Riding on Two Donkeys

This Sunday, April 5th, marks the beginning of, what Christians call, Holy Week. It is the week that we remember the events that led up to Christ’s crucifixion. Today, as I read The beginning of Matthew 21, verses 1-11, I was struck by how Jesus rode two donkeys, a female and her colt. Jesus had told two of his disciples to go into the village where they would find a donkey tethered with her colt. The disciples did as Jesus said and brought back the donkey and her colt. This was to fulfill what Zachariah, the prophet, had said: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your King comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'” (Zechariah 9:9)

When the disciples returned, they put their cloaks on the donkeys for Jesus to sit on. (Matthew 21:7) As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, people spread their cloaks on the ground and waved palm branches in his honor. The crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21: 8-9) Some people did not know who Jesus was and asked, ” Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

This was a day to honor Jesus before his horrible death. How fickle people can be! But, that’s not my purpose in writing this. I am reflecting why Jesus rode both donkeys and how it may relate to us, today. First of all, the foal was tied along with its mother, surely for protection. Knowing Jesus, he would never have separated the foal from its mother, knowing the distress both donkeys would feel. I can’t help but see how this symbolizes Christ’s love for us. He never leaves us to walk alone. If we are obedient to him, Jesus is right beside us to protect and guide us, even when we do not sense him there.

Another thought I have is that his weight was distributed on both donkeys, not just the mother. Could it be that Jesus didn’t want the mother, who had recently given birth, to shoulder the whole load? Again, it is just like Jesus to be like the mother donkey. He “takes the load”, when we are suffering, so that we can bear our troubles and afflictions. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Christ didn’t say we wouldn’t suffer. In fact, he said the contrary, but he promises to help us, strengthen us, and lighten our load.

I hope, as we continue to deal with COVID-19, that we will spend time, reflecting on Christ’s love for us and what he accomplished by dying on the cross. May God protect you and lead you, by his grace, to a place of forgiveness and a new appreciation of our salvation, through him.

When Love Hurts

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. Galatians 4:8

As an only child, growing up with few friends and an often absent father, I spent much of my free time playing with my dolls. My dolls were my comfort and my companions. I did have a few friends, but most of the time, I was home entertaining myself with paper dolls, coloring, or taking care of my “babies” or fashion dolls. I did not “worship” my dolls as one who believes that a god of stone would answer prayers. But they were real in the sense that they had feelings, like I did. I was a child, sometimes, a lonely child. Who could blame me for feeling my companions were “alive”.

Another set of companions were my Disney Princesses. Cinderella and Snow White came alive on film but more so in the books my father read to me before bedtime. There were no Disney costumes for me to wear in the 50’s but my imagination took flight every time I saw Cinderella in her sparkling white gown, looking down at her lovely glass slippers. Fantasy became another way to cope, being an isolated military brat, and it was easy for me to pretend to be a princess, witch, or fairy godmother.

As I started to mature, I became very obsessed with favorite actors and teen bands. I am not talking about merely “liking” these performers but am talking about thinking obsessively of them, imagining having discussions with them, and pouring over Teen Beat magazine to find pictures of them. When I fantasized meeting my idols, I felt euphoric, which was a perfect way to combat an ordinary day. There was no indication that I was doing anything wrong. It was just my way of entertaining myself whenever I was alone.

When I was almost 16, I had my first date. Mike (not real name) took me Polka dancing. I had been a ballerina since I was 7, so the steps were fun and easy to learn. Mike’s sense of humor put me at ease. I felt valued by his kind attention and, as the relationship deepened, I was fiercely determined to date only him.

At one point in the relationship, Mike wanted to “break up” with me. Much to Mike’s dismay, I became hysterical and started to scream, “Don’t leave me!” Shocked at my extreme reaction, Mike soothingly promised to stay with me “under certain conditions”. In my attempts to keep the relationship, I met Mike’s “conditions” which hurt my future relationship with my first husband and other men. My dependence on feeling “loved” affected my understanding of what real love was. Thinking love was based on feelings, I divorced my first husband for a younger, handsome man. I really believed that I had to be with him. Three years later, I realized the relationship wasn’t working and, heartbroken, said goodbye to this person who I had previously felt I could never live without.

