Mary, I Didn’t Know

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To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. — Genesis 3:16

In 5th grade, all the guys were led into a classroom down the hall, where we were taught some sterilized version of the facts of life.  The girls had their own lecture.  If I remember correctly, their conversation lasted longer than ours did.

I remember rejoining some of my female friends, and seeing a strange look in their eyes. They all seemed to have aged a year or so in maturity.  I wondered if they had been told different facts than we had.

Indeed, they had.  More than just the rough outline of Male/Female sexuality, they were learning about pain.  The monthly ordeal of menstruation, the excruciating process of childbirth.  I don’t know if any time was given to the discussion of other forms of pain for women — objectification, harassment, abuse.  Somehow I doubt it.

I had no clue.  I knew of none of this, and wouldn’t for years.  Some of it, I’m still learning.

Last week, for instance, I sat with my senior high Sunday School youth at the coffee shop and asked what was meant to be a throwaway question, “The angels said ‘be not afraid’.  What’s your biggest fear?”

One of the young women said, without irony, “I’m afraid of men.”  The other two quickly agreed.  They began to share with me and the other young men there, how difficult it is for them to be out, anywhere, by themselves.  I don’t know what it was about this unexpectedly frank conversation, but as they each gave real world examples of how scary and painful it can be living as a young woman in this world, it occurred to me…

That little wood-carved figure of Mary, there on my coffee table nativity set, is going through some stuff I simply can’t imagine.

Not only do I have next to no concept of what it means to be a young woman in our world today, I am utterly clueless of what that young girl in her teens must be enduring on Christmas Eve.

Having a baby is a big deal.  Having a baby in a cattle stall, with only (I’m guessing) a pretty clueless husband to assist must have been terrifying.  I can only imagine such physical pain coinciding with great joy!

I’m aware there are many women in the world whose pregnancies aren’t successful, due to complications, or lack of assistance, or poor sanitation. Wow. More pain that I can hardly fathom.

I’m reminded of Adam and Eve, expelled from the Garden of Eden.  There were consequences to their disobedience, and one of them was that childbirth would bring pain. I’ll be honest, I haven’t thought much about it before.  The literal pain alongside the joy of Christmas.

I tend to think that God is not inflicting these punishments, but that they are natural consequences for us choosing to live in the harshness of the world.

Regardless, I feel that Eve got the worse end of the deal, compared to Adam.  As did Mary, with Joseph.  As I’ve come to believe more and more, women in general face pain that men aren’t always aware of.

This is not a pity party for the ladies. It’s closer to a celebration of the strong and faithful women I have known in my life, who may have had to struggle more than I know just to celebrate Christmas this year.

In the least, I’m aware that the mother of my Savior deserves some gratefulness on my part.  I’m guessing the same is true for all the other women in my life.

It’s not much, but I wanted to say, on behalf of my 5th grade clueless self, and my 50-year-old slightly less clueless self…

I was thinking of you this Christmas.

Have a Merry Christmas!

Mitch

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If This Were Your Last Christmas

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Last week, my wife Jan and I drove to Wichita to watch one of our favorite movies on the big screen:  A special 75th anniversary showing of “Meet Me In Saint Louis”.

It’s a delightful film that we watch every Christmas.  The film takes place over the course of several months, but the climax occurs on Christmas Eve, when Judy Garland sings the immortal song, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas”.

The lyrics begin:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be bright

It’s beautiful, but do you know what the original lyrics were, before Judy threw a fit to have them changed?

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last

It may be your last???  Can you imagine such a sentiment in such a joyful film?  And what if it were true? Picture loud speakers blaring, “Breaking News! This may be your last Christmas. Proceed accordingly.”

How would you respond?

If someone told me I’d have no more Christmas in my life, I’d be more sad than anything.  No more presents?  No more family gatherings?  No more candle light service? These things are supposed to be forever!

Well hang on.  Do you know there was a time when Christians didn’t even celebrate Christmas?  Like the first 300 years after Jesus death! That’s right.  The celebration of this holiday did not exist until Pope Julius made it a holiday in 350CE.

And I’m sure you know that December 25th is not actually the day Jesus was born.  The date was probably picked to coincide with other festivals occurring around the winter solstice.  Some say Jesus was born in the Spring, but who really knows?

And although gift-giving has been associated with Christmas at various times down through history, it wasn’t until the Victorian era that present exchanges began to resemble what we do today.  Similarly, Christmas Carols evolved down through the ages before many of the songs we sing began to take shape in the 1800s.

Each of these components had a “first”, back in history, and they may also face a “last” some day in the future, but none of these pieces add up to Christmas.  If we lost every present, or cookie, or party, or even the date on a calendar, none of these could signal a “last” Christmas.

The thought behind those “It may be your last” lyrics may actually be towards the “Merry” part of “Merry Christmas”.  It may be a suggestion that you’ll have future Christmases, just not  “Merry” ones. Perish the thought!

No, really!  Perish that thought — let it die right where it stands.  Christmas — and especially a Merry Christmas — requires so little of us it’s almost effortless to achieve.  Christmas requires Christ.  Christmas is merely a reminder of an all encompassing, eternal gift Christ has already given.  It’s ours for the taking; we need only be open to receive it.

At the heart of Christmas is the one gift that truly keeps on giving.

So bake your cookies with abandon.  Sing those carols — out of key is perfectly acceptable.  Hug your loved ones, and wave at your neighbors.  Every year the celebration changes some, and that’s a beautiful part of life.

But enjoy Christmas without fear of losing it.  You already have it to keep and to share.  Christ is warming your heart even now as you trim your tree, or wrap your gifts…

and don’t forget to enjoy the Garland.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Top 10 Essential Apps For Christmas

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Looking for something exciting, challenging, and helpful to take you all the way to December 25th?  Look no further.

We’ve assembled our TOP 10 Essential App List for Christmas this year.  Try these out and we promise you won’t utter a single “Bah Humbug” all season!

HERE WE GO!

10. APPROACH:  You’ll never make it to the manger if you’re not willing to move.  Spend some time in prayer remembering what Christmas is all about, and then get in gear.  Even as you approach Jesus, Jesus is approaching you.

9. APPREHENSIVE:  This is not a relaxing weekend in Branson.  It’s a life-changing adventure filled with risks, unknowns, and even a little uncertainty.  Hearing the Christmas story should shake you up a little. It’s a good thing to be a little apprehensive.

8. APPETITE:  Cookies and Presents can bring great joy.  They can also bring gluttony and greed!  Be intentional about what you should be craving.  Love, Peace, Hope, and Joy are present in abundance.  Here’s to having a healthy appetite.

7 APPRECIATE.  The sky on Christmas Eve always inspires me, if I remember to look up.  Being with my relatives is fun, if I have the right attitude.  The Miracle of Jesus gives me chills, if I truly listen to the stories.  There’s so much going on that you might miss the whole point of Christmas, unless you focus your heart to appreciate the heart of it.

6. APPRENTICE:  We celebrate two Christmases each year, the cultural one and the Christian one.  Both can be fun and exciting, but it is the Christian experience of Jesus’ birth that can nourish us our whole lives long.  There are young people (and some older ones too) who may only learn this version of the story if you apprentice them.

5.  APPROXIMATELY.   Don’t worship a well-wrapped present or a beautifully set table, when the sole source of perfection is cooing from the manger.  As for everything else?  Approximately good is good enough.

4. APPLAUD.   Children’s programs at church.  Concerts around town.  Carolers at your front door.  Joy is contagious, and the hard work of those who step up front to share their offering can ignite in us a passion we might otherwise have been missing.  Find reasons to applaud this year, especially for the Greatest Story Ever Told.

3.  APPROVE.  What if you gave Christmas five stars on Yelp and shared an amazing review with everyone you know? Christmas doesn’t require your approval, but the Good News spreads all the faster when you make your two-thumbs-up shown.

2.  APPEAR.  The incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us, is more amazing than a magic trick. Don’t look away, and don’t minimize the Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.

1.  APPLY.  What are some of the most important life lessons you’ve learned from Christmas?  The joy of giving.  Peace on Earth, good will to all.  Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere!  Christmas is supposed to change us, to inspire us all year round.  How will you apply what you’ve learned?

There you have it!  Our Top 10 APPS for Christmas.  Keep in mind — just because they’re free, doesn’t mean they’re not high quality.  Best of all, I’m allowed to offer them right here!

Who needs an actual APP store?

Well, Apple might be appalled to see this page approvingly appreciated.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

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Christmas is for adults, too.

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Everybody always says, “Christmas is for Children.”

Been there, done that.  It was great.

However…

I’d like to raise a few points on behalf of those who find themselves with a few gray hairs.  Or a lot of them.

Christmas is no less magical or profound or sweet or challenging now than it was when we were whippersnappers.

In fact, it may even be better.

Let’s talk about Hope:  I must confess I’ve done my time on the Island of Misfit Toys.  Feeling broken. Not sure where I belonged. But I’ve learned that everyone gets broken.  Everyone feels like a misfit from time to time.  It is the coming of Christ that gives our lives meaning and purpose.  Now I know what it really means to have HOPE!

Let’s talk about Love:  I’ve learned that there is no perfect present underneath the tree.  Hard as we might try, we can’t fit love in a box.  There’s only one gift that truly satisfies to that extent.  It is the gift that God gave to us, so that we might pass it on.  Now I know what it really means to have (and give) LOVE!

Let’s talk about Peace:  Every year I find myself saying, “has the world ever been this bad?”  My attentiveness to the suffering around me has developed, but so has my faith and resolve.  I believe there is no turmoil that the Prince of Peace cannot transform, and I want to help.  Now I know how to look for signs of PEACE!

Let’s talk about Joy:  Whereas once a gadget or a toy would make me giddy, now joy strikes me much more deeply. It is in the presence of family and friends.  In witnessing simple acts of grace.  In the Christmas story.  More than just the excitement of a season, I am reminded of what God With Us truly means both now, and the whole year round.  Now I know the ongoing thrill of JOY!

Oh, I’d never take back all those wondrous Christmases I spent as a child.

But I’m surprised to report that the Christmas miracle keeps on getting clearer,

…even as I keep getting grayer.

Merry Christmas.

Mitch

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originally published 12/14, revised 12/18

Sunday, 12/16/18 2-4pm at Jane’s Landing Coffee Shop in Mulvane KS — BOOKSIGNING PARTY!  Come drop by!

MY NEW BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours today!

barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback

 

“Can You Play?”

 

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“The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” -Zechariah 8:5

It was Saturday afternoon at the church, on the cusp of Advent, and I was working.

Kylie (our awesome children’s director) had recruited some volunteers to offer free babysitting just to give parents a few hours of kid-free time.  Judging this to be a noble task, I signed on to help.

We had watched a movie, and done a variety of crafts, and now, with an hour to go, Kylie and I filed the older kids into the gym for some running around time.

I found a chair and sat down.

Kylie began leading the kids through one form of tag after another.  Freeze tag.  Sharks and minnows.  Stay-on-the-line tag. (There are a lot more versions of tag than I remembered)

I watched as calories were burned and a good time was mostly had by all.  Then it happened. One of the girls, a third grader, was getting things organized for yet another version of running and catching.  She looked at me and said the words:

“Can you play?”

I had been sitting on my rump for an hour, never even considering joining in.  Her words literally stunned me.

I jumped to my feet and stammered, “Yes…I can play…”  At that very moment Kylie called out that it was time for the kids to meet up with their parents.

What a strange moment for me.  I had been invited (called out) to play, and now I was saved by the clock.  Half of me felt like I’d dodged a bullet.  The other half felt…old.  And not the good kind of old.  The kind of old that looks at the past wistfully, wondering what’s become of me.

