Tag Archives: God

A Juice Box

I got the best present ever today. It was a Capri Sun juice box.

Today, as the Little League team I help coach was starting the first inning, six-year-old Anilda came to sit beside me in the dugout. Anilda is the sister of one of our players, and she’s always around when baseball stuff is going on. Anilda’s as adorable as they come. Her strongest language is French, so sometimes I can’t understand her accent and she can’t always understand mine, but we get along just fine. She also thinks it’s hysterical that she’s tri-lingual and I just speak English. Today is April Fools Day, so Anilda had all her best jokes in a mental queue, just waiting for each new person she ran into. My shoes were untied, Stacey magically appeared beside me, and there was a spider on my head. Oh, yes. The usual. And all of it accompanied by a great big, front-tooth-gap six-year old grin and giggles galore.

About a half hour in, Anilda got hungry and asked if she could get her dinner from the snack bar. She showed me her cash: Two dollars for the hot dog and a third for a juice box. Two juice boxes, actually, she told me. Two for a dollar. And she was definitely looking forward to it.

I let her go get her dinner on a break between innings and walked far enough over so that I could see her and still keep track of the pitch count in my head.  She reached in tippy-toes to push her cash onto the counter, grabbed the hot dog in one hand and the Capri Suns in the other, and we hurried back to the dugout.

She stabbed one juice packet with a straw, started sipping, and handed the other to me. “Is this for me?” I asked. She nodded.

When you’re six, fifty cents is a lot of money. Probably, the only money you own is the money your dad gave you for dinner. And a Capri Sun is nothing to sniff at. Giving it to someone else is a pretty big sacrifice, when you’re six.

I felt like I had just been given the moon.

It’s funny how when a kid gives you something like that, it multiplies the value of the object. I could buy a hundred Capri Sun juices if I wanted to. But she could only buy two, and she gave me one of them. And that makes it mean a lot.

I think that’s how it is with us and God. God “owns the cattle on a thousand hills,” yet he loves it when we give him an hour of the day to volunteer at Sunday School or twenty bucks to feed the hungry. Why do we give God our stuff, our time, our money? Not because he needs it, but because he loves it. Just like I don’t need a child to buy me a juice box, but I love that she did and it made my day.

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Photo Credit: Stacey Culpepper

I Look to a Day When….

Few people have had as much impact on the racial element of American culture as Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember the first time I listened to his speech… not heard, but really listened. It sent shivers up and down my spine. Joy rose in my heart as I recognized the steps we’ve taken as a nation and longing tugged at my heart as I realized what a long way we still have to go.

If I’ve learned anything about race and culture, it is that valuing differences in culture and skin color is key to ethnic harmony. We sometimes try to pretend that there’s no differences among us. But that is not a solution, and it does nothing to facilitate relationships and understanding.

We’re different. Everybody, every culture, every color.

It’s beautiful.

Let’s start appreciating.

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Culture is the most beautiful and fascinating thing I have encountered in my life. It’s amazing to see the diversity among humankind. So many different faces, so many different foods, so many different ways to do life.

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I love what the Bible says about ethnic diversity. Historically, we know that many people have shamefully used the scriptures as an excuse for racism. Those people obviously never read the book. My favorite passage of the Bible is the the 21st and 22nd chapter of Revelation. In it, the author describes what the world will be like after the end of the world as we know it and the beginning of the new order. The Bible teaches that eventually, God will remake the earth and remove all the bad from it. Then, he will come and live on earth with us in a beautiful city. Here and elsewhere in the Bible, “nations” is a translation of the Greek word “ethne,” meaning people groups of ethnic groups.

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“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the Lamb [the Lamb is a name for Jesus]… and and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’…They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne shall be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Revelation 7:9-17

“And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb . By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into in and its gates will never be shut by day– and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Revelation 21:22-27

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This is good news for all of us. First it tells us that God is a big fan of our diversity. Why would he have created it otherwise? Secondly, it tells us that our diversity will remain in Heaven and beyond. Third, it comforts us with the promise that all of God’s children who ever been abandoned, hurt, abused, or shunned based on race will be accepted, healed, cared for, and loved by God. What a promise; what a future to look forward to.

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“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I may not live to see a day when this is true for our world. But I hold to the promise that I will see that day in Heaven.

 

 

Tealights for Hanukkah

Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel. This phrase is perhaps the only thing many of us know about Hanukkah. Contrary to popular opinion, Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. In fact, Hanukkah’s roots are even older than Christmas is. Hanukkah is a beautiful celebration of God’s faithfulness and has a wonderful story behind it.

The story of Hanukkah can be found in 1 Maccabees. When Alexander the Great overtook the Middle East, he sent governors who oppressed the Jewish people. They desecrated the Temple by slaughtering pigs (unclean animals according to Jewish law) on the alter and dedicated it to Zeus.

Most of the Jews felt helpless in the face of the Greek juggernaut, but there was a group of men, called the Maccabees, who refused to stand for the atrocity. They attacked the Greek soldiers and regained control of the Temple. In order to purify it, they needed to burn purified oil on the Temple lampstand. Unfortunately, the preparation of  the special oil took eight days, and they only had one day’s worth of oil to burn. They decided to take a step of faith and burn the oil. The next morning, the lampstand was burning low– but the oil jar was full once more! Each day for eight days, the jar was miraculously full in the morning. On the last day, when the new oil was ready, the jar was empty.

This story is not wonderful simply because God worked a miracle by renewing the oil. It is wonderful because it reflects God’s heart for His people. By providing the oil and allowing the Temple to be purified, God made a way for His people to have a place to worship Him and connect with Him. He wants His children to have a relationship with Him.

I am not Jewish; I believe that Jesus Christ fulfills the Messianic prophesies of the Old Testament. I believe that He is the one who is called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” But I also think that any holiday that celebrates God’s goodness is worth observing, so I light eight candles on Hanukkah each year.

I made a menorah a few years ago, but I left it back in Phoenix. So, this year, I set up nine tea lights on a shelf and raised the center one using the cap of some glitter spray I used.  Unfortunately, tea lights don’t last nearly as long as miraculous Temple oil, so tapers would be a better choice in the future. Still, it looks pretty.

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It is traditional to eat food fried in oil during Hanukkah to commemorate the Temple oil. Latkes are especially popular during the holiday. So, I decided to make some!

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Ben and Matt helped me make latkes

 

Latkes are basically potato cakes. All you need to make them is chopped onion, shredded potato, and some salt, a little flour, egg, and oil. Heat the oil one inch deep in a pan. Mix all the other ingredients together, form into balls, and press into pan to create a pancake shape. Fry until golden-brown.

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From a Christian perspective, Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets, so every Jewish holiday points directly to Jesus Christ. Passover points to His death and resurrection, Day of Atonement points to His self-sacrifice for our sins, and Hanukkah points to the privilege of relationship with God that Jesus gives to us. During the Maccabean Revolt that instituted Hanukkah, God gave His people the ability to seek Him in the Temple. Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, God gave us something even greater. Matthew 27:51 says that “at that moment [that Jesus died on the cross] the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The temple curtain was an incredibly thick, heavy cloth that separated the Holy Place (where Jewish men could worship) from the Holy of Holies (the place where God allowed his presence to rest; the place where only priests could go. When the curtain was torn, the barrier between us and the  presence of God was removed. The removal was not just a physical one. The tearing of the curtain was a representation of the removal of the barrier between God and man. Jesus’ sacrifice broke the sin barrier between us and God. Now, we can have direct access to God. Just as God was willing to work a miracle to allow the Jews to connect with Him again in His Temple, He was willing to offer the unthinkable so that now everyone may connect with Him from anywhere.

