It was 1957,
Christmastime. Elvis was my favorite singer. And Christmas was my favorite
holiday—except for this year. Daddy's job with the Santa Fe railroad had moved
our family—Daddy, Mother, my two younger sisters and me—from our small, friendly
town in Kansas to a strange, dusty town in the southwestern desert.
Instead of celebrating a white Christmas with the typical warm and fuzzy
sights, sounds and smells I had known each year at Grandma and Grandpa's big
festively decorated house, I was thrown into a strange brown land with
neighborhoods of small row houses near the train tracks and neighbors who spoke
Last Friday, two historic events
occurred. A signing ceremony for D.C.'s same-sex marriage law and a blizzard
that blanketed the Northeast and left everyone in the capital physically isolated
except for the almost-too-frequent weather updates on TV and radio. Ironically,
the two events bore a strange similarity.
Their similarity was the level of local
media coverage along with the real sense of isolation that most citizens felt.
We either trust in both these situations that "big brother" is looking out for
us or we become concerned and questioning.
I could sense heaven's ecstatic joy last weekend when I visited a multiethnic church in Montgomery, Ala.—birthplace of the civil rights movement.
There were two very separate worlds in Montgomery, Ala., when I lived there as a child. I lived in the white world, on the east side of town in the Dalraida area. Everybody at Dalraida Baptist Church was white. All the kids at Dalraida Elementary School were white. The only black people I saw in my neighborhood on Green Forest Drive were the maids who arrived each day to clean houses.
I was oblivious to what was happening in Montgomery in 1964 when I started school. No one told me about Martin Luther King Jr., who fueled the civil rights movement from his pulpit at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church downtown. I didn't know about the bus boycotts, the lunch-counter sit-ins or the 1963 bombing of a church in Birmingham that killed four black girls.
"Stay connected this week! Stay connected this week! There is something that you are going to have to praise your way through. ... Do not disconnect from Me. Do not disconnect from My throne room. Do not disconnect from where you are. Do not disconnect from each other. Stay connected so you can press on through what you'll be going through.
Last week, the worldwide summit on
climate change in Denmark encouraged some and terrified others. During the past
few years, the debate among many informed people has not just been focused on
whether or not the globe is getting warmer, but about how our nation should
respond to the perceived international threat.
A few years ago Tony Perkins, president
of The Family Research Council, and I decided to tackle the question of climate
change and evaluate popular proposals based on two things: 1.) a measurable
return on investment and 2.) the value of human life. Our thoughts are
catalogued in the book Personal Faith, Public Policy. Based on our
study, we are very concerned about the direction that our current
administration may be seduced into following in the name of saving the planet.
Unfortunately for the U.S., there are always wolves dressed in sheep's clothing
--- supposed "saviors" that may lead us astray.
Christmas season is so hectic we can sometimes feel like contest winners who are
given 15 minutes to grab $500 worth of free groceries. But though not every
activity we engage in during this special time is a spiritual one, we can learn
to treasure the moments of preparation by keeping the right perspective.
First, there's the planning. How am I going to afford it all this year?
This question bounces around inside my head like tennis shoes in a dryer for
about a month before the season actually begins. When I'm driving or showering I
click out the number of names on my list and how much I can spend on each
person, how I can make or bake some gifts to offset the cost of others, which
names must go to the top of the list, who will just have to understand, and so
on. At some point in my mental calculations, the Holy Spirit breaks through and
reminds me that where God guides, He provides.
Then there's the
bake-a-thon. Every evening after work the kitchen fills with a cloud of flour.
Nuts are chopped in one corner of the room, trays are stacked in another,
gingerbread boys and sugar cookies are decorated on the kitchen table, and rows
of filled, jellied, balled and candied cookies are cooled and stacked on another
counter. They may not be perfect, but I'm comforted by the knowledge that man
does not live by bread alone!
Next the tree must be bought and old
decorations dragged out of their boxes. My son is delighted to find the special
ornament he made in school last year—long since forgotten. He solemnly tells the
history and genealogy of each hand-made item. "We got this one when I was very,
very young," he—still a young boy—tells his even younger sister. "And I made
this one before you were born."
The tree must go up. And no matter how
perfectly full and even-branched it looked on the lot, I can't seem to turn it
to find the perfect vantage point. Plus, the bottom of the trunk, instead of
being straight, appears to be shaped at a right angle to the rest of the tree.
