Friday, December 28, 2012

If You Had To, Could You?

The young lady was from India and now presiding at Leeham University. She sat across the table from my coworker and I, and told a story of her involvement in missions. A story that began with her going against the dreams and expectations of her loving father. His dream for her was one with prosperity being the first priority: one that consisted of her becoming an engineer or a doctor; someone who just made alot of money.

She spoke in front of the congregation of her church one Sunday, a message of her desire to go into missions and the desire to attend the Urbana Mission Conference. This young lady had her father in attendance, his first time in church, as she also chose to go against the culture and religion of her family.

She told of how throughout her message she would glance through the audience as any good public speaker would, but began to feel ashamed when her father refused to look at her. The humility in her voice as she spoke of the sudden feeling of failure she felt through the eyes of her father kind of got to me.

Throughout her message she spoke of her passion for missions and her desire to make a difference. And then it happened. Her message got to her father. This quiet, mild mannered man went beyond his normal behavior and stood up and spoke the words his daughter had longed to hear. He exclaimed that he was proud of his daughter. Then, throughout the congregation, gentleman after gentleman began to stand and exclaim that they would sponsor her, not only for her to attend Urbana Mission Conference, but for her ministerial calling.

This young lady's message also made an impact on her church, as they began to go outside of their box  to be more evangelical in their community.

Do you ever wonder what it would be like if you lived in a different country, grew up in a different family, or followed a different culture?

Who would you be or who do you think you would turn out to be?

 Would you be the same person you are today or somebody different?

And, knowing today who you are in Christ (if you follow Christ), could you go against your family's desires and expectations for you and follow Christ at all costs?

Something to ponder.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Nativity Story: My Review

Of all the films depicting Christ's birth, The Nativity Story is my favorite. Why? Because it is one of the few that concentrates not just on the birth of Jesus, but the faith and courage that Mary and Joseph had to have to carry out the task that they were chosen for.

First we are presented with the thoughts and emotions dealt by Mary when visited by the angel Gabriel who tells Mary:

"Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus."

And when the angel explains to Mary that when the Holy Spirit comes upon her she will be barren with child, naturally Mary, who has yet to be with Joseph in marriage, asks,

"How will anyone believe me? How will they understand?"

Now Mary's feeling at that moment had to be one of fear: a fear of being stoned for being pregnant before marriage, a fear of what her family might think, and especially a fear of what Joseph might think.

The angel also informs Mary that her relative Elizabeth, who is very old in age, is barren with child.

So when Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, she sees that the Word from the Lord is indeed true, and Mary herself receives a renewed confidence in God. Upon Mary's return home and visibly pregnant, her family wasn't so cordial. And neither was Joseph.

As for Joseph, the Bible says he was a just man: a man who was upright, blameless, and righteous. So Joseph's natural instinct when seeing Mary with child had to be one of anger and disappointment:

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. (in other words possibly hide her somewhere and not wishing to be betrothed to Mary anymore)

So we see Joseph lying in bed that night in a state of confusion and filled with anger and possibly thinking "How could she betray me?"

But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying " Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take  Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.

And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.

So far we've gathered the notion that God has chosen Mary and Joseph to be together for a reason: He knew that He could trust them to carry out His will. Mary, a highly favored woman of God, and Joseph, a just man.

At that time King Herod makes an unruly demand: each man, with his family, must return to his place of birth for a census. Which meant Joseph and Mary had to travel close to 70 miles on a donkey over rugged, rocky terrain from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where the baby Jesus would be born in a stable.

As we follow their journey to Bethlehem, it's hard not to imagine the struggle they both had to endure. Shortage of food and water, Mary barren with child and probably in much pain physically throughout the trip, the blisters upon Joseph's feet as he most likely walked the whole duration. And of course, the faith and determination Mary and Joseph carried out to fulfill the prophecy that was made many years ago.

After the birth of Jesus, some shepherds tending their flocks are confronted by an angel declaring that Christ the Son of God has been born and then a multitude of angels appear proclaiming,

"Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"

The shepherds travel to Bethlehem to see their new King then:

Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary kept all these things and pondered (consider deepily) them in her heart.

