God Promises All Things Work For Good – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 18

At the end of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story“, there are study questions and activities to consider that relate to each chapter.  I invite you to read the book, and look over the entire question and application section.  In my articles, I will usually only pick up on two or three questions and relate them to my own experiences.

                                          

Chapter 9: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
ALL THINGS WORK FOR GOOD

Question #1: In what kind of circumstances is it difficult for people to see “all things” as working together for the good of those who love him?  (See Romans 8:28)

There is no doubt that it is difficult for any person to see good in an event that we would classify as “tragic” or where great suffering is involved.  There is a quote that still haunts me from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy movies.  When King Theoden mourns at the side of his son’s grave, he says to Gandalf, “No parent should have to bury their child.”  I can truly empathize with Theoden as my wife and I buried our stillborn daughter (29 weeks in).  And then we feared for the life of our 12 year-old son who battled leukemia.

It can be very easy, and trite, for someone to say, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.  Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”  Even though this old religious saying is ultimately true, it does little to comfort those who have lost a loved one.  And this is especially true, the younger the age of the one who has died.  So it is quite natural for people to feel anger towards God when they see no good reason for that death.

And yet I have seen in our life, and in the lives of others, what a tremendous impact it has on people when we rise up in these moments of despair and still hold on to the promises of the Bible that God is a good and loving God.  One verse that has meant so much to me is Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith no one can please God. We must believe that God is real and that he rewards everyone who searches for him.”  I believe that one day I will see my daughter again, and because all my children have a strong faith in Jesus, I know we will all live with God forever in a world where there will never be any more pain or sorrow.  (See Revelation 21:4)

Question #3: Which of your life experiences of privileges is God using, as He did with Paul, to His advantage?  How are you uniquely able to do what others may not be able to do?

Paul talked about having a “thorn in his flesh”.  Some say that was a spiritual temptation that he could not overcome.  But most believe that it was some physical ailment or condition that he sought healing for, but God chose not to heal him.  No matter what it was, God was still able to use Paul in great ways to advance the work of God and tell others about Christ.

Now I know that I cannot be compared to Paul, but I can empathize with him with regards to having a physical limitation.  For four years now I have lived with the challenge of the genetic muscle disease that has limited my mobility and causes me great pain.  (By faith though, I am believing that God is in the process of healing me, and I have seen some great positive progress in the past few months since some churches prayed with me and over me for healing.)

But these four years have not been easy.  And yet, I have seen God work through me to bless others in ways that I do not think would have been possible if I had been healthy.  When I travel over to Papua New Guinea to do the Bible translation consulting work, people are amazed at what gets accomplished on these trips.  I tell everyone that is is by the grace and strength of God that I can do what I do.

And then when I started this devotional blog site two years ago in November 2010, I had no idea that so many people would come to the site and read the stories.  In 22 months, there have been over 22,000 visits to this site.  Praise God!!  And I love how my wife Jill describes this work that I do propped up in my easy chair with my  laptop in front of me.  She calls this my “Armchair Ministry” to the world.  And for that, I am very grateful to God.

Question #4: How would you like God to sift and stir the difficult situations you see around you into a well-prepared ending to the story?  Describe the preferred future you would like to see in these situations.

This is a hard one.  I really am reluctant to paint a picture that I then turn around and expect God to fulfill it for me.  I have learned so much in these last four years to simply take one day, one week, and one month at a time.  In many ways, that has released me from worrying about the future.

But there is still part of me that is quite human, and I do have a couple of things that I talk to God about from time to time.  I do pray for my own healing and believe He is in the process of doing that.  I would have to say that I yearn at times to be able to walk and run like I used to.

But even if that doesn’t completely happen here, I know I will be running again when I get to heaven.  The other thing that Jill and I talk about frequently is the idea of being able to return to living overseas in Papua New Guinea again full-time.  This one too is possible, but we leave this also in God’s hands.

* [God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

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God’s Rainbow Colored Children

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God’s Rainbow Colored Children

[Editor’s Note: The story below was written in 2010 by one of our missionaries who works with Pioneer Bible Translators while living and working in an unstable area in North Africa.]

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“A few months ago, before the rains had graced us with their presence, we took our 500 liter tank to a nearby borehole one morning to fill up with water. While my husband worked the hose and pump, I sat in the shade across the road and chatted with a handful of curious neighborhood kids who had gathered around. It didn’t take long for their initial shyness to wear off and I was soon engaged in an Arabic ver-sion of 20 Questions.

About half a dozen six-year olds jumped on the opportunity to ask me everything they had ever wondered about ‘khawajas’ (referring to us as western white people). Though some questions were hilarious (“Does your husband sleep in that little car?”) others were more endearing. “Where is your baby?” they asked. “I don’t have a baby.” I replied.

They pondered the plausibility of this response for a moment then one piped up. “Well, when you do have babies, do you want black ones like me or red ones like you?” That afternoon I stifled laughter and truthfully told them I would be happy with whatever kind of baby God chooses to give us – red, yellow, black or white.”

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“Today I am still smiling as I wonder about the colors God is knitting together inside of me now. We were so honored and thankful to find out we are pregnant a few weeks ago. We have been praying for God’s grace and wisdom in this matter for many months now and we feel like He has answered our prayers. We are so excited about the many ways we believe this new life will prove to be such a rich blessing. We are eager to learn more about unconditional love and to grow in the knowledge “that life is simple after all”, as one wise friend described parenthood.

We are looking forward to yet another reason to learn to trust more fully and freely in God. We are excited to see how a baby will draw us into more authentic relationships with parents and families here in North Africa. And we are joyfully anticipating meeting this new person and witnessing the incredible ways he or she will be shaped by the experiences, peoples and languages of this place over the years to come.

Our deep hope is that this pregnancy will be a testimony to the faithfulness of God and bring Him great glory in the months and years ahead. We are not without trepidation as we enter unknown territory yet again, but we are filled with peace and the memories of God’s faithfulness demonstrated over and over again in our lives. Please join us in prayer throughout the months ahead as we anticipate the arrival of the newest member of our team.”

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In the following year, on April 16, this couple was blessed by God to have a beautiful baby girl born to them while living in East Africa.  The unstable elements of North Africa exploded wide open which resulted in many people, including all of our PBT missionaries, needing to evacuate to another country in Africa.  No doubt there was sorrow in having to leave newly made friends, and also some fear as battles raged closer to where they lived.  But for this couple, there was joy at the end as they welcomed their newborn daughter into their lives.

Thankfully, it has not been very often that our missionary families have had to evacuate their homes and flee out of country due to civil unrest or outbreaks of violence.  One of the questions that many people have asked our family has been, “Was it safe for you to live by yourselves in that remote village in Papua New Guinea?”  We quickly responded that we always felt safe.  And whenever there was even the hint of trouble coming our way, we would have some of our men from the village patrol around our house throughout the night to make sure no harm ever came to us.

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What caught my attention in the story told above was the comment from the one child about how there are some babies who are “black” and some are “red”.  The children see there is a difference in the color of the skin, but in reality, they do not see any difference between the actual person of the child, they are all babies sent by the hand of God into our lives.

I have a couple of cute stories to tell which point out how wonderfully innocent children can be in their perspectives, and also how wonderfully creative our God is in how He has made us all.  One day in the village we asked our older son to go get our younger son who was playing at the end of the grass airstrip.  There were a bunch of kids playing down there, and so our son said, “How can I tell which one is Glen?”  We laughed as we pointed and told him, “Glen is the one with blond hair!”

The other cute story comes from another missionary family who were back home in the States to visit family, friends and churches.  They brought out photo albums of their time in Papua New Guinea.  When the young boy of this family showed pictures of his friends to others (some Papuan and some American) he would say, “Now these are my chocolate friends, and these are my vanilla friends.”  God bless our children who have such love and acceptance of others, no matter where they were originally born.

