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 little English.
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.
The 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 Christmas.
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.
I used 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 rush.
Sounds like a plan, doesn't it? I thought so, too, until several years ago. Something happened that made me rethink my supposedly brilliant strategy.
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 10!"
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 sensible.
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.
And 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 important."
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 punch.
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 perspective.
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. Here's why.
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.
I opened 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!
The 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: