Friday, December 19, 2014

A Christmas Miracle

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS. Matthew 1:18-25 (NKJV)

Wow…sometimes it just doesn’t pay to wake up and face the world. One can only imagine what Joseph was feeling when he found out that Mary was pregnant. What kind of girl was he engaged to? She had always seems so pure, so good, so Godly…and now, his teen-aged bride to be was pregnant. The questions that must have been running through his mind. How could she do this to him? When had she started sleeping around? Who was the father?

We all know the rest of the story, but for a moment in time, Joseph was beside himself saddled with the emotions of anger, sorrow and confusion. He was obviously off track in his thinking, but who in their right mind would ever guess the truth? Who could even write such a preposterous story where a chaste girl is spontaneously pregnant? 

In every life there are situations where we are confused, because we are asking the wrong questions, based on the wrong assumptions that we are so sure of. Years ago, I was preparing my Christmas Sermon, and I asked a number of people this question: “What does Christmas mean to you?” I finally went the Art Linkletter route and asked a child this question. The child happened to be my daughter, Gina, who was 5 years old at the time. “Gina, what does Christmas mean to you?” Her reaction was unexpected… She looked distressed, her eyes filled with tears and her little chin began to quiver. Finally she spoke through the tears. “Daddy, Christmas isn’t mean to me.” Sometimes, it is amazing how misconstrued and misunderstood are the situations of our lives. We think we know what is going on, but, somehow we completely missed it.

God sent an angel to Joseph to set the record straight concerning Mary. The angel just showed up in Joseph’s dream world and began to talk and answered the questions that Joseph had been kicking around. Joseph found out that Mary was pure, she had not been sleeping around, and that the Father of this child was God, the Holy Spirit. In other words, it was a miracle…a Christmas miracle! “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, “ which is translated, “God with us.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Christmas Tradition

There were many traditions in my family associated with the Christmas season. It was generally the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving when the Christmas Tree was put up with much fanfare. For the next three weeks my mother would toil away in the kitchen baking and cooking some of the richest, most delightful Christmas goodies you can imagine. Rum Balls, Toffee, Fudge, Caramels, Mr. Bork Cookies, Short-Bread, Russian Tea Cakes, Almond Bars, Sugar Cookies, Chocolate covered Peanut-Butter Balls, and of course, the dreaded Fruit Cake. (Truly a world-class fruitcake for those who like fruitcake) On Christmas Eve we had a special meal of soups, including an Italian soup made with turkey stuffed dumplings, with a choice of homemade cinnamon or pecan rolls. When the meal was finished, we helped clean up the dishes and then the moment we (the Kids) had been patiently waiting for all day arrived. It was time to open our presents.

There was yet one Christmas Tradition that would have to be accomplished before we moved on to present opening. As young children, we all were dressed in pajamas. One year, mom and dad even wore matching pajamas—what a sight we were! We all sat together on the couch; then dad carefully explained that as excited as we were about opening our gifts, the true meaning of Christmas was about the birth of Jesus Christ. We then as a family recited the story of Christ’s birth from Luke, Chapter two.

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Luke 2:1-16 (NKJV)

By the time we had finished reciting the marvelous story of Jesus’ unique birth, my mind was no longer preoccupied with the gifts that were waiting under the tree. I felt, what can only be described, as a closeness to God. The God that loved me enough to send Jesus to rescue my life from the folly and futility of sin. The activities of the night were now tempered by an awareness of “The Holy Night” when Jesus arrived on planet earth. As you establish Christmas Traditions with your children and grandchildren; make goodies, sing the carols of the season, be generous in the giving of gifts, string up lights inside and outside the house, make Christmas into a time of awe and wonder, make memories that last a lifetime!  Above all else, make sure that Jesus is at the center of it all!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Misunderstood Gift

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 (NKJV)

At this time of year we celebrate Christmas! It is a happy, joyful season where people exchange gifts, put up Christmas trees, light candles, make goodies, sing carols, send out cards and decorate their houses and lawns with lights and large plastic objects that look like Santa Claus, reindeer and snowmen. A lot of effort, time and money goes into making this season the most celebrated season of the year. But, you can invest in all the superfluous activities and miss the reason Christmas is celebrated.  Christmas is all about the birth of the Christ child. His humble birth was announced by angels, and attended by local shepherds in a Bethlehem barn. In that place, baby Jesus was found wrapped in simple linens, lying in a manger. Not exactly the kind of place you would expect the King of Kings to be born, but there were many things about Jesus, the gift that God gave to the world, that were misunderstood.

Have you ever received a gift that came from an unexpected source? Have you ever received a gift that you never asked for? Have you ever received a gift that you did not want? Have you ever received a gift that somehow was misunderstood? My wife Jody received such a gift. A man arrived at our front door with a medium sized package. Jody took the gift with great anticipation and began the process of tearing through the packaging. She looked up at me and said, “My sister said that she was sending me a special gift for Christmas, and that I was to open it immediately upon arrival!” She was so excited!

Finally, Jody made it through all the different layers of packaging and pulled out the gift. It was quilted—beautifully quilted in several bright and festive colors. Jody looked it over…and then looked at it again, carefully turning the present over making sure that she wasn't missing anything. She looked puzzled, and asked me, “What is this?” She handed it off to me and I followed her lead and analyzed her gift carefully. I said, “I really don’t know what this it, but it kind of looks like a quilted poncho. It does have an opening in the middle.” Jody took the quilted poncho and slipped it over her head. She walked over to a mirror and exclaimed, “Oh my goodness…oh my goodness…” (That is as close as we get to swearing in the Dugone household) She continued, “What was my sister thinking? I will have to wear this when I go to Oregon. I will look ridiculous. Oh my goodness, who has ever thought of wearing a quilted poncho? Is this fashionable in Oregon? Should I say that we never received it…but, then she might feel so bad that she will make another one…” I’m not sure that I have ever seen Jody more anxious in my life, and I was trying not to laugh, because she looked ridiculous in her quilted poncho.

