Archive | December 2010

ANGELS (?) WE HAVE HEARD ON HIGH

Every other year our church does a living nativity called Journey to Bethlehem as an outreach to our community. It is a huge event with more than 200-300 people from the church involved, and attracts thousands of people from around our area. I was able to go last night and tagged along with my sister Cheree and her husband and son.
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Actually, Journey to Bethlehem is much more than just the nativity scene. It starts in the church auditorium with a wonderful Christmas concert by some of our church’s very talented singers. This is where you wait for your journey to Bethlehem to begin. When it is time for your group of people to begin I could scarcely tear myself away from the beautiful music!
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A guide led us across from the church building to the family center. It is amazing to see as we step into the gym that it is no longer a gym, but is transformed into the village of Bethlehem, as well as Herod’s palace. Hundreds of people are in Biblical costume, sitting outside their homes and going about their daily chores, or selling their wares in the village market place. There are bakers and poultry, cheese, vegetables and grains vendors; sellers of leather, copper, jewelry, cloth, and flowers; tentmakers, dyers of cloth, and so on all trying to hawk their products as you walk by their booths. A well stands in the center of the village with a live goat tied nearby. I was amused as we passed the tentmakers’ booth. My sister Corinne and her husband Ray and youngest son Sam were supposed to be making and selling tents. As we walked by, Sam said, “Buy one, get one free!”
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Our tour guide took us to Mary’s house where we witnessed the angel of the Lord suddenly appearing to her, making the announcement that she was to be the mother of God’s only Son. We were then lead to Joseph’s carpenter shop. He told us of his thoughts when he heard that Mary was expecting a baby and it was not his, and how the angel appeared to him and told him not to be afraid to make Mary his wife. We were led to Herod’s palace and saw him questioning the wise men who came from the east searching for the newborn king of the Jews and heard Herod’s evil plans. (Another nephew, Lance, was one of the Roman guards. He played the part to the hilt, being as stern and authoritative as he could be—the complete opposite of the normally smiling and pleasant person he normally is!) We stopped at the tax collector’s booth where we registered for the census and paid our taxes, and then moved on to the inn in Bethlehem. We were informed there was no room and, in fact, the innkeeper had been forced to send one young couple out to the stable since she was about to give birth.
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From there our tour guide led us outside. It was pouring rain all day yesterday and didn’t let up at all for our Journey. All day I had thought about the poor shepherds (another nephew, Caleb, was one of them) standing out in the field and wondered how they would fare in the cold and wet. They had a big bonfire going, so I am sure that helped (although I wondered how that blaze kept going in the rain. It must have been a miracle!) There were live sheep there with them. Suddenly a bright spotlight shone down on them, and they hid their faces from the light. A voice boomed out of loudspeakers somewhere—the angel’s voice, obviously—and Cheree jumped! (Later, when I went to my mother’s condo which is about a mile from the church, I could hear the “angel” voices booming in her parking lot!) The angel told them about the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, and the shepherds headed for the stable with us following through the rain.
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Mary and Joseph and the baby, as well as more sheep and a donkey, were at the stable, just as you would picture the scene. It does give you goosebumps as you look at the scene, and not just from the cold. You imagine how it must have been that night, bearing a baby all alone in such lowly circumstances.
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From there we were led to a barn where we were offered hot cider or coffee, and heard our pastor speak for five minutes about how the journey led from Bethlehem to the cross and an empty tomb and how we can be saved through that babe who became our Savior.
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Journey to Bethlehem is a beautiful experience and I can see why it is so popular in our community. It is one thing out of all the commercialism of Christmas that makes you stop and focus on the true reason for it all.
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I was thinking about those shepherds all day yesterday. Oh, not just those young guys playing a part at Journey last night—but about the actual shepherds who were out in the fields outside of Bethlehem that night more than two thousand years ago. Who were they? The Bible doesn’t give us their names. Most likely they were lads—sons of the owners of the sheep, or maybe hired to care for someone else’s sheep. I don’t know—maybe they were older adults. They were poor, I am sure, and probably had no expectations of being anything other than poor, lowly peasants all their lives.
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That night changed their lives. Here is the account as Luke 2:8-20 tells it:
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And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
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It was a night like any other night they had watched over the flocks. Can you imagine their fright when suddenly out of the darkness, the glory of the Lord shone ‘round about them and angels appeared before them? They wasted no time, however, once they had heard the message the angels brought. They hurried to Bethlehem and saw for themselves the Messiah, the Savior, Christ the Lord. They spread the word, not caring if others thought them crazy or not. And then they returned to their quiet, ordinary, lowly lives as shepherds out in the fields outside of Bethlehem.
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They returned with a difference, however. They returned praising and glorifying God for these glorious things they had heard and seen—the angels, the Christ-child—and for the fact that for some reason God had chosen them to be the first to hear the announcement of His birth! Who were they, that God would choose them above all people to hear it first? Just as God had chosen a lowly peasant girl to bear His Son, a poor carpenter to raise Him, and the humblest of places for his birth, He had chosen them.
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They returned changed. They would remember that night for the rest of their lives. I am sure often they would lie out in the fields, scanning the skies for a glimpse of the glory they had once seen and talking among themselves of that night they could never forget, remembering the sound of the angels’ voices and the glory too bright for their human eyes. They probably relived over and over in their memories how they had quickly sought for the stable and the baby lying in the manager. No, something like that they would never forget!
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We are ordinary people. I doubt that any of us sharing together here today have great wealth or position or power. We go about our ordinary lives, doing our ordinary jobs. But one day God chose us to show us a great miracle and a glorious message and to lead us to His Son, our Savior. He chose us, the lowly and humble and ordinary and yes, foolish and weak, as I Corinthians 1:26-28 puts it: For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen… We may not have heard the angels’ voices, but we heard and responded to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
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He changed us. When we truly meet the Savior we cannot forget it. Our very purpose in life is changed from living for self to living for God and bringing glory to Him. Our standing before God is changed from His enemy to His beloved child. Our lifestyle is changed from walking in darkness to walking in the light. Our desires are changed from earthly concerns to things that matter for eternity. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