CAN I play? I play an occasional video game.  Does that count?  I walk my dog.  I watch Netflix.  Wow. I used to play instinctively.  With wild abandon.  Have I lost this spark of my humanity? I certainly hope not, but I may admittedly be a little rusty.

Which brings me to Advent.  In honor of this little encounter, and in spite of all the work I have on my plate these next weeks, I have decided to honor the coming Christ the way a child might.  These are the ways I aim to play this Advent:

  1.  Play a board game.  Monopoly, Boggle, Trivial Pursuit.  I’ve got all those in a closet somewhere.
  2. Play Santa.  I aim to give gifts that aren’t just check marks on a list.  I want to feel that thrill of giving — Fewer gift cards…more toys!
  3. Play with Tom.  Tom is my doggie.  He ALWAYS wants to play, but most of the time I give him a treat to distract him.  I plan to get down on the floor and rough house.
  4. Play with kids.  I will joke and tease with the kids at my church, but if I want to recapture Christmas through their eyes, I’ll need to listen to them, learn from them, and get up off my rump, wiling to burn a few calories!
  5. Play with my imagination.  I used to be so good at this!  Bringing a drawing or a story into the world.  You know, Making believe is actually a good way for Making Believers! So today I’ll pretend to be a shepherd.  Tomorrow I’ll do my best to be an angel.

That’s my list, for now.  Do you have one?  While making a list seems counter to the whole spontaneous notion of play, in this case I hope it serves as a good reminder.

Yes! I CAN play. May that never change.  To see Christmas as the twinkle in the eye of the creator takes more effort for some of us than others, but it’s always worth it.  Besides, I’ve received an official invitation to try, from a real live young person.

Let me extend that invitation to you.  Can you play?  Do you want to try with me?

Good.

Tag, you’re it.

Have a great Advent,

Mitch

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MY NEW BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours today!

barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback

 

 

Good Christian Martians, Rejoice!

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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” –Matthew 2:1-2

I’ve been listening to a trilogy of sci-fi audiobooks, not at all religious.  Something like 50 hours of material, and most of it has been really good.  But the other day, with about 90 minutes left in the trilogy, suddenly a spaceship shows up riding behind a comet, and the occupants of this spaceship?  The Magi.

Yeah! The Magi, the wise men from the East.  Apparently they are aliens who show up every so often for special events, like the birth of Jesus.  Honestly, it was a strange thing to throw in to this series, but I’m intrigued to see how the last hour and a half goes.

The other reason I’m intrigued is because of some pretty explosive news out of the Pentagon.  Did you hear? For the first time in decades, they let us know that they’ve been secretly investigating UFOs.  What’s more, they released footage of a fighter pilot intercepting a UFO in 2004.  They have no explanation for what it was, and supposedly along the way they’ve recovered materials from these crafts that have “amazing properties”.  You can read about it here.  UFOs?

I’m gonna be honest with you.  I think this is a big deal.  I’ve always kind of had one eye to the skies, wondering if we’re alone or not, but this is The Pentagon releasing this information.  This isn’t some quack making up stuff on the internet. Time will only tell what else gets revealed.

So, back to The Magi.  Could these astrologers have literally been from out of this world?  Could the star that guided them have been some ship, pointing the way?  Well…I can find you a couple dozen websites that say exactly that, but everyone of them sounds written by a crackpot.  Search for yourself if you want to go down that rabbit hole.

As for me, I have no answer to that question, but it raises the one I really want to ask:  Is Jesus the Savior of the Earth, or the Savior of the Universe?

You know?  Baby Jesus, who we’re in process of adoring — does he have “street cred” on a street in, say Alpha Centauri? I mean, there’s a whole lot of space out in…Space.  When we say Jesus is Lord of All, do we really mean ALL?  Or is he limited to Peace on Earth and Goodwill to Humans?