Someone is going to need muscle surgery after holding it up until it is finally
braced into the stand! But once the tree is in place, I realize my Herculean
efforts paid off—the end result is a delight to my children and a perfect symbol
of the Trinity.
Before you know it, it's Christmas Eve. I'll send the
children on an errand to some corner of the house while I search through
packages to find new socks for them to wear to church. Bows will be tied, faces
washed, shirts buttoned, and belts fastened, and we'll rush off to church for
the candlelight service.
I'll straighten my daughter's burning candle
over and over, worried that hot wax will drip on her arm. I'll tell my little
boy to shush a thousand times—until the beauty of the candlelit church and
singing choir fills us with a silent sense of awe.
But that's not the end
of the preparations. Driving home, I'll worry about putting toys together.
Instructions become destructions in my hand. It's a good thing the Master
Carpenter is there to direct me!
I'll reassure my daughter for the
millionth time that Santa will not get burned when he comes down the chimney.
We'll fill plates with cookies, and the children will argue over which ones are
Santa's favorites. We'll carefully decide where to place the notes and cookies
so Santa won't miss them.
After the children have been shooed to bed a
dozen times and warned that Santa won't come if they're awake, after the last
bows have been fastened to the packages, when the whole house sparkles with the
aura of candlelight and shiny wrapping paper—I'll rest.
I'll stare into
the glowing embers of a dying fire and recall the sweet scenes of the previous
weeks, the treasures of my heart: my daughter's hair filled with flour and her
tongue hanging out of the corner of her mouth as she vigorously rolls cookie
dough with her toy roller pin; my son's eagerness to give me the gift he made at
school; the excited squeals when we lit up the tree; the children wrapping tiny
gifts they bought with pounds of paper and tons of tape.
And in those
moments of reflection, I'll think about the reason we did all the planning and
shopping and baking and decorating in the first place. I'll think about the most
important treasure of my heart—Jesus—and I'll thank God for
This year, don't let all the demands of the holiday season get
you down. Try to treasure each memory you're making, and in the midst of your
busyness, take time to reflect on the greatest treasure of all—Jesus, the Savior
and Redeemer of the world.
I gave away my second daughter last weekend, and it wasn't any easier this time around.
I've never met George Banks. That would be impossible, since he is the fictional dad played by Steve Martin in the 1991 film Father of the Bride. But I feel I know George because I've watched this sappy comedy so many times. I watched it again last week just before my second daughter's wedding.
I guess the film provides a mild form of therapy. It helps me deal with my loss. Despite what they all say ("You're not losing a daughter! You're gaining a son!") I started to feel an uncomfortable lump in my throat at least 72 hours before the ceremony.
In April of 2006, during the worship service of a conference at which I was scheduled to speak, an unusual presence of God began to settle upon me. The heavier God's presence became, the more caught up in a heavenly realm I was. I found myself in the middle of an IMAX or 3-D-like experience. It was as if I were in the middle of an action movie.
Last week was momentous in the battle for marriage in the U.S. It was a little like riding a roller coaster. On Tuesday, the D.C. City Council finished their first of two readings of their proposed same-sex marriage law. The reading passed by a margin of 11 to 2. The council seems determined to prevent the people from voting on this issue. Their rationale is that "civil rights" is not something that should be voted on by the masses. One councilman, who represents a strong, pro-marriage ward, looked visibly shaken. He spoke with a quavering voice. Ironically Harry Thomas, Jr., son of a former city council member, stated that he would not allow anyone in his ward to be "disenfranchised." Undoubtedly, he meant to say that he did not want anyone to experience discrimination.
Disenfranchisement, however, is exactly what is happening to the average voter in D.C. The council feels that it has a right to vote on this issue, but it will not allow the citizens to vote. They also chafe at the fact that the District does not have a genuine vote on the Hill - it only has a shadow congresswoman. Sadly, there was only voice for democratic justice on the council --- Marion Barry. The former mayor correctly told the group that the city council had not gone far enough in allowing liberty and true democracy to have their way. As a result of the fact the city is "deeply divided," he announced that he would be working for a popular vote on the issue.
to be a consummate Christmas shopper. By the time December hit, I was way ahead
of the game. I would have a mountain of bargain finds, admired goodies and toys
to die for tucked away on a shelf just waiting to be wrapped and stowed lovingly
under the tree. I found that shopping ahead spread the financial burden
throughout the year and helped me avoid the last-minute holiday shopping
Sounds like a plan, doesn't it? I thought so, too, until several
years ago. Something happened that made me rethink my supposedly brilliant
It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
not a creature was stirring, but I felt like a louse! The tree looked bulimic —
only I was the one who had binged. Brilliantly wrapped packages were
bulging from every available nook and cranny.
I slumped to the floor and
thought, "We have only two children. There's enough here for
My husband and I stared at each other. We realized that
things had gotten out of hand. We had to ask ourselves: What message are we
giving our children?
One by one we started dismantling the swollen pile.
This present can wait for a birthday, this one for next Christmas, this one for
a special reward for hard work.
Finally the stack looked
Right then and there, we made a decision. In the future,
Christmas gifts would be limited to three types: (1) A gift really desired; (2)
a needed item; 3) something educational. Of course, our children hated the idea
and hoped we would eventually come to our senses.
we've seen a change. No longer is Christmas an endless list of "wants." There is
a new emphasis on cherished gifts. This represents a stark contrast to the
disturbing trend among kids today to feel entitled to get whatever they want,
whenever they want it.
As I've listened to children move through the
hallways of our house, I've heard the chatter of "more." "We have more videos
than you." "I have a CD player in my room." "You don't have your own phone
line?" "I'm asking for a laptop." "You need a cell phone to look
They get it from their parents. My favorite is the mother who
proudly boasts that her daughter will outdo everyone in the neighborhood. She
will have the best of everything -- before everyone else. The daughter knows
this strategy and is horrified if anyone beats her to the material
Not understanding her conscious intention to overload her daughter
with "stuff," I naively asked, "Aren't you worried you're spoiling her?" The
blank stare she gave me was enough to answer my question.
One summer the
hot ticket was a scooter. Everyone on our block ran to the stores to buy one. My
kids asked, but they knew what was coming: "Tell me again why I should run to
the store to buy you a $100 item?"
Materialism not only distorts the
meaning of Christmas but also creates ungrateful kids. It's time to stop the
madness. Instead of a new scooter, take your kids to a soup kitchen and let them
serve. Visit a homeless shelter or a hospital children's ward, and put things in
I know what I am saying isn't new, but we need to hear it
regularly. It's so easy to indulge our kids this time of year. But we need to
examine our motives.
Is our overindulgence related to guilt from being
absent or unavailable? Is it an attempt to communicate love, compete with
others, create an identity or look successful? Is it the result of idol worship,
a lack of self-restraint or misguided thinking?
When I see kids quickly
open presents and throw them off to the side without even a thank you, I know
something is wrong. When little Suzie tells me Christmas was no fun because she
didn't get what she wanted, I am concerned. The Grinch hasn't stolen Christmas;
our ungratefulness has.
Christmas is about God's giving His Son as a
glorious gift to mankind. Don't clutter that gift with so many others that He
gets lost in the fray. This season teach the children in your life to cherish
the gift they already have — Jesus.
I tell my friends in Latin America that my Spanish is peligroso—dangerous.
I took three semesters of Spanish in college and spent
hours practicing conversation with a Nicaraguan immigrant a few years ago. But
when I travel in Latin America these days, my mantra is: Mi español es muy
peligroso. My Spanish is very dangerous.
On my first visit to Guatemala, for example, I discovered
its most popular fast-food restaurant, Pollo Campero. It means "country
chicken," and (with apologies to KFC) it is the moistest, tastiest, most
delectable fried chicken on the planet. You will smell it on flights from
Guatemala to Miami because people like to take boxes of it to relatives.
Several weeks ago I (Mahesh) was sitting in my library when I suddenly heard a noise behind me. I turned and saw an angel right there. He was young-looking, majestic, awesome, and full of strength, joy, and vigor. He was smiling, but there was the fragrance and atmosphere of battle all around him. He was a warring angel, and he had just come from battle.
