Shepherds, Children, and Others Who Listen

by Jonnie Sliver

Today, if you are observing Advent with the lighting of candles, you will be lighting my favorite advent candle (well, of the first four anyway): the Shepherd candle. I just love the shepherds in the Christmas story, because if anyone but God had planned this event, they probably wouldn’t have gotten a passing glance. Bethlehem , city of David , is packed to the thatched roofs with everyone who is anyone (literally), in town to register for the census. Political dignitaries, local celebrities, religious leaders great and small, manual laborers and teachers of the Law; they were all present. So why did the angels announce the best news the world will ever hear to a bunch of shepherds, out in a field?

Because God knew they would listen! He knew that these men would find the good news of great joy more important than anything they had to do.  Because He knew that they would respond; He knew they would take action! First, they went to see what the angels had told them.  When they found Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus they knew that this was not just a couple with a housing problem – this was the promised Son of God. Then they went and told everyone they knew what they had seen.

It is wonderful to be in the Miriam Home as Christmas approaches. The combination of children, Christmas trees, colored lights and special programs all add up to joy! But this Christmas, in this house, filled with these children adds up to much more than just pretty lights and goodies. Our children are a little like those shepherds – everybody who is anybody is in town, but they are just outside the city limits. They aren’t considered important by most (especially those who should truly value them – their own families), but they are precious to the One who matters the most! We, here in the Miriam Home , have the great honor of playing angels! We get to declare good news of great joy to the children God has put in our care for a short time. For many of them they are learning for the very first time, what Christmas is really all about – not fat men in red suits, but a Savior, born as a baby; God’s greatest gift! I am thrilled to see how our mini-shepherds will respond, and I am dreaming of how far they will carry the good news they receive.

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I Like to be Comfortable

by Sarah Langness

I like to be comfortable. Sweatpants and t-shirts are my favorite. Dressing up isn’t my thing. I also really enjoy the soft flannel sheets on our bed. It’s not uncommon for one of my first thoughts in the morning to be, “Ugh. I’m so comfortable; can’t I just stay in here for a little longer?” I prefer to take long car trips in my husband’s Ford Focus instead of our Chevy Prism because it is a more comfortable ride. No doubt about it, I like to be comfortable.

I’ve been thinking a lot more about comfort lately. And not just physical comfort like my attire and bed sheets. Comfort in the spiritual sense; in where my heart is aligned with the will of God. To be honest, I like my life right now. I’ve finally come to a place where I can say that I enjoy living in Beulah. I absolutely love my husband and our little boy. I am grateful for the friends I have nearby and faraway. I am comfortable.

But lately, I’ve been struggling with if God wants me to stay that way. I’ve been wondering if God is getting ready to stretch me out of my comfort zone. And that terrifies me. Completely terrifies me.

Tonight as I set out to tackle a small hill of dishes, I pulled up a sermon from my pastor back home in Sioux Falls, Pastor Kirk Flaa. His message from November 4 was entitled “Jonah the Runner: Running in the Storm” and was about, you guessed it, Jonah. A man that if you would have asked me back in elementary school, I would boldly declare that I would never be like Jonah. (Who really runs from doing something God told them to do?) Unfortunately, as I’ve grown up, I’ve realized how like Jonah I tend to be.

I know that in the midst of busy work schedules, looming final exams, kids who seem to need constant attention and meals to cook, it can be difficult to find time to listen to a 30 minute sermon. But if you have time to surf Facebook, read this blog, and pin a couple of craft ideas on Pintrest, you have time to listen to this sermon. Even if you don’t, I encourage you to set aside the time:

Pastor Kirk Flaa’s Sermon from Abiding Savior Free Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD

As I listened to this message, I was challenged with the thought that Jonah was becoming complacent as a prophet of God. He was becoming comfortable where he was; comfortable in his current service to God. And so God calls Jonah to go to the Assyrians, some of the cruelest, most wicked Gentiles out there. He called Jonah to travel 600 miles away from his comfortable, complacent ministry in his comfortable home. What God was calling Jonah to was not an easy task — it was extremely difficult. The call was not one that Jonah would be able to accomplish in his own strength. It would be one in which he must fall completely dependently into the arms of the Lord, drawing from His strength.

So Jonah did what most of us would probably do: he ran away.

I was challenged tonight to consider if I am running. Sometimes it is so difficult to be certain of God’s call – how do we know that He is calling us to such and such a task? But when the call comes and I am certain that the call is from my LORD, am I going to answer as Jonah did? Or am I going to answer in faith – stepping out of my comfortable, complacent life to follow that call, leaning on strength that can come only from Him? I hope to say that I will follow His call . . . but I really like to be comfortable.

Check It Out

50 YEARS UNDER THE SOUTHERN CROSS  by John H. Abel

 I invite you to get a more personal look at the lives of John & Ruby Abel, our AFLC pioneer missionaries in Brazil, who are still actively serving the Lord in retirement.  You will find it interesting, informative, and inspiring.  This down-to-earth autobiography will increase your love and appreciation for this extraordinary couple, just as it did for me.  Learn the beginnings of our Brazil mission work, the challenges they faced, and the way that God protected them again and again.  Get to know the heart of this evangelist whose greatest desire is to lead people to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

DID YOU KNOW?

—  In l971, John and Ruby and their 7 children drove 15,000 miles in a station wagon from Minnesota to Brazil!  There were         lots of adventures in that 4-month trip of a lifetime!

—  In  Bolivia in l953 when their son Jonathan was 3 weeks old, and John was gone on a Brazil trip for two weeks, Ruby was in extreme pain from a gall bladder attack.  She and baby Jonathan were admitted to a mission hospital for surgery.  When John returned 2 weeks later to surprise her in the hospital, he didn’t recognize her because she was so pale and thin.

—  In Brazil in 1954 when Paul was born, he was turning blue because of embryonic fluid that he had sucked into his lungs.  He was considered a “miracle baby” when he began to breath normally on the seventh day, after many people prayed that his life would be spared to be used for God’s glory.

—  In 1965, Ruby needed surgery for a hip infection.  When she got to her room after the surgery, the nurse could find no vital signs.  The doctor came on the run, elevated her and began massaging her heart, and she began to breathe.

Read this book.  You’ll be blessed!                                                                                           Linda Korhonen

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

by Lorilee Mundfrom

One of my favorite Advent hymns is Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, written by Charles Wesley.  It is a majestic, exciting hymn which welcomes Jesus who has been expected for so long!  Certainly the first coming of Jesus fulfilled the longings of those believers in the Old Testament who had been faithful to the promise of Christ’s coming.  The Old Testament Scriptures contain many promises regarding His coming.

Isaiah 7:14 says: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (ESV).  The name “Immanuel” means “God with us”.  Isaiah 9:6 says, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”  (NKJ)  In Micah 5:2, we read that from Bethlehem would come a ruler whose “goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity”  (NASB)

In the New Testament, Luke 2 speaks of Simeon, a man of faith, who had been praying and “looking for the consolation of Israel” (v. 25)  When Simeon saw Jesus as an infant, he knew this Child was the fulfillment of his hope.  Wesley uses the words”Israel’s strength and consolation” to describe Jesus in this hymn.

Certainly Christ fulfilled these prophecies, and Christ is the “hope of all the earth” as Wesley states.  Wesley also calls Jesus the “dear desire of every nation”.  Jesus came into the world to bring salvation to all people.  But even more, Jesus is the “joy of every longing heart”.  He is the only One who can satisfy the longing of every soul.

Do you know this “long expected Jesus”?  Is He your hope?  Is He your joy?  I pray that during this Advent season of expectation you are not only expecting Christmas to come, but that you are expecting and looking for Jesus to come again to bring you to dwell with Him for eternity.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Tell the Story…Tell the Story Well!

by Sarah Nelson
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.  While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.   And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;  for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a [manger.”   And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

This year I was so excited and yes, a little proud of myself,when I was able to get our Christmas photo card and newsletter sent out shortly after Thanksgiving.   What a relief it was to have that task marked off my “to do” list.

A few days later our family found our Christmas boxes, and set up our home for our first Christmas season in Oregon.  The tree went up, the lights went on, and I sat down to enjoy the beauty of it all.  As I relaxed with a cup of hot tea, I decided to read through our already sent out letter once again.  As I read the first paragraph my stomach tightened and I could feel my blood pressure rise as I caught a very major error.  It wasn’t a mistake having to do with our children’s names or ages, nor of our new address being misprinted.  No – it was the mixing up of the Christmas Story!  Once again pride reared it’s head as I chided myself for my mistake of replacing the wise men following the star to worship Jesus, with the shepherds following the star.  Then I became upset with my pastor husband, who also had proofed it and not caught my re-working of the Christmas story.  When I read out loud what I had sent out to our close family, friends (which include several of my former AFLBS professors), and churches we have served, my reaction was to cry and my husband‘s was to laugh.  Soon his laughter conquered my tears and I saw my anguish for what it was.

What was it?  The wrong priority for sharing a greeting with friends and family  I was in such a hurry to have my Christmas list completed  that I had neglected the most important, and truly the only real reason to celebrate Christmas.  I had skipped over the verse I had chosen to head our letter and had given an improper application, all in haste to get to the “good” stuff – what was new with us and ours.  What a lesson; one that I will not soon forget.   The proof-reading for accurately sharing  the great message of the Christ  Child come to earth had taken second seat to our family’s comings and goings.