Parents Of Missionary Kids

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It’s Hard To Let Them Go

For most of my life, I have been a missionary.  That means my Mom and Dad were parents of a missionary kid.  I’m still a missionary kid who also happens to be a father of two great sons.  Both of them are launched out into life, but that does not mean that I don’t still worry for both of them and commit them and all their ways to God.

I read an excellent book recently by Will Hathaway called “What If God Is Like This?”  In this book, Hathaway presents some intriguing ideas and insights into what God might really be like, if we would take the time to really get to know Him.  Many times in the book, he states that he has such a better grasp of how great God is and how much He loves us, because now he is a father too.

    

There is just something that is very special that can exist between a parent and a child.  I do realize that not every parent is a good parent, but nevertheless, even the toughest and meanest person can have their hearts broken when they sense their child is in danger or just simply needs love and approval.

Back to the thought of me being a missionary kid, I’d have to admit that there have been many times in my life when I headed overseas (even as young as 16 years old) when all I could see was the adventure and the challenge that lay ahead.  It had to be hard on my parents to let me go at times (even when I was grown and had a family).

Then recently, I read a newsletter written by a colleague of mine that helped to remind me (and anyone who has read their newsletter) just how tough it can be to be a parent of a missionary kid.  It reminded me to be thankful for parents who worried about me, but still were okay with letting me go.  I pray that this letter below will help you too to appreciate your parents, even if you might not be a missionary kid.

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“My dad asked me jokingly the other day if he could take us to court to prevent us from taking his grandkids to Africa. I told him that if the judge were a grandfather, he would probably side with dad against us. We both spoke in jest, but we knew that the feelings involved in taking our family overseas are very real.

Most people know that packing up their children and moving to Africa involves some sacrifice. But what about the sacrifice of those we leave behind? We get all kinds of accolades for what we are doing. We get to go through the line first at church potlucks. People bring us up in front of crowds of kids and tell them to make us their role models.

One might say we have received our reward in full. But there are no awards for being the parent of a missionary. Yet what they give up to allow us to follow God’s calling are some of life’s most treasured moments – birthday parties, ball games, heart-to-heart chats, Sundays around the dinner table, and thousands of precious hugs.

    

They had little say in our decision, but just as with so many things over which one has no control, they got to decide how they would respond to it. Our parents would have had every right to be angry with us, to obsess over the perceived dangers we are exposing ourselves to and discourage us at every step, or to refuse to do anything to move us closer to our goal.

But they also have the option to offer us up as sacrifices willingly, to embrace and make the most of their position as long-distance grandparents, and to encourage us like no one else can when we face difficulties. What a blessing it is to us to have parents like that!

Our families have given of their time, their finances, and their talents to help us every step of the way. They have made plans for how to stay connected with us and our kids once we leave. They have said they would like to make the long trip across the Atlantic to visit us if they have the chance. And, perhaps most difficult of all, when faced with the opportunity to remind us of what we are asking of them and saddle us with guilt, they have refrained.

    

I hope that someday, if our children tell me that God is asking them to go to some place where I can’t follow, where I can’t keep them safe or get to hug and kiss them every day, that I will have the faith to give them my blessing and help them on their way. Our children are the most precious of God’s gifts, and nothing is more natural and right than to hold them close.

But at the same time we have to remember that they belong to God first of all. We have to raise them to be the kind of people who will love Him with their whole being and follow Him anywhere. And when they follow Him far away from us, we have to pray and give and speed them on their way, even when it breaks our hearts.

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I want to thank my colleague for the honesty shown in writing this message that should be a challenge to us all.  Let us all be thankful for our parents, and let us in turn do all we can to be the best parents possible to our own children.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

The Beginning of Missionary Life

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One of our fellow PBT missionary couples wrote a in their monthly newsletter in 2010 a summary of the experiences they had during the first year that they were on the mission field in East Africa.  It is truly amazing all the things that they did.  Enjoy their story, and then I will write about a few things that I recall from our first year of living in Papua New Guinea.

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Reflecting on our first year on the field as full-time missionaries, I recall both triumph and trial but through both evidence of the hand of God at work in our lives. Here’s a snapshot of the last year:

We arrived on September 17th, went through basic orientation to life on the field, attended language school for 2 months, spent a month living in a village to further our culture and language acquisition, became involved in branch and community life, attended our first Branch meeting, participated in two consultations, took on responsibilities as exegetes and taught in the annual training all the while continuing in our language learning with the help of several tutors.

    

Those are the facts, these are the feelings we’ve experienced:

We have felt excitement over the distribution of Scripture portions, discouragement due to the complex and challenging task that we still face and feel inadequate for, and hope for the transformation of a culture. We have experienced several bouts of parasitic and bacterial dysentery, skin issues and other consequences of physically adapting to a new place and climate. We feel relief over being spared from malaria this first year.

We have felt a sense of accomplishment as we successfully communicate something in a second language! We have felt encouraged by our team-mates and national co-workers. We have ached over our longing to be with our families back in the States. We have rejoiced over babies being born to friends and colleagues and grieved over the loss of parents and even children.

    

We have felt like children having to learn all over again how to speak, act and live in our new culture. And we have felt grown up after successfully learning how to feed ourselves and set up our home and drive on the left side of the road! All this and more has been packed into a single year of our lives.

God has not only seen us through but given us all that we need mentally, emotionally and spiritually to be His witnesses. Our triumphs are ultimately His and the trials have served to deepen our dependence on Him. We are so grateful for the amazing support we have from the home front and the mercies of God which are new every day.

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For anyone who has not travelled outside of their own country, and I think especially for North Americans, it can be difficult to really appreciate all the challenges that missionaries face when they first leave their home country and culture and start their lives over within a new cultural context.  In those first hours and days, the missionary is bombarded with sights and sounds and oftentimes smells that can be very overwhelming.

Quite naturally, as missionaries prepare to go to the field, they will talk to those who will support them through their prayers and donations about the ministry work that they will do once they get there.  Pioneer Bible Translators helps to train and send linguists, church planters, administrators, and many other support workers to the field.  But we must never forget that these highly skilled people are still just ordinary people.  And we have experiences of joy and sorrow and fears just like anyone else.

    

It certainly was a big adjustment for me and my family as well when we first came to Papua New Guinea.  Jill and I had already had a number of other mission field experiences.  But when we came to PNG, we were also bringing our two young boys with us as well.  And just like any other parents, we worried for the safety and the health of our children as we settled into a small village in a remote part of the tropical forest of PNG.

I remember quite clearly during those early days how I would walk through part of the village and around the grass airstrip area holding on to the hands of my boys.  I would then carefully explain to them what the boundaries were of where they could go and where we did not want them to go. 

Those boundaries were pretty restrictive at first, since we had no idea yet of what to really expect.  But as we got to know the people and the area, and as we continued to experience God’s hand of protection and provision, we grew to love the people and the village where God had placed us.

    

The “missionary life” is not something that everyone is cut out to do.  But it is also not something that only those who are “spiritual giants” can do.  But leaving the safety of our own personal comfort zone to reach out to people who are hurting and don’t know Jesus yet is something that God calls all of His children to do.

You have probably heard about or seen the sign that hangs over the door on the inside of some churches, “Entering the Mission Field”.  The saying is cute, but it is also very true.  God calls all of us to be missionaries.  It won’t be easy for most of us.  Some of us may travel thousands of miles to respond to this challenge from God.  Some of us only need to step outside of our door.  In either case, God is faithful and He will help us to do all that He asks us to do.

