A mouse is a timid little creature, who under almost any circumstance when confronted with a dangerous situation will choose the option of flight over fight. This is a very logical position, given the non-threatening physical characteristics bestowed on the Mouse: short legs, a round body covered in white hair, a small mouth with smaller teeth, and a roar that closely resembles air slowly leaking from a balloon. A snake, on the other hand, seems content with fighting first and asking questions later. In fact, a snake rarely asks questions at all, they just strike. Also logical, because a snake’s body is designed for stealth, attack, and creating fear in an opponent or prey. It is not a coincidence then, that many snakes eat mice, so choosing to run, as opposed to joining a snake for dinner, is another good choice for a mouse. Sometimes though, running is not the first option.
Gnomes tend to be odd little creatures by any standard one wishes to measure against. For instance, their classified name: Gnome. It starts with a letter that is silent; one doesn’t pronounce the “G” so why even use it? Odd I would say. Then their bodies are out of proportion. Their feet are much too large given their height, or they are too short for their large, flat feet. Their heads are also large, and are flat on top. Not just less rounded, but flat, like a rectangular shaped pancake with grey fuzzy hair on top. Of course they have stubby fingers, big knees, awkward legs and beady eyes, which rounds out the entirely odd package. But then again, none of us are perfect; are we? Given all that could be considered less-than-beautiful about a Gnome, they still remain positive in their view of life and the world, a testimate to their ability to see the greater good in almost anything.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die”
“Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
Genesis 1:1, 27; Genesis 2:15-17, 25
But God gave us the gift of free will, so that our love and adoration to Him would be real, and honest. Unfortunately, that left people to make their own choices, and their own mistakes. That first mistake lead to the end of paradise.
“He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.”
Genesis 3:10, 13
Mankind soon discovered that a life separate from God was no picnic, yet our suborn pride kept getting in the way of good choices. (Of God’s choices)
“So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.”
Exodus 1: 11-14
The moment Adam and Eve left the garden God started planning our return to Him, our eternal righteousness. He chose Moses, and unlikely hero to be a leader to His people.
“One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”
“God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Exodus 2:11-12; Exodus 3:14
Pharaoh did not obey God’s demands easily, but eventually relented.
During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”
Exodus 12:31, 32
God’s people escaped Egypt, but their stubborn pride once again got in the way. So, a journey that could have taken 11 days, took them 40 years to complete. Only one person who fled from Egypt crossed the river Jordan.
“Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”
“Then the Lord said to him (Moses), “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”
Exodus 33: 3; Deuteronomy 34:4
For thousands of years we struggled to follow in God’s way. We fought Him, then obeyed Him, then fought Him once more. He sent many prophets to remind us of our divine destiny, but we just would not listen.
“The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites.”
“No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god and did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side.”
Judges 6:1, 33
However, God’s plan for us was in full swing. He was sending forth great leaders and prophets to tell of a chosen one, a Savior for all time. Salvation was on its way.
“The LORD swore an oath to David, a sure oath that he will not revoke: “One of your own descendants I will place on your throne.”
“For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.”
Psalms 132:11; Isaiah 9:6,Jeremiah 23:5-6
Now was the time; God’s plan to right what was wronged in the garden was now in its final stretch. As foretold by dozens of people, the Savior of mankind would be born in Bethlehem. King of Kings; Lord of Lords. The Messiah.
“In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. 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.” ”How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”
“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Luke 1:26-35; Luke 2:4-7
For all of eternity God planned for Christmas day. Everything that transpired in history, from the garden to Abraham, Moses, David, and Mary: God’s overarching plan was to rid the world of sin, and bring all of humanity back home. To do all of that, He needed to enlist the help of His Son.
Why, after the many times people let Him down, why would God keep trying to bring us back to Him?
One word: Love
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Merry Christmas! This is your day to celebrate.
This year we vacationed in Oregon and Washington, anxious to experience the perfection of the Cascade Mountains, the unmatched beauty of the many rivers and lakes, and the grandeur of the Puget Sound. It would be a road trip for just my wife and me. We had purposely planned to be unplanned, granting ourselves the unusual gift of freedom to stop when we wanted, to wander off course as the urge prompted, and to be free from the chains of a schedule. When we left our home heading north the sunroof was open, the music was loud and our smiles were broad. We were on vacation.
