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

 

 

Surprise! 4 Days Until Christmas!

 

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“But about that day or hour no one knows… –Matthew 24:36a

At a press conference today in Nazareth, Archaeologist I.M.Fixion holds up a fragile set of scrolls, and makes the following announcement:

“These scrolls were recovered from an ancient rubbish heap outside of Nazareth.  They have been dated to somewhere around 10 a.d.  They appear to be a stack of birthday cards…to Jesus.

“That’s right.  These are cards written to Jesus on the occasion of his surprise 10th birthday party.  One is from an aunt Elizabeth, some are from a bunch of shepherds, and even some very expensive cards appear to come from distant royalty.

“Of course, this is a find of extreme importance, but there’s more.”  He gestures to several of the pages.  “The cards all list the date of Jesus’ birthday.  Adjusting for changes in calendar and so forth, there can be no doubt.  Jesus was born…

“On December 8th.  Thank you.”


 

Surprise! CHRISTMAS IS IN 4 DAYS!

Jesus may (or may not) have had a surprise 10th birthday party, but his birthday has never been a surprise for us.  There it sits on the calendar, bottom of December, circled in red and green.  We know what’s coming, we make our lists, we plan it out.  No surprise.

But what if Christmas showed up unexpectedly, say, on December 10th? What if there wasn’t enough time to do all the million and one holiday traditions we’ve laid out over the course of our lives?  What if Christmas came as a surprise, leaving us to celebrate without all the boxes in our garage, or all the excess baggage in our hearts?

If you had to celebrate the birth of Jesus right away, how would you do it?

Here’s what I think I’d do:
I guess I’d pray.
And give some $ to the church or a charity.
And volunteer somewhere.
And call my family.
And go to church.

What would you do?  In the face of a surprise Christmas, maybe we’d have to let the other stuff go, and focus on what’s most important.  Remember, Jesus doesn’t really need tinsel, or a plate of cookies, or a bunch of parties, or even an overpriced birthday card. If a simpler, more spiritual Christmas celebration sounds as enticing to you as it does to me, maybe we can dial back a little on the pomp and circumstance, and surprise Jesus with an Advent filled with meaning.

This year, for Jesus’ birthday, all he really wants us to send him is our attention, and our devotion.

Those are the real Hallmarks of a Merry Christmas.

Have a great Advent,

Mitch

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O Come, O Come, To Manuels.

 

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Sadie and Wayne Palmer (my in-laws), with my wife Jan.

 

Taste and see that the Lord is good -Psalm 34:8a

Blasphemy warning:  I’m about to compare the Christ Child to a burrito.

But oh, what a burrito.  I’d pay triple the price for one. Actually they just call it “a tortilla”.  The one I had for breakfast a week ago was stuffed with mushrooms, cheese, eggs, beans, and onions.  And topped with a special hot sauce.  Here’s what it looked like.

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The thing is significantly bigger than your head.  And the taste makes you want to shout “Rejoice! Rejoice!”

You’ll have to drive down to Port Isabel, TX, to eat one of these marvels.  And you’d better bring cash.  And no attitude.  And an open mind. Because Manuel’s is pretty much a hole in the wall.

Here’s what it looks like inside.

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The floors are rough and uneven.  The walls are covered in posters for old 70’s movies, like “The Godfather” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, along with pictures of Manuel’s family, especially grandkids who are athletes or cheerleaders.  From the ceiling hangs pennants of college and NFL football teams. It has a strange man-cave charm to it.

But let’s come back to the tortillas, or as I call them, “the Reason for the Seasoning”? 

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Beyond delicious.  I’ve been coming down to this place (adjacent to S. Padre Island) for maybe 15 years or so.  Things change down on the South Texas coast, but Manuels stays the same, like a dear friend waiting with open arms.

If I’m describing this Hole In The Wall as if it were a Holy Place, there’s a reason.  Somehow, despite the rundown conditions, Manuels just feels special.  I’m not the only one sharing that sentiment.  I know because of the walls.  Any place not touched by a poster or a picture bears the signature of someone who’s been there.

 

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If you look real close, you can see the writing on the walls.

Hundreds of signatures fill up the walls, with folks from across the country (and beyond, I’m sure), making their mark.  My signature is there, somewhere, from years ago.  I don’t remember where, but I know I’ve gone on record as a fellow pilgrim to Manuels.

 

Now, if your mouth is watering, and you feel the need to road trip down to South Texas for breakfast this week, let me know and maybe I’ll join you.  But I hope that, as this Advent season begins, you are feeling an even more powerful pull towards the manger.

The accommodations that night in Bethlehem were lousy.  The décor? Non existent.  It was, perhaps, a hole in the wall.  But something Truly Holy draws us in to that cattle stall.  It is an encounter with Someone that makes it worth this journey.