My Life Testimony – Pt. 4

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My Online Christian Magazine Interview – Pt. 4

Recently, I was interviewed by a Christian magazine regarding my life in Christ and the translation work that I have been involved with for over 17 years now. In this fourth article that includes a portion of the questionnaire, I talk about the emotional and spiritual crisis that occurred when we were in Papua New Guinea and found out that our son had developed leukemia.  My prayer is that what I wrote will be a blessing to you, and be a testimony to the greatness of God who has empowered me to do His work.

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Q7: Your biggest challenge at the time was when your son was diagnosed with leukemia in Papua New Guinea. How did you manage not to quit altogether out of grief? Where did you find God’s will in all this after those long years of your faithful service?

Yes, one of the greatest challenges to me emotionally and spiritually was when we were told to evacuate with our son out of PNG and go to Australia to get a diagnosis of leukemia for him confirmed.  Many of those months during the first year of his chemotherapy are still a blur to me.  Our son had to have 33 months of treatment, but the first 12 were what they called “the aggressive drugs” while the next two years were the “maintenance drugs”. 

During that first year, the job of the strong drugs was to literally kill off the new blood cell production right down to his bone marrow.  Then after that, the doctors used the maintenance drugs to slowly rebuild his blood system.

There were a few times in that first year that his blood counts went right down to zero and he was in danger of catching any other illness, even as simple as a cold or the flu, that could threaten his life.  So we lived at home and also at the hospital at times in a “quarantine” environment.  We are so thankful to God that He spared our son’s life, and we still believe that it was the prayers of God’s people that made the difference. 

In the first five weeks that we spent getting treatment for him in Brisbane, Australia, we had more than 500 emails from people around the world that had heard about our situation and were praying for our family.  Almost half of these came from people I had never heard of before.  Praise God that we are part of a larger Body of Christ as believers.

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What is interesting as I look back, is that I don’t ever remember asking God, “Why us? Why our son?  Why this illness?”  I do remember asking God, “Why now?”  We had finished all the checking on the Gospel of Mark in our village language except the final consultant check.  We were three weeks away from doing that when we got the diagnosis. 

This was also the time that followed immediately after the people of our language group went through a spiritual battle called “Cargoism” or “Cargo Cult”.  (You can read about some of this in “Satan is the True Enemy – Pt. 2“) We left the project, our house and most of our belongings in the village.  But I kept asking God, “Why didn’t you let us finish Mark and help the people at this critical time in their spiritual lives?”

Now many years later, I believe I can see that the people were not ready to receive the book of Mark.  They had to deal with the cargoism within their group first.  Then over a year later, someone else was able to complete the consultant check on Mark and get it to a publisher and take it to the people. 

Ten years later now, there is a revival movement happening among the people.  I won’t say that God deliberately gave our son the cancer (that would be a cruel God to me), but He had all things in control and used the cancer years to bring about His work in His timing among the people.

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But for me, as I watched and waited with Jill over our son, I certainly had many moments of tears and fears.  Yet I hung on strong to the promise found in Romans 8:28 that promised me that “in all things” no matter what the circumstances were, God would bring good out of the situation and show us that His love for us had never changed. 

And we saw some amazing things happen during those cancer years.  Our son was chosen to be the cancer Spokes’ Kid for “Kids Cancer Care Foundation” in Alberta in 2003.  And God used him to speak about his own faith in God despite his cancer in meetings across the Province, on radio and on television.  He even gave a speech in Calgary at one of the biggest events of the richest people in Calgary, including the Mayor of the city, and in that speech he gave testimony about how God had sustained him and cared for him in spite of his cancer.

God allowed me to experience one more terrific blessing during those few years in Canada.  I was invited by one Bible College in Saskatchewan to teach Missions and Bible courses for one year, and then the next year I was invited by the Bible College in Calgary to teach Missions and Greek.  The staffs at these two colleges have mentioned that I had the opportunity to teach some of the best students they had had for years, and some of those students (and the staff) are still talking about these classes that I taught. 

So while I cried out concerning the lost people in the villages back in PNG, and I cried out over my son, God rewarded me by giving me wonderful opportunities to continue serving Him.  To me, that was a tremendous privilege and blessing from God.