In a car or on a plane,
On a bike or in a train,
At the end of the day or the end of a week,
It is home I love to seek.
I had just finished reading a book, one of those political thrillers where one tough good guy overcomes a government of corruption (if it were only true), so I was searching for my next book to read. I wanted a book with more action, but at the same time historically significant and spiritually/emotionally fulfilling. I wanted my next good read to matter. Most importantly, I wanted to learn something important. Like many of us, I read the first sentence of the first chapter to get an idea of the story. Here is what I found.
A longtime friend left for Heaven a few weeks back. He had lived a long and fruitful life, positively influencing the lives of many and rarely asking anything in return. He gave much – much more than he got, but that is how he wanted it. He is missed because we cannot see him anymore, but his touch on our hearts and minds; the memories of laughter, of intelligent discussion and political debate are now integral to our DNA. A part of us left when he did, because we are a mixture of ourselves and the people we love and who love us. The essence of my life is the sum of what God does, what I do, and what I absorb from friends and family. So, some of me left when he did, but much more of him stayed behind. Like I said, he gave more that he got.
Even though I wore denim pants, the sharp grains of sand bit through to my knees like so many small razors, so that the intense heat of the desert floor was able to freely burn my skin in a hundred tiny sparks. I crawled with my toes lifted off the sand as best I could, because the heat was so intense in the midafternoon they burned with only a momentary touch. My calves cramped almost hourly, forcing me to stretch and then I touched the desert – inflicting another burn atop a previous wound. My hands were not so lucky, yet in a way they were fortunate. One hand was always in contact with the sand, so they burned red; but it didn’t take long for my palms to callus and scar, so I couldn’t feel the destruction happening, I just knew that it was.
There is a thin line, (sometimes it’s a fishing line so it appears invisible), which separates preaching from teaching; especially if the topic is your children’s behavior, or religion. Discussions about God and spirituality may start with the noble intention to teach, but through various hairpin curves and hidden trap doors, evolve mysteriously into full blown, sweat filled, amen-alleluia, God-is-a-coming-soon, sermons. They become the type of interaction where everybody is wet with perspiration – no matter the temperature inside or out. With all nobility swept aside, a dialogue into your kid’s behavior barely stays a nanosecond in the teaching mode before leaping at warp speed into preaching. Of course, that is how it should be: they need it.
Each communication method has its own benefits and hindrances; the use of either is not a matter of right vs. wrong, but more a selection of appropriate timing. Teaching, or coaching as it is called in sports, is a service that is nearly unencumbered as to “when” it is applied; it is always acceptable to teach. Circumstances and companions will dictate the depth and length of the lesson; which, subject to your role as teacher or student, can range from a moment to seemingly, an eternity. Yet with all viewpoints included, teaching is mostly about giving. One person gives their knowledge, experience, or opinion to another – it is meant to be an unselfish act of sharing. The acceptance of all, or part of the lesson, is completely the responsibility and choice, of the recipient. I think that is where to “leading a horse to water…” saying came from.
As the year ends and we transition to another, it is commonplace to reflect on what we have done, and what we have left undone. Too often though, reflection on the past morphs into a self-inflicted mental beating, centered on our perceived shortcomings. We tend to focus on the bad, and forget about the good we have done. The discussion becomes a stream of, “I didn’t…”
I didn’t lose ten pounds.
I didn’t get that promotion.
I didn’t find full time work.
I didn’t save, or invest as I had planned.
I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t……
A little negativity can erase a lot of greatness, if we let it. Our pastor spoke about this phenomenon in an excellent sermon, and I’m sharing just two if his thoughts, but they are very important. When the “I didn’t” takes over, remember:
You are better than you think you are
You matter more than you think you do
Why? Because it is true, and because God said so. We are not the center of the universe, God is. But, sometimes we are much closer to the center than we think.
Happy New Year!
Thanks for reading.
STARTING NEXT WEEK, RATHER THAN SENDING THE ENTIRE MESSAGE IN AN EMAIL, I WILL BE SENDING A LINK BACK TO MY WEBSITE WHERE YOU CAN READ IT. I PROMISE IT WILL BE EASY AND FAST. – Michael