Stealing Jesus


"Remember Jesus Christ..."
2 Timothy 2:8

The year I bought my house, God decided I needed a cat. I didn't want a cat, I wanted a dog -- a big, hugable, lovable dog. I wanted a German Shepherd, a Golden Retriever, maybe even a Saint Bernard. But instead, God sent me a cat.

Freckles was a little, gray tabby cat, a stray, less than a year old. I found her wandering through my foxgloves and delphiniums. She was thin, hungry, and covered with fleas. The poor little creature broke my heart, and when I brought her a plate of cat food she claimed me as her own. At the end of a few days, it was as if we had known each other forever.

From the beginning, my cat made it clear to me that she was in control. True to her kind, she was independent and self-assured. My house belonged to her. She allowed me to live there, but in return for her gracious hospitality I was required to provide her with two meals a day, treats on demand, fresh water always, and an impeccably clean commode. As long as I kept my part of the bargain things went fine, but if I strayed, even a whisker, from her routine, she found ways to punish me.

Freckles did cat things. She chased ghost mice up the walls, she walked precariously on curtain rods, and she opened my kitchen cabinets. Whenever I scolded her, she found a way to get to my eye level. She'd jump up on a counter top, or worse, climb up my back! Then she'd stare at me as if to say, "Deal with it, Lady. I'm a cat." Freckles stole things. If I left a piece of jewelry on my dresser, it was gone. If I rolled a pair of clean socks into a ball, they ended up in a dark corner under the sofa. She took food, money, underwear, keys, pencils -- anything she could get her teeth into. Each new season brought new things to steal. In the spring, she stole from the Easter baskets, in the summer she took packets of flower seeds, in autumn she took the gloves I wore to keep blisters from forming on my hands while I raked leaves for endless hours. But, by far, winter was her favorite time. Winter brought Christmas.

Christmas was prime time for my naughty, little cat burglar. The house was filled with exciting new toys: ornaments, candles, papier-maché angels, peppermint candy. It was a rare occasion when I saw Freckles without something dangling from her mouth. But I was good about it; I dealt with it in the spirit of the season: I found her stash, I returned things to where they rightfully belonged, and I didn't say a word about it -- until she stole Jesus.

Baby Jesus has the place of honor at the center of my nativity scene. Each year, I put him gently into the tiny, straw-filled manger on the fireplace mantel. Then, I carefully place Mary and Joseph at his side.

At first Freckles showed no interest in Jesus, but then He became the object of her intent. I saw her planning it. She lay there in front of the hearth looking angelic, but her mind was full of a sneak, snatch, and run routine. Silently, she'd climb up the wing-back chair. Then, she'd leap softly onto the mantel. After that, she'd pussyfoot around the wise men and past the donkey grazing on the hay, and then -- she'd seize Jesus! Before I'd know what was happening, she'd run off with him someplace where I'd never find him again. Shrewd is the mind of a cat.

Her scheme went off without a hitch, except that she knocked over a shepherd when she absconded with our Lord and Savior. I saw her just as she jumped from the mantel with Jesus held firmly in her teeth. He was visible only from the waist up, His tiny arms outstretched and pleading for rescue.

"Hey!" I cried. "You come back here with Jesus!"

What followed was a wild chase around the house. I was determined not to let her out of my sight, and I stayed in hot pursuit. Finally, I cornered her. Knowing she'd been had, Freckles dropped Jesus with no remorse and no look of guilt. She glared at me. Her eyes said, "Deal with it, Lady." Gently, I placed Baby Jesus back in his bed. It was the last time Freckles would steal Him from the manger. (I quickly learned that double-faced tape does wonders.)

When Freckles stole Jesus, it made me realize that I too have stolen Him from the manger. I've done it by giving in to the commercialism of Christmas. The familiar trappings of the season -- presents, parties, decorations -- distract me from the true meaning of the holiday. I find myself complaining about how much I have to do and how little time there is. I wonder whether the gifts I bought are good enough. Did I buy enough for everyone? Is the wrapping paper pretty enough? Did I get enough tags and bows? Are there enough lights to trim the tree? Will one pie be enough for Christmas dinner? All these concerns are like Freckles stealing Jesus from the manager and hiding Him somewhere out of sight, out of mind.

