Friday, December 30, 2005

Resolutions-Hindering Habits

Man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. Luke 12:15

December 31st is looming, the traditional time to make reasonable or rash resolutions. By now, many have toyed with adjustments to improve attitudes or atmosphere. But contemplating change is different from resolving to make a change. To “resolve” to live differently is to make a firm decision to do something.

Over the next few weeks, this column will mention a few hindering habits, roadblocks to the reality of an abundant life in Christ. Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV). The Greek word rendered “full” or “more abundantly” means “above the common.”

One hindering habit is the love of possessions. Jesus lets followers know that he can shepherd them to the best in life—honoring God and loving fellow earth mates. He tried to help a rich ruler grasp this concept. Here’s their conversation found in Luke 18 and Mark 10.

“Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The ruler recognized Jesus as an exceptional rabbi, but not as deity. Jesus answered that no one was good except God alone and then recounted some of the old law such as not committing adultery, murder, and theft, and honoring parents. The rich man ignored the invitation to acknowledge Jesus as God and instead focused on the rules he had kept since youth.

The ruler replied that he hadn’t committed any offenses in the ten-commandment- category. Jesus “looked at him and loved him.” He told him to sell all he owned and give the money to the poor. “Then come, follow me.” Upon hearing the answer, “the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

Then Jesus commented about life: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Those who overheard this conversation between Jesus and the rich man wondered aloud, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus answered, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”

The rich man had asked what he could do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him what he needed to become to inherit eternal life. Like God, he could become a sympathizer and helper to the poor. This ruler had a tight fist around his bank account, for him crunching numbers was fun. He found it easy enough to be pious, to follow religious rules. Eliminating neighborhood poverty at his expense—that was impossible.

Net Aid gives these definitions of poverty: Extreme or absolute poverty is defined as making less than $1 a day, unable to afford the basic necessities to sustain life. Over eight million die each year from extreme poverty. Those in moderate poverty make only $1 to $2 dollars a day, barely enough to sustain life, not enough for health care or education. Relative poverty is defined as those who live below a national income average.

In 2006 I want to change a habit that hinders. I’m asking God to clip heartstrings attached to belongings. My firm decision is to pare down possessions, to aid the poor and scout for abundant life, one rich with possibilities. -- Next hindering-habits column on procrastination.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Celebrating Christmas with American Sign Language
The Good News in ASL

“Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD.” Psalm 134:2

On the church stage, “Christmas Journey” was acted out in American Sign Language for the deaf audience. For the hearing audience, the script was voice interpreted.

This December as my husband and I watched the excellent production at Woodhaven Baptist Deaf Church, two scriptures came to mind: about lifting holy hands and Isaiah’s prophecy that the deaf would “hear the words of the scroll” (Isaiah 29:18).

Last year, a Woodhaven member invited me to their annual Christmas Drama. In our conversation, the member related how this generation could be the one to more completely fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy that the deaf will hear about the Messiah.

Over 100 sign languages exist in the world. American Sign Language is the fourth language of the United States. Some colleges even offer it for foreign language credit, and more than 23 million Americans are deaf. Gaulledet University’s President said, “Deaf people can do anything . . . except hear.” With clarity, Woodhaven Baptist Deaf Church demonstrated that in the production of a “Christmas Journey.”

As my husband and I watched the drama unfold, we became enamored with the Deaf World where “sign language is spoken.” Dawn Sign Press says the deaf “listen with their eyes,” and “facial expressions and body language say as much as the human voice.”

That night we listened with our eyes, too. And this is what we saw. On stage, a group of Christians planned a trip to the Holy Land. They packed, met at the airport, flew across an ocean and put their feet down in the land of milk and honey.

There, a Jewish tour guide regaled them with stories of the Christ. Near a large tour bus, he told of Gabriel’s announcement, to Mary, the visit to her cousin Elizabeth, and Joseph’s concern when he found out about Mary’s pregnancy. At stage left, the tour guide’s words came to life.

During Act 2, fatigued tourist Fred took a siesta. He dreamed about Jesus’ birth, baptism, ministry, crucifixion, and triumphant resurrection. With precision and pageantry, the cast of 60 enacted Fred’s dreams and convinced us we were in the Holy Land, too. An additional 20 supported the drama—voice interpreters, costume designers, and lighting experts.

Orchestrated songs accompanied the play, and the hearing audience had the double pleasure of hearing the melodies and watching the praise in American Sign Language. The signing of “Breath of Heaven” and “Come as You Are” were especially poetic.

Long ago, at an inspirational musical concert, I sat behind a mother who interpreted for her deaf teenage daughter. The mother’s precious hands told her daughter of Christ’s love. That night, my understanding of “lifting holy hands” broadened. Again this month, thanksgiving arose for the beautiful hands that year round tell the Christmas Story.