We are challenged as well to, like the shepherds, tell others of the Savior. Everything they had heard and seen that night they told to all they met. They spread the word in Bethlehem until the entire town was abuzz with the news. What?! The Messiah had come?! Not everyone believed, but some did, I am sure. They saw the change in the shepherds. Their words and their lives were witness to all that God had shown them and done within them. Like the shepherds we are chosen to be witnesses. Isaiah 43:10 says, Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen… Acts 1:8 talks about the change and the challenge: But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. Christmas is the perfect time of the year to be witnesses to others, when they are more focused on the birth of Christ and perhaps more open to reason He came.

This Christmas I am praising God for choosing me, nobody special or great or wise, to be His child. I am thanking Him for changing me and praying that I might bring glory to Him. And I am challenged, especially now at this time of year when we are more open to others and they might be more open to hearing about why Jesus came, to be a better witness for Him.

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THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE

I used to work with mentally handicapped children, ages preschool through high school, when we lived in Colorado Springs. Loved it, loved it, loved it! Most of them were fun and sweet and they made me smile and laugh every day. A few were ornery, and even a little violent. You didn’t want to get within pinching, biting, hitting, or head-butting distance. I loved them, too, but they were more challenging to work with. One thing I noticed that most of the kids—especially the higher-functioning ones—had in common was that they liked routine. They often did not handle change well. Robbie doesn’t seem to mind change so much, but he certainly seems to love his routine.
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Little ones often do not like change, either. Maybe it has something to do with the undeveloped brain—I don’t know. I remember when my grandson Benjamin was only two; he had a complete meltdown because Mommy moved Daddy’s underwear from one drawer to another! Oh, the trauma!
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Then there are some of us—and I won’t mention any names here—who may have more fully developed brains who still don’t handle change well. I will confess—I am one of them. I am a traditionalist. I don’t mind my quiet routine. I tend to be less than flexible, shall we say, when my “perfect” plans are suddenly changed by someone else. (Give me a few minutes to think about it, though, and I’ll usually come around.) I’m too lazy to change, sometimes.
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And then you have to admit, not all change is good. We’ve been seeing that in our politics and government the last few years. “Change” has been the byword and many have blindly jumped on the bandwagon for the sake of change, never asking themselves the question “But what kind of change?” There is change for the good, and then there is change for the bad. Some people seem not to care as long as there is change. They ought to care.
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I am facing a new change, and a new challenge—one that I hope will be for the good. I finally got that new laptop Bob gave me for my birthday (and as an early Christmas gift.) I am very happy with it except for one thing—it came with Windows 7 rather than the Windows XP that I am used to. All new computers now come with Windows 7, so there’s just no getting around it. I am also switching to a newer version of Office, which means I will have to learn the ins and outs of Word, Powerpoint and a host of other things all over again. *sigh* I think I will be happy with the changes, once I’ve figured it all out, but in the meantime, it’s a pain to have to switch. I guess I will have to look at it as a mental challenge.
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There are other issues, too, with the change to Windows 7. I discovered last night, to my dismay, that none of the software for programs that I use on a regular basis, like The Print Shop and my greeting cards program, is compatible with Windows 7 and I am going to have to go out and buy all new software for those programs. That is what I would call a financial challenge. I did, in fact, buy a new version of The Print Shop last night, since that is the one I really cannot work without, that is compatible with Windows 7. I figured it would be the same Print Shop I have used for over ten years (I update it every two years) but updated and compatible with my new computer. I was horrified to see it was a completely different version with about 1/20th of the capabilities of my old Print Shop. There’s no way I can use it to do the work I do. The problem is, once you open software, unless it is not working, you can’t return it. Now I am out the money I paid for it, and I still have to find and buy the correct version. My money and I are not easily parted and to think that I wasted $40 on it just galls me!