A Little Piece of Paradise

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Bitter Sweet Memories

Here I am, looking out my window at the luscious velvety green rolling hills of the Aiyura Valley up in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.  There are some puffy white clouds sitting lazily within the gorgeous blue skies above.  I am once more living here, if only briefly, in what I consider to be one of the truly peaceful little places of Paradise here on earth.

Those were the thoughts I had while I was at the mission base again up in the highlands of PNG.  I was doing the translation consultant check on the Gospel of John for one of the language groups there.  The missionary couple that work in that project are friends of ours and are also fellow Canadians.  They graciously opened their home for me to live with them for the three weeks that we worked together.

In that quiet moment, I thought back over the many years that I have come and gone and done mission work here in PNG.  And especially when I have been at this highlands base and get reflective, I see all the good times, and the not so good times.  But in all of these times, God has been there.  Allow me now to share some of these with you.

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The PBT mission house is located in one of the corners of the center where it is a sharp dip down from one of the more major roads to our side road area.  The roads are not paved, so they are dusty and bumpy when it is dry, but muddy clay and slick when it rains.  That does not phase the children here though as they play their various games on the center whether on the grass sides or on the rock-strewn dirt roads.

We will never forget that one day our son Glen decided to try to ride one of those stand up foot scooters down the steep curving road near the PBT house where we were.  I think he would have been fine, except for the anxious shout from Jill who said, “You be careful son!”  That is when he looked up and the front wheel hit a rock.  Glen went flying off the scooter and landed on his chest and slid down the road.  Oh, we wish he had been wearing a T-shirt that day.  Yowwee!!  Gravel and skin are not a good mix.

I also remember the times that I was done my work and Eric was nearby and it just felt like having a “father-son” moment.  We would go across the lower road to a little grassy knoll that overlooked the beautiful valley.  We would talk about nothing and everything, whatever seemed to be the most important thing to talk about that day.  And we connected in a powerful way in that place of quiet and peace.

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And then came the fateful day in 2002.  Eric had found a place for himself in the International School there on center.  He had presented a good case for leaving the village and starting his Grade 7 up there and to live in one of the Youth Hostels.  He had made some friends, and he felt like that was where he belonged.  The other three of us in the family had gone up there to spend some time with Eric before we went back down to the village where I would continue the Bible translation work.

But a nagging string of little illnesses caused us enough concern that we had Eric checked one more time.  The blood work looked suspicious and we suddenly found ourselves packing up overnight and heading to Brisbane, Australia instead of to the village.  It turned out that Eric did have Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia which sent us all on a three year road of chemotherapy treatments.

But God had not abandoned us.  Just like we quickly picked up Glen after his wipe out and tenderly treated his bruises and scrapes, we saw over those cancer years some wonderful ways that God sent us encouraging letters and prayers from others and gave us special moments for Eric that were only made possible because of his illness.  No, God does not abandon us, but He may change the path we are on.

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And I thought that was what was happening for me when God opened the door in 2007 for me to return to the mission base to get the training to become a Bible translation consultant.  I was so thrilled to be involved again with language projects, and this time I would help with the last check to be done before a book of Scripture goes to be published.

But immediately following my first trip to do consultant work in Feb. ’08, my own disease hit me and I have not been able to walk since then without experiencing pain and fatigue.  I thought my time of Bible translation work was finished when this hit me.  But I could never have been so wrong.  This is now the sixth time in four years that I have come back to PNG to do the consultant checking of a Bible translation project.

I don’t know why I feel that this mission base seems to be just a little closer to God than in other places.  I just know that it does.  And even though my family has experienced many bumps and bruises, and even life-threatening diseases which have been partly connected to this center, I still know that God is with us and loves us.  Maybe that is the point.  Through thick or thin, good or bad, God is still God and His loving kindness is always there.  We just need to open our eyes sometimes to see it.

Christmas Traditions

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We Wish You a Merry Christmas…

Life seems to constantly be changing.  That is why having and keeping some traditions is important.  It helps keep a continuity and meaning to life, and certainly this is important at Christmas.  Compared to some people, we don’t have a lot of traditions.  But there are a few that we have kept that are meaningful.  And of course there is always room to start a new tradition.

It is harder now that we are all adults to coordinate our schedules to be able to complete some of our traditional activities.  We didn’t all pile into the car and drive around the neighborhood to ooh and aah at Christmas lights on houses.  It doesn’t look like we will get time to bake and decorate our sugar cookies this year.  And we haven’t watched Christmas movies each night for the week leading up to Christmas.

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There is one more tradition that we did not do this year that I want to tell you about.  It has been a very important tradition for most of the growing up years of the boys.  It’s a wonderful tradition, and I hope some of you who read this article might adopt this idea.  After I explain it, I will also tell you why we did not do it this year.

So here is what we did for many years to help make Christmas special and meaningful for our boys.  Like many others, we often found that Christmas morning would arrive and there would be a very large number of presents under the tree.  But everyone in our family knew that though there were many presents, most of which did not cost much, there would always be three specific special presents for each person.

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Following the example of the Christmas story in the Bible, we would mark three gifts to be the “gold” gift, the “frankincense” gift, and the “myrrh” gift.  Like many other children, our boys would make a “wish list” of things they hoped they might get for Christmas.  Of course there was no way we could ever buy them all the things they wanted.  But they always knew each year that they would receive one present from their list, and being as it was so special to them, it became their gold gift.

Frankincense in the Bible was a special incense that was burnt as part of the regular worship of the True God in Heaven above.  Therefore, we would give our boys some form of a spiritual present, like a Christian music CD, a devotional book, or a calendar with Scripture verses on it.  The myrrh, which was a special ointment for the body, was used as a symbol for us that it is okay to “treat” yourself at times.  So we would buy some funny toy or the latest movie DVD that they liked.

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The point for us as we traditionally sat around the Christmas tree opening presents, was to remember the first Christmas, when three wise men from the east visited baby Jesus and gave these three special gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant who is the King of Kings.  In this way, we were able to keep our Christmas from being overcome with all the pizzazz and commercialism that we face in today’s world.

But this year, we did not hold to this tradition.  Not because we no longer like it, and certainly not that we have outgrown making Christmas meaningful.  Actually, it was just the opposite for us this year.  In fact, we all had said to one another this year, “Let’s try to not have presents, and just enjoy being together for Christmas.”  (You know we almost did it, but we still snuck a few presents under the tree.)

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What we did do though I think was even more special.  And it was the first time to do this as completely as we did this year.  After we had all enjoyed our yummy Christmas dinner, we all gathered in the living room to have a sharing and praying worship time together.  Each of us would take a turn and tell what were the highlights of 2011 and what God had done for that person.  And then the person would share ideas and hopes and prayer needs regarding the upcoming year.

After the person had shared, then whoever was on the right would pray for all the things mentioned.  Following that, the person who shared would pick out a Christmas carol or two and we joined our voices in praise to God who is the Author behind the Christmas Story.  It was truly a wonderful, spirit filled evening that the six of us shared together.

This is not to say that we haven’t had similar Christmases where we ate, and sang and worshiped God together.  But this year, we were all fully adult people.  And yet like little children we opened our hearts to each other and before God as we shared, and cared and prayed and worshiped.

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I don’t think we will ever get to the point that we don’t have some presents at Christmas time.  That is so much a part of the tradition of Christmas.  But with the decrease of presents, we had to let one tradition slip away, the giving of the three special gifts.

In its place, we may have just started a brand new tradition, to focus even more on worshiping our Great God, and caring for each other in our family.  May you too also find your own way to make each and every Christmas special and have Jesus be in the center of whatever you do.

Merry Christmas!  And God bless you in the coming New Year!

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