Mary had the right idea, keeping close to her heart the name of Jesus.

So, who is this High Priest we are celebrating today?

But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood.

Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always loves to make intercession (to fall in with, to meet with in order to converse) for them.

God is unchangeable and loves to intercede on your behalf. May you keep Him close to your heart, not just at Christmastime, but all year around.

(texts are taken from Mathew 1, Luke 2, and Hebrews 7)    Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas): My Review

Aside from the various stories that tell  the real meaning of Christmas; the birth of Christ, there is probably no other more important and powerful Christmas film than Joyeux Noel. If you don't mind a foreign film with sub titles, this is definitely a must see movie for this holiday season.

This film is about the World War 1 truce on Christmas Eve 1914, depicted through the eyes of French, Scottish, and German soldiers along the Western Front. The one fact that you come to grip with throughout this film is that: we are all one people. It doesn't matter which side you are on, what religion you are, nor what race you are, we are all one people. And through each of these soldiers we see:

1. They share the same emotions of war and the battle to survive.

2. They carry with them the desire of wanting to be home for Christmas.

3. They all have someone back home that they so desperately love and want to be with.

4. They all share that same dream, one of peace.

On one of the battle fields on the Western front on Christmas Eve we see: the French in their trenches preparing to celebrate Christmas with champagne, the Scottish playing Christmas carols with their bagpipes, and the Germans in their trenches with Christmas trees and the voice of one Nikolaus Sprink, the famous German Tenor. Now mind you, each side is still cautious of a surprise attack from one another.

Once the sound of the bagpipes in the cold, desolate air begins, emotions begin to swirl amongst all three sides. The German Tenor grabs a Christmas tree and gallantly makes his way to the center of the battlefield singing Oh Come All Ye Faithful.

The leaders of the French, Scottish, and German infantry boldly come out and agree on a cease-fire for the evening. All three platoons would then acquaint themselves with one another and share: chocolate, champagne, photos of wives, girlfriends and family, and stories of their past.

At the stroke of midnight a British priest delivers a brief mass in which all the troops respond in unison and are deeply moved.

"Tonight, these men were drawn to that altar like it was a fire in the middle of winter. Even those who aren't devout came to warm themselves. Maybe just to be together. Maybe to forget the war."
 Palmer, the British priest would later exclaim.

And so, one night of peace drew all men together.

On Christmas Day these men who were once enemies do the unthinkable; shelter each other during an artillery barrage. The leaders then decide to go their separate ways with their respective regiments.

The Germans are scolded by the Crown Prince of Prussia and are shipped by train to the Eastern front to fight the Russians. As the train departs, they start singing a Scottish carol they learned from their enemies whom they befriended: I'm Dreaming of Home.

May we all continue to pray for: peace on earth, and goodwill toward men.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Charlie Brown Christmas: My Review

Each year this Christmas classic gains a new and larger audience, in fact the increase of viewership each season is in the millions. It is still the top rated Christmas television show viewed and for good reason, here's my review:

"I think there is something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel.

I just don't understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents, sending Christmas cards, and decorating trees and all that, but I'm still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed."

This timeless classic from 1965 carries us through Charlie Brown's plight in finding happiness at Christmastime. After spilling his guts out to Linus about being unhappy, Charlie makes a trip to Lucy's famous "Psychiatric Help 5 Cents" stand. Lucy begins her examination of this depressed boy:

"Are you afraid of responsibility? If so, then you have hypengyophobia."

"Are you afraid of cats? If so, then you have ailurophasia."

"Are you afraid of staircases? If so, then you have climacaphobia."

"Do you think you have Pantophobia?"
"What's that?" Charlie Brown asks.

"A fear of everything."

"That's it!" exclaims Charlie Brown.

Lucy then offers up the suggestion of Charlie Brown directing the school play for Christmas, hoping his involvement in something will make him happy. Charlie accepts.

Along the way though, the commercialization of Christmas brings Charlie Brown back down:

1. Snoopy decorates his doghouse and enters it in a neighborhood lights and display contest.

2. Charlie Brown's sister asks for his help in writing a letter to Santa. Sally asks Santa to just send money, preferably tens and twenties.