Even in the antics of our pets, God teaches us. My lesson that day was that Christ is Christmas. As much as I hate to admit it, I forget that sometimes. Christ gets lost in the gaiety, the bright, flickering lights, the dulcet carols, the mountains of gifts. But Christ is Christmas. He sees everything we do. He watches us. He speaks. In the middle of the sounds of the season His voice might only be a whisper. But listen. He says, simply: "Remember me."

Dear Jesus:
Forgive me for not putting you first on your birthday. Teach me that your light shines more brightly than the holiday lights, and that your voice is sweeter than the carols.

[Come back next week for an inspiring guest post by my friend and fellow author, Shari Barr.]

Book Review Week: The Tallest of Smalls

[Thank you to Thomas Nelson for sending me a review copy of Max Lucado's The Tallest of Smalls.]


"Even if we are small, or don't feel like we fit in, we matter to the only One who matters."
That is the message at the heart of Max Lucado's new children's book The Tallest of Smalls. It is a delightful story about Ollie, the smallest of the Two-Smalls who live in a land called Stiltsville. Every evening at six, the Too-Smalls meet in the town circle where they hope they’ll be picked to receive stilts to strut about above the stilt-less masses. They come to see if they matter -- if they’re awesome, if they’re pretty, if they’re clever, or funny. Ollie begs to be picked. He wants to be like the high-ups of Stiltsville who are proud of their stilts and their ultimate status. But once he gets stilts, oh how it hurts when he stumbles and tumbles and loses them.

Listen to what Max Lucado has to say about how Jesus helps the smallest of smalls:




The Tallest of Smalls is a useful book for parents to share with their children. The message is clear: You are fine just the way you are! You don't need to be in the cool-crowd to matter, and when you feel left out or bullied, you are not alone. Jesus is right there, smiling, putting his arm around you and walking with you everyday.

Children will enjoy Max Lucado's rhyming text and Maria Monescillo's whimsical, detailed illustrations. Visit this link to preview the book. Then order a copy for your child's bookshelf. It will come in handy on those days when he or she comes home from school feeling like Ollie in need of some stilts.

The Tallest of Smalls includes a Note to Parents and also a page where it can be personalized, if given as a gift.

Note:
This book for kids coordinates with Max's adult trade book, Fearless, which released in September 2009.


Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages

Publisher: Thomas Nelson (November 3, 2009)


Technology vs. God

"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." – Psalm 46:10.

Our local cable company just added the Retro Channel to its lineup. I've been enjoying old television shows like The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Dragnet and even old news broadcasts featuring the late Walter Cronkite. Compared to today's shows, the production value of these old programs is primitive. Technology has come a long way since the 1950s and 60s when television had simple stage sets, limited special effects, and news reports without live video.

I watched a few episodes of the Superman series from the late 1950s. Superman was the fastest thing around back then. He zoomed through the sky with supersonic velocity, faster than a speeding bullet, soaring past blurred images of the Empire State Building and other New York skyscrapers. When I saw him whooshing in front of those buildings, it reminded me of my life. My days are a blur. They go by so fast that I'm not aware of all the things in the background, the things that I pass along the way. I'm not alone. We've all become super men, women and children zooming through life at breakneck speed.

In the 50s and 60s, life was slower. There were fewer choices on television, and when you watched it, you weren't multi-tasking. You watched with fixed attention. When you watched the nightly news, you understood that the images were real and the stories were the heart of someone's life. You let it all soak in, and you thought about it for a while. You remembered.

When I was a kid, Mom and Dad often talked about Pearl Harbor. On the anniversaries of the attack, they remembered how horrendous it had been, and they reflected on the lives that were lost. Every year on Pearl Harbor Day, their generation remembered and relived where they were when it happened. Back then, in the age of propeller airplanes and steam ships, Pearl Harbor was an imagined faraway place in the South Pacific. There was no television to convey news about the attack. Special reports ("Bulletins," they were called) came by radio. The images arrived as stills in newspapers or short newsreels in movie theaters. Yet, my parents' generation remembered Pearl Harbor, year after year, as if it were yesterday. The death toll at Pearl Harbor was 2300. That was about the same number of people who died in Hurricane Katrina.

Pop quiz: On what date did Hurricane Katrina strike New Orleans?

