The real, not so glamorous, Christmas story


On a night (or maybe it was day), in Roman occupied ancient Israel, a young, Jewish woman writhed, and cried as the excruciating pains of labor gripped her body and tore her flesh.  And there, where animals in the ancient world feed, a vernix and blood covered baby boy, swaddled in clothes to keep him from dying of exposure, lay while young Mary’s uterus bled.

There, the comfort of God came to Israel.

There, light came to the people’s of the nations. The coastlands.

There, in one small square of the world, while people in Israel lay in beds complaining about having to submit to a Roman census, the King of kings lay in a feeding trough, utterly dependent upon the zeal of God to accomplish, against all odds, the salvation of his people.

There, Mary completed the last stage of labor and expelled the placenta which fed the One who knits the human form together in the womb.  All the while native tribes in the coastlands of the Americas, Africa, China and the islands prayed to the gods they made.  There the God of gods began to make himself known to humanity as like no other.

This God, who would be pleased to work on behalf of those who wait for him, came as a poor infant born in a place for animals.

Today is Christmas Eve.  While my friends gathered at church to hear the real message of Christmas and others shopped for last minute presents I was helping a 100 year old patient get off a bedpan.  Not the least bit glamorous. “It’s not good to live this long,” my patient moaned, writhing from the pain of a fractured hip as I slipped out the urine-filled pan.

We long for something glorious, something bright and beautiful like lights shining in December darkness.  But our lives are full of perverted glory, broken by sin and death.  We ruin the beauty of life with our evils.  And when we live as long as my patient has, we know we weren’t made to live like this.

Earlier this year my sister said something that caught my attention, “We weren’t made to die!  We were made to live!”  It’s the truth.  My patient was expressing what we all feel, sooner or later, death is in our days.  And to live long here means tasting more and more of what we weren’t made for. We rehabilitate 100 year old people with broken hips instead of putting them down like horses as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death in this life, pushing back what we know we weren’t made for.  And that is why the real story of Christmas is so much better than artistic renderings.

The God of the Bible who comes to dwell among us and save us from death’s sting, comes not as a pretty, noble, rich child of royalty.  No he comes poor, rejected, despised, hunted and hated from his humble birth.  He comes in our mess.  He comes to walk through the dark shadow of this living death’s valley.  He comes to absorb death and God’s condemnation of sin in his flesh so that we can have real hope while we sojourn here.

So, while we rip open pretty packages tomorrow, somewhere in the world, maybe in your own life, death is raising it’s stench- babies starve, women are abused, men are enslaved, the poor are oppressed, the rich grow more proud, bitterness destroys marriages, selfishness destroys children, and the old suffer alone.

Jesus came for these.  He came like these.  There is no god like Him!

Listen to me, O coastlands,and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb,from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword;in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow;in his quiver he hid me away.

And now the Lord says,he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him— for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has become my strength he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel;I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”


How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;yet we esteemed him stricken,smitten by God, and afflicted.But he was pