A New Year is Approaching, so I Wonder What God Has In Store for Me :)

In my spiritual journey with Jesus, God has brought so many changes into my life and so many adventures and exciting new things. Sometimes He will start it by bringing a book into my life to read even some years before the change happens.One example is a book I read in 1990 called Tortured for Christ. It is a book about Rev. Wurmbrand who was a pastor in Romania while Romania was a strict communist country. Rev. Wurmbrand was imprisoned and tortured for his faith. He got out of Romania and finally ended up in America. When I read that book, I knew I had to go to Romania. I did not know why, but I knew I had to go. I ended up going 7 times through my church. It was through my trips to Romania that God led me to become an English teacher and work with Refugees and Immigrants at my church.

Another example-One time several years ago I read some books by Billy Graham. When I read those books, I thought I need to meet him. I admired how he conducted his ministry and life with integrity and NO scandals. While I was a student in Minneapolis, I got a job at Billy Graham headquarters which was in Minneapolis at the time. Of course he was hardly ever there due to travels, but one day there was a Christmas chapel for the employees. I had the opportunity to meet the man I admired so much. God worked through the experiences of reading his books and working as a janitor at Billy Graham Headquarters to lead me into living a life of caring for and reaching out to people who are less fortunate. That was before God led me to work with refugees and immigrants.

In the summer of 2008 I saw a book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble Bookstore titled Left to Tell. It is a book about a woman, Immaculée Ilibagiza,  who survived the Rwandan holocaust in 1994 by hiding in a small bathroom with 6 other women for three months. The book caught my eye because of my work with refugees. I had just come to the realization that I would not be going to Romania, but that I would stay here and continue my work here. However, I did not feel joy in the realization. It took me over a week to read Left to Tell. It is not a long book, but the message is very powerful about a young woman who grew closer to God hiding in a bathroom while a genocide was happening, so I would read and then ponder what I had read. After I read the book, I thought I hope to meet her someday. I also began to feel more joy in my realization that I would stay here and continue my work here. In November this year I went to a retreat listen to her speak. Her books Left to Tell and Led by Faith have had a profound impact on me spiritually and personally.The retreat also had a profound impact on me.

So now I am waiting to see what God has planned for me in 2012. I wonder if I will go to Rwanda 🙂 Perhaps God will bring more people from French speaking Africa into my life. Whatever it is, it will be another exciting adventure. Following Christ is an adventure and a lifelong journey.


Christmas Season- Joy to the World Leads to Joy for Jesus

In the summers of 2009 and 2010 I was able to travel to Brillion Wisconsin for 4th of July family reunions. The summer of 2010 was also a time to celebrate my nephew’s graduation from high school. Family reunions can be a time of joy for those who are able to attend. It was good to see my brother and his family in Wisconsin, my brother from California, and my sister and brother who live in Lincoln. We had fun with fireworks, a lot of good food, and seeing places like Lake Michigan.

At Christmas time we celebrate Jesus coming as a human baby. We celebrate God the Son who is eternal stepping down from His throne in heaven to become a human baby. When I think about this, I realize it truly should be Joy to the World as the song goes. But what about Jesus? Was there joy involved for Him?

In Hebrews 12:2 it says about Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”. Jesus came to die for us. There was joy for Him, not in being crucified on the cross, but something else set before Him. I have been pondering this because Jesus was seated at the right hand of the throne of God before He came as a baby. There seems to be something more in play here. Then when I consider Philippians 2 where it talks about how every knew will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord it seems to shed a little more light on the joy Jesus would feel because of enduring the cross. Jesus is not egotistic like we are, so the mere fact that all people will bow to Him does not seem to suffice as the sole reason for His joy. God gave us freewill, so the thought of Jesus taking joy in the fact that all people would bow to Him and many not out of choice, seems to not fit.

Then I think about how in Psalm 166 it says ” 15 Precious in the sight of the LORD  Is the death of His saints.” Our death is precious to Jesus? That could seem sadistic until we consider this fact. In this life we think of death as going away somewhere. In the eyes of Jesus our death means we come home to Him. The joy for Jesus was not just that He would be seated at the right hand of God. It was also that WE WOULD BE THERE WITH HIM. We can be home with Jesus forever. This causes great joy for Jesus. It makes His sacrifice worth all of the pain that we could be with Him forever in a place we cannot comprehend. We can only know that it is far better than this world.

Christmas Season- Happy Birthday Jesus?

It has always amazed to think about how at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus. When we go to church services, read the Christmas story from our bibles, give Christmas cards and presents, and listen to Christmas songs like Silent Night, we are basically saying Happy Birthday to Jesus. We are celebrating that Jesus our Savior was born of the Virgin Mary.

The reason this amazes me is that Jesus did not begin His life when He was born. He began His earthly life as the God/Man, the Son of God on earth. Jesus actually has no beginning. He has existed for all eternity. The bible says in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Word is one of the titles of Jesus. Jesus is the Creator. He is God and is with God. He is eternal.

What amazes me even more is that Jesus came here to earth to live as one of us and at a time when life was much harsher than it is now. He came here to die for us to pay our punishment for our sins. He is the Lamb of God. His love is so great that He would sacrifice Himself for us.

As I celebrate Christmas this year, I will be mindful of the fact that while we celebrate and thus say Happy Birthday to Jesus, we are really celebrating that Jesus loves us so much that He left heaven to come into this world and this life for us.

Merry Christmas 🙂

Christmas Season- …Name Him Jesus for He Will Save His People…

When children are born, one of the most important decisions is what name to give to the baby. Names have meaning to them. Some names are from grandparents or parents. Other babies are named because of the meaning behind the name. We have celebrities who are known their first name. If someone says Oprah there is little doubt show they are talking about.

The angel told Mary her baby’s name would be Jesus. The angel told Joseph to name the baby Jesus. in that culture it was the father chose the names of the babies. Joseph was Jesus’ earthly step-father, so on earth it was his role to choose a name for the baby, however, it was God who actually chose the name Jesus.

The name Jesus means salvation. That is why the angel told Joseph to “name Him Jesus for He will save His people from their sin”. The whole purpose of Jesus coming to earth was to save us. God wants us back with Him. God wants us to be His children. He loves us so much that He sent His best. He sent His only Son, Jesus.

Christmas Season- Immanuel means God with us

Several years ago there was a popular song with lyrics like “if God was one of us” which sang about how if God was like one of us then God would understand how hard life is here. The meaning behind that song seemed to be that if God did come down here, then God would have more compassion for us. The good news is that God did become one of us at a time when there wasn’t even a bus for God to be a stranger like in that song.

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). This passage from Matthew 1:23 shows us who Jesus is. He is Immanuel or God with us. Jesus came as a human baby born in a stable among animals. He lived life here for 33 years and experienced many of the hardships that we do. God with us does not just mean that He experienced this life though. It means that He is literally with us. He is always with us everywhere we go. There is not a single second that He is not with us.

Jesus said something that gets my attention in John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” Jesus is God with us and if we respond to Him and obey His teaching, He and the Father will make Their home with us. Home conveys the sense of belonging. Home is where we belong. It is where we ae loved and cared for no matter what happens in life. Jesus is saying we can have our home with Him and the Father.

It is not simple a matter of God becoming one of us. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, at all times. We can also have our home with Him. We can belong to Him and the Father. Jesus said “Behold I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me” This Christmas Jesus is knocking at our door. The question is not if God was one of us. The question is will we open the door and let Immanuel in and have dinner with Him. Will we make room for Jesus and the Father to make their home with us?

Christmas Season- No Room for Mary to Give Birth?