These days, "big" news stories appear on television in a flash and quickly retire to the history books. There's little time to let them soak in. Think about it. Almost 300,000 people died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. That's about half the number of soldiers killed in the American Civil War. About 3,000 Americans died in the attacks on September 11, 2001. That's similar to the number of people who died in the Protestant/Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland. Making these comparisons puts things in perspective. In the last decade we have lived through several "Pearl Harbors." So why don’t we remember the dates like our parents remembered?

We watch major news events on TV (the tsunami, Katrina, 911) in real time as if we're watching a movie with awesome special effects. After days, or maybe a week or two, of watching the same event, we're ready to move on to something else. It's a lot like watching a movie on DVD and then putting it away on a shelf. Our lives move fast, and we're always looking for the next action adventure. I think, sometimes, we miss the reality and magnitude of current events. We get so caught up in the show that we don't take time to be still and reflect.

I wonder how God feels about the pace of things here on Earth. I wonder what He thinks when we're too busy to be still and when we put all of our business ahead of Him and His creation.

I think about the scripture verses in Mark 4:35-39 where Jesus calms the storm: That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (NIV)

Technology through television brings fiction to life, and it allows us to see reality as it happens. That's an awesome accomplishment and in many ways a blessing. But I think we need to be careful. With news events whizzing by on television, like Superman at record speed, we risk not seeing the buildings in the background and all the people and lives held inside. I wonder what would happen if God got up, rebuked the technological wind and waves and said, "Quiet! Be still!" What would we do if technology shut down and all of us were left with nothing to watch but the face of Almighty God?

Dear Heavenly Father, In this fast-paced age of computers, cell phones, and video games, I often have no time for you. Forgive me, please, and remind me to put you first in everything I do.



Fires in the Fall

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The gray smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!
-- Robert Louis Stevenson (1913)

Yesterday, I pulled out my copy of "A Child's Garden of Verses" and read "Fires in the Fall." The memories stirred by Stevenson's poem drew me back to childhood autumns when I raked leaves into piles, then jumped and rolled in them, delighted by the crackly sounds they made. Yesterday, I drove to the country where sugar maples are dressed in gold and red oaks and sumacs are on fire. Everywhere I looked, leaves were breaking free from their branches and raining down to Earth. In the country, people burn the leaves or let them lie. I followed a scent that was sweet and stinging until I saw a fire at the side of the road. I rolled down the car windows, let the smoke drift inside and soak through my clothes. I wanted to take it home with me. In the city, people rake leaves and haul them curbside. The City trucks come, suck them up and grind them into compost. You can't burn leaves in the city. You can't savor that lovely smell.

When I was little, my grandmother lived with us. Leaf burning was allowed then, and grandma burned leaves with a passion. She even had a fire ring in our backyard that she'd made from old bricks. Grandma and I spent sunny October afternoons together raking leaves and piling them high. When we were done, Grandma poured gasoline onto the pile and told me to stand back. She lit a wooden match and tossed it onto the heap. (Had my parents known, they would have been horrified.) Poof! The leaves burst into flames releasing white smoke to the clear, blue sky and that wonderful earthy smell.

I love that fire warms campsites on cool, summer nights and causes firewood to pop and crackle. I enjoy fall bonfires on the beach and roasting hotdogs over an open flame. But, I know to stand back. I know that fire has a dark side. It eats up possessions and steals lives. We live in awesome fear of it. We install round, white discs in our houses that scream out warnings if fire comes near.

When I think of fire, I remember the story of Moses leading the Israelites toward the land of Canaan. During the day the Lord went ahead of his people in a thick cloud, and during the night he went ahead of them in a flaming fire. That way the Lord could lead them at all times, whether day or night [Exodus 13:21-22 CEV]. Imagine that; God in a pillar of fire leading His people home. I also remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three believers who refused to obey a king's command to worship a golden idol. The king had the men tied up and thrown into a blazing furnace. As he watched, the king saw not three figures engulfed in flames, but four. He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." [Daniel 3:25 NIV]. Not a son of the gods! It was God Himself. He was the One in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. When the men came out of the furnace the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them [Daniel 3:27b NIV]. God was in the flames shielding the men from harm.