We are called to be counted amongst the millions who pay homage to the Child.  To write our name on the walls of the stable.  To tell the world that we were there.  To proclaim that God is here.

And so, in spite of my love for Manuel (he’s a great guy), it cannot compare to my love for Emmanuel. And as much as I want you all to get a taste of that amazing food, it is eclipsed by my desire that you experience the All Powerful Love of Jesus.

Christ is, indeed, more than a burrito, and even more to be savored.  Taste and see that the Lord is good. He will nourish you long after December 25th…

with zero chance of indigestion.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Photobombed by Jesus

Do you know what a photobomb is?

Here’s an example:

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It’s when somebody “steals” your photograph by suddenly stepping into frame.  Like this banana head.

Well, get used to it.  You are going to take a bunch of photographs this next week, and Jesus Christ is going to photobomb everyone of them.

You’ll take a picture of your family, but there, front and center, appears Jesus.

You take a picture of the lovely meal you’ve prepared, but right next to the table pops none other than Jesus.

Turns out, it’s not just pictures Jesus will be “photobombing”.

He’ll show up just about anywhere you’re looking.

Christmas Tree?  *Pop* There’s Jesus.

Beautiful Snowy Scenery?  *Pop*  There’s Jesus.

Even weird places, like on the nightly news!  *Pop* There’s Jesus!

Even sad places.  Scary places. Empty places.

*Pop* *Pop* *Pop*  Right there, in all those places, is Jesus!

If you’re celebrating Christmas correctly, you’re going to start seeing Jesus everywhere.

It may have already started.

So here’s the trick for dealing with Photobomb Jesus.

Don’t just look AT our savior…

Look through him.

Learn to see the world THROUGH the Lens of Christ,

and this holiday will be a little less

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Merry Christmas!

Mitch

 

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Ain’t nothin’ in this life is free, son.

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Last week I was at the church, getting a diet-Pepsi out of the pop machine.

Standing next to me, fiddling with the snack machine, were two young guys, obviously at the church for Boy Scouts.

As I reached down to take my soda out of the dispenser, one of the kids playfully reached down and said, “Cool!  Free Pop!”

My response was to say, in an old man voice, “Ain’t nothin’ in this life is free, son.”  This elicited a laugh from the kids.

I chuckled and walked into the gym, opening my pop.  A second later, I hear heavy running footsteps behind me.

It was the two boys, and one of them held a Pepsi.

“It came out!” he exclaimed.  “After yours!”

I laughed and told him it was his to drink.

Now, what are the odds that, mere seconds after uttering “Ain’t nothin’ in this life is free”–the first time I’ve ever made that statement–this pop machine would choose to prove me wrong?

Maybe someone was trying to teach me a lesson?

Could be.  I’ll admit that I’ve attached a cost to most things this Christmas season.

Buying presents — $$.  Renting a car to get to Alabama — $$.  Boarding the dog — $$.

Even things like going to Christmas parties take a toll on my energy, introvert that I am.

Heck, between December 18th and the 25th I have to write and preach 4, count em, 4 sermons.  What are the chances I won’t have expended all my spiritual energy before I head off on vacation?

That’s all costly stuff.

Ain’t nothin’ in this life is free.

Except for Pepsi, apparently.

Pepsi, and, I know full well but sometimes forget, the Love of a Savior.

 

And because of that love…

I guess that mean’s that I’M free. Strange that it took a Pepsi to remind me of that.

Christmas may come with a cost in today’s world, but the gift of Jesus comes with no price tag, and no strings attached.

And when we accept it,

there’s nothing quite as refreshing.

Here:

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Have one on me.

 

Have a great week,

 

Mitch

Homesick for the Holidays

christmas-is-a-time-when-you-get-homesickI’m homesick.

I know I’m in good company.

I picture countless college students, soldiers, business travelers and others, pining for home.

This is the time of year when it hits hardest.  A time for togetherness, a time of tradition.

But here’s my thing:

I counted it up, and in my life I’ve had exactly 15 places that I have called home.

That’s a lot, although you may have had even more.

Which one am I longing for?

I have wonderful memories that come from many of those places.

Families, fun, meals, gifts given and received.

But this year, it’s not for any of those places that I am homesick.

I am longing for what I might call a heavenly home.

 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.  –John 14:23

The earthly world seems especially slippery this year.  I find it hard to cling to some of those “home” traditions with the same joy I do most years.

This year I long for something eternal.  Something true.  Something I can hold on to.

I long for a Love I can call home.

This home is not necessarily a place, nor is it only accessible after one’s death.  It is the Father, Son, and Spirit setting up a spiritual home with you.

A home base.  A safe place.  A launching pad.  HOME.

What triggers this kind of homecoming?

Jesus says it:  Clinging to him.  Living with faith.

This is the kind of home I’m sick for.

The very kind that will make me well.

Merry Christmas!  Cling to Christ!

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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