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Anyway, back to the challenge of change! Life is a series of changes every day, isn’t it? We begin life as helpless infants but gradually we grow from babyhood to little children; from little children to teenagers; from teens to adults; and someday down the road to seniors and then if we know Christ as Savior, on to Glory with new bodies! Mom and I were just talking about that yesterday—how we are so looking forward to our new bodies, and wondering what those new bodies might be like. We learn new things every day—how to walk and talk; how to count to ten and tie our shoes; how to drive a car, do our work, raise a family… New circumstances, experiences, challenges, blessings or trials crop up every day.
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God made us the way we are but He does want us to change! First of all He wants us to repent from that old sin nature and the sins we commit every day and turn to Him for salvation. The word “repent” means to make a 180 degree change in our hearts and in our behavior. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation … (II Corinthians 7:10) When we are sorry for our sin, we will accept the salvation Christ provided through his shed blood and become new, different, spiritual creatures in Him. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (II Corinthians 5:17) This change is easy—He’s already done the hard part. All we have to do is believe and repent.

It gets more challenging, though. There are choices we must make, steps of obedience to take. As we go on to live our Christian lives, He wants us to grow and mature and be obedient to Him. We start out, just as in our physical lives, as newborn babies. We begin to grow through hearing and reading His Word. As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: (I Peter 2:2) As we begin to understand His Word, and learn from it, we become more mature in our faith and knowledgeable concerning doctrine and closer to Him in our walk. That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: (Ephesians 4:14, 15) He tells us, But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (II Peter 3:18)

We get past the babyhood stage, and maybe we’re more mature Christians, but it still is a challenge to be good children every day. We’re still fighting that old sin nature and the temptations of this world, and the devil himself. The Lord reminds us, For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (Ephesians 5:8) There’s been a change in us! Don’t look and act like the rest of the world! When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (I Corinthians 13:11) Grow up and act like heirs, mature sons of God!
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The final change comes, then, when we join Him in the clouds. Behold, I shew you a mystery;
We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (I Corinthians 15:51, 52) Can’t wait to put away this weak, corruptible body, and that old nature, and change fully into the new Cindy who will live with Him forever! Now THAT’S a change I can believe in!
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One final word about change: Yes, there needs to be a change in us, but I am so glad God does not change! He says, For I am the LORD, I change not… (Malachi 3:6) The Bible tells us that He is faithful and that means unchanging, dependable and trustworthy, Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations; (Deuteronomy 7:9) What a promise to rest upon! What a blessing for which to thank Him! I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 89:1)
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It’s a challenge sometimes for us to accept change or to change ourselves, but praise God –He’s done the hard part for us and if we trust Him to help us, we can grow and mature into followers of His who bring glory and honor to Him. And praise God for His everlasting, unchanging love and salvation and watchcare over us!

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. (Hebrews 13:8)