Several years ago I was meeting with a woman who was pregnant and had come to America as a refugee. She was 8 months pregnant and needed help with some papers. I helped her with the papers for her family while her husband took care of their children. While we were working on the papers, a thunderstorm rolled into Lincoln and the thunder was very loud. She began to shake and cry because the sound of the thunder brought back memories of a war she survived. My thought was “It can’t be good that a pregnant woman’s hands are shaking while she cries.” The normal response to have when we see a pregnant woman is to want to offer any help we can give. Especially when she is close to her due date. That is why the short phrase in Luke 2:7, “because there was no room for them in the inn” catches my attention. That is the reason given for why Jesus was born in a stable and laid in a manger which was a feeding trough for animals.

I wonder what the innkeeper was thinking about when he told them they could go to the stable. What could the guests have been thinking? Why didn’t any of them offer their room to a pregnant woman about to give birth? Were they all indifferent or just selfish or both?

I wonder if the reason this part of the first Christmas was planned by God is to tell me something. No one made room for Jesus to be born other than a messy stable. I think this part of the first Christmas is there to make me wonder if I have made room for Jesus. Have I sacrificed and given my place for Him? Do I only make room for Jesus when there is a mess in my life and I want bailed out?

As I think about there being no room for Jesus in the inn, it motivates me to give Jesus the best part of my life and not just my mess when I need help. It makes me want to pray when things are going well and offer Him thanks. It also makes me want to serve Jesus with my talents to show His loves to others.

Christmas Season- Mary Gave Birth in a Stable NOT a Modern Hospital

When I began comparing the events involved with the birth of Jesus, I did not think about one of the important aspects. I must admit that I have never been present at the birth of a baby, so perhaps that is why I did not think about the environment Mary was in while she gave birth to Jesus. Last Sunday while I was teaching my Sunday morning Bible class about the realities of the events involved in Jesus’ birth, an older woman who helps in the class brought up the conditions. We listen as she talked about how women can go to a hospital and have doctors and nurses around and how the environment is clean and sterile. Pat is a mother and grandmother, so she knows about giving birth which gave her full authority in our eyes on this subject.

She shared about how much of a miracle it was that Mary and Jesus did not have infections considering the fact that Jesus was born in a stable where the animals lived. The environment was not sterile. There were no doctors or nurses around. Instead there were cows, goats, sheep etc. There were no modern medical instruments to help with the birth. There was no Neo-Natal ward for babies. There was a manger used to feed animals. There would have been straw, animal hair, and other things not sterile. It was not a wonderful place to have a baby.

Jesus came at a time when life was very hard and born in a place with no comforts. Mary endured harsh conditions to give birth to Jesus. When we sing Silent Night, I think we may get a false romanticized notion of the Nativity Scene being peaceful and wonderful. I have been around farm animals and have noticed something. They smell, make noise, and attract flies. It makes me appreciate all the more the sacrifice Jesus made to leave His throne in heaven and come to earth and the hardship Mary endured to say yes to God’s plan even though it meant giving birth in a stable. Then it makes me question myself and whether I am willing to make sacrifices for God in my life.

Christmas Season- No Limo Ride for Mary the Mother of Jesus

I live in Lincoln Nebraska which is about 50 some miles from Omaha or more depending where I want to go in Omaha and where I am in Lincoln. I can drive from my home in South Lincoln to the Omaha airport which is about a 60 mile drive in about one hour. If there is no construction zones along the way and traffic is flowing smoothly, the drive is quick and easy. It helps to have an Interstate to drive on, a van with music to listen to on the way, and air-conditioning for warm or hot days. Many years ago I had the task of going to Kansas City and driving a Mercedes Benz back for a friend. I even got paid for it. The ride was so smooth that when I looked at the speedometer and saw I was going 90 miles an hour I was surprised. Of course I slowed down.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but Mary and Joseph traveled there from Nazareth, so they would have had about a 70 mile trip. There was no Interstate for them to use. No cars with music playing. One would think that the Mother of Jesus would be able to travel in style like celebrities who travel in luxury limousines. That was not the case for Mary. She was 9 months pregnant and her due date was coming. In her condition she had to ride on a donkey or horse or perhaps in the back or a crude wagon or cart. The trip would not have taken 1 hour in an air-conditioned vehicle. It was a 3 or 4 day journey or more. A rough journey on a donkey or in a simple cart. It was another hardship for Mary in her experience as the Mother of Jesus. Mary said yes to the plan of God even though it meant discomfort and hardship for her.

