Thursday, December 20, 2012

Out of the ashes--how will you respond?

Not since 9/11 has an incident occurred on U.S. soil that has impacted and violated such a large swath of Americans.  Some of our most innocent and vulnerable citizens were ripped violently from us in the worst possible way.  I would never presume to understand the pain, grief, and despair that has been visited upon those most closely affected by this tragedy.

For this reason, I will not attempt to address how the victims' families,  the school community, those who live in Newtown, or others intimately touched by the tragedy should respond.  This is their time to grieve, express anger, receive counseling, cry on the shoulders of their loved ones and friends, lean on God for comfort--whatever they need to do for as long as they need to do it. 

But what about the rest of us?  Now that the initial shock has worn away, how should we respond?Americans collectively have had our psychological skin burned, and  healing will take time.  We may hold our children closer, express disbelief, or cry out for some kind of justice in the world. Many of us have profound, but ultimately, unanswerable questions. It is easy to get mired in political, moral, and theological debates. We are in pain and prone to feelings of despair and hopelessness.

However,  I am convinced that if we can take steps, even small ones, towards honoring the victims, showing compassion, and praying to God, our spirits will be soothed and we can begin to travel the road toward healing.  Following are three suggestions--feel free to choose one, two, three, or none.  You may have other ideas or ways of dealing with grief.  Ultimately, our hearts will guide each of us in how to best deal with this tragedy and look towards the future. 

1)  NBC News anchor Ann Curry suggests that people perform 26 random acts of kindness in honor of the 26 Sandy Hook school victims.

2)  The U.S. Post Office has dedicated a special place to receive cards and letters of condolence for the families of those who perished at the school:  P.O. Box 3700, Newtown, CT, 06470.

3)  Most importantly, those who are followers of Jesus Christ have the power, access, and obligation to pray. It is good and right to be brutally honest with our Savior.  If we are angry at God, we should tell him so.  If we want to cry out for him to return quickly and rescue us from this evil and sin-sick world, we should tell him that, too.  If we want answers, ask Him. God is big enough and strong enough to handle our most gut-wrenching questions, doubts, anger, and fears. 

 The prayer suggestions that follow were put together by the Moms in Prayer State Coordinator for Connecticut.  She is asking all Christian prayer warriors throughout her state, our nation, and the world to pray in light of what seems to be a senseless and unthinkable tragedy. 

I can testify that prayer does make a difference!  When I intercede on behalf of others and ask God to comfort those who mourn, I receive comfort as well.  When I ask God to be merciful, gracious, and compassionate to families whose lives have been torn apart, I feel his mercy, grace, and compassion resting on me as well.  Prayer changes others; but it also changes me. 

Prayer requests for Sandy Hook elementary and Newtown: 
For the families of those who lost their lives: That they would turn their lives to you, Father. That in their sorrow you would grant them strength and grace to make it through the coming days and months.  That mercy and comfort would be extended to their tender hearts. That this Christmas our families that are grieving would recognize the glorious peace and comfort that comes through faith in you.           

For the siblings of those who lost their lives: That Our Father would protect them from the enemy of their soul. That they would find comfort in their family and in the knowledge of your great mercy. That Jesus would be present in their sleep and the darkness of their heart would be warmed by His light. That our Abba Father would comfort them during difficult days ahead.

The family of Adam Lanza: That they would not be judged as they mourn the loss of their mother, brother and victims in this tragedy. That the Lord would give the Sandy Hook School families and community strength to forgive. That the Lord would draw the Lanza family into a saving relationship through the blood of Jesus Christ.

The students, faculty and administration of the Sandy Hook Elementary School: For the Lord to bestow mercy to the children's healing hearts as they mourn the loss of their classmates, administrators, teachers and their perceived safety. That Our Lord would restore the school classrooms with spiritual and emotional healing. That children and families would cling to Jesus as their Rock, Fortress and Deliverer. For Christ to be present in the rebuilding of lives and programs in the wake of this tremendous tragedy.

