Joy to the World

December 19, 2013

If you gather a group of adults and ask them to talk about the joy of Christmas they will no doubt reminisce about festively wrapped packages, snow covered landscapes, and home baked goodies.  On the other hand if you go to the local mall and ask people to describe the joy of Christmas you might get a snowball hurled at you.  Let’s face it there is no joy in the stress of shopping, snarled traffic, or impending debt.  Still, each year millions of people try to recapture the joy of Christmas by overloading their schedule and their bank accounts only to have that joy fade as fast as the smell of the Christmas tree.

The Bible has a very different view on the joy of Christmas.  Rather than looking for joy in the material Christmas, God tells us to look to the birth of Jesus.  In Luke 2:10 we read that the angel told the shepherds “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”  This was the joy of the first Christmas.  A Savior had been born.  Of course the shepherds probably thought that the Messiah had come to deliver them from Roman rule and for this there would be great joy.

In John 15:11 we get a clearer picture of joy when Jesus told his disciples,  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.  So what was Jesus’ joy?  Look back in chapter 15 of John and we see that His joy was keeping his Father’s commands; In other words obeying God.  And why did this bring joy?  John 15:10 gives us the answer, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”  So if we keep Jesus the center of our life His love will cover us and this will be the source of our joy.

The bottom line is this; your joy should come from within.  It should come from the relationship you have with a sovereign God and loving Savior.  If you are feeling far from God this Christmas take 5 minutes before you back out of that parking space and into the next traffic jam to bow your head and thank the Lord for his blessings.  Re-center, refocus, and rededicate your life to serving the one who came to save the world from sin.   You will find the real joy of Christmas.


Let’s Take a Ride

December 10, 2013

One day my late wife Mary asked me to get in the car so she could take me for a ride.  She did not tell me where we were going only that she needed me to go. It turned out that she was taking me for a weekend at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA.  The converted ship is now a floating hotel where people can stay to relive the grandeur in the age of ocean liners.

Normally I would refuse to go anywhere unless I know the purpose, the time commitment, and the cost involved.  But on this occasion I begrudgingly got in the car with Mary behind the wheel.  We had a wonderful time enjoying the romance of the nostalgia, and in the end I was grateful that Mary had taken control of the weekend.

In a lot of ways God does the same thing.  He doesn’t tell us much about the journey only that He needs us to go.  Instead of asking us to get in a car He asks us to have faith in the Lord Jesus.  John 3:16 tells us “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  All we have to do is believe to start the journey.

Next God tells us to get in the passenger seat.  We can’t drive.  We can’t put the gas in the car.  We can’t even tell God to watch His speed.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  It is not by anything we do, but only by God’s grace that we are even allowed to take the journey of salvation.

Finally God wants us to relax and enjoy the trip.  We can’t navigate and we dare not ask to take a side trip.  Proverbs 16:9 teaches us “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”  Our human nature convinces us that we can find our own way, but God knows the best route from where we are to where we need to be.

If it seems you are on the wrong path, taking the wrong journey, let God show you the way.  He has a wonderful life mapped out for you through faith in Jesus.  As Jeremiah 29:11 teaches us “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Let Him take control of your life.  You could not be in better hands.


It has been fun

January 2, 2010

It was fun writing what I thought the world needed to know.  However, life calls me back into reality.  So for now I will close up shop.  Perhaps when life settles into a more routine pattern I will return. 

Thanks to all who came to read what I had to say.


Somalia Refugee Situation Worsens

September 18, 2009
Somali Children

Somali Children

Recent reports coming from the Voice of America and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are indicating that the loss of life from Somalis fleeing poverty and conflict will increase. A number of factors are influencing people to flee the country. Decades of instability, extreme poverty, and now the armed conflict between al-Shabab and the African Union Peace Keeping forces.

For some the most likely route to a better life entails crossing the Gulf of Aden to Yemen. Already this year 270 people have drowned in the attempt. For others who choose a shelter in place strategy, the results are not much better. A recent LA Times article reports that the hospital in Mogadishu is filled with gunshot and shrapnel victims. Sadly, one third are children.

Even for those removed from the conflict, daily life is at best a struggle. With nearly 50% of the population living on less than $2US a day survival is a long shot.

Ironically this humanitarian catastrophe has only recently received major media attention as Somalia gained notoriety for pirate activities. Despite rumors to the contrary piracy is not a means to finance the conflict or terrorism, according to the NATO maritime wing commander in the country. Instead piracy has become a means for a few to enhance the lives of many in a country with few other options. The RAND Corporation recently stated that as much as 20% of the ransom pirates earn goes into improving infrastructure and increasing employment. The RAND study suggested that piracy could be kept under control by enhancing economic incentives so that local residents would have other means to earn a living.

Somalia is not the only African country to experience economic or political strife. Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi all bare the scars of turmoil, famine, and civil wars. Compassion International has been working in Africa since 1980 helping children cope with famine, drought, epidemics of AIDS, cholera, and the hardships of ongoing local conflicts. Even after nearly 30 years of humanitarian efforts Compassion International still serves over 317,000 children; a testimony to the dire conditions found in most African countries.

Still, Somalia somehow stands out. It is country with economic potential, military significance, and a desire by its people for a stable government. Right now though, it is a country with not much more than hope.

[If you would like to help children in need Compassion International operates in many African countries.  Please sponsor a child. ]

 

Obama LGBT Hat Trick

September 16, 2009

A Golden Opportunity for Christ Followers

With the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act already passed by the House and working its way through the Senate, the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) scheduled for a House Education and Labor hearing this month, and the introduction of legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, the Obama administration is quietly waiting in the wings to pull off a hat-trick for lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) activists.

ENDA introduced by Rep. Barney Frank would prohibit an employer from refusing to hire someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill (H.R. 3017) specifically exempts religious organizations, and according to a popular LGBT blog  post by Dr. Jillian T. Weiss this extends to religious oriented businesses, schools and camps. It does not extend to secular businesses that are owned by people of religious beliefs that condemn LGBT sexual orientation.

The Respect for Marriage Act introduced by Rep. Gerald Nadler repeals the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and would grant federal recognition to same-sex marriages if the marriage was performed in a state that allows such unions. The repeal would have implications for taxes, social security benefits, and pensions, regardless of where the couple lives. In other words if a same-sex marriage was performed in Connecticut ( a state that recognizes such unions) and then the couple moved to Maryland ( a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage) the couple would have all the rights afforded a man-woman marriage by the federal government.

All three pieces of legislation will be working their way through Congress and the debate over family values and discrimination will begin to perk to the top of the House’s to-do list late this fall. Already conservative organizations have begun campaigns to illuminate the subtleties of the bills. Mean while LGBT groups are turning up the heat fearing that health care reform, climate change, and the appropriations bills will push their agenda to the back burner and away from the President’s desk.

The legislative trio comes at a time when a growing number of Christian churches and organizations are questioning the biblical validity of the venom being spewed by some conservative Christians. In his book unChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity and Why it Matters, author David Kinnaman devotes an entire chapter to the intolerance, both perceived and real, that has stereotyped the evangelical church. Kinnaman maintains that this is the single biggest issue that prevents younger generations from being open to the truth of the gospel.

As Christ followers we have an opportunity in this debate to erase years of misconceptions and animosity. We can stop the demagoguery and remember that the traditional views (i.e. slavery) of the church have not always been correct. We can debate the issues with tolerance and compassion. We must open the doors of our churches to the LGBT community and say “There is room in here for all”.  Above all else we can remember that we are called to love one another.


Burkina Faso Fights to Stay in Your Undies

September 9, 2009

As a male I don’t make a habit of keeping tabs on what Victoria’s Secret is doing to enhance their lingerie. However a small line in a D.C. political journal caught my eye.  It reported that organic cotton farmers in Burkina Faso, who are currently contracting with Victoria’s Secret, would face increased competition if a bill introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein passed through Congress.

The bill (S. 1141) known as the Tariff Relief Assistance for Developing Economies (TRADE) Act of 2009 seeks to extend preferential tariffs to a number of Asian countries including Cambodia and Bangladesh. Burkina Faso on the other hand is one of a number of sub-Saharan African countries afforded special tariffs under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) signed by President Clinton in 2000. If Senator Feinstein gets her bill signed into law it will level the playing field for Asian textile and clothing; in effect robbing the AGOA countries of a very tenuous competitive advantage.

Adding to the AGOA countries’ anxiety is a recently released report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office which states that the AGOA countries are facing a Catch-22. The report notes that U.S and U.K. retailers would rather deal with the Asian countries that have better technology and infrastructure which allows them to adapt quicker to changing consumer appetites. The African countries on the other hand have done little to improve their infrastructure making it more difficult and expensive to bring their goods to market and without the incentive of more promising markets, governments are not likely to take on that burden.

The truth is that most of the tariff relief for the AGOA countries goes to oil, platinum, and motor vehicles. Textiles and clothing lag far behind as an export. The organic cotton raised by the women of Burkina Faso constitutes a tiny portion of the exports from the country. Had it not been for the deal Victoria Secret’s signed to use the cotton in a special line of under garments, no one may have even noticed this small niche in the larger cotton market. Still it presents an opportunity to earn money and feed children that otherwise would never have been. 

 The women of Burkina Faso can take some comfort in knowing that identical bills have died from lack of support in the past three Congresses. Also, before the bill can get to the President it will have to pass through the House under the watchful eye of Charles Rangel the current Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and one of the most powerful politicians in the government. As one of the main backers of the original AGOA bill he is not likely to let even Feinstein’s bill pass without a fight.

[If you would like to help the women and children of Burkina Faso, or Bangledesh, please visit Compassion International and sponsor a child]


Blapathy

August 27, 2009

Blapathy (noun) [blogging apathy] 1. A lack of interest in posting anything to your blog. 2. Feeling that nothing is important enough to write about.

Some of you may be asking where I have been all summer. Some of you may have even noticed that I haven’t posted anything on this blog since Memorial Day. I could say that I have been dealing with family matters. I could tell you that I have been very busy at work. I could explain that I have been traveling. All of that would be true, but the real reason I haven’t posted anything is that I have been suffering from “blapathy”.

Several times I sat down at the keyboard with an idea and then without tapping a key I would just give it up. Nothing seemed important enough to write about. By mid-summer my fellow Compassion Advocates were asking where I had disappeared to. So I tried to muster the strength to scribble something about poverty and children in need, but all I wrote sounded like “blah blah blah” to me so I ditched the draft and abandoned the effort.

If you have ever had the flu you can relate. There comes a time when you know you should eat, and you remember the joy and satisfaction of eating, but somehow you just can’t bring yourself to take that first bite. Often I had my editorial plate loaded with some tasty idea, and then I would completely loose my appetite for writing. And so it went for the entire summer.

As with regular apathy, in order to shake the bonds of blapathy something deeply emotional has to happen. Something that stirs you to action and motivates you to advocate for a cause. For me it was a chance encounter in Mexico.

My wife and I were visiting Mazatlan and had taken a guided tour of the city. We had stopped at a shopping district and as we returned to the bus I passed two small girls and their grandmother. The older of the girls (maybe 6) followed me trying to sell me a little braided bracelet. She wanted $2 for the bracelet. I wanted to help her but I only had $20 bills and 2 one dollar bills in my pocket. I was reserving the $2 as a tip for the bus driver, and I couldn’t justify giving her $20 for a 10 cent bracelet, so I politely declined.

When I got to my seat on the bus my wife asked what had happened and I explained the whole thing. My wife gave me one of those “are you completely brain dead?” looks, which sent me racing off the bus to find the little girl. I bought the bracelet and headed back to the bus, but the younger sister was following me with her tiny little hand stretched out. Having no small money left and my heart aching for her situation, all I could think to do was give her the bracelet; which I tied around her little wrist.

Back on the bus my wife asked to see the bracelet. Fearing I would burst into tears, I simply shook my head. Puzzled by my silence my wife asked what had happened. I couldn’t speak. I wanted to get back off the bus and hand those two darling children all the money I had. I wanted to buy all the bracelets. Would it have hurt me to give up $20?

It was too late. The bus door had closed and we were on our way.

My summer is over, the lazy days are gone, and thanks to two small children in Mexico so is my blapathy.

[If you are looking for a cure for your apathy please visit www.Compassion.com.  ]

[If you are looking for a cure for blapathy please visit CompassionBloggers.com]


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