Second Sunday of Advent: Forgiveness

Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Last week, I wrote the history, tradition, and significance of Advent season.  Today, I will be talking about what we did for the second week of Advent. If you like, you can gather your family and join in the timeless tradition of Advent devotions.

Tonight, we lit the second advent candle, the Forgiveness Candle. This candle reminds us that Jesus came to us in order to bring forgiveness of our wrongdoings.

The Bible tells us that the reason that Jesus came to us was to glorify God (John 17:1). The primary way He did this was by reconciling the world to God. From the very first, people alienated themselves from God by disobeying God. God commands that we do all things good and right, as is outlined in the Bible and written in our consciences. But each one of us has violated that command. Because even the smallest wrongdoing completely dirties us before God, we are unable to enter his presence as we are. God is so completely holy that He does not tolerate the filth of unholiness. Because He is just, He requires punishment for wrongdoing– physical death and eternal separation from His presence after death.  But because God loves us and desires to show His mercy to us, He decided to make a way for our relationship with Him to be repaired. He sent His Son, Jesus, to the world to take the punishment for our wrongdoing. Jesus was the only one who could take on every wrong ever committed and bear our punishment in our place, because He was the only man who ever lived a perfect life with no mistakes. When He died, God turned His back on him and let Him bear the pain of physical death and separation from His presence for a short time. But because Jesus is God, the power of evil and death had no hold over him. After a short time in the grave, Jesus rose again, this time with a body that would never be destroyed! If we repent of our wrongdoing and accept Jesus’ sacrifice, we too can live forever with God. Our wrongdoings– every single one of them– have already been paid for by Jesus. We can be forgiven.

Christmas is the time we celebrate the birth of Jesus. It is the celebration of the first spark of hope for forgiveness entering the world.

For today’s Advent devotional reading, you can read the following verses:

Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Luke 1:68-79: “….for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of God…”

Because of the forgiveness of God, we no longer need to live with the burdens of guilt, of shame, or of fear. This freedom is the beautiful blessing of Christmas.

 

 

 

 

Thankful in All Circumstances

Happy Thanksgiving! It’s the time of the year that we remember to that God for our blessings and show appreciation for the people in our lives. At Sunday school a couple weeks ago, we had the kids list things that they are thankful for an leaves and glue them to a paper tree. They listed their parents, their friends, their things and their favorite TV shows.

I’m thankful for those things, too, especially the friends and family! I find myself thanking God for them every day.

It is easy to be thankful for the good things in my life. What is less easy is being thankful for the frustrating things! The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. “…Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Jesus Christ for you.” Many of us spend a lot of time trying to find out the will of God for our lives so that we can follow it. Yet here is a clear explanation of His will for us, and we often completely forget to do it! Being thankful in all circumstances means thanking God for the good things in our life, but also thanking Him for the stuff that bothers or hurts us.

My challenge to you this Thanksgiving is to list five to ten frustrating things you are thankful for and why.

Here’s my list:

  1. I am thankful for power outages because they remind me how blessed I am to have power 95% of the time
  2. I am thankful for the mold in my house because it is a result of the humidity that makes my island green and beautiful
  3. I am thankful for expensive food prices because it encourages me to learn to make things like mayonnaise, bread, and tortillas.
  4. I am thankful for Mosquitos because even though they are annoying, they aren’t scorpions!
  5. I am thankful for failing at things I try because it teaches me to move past my failure and my ego and to work hard at attaining goals
  6. I am thankful for slow mail service because it reminds me how awesome it is to live in an age with e-mail
  7. I am thankful for the crabby maintenance man at our apartment because he gives me a chance to practice patience and also to stand up for myself
  8. I am thankful for water outages because they help me to appreciate the hard work that many people do every day to have drinking water
  9. I am thankful for loud late-night karaoke at the bar next door because it gives Ben and I a few extra hours awake and together on Friday nights
  10. I am thankful for med school keeping Ben busy because it makes us value the time we do have together and helps us to make the most of it.

Enjoy your holiday! Let’s finish off the year with thankful hearts every day.