Renee's reflections on the blessings and blessedness of God - no matter what the circumstances

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Take _________ Out of Christmas

As Americans living in a foreign country with access to American media via both television and the Internet, we sometimes wonder if we have an accurate picture of what is taking place at home. Perhaps we can more accurately assess things because we are more detached. But perhaps we don’t have all the information, or balanced information, thus our assessments may not be always on the money. It was definitely interesting to observe an election from the outside for the first time.

Those who are astute, probably saw the previous paragraph for what it was: a disclaimer; not about the election, but about our ability to assess things accurately. That said, this is my observation: as the world increasingly wants to separate itself from things Christian, we as Christians want to increasingly try to reign them back in. Renee’, what in the world are you talking about now? No, I’m not just rambling as I wait for the pizza dough to rise. I do have a point.

I see and hear people talking about the need to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” As more and more places of secular employment move from “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” and as our cities are allowed to put up “Holiday trees” instead of “Christmas trees,” I understand the frustrations.

However, I can’t help but wonder if the issue isn’t that we are insisting on non-believers keeping Christ in Christmas. Perhaps we need to address what we as believers take out of Christmas. We know that the Holidays are becoming increasingly secularized. Could the reason be because those of us who profess to follow Christ have allowed the secular in first? Perhaps we need to ask ourselves: what is the most important thing about Christmas for us? If we answer “Christ”, we must honestly assess how we spend our holidays and ask if that is what others see in us. It is so easy to allow other things to be most important. Obviously, that includes gifts and material things. Could it be the food? Family? Traditions? Sentimentality?

Our family deliberately never celebrated Santa Claus for this reason. There can only be one center, and we knew we would never be able to keep Christ there with Santa around. That is what we had to take out in order for Christ to be where He ought to be during the Holidays. I invite you to join me in asking God if there is anything in our lives that needs to go --- “Take ________ out of Christmas.” Only then can Christ truly be the center.

Bursting Radiators and Sopping-Wet Expectations

I didn’t know at the time how much I would need the reminder. I thought it was a timely word for the youth devotional. The message was a comparison of Mary and Zacharius. When Mary received word from the angel that she would be giving birth to the Messiah, her question was understandable. “How can this be?” Zacharius received a similar message. He asked a similar question: “How shall I know this?” They both received an answer, but Zacharius was unable to speak until the birth of his son. Mary received no such discipline. The difference: Mary believed and was asking for understanding. Zacharius didn’t believe.

When the phone call came today, it wasn’t just any ordinary Saturday. It was Cori’s birthday and in less than an hour, she would have friends arriving. Not only was the pizza not finished, but I didn’t even have her cake in the oven. Never have I been so unprepared for one of my children’s birthdays. To top it all off, I just wanted to go to bed. I have somehow managed to come down with four different ailments at once (which I won’t go into). So just finishing this task would take more energy than I really had.

Ah, but that’s not all. I had promised Jonathan two weeks ago, that we would host a Christmas Open House (okay, I confess, I love it – normally). Because I’ve been sick, I haven’t been able to do any advance preparations. So that is ahead. And sometime in the next 48 hours I had to finish laundry (without a dryer, remember) and pack, while leaving a clean house for the two Mongolian girls who will be staying here with Sadie.

As soon as I heard the ring, I thought to myself, “We can’t do anything else.” The Mongolian lady started talking to Bernie about the center and water. This would be the place to tell you that after months of renovations and endless shopping trips, the UB Student Center officially opened last night. This past week had gone so well. After the initial trips when we couldn’t find anything that worked, things were falling in place, right down to the cups with sheaves of wheat and the thermoses that matched the wallpaper. Bernie and Onon and I were so pleased to see the fruit of all our weeks of work. A lovely, peaceful place was finally ready for students to come and find a quiet place to study. Then next month, when we arrive back from the US, we could start scheduling events.

We knew that the heater in the front room had been leaking, so Bernie finished what he was doing and grabbed a few towels, expecting to go wipe up some water. He never dreamed he would open the front door and walk into a sauna. The radiator, heated by scalding hot water had burst in the middle of the night and was spraying water into the room. It was literally raining in the room from the steam that would condensate on the ceiling. The walls were wet. The furniture that we spent hours shopping for and having built was wet. Everything was wet.

With the help of teammates, Dennis and Eric, Bernie and Onon spent the next couple of hours cleaning and assessing the damage. The floors that Bernie has labored so long on will have to be redone. The ceilings that Soggi had painted for us will have to be repainted. We are hopeful that the wallpaper will not have to be replaced. Bernie’s guitar is fine (Hallelujah!) but we don’t know yet about the keyboard. The new rug is wet, but should dry, as we hope will the upholstered chairs. We believe that the wood furniture will still be usuable.