All of our schools and communities across the USA: That we Christian Americans would humble ourselves, pray, seek Our Lord's face and turn from our sinful ways. That the Lord would hear from heaven and forgive our sin and heal our land. That this tragedy would glorify God through a fierce Holy Spirit led cross-country revival.  For repentant hearts that would cling to Jesus. We pray that the Lord would raise up women to join the mighty army of prayer warrior moms and grandmas that stand in the gap for our children and schools.

Revival in our schools: That every student would have the opportunity to hear of the grace and mercy afforded to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ. That Christian students would be beacons of Christ's light to those who are living in darkness. For the Holy Spirit to move among the hallways of each school in the United States. For students to respond to God's great love and  everlasting peace.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen".   Ephesians 3: 20-21



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A space alien travels from Hobby Lobby to Bethlehem

Science fiction?  NOT a fan.  I suffered through Fahrenheit 451 as required reading in school and believe it barely passes as a literary genre.   However, I recently suspended judgement and tapped into a hereto unknown portion of my brain that is fond of pocket universes, gamma rays, and UFOs. Following is a brief yet poignant tale of alien Sork's visit to earth on December 12, 2012:

Sork learns that there is an annual celebration on earth that is out of this world (cheesy, I know). Planetary tourism is Sork's favorite past time, so he hops in his Model #X7Ui5 spaceship, sets his GPS for New York City, and takes off.  As he nears the earth and hovers over our American landscape, he is overwhelmed at what look like stars--a twinkling, dazzling display of millions and millions of tiny lights in every color and size imaginable. "Could this have anything to do with who or what the Americans are celebrating?"  Sork wonders.               

 His GPS is imprecise once he leaves his galaxy, so Sork lands in the Hobby Lobby parking lot in Carrollton, Texas instead of the Big Apple.  Good enough.  He is thrilled when his six eyes  peer inside Hobby Lobby and see thousands of lights similar to those he observed after entering the atmosphere. 

Sork walks inside and is immediately nauseated by the smell.  (Sork has gotten a blended whiff of cinnamon, wintergreen forest, nutmeg, and peppermint scented candles).  Sensory overload strikes when as he is affronted by the lights, the indoor trees, and bright, sparkly, shiny stuff. Sork spots a sign that says "Christmas decorations,"  according to his interplanetary translator machine. "Maybe these earthlings are celebrating something called Christmas!" imagines Sork.

Sork gingerly takes a step onto one aisle, and then another step.  His trains all six eyes on the store's wares, and sees an assortment of unfamiliar items--ornaments by the thousands in every shape, size, and color, stockings, stickers, muffin liners, flower bouquets, itty bitty to extra large gift bags, bows in a wide spectrum of colors, elves, holiday wrapping paper, strands of beads, and ceramic bowls.  Each row seems to feature more glitz and glamour than before.  A curious tag with tiny writing appears on most items.  He holds his trusty translator to read what it says:  "Made in China."  "Hmmmm. This could be a clue!" thinks Sork.

Sork notices an odd image on much of the merchandise--an old man sporting a bright red suit.  He has a shock of white hair, a long beard, and an easy smile. Sometimes he holds gifts in his hands, other times he is being dragged through the universe by some odd-looking earth animals.  "Is this a superhuman, a god, or a chrononaut (time traveller)?  Perhaps HE is the one everybody is excited about !" enthuses Sork.

Sork realizes his life might be in danger when harried shoppers almost step on him, not even noticing there is an alien in their midst (Sork is quite short).  He wants to ask these frenzied earthlings who or what they are shopping for.  But alas, they are too busy stuffing their carts full of plastic and cardboard, glitter and bling, trim and sequins.

He leaves the store dazed and disoriented, but decides to bounce over to the next shopping center and peek inside a few more stores.  Through his translating machine, he could hear shoppers reassure each other, "if you can't find "it" at Hobby Lobby, you can find "it" at Joann, Michaels, and Garden Ridge.  Sork hopes these stores will be different, offering insight into the "it" that inspires unabashed spending and slavish devotion.

