Category Archives: Christmas

Thank you for friendship

AshcraftsTo all my followers who have been with me through the ups and downs, exchanging encouragement and exhortations, thank you. Some of you are dear friends. Others of you I would like to get to know more.

Gifts received and gifts given

gifts serviceA gift received is a gift given. Whatever God has given you as a talent or a special characteristic, you must give to others.

Too many stars and intelligentsia use their talents for themselves. They believe themselves entitled to superior treatment. They fail to recognize that their beauty, voice or ability comes from God. God didn’t give you that gift because He has favorites — not to use it just for your own benefit.

If you are in the church, you must understand that God’s giftings come from God and are owed back to Him. I’m mystified by Christian servants who charge fellow servants for the use of their giftings. We are governed by capitalism more than the Bible. If we hold back on our service to the church, we are not being faithful to God.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in various forms — 1 Peter 4:10.

 

 

Difficulties at Christmas

difficulties ChristmasSometimes I have to remind myself that God has everything under control. He’s permitting the difficulties. He’s shaping me. I don’t understand. I can’t see the big picture. Job didn’t know about the cosmic bet between Satan and God. All he could see was a completely unfair and incomprehensible situation.

If you are going through tough times at Christmas, remember: they might be a gift from God. Of course, you wouldn’t want this kind of gift. But you’ll like the results when God has finished His product. So hang in here, don’t lose heart. Thank Jesus for the difficulties.

Being highly favored

mary angelHail, Mary, highly favored of God! That’s how the angel greeted Mary in Luke 1:26.

Though she was favored to carry in her womb the Son of God, she was also in for some bad trials — like the loss of her “normal” life and dreams for a perfect marriage with Joseph. Her son would be crucified in front of her eyes. Yeah, a lot of trials.

But what I want to say here is that we are all favored of God. He loves us all. We all have a unique destiny. God has good things for us.

For Christmas, just realize how special you are to God. You are a gift to Him!

Every child wants to have an adorable monster friend

adorable monster friendQuite accidently, I’ve discovered the formula for Disney. As a joke, I got pictures of me, made up as the Ghost of Christmas Future, with the happy little kids in the play with fearful faces.

It seemed the kids were drawn to me, playing high-five-down-low-too-slow and what not. Every kid wants to have a friendly monster as a friend. I was the monster.

IMG_8702But here’s the flipside. If kids like it, so do monsters. The beast gets turned into a prince. The bad guy becomes good. Innocent love executes a transformation.

Who wouldn’t want to restore to the pristine innocence and untainted joy his monster soul? That’s why Jesus was was “without sin.” His love is pure, uncontaminated, simple childlike glee. Jesus says we must come to Him like children. We can shed the burdensome cynicism of being an adult. We can leave behind sin like a snake its skin. This Christmas, accept the best gift you could ever receive, the Giver of gifts.

Of course, our church Christmas play was very much along the Scoorgian lines. While I was waiting my role backstage, my mind was running through a completely different plot.

Shaming as revenge

joseph, husband to mary

Joseph the jilted decided to NOT humiliate Mary after she obviously cheated — she was pregnant, and he knew it wasn’t him.

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily — Matt 1:9.

BEFORE an angel had told him to go ahead and marry Mary, EVEN BEFORE a miraculous vision assured him this was an act of God and not his fiance fooling around, BEFORE ANY OF THESE ASSURANCES Joseph, BEING A JUST MAN, opted to not shame her.

The revenge people do through social media these days makes me cringe. Nothing good comes of it.

My life in parallel in the Christmas Carol

Christmas Future

She plays one of the family girls in the play. I’m a Matrix-like creep.

In the sixth grade, I played Bob Cratchet, and it proved prophetic for my life, because I have never gotten rich and always worked like a dog.

Not at age 48, I’m Christmas Future in the Palisades Theatre (Pacific Palisades, CA). I warn that greed will lead to eternal torments. This has been part of my life as a preacher.

Is it possible that a life can be summed up in a simple play? How did Charles Dickens cast my personality?

The Bible says there is nothing inherently evil with money. It is the love of money that rusts the human heart. As a missionary in poor Guatemala, I saw that not only the opulent love money. The poor can easily do this too.