So, human nature automatically calls up the question: “Why did this happen?” and even, “Why, God, did You allow this to happen?” The question is not wrong -- as long as the heart believes. We have the opportunity to choose to believe that God is on His throne. He was not taken by surprised. He was not out-maneuvered by our enemy who seeks to kill, steal and destroy. He chose to trust us to trust Him. To know that He is more than able to work this for good and for the glory of His kingdom. We’re not sure how or when. We don’t even know if we will ever be able to say, “Oh, this is why God allowed that to happen.” What we do know is that by His grace we as a team give thanks – not for the mess, but for the God Who is able to triumph in spite of the mess. We give thanks for timely words from Scripture that are there before we know we will need them. And most of all, this Christmas, we give thanks because He is Immanuel, God with us – even in a sopping wet Student Center.


When There Are No Formulas

As we approach our third winter here in Mongolia, I am reminded of a dilemma that we face on an ongoing basis. What do we do about the street children?

In our family devotions last week, Bernie referenced the verse where Jesus tells His disciples that if someone takes their coat, they are to give their shirt as well. “Give to everyone who asks of you…� (Luke 6:29, 30). Cori then raised the question that we wrestle with internally all the time. “If this is what Jesus said, why don’t we give money to the street children?�

Wanting to make sure my daughter is well informed and well trained, I looked at her and gave her my best answer.

“I don’t know.�

And I don’t. Oh, I know what I tell myself. They just have to give it to someone else who will use it to buy vodka (true almost all the time, though I have seen them use it to go buy food). I know that if I gave money every time I was asked, pretty soon we would have nothing left and would have to return to the US and work at McDonalds.

We’ve tried just giving them food, and do this sometimes. But this isn’t really a long term solution. Imagine sitting in one of the nicer restaurants with your husband on your anniversary, and one of the street children slips past the hostess and stands at your tables and looks at your food and says, “I’m hungry.� I wanted to get up and give him my chair. The waiter came and shooed him away, but my appetite was gone. Yet, what would happen to the restaurant’s clientele if everyone gave in to the street children who came in? Then you’d have a restaurant owner out of business.
Not long ago, the young guy that we have singled out caught me as I was going into the grocery store. He offered to wash my car, but I didn’t have time as I just planned to run in and run out. So he rubbed his stomach and said, “I’m hungry.� I nodded, and he knows us well enough to know that we usually try to buy him food. Then he looked at me, and placed his order. “Ham.� Well, that didn’t set so well. I wanted to buy him a package of spinach or a carrot or something.

How do you move from giving out bread to seeing them realize their need for the Bread of Life? How do we as “rich� Americans bridge the gap between our world and theirs? I leave the encounter and go to a warm home. They leave and go who knows where, some to homes, but others to sleep under the streets by the warm pipes. Especially when you know that is not the purpose God has sent you to this city to fulfill.

Jesus stated that the poor would always be here. But He didn’t leave us a detailed plan of how to deal with this. Oh how I wish He had. I ask myself, “What would Jesus do?� I DON�T KNOW. Obviously even He did not meet the need of every poor person.

This past summer I was sitting in church and had purchased a bottle of juice to drink because it was a hot day and there was no AC and little breeze. We were singing and a little street girl came to the doorway to listen. I turned around a saw her and smiled. She saw the juice in my hand and held out her hand for it. I was sitting toward the front and didn’t really want to take it back to her (and honestly didn’t want to give it up – I had already drank half of it). But every time I would look back she would hold out her hand. Needless to say I didn’t enjoy the service very much. On one hand it wasn’t a good precedent to set, but on the other, I felt guilty for not giving it to her. I shared this with Bernie later. He had given the message that day, and he told me that she had hung from the wrought iron bars and listened to the entire sermon. Perhaps had I given it to her she would have just left. Or maybe I just feel better if I tell myself that.

But back to our devotions. This is what we shared with Cori, after honestly sharing our own inner struggle. For us it has boiled down to this. Walk in the Spirit. The Spirit of God knows the will of the Father. There is a quote from one of our Christian forefathers that has meant much to us. “Learn to detect and obey the inward impulse of the Spirit of God.� It always comes back to this – a daily surrender of my life to God. When I am in the right place, walking in fellowship with Him, His Spirit will lead me, even in these little things.

That still doesn’t make it easy. It doesn’t mean we don’t still wrestle with it, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. I don’t think God wants us to boil our lives down to formulas and policies, even though those are sometimes necessary and helpful.

The big issue is for the church here. Please pray with us for a healthy, growing church that in love and compassion can do so much more than hand out a bag of peanuts. Pray for the church in Mongolia, that out of their love for God and compassion for people they would bridge the gap and share bread, thus paving the way for relationships where the Bread of Life is shared as well.

The Legacy of an Unwasted Life - A Corn of WheatJoseph S. Carroll

I have learned much from the unwasted life of Mr. Joseph Carroll.

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