During the span of time when the texts of the Bible were written down, there was very little known about “Out There”.  Today, we know a lot more, but still with so much left to learn.  The notion of “Little Green Men” is still comical to us, although we continue to find planet after planet capable of supporting life.  It may only be a matter of time until intelligent life in other places becomes known to us.

When that happens, we may discover they know God through Jesus, or in an entirely different way.  Or not at all. Regardless, I’ll be ready to share the Joy of Christmas with anyone who has ears to hear about it.  (Or if they don’t have ears, I’ll use sign language or something.)

You know, if I’m willing to do that with Alpha Centaurians, shouldn’t I be willing to do that with fellow Earthlings?

You don’t have to be a Magi, or an alien, or a shepherd or an angel or a spacecraft, or a star, to be able to point the way to the manger, my Good Christian Friend.  It’s as simple as this:

When someone says “Take Me To Your Leader”…

Take em.

Merry Christmas,

Mitch

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Top 10 Reasons You’d Never Make It As An Angel. (And one good reason to try)

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An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.   –Luke 2:9-10

TOP 10 Reasons Why You’d Never Make It As An Angel.

Ready?

No. 10  No halos, and no harps.

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That’s right.  If your incentive for being an angel is to acquire some celestial fashion accessories, you can stop right there.  The Bible makes no mention or halos, and of the 49 references to harps, none of them are played by angels.  It’s not a thing!

No. 9  Wings are…kinda weird.

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Wings are rarely mentioned in connection to angels, but Seraphim and Cherubim are described as mystical creatures with LOTS of wings.  Not exactly the lounging on a cloud image we’re used to.

No. 8  Sorry, ladies…

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The angels we read about in the Bible all appear to be men.  Of course, a couple thousand years could have changed the requirements.  The men are often portrayed wearing simple clothing, unlike Mr. Studly, above.

No. 7  You probably won’t get famous.

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Unless your name is Michael, Gabriel, or Lucifer, you’ll likely go anonymous.  Those are the only Angels named in the Bible.

6.  One word:  Drones.

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I’m just saying…the friendly skies are a bit less friendly these days!

5.  The Heavenly Host may not be what you think it is.

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The phrase “Heavenly Host” refers to an army!  The angels were God’s special troops, out on patrol.  So think twice, before you enlist!

4.  You have to work nights.

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So did the shepherds, come to think of it.

3.  THE ANGELS DIDN’T SING.

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That’s right.  No singing. But what about all our Christmas songs?  Have we been lied to? Well, in the Bible the scripture goes like this:

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,   “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  –Luke 2:13-14

Catch that?  Saying, not singing?  That one really bothers me.  When you get the whole Heavenly Host together for an announcement like this, I think there should be singing!.  (Sorry, I’m not giving up “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”.)

2.  Let’s face it:  You’re no angel.

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We tend to ascribe a certain level of holiness to the Angels, don’t we?  Well, would we be good enough to be one?  I don’t know.  I’ve done a few devilish things in my life.

And the number one answer why you’d never make it as an angel.  (Drumroll…)

No. 1.  Their primary job is telling the Good News to absolute strangers.

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Most of us tend to be weak in that area.  We have trouble talking about it with our friends and family!  Until we can learn to share our faith more fully, we’ll probably fall a little short in the Angel department.

BUT…

Here’s one angelic thing we CAN do this season.  We can keep four special words on our lips.  And they are…

do not be afraid

Those 4 words, “Do not be afraid”, show up again and again in the scriptures, and in the Christmas story, it’s the angels who deliver that message.

Do Not Be Afraid.  How powerful are those words to hear?  We live in a world that is paralyzed with fear this year.  It threatens to block our experience of Emmanuel, God With Us.

Let me ask you this:  If you can hear those four words and believe them, then could you take on the role of a Christmas Angel, and pass them on to someone else?

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If we can make that our task these next days, I think there may be hope for us yet.  Not to become perfect Angels, but to become true agents of Christmas.  Messengers of Good News.

That’s it! May the season bless you richly for who you are,

and who you aspire to be.

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Have a great week,

Mitch