During Jesus’ ministry, he literally opened the ears of the deaf. He healed. Today, the Christian Deaf World continues his mending mission. With passion they accept their heart-healing assignment to share the gospel. They lift holy hands and sign Jesus’ story about a stable, a star, a Savior, and a sacrifice.

“In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll.” Isaiah 29:18

Sunday, December 18, 2005

1534 Carol


In December several years back, way back, when J C. Penny’s catalog store took up one corner of downtown Conroe, I ambled toward my car. As I neared my vehicle I heard carols. Thinking one of the downtown stores piped music outdoors for the shoppers, I twisted my head back and forth to discover the instigator of such joyful noise.

Embarrassment colored my face as I neared my car. A week or so earlier, our radio broke, and for some reason the shade tree mechanic directly wired the radio to the battery. I’d turned off my car, but not the fully powered radio. The windows of the Dodge pulsed with the tinkling notes of a jolly Christmas song. The car seemed a living thing and the volume amplified as I neared. I hopped in and flew away like the down of a thistle.

For the most part, Christmas carols bring tidings of joy. But not all carols are about merry gentlemen resting, midnights clear, or the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay. One carol is particularly haunting.

The Coventry Carol, written in 15 34 by Robert Croo, is a lament. The song honors the Christ Child and the babies killed when King Herod ordered their execution. After the magi saw a defining star in their ever-watched and interpreted sky, they traveled to Judea. They asked King Herod of Jerusalem if he knew where this young child lived, the future King of the Jews.

Seeming solicitous, the deceptive Herod asked for the magi to notify him when this child was found, saying he wanted to worship the baby, too. The wise men eventually found Jesus and worshiped him but didn’t return to Herod with an address. Warned in a dream, they bypassed Jerusalem.

Because of a dream-warning, Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus escaped to Egypt. Herod planned to rule at all costs, and thinking the child Jesus was still in the vicinity of Bethlehem, ordered executions of every male under age two. Foretold in Old Testament prophecy; the horrendous act caused the women to weep for their “children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15). Estimates of deaths range from 20-60.

The Coventry Carol’s words “Lullay, Thou little tiny Child, by, by, lully, lullay” sound like a lullaby, but chronicle Herod’s massacre. Recently, my husband and I attended a concert by Kemper Crabb and band, featuring carols from their Medieval Christmas album/CD.

Crabb remarked before singing the Coventry Carol words similar to these: History tells of the atrocities of Herod and later one period is called by some the Dark Ages. In a thousand years, will our generation be considered the real Dark Age because of all the unborn we have slaughtered? These are some statistics I found when writing this article: Russian abortions surpassed live births in 2005. Americans aborted over a million babies per year for years.

The group then sang the Coventry Carol, “Herod the King, in his raging, Charged he hath this day, His men of might, in his own sight, All children young to slay.” The moment pierced my mother-heart.

When you kiss your babies, your grandchildren and your adult children this Christmas, lift a prayer of thanks to God. Celebrate. Laugh. Enjoy Christmas carols. But through the season, listen for the Coventry Carol. Remember the innocents then and now. “For Thy parting, nor say nor sing, By, by lully, lullay.”

Friday, December 09, 2005

Los Posadas

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29

Running on our last ounces of energy we needed to rest, we needed to find our motel room.

Late one December evening, my brother, sister and I drove to Arkansas for a family funeral. Because of work schedules, we left about 10 PM and had a five and one half hour drive to reach our destination. We siblings rarely get that much time to visit, and before we knew it we crossed the state line.

Over an hour later, the digital dashboard clock showed 3:30 AM, and we drove into the parking area of a motel where our reserved double room awaited. All talked out, we were ready for slumber and rest.

Los Posadas, meaning the inn, is a traditional festival of Mexico that reenacts the searching-scenario of Joseph. In Bethlehem of Judea over 2,000 years ago, Joseph and the full term Mary hunted for a place of rest. The timing or mission was not of their choosing. The Roman government required each person to return to the town of their ancestry to be taxed.

Bethlehem, packed with the obligated, didn’t have room for one more citizen, not even a woman in labor. Innkeepers shook their heads. But Joseph, bent on finding a place to nest, kept inquiring about lodging. Finally, someone pitied the burdened man and woman and pointed toward an animal shelter.

Los Posadas is remembered in Mexico and now in the states through a house-to-house search for a dwelling place. At night between December 16 and 24th , by candlelight a group of adults and children carry figurines of Joseph, Mary and the Christ Child. They walk a community street, and at pre-selected homes, they knock and inquire if they can find lodging. As they reach a house, the group led by Joseph, sings in Spanish “En nombre de cielo. In the name of heaven, I ask you for posada, for my beloved wife can walk no more.”

The homeowners turn the pilgrims away and sing in answer, “This is not an inn, keep walking. I will not open, you might be a thief.” Each night the travelers are refused refuge until the final house is reached. On that night, the innkeeper sings, “Posada I give to you, Holy Pilgrims, and I beg your pardon, I had not recognized you.”