Love God more than money.

Those who figure that this life on Planet Earth is all there is…. well, we’re all going to find out sooner or later.

Happy winter solstice in Santa Monica

winter solstice in santa monica

In effort to oust nativity scenes from the bluffs, the atheists posted this display. They caged their sign because supposedly Christians were going to vandalize it.

The atheist nuts here in Santa Monica actually think that they can supplant Christmas with the shortest day of the year, which ancient ignorants imbued with superstitious meaning.

Now this sounds like it could really upstage both Santa Claus and Jesus with an abundance of warm fuzzies, doesn’t it?

Christmas is about love. If you can downgrade love to a simple scientific question of neuro-chemical synapses (as some scientists are trying to do), then you might also be able to deconstruct Christmas. Love is at the center of Christmas — whether it is the family meal, gift-giving or decorations.

The foundation of Christmas is Christ. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to save it. You won’t be eclipsing love any time soon — nor will make Christmas drop off the calendar.

You’re saying your pregnant and you haven’t had sex?

mary.jpg

Yeah, right.

What about Joseph’s faith? He had to have A LOT of faith to marry Mary, to believe that she hadn’t fooled around and been unfaithful. When Mary got pregnant, he knew that he was not the father. One tends to assume the worst, the obvious, faced with such circumstances.

Even with the angel telling him, Joseph would doubt. Was the vision a nightmare, a hallucination? What would his friends think?

Joseph needed tons of faith too.

People tend to look at the Christmas story as an aw!-moment. But there was real angst. It wasn’t easy to bring the Savior to the world. Not for Joseph.

If you’re going through a crisis during Christmas, Joseph did. Be encouraged and keep faith.

Note: Apologies to the actress whose picture I use. No slander against her. I searched for “Mary,” and this image came up.

Sprinkles of delight

sprinkle cakeQuite unexpectedly I fell in love with sprinkles on the Christmas cake this year. There’s something delightful about the crunch on the soft white frosting.

I usually run AWAY FROM treats. I run TO the gym. But it’s Christmas, a time of celebration of Jesus’ birth. So I’m letting myself go a little bit and enjoying things I usually avoid.

The problem with America’s obesity is the problem with America’s morals. We want too much too often. We can never say no. We cannot stay with what is good for us. God made sex for marriage, for example. And we want sprinkles on everything and all year round.

Here’s the message America needs: we need to enjoy God-given pleasures within God-given limits.

Be home for Christmas

presentsThe best presents… is your presence.

Don’t think you can buy your children happiness, hardworking absentee father/mother. You may be “too busy” and think to compensate with a splurge of cash. Nothing replaces your presence.

God splurged on buying us the ultimate Christmas gift: His only Son. And He is only a prayer away to being in our hearts and gifting us His presence.

God gave us family. It is a reward, an institution, a blessing and a happiness. Sometimes it goes dysfunctional, but you don’t throw out the institution because of failure. You fix it.

Original image from Google search.

For Christmas, give forgiveness

forgiveness

The greatest gift you can receive comes from the Father in Heaven: It is forgiveness. The greatest gift you can give on Earth is forgiveness.

You may not be able to wrap it up in red paper with a bow. It doesn’t go under the Christmas tree. It goes into the heart.

Forgiveness restores love. When things “don’t work out,” people think that “moving on” is the solution. They find “true love.” Only too late do they realize they trade one set of problems for another; no one is free from baggage. Instead of dumping love, give forgiveness a try. As much as our society has “advanced beyond the antiquated norms of the Bible,” we still have need of eternal wisdom.

The more you give, the more you have

388cad74c2839a0b1f500d82be9451a3Most resources, at being squandered, wind up diminished.

Not so with love, joy and encouragement. With these, the more you give them, the more you have them.

As a matter of fact, the best riches are not the ones guarded in a bank but ones that are freely given out of the heart.

This Christmas season, with your gift giving, give the gifts that the more you lavish them upon others’ hearts, the more they grow in your own heart.

Note: Picture from Pinterest.

Even psychopaths and creeps

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Don’t be scared. It’s just me submitted to a trial run on stage makeup.

After longing to be in our church’s plays for years, I got cast in one role — and I nailed it! Now I am included in every production. Yippee!

What was the role I nailed? Barabbas, the psychopath. I guess that comes naturally to me (LOL!), and I thought would be typecast.

Now our church, the Lighthouse in Santa Monica, is producing a revamp of the Scrooge. My role is a surprise, but I’m something like the federal agent from The Matrix. I’m a creepy guy.

This is a lot of fun, but it’s also unnerving that I should so easily fall into roles of evil people. I guess we are all saved — those of us who choose to receive Jesus — by grace and not by works. Even psychopaths and creeps can get forgiveness.

Who is Scrooge?

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Ralph Bowen with his wife, Brenda, when they were missionaries in Africa.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a more unscrooge-like Scrooge.

Ralph Bowen was a missionary in Africa for 20 years of poverty, self sacrifice and uncommon generosity.

The script “The Re-Turn of the Scrooge” – being produced at the Pierson Playhouse Sunday through Tuesday at 8:00 p.m. – calls for something like Donald Trump in the central role. Even if he conjures every drop of acting juice, he is wrangling against every antithetical, altruistic cell in his body.

Even his response to a reporter’s question shows self-effacing unmiserliness.

“I’ve been a Scrooge person all my life. Just ask my wife and kids,” Bowen said. “We’ve all had some greedy moments.”

His actions contradict his account. Starting in 1992, Bowen was a missionary in Sierra Leone when it was rated the second poorest nation in the world by the U.N. He also pastored in The Gambia (1996-2002) and Senegal (until 2012). He and his wife, Brenda, adopted three African orphans.

Since his stint facing down malaria and rebel forces, Bowen has returned to the States, where he confronts the lesser adventures of trying to make a living as a handyman, a popular preacher at the Lighthouse Church and as a gifted actor. This article originally was published on the Santa Monica Patch here.

The Land of Milk and Honey

ice-creamIf you mix milk with honey (and freeze it), you get ice cream.

What the in the Old Testament is promised to God’s people (to possess the Land of Milk and Honey) is in the New Testament promised as “abundant life.” Jesus says: I have come that you may have life — life abundantly. (John 10:10).

The idea is that serving Jesus not asceticism. It is joy. When Jesus was born, “peace” and “great joy” was promised to Earth. Salvation would be lavished upon humanity with blessings, both here and in Heaven.

I love ice cream. It is a good symbol for the Christian life. I hope you can learn to enjoy a relationship with Jesus Christ (not empty rigorous religion with rules and hopelessness).

The reason we give gifts at Christmas

christmas-christmas-tree-colorful-gifts-ornaments-Favim.com-248327

Jesus was God’s gift to mankind. When we give each other gifts, we celebrate that Jesus was a gift and that salvation (forgiveness of sins) is a free gift to any who would receive.

I suspect there are many people giving and receiving gifts, celebrating Christmas, without knowing anything more than it is a family tradition. Little do they realize they are honoring Christ and proclaiming salvation.

Priceless

christmas-crossSalvation is priceless because you and I don’t have to pay.

Salvation is priceless because no payment could ever be enough.

Christ is the most exquisite gift you could receive a Christmastime.

Silver bells? No, just the f-word.

holiday stressIn the Costco parking lot, a man yelled, “Get you ef-ing car out of here!” He could be heard pretty much all over the lot. He repeated himself. I guess he didn’t resort to blows because the driver who stole his space was a lady. This is what Christmas has become.

Inside Costco, a kid whined: “Why can’t we have a 75 inch television?” Ho ho ho.

I did my best to navigate the carts and get my groceries without getting into a fight. I’m really getting into the Christmas spirit.

Leaving the parking lot, a lady honked and yelled at a driver who she thought should have pulled a quick right on a yellow. Apparently, she was going to follow.

Jesus went to the cross for peace on Earth and good will to men. Our ever-increasingly secular society, however, is replacing the true Christmas spirit with materialism and hatred. When we shop during this season, we need more patience, not less.

Christmas: a burst of love

meaning ChristmasLove exploded upon humanity when the Son of God was born in human form.

