Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Love wins.

A short "article" if you will on love. I prompted myself to write on a recent experience in 250 words. And I got 250 words exactly. ;) Enjoy, my friends, and learn. I don't see what happened as a mistake. I feel more loved than ever.


They did not expect it to end this way. They had hoped that perhaps it would never end, or at the very least if something did not fit. If they had to say goodbye, could it have not been done in person?

It could, but not this time. So here they sat peering at a computer screen, wondering what went wrong.

They both knew what it was, and yet, they did not blame it. They could choose to fight or to accept, and they finally, reluctantly, chose to accept. And what is more, they chose to accept with dignity and respect.

After all, that is what life is, choosing to see beauty or pain.

They chose beauty.

Instead of becoming bitter at the could-have-been’s, they smiled at the what-used-to-be. And instead of dwelling on that what-used-to-be’s, they put on a brave face and stepped out into a new adventure.

How is goodbye just as hard as I love you? They never expected to say either, but then the moment came, and suddenly, that was the only thing left to say. I love you, and then soon afterwards, farewell. 

However, I-love-you’s and farewells can go hand-in-hand. That is what they found. They found that in an unexpected goodbye, that love conquered even more.

Just because love could not manifest in a way that they expected did not mean that somehow love had been defeated or that love had failed. Somehow, in farewell, they found that love overcame far more.

Love wins.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The night before Christmas

It was the night before Christmas and all through the world
Everything looked like business as usual
Shepherds sat on a hillside looking up at the stars
While the world fell asleep unaware just how deep
Was the darkness the night before Christmas

And the night before Christmas it seemed to be just a night
But the wind blew like something was coming
And like children with secrets that they're bursting to tell
The cedars danced in the breeze while all of nature it seemed
Held its breath on the night before Christmas

And hope, hope long awaited
The hope of the ages
Would break with the dawn
And the song that all of creation was anticipating
Would start with a baby's first cry

And on the night before Christmas Mary laid down to rest
While Joseph, he paced the floor praying
And in an everyday stable, in an everyday town
In the hours to come God would wrap Himself up
And come down from heaven and the world would forever be changed
After the night before Christmas

-"The Night Before Christmas" by Steven Curtis Chapman

As a child, the story of Christmas was one of my favorites. I deeply admired Mary, young as she was, to accept God's blessing of a child, and to carry it and nurture it for nine months, and then continue to nurture God even more. My grandparents took me to see The Nativity Story when it came out in the theatre, but even before then, the picture painted of the story was this:

Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem. It took a very long time, so that by the time they arrived, it was time for little baby Jesus to be born. So they ran around (or rather, Joseph ran around) Bethlehem, looking for a place for the baby to be born, but there wasn't any place for them to stay. No one would give them room. But one person would offer an outside shed that smelt strongly of the animals, where Mary would collapse and give birth to the baby with only Joseph to catch the child. The shepherds would be out in the fields, freezing because it was winter, but watching the flocks nevertheless, and then the angels would appear to them, singing, and they would go back to Bethlehem to see the newborn baby.

However, when I went to Israel, I was offered a very different understanding. And let me say this up front: This does NOT change what Christmas is at all. Christmas, whether the Messiah was born in December or in September or in June, still is a time to remember that a Messiah was born, and that he was fully God, and fully man. It is a time to remember it with family, and to come together in one body. Now, on to a new thought of the story of Jesus' birth.

Miriam and Yosef (remember, we're speaking Hebrew ;) ) made the long trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem. And yes, it is a ways away. It's a couple hours by car (or bus), and there are a few interesting geological formations that would make travel difficult. So you can imagine Mary and Joseph taking their time to travel several days, especially with Mary being pregnant. Bethlehem is right outside of Jerusalem, about an hour or two walking. They would get to Bethlehem, Joseph's hometown, where his family would take them into their house.

People in the public area, with one girl climbing up the ladder
to the sleeping private area
This is a Middle East hospitality thing. People never turn down guests. Almost ever. You don't just leave a man and his wife (especially his pregnant wife) outside.  However, there would be so many people, that the "guest area" - that is, the main public room - would be crowded, so Joseph and Mary would be placed in the storage room to sleep. This is the room where animals would be put during the wintertime, when it is cold (and believe me, Jerusalem gets cold in the winter).
Most of this is the storage area, with people standing beyond
in the public area. It is a bit more private, no?
This is where the common understanding of the couple being placed in a cattle stall. And this would be where Mary would give birth. She wouldn't be alone. Joseph would probably be kicked out, along with the other men around, and Mary would be surrounded by the women in the storage room in order to give birth. This would probably the best place to have a child anyway, because you wouldn't want to do it in the public area, and the private home sleeping area is usually on an upper level - wouldn't want to be climbing up that ladder in labor.

So the baby is born, and Joseph comes in to see the baby like a proud papa, and everyone's happy. The shepherds are outside still - it is not winter, because winters are cold, remember? - with the sheep (I have my own bone to pick about sheep now that I've seen them in Israel, and I'll talk about that some other blog post), and the story goes on.

I kinda like this understanding better, because people generally don't "get" the Middle East until they've lived there, at least visited for a bit. Family is huge. Guests are treated well. You treat extended family and friends with the utmost respect. I like that.

Those are my thoughts this Christmas Eve, now that Christmas Eve is nearly over. So everyone, enjoy your family and friends. Love on your guests. Offer them tea and cookies as soon as they walk in the door (props if you offer Bedouin, chai, jasmine, or some other Middle Eastern-y tea). And remember our wonderful Savior.

Merry Christmas, friends.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Listen to your heart

**I realize that some people are going to disagree with this post. Sorry. I might have something wrong, but this is part of my understanding of the world, and in some ways it needs to be

Many books say it. Movies even more. TV shows, music, media - listen to your heart. And do we? We want to, I think. And then we run into Scripture like:

"All a man's ways seem right to him, but the Lord weighs the heart." (Pro 21:2)

"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." (Pro 19:21)

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." (Pro 16:9)

"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." (Pro 4:23)

And, my personal most annoying verse:
"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jer 17:9)

Don't get me wrong; it's not the verse itself that I have a problem with. It's really the interpretation that gets me.  Because obviously the heart doesn't know what it is doing, and yet, there are also verses such as:

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer." (Ps 19:14)

"You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jer 29:13)

"You shall love the LORD your God will all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might." (Deut 6:5)

Okay, cool. The heart is deceitful above all things, but we must seek God with it. And love him with all our heart. If we do that, shouldn't that mean that our hearts are not deceitful?

I propose that we have been understanding "heart" all wrong. In Hebrew, the word used is lev. It means the literal heart. As in that organ in your body that has been pumping blood to your whole body since long before you were born. The organ the heart. Or, figuratively speaking, the mind.

Whoa, what? The heart is the mind? Yep. So you are supposed to serve God with all your mind. The meditation of your mind should be pleasing to God (which goes along with Philippians 4:8, whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, think on such things). You shall see the Lord and find him when you seek him with all your mind.

The reason why I have such an issue is because I think that there is such a thing as intuition. That would be what people consider to be the "heart" in today's English figurative speech. I think that there is something like that. But to equal it with the Biblical heart, I'm not so okay with.


I trust my instinct. I trust my intuition. I trust the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (I can't explain instinct and intuition, and don't feel a need to, but the Holy Spirit surely does guide me in some things I can't explain!) Why? Because it has been right before.

For instance, once I was talking with some friends. They were talking about how there had been someone in the same room as them during a worship service, and they felt very on edge while he was there. It turned out that man didn't exactly have the cleanest record when it came to women. He was very carefully watched by someone higher-up while he was in the room, but these two women had still felt edgy. Honestly, as I remembered it, I had felt edgy, very wary, and had kept him in the corner of my eye.

How did I know that? How did those two other ladies know that? And, to make matters worse, they tried to tell one of their guy friends who they thought about as a brother. And he didn't get it! He just couldn't understand why these ladies had felt so wary.

In a world where the secular society is whispering, "Listen to your heart" and the church is saying, "DON'T listen to your heart," who do you listen to?

Who should you listen to?