At this last home, the seekers are welcomed for a feast and a candy-filled piñata for the children. The first Los Posadas took place in Mexico in 1538 when missionaries came to the new continent.

On the starry night in Bethlehem, someone gave shelter to the weary Joseph and Mary, and Jesus was born that night. Thirty years later, lodging for the tired and sin sick became central to Jesus’ message. “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Like my siblings and I, most have experienced physical exhaustion from journeying. Another kind of weariness comes about from complications brought on by sin in our own lives or loved ones.

Jesus gives long term respite for souls. Jesus is posadas, an inn, a place of rest. He stands ready to lift the baggage from our hearts. The Christ taps on the door and seeks entrance. Welcome Him. He’s the best houseguest you’ll ever have.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Jesus is Jubilee

An invitation arrives in the mail. It’s a thick envelope, carefully addressed. The return address simply reads, “Jubilee.”

Befuddled about what type of celebration this could be, the envelope is opened. It seems a 50th year is about to commence. The benefits—all credit card debts are cancelled, the indentured will be set free, and family lands revert to original owners. To participants this invitation spells euphoria.

That imaginary scene resembles the plan in Leviticus 25 where God set in motion the blessings of a Jubilee year. God intended relief every 50th year. At half-century marks, God intended debts be forgiven, servants freed, and farmlands to lie fallow.

Jubilee spelled rest. For those living under the Mosaic Law, at least two reasons existed for this 50th year celebration. If a family succumbed to misfortune, the year of Jubilee provided opportunity for restructure, leveling opportunities for success.

Often the indebted became ordinary servants for fellow Hebrews, assuring the poor of at least shelter and food. However, at the beginning of Jubilee, they were released from the work arrangement.

Also in the fiftieth year, land was not farmed and reverted back to original owners. God wanted his people to remember that “the land must not be sold permanently because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants” (25:23). Occupants only. Not owners.

Isaiah prophesied about a jubilee Savior, a “good news” king to the poor and the brokenhearted. This king would set captives free. The time of these events was proclaimed as the “year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1-2).

Near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on a Sabbath day of rest, the Christ (Anointed) read from a scroll the words of Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news.”

His message arrived for the bankrupt, those in bondage to sin, and the spiritually blind. Further, Jesus said to them, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21). Jesus is Jubilee.

Matthew Henry writes that “jubilee” or “jobel” signifies a particular sound of the trumpet, “distinguishable from any other.” This sound went forth at the end of the Day of Atonement when God reconciled with man.

In the Savior a continuous jubilee is celebrated. Through Jesus, God spelled out “peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Friday, December 02, 2005

Star of Bethlehem

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“We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:2

December 23, 2004, my husband and I drove to Rudder Auditorium in College Station, TX for Rick Larsen’s presentation on the Bethlehem Star. Mr. Larsen advises, “Arrive early.” Even two days before Christmas, the 2,500 seat auditorium quickly filled to near capacity.

Through centuries, skeptics, believers and the curious wondered about Matthew’s biblical account of the star. Lawyer and law professor Rick Larson presides over The Star Project, a non-profit organization. Through multimedia and “seen by tens of thousands in the U.S. and Europe, Larson leads you sleuthing through biblical and many other historical clues.”

Larsen pilots “a computer model of the universe across the skies of 2000 years ago.” During the display, participants “see the striking celestial events the ancients saw.”

Key players in Larsen’s conclusions are Johannes Kepler, computers and the gospel of Matthew. Kepler, a brilliant mathematician living 1571-1630, published the Laws of Planetary Motion. The Laws are still in use today by NASA, the European Space Agency and others.

Only after many days spent on calculations could Kepler draw a specific nighttime sky. Today, in mere heartbeats, computer software, using Kepler’s configurations, can chart the 2000-year-old sky over Judea. Pick a date, time and location and turn the computer loose.

Astrology claims celestial bodies exert forces and influence humans. The Bible states God directs the affairs of men, but does place signs in his created heavens, messages from the Almighty.

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars,” said Jesus (Luke 21:25). Over 2000 years ago, eastern Magi scholars saw a sign-star, eventually leading them to Bethlehem and Jesus. The gospel writer Matthew outlines nine star-criteria that must match any modern conclusions.

Scripture and science shake hands in Larsen’s findings. Rudder Auditorium shows this year are on December 8th and 22nd at 7:00PM, on the Texas A&M campus.

View the schedule for other December Bethlehem Star presentations at . This month, Larsen will be in Texas, Kansas and Colorado. His conclusions and findings are also posted at the Web site.

Ronald A. Schorn, Ph.D. founder of the Planetary Astronomy Department of NASA says, “About 99.9% of the Star of Bethlehem stuff is nutty, but this isn't . . . it’s well-researched and reasonable."