A short time later, Jody’s sister called. It was the moment of truth that Jody had been dreading. Her sister asked, “Did my gift get delivered?” “Yes,” was Jody’s reply. Jody could not come up with anything else to say and there was an awkward pause in the conversation. Her sister asked the dreaded question, “Well, did you like it?” Another pause… “It is some of the prettiest quilting I've ever seen, it must have taken a lot of time—thank you, it is lovely!” Jody’s sister continued, “I  wanted you to open it right away so that you could put it under your Christmas Tree. I just thought that a quilted Christmas Tree Skirt would really dress up your Christmas Tree.” Jody mused out loud, “A Christmas Tree Skirt…of course, a Christmas Tree Skirt.” I could hear the relief rolling off of Jody, and Jody’s sister was right—the Christmas Tree Skirt looked great! Still…I would have enjoyed watching Jody step off the plane in Portland, Oregon dressed in her quilted poncho of many colors!

By in large, the gift of Jesus was widely misunderstood by the world into which He was born. He was a gift considered a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. But, to all who call upon His name, He is salvation and the greatest gift ever given. The Bible tells us, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12 (NKJV)

Saturday, December 13, 2014


There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. Proverbs 16:25 (NKJV)

I was lost...exhausted...and worn out.  I had been hiking for most of the day, it was getting dark and cold.  Fog was developing and crossing my path making it difficult to see the trail, which was uneven and treacherous.  I was frustrated, because, I pride myself on being self-sufficient and I know how to handle myself in the Rocky Mountains or any wilderness for that matter... "Right," I said to myself. Time for the truth, I had made just about every rookie mistake someone could make out in the woods.  I was turned around and clueless as to the right direction leading to civilization.  I was under dressed for the dropping temperatures.  I was without adequate water or food. I was hiking through a hostile environment with lots of wild animals, such as bears.  I did not have matches and little hope for building a fire with any survival method given the downpour of rain.  

What was I to do?  I decided, after hiking 20 miles in the wrong direction that I would simply turn around and hike the 20 miles back.  I would be soaked to the bone, but it did not look like it would turn into snow; I needed to keep moving to stay warm regardless.  The biggest challenge would be hiking in the night with no light and a night sky that was covered with clouds.  I breathed a prayer, turned around, and set off for the second half of my adventure.  I was reminded of a spiritual truth that is actually recorded twice in the Proverbs.  "There is a way that seems right to a man.  But the end is the way of death."  Not an uplifting thought, but appropriate for my decision-making process that day.  I was also thinking, "Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My..."

After hiking for another 6 miles and with night time arriving, I crossed a small paved county road. I looked down the trail and I considered the road.  It was 14 miles through the woods to the trail head where my car was parked.  It was 23 miles down the county road to that same trail head. I pondered, "Hike in the dark down a trail...hike in the dark on a road?"  I chose the road.  I covered another 5 miles down the road, when I saw the headlights of a car approaching me from behind.  My new friends sat me in the front seat--bundled me in a blanket, and gave me a bottle of water.  18 miles later I was alive and well at the trail head.  I profusely thanked my rescuers, jumped in my car and headed to civilization.

I was so sure of myself.  (First Mistake)  I was sure I was headed the right direction.  (Second Mistake)  I was sure that I was adequately outfitted.  (Third Mistake)  When it comes to my decisions in life, am I also blinded by my illusions of grandeur?   Maybe?  Probably?  Absolutely!  Like it or not, I am dependent on God.  He is my moral compass and my spiritual guide.  If I am depending on myself to find the right path in life for myself, it will be trouble!  Time to trust in Jesus: "The way, the truth and the life!!" 

Winter Wonderland

"Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as woolIsaiah 1:18 (NKJV) 

I grew up in the north—at a latitude and altitude that made the winter season long and cold. Before the first snows arrived it was a stark picture of evergreen trees scattered among those that lost their leaves in the autumn, of fields filled with dormant grasses and dead weeds, and the smoke lazily curling into the darkening skies from a thousand chimneys. The days were short and the winter nights long. No children played outside, no sounds of laughter were to be heard, and in the distance one could hear the solitary sound of an ax splitting through a piece of wood. We were all preparing for the coming of winter.

Soon the first snows would arrive and the scenery of desolation would be covered in a sweeping white blanket and transformed into a scene of great beauty. The trees that were bare of leaves were now frosted, and everything of nature and man was now buried beneath a sparking wave of white. Talk about a makeover…it was now a Winter Wonderland.

There was a time when my soul was a cold and barren wasteland.  My life was in high gear, and going nowhere quickly. The price of sin was high and as in all cases, it was destroying the work of the creator. Sin robs us of everything that is meaningful and strips us of our dignity. Our lives grow with increased desperation as we scramble to survive and find meaning.  It is in this state of disarray that the voice of the Lord whispers to our heart a message of hope and life. “Come now, and let us reason together; though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as the snow.”

What can change the discouraged and dying heart of a life marked by sin? My life changed when I said, “Yes,” to God's suggestion. It was a reasonable choice—an unexpected opportunity—a chance to see the ugliness that was my life transformed as God covered my sin with a blanket of forgiveness. The heart that was once dead and cold was now a wonderland…a thing of beauty…as pure as the driven snow.