No longer was it impossible to please a completely holy God, who demanded an animal sacrifice for every sin. That’s A LOT!

Jesus was the last sacrifice to end all sacrifice. He was the price paid in ransom for us; we sold ourselves to sin, death and Hell.

If you experience the love of a family during Christmas, that’s a mere taste of the full flavor of love from God. If you didn’t experience human love during Christmas, you are missing a drop of the ocean of love God has for you.

For Christmas, Jesus gave you his very life as a gift

Jesus gave all

Loneliness at Christmas

loneliness Christmas

Even surrounded by family, you can feel incredibly lonely.

Jesus’ parents lacked a friend’s house to crash on the couch. In a filthy stable, Joseph provided for Mary to give birth to their first son. Jesus was born in loneliness.

He’s with you now in a very special way. The times I’ve been loneliest have also been times that I’ve had the sweetest communion with God. With tears in my eyes, I lifted my heart to the Lord.

Those were beautiful moments.

He comes in the most unexpected ways

Jesus donkey

Nobody every expected Jesus to be born in a manger. Nor was riding on a donkey worth calling a triumphal royal entry into Jerusalem.

The leading interpreters were completely blindsided by the appearance of the Messiah — partly because their envy blinded them, but also because they interpreted erroneously.

Try to resist making God fit your theology. He’s a boundary buster. He’ll surprise with unconventional means: Muslims who see Jesus in a dream and serve the Savior without leaving the mesquite, for example.

  • If this man were of God, He wouldn’t heal on the Sabbath.
  • Does anything good come out of Nazareth?
  • He eats with tax collectors and prostitutes.

Their exclusionary clauses eventually excluded themselves from the things of God.

This Christmas, don’t wait for Santa to come down your chimney. Ask Jesus to come into your heart. Don’t limit God.

Photo credit: Beautiful pictures on google+. I’m not making any $ on this picture, and I don’t own the rights to it.

What gift do you give when you have unlimited resources?

greatest giftGod has “undiminishable” riches. No matter how much you take away from them, it’s like a drop in the oceans.

So when He paid our ransom, it was a light thing. He could afford whatever price the devil set.

His only limited resource was His son. He had only one.

I’ve known parents to suffer prolonged acute grief over the loss of a son. That pain is assuaged many times by the presence of other children. God had no other children. He couldn’t preserve His favorite son and send the brat to die for humanity.

Even though Christ resurrected and triumphed over death, I believe God’s grief was unbearable.

Really, no one told God that it had to be His Son. God makes the rules, so He could have sent an angel to die on the cross for us. He could have sent all of His angels.

But to show how great His love is, He sent His one and only Son. He didn’t send money, which He possesses in limitless supply. He sent the one thing that most touched His heart.

I’m not so rich that I can give gifts without experiencing any personal loss. Such was God. The greatest gift is Jesus. Merry CHRISTmas!

Original photo from Tumblr.

He was born to suffer

sufferingSo Jesus can relate to suffering and pain.

In fact, his essential purpose in leaving his kingship in Heaven and condescending to take mortal form was to suffer. And it started with his birth in a filthy stable.

During his life, He alleviated pain everywhere He found it. Blind eyes were opened. Condemned prostitutes were forgiven. Tax collectors escaped a life of being despised by others. The demon-oppressed were freed.

Then he died excruciatingly.

If Christmas conjures magical feelings of family and beauty, let us never forget its underpinnings are the Son of God coming to help the helpless, the defend the defenseless, to redeemed the scum of society, to sanctify the sinner and prick the self-righteous to reflection.

He feels your pain. He came to take the pain away.

Photo from soulation org

Joy is the opposite of fear

joy at ChristmasSurprisingly, courage is NOT the opposite of fear. Rather, fear is the journey towards courage.

When we read the Christmas story, the opposite of fear proves to be joy. Angels visit Zachariah, Mary and Joseph. Each time they say: Do not fear. They explain their news, and then they say that it is cause for great joy.

So you can either be joyful or fearful, but not both.

Why is Christmas so joyful? It’s more than just a feel-good, help-the-less-fortunate time of year. It’s the time that Christ lifted off our shoulders an impossible burden. Christ paid an unpayable price. The separation from God that initiated in the Garden of Eden was finally ended. Humanity can now enjoy relationship with the Heavenly Father.

In the gif, Tim Cocker gives what he calls “terrible” Christmas gifts to his kids in 2011: a banana and an onion (she thinks it’s a tiny pumpkin). But the kids are joyful.

Will be joyful or fearful this Christmas?

Santa is alive and well

santa claus is alive and wellNicholas gave his money away to help people. The legend is that he anonymously helped young ladies pay their dowry by throwing the money in the window. It fell into socks hanging on the hearth. His good deeds became known, and he was named bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey.

Then he died and went to Heaven, where he is alive and well. Don’t look for him at the South Pole. You’ll only find penguins.

The real gift-giver is Jesus. He’s not bringing a sack of toys. He offers far greater presents: the unpayable ransom of your soul, forgiveness, restoration, blessing, acceptance. Sorry Toys-R-Us, Jesus gives priceless stuff.

The wise men came bringing gifts to Jesus, but Jesus IS the gift to humanity.

Gold, frankincense and more

Gold Frankincense and MoreAfter being a Christian for more than 35 years, I can’t really remember anyone ever say this: I need to give more.

No, through more than three decades of rubbing elbows with Christians, most often I hear people brag about how much they have already given. Usually, they compare themselves to others and point out how superior their giving us.

When someone gives quietly (without blowing the trumpet in announcement of his gift, as Jesus said), it inspires me to give.

When someone brags (and usually there’s an undertone of bitterness, as in: they wasted my gift), it’s completely uninspiring.

This Christmas, give without bragging and bitterness. Give God gold, frankincense and more.

Season of joy

joy ChristmasWhy is Christmas joyous? Because Christ came to forgive us our sins, to die carrying out own death sentence so that we might be freed from it. The problem of sin, which dogged humanity from the beginning of time, was finally solved.

Picture source: animationguildblog at blogspot

Do not be afraid

afraidEvery Christmas narrative in the Bible contains the command: Do not be afraid. The angel says it to Joseph, to Mary, to Zachariah.

To you.

Don’t be afraid of God. He is loving. The commands of the Old Testament are satisfied in the New Testament through Jesus. Christmas is, in the words of the angel, “good news of great joy” because God is forgiving the sins of all who ask. The gap separating man from God is bridged by the cross. Reconciliation is possible. Perfect love drives out all fear — 1 John 4:18 NIV.

God loves you with a perfect love. All you need to do, as with a Christmas present, is open it.

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Merry CHRISTmas

emptytomb

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The miracle of Christmas

Miracle of Christmas

No wonder they try to discredit His beginning and end

Jesus

Pseudo-intellectual siege after siege has been brought against Jesus to cast doubt over the historicity.

“Scholars” have focused on details small and large in this attempt. But those attempts have failed. The evidence supporting the Biblical accounts is overwhelming, as is His undeniable work in me.

Let’s celebrate Christmas not as businessmen but as the gratefully saved.

 

The real reason…

Photo thanks to PunkDrunkLove

Photo thanks to PunkDrunkLove

… you didn’t get so many gifts this year, is not the recession.

May the gift of laughter — as well as the gift of gratitude — be with you this year. Merry Christmas!

(That pesky NRA!)

 

No room in my home

WinpyChristianLast night at church, the pastor issued a plea for a new couple, Jose and Mary, who were evicted and needed a place to stay until they get back on their feet. They are just recently moved here, and she’s pregnant — nine months. Can you believe that?

Why would they get pregnant without lots of dough stashed away in the bank? They no doubt don’t have health insurance, so it’s a typical case of taking advantage of the system. People need to be more responsible and stop looking for handouts.

I am voting for our family to NOT pitch it. We can’t simply help every time there’s a need. The way I see it, every  dime that goes to charity is one less for my Christmas presents, and I’m hoping for the biggest haul ever this year!

Why don’t Mary and Jose go to THEIR parents. I’ll bet not even Santa Claus will give them anything. They probably didn’t behave themselves.

But the worst thing is that Mom and Dad talked about letting them stay at our house, at least on the couch. That’s creepy! Can you imagine running into the living room to open my goodies bright and early Christmas morning — and these strangers are there. What if they run off with the gifts during the night and disappear? Let them go to some homeless shelter to give birth there.

**** “Manual,” the fictitious persona of the Wimpy Christian, thanks the Wimpy Kid for his attitude and applies it to the church.

 

True joy

Shoes for Guatemalans

Shoes for Guatemalans

To my young mind, there was no doubt about it. Christmas was all about getting — as much as I could. A funny thing happened, that toy that looked like so much fun on the commercial… well , you know…

Helping One Voice divide up fruits and vegetables into bags for their Christmas baskets.

Helping One Voice divide up fruits and vegetables into bags for their Christmas baskets.

Something happened in the intervening years. I discovered the joy of giving. Disneyland was fun because it was fun to see my kids have fun. I gave even my life to the mission field — 16 years in Guatemala.

I just sent down a bunch of shoes. Poverty is such that shoes are among the hardest thing to come by for the natives (who work in our school and get paid a pittance because it is semi-self-supporting). My daughter is expert at firing through size, sex and price so that it didn’t become an hours-long ordeal.

My daughter played in the Scrooge drama put on by the Lighthouse Church in Santa Monica

My daughter played in the Scrooge drama put on by the Lighthouse Church in Santa Monica

Giving is more satisfying that getting. Try it this year. Instead of begrudging the lack of Christmas presents, volunteer at a food distribution center. We helped One Voice in Santa Monica prepare food baskets.

Jenny, at right, with my daughter. She's so shy that she doesn't smile in front of the camera.

Jenny, at right, with my daughter. She’s so shy that she doesn’t smile in front of the camera.

I just got off the phone with Pastor Ludving in Guatemala. His daughter, Jenny, has some problem with her eyes, but he stopped treating it with the doctor because of lack of money. All donations in December and January through my Donate option (PayPal) will go to her.

Beyond the Mayan Long Calendar and Carmaggedon

At Stonehenge, an end of the world party, yesterday

At Stonehenge, an end of the world party, yesterday

Even though I used to live in their mecca, the Mayan catastrophe yesterday failed to materialize. Now, would Roland Emmerich* please give everybody back their ticket money? We weren’t warned. We were swindled.

images-4When crews widened the 405 FWY  they shut it down for a full weekend in July 2011 and predicted traffic snarls all the way to Paris. Telling everyone to stay home, they said it would be “Carmaggedon.”

Ancient_Mayan_Ruins_Chichen_Itza_MexicoI had an outreach to drive to, and the freeways were entirely empty. The next day the newspapers stated that Angelinos, by NOT using their cars for the first time in their lives, had made the “ultimate sacrifice.”

apocalypse-30I took exception to that. The “ultimate sacrifice” no one I know would be willing to make: to die for a friend maybe, but to die lovingly, givingly, for an enemy, who would? The Christ of Christmas did.

IUltimateSacrifice16x20f you stockpiled food, water, gas and bullets for the much-vaunted Mayan cataclysm, give it to the poor (not the bullets). Because the real end of the world is coming, but it’s not Carmaggedon. It’s Armaggedon. What you’ll need most stockpiled is Jesus in your heart.

* Emmerich directed 2012, a special effects phenom that grossed $770 million. It was based on speculations of a Mayan Long Calendar-predicted apocalypse.

Friendship and coffee

images-2I posted a challenge to the existentialists. No one every responded. Maybe they don’t think I exist.

When I posted a challenge to the atheists, they responded with fury. They are a jolly group of friends, nice guys, all of them.

I have discovered that WordPress is a great place to make friends. I am impressed by the sincerity of people. Y’all are so heartfelt.

holiday-coffee-topimages-3One of the things I enjoy with friends is sharing coffee. The Native Americans smoked the peace pipe. Some people share a beer. I savor coffee. It’s my way of bonding, a ritual for communicating how much I value the person.

christmas-coffee-03Throughout 2012, I have had some wonderful conversations with you blogger friends. We have shared in struggles and triumphs, joys and depressions. But I’m afraid inviting you to coffee in Santa Monica would be seen as creepy, so have a coffee in wherever you are to friendship!