I had made a commitment to Jesus Christ when I was a Junior at college. My faith in Jesus was strong in the beginning of my first marriage but my husband was Catholic and did not share in my Biblical beliefs. Except for saying Grace, at the table, we did not pray or read the Bible together. I cared about my husband but did not feel in love with him. Relying on these feelings, rather than the commitment I made to him, led me straight to the affair that broke our marriage.

Eight years of being single (with three children) helped me grow as an independent person. For the first time, I felt confident in myself but open to a new relationship. It was then that I met my second husband, George (not real name). George was kind, generous, and shy. In a little less than a year, we were married. Our marriage had a rocky start. My children did not like my new husband and did everything they could to make it difficult for him. George, in turn, had difficulty relating to the two older kids and there were many conflicts. As the kids matured and married, the stress was gone and we had many happy times with and without our children and grandchildren. Then, another “crush” threatened to break our marriage.

He was handsome and charismatic. We had common interests that my husband and I did not share. I was smitten. I knew my feelings for him were not in line with my Christian beliefs, but I believed that I could not survive without him. I also could not stop thinking and fantasizing about him, even when I wanted to stop. I was truly addicted to this man. I felt I needed him for my survival. My dependence on him, although toxic, was first perceived as flattery. He was charmed by my affection and returned the attention, until he realized how distorted my perception was of the relationship.

There was a organization called Celebrate Recovery, at church. Miserable, but still unable to leave the relationship, I started attending meetings and eventually worked with a sponsor. It took a little over a year, but I made the decision to retire and leave the company. My husband had been patient all this time, knowing of my upcoming retirement, and the work I was doing with my sponsor. I felt sad but relieved, knowing I could truly begin my sobriety.

It has been almost ten years since the day I left. Since then, I have learned strategies to quell an addiction to a person by limiting the time I spend with them. This love addiction, or relationship addiction feels uncomfortable to me, now. I want healthy relationships. I feel more confident, not needing someone else’s personality or talents to compensate for my weaknesses.

You may be wondering, “How did you accomplish this?” Maybe some of you are overly enamored of a person who cannot or should not return your affection. If so, please heed what I have to say. Addiction in any form is excruciating and destructive. Most of us need help to become sober and heal. There are many programs and counselors, out there, but for me Celebrate Recovery and my faith in Jesus Christ saved me. I had to admit I was powerless over my addiction, and that I needed God to help me heal. I made a decision to rededicate my life to Christ and asked forgiveness of the mess I had caused myself and others. God did not abandon me or forsake me. He forgave me and helped me live a new life. I will always be a love addict but Christ has given me a better way to live and he can do the same for you. If you are in a similar situation and want the forgiveness and love from our Savior then take the time to say this prayer.

Lord, I know that my life has become unmanageable. I have sinned against you and I am so sorry. I believe that you are God and that you died to take away my sins. Please forgive me and be my personal Savior. I promise, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to change my ways and follow you the rest of my life. I know this will be a painful journey but one I am determined, with your help, to undertake. Please help me find the right place that will help me recover. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you Hebrews 13:5

Match DQ

We had been shooting Winter Range for two days. Not that we had practiced that much, but the hopes that we would shoot fairly well vanished soon after the first day. Winter Range is the National Championship of Single Action Cowboy Shooting, in Phoenix, Arizona. It is held, annually, at Ben Avery Range and is one of the most highly anticipated matches of the year. Shooters of all levels are eligible to compete and some come from England, Australia, Norway, and Sweden. The grounds are beautifully decorated with detailed fronts that volunteers work on from October right up to a day or two before the opening. This year, the theme was Driving the Golden Spike so there were three faux trains, two which were accented in red, yellow and gold. The Saloon, a red building that permanently stands on the grounds, was lit up in red in the evening hours. Coosie’s, a little store, and the Fort are also permanent buildings that grace Ben Avery long after Winter Range is over. There are many other false fronts that add to the fantasy of the cowboy atmosphere, changing from year to year, as the Board of Directors keep outdoing themselves.