It makes me think about my own life and if I am willing to sacrifice my own comfort and time for God. It may be as simple as getting up a little earlier to pray. It might be to go on a mission trip which means a few weeks of sacrifice on my part. Perhaps it is to show Christ’s love to those who others overlook. It might be to give of my time or money and sacrifice in other areas of my life to be able to do so.

When Mary agreed with God’s plan to be the Mother of Jesus, she signed on for a life of sacrifice and at times hardship. She stayed faithful over those years even to the point of being one of the few people to stand at the cross of Jesus. This makes me wonder if I am fully committed to following God even if it means facing the worst scenarios in life, but again I come back to the little things. Am I willing to wake up a bit earlier to pray? Am I willing to sacrifice a fast food lunch and brown bag my lunch, so I can give to a ministry that shows the love of Jesus? The reason I write about the little things is because of something Jesus said. He taught about how those who are faithful with a few things will be given more; more opportunities to serve, more blessings from God, and more understanding about God.

Christmas Season- A Choir of Angels

When God wanted to announce the birth of Jesus, He first had one angel make the announcement to the shepherds. After the announcement was made, it was time for the musical celebration. I have been blessed to hear several choirs sing wonderful songs. My favorite is still the Hallelujah Chorus in Handel’s Messiah. I have heard many choirs sing the Hallelujah Chorus. Still to this day that song moves me. However wonderful a choir may sound, it cannot compare to that first choir celebrating the birth of Jesus.

The bible tells us in Luke Chapter 2 that after the angel made the announcement, “a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel praising God.” They sang “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Imagine being there to witness the heavenly host appearing and singing. It would have been a stunning and breathtaking sight.

As glorious as that was, what is even more amazing to me is who God shared this with. He shared it with shepherds out in the field. It was not a formal event with a red carpet that was invitation only with the invitations going to the rich and famous. It was a spectacular event shared with the lowly of the culture to show that God’s love is for all people.

Christmas Season- God’s Way of Announcing the Birth of Jesus

I always enjoyed the new product launch announcements by the late Steve Jobs when Apple would launch a new product or updated product. He would come out on stage dressed in a black turtleneck and bluejeans with a big screen behind him showing the new product. Millions of people waited in anticipation of the new product whether it be the iPod, iPhone or iPad. When anyone plans a major announcement like running for political office, introducing a new coach etc, it is a major event with the press there to cover it and put it on TV and the internet.

In contrast when it was time to announce the birth of Jesus, God did not call the press corps to cover it. There media coverage available. They did not have TV, radio or internet back then. God sent angels to announce the birth of Jesus, but not to the rich and important of society. God sent the angels to shepherds who were in the fields watching their sheep at night. Think about the significance of God sending the angels to shepherds. Shepherds were not important in that culture. They had hard lives which consisted of staying with the sheep 24 hours a day 7 days a week. By sending the angels to the shepherds God announced to the world not only that Jesus was born, but also that Jesus is for all people no matter what their standing in society is.

It is also interesting to reflect on the fact that these shepherds took care of sheep and lambs. When Jesus came to John the Baptist at the river, John cried out “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The angels announced to the shepherds that the Savior of World had been born. Jesus would become the Savior by sacrificing Himself on the cross and the Lamb of God.

Jesus is for all people and wants all people to come to Him. No one is unimportant to Him. His love is equal for all people.