Washington’s Neglect of Children

When did children turn into a political game in the minds and hearts of Washington insiders?    I was furious tonight when a Senator from South Dakota referred to The Children’s Health Insurance Program as a bargaining chip in budget negations. Ironically the program is referred to as CHIP.   It was created in 1997 and has had bipartisan support, until recently. Instead of funding the program in September, the Republican leadership decided to put the lives of children at risk. Both excuses and promises to pass the funding have been many. According to the Senator, adding it to a short term budget fix would be giving away their bargaining power.

What I want to know is when the Republican party determined that the health needs of children meant so little to them?   So little that a long funded program could be used as a political capital? When did they decide that the health of children could be a bargaining chip? This is supposed to be the party of “Family values.” It claims to be the pro-life party.   What can be more pro-life than to make sure sick children have their health needs met.

What I see is a political party that has lost its way and its conscience. Throughout the scripture God warns against those who manipulate the poor, the widow, the alien and children.

Isaiah writes:
“Woe to those who make unjust laws,
to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
and robbing the fatherless.” Isaiah 10:1-3

And again a similar word comes to Zechariah, “The word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.” Zechariah 7:8-10

The scripture tells us that how we treat the poor, sick, and children in need is of vital importance to God. I wish the people in Washington would read the Bibles they put their hands on when they are sworn in. They may be surprised at just how much love God has for the people they have been discarding as unimportant, including the children they’ve  been playing political games with.

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Blessed in the Giving

First published as “Making a Life of Difference” on A Pastor’s Heart, January 28, 2015

George served on the mission team in the church I belonged to before I became a pastor. Deeply concerned about world hunger, George  had a dream.   He wanted to do something that would help people get out of that entrenched poverty which leads to malnutrition. An engineer in the food industry by trade, he started asking, how he could use his knowledge and expertise to export technology to third world countries. I’m pretty sure George was the one who started the conversation with his friends, though he would never take credit for it.

There were some false starts, but eventually he and his friends discovered that grinders would bring about significant change in rural areas of Africa and Central America. Grinders for grains and grinders for peanuts. Women were empowered and became small business owners while, students in engineering classes back home were mentored into caring. When George died a few weeks ago it was noted that in one project alone he had helped save the lives of 120,000 children. He never took a break from volunteering, either with the organization he helped found, or in simple neighborly tasks. He was a person who lived his faith.

Not all of us are gifted quite so much, but each of us can make a difference. Our lives are richer when we use the gifts and talents God has given us in service to others. Oh, there will be times we may feel a bit used. We will meet people who could do for themselves without our help. But then one day we will be surprised by the power of a simple gift. What we thought was nothing, meant everything. A few years ago, a young man I’d never seen before stopped by my office. He said he needed gas so he could get to a job interview. Fresh out of cash, all I had to give him was an almost used gas card and a prayer. A few days later he stopped by to thank me. He’d gotten the job. He came again to thank me. Then once more. Each time he told me how the gift I had given him had changed his life. I thought of the eight dollars left on that gas card and I knew that it wasn’t I who had given him a gift. It was he who had gifted me. He had reminded me what a blessing it is to make a difference in another person’s life.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6

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Taking Christmas Into a New Year

First published December 24, 2014

For most of my life, I have looked upon a year’s closing as an opportunity to reflect upon the good and the bad, successes and failures of that year. One year especially stands as one of those moments of self-examination, a year when my life came crashing down upon me. I wondered at that time, if God could care or love me in that incredibly painful time. I’ve since learned that God is working hardest in our lives when we hurt most deeply. God’s surprises us in unexpected moments of love, mercy, forgiveness and compassion. I learned that God’s love is greater and more powerful than any other force in our world, for God’s love transcends our hurts, our sorrows, our worst mistakes, our most crushing defeats . . . even death and life.

The good news is that wherever we find ourselves today, we have been given the joy of new beginnings. In Bethlehem, God made a commitment to be with us in all of life’s journeys. In a very real sense, the gift of Christmas is the gift of new life. It is a deep certainty that wherever we find ourselves, whatever our failures or successes, whatever our mistakes, whatever our sins, God has chosen to enter OUR LIVES, to love us and accept us where we are.

We are told that when the Magi came to Jesus, after offering him their gifts, they left and “returned home in another way.”  The God who comes to us in our brokenness does not intend to leave us in our grief and sorrow. Neither does God intend to leave us in our self-destructive ways nor in our shame, but rather, to lead us to a new life of meaning and significance. May this New Year be one of trusting God, day by day. As you “return home from Christmas” may you do so is such a way that you are touched by the transforming presence of the one who entered our world in Bethlehem’s Stable.

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Christmas and The Luck of Roaring Camp

“How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news . . .” Isaiah 52:7a

Brett Hart’s short story, “The Luck of Roaring Camp,” is a tale of a tough, lawless mining camp out west. In the late 1880’s a miner discovers a little baby who has been abandoned. The baby is brought back into camp of rough and tumble miners who have to figure out how to care for the baby. Almost as soon as the baby arrives a transformation begins. One by one, each of the miners becomes a different person. There are clothes to be made, meals to be prepared, washing and tending to be done, all for the little foundling of Roaring Camp. Not only are the individual miners transformed, but the whole camp as well. Swearing and cursing, fighting and feuding, once typical of Roaring Camp, now cease. Each man tries to be on his best behavior, because of the baby.

Christmas often brings out the best in us. We become more generous. Toys land in containers for children whose parents can’t afford them. Food Shelves are stocked full of food for holiday dinners. Gifts cards get sent to people who are having a hard time.

Christmas – Christ’s coming among us is the power to turn a life around . . . The power to light up the darkness . . . The power to raise up dead lives . . . The power to renew the soul. Knowing Christ gives us the power to face the world with hope and love. It is to move beyond our fears, hurts, failures and brokenness.

To encounter Christmas with its depth and meaning is to encounter the living God who journey’s with us. May this Christmas be one where you are willing to be surprised, to be open to the miracle of Emmanuel who is God with us.

Indeed, “How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7

Prayer: God of the mountain messengers, May this year be one in which we truly live in such a way, that the impact of our lives gives hope and healing to others  – not for a single day, but throughout the year. Let Bethlehem’s babe influence our thoughts and works.     May we be people who live our faith in you through our actions for justice and peace.    Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here: Advent & Christmastide Devotions

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Christmas All Year Round

Three Hundred and Sixty-Five Days of Christmas Each Year

My all time favorite Sunday School Christmas program was called “365 Days of Christmas Each Year.” Every month of the year had its own song and its own blessing. The play was more complex than most plays. At Saturday’s practice the children were definitely not prepared for the big program twenty-four hours away. There were upset parents and upset children’s leaders. Anyone who had seen the disaster of Saturday’s rehearsal, could only imagine the worst for what would happen at Sunday’s performance.

Yet, on that Sunday, just about the time the music began to play and children started to sing, a transformation took place. While the children sang about each month of the year, one could see how people were being touched and surprised by grace. At one point the three and four-year-old class passed hearts through the congregation, singing “God Sent a Valentine Specially for You.” It was one of those serendipity moments. For, when one looked upon faces that had been strained or anxious, one saw a sudden turning to delight and joy. And God’s mystery of love was made new all over again.

Christmas was never meant for just a single day. God’s love is new every morning. Two thousand years ago a baby was born in Bethlehem that altered the scope of human history. Nations have risen and fallen. Worlds have been found and explored. Lands have been conquered and lost. Yet, through the centuries this constant promise has brought hope to humanity. God is among us. God made a decision to enter our world in Jesus the Christ to be with us. Whatever happens to you. Wherever you go God’s gift of love goes with you.

You may find yourself rushed this Christmas. There may be stresses and strains. Arguments may mar the season. Life might bring some bruises and hard choices. Today or tomorrow may be painful. Yet, the love revealed in Bethlehem will remain. Your life may be filled with problems. Your family may be struggling. Your heart may be troubled. There may be tears in your eyes today, but God’s love is constant. It will not end. God’s promises are forever. When God chose to enter this world in Jesus, it was to stay. So join in the angels singing, share in the joy of Christmas. For the Christ of Christmas is here to stay.

(First published December 20, 2017  on “A Pastor’s Heart”)

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Prepare the Way of the Lord

(A version of this  post was first published on December 2, 2015)
Against the backdrop of ISIS, a climate on the brink of environmental disaster, devastating fires in California and shootings that rip our hearts in two, Advent arrives. We hear again the voice of the prophet crying in the wilderness.

“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke 3:4-6

I’m reminded that Jesus was born into an anxious, fear-filled world. An occupying force ruled Jerusalem. The people of Israel walked on tiptoe, lest they upset the delicate balance of peace. One sign of insurrection would bring about the swift and brutal response of the Roman government. This was a world waiting for answers, hoping for a messiah. Here was a world seeking light that would pierce its darkness. So it is that Zachariah speaks with joy when his own son John was born, of the one who is to come. “And you child shall be called prophet of the Most High for you shall go before the Lord to prepare his ways . . . By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us – to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:76, 78-79

In our own dark moments, we too seek the one who leads to peace. We seek the one who quiets troubled souls, comforts the distressed and heals the disenfranchised. We seek the one who gives light in our darkness. In Advent, we wait for God’s answers. We wait in the assurance that God who holds the future is already preparing a way for each of us. So, as we wait, let us sing the carols, write our cards, decorate our homes, but let us also pray for peace and work for peace. Let us pray for healing among the nations and in our communities. Let us give of ourselves and our wealth to make life brighter for another. Let us prepare our hearts for the gifts of Christmas and the wonder of a Savior’s birth.

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Advent – The Promise of Peace

An Advent Devotion

“He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more” Micah 4:3

The image of a day when nations no longer go to war and the tools of war are recycled into tools of providence instead, encourages our souls. Who among us doesn’t want there to be an end to war, and an end to soldiers dying or being maimed? Who of us doesn’t want an end to the death, injury and harm of innocents forced to flee for their lives? Who doesn’t want an end to the suffering of people trapped by war?

God gives us a vision so we will work for it . . . A vision that encourages us to work for peace and not for war. It is the vision in the Christmas song which Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne captures in the music “Do you hear what I hear”

“Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light.”

Prayer: God of peace, your vision seems so far from us. Pictures of war fill our screens. Obstacles to peace appear insurmountable. We fear a nuclear disaster. We ache for the wounded soldier. We cry for the lost children. Our hearts bleed for lost lives. May we begin to look at your words of hope, not only as a dream, but your dream for all of us to live into. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at: Advent & Christmastide Devotions by clicking here.

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