Anyway, back to MY shooting experience. Our posse consisted of a mix of champion and average shooters. I was nervous, but anxious to start. Stage 9 started with 5 rifle on a plate rack and five on a standing target. At the same window, we had two shotgun knockdowns, at the next window two more shotgun knockdowns, followed by five pistol knockdowns and ending with five pistol on a stationary target. I shot down all the rifle plates but missed one on the stationary target (bad start). Then, I had to be reminded to stage my rifle, vertically, (more time lost). I did well with the shotgun targets but then had a pistol miss. Maybe I was still rattled because I kept having pistol misses on stages two and three, including two pistol knockdowns (but was able to make those up). I was getting discouraged, but realized I had been shooting too fast, so I determined to slow down on the last stage of the day. I shot it smooth and clean. Encouraged, I decided to follow suit the following day.

I don’t remember how I shot the first two stages. What I DO remember is holstering my cocked pistol, after shooting all ten. I was just getting ready to pick up my shotgun when the RO (timing operator) told me not to bother and to look at my right holster. There my pistol sat with the hammer half cocked. I was pretty bummed but managed to shoot the last stage of the day with composure. I did NOT want to come back the following day. I even was quite vocal about it, which showed bad sportsmanship. I thought I had made much progress, in this area, and felt convicted by my petulant behavior. A couple of competitors urged me to come back, insisting that I must finish the match. I left, not sure what I was going to do.

The next day, I felt more positive and was determined to have a fun day. One of the cowgirls took pictures of all of us, together. It lifted my spirits and made me feel part of the game, again. The first stage, in the saloon, was not fast but clean. Good start. The second stage was the blue-green “end of the line” tunnel. I had a miss, but I was having fun. Then, on stage three, something horrible happened. At the loading table, I did not like the way my rifle was loading. The gate was slippery and a bullet popped out. I wiped the gate, then cleared the gun before reloading it. Thinking it was empty, I closed the lever and then I heard a soft POW. I stood in disbelief. A fired round at the loading table, even by accident, is a match disqualification or match DQ. I knew that all my scores would be deleted and that I would no longer be part of the match. I also knew I had to report it. When I told our posse marshal, he rolled his eyes and sent for one of the match directors. I felt humiliated. I put my guns away and quickly took the scoring cards for the rest of the match. I had to explain what happened to one of the RO’s (so it was understood what happened) and the other shooters offered their condolences, as they came up to sign the scoresheet. I knew they were only trying to be kind but I wished I could have hidden under a rock. Pleased with our posse (shooting group), our posse marshal offered ice cream for everyone, after the match, but I just needed to get away. I told my husband to meet me at the truck, in half an hour.

I sought solace in the main tent where there was a banjo and fiddle performance . As I sat on one of the folding chairs, I opened my phone to a few of my Christian emails. One led me to Psalms. I don’t remember which ones they were. The words washed over me as I sat feeling dejected and ashamed. God’s word helped, not immediately, but over the next two days, I gradually was able to release the shame and regret over my experience. I also learned a painful lesson. Don’t keep reloading my rifle, unless there is a jam!

Have any of you have made a foolish mistake that cost you? If you have, God is always there to listen, forgive, and restore you. Sometimes, when I feel sad or depressed, I cannot find the words to pray. That is when reading Psalms is a balm for my soul. Psalm 61 is perfect for such a time.

O God, listen to my cry! Hear my prayer! From the ends of the earth, I will cry to you for help, for my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. Let me live forever in your sanctuary, safe beneath the shelter of your wings!

God is always just a prayer away. Do you know Jesus? He knows you and everything about you. He died for your sins so that you can live a fulfilled life on earth and have eternal life with him in heaven. You can tell him anything. He knows how you are feeling, anyway, so why not spend time with him? You won’t regret it.