Look around during this lovely autumn season and you will see God. He is the colors of the autumn leaves and also the fires that burn them. When you find Him in the sights and smells of the season, remember that God has power over everything: He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants [Psalm 104:4]. In the darkest nights, He lights our way, and when our lives are ablaze with troubles, He stands in the fire with us.

Dear Lord
Please be the spark that ignites the fire in my life: the passion to do your work and to follow your will.

YA Book Review: Take Your Best Shot

In the introduction to his book, Take Your Best Shot, fourteen-year-old Austin Gutwein writes:

"Something is happening in our generation. Kids are really trying to make a difference in the world. They're reaching out to people in need, and they're stepping out of their comfort zones. Something is happening in their hearts. They want to take their best shot at life; they want to do something bigger than themselves."

That's exactly what Austin did. He was just nine years old when he watched a video about an African AIDS orphan named Maggie. That video led him to take his best shot, and when he did, he changed the lives of AIDS victims on the other side of the world. Austin made a difference by shooting two thousand free throws in a local gymnasium. His friends, family and community sponsored him, and he raised $3000 to help African children orphaned by AIDS. But Austin didn't stop there. He founded "Hoops of Hope", an annual event to further help AIDS victims. Since then, with God's guidance, Austin and his "team" have accomplished far more than he ever imagined. The events he's organized have built a school and a clinic in Africa, and his vision continues to grow. Austin wrote a book about it. Here's what he has to say:



Austin's book, Take Your Best Shot, is his personal narrative. It tells the story of how "Hoops of Hope" grew into a miracle, and it includes a sub-story about Austin's faith in God. With the help of co-writer Todd Hillard, Austin writes in a teen-friendly style that encourages kids to search for their own ways to make a difference as well as introduces them to a purpose-driven life through faith in God. Each chapter ends with thought-provoking questions, activities and links to additional information.

Near the end of his book, Austin writes:

"Who would have dreamed that one kid, one video, a basketball, and a hoop in America could be used to change lives half a world away?"

His book is proof that one kid with a vision can indeed change the world.

I highly recommend that you buy a copy of Take Your Best Shot and read it with your kids. Then have a family conference to answer the question: "How can we make a difference?"

*****
The video that changed Austin's life was about girl in Zambia. Her name was Maggie and, like Austin, she was nine years old. Maggie was orphaned. Most of her family members had died of AIDS, and she lived in poverty in a mud hut slightly bigger than a walk-in closet. Maggie's only living relative, her seventy-three-year-old great-grandmother lived with and cared for her. Watch this video that inspired Austin to make a difference in the lives of children orphaned by AIDS.


To learn what happened to Maggie, be sure to read the last chapter of Austin's book.

Take Your Best Shot is published by Thomas Nelson
© September 2009

Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 240 pages
ISBN-10: 1400315158
ISBN-13: 978-1400315154


You can preview the book by clicking here.

Read Austin's blog.

Note: Each chapter in Take Your Best Shot starts with an inspirational quotation. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook this week. I'll be posting some of the quotes.
NEW FROM THOMAS NELSON

CLICK ON THE BOOK TO PREVIEW. VIEW THE BOOK TRAILER BELOW.
FROM BARBOUR BOOKS
I'm proud to be a contributing author to the following series of humorous devotionals.
And check out my "Kid's Bible Dictionary" and pre-teen mysteries, also from Barbour.

See all the books in the Camp Club Girls series.

See all the books in the Camp Club Girls series.
Click on the picture.
I am the author of these books, but I have not been compensated for mentioning them on this blog or linking them to the seller's website. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

By Max Lucado, Published by Thomas Nelson
Max Lucado has a unique way with words, and his children's book Hermie A Common Caterpillar is no exception. With simple text and bright, watercolor illustrations, the story of Hermie unfolds.

Hermie wonders why he looks and feels so common. Whenever he asks God why, God simply answers, "I'm not finished with you yet." Then, one day, Hermie feels very tired. He gets into his cozy, leafy bed, and he sleeps. And while Hermie sleeps a transformation takes place. When he wakes up, Hermie discovers that God has done something grand. You can guess what it is. Every caterpillar that lives to adulthood knows the end of the story.

Parents, please share this book and its powerful message with your children. We are all special because God loves us, and He has a unique purpose for our lives. Whenever we slump into feeling ordinary, we know that we have hope because . . .God isn't finished with us yet!


*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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