This past weekend millions ate turkey, traveled hundreds of miles to spend time with their families and showed up at major retailers as early as 5 a.m. As Americans did these things men of the cloth, sociologists and demographers wondered what was on the mind of the average American. Getting the latest, best deal on consumer products certainly got 197 million of us moving through stores, but we ogled and did not buy much. Black Friday sales were only up only .5 percent as Americans went on their traditional day-after-Thanksgiving shopping spree. We know that Wall Street aficionados were worried about the news of the Dubai debt crisis because it is inexplicable and it seems like a harbinger of future problems.
Against this fluid backdrop of concern and financial worry, many people would ask, What's there to be thankful about? Although I am a minister, I avoid preaching in this column; nonetheless the season and the circumstances beg another question in response to the hypothetical question I just posed, How many of us really celebrated the holiday in proper fashion?
Did you feel guilty on Thanksgiving-the day of all days to express heartfelt gratitude to God—because you aren't TOTALLY content? Perhaps you offered up the obligatory thanks for family, home, job, health and the hearty meal as you sat around the holiday feast, but inside, you were aware that your heart is not quite full to the brim with satisfaction—and you aren't sure what to do about it.
In this stormy economic season, trust the Lord to transport you to the other side.
I despise airplane turbulence. Even though I enjoy high-speed roller coasters, there is something about hurling through stormy skies in a commercial jetliner at 37,000 feet that turns my knuckles white. This is why I always ask for a window seat. Whenever we hit rough air and the seat belt sign flashes on, I feel safer if I can look outside.
But that didn't help me last week when I was flying into Canada. I was not aware that rough weather was raging below and that parts of Vancouver were flooding. All I knew was that our journey through Canadian airspace reminded me of Doctor Doom's Fearfall—a theme park ride I have enjoyed many times with my daughters. (That ride lasts only a few seconds, and it is firmly bolted to the ground. The turbulence over British Columbia lasted half an hour.)
"Days of wonder and days of dread, these are the days that lie ahead." These words bubbled up in my spirit recently as a prophetic song. I could not take them lightly as this is the second time in the last few weeks God has given me a song with the exact same theme and message. The first song started, "Great and grave things will be happening / all at the same time--intertwined." I believe God is speaking through these songs and confirming to us what lies ahead.
Last Friday I was privileged to stand with Chuck Colson, Jim Daly, Robert George, Archbishop Wuerl, Tony Perkins, Alan Sears, Cardinal Rigali and over 20 others to represent the first 150 signers of a document called The Manhattan Declaration.
Why the name? The group met a few weeks ago in Manhattan where we read a draft of the document. It was there we concluded that we had to bridge the huge historic chasms separating the major branches of the Christian faith. The famed Chuck Colson along with co-initiators issued a call to all Christians that we must remain true to our core convictions, based upon the scriptures. The group also came together to let the secular community know that increasingly Christians from Catholic, evangelical and orthodox traditions will work together and speak with one voice.
the front door and came face to face with a rather large gift basket wrapped in
clear cellophane with a gigantic velvet orange and brown bow. It was so big that
it blocked the face of the deliveryman.
The sight of such a gift was too
wonderful for words! As a young married couple, Terry and I were going through
hard times, with little money for extras, much less the basics!
arrival of this surprise basket of goodies was not only timely, but a miracle!
In a tiny village on a mountain in Guatemala, I gained a better understanding of how Jesus paved the way for us to know the Father.
Like so many other poor communities in Guatemala, the village of Saspán is way off the beaten path. To get there you first must travel on a two-lane highway from Chiquimula, then turn onto a one-lane dirt road that winds precariously for two miles up a mountain. The scenery is spectacular, but if you look too long you might drive right off the side of a cliff. It's best to wait until you arrive at the top to enjoy the view.
I went to Saspán last Monday with my friend Oto, a pastor who was born in this village, and Roque, a Puerto Rican minister who leads a church in Pennsylvania. We came to preach at Iglesia Cristiana Nueva Visión (Christian Church of New Vision), one of two growing evangelical churches in this town of 1,000 families. The church's pastor is Oto's sister, Gisela, an energetic young woman who has a particular concern for the children in this isolated community, many of whom lack education and proper nutrition.
The church is entering into a new season. Many are about to experience great restoration and harvest in their lives.
John 10:10 declares: "The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)" (The Amplified Bible). It may feel as if the enemy has come in like a thief and tried to rob, steal, kill and destroy. But I have a word from the Lord for you: