mom why are we dipping in this?  Grandma, what is this story you are telling?  The cup and bread convey so much if we let them.  The taste, even the thought of the taste, of horseradish will always transport our children back to their first taste in this meaning filled context.

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It is a meal that takes us back to an upper room 2,000 years ago, when a small band of Jews participated in a pivotal supper as the unleavened bread of hastened deliverance became the broken body of the deliverer and the fruit of the vine became the spilled blood of Messiah marking a new covenant.  Passover was always a time of looking forward through the lens of past deliverance, hence the anticipation on the final ascent to Jerusalem at the beginning of the week.  (Hosanna!)

Notice the empty cup in the image above.  It was saved back for Elijah, the one anticipated to pave the way for Messiah.  We remember that first coming of Messiah on this night, while also anticipating another.

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Our story, the story of God and His people, is long and sometimes complicated.  It is a story that is not complete, though the ending has already been written.  As we live in this time between His comings, may we remember the past and the future in a way that inspires faithfulness in the present.  We pray, “May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.”  And we share the story with our faith community in our words, symbols and deeds.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever will be.  World without end.  Amen.  Lord come quickly.

Little Black Children, Little White Children

Martin Luther King Day provided our third annual opportunity for a “Munch” to honor the spirit and mission of Dr. King.  My friend Dr. Rob Owens confirmed that from his perspective all participants felt that spirit of unity in our gathering as his little black boys sat with my little white boys listening to Ms. Pam read stories from Desmond Tutu’s Children of God Storybook Bible.

20170116_120952-2A Munch is a lunch that intentionally brings together people who are not in the same place in life, typically due to their age.  As usual, we had participants from 18 months up to at least the 8th decade.  Munches remind us of Jesus’ gospel of reconciliation which stands in opposition to the spirit of division to which this world is prone to subscribe.  In a period of time when our nation is experiencing renewed racial tension, it was a blessing to experience the unbreakable bond of the Holy Spirit between brothers and sisters who may not worship in the same building every Sunday out of habit, but readily greet one another with warm smiles and endearing hugs–the kind only black and white grandmothers in Christ can give you.

20170116_120237-2I am thankful to Micah for sharing her prize-winning “Eyes of Diversity” speech that gave great insight to the pulls and tugs she experiences as a young black woman in a (nearly) all white community.  Often thoughtless words can bring to the surface those feelings of confusion one feels when they know they belong, yet they know they are different.

img_20170116_115404930-2It takes a committed core to pull off an event, and I am so thankful for the culture of community that has been cultivated by our Munch participants.  You could taste the teamwork in the crockpots that came from a half a dozen homes to feed our bellies.  I’ve been told that the church becomes the church at the table, and I believe it.

20170116_120016-2I learned a new Latin phrase today: “lex orandi, lex credendi”.  As we pray, so we believe.  We considered several of Dr. King’s famous quotes as we shared a time of discussion, but I want to leave you with a thought from a like-minded soul, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  This is a prayer we need to pray over and over until we truly believe it:

Good is stronger that evil.

Love is stronger than hate.

Light is stronger than darkness.

Life is stronger than death.

Victory is our through him who loves us.

AMEN

Thank you Dr. King for putting your life on the line to change the world.  You are evidence that the student will get no better treatment than the teacher.

Ahoy Matey!

On Wednesday night, December 14, these children set sail for a memorable voyage.  These kids and their families gathered to discuss and re-experience C.S. Lewis’ great book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  Just like the Pevensey children they went through the picture frame and into a new world.  Most importantly, we learned with Lucy that our experiences of Aslan in that world were meant to help us know the true Christ in our world.

I am so grateful for and encouraged by the families that make these book club nights so meaningful.  It is difficult in our busy world to make the time to do spiritually enriching things with our children.  Seeing other families take up the challenge, inspires each of us not to give up.

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Two illustrations in this book seemed quite powerful for the Christmas season.  The lake on “Death-water Island” turned to gold anything that touched it.  This seemed good (think King Midas), but once everyone realized that the golden statue at the bottom was once a living person, the risk became evident.

Also, the cave of the dragon reminds us of how Eustace became a dragon himself after being infatuated by the dragon’s treasures.  Both of these examples remind us of the destructive power of greed in our own world.
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We will meet for our next book club in late March to celebrate Lewis’ The Silver Chair.  Start now reading this one as a family if you would like to participate in the book club with us.  It is such a blessing to discuss what we have read from the perspective of both child and parent.  What a blessing to learn and grow together…In Him, Wes

Mary’s Treasure Box

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19.

The Christian calendar is a powerful tool for impressingmarys-treasure-box Christian faith on young hearts. This Christmas season,  Mary’s Treasure Box by C.E. Walz was the inspiration for an engaging journey into the Christmas story for our FOCUS(K-2) class.

The premise of the book is that every mother stores precious memories of her children’s early days.  This story is set a decade or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus and presents Mary, the mother of Jesus, sharing some of her precious reminders of his birth, stored safely in a treasure box, with his young niece.  img_20161218_0957593691

We read this story three consecutive weeks in FOCUS and on the third week the children made their own boxes to take home and share the story.  To the parents of these children, this post explains what the items are all about.  A great way to help our children make this story their own is to have them explain what each item stands for.  If you are looking for something meaningful to do in your home, Sunday School or even in a congregational setting this book, along with take home boxes for the kids, is a powerful tool.

It all starts with each child getting a Cardboard box representing Mary’s Box.  We had our children move down an assembly line to fill their boxes with the following items.

 

 

First a piece of Light Blue Cloth  reminding us of the blanket in which  baby Jesus was swaddled and the Straw that was in the manger where newborn Jesus rested.

Then there was the Flute played by the angels for the Shepherds on the night baby Jesus was born.  And the Wool, given by the Shepherds to Mary and Joseph to keep baby Jesus warm.

Also, we had items to represent the gifts of the three magi.  A small Gold Bracelet – fit for an infant, a Small Brown Box with Marbles representing the gift of frankincense, and a Small Glass Bottle symbolizing the myrrh.

I commend this book  Mary’s Treasure Box to you and hope it will be a blessing to your family and/or church.  For a printable list of items for your box go to my Holiday Resources  page. May God bless you as you continually seek to impress God’s love on the children around you.

In Him, Wes

 

 

Abraham (JSB #6)

 

Continuity!  As we revisit the story of Abraham I am reminded that continuity is something that my approach to scripture, and thus my understanding of my relationship with God once lacked.

When we gather as God’s people  on Sunday, it should remind us that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.  When we sing our hymns, read God’s Word and participate in Communion around the Lord’s Table, we should sense a connection with God’s people globally and historically.  That is, we should feel the connection with His faithful around the world as they meet on this first day of the week to worship the same Lord we worship.  Beyond that, we should recognize the connection we have with those who have gone faithfully before, from our spiritual parents and grandparents all the way back to the Father of Faith, Abraham.

Breaks in continuity lead to small thinking.  When we fail to appreciate our family tree we become incapable of accurately understanding God’s Word.  In the first eleven chapters of Genesis, God sets the scene, lays the back drop and frames the picture, so that we can understand the woeful state of humanity despite the best intentions and desires of God.  Now in Genesis 12, we are introduced to God’s plan.  More than a plan, it is an enacted mission.  Here we see the beginnings of what is best described as the Missio Dei, the Mission of God.

It has been firmly established by this point that God made this world and everything in it, and God made it good.  But for some hard to explain reason, he left the inmates in charge of the asylum.  That’s right human beings were given the keys, and we drove the car straight into the ditch.  Every time God pulled us out of the ditch, we found another one.  (This really struck our Sunday school class last week when we saw how closely God’s bow in the sky was followed by the vineyard, the hangover and the event in the tent.)

Given the pattern of faithless, reckless, perverse decisions demonstrated by humans, God’s judgment seems a little hazy when He initiates His rescue plan by reaching out to a man.  But that is what God does.  He reaches out to Abraham, a man brought up believing in many God’s, until God reveals himself as the one true God.  Later, as Abraham has become an old childless man with an aged barren wife, God tells them that his plan involves them having as many descendants at there are stars in the sky.  (We will gloss over the whole Ishmael sequence for now…hard to explain that one in a children’s Bible.)  This seems funny to them, they laugh.  They have a child.  God laughs and says, “You shall name him laughter – that is Isaac.”

Isaac becomes their pride and joy, and together they become a family reliant and trusting upon God.  Continuity says this is the foundation of salvation, families that are reliant upon and trusting in God.  This is what changes the world!  Not warriors on white horses.  Not knights in shining armor.  Not political demagogues.  God begins his revolution with a family.  Today he wants to continue that revolution with your family.  So seek to be a family that brings peace, the kind of peace that unites people.  Because scripture leads me to believe that families binding together into one big family is the ultimate expression of God’s mission.

 

JSB #5 “Let us…”

People could never reach up to Heaven, so Heaven would have to come down to them.”  (Jesus Storybook Bible, p. 54)

Bryson is my little builder.  He has all kinds of ideas, and when he gets siblings on board he can do just about anything.  In the picture you see how he converted a garden box into a storm shelter last spring.  With a little scrap wood, a few screws, a couple of hinges and a little inspiration from Laura Ingalls Wilder, he and Baron were prepared for whatever storms might come their way.

It is amazing what can happen when people work together, but sometimes that creativity runs awry.  That seems to be the case in Genesis 11 where we find the story known as the Tower of Babel.  Like many great passages of the Bible we have often relegated this one to the scrap pile of “childhood tales”, but we learned in VBS this summer that it actually provides significant context for Pentecost in Acts 2, and thus, for the identity of the church itself.  We will come back around to that.

Genesis 12 will be pivotal as we see God initiate the process of reaching out to humanity seeking to bring us back into the fold, but we dare not skip over the last brush stroke of the backdrop mural which is Genesis 1-11.  We’ve witnessed the beauty of creation and the grasping for knowledge and personal freedom that is the fall of man.  Murder entered through Cain and immorality became so rampant by the time of Noah that God called for a mulligan and washed the scorecard clean with a flood.  Unfortunately, the washing with water did not purify the hearts of man (remember the vineyard, the hangover and whatever happened in that tent) but it did confirm God’s love for man.  When we read “God remembered Noah” (Gen. 8:1) a sigh of relief should rush from our lungs and out through our lips, not because it proves that God isn’t forgetful, but because it reveals that He still cares for us.

The command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28; 9:1,7) is not evidence of God’s bossiness, but of His desire for there to be more of us.  His love is great and He wishes to share that love with a great many creatures, human and otherwise.  This command to fill the earth plays some part in man drawing God’s ire at Babel.  The desire to build a big city (Gen.11:4) slows the spread of humanity across the earth and stands in opposition to God’s command.  We will label this issue exhibit #1 in the case of YHWH vs. the people of Babel.

Exhibit #2 is a familiar problem, humans grasping for control of their own destiny.  (remember: “If you eat this you will be like God…”)  “Let us…” crosses the lips of the men of Babel three times in Gen. 11:3-4: “Let us make bricks…Let us build a city…Let us make for ourselves a tower.” Obviously these folks had not read James 4, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:15)  The text implies that man is claiming God’s prerogative in making these plans inspiring the Divine response, “Let us go down there and confuse their languages.” (Gen. 11:7)  One can’t help but remember the famous line, “Let Us make man in Our image.” (Gen. 1:26).

The explanation of this story is by no means cut and dry.  If humans were made in God’s image, doesn’t it make sense that we would take initiative.  Shouldn’t it be expected that we would work together, weren’t we made to work cooperatively in the image of a Triune God.  Our final exhibit is God’s assertion in Gen. 11:6, “If we allow them to keep the same language, they will be able to do whatever they set their minds to do.”  Again, doesn’t working together exemplify the best of humanity.  Perhaps the answer is yes, except when the goal is defined by man rather than God.  It seems the greatest problems come not because God forgets about humans, but when humans fail to remember God.

In VBS, we studied about Pentecost and how the miracle of the tongues was a reversal of Babel.  Indeed, (if)when we see the church today reaching across divisions of race, class, culture, politics, geography, and self interest – we see His kingdom coming.  In this period of great division in this nation the church must be the church and live into its calling. (See an open letter here regarding race relations and concerns.)

Most importantly, Babel when cross-referenced with Pentecost, teaches that God created humans to be united under God.  As our national pledge claims, “One nation under God,” so we as the church are truly called not just to be one people, but to be one people under God.  When we live as one people of our own accord, building our own cities and towers, we add to the confusion of this fallen creation.  But when we place our eyes on the conductor and come together by falling in step with the Spirit of God, the sounds of symphony begin to emerge over the cacophony.

So I close with this, let us pray and let us live, in the only place where true life has ever been found…In Him!