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11: 28-30

Tares of the Heart

Arizona is not known for it’s rain, but this year we have had more than most, making for a plethora of weeds. Looking out the glass slider of our dining room, I could see thistles and tuffs of grass growing all over the yard and even through our patio clay tiles. Armed with a weed tool, vinyl gloves, and a small bucket, I set up to attack this invasive vegan army. As I dug and pulled the tares, God reminded me of other kinds of roots, roots that damage the soil of our hearts and our lives.

The first harmful root was bitterness. How many of you have unresolved family issues? We have a few, which has caused hardness of heart and an unwillingness to forgive. This has affected all of us, in some way or another, and has made it impossible for the whole family to be present at family functions. God hates unforgiveness and he warns us that he is not able to forgive us if we are not willing to forgive others. Matthew 6:15 Bitterness is a sin and it affects our relationship to God, as well as our relationships to each other. It says in Hebrews 12:15, ” See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many”

To explain this definition of “defile many”, lets look at the definition of a garden weed and the damage it causes to other plants. An article, from http://www.environment.gov, defines weeds as such: weeds reduce farm and forest productivity. They invade crops, smother pastures, and, in some cases, harm livestock. They aggressively compete for water, nutrients, and sunlight, resulting in reduced crop yield and poor crop quality.”

Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Matthew 7: 16, 18-19 We are urged to bear good fruit for God because he has saved us from condemnation and wants us to show others the result of our new lives, in Him. Our works do not save our souls, but our works prove our faith in Christ and allow us to live in praise to God for what he has done for us. When we allow bitterness, worry, lust, and anger to grow in our hearts, it affects our growth, spiritually, emotionally and, in some cases, physically.

As I pulled, some of the weeds broke as the came up. I knew the root was still down deep in the soil but I couldn’t get it. There are many rocks in the Arizona soil which make it difficult for the trowel to dig down deep enough. Our “bitter roots” are the same. Sometimes, it takes months or years to rid ourselves of these tares of the heart. The feelings of anger, rejection, hopelessness, or unforgiveness are released in stages. We may release these to God, in prayer, only to take them back, later on. Only when we dig deep enough into our soul and release our hurts and failures to Jesus, can we be free from the damage these cause. In Matthew 11: 28-30, Jesus says, ” Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Another nasty characteristic of weeds is that they multiply faster than crops and will overcome the crops if allowed to become established in the field. The National Institute of Open Schooling also states that weeds block the flow of water ( Jesus is our living water), affect the quality of a sheep’s wool, can irritate skin, cause allergy, and can also be poisonous. Hmmm. Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? Notice, it says, ” IF ALLOWED TO BE ESTABLISHED”. So, then, if we rid ourselves, quickly, of unwanted thoughts, hurts, anger, etc. then we are freeing ourselves from the poison of these tares in our lives.

What if we have allowed ourselves to be rooted in sin? Jesus is willing to forgive us and the Holy Spirit can help us overcome our weaknesses. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Also, remember to forgive others so that God can forgive you and restore you.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4: 31-32

I am still digging in the garden of my heart, too. It is a painful process but one I am certain to accomplish, through my Lord, Jesus Christ. May God give me (and you) the victory for his glory and for my (our) crown.

Curo Chan

Hi. My name is Curo Chan, which means “little black face”. I am a genuine Siamese cat and live at Washington Heights Air Force Base in Tokyo, Japan. I live with Daniel San, the dad, Vivian San, the mom, and Sheila Chan, the kid. I have tried to see the whole base, but the family gets all upset and then the animal catcher comes after me. Then, Vivian and Sheila trek on down to the pound, daily, to try and find me. One time, they even brought home the wrong cat! Good grief! You’d think they would know me, by now. Anyway, Vivian San finally tethered me to an outside bush and kept me there for hours. My only defense was from Sheila Chan who felt bad for me and finally convinced Mama Chan to let me go. Thank goodness. I almost died from heat exhaustion.

What can I say; I am adventuresome, like the day I noticed the living room curtains. They were irresistibly swaying in the breeze. I couldn’t help myself and took a little leap off the top of the couch, sinking my claws into the silky fabric, while I swung back and forth, back and forth. But then, I quickly realized I could not break free! Whoa, whoa! Here I am terrified and Sheila Chan breaks into hysterical laughter. Thank goodness Mama San came to my rescue. I was still swinging when she came into the room. “Why did you let the cat do that, Sheila?” “I didn’t, he did it himself,” I said, giggling. Looking at me, piteously, Mama San calmly took me down and I ran off to hide. Sheila Chan was given a lecture about the value of the drapes and how Mama San needed her cooperation around the house. “Yes, p-l-e-a-s-e!” I thought.

And then, there was the Thanksgiving turkey. Mama San had put a large, very large naked bird on the kitchen counter. The raw scent had me pacing the kitchen floor, like a stalking lion. Mama quickly caught on, so she decided to tie me up to the coffee table, in the living room. Sheila Chan, remembering my previous suffering, cried,”Oh, poor Curo Chan. Please don’t tie him up, Mommy.” “He is not outside, Sheila. He is nice and cool in the living room and I will be right back. I have to buy something from the commissary. Promise me you won’t untie him, until I get back.” “Ok, I promise.” So, was I surprised that, as soon as Mama San left, Sheila Chan untied me!!! Elated, I ran to the kitchen, leaped onto the counter, then climbed onto the fantastic bird, sinking my claws into the white meat. “Me-ow-wow-wow,” I howled as I tried to take a bite of this icy meat. Then, still in ecstacy, I felt Sheila Chan’s hands trying to lift me off the bird! What was she doing! No, I thought, I must have some of this meat! Then, she started screaming, “Help, help! I can’t get Curo Chan off the turkey!” Before I knew it, our maid, Michiko, came running into the kitchen. She picked me right off the bird, and unto the floor. Bah, the bird was frozen solid, anyway. How could I have known…. Sheila Chan, on the other hand, must have been in some real trouble ’cause she ended up hiding under her bed for a long time. Thought it best to leave her alone.

I really am NOT a troublemaker, but there was a beautiful, black, teakwood planter with a delightful green plant, in the dining room. The dirt in the pot was soft and black. I loved climbing in there, scratching a hole, and making a deposit. Wonderful! We had a indoor toilet! So convenient! But, wait! Mama San was picking me up by the scruff of the neck and rubbing my nose in the mess. Then, she threw me outside!!! How humiliating!! It took me a good while to get myself clean but, to spite her, I was determined to do this, again. After several tries and several times of getting a “nose-full”, I finally gave up. Mama San threw out the plant, anyway. Then, I thought of another plan. I began to notice the oriental rug in the dining room could be flipped up and back over, again. Much to my delight, I found my new “deposit” spot. Except for the flipped up fringe and the smell, it might have been a great latrine, but Mama San noticed and, as upset as she was, she finally broke down and bought me a litter box. Nice!

Things calmed down and everyone was happy but, one night…. My family had gone out for the evening and, when they returned, they had quite a surprise waiting for them. My family had adopted the Japanese custom taking off their shoes when they entered a house. As Daniel San took off his shoes and started to walk around , he could feel something spongy under his stocking feet. “Do you feel anything strange?” he asked. “Yeah, what IS that?” said Mama San, as she picked up her feet. “Do you feel anything, Sheila?” The light in the living room hadn’t been turned on so they had to rely on what they were “feeling”, not “seeing”. As this was going on, I was NOWHERE to be seen as I feared my rambunctiousness would lead me into big trouble. Finally, Daniel San turned on the light and everyone burst into hilarious laughter! Earlier, I had found a loaf of bread and had shredded the whole thing all over the living room floor. The more bread they found, the more they doubled over, laughing. And instead of being mad at me, they seemed to think I was a pretty humorous cat.

So now, when everyone has settled for the night, I feel it is safe to come out and lay in Daniel San’s lap. “Purr, purr, ” I murmur, as Daniel strokes my light brown fur. Maybe I’m not such a bad cat, after all.

My Jesus

I knew him, as a child. My mother taught me to pray to him, speak to him, and she made him real through the nativity, at Christmas. We lived in Damascus, Syria, for a few years and on our way back to the US, we traveled through the Holy Land. I was still young and didn’t understand the significance, as well as my parents, but I did believe in Jesus. Our trip to the Church of the Nativity was especially significant. I loved dolls and laying in a manger, in an alcove in the wall, was a porcelain baby Jesus. He was beautiful and sweet. If only I could hold him. Our guide told us he was not permitted to allow me to hold the figure, but there was something on my face that moved him. Carefully, supporting the precious figurine, he took the baby Jesus from its shelf and placed him in my arms. I felt this incredible surge of love as I looked in baby Jesus’ eyes. I was deeply touched by this incredible gift of trust from the guide. In a matter of seconds, the guide, who was supporting the statue under my arms, carefully lifted the “baby” back to its rightful place. It was a moment I will never forget. Holding and admiring this baby Jesus, though not real, helped me see him as a real person.

In writing this, I became curious as to whether or not that figurine was still at the Church of the Nativity. So, I started doing research and found that there is a beautiful effigy of the infant Jesus on display in the lower level of the Grotto. I couldn’t remember if this was the “baby” I saw, as a child, and was determined to find out if this precious effigy was originally seated somewhere else in the church.

I spent over an hour reading, site after site, searching an answer, to no avail. I even posted the question, on a Catholic website, to see if I would get an answer to whether this baby Jesus had indeed been moved from its’ original place. Then, this soft voice prompted me to question my motives. Why was I searching about a effigy, made from stone, when the REAL Jesus was in my heart? What was prompting me to run after an idol? Still, I continued my search for awhile longer, tired but still curious. Finally, I stopped. And then….the conviction came. I spent all this time looking for something elusive, when I could have been searching scripture to seek intimacy with the true Christ. I felt ashamed and asked forgiveness. Later, during my Bible study time, this verse stood out to me. ” The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” Psalm 135:15-18 Also, in Exodus 20: 4-5, God forbids us to worship any gods beside him and says, ” You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them….”

Now, let me clarify that admiring a work of art, such as the Christ Child Effigy, is not the same as WORSHIPPING it. However, the time I was spending on this effigy was a sin. My memory of holding the effigy is NOT a sin, but my obsession of it WAS a sin. I would still be “tickled” if MY baby Jesus is the same one as shown, today, in the Church of the Nativity. It was such an honor to have “held” him. However, this experience is NOTHING compared to the riches I have, and can have, knowing Christ, my Savior. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and unfathomable are his ways!” Romans 11:33

What are YOU searching for, today? Are you searching for meaning in your life or are you searching for the wind? God promises us so much through his son, Jesus. When we seek him, we will find him. Forgiveness, peace, and the promise of eternal life are yours if you believe and trust in him. Let’s turn to him, today. “I pray that the eyes of your” (and my) “heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” Ephesians 1:18

The Gift

When I was a child, my catechism teacher suggested that we “pray” a gift for Jesus. She had made a diagram of x’s to look like a manger. Each x represented a prayer that made up the manger bed for the Christ child. I was very inspired by this and was determined to do this for Jesus. I started out strong but there were days when I forgot to pray. Then, as Christmas drew near, I remembered my promise. Not realizing that I could mark each x after any conversation with God, I prayed the correct number of Our Father’s and Hail Mary’s in order to finish the manger. Satisfied, I ran off to my own pursuits, forgetting the significance of what I had attempted to do.

What happened? I had been sincerely moved by my teacher’s request. I imagined the precious baby, Jesus, and wanted so much to “pray” that manger bed for him. But as the days wore on and “life” took over, I forgot my original promise. Yes, I finally fulfilled it, but not with the same passion I started out with. As an adult, I can still be like this. Some days my devotion to Jesus is sincere and my time with him is rich and rewarding. Other times, I am fulfilling an “obligation” to spend time with him. I guess that is better than not spending any time with him but what an insult to a Savior who is supposed to be Lord of my life!!

Let’s now examine the Magi, from the East, who traveled for about a year to find the Christ child. They had heard about him, knew the prophesy concerning him, and made finding him top priority in their lives. Think of the journey these kings made to honor a child who was destined to do great things.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 7:14

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 Gold was given because Christ was a king. Frankincense, an expensive, aromatic oil was presented because it symbolized Deity. Finally the gift of myrrh was laid at Jesus’ feet as a symbol of his eventual death on a cross, the perfect sacrifice for all men’s sins.

As we celebrate this Christmas, in the midst of the cookies, glitter and gifts, may we take time to celebrate the Christ child in prayer. Spend some time, alone, in a quiet place and talk to him. Read his Word and let God reveal himself to you. He loves you. He died for you. Let’s give him the honor that he is due.

Why a Pear Tree?

In the Christmas carol, A Partridge in a Pear Tree, I have wondered about the significance of the words and why a pear tree was chosen but not an apple or a peach tree. Well, when you sing the song, you quickly realize the words “a partridge in an apple tree” or “a partridge in a peach tree” doesn’t flow. The alliteration of “a partridge in a pear tree” definitely has a nice ring and rolls off the tongue. But, I wondered if there was more, so, I decided to find an answer on the internet.

  • After reading a few articles on the symbolism of each stanza, I finally happened upon a short article by Cherish Flieder that revealed that the pear tree stands for longevity, justice, strength, fruitfulness, and salvation, many of the qualities given by God to those who love him. The partridge, himself, stands for our Lord, Jesus. Why a partridge you ask? Dr. Paul Spilsbury wrote, in an article in the Vancouver Courier, that a partridge will give up her life for her children. Jesus did this when he gave up his life to forgive our sins and give us eternal life. Ah….. so now it was coming together. You may be asking, “Well, what about the rest?” So, from the two authors above, here is what each stanza means.
  • Two Turtle Doves symbolizes the Old and New Testament
  • Three French Hens stands for faith, hope, and love
  • Four Calling Birds mean the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)
  • Five Golden Rings symbolize the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament
  • Six Geese-a-laying stand for the six days of creation
  • Seven Swans of Swimming are for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit ( prophesy, serving, teaching, exhortation, contribution, leadership, and mercy).
  • Eight Maids-a-Milking mean the eight Beatitudes (blessed are the…)
  • Nine Ladies Dancing stand for the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit ( love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control).
  • Ten Lords of Leaping symbolize the Ten Commandments
  • Eleven Pipers Piping are the eleven faithful Apostles
  • Twelve Drummers Drumming mean the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed

So, there you have it. This song, written by Catholics for their children, secretly symbolized their beliefs, in a predominately Protestant England. Most of us, still do not know what these lyrics mean, as we blithely sing along. If you take time to reflect the true meaning of the song, you may appreciate it in a new way. Each stanza represents the gifts, teachings, sacrifice, and commandments of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Christmas is a time for us to reflect on who Jesus really is. It’s a time to invite him into your heart and home. All the glitter and presents in the world cannot give you the peace you long for. Only God can do that. After all the Christmas ornaments are put away and the lights disappear from the trees, depression often hits. This is because we are looking to the magic of the season to lift us from the sadness in our lives. But only Christ can give you the fulfillment you crave. Jesus says, ” I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” Psalm 16: 11 says, ” You will show me the path of life; In your presence is fullness of joy; At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Christ fills that void that all of us experience, at one time or another. Many of us try to fill that void with food, sex, entertainment, or other addictions, but only Jesus can give you that contentment you desperately need. Remember, the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, and peace. Don’t we all need these things? Jesus said in Matthew 11: 28 “Come to me, all who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Won’t you take some time to be with Jesus, today? Just spend some quiet time with him, wherever you are. If you’re not sure what to say, read the Psalms that I have mentioned, here, and then just talk to him about whatever is on your heart. He loves you, so much, and will be delighted to hear from you. You will be blessed. I promise.

Have You Set Up the Manger, Yet?

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village in Judah. Yet a ruler from Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the ancient past. The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies until the time when the woman in labor gives birth to her son. Micah 5:2

I love the holidays. The rush to buy the perfect gift, the smell of pine boughs, and the sweet taste of sugary treats stir anticipation in my heart. I love the sparkle and shimmer but it is only part of the magic of Christmas. As I prepare for the holidays, setting up the tree, shopping for gifts, and baking scrumptious cookies, a small voice says, “Have you set up the manger, yet?”

