God Came Near

God entered the world as a baby.
Yet, were someone to chance upon the sheep stable on the outskirts of Bethlehem that morning, what a peculiar scene they would behold.
The stable stinks like all stables do. The stench of urine, dung, and sheep reeks pungently in the air. The ground is hard, the hay scarce. Cobwebs cling to the ceiling and a mouse scurries across the dirt floor.
A more lowly place of birth could not exist.
Off to one side sit a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to hear him — so on this cloudless night he went to simple shepherds.
Near the young mother sits the weary father. If anyone is dozing, he is. He can’t remember the last time he sat down. And now that the excitement has subsided a bit, now that Mary and the baby are comfortable, he leans against the wall of the stable and feels his eyes grow heavy. He still hasn’t figured it all out. The mystery event puzzles him. But he hasn’t the energy to wrestle with the questions. What’s important is that the baby is fine and that Mary is safe. As sleep comes he remembers the name the angel told him to use … Jesus. “We will call him Jesus.”
Wide awake is Mary. My, how young she looks! Her head rests on the soft leather of Joseph’s saddle. The pain has been eclipsed by wonder. She looks into the face of the baby. Her son. Her Lord. His Majesty. At this point in history, the human being who best understands who God is and what he is doing is a teenage girl in a smelly stable. She can’t take her eyes off him. Somehow Mary knows she is holding God. So this is he. She remembers the words of the angel. “His kingdom will never end.”
He looks like anything but a king. His face is prunish and red. His cry, though strong and healthy, is still the helpless and piercing cry of a baby. And he is absolutely dependent upon Mary for his well-being.
Majesty in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of sheep manure and sweat. Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager and in the presence of a carpenter.
She touches the face of the infant-God. How long was your journey!
This baby had overlooked the universe. These rags keeping him warm were the robes of eternity. His golden throne room had been abandoned in favor of a dirty sheep pen. And the worshiping angels had been replaced with kind but bewildered shepherds.
Meanwhile, the city hums. The merchants are unaware that God has visited their planet. The innkeeper would never believe that he has just sent God into the cold. And the people would scoff at anyone who told them the Messiah lay in the arms of a teenager on the outskirts of their village. They were all too busy to consider the possibility.
Those who missed His Majesty’s arrival that night missed it not because of evil acts or malice; no, they missed it because they simply weren’t looking.
Little has changed in the last two thousand years, has it?
Excerpt from God Came Near by Max Lucado
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My Response to a Christian Friend Regarding Santa Claus

I realize not everyone agrees on this issue and I am convinced that this is a decision that is deeply personal and that there is not necessarily a right or wrong way to deal with it. It has to do with whether it is proper or not for a Christian family to teach their kids about Santa Claus. My parents raised me and my three older sisters to love Santa. They also taught us to love Jesus more. I was moved to respond after being pointed to this video by a friend. Watching the video first will give you the context of my response. What do you think? Be nice. After all…Santa Claus is coming to town!

Hmm. And we wonder why a lost world shows little interest in Christ. I believe it is in no small part due to the fact that most of us Christians personify what most of them think God is. Some sort of supernatural nanny sitting up in a big, heavenly chair who just loves pointing out how bad people are. That all He does, and then we in turn do, is go around telling everyone what they can’t do instead of sharing the love of Christ with them. With all due respect, I am personally offended every time someone decides to look down from their ivory tower and yell at me because my kids love the idea of Santa Claus.

As a child, I loved the idea of Santa Claus. Still do. My father is an old-school, Bible believing, God-honoring, pastor, husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather who was somehow, miraculously able to allow all four of his children to love the idea of Santa and yet see all of us come to know Christ at an early age. As a matter of fact, when I accepted Jesus as my Savior in 1977, at eight years old, I had no problem reconciling Jesus and Santa. As I got older and wiser and came to know the things I do now as an adult, I was neither troubled nor confused by the way my parents raised me and the way that we celebrated Christmas at my house.