 However, he finds the same displays, merchandise, crazed shoppers, and funny man that he hears some humans call "Santa Claus."  On his way out the door, a saleslady asks one of the shoppers, "is there anything I can help you find?"  "I'm looking for baby Jesus," the woman replies.  The saleslady knits her brow and responds, "I don't think we have anything like that here."  Another clue!  Who is Jesus, and what might he have to do with Christmas? 

Sork is chafed from atmospheric exposure and in dire need of a  carbon monoxide smoothie, so he hops in his spaceship.  He summons the intergalactic Internet, hoping to find information about Jesus.   Service is slow, especially 3.7 zillion miles from his home planet.  He hates his Internet provider, but is under contract for another three eons.  He rubs some crystallized lotion into his scales until at last, Alienopedia appears on his screen.  First entry:

Jesus:  King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Wonderful Counselor, Good Shepherd, Servant, Redeemer, Savior, High Priest, Deliverer, The Vine, Holy, Light of the World...Whatthewhat?  "How can Jesus be all these things at once?" Sork wonders.   Being an educated alien, Sork surmises Jesus must be a replicant (artificial alien or genetically engineered replica of a human being).  He continues reading:

God is the just and gracious Creator of all things (even aliens and their galactic abodes).  Earthlings are created by God, but are corrupted by sin.  Jesus Christ alone is able to remove sin through his death and resurrection.  He took the wrath for earthlings' sins.  Humans try and try, but there is nothing they can do to become right with God.  Only though faith in God's Son, Jesus, can humans be forgiven and reconciled.  The eternal destiny of each earthling depends on their response to Jesus.

Sork ponders what he has read and wonders if Jesus might be God's avatar.  He reads on:

Jesus is fully God and fully man.  He left his heavenly home and came to earth as a baby.  This miracle is called the Incarnation.  Believers in Jesus celebrate his birth at Christmastime.  ""Wow--finally I'm getting somewhere!" Sork declares in his cute little alien voice.

Sork furiously scans for information about when God's son was born.  According to Alienopedia, the birth occurred approximately 2012 years ago in a town called Bethlehem.  "Maybe Bethlehem in near China, where Christmas decorations are made," Sork muses.  There's only one way to find out. 

He decides to "regress in space" and see the miracle of the first Christmas himself.  In time travel mode, he can move with superluminal speed and arrive in an hour.  He sets his GPS to Bethlehem and reads the additional directions:  "You will know you are close when you see the giant star.  When you land, follow the shepherds weaving through densely populated narrow streets.  The  smell of animal dung signals your proximity to the target location. Inside, you will find a young couple with a baby.  THIS is Christ, Emmanuel, who earthlings celebrate at Christmas!

Sork arrives in his spaceship and parks near the camels.  In a little room, he finds Mary, Joseph, animals, and a tiny baby. Shepherds are bowed down in worship.  Everything is simple--no triangle trees with twinkly lights, stockings, or elves.  No glitter, no glitz.  The angels hovering over Jesus, however, are lovely and luminescent.   Even a foreign alien can't help but stand amazed.

Sork realizes that although this baby appears small and helpless, he is no ordinary earthling.  He is the greatest, most magnificent being to ever cross the horizon of the world. He has always existed, and he always will (talk about being everywhere in the time/space continuum!)  Jesus is the Savior of mankind, and offers earthlings grace, redemption, and eternal life.  Those who believe are his children and will reign with him forever. 

Sork slips out of the stable and boards his spaceship for his return trip to a galaxy far, far away.  He lights his dilithium fuel tank and astrogates into space.    As he orbits the planet earth, Sork gazes one last time at the Christmas lights twinkling below.  "Just beautiful," muses Sork. As Sork settles into his into his cushy space chair, he ponders his visits to Hobby Lobby and the stable in Bethlehem.  "I'll telepathically synthesize my observations into my intergalactic translator," decides Sork.  Sork is surprised to see that in 3.4 milliseconds, a summary of his earthly visit is transcribed into a simple poem:

"Humans on earth are celebrating Jesus' birth. Often the merchandise and bling obscure the simple majesty of their King.  But however they choose to celebrate, the earthly arrival of God's son is a special date. For this is when Jesus came down from above, to transform earthlings through his great love."  --Sork the Alien

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What Mary and Joseph gave Jesus instead of an xBox

As every year at Christmastime, I feel the tension between joyfully bestowing a limited number of gifts on my children, and feeling pressured to buy them lots of high-tech toys, electronic gadgets, and dolls that are probably manufactured for $10 but cost $100 due to insatiable demand and clever marketing.  Mika (age 8) and Macy's (age 6) Christmas lists: 

DS game system
laptop computer
iphone, ipod, ipad (thanks Apple, you've already indoctorinated my children)
American Girl dolls, clothes, and accessories
jump rope

In affluent suburbia,  most parents, like me, are constantly pressured by their children to buy whatever their friends have and what they see advertised. According to Mika and Macy, they are the most deprived children they know (apparently forgetting the kids we met in Guatemala this summer). The limited amount of technology we make available to them is never enough, and they demand, MORE, MORE, MORE!  The toys and gadgets Mika and Macy long for serve a dual purpose:  they are truly a lot of fun and also allow them to fit in with their peers. 

I look around and see three year olds with itouches (which sometimes land in the toilet); first graders with smart phones, birthday parties for 10 year olds with a $10,000 budget, 16 year olds with brand new cars that cost more than their teachers' annual salaries, and breast augmentation for high school graduation. I begin to wonder that if I can afford to give my girls their hearts' desire on Christmas (or put it on credit), why not?

Much has been said and written about overindulging children with material stuff, and I have no idea where to draw the line.  It's a balancing act that every family must figure out for themselves.  My goal is to keep Mika and Macy from feeling so comfortable in the world that they forget where true satisfaction comes--through a life devoted and surrendered to Christ.  Unlike ipods and game boys that will someday disintegrate, break, and end up in the city dump, living to please God and accomplish his kingdom work will reap eternal rewards that Mika and Macy will enjoy forever and ever, amen.

This quote from the Village Church blog sums my thoughts up well:

"The price tag for suburban affluence, untempered by godly wisdom, is far too high for the Christian parent to pay. The danger, though not physical, is real. We must point our children toward the truth that satisfaction is found in God alone. This need not be a call to asceticism so much as a call to sober reflection: Ultimately, the stuff is not the problem – our hearts are. We must think hard about the choices we make in our spending. With God’s grace we may spare our children from the poverty of a life spent chasing what will not last by pointing them toward what truly satisfies."

I'm humbled when I remember that Jesus grew up in a household devoid of most "wants," yet his earthly family provided him what he needed to prepare for his mission as Savior of the world.

Mary and Joseph hailed from the insignificant village of Nazareth (possibly the "hood" of Galilee?).  They did not possess wealth or social status.  When they took baby Jesus to the temple to be presented to the Lord, they offered a pair of pigeons--the offering of the very poor.  Mary and Joseph were unable to pass on to young Jesus much in the way of education or meaningful cultural experiences.

Despite being materially and culturally disadvantaged, Mary and Joseph were faithful Jews who worshipped the one true God and knew the Holy Scriptures. They provided Jesus with a home that was built on love, faith, and family.  These priceless gifts are as important to children now as they were over two thousand years ago. 

So what exactly is going to end up under the Christmas tree for my girls this year?    I've bought what I consider fun and age appropriate gifts for Mika and Macy, including a puzzle and a jump rope.  Will they feel deprived once they return to school in January and see and hear about all the stuff their classmates received?  Possibly. They might as well get used to it, though, because we won't be bankrolling new cars or boob jobs, either.

It will probably be a long time before they appreciate the things that money can't buy--a  loving home, plenty of family time, and a spiritual heritage that they can pass on to their children and grandchildren.   My prayer is that someday, Mika and Macy will know that the greatest gift at Christmas isn't found under the tree.  It doesn't come with apps, megabytes, consoles, ear buds, or avatars, but it's definitely a keeper. 

The greatest gift at Christmas isn't expensive.  It's priceless!  Jesus, God become man, born to lowly Jewish peasants, the Savior of the World.