When my husband and I were newly weds, he bought me a lovely nativity set. Every year, I pull out each figurine from its foam space, in the original box, and put them in the wooden manger my step-daughter gave to us. Just like when I was a child, I set each piece in its own place. Mary and Joseph are on either side of the baby Jesus, in the manger, and the shepherds are kneeling before the Christ child. The three kings are lined up, outside the stable, bearing their gifts to honor the holy child. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Luke 2: 12 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2: 11

The simplicity of this ancient scene warms my heart. It never loses its meaning. This Jesus, who God promised to send, to save our sins, was born in a simple stable. Yet, he was God Incarnate, Prince of Peace, and Lord of Lords.

Just as the star of Bethlehem beckoned the wise men to the Christ child and the angels, singing, announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, Christ tenderly calls us to come and worship him. He is waiting. He promises forgiveness and the right to become a child of God. He promises eternal life to all who believe. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. John 3: 16

Have you set up your manger, yet?

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9: 6

Be Thankful In All Circumstances

As soon as the leaves start changing into their brilliant colors, thoughts of the holidays come to mind. Years ago, the holidays came one by one and you didn’t see Thanksgiving or Christmas (heavens-to- Betsy!) decorations until Halloween was over. Anticipation for each holiday wasn’t foreshadowed by the push to Christmas that we have today. And why? Because the emphasis wasn’t so much about things as it was about the significance of each holiday and the meaning it brought to our lives.

Now that we are approaching Thanksgiving, I would like to consider what we are, or should be, thankful for. For those of us who have relatively ordinary lives, we should be grateful for our families, our jobs, our home and the many blessings God has given us. As we sit around the Thanksgiving table, with the glossy-brown turkey, savory stuffing, and steaming vegetables, we may joyfully be thankful for all we have, at that moment. But after our stomachs are aching full and the football game is over, are we still grateful? What if you are away from family, or maybe friends, are you still grateful? What if you or a loved one is in the hospital or in hospice, are you still grateful? What if you are very ill and are not sure if this is your last Thanksgiving. Are you still grateful? Some of you have lost a loved one. All you can see is the empty chair where they used to sit. Can you be grateful?

Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Notice it says in all circumstances. How is this possible? How can a loving God expect or desire thankfulness to him when things go wrong? We may not be thankful for the hardship, itself. No one enjoys suffering. But we can be thankful for the opportunity to become closer to him because the situation leads us to. We can trust that God is in control of all things and that he has a reason for everything he allows in our lives, even though we may not understand why.

What are your Thanksgiving plans? We are having some of our cowboy friends, at our house, for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. I am so happy to have friends to share the holidays with, since we are far away from our family. I am grateful that we have the resources to do this and thankful that our friends want to be here. I am grateful that our families have special plans with their extended families.

However wonderful our Thanksgiving meal is, there is something that will satisfy me long after the turkey is gone, my relationship with my Savior, Jesus Christ. There are times when I feel depressed and sad. Even though I have some wonderful events planned for the holidays, I can still feel empty. That is until I sit down with my Bible and spend time with Jesus. He never fails to comfort, strengthen and give me hope. He also shows me, through his Word, any unconfessed sin I may have or what I need to work on, in his strength. But it is this time with the Lord that fills me in a way food, money, or other pleasures can’t. Psalm 107:31 says Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.

If you feel you need something else to fill a void in your life, know that Jesus is just a prayer away. He loves you and desires to make you his child. If you want, you can say this prayer: Jesus, I have tried things my own way and failed. I believe you are the Son of God, who died on the cross for me to save my sins. Please forgive me, help me turn away from my sins, and be my personal Savior. I desire to follow you all the days of my life. In Jesus’ name, I pray.

I sincerely wish for all of you to have a wonderful Thanksgiving with family or friends. But more than this, I pray that you will know the love of God and how he can fill you with the most satisfying food, his Word.