"All I want is what's coming to me. All I want is my fair share!" she exclaims.

3. The cast members of the school play all seem self absorbed, not wanting to cooperate.

Charlie Brown decides what the school play really needs is a Christmas tree. He and Linus set out to find a tree, one that really stands out. Charlie Brown chooses the smallest, the frailest, and the most unimaginable tree you could think of. His thinking is all the tree needs is some tender loving care. And of course, he becomes the laughingstock of the cast.

"Can't I do anything right?" Charlie beleaguers to himself.

"I guess I really don't know what Christmas is all about.

Doesn't anyone know what Christmas is all about?" he shouts out.

Linus approaches center stage and gives the story of the real meaning of Christmas:

...And the angel said unto them, "Fear not: for behold, I bring unto 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 Savior, 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 great multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

"That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown." Linus exclaims.

Unfortunately there will be more Charlie Browns out there this holiday season than in seasons past. So today is the perfect time to spread that good news, the real meaning of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas in Connecticut: My Movie Review

Before Christmas Vacation, Home Alone and all of the other Christmas comedy films, here is my review on the one that started it all, Christmas in Connecticut:

"Everyone makes fun of Elizabeth Lane. Oh, she's so smart, knows all the answers, get's herself in a mess and doesn't have the moral courage to get herself out of it!" --Elizabeth Lane, mocking herself

The 1945 classic Christmas in Connecticut was the first to put comic relief into a Christmas movie. Barbara Stanwick plays Elizabeth Lane, a columnist for Smart Housekeeping magazine. She also plays what some folks in today's world would call "a poser".

Everyone that reads her column is under the impression that Ms. Lane is America's greatest cook, housewife, and mother living on a farm in Connecticut. In Ms. Lane's real world it's more like: can't cook, unmarried, and the view from the living room window of her apartment is clothes hanging from a clothes line tied to a chimney stack upon the rooftop.

Ms. Lane's Christmas charade begins when her publisher, who is unaware of her fraudulent cover, asks her to entertain a war hero at her Connecticut farm over the holidays. This soldier has spent 18 days at sea in a lifeboat, and the next 6 weeks in a hospital dreaming of eating the food he's read in Ms. Lane's columns. He also has memorized every little detail about her through the words she has written.

Ms. Lane begins to search for help in order to pull off the charade:

1.Her best friend John Sloan happens to have a Connecticut farm and Elizabeth gives in to his demand of them getting married first, even though she doesn't love him that way.

2. She requests her Uncle Felix, who has his own restaurant, to come along to do the cooking.

3.And as for the baby part, Sloan's housekeeper happens to babysit the neighbor's baby every day.

Game, set and match, right? Nope. Everything goes crazy soon as they get to the farm.
The soldier, Jefferson Jones, shows up 2 hours early, so the wedding that was planned to take place at the farm between Sloan and Ms. Lane never happens.
The publisher also has shown up and expects to eat a delicious meal made by, you guessed it, the great American cook herself.

One of the funnier moments is when Ms. Lane brags about the baby boy before giving him a bath, then when the soldier request's to watch, they both discover the boy is actually a girl instead.

Throughout the whole Christmas charade the truth from every fictional detail that Ms. Lane has written about herself becomes revealed. What's interesting is she continues on with the game even though every part of it is falling apart before her eyes. And of course, she falls in love with the soldier, who declares his love for her no matter what the truth may be.

The questions I now pose to you are:

"Do you consider yourself a Christmas Spirit poser? Are you only joyous at Christmas time because that's the way the world dictates we should be? Or are you in a Christmas Spirit all year around?"
I like to think the Christmas Spirit that we should be carrying with us all year around is the Fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Gal.5:22,23)

When you ask Jesus into your heart you are a new creation in Christ, and your old life has passed away. Therefore the Fruit of the Spirit, which are the characteristics of your new life in Christ, should be manifested in your life daily and in essence, this makes your walk in the Lord more simpler.

Keep your Christmas Spirit all year around. Don't be a poser!