When my father was pastor of New Home Baptist Church in Titus, Santa Claus was an annual visitor to our church every Christmas season. If we do our job as parents and teach our kids about Jesus, who He is, what He did, and why He did it, then we won’t have to worry about Santa or anyone else confusing them. Don’t tell me that it’s impossible or even difficult. My mom and dad did it four times! I’m trying my best to do it now with my children and had the blessed honor of baptizing my son a couple of years ago. If your personal feeling is to go a different route with Santa then that is certainly your prerogative. Don’t assume that your way is the only way it is possible to lead a child to Christ. Children possess an innocence that, once gone, will never return. Let them enjoy it while they can. The reality of life will meet them head-on soon enough.

My opinion is that Santa is a lot of fun. My belief is that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on a cross, and on the third day He kicked death in the teeth and lived again so that if I believe He did all these things and invite Him to be the Lord of my life, I can live with Him forever in Heaven. That’s a pretty good deal. A good deal I picked up from my parents while lying awake half the night every Christmas Eve in anticipation of gifts from Santa Claus in my living room on Christmas morning. I guess God still is in the miracle business.”

An Opinion I’ve Heard Enough Of

Tragic. It’s the only word that can even come close to describing the events surrounding the death of Wetumpka High School Senior, Haley Wingard, last week at the hands of an obviously troubled ex-boyfriend. I have no inclination to delve into why this young man made such a terrible decision or engage in any rumors and/or hearsay. What I would like to address are some of the opinions I’ve heard since that terrible night regarding how law enforcement officers handled the situation.

I am unashamedly pro-law enforcement. I have the utmost respect for the men and women in our area, and everywhere else for that matter, who choose to put on the uniform every day and go to work to help keep our neighborhoods and communities safe. Sometimes that is something as relatively simple as slowing down drivers by stopping them and letting them know they need to slow down. Warning or ticket, usually those of us who tend to have a lead foot are guilty. We usually don’t like when that happens and we might gripe and complain about it but it’s necessary. Sometimes, as I saw two weeks ago, it is responding to the concerns of a local businesswoman who heard someone open the back door of her building when there should have been no one there except her. Sometimes it’s trudging through the woods in the middle of the night or in the rain looking for a missing person. Always, it is dangerous. With every traffic stop or response to a domestic dispute or robbery call or any number of countless other things law enforcement officers are called upon to do for us, the potential exists for that officer to be injured or worse. Such was the case last Thursday night as many of them responded to the hostage situation that was unfolding in Walsboro.

I know virtually none of the details of what transpired that evening, but what I do know is this: Every police officer, deputy, EMT, and first responder’s objective that night was to rescue Haley. Every action they took or didn’t take that night, every decision they made was made with the sole intention of getting her out safely and defusing the situation. Tragically, that didn’t happen. Perhaps, in hindsight, there are some things they would have done differently. Perhaps not. I’m nothing resembling any sort of expert or authority on negotiating hostage situations. I don’t know when negotiating should cease and use of force should commence. The men who were there that night do. They train regularly for situations just as this. Whoever made the call to go in did so based on that training and their own experience. Whoever fired the shots did so based on that training and their experience. If I had to hazard a guess I’d say they are more than a little distraught over the way the situation ended. Who wouldn’t be? They’re human just like you and I, after all. They risk their lives every time they go on duty for a public that seems to have less and less respect for them with every incident that doesn’t end well such as this one. Never mind that this particular team has been faced with at least 207 similar incidents which ended peacefully.

I will leave the discussion, debate, and second-guessing to others who feel the need to do so. Until someone teaches me all the ins and outs of hostage negotiation and rescue and until I’ve been involved in a few myself, I’ll leave it to the professionals. They are good at what they do even though things don’t always go the way they want them to. I’m sure they struggle and hurt and second guess themselves enough when things go wrong. They don’t need anyone to pile on. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to make a split-second decision in the heat of such a stressful, tense, dangerous moment. Most of us will never have to do it because these guys decided they would. For that, what they deserve is respect and thanks from those of us whom they protect. Spare me the armchair quarterbacking. I really don’t want to hear it anymore.