Please join me this Christmas to slow down.  To slow down, stop, and ponder the life of the One who came to give us life that we may live.  The gift of Jesus is a priceless gift to us as individual sinners in need of a savior!  The answer to our salvation need was wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger that first Christmas. He came in God’s perfect plan and time.  May we never be in such a hurry that we forget the precious gift given to you and me.

Our God Who Never Fails!

by Lynn Wellumson

Don’t you love taking everyday conveniences for granted?  Appliances, cars, computers, I love them all as long as they function as promised.

We tend to think of ourselves as reasonably handy with home repairs.  Our main bathroom shower had a slow leak that while not getting worse, did not seem to be healing itself either.  We had our two assistants (sons) home for thanksgiving break.  With an afternoon free, while the rest of the world was shopping on Black Friday, they decided to tackle this hopefully, simple pipe replacement job.  The tub did not have it’s own shut off valve, so this task required turning off the water to the entire house.  While removing the damaged pipe, not only did it break, but the two next to it did also.  It seemed to be miraculous that not only was a plumber on duty, but he arrived within half an hour to assess the damages.  He was able to seal off the pipes which resulted in water being restored to the rest of the house.  He also promised to return within a week to actually fix the pipes.  In an amazing show of bathroom fixtures solidarity, the toilet handle broke after he left.  In case we were carrying a virus that was causing our house to fall into itself, we escaped to the local Chinese restaurant.  When our fortune cookies arrived at the end of the meal, mine said, “We will not know the worth of water ’til the well is dry.”  We got a chuckle out of that!  Jon’s read “It’s time to complete some unfinished business.”  As of this moment, the plumber has not returned resulting in using the basement shower which is down to a trickle of water due to the pipes being sealed off upstairs.  Serious gymnastic movements are required to even get wet.  Suffering, no; inconvenient, absolutely.

How thankful I am for a God who never fails!

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”  Lamentations 3:22-23

While other things may fail us, we can always count on His promises!

String Cheese, Dryer Sheets and Grace: Finding God When We Feel Rotten

by Liz Johnson

It was following me everywhere.

I couldn’t figure it out. It smelled halfway like a porta potty at a July music festival and halfway like my freshman brother’s bedroom. The whole day became almost a waste; the words out of my professors’ mouths were muffled and distant and I kept trying to sneakily lean over to find out if one of my nearby classmates was the perpetrator of the stench. It followed me into my car and drove with me all the way home, but later that day it disappeared. I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t me. Even the next day, when my hair was smelling of Pantene Pro-V and my sweater was straight from the drier, the stench followed me to school and followed me back again.

And then I discovered it. I unzipped the small front pocket of my backpack in search of a writing utensil – the smell was almost paralyzing. I had thrown the delicious piece of string cheese in my backpack for a little afternoon snack and had abandoned it for days – possibly weeks. Now it sloshed around in cheese juice, soft and squishy in the plastic wrapper. Before I lost everything I had previously eaten up to that point, I sprinted to dump the putrid snack in garage trash bin. But it’s presence still lingered, permeating my section of the house and saturating my trusty backpack. Even after scrubbing it with a soapy rag and airing it out on the deck and drowning it in Febreeze, I still had to stuff the pocket with dryer sheets for a week before I could bear to wear it around in public again. Sometimes I still feel like I didn’t quite do enough.

There are some things that we just can’t seem to shake. It’s the ugly reactions when we’re stressed, or the controlling tendencies when we sense that someone’s not doing it right, or the angry words that spew from our mouths in conflict. We see our downfalls, we smell the stench and we scrub. We work to clean it, to get rid of it. We feel like we’re making progress, like our lives and our personalities and our character are becoming less shameful and more beautiful, but then something happens. We have an outburst, or we hurt someone we love, or we believe a lie about ourselves – or about God. The progress seems lost and our lives and relationships seem permeated with that stench again.

Through this, in the muck and the mire of my failings, in the shame of my old habits and in the reality of my humanity, this is when the beauty of God’s grace is overwhelming. His forgiveness and favor are overpoweringly sweet and uncanny. Psalm 103: 11-12 says, “For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.” It’s in these moments of weakness and frustration that these words become real to us, felt in us. God is at work in our lives, maturing us and sanctifying us through His Spirit; at the same time, He sees us as spotless, sinless and stench-less. His love for us, His delight in us is not shaken by the ugliness of our mistakes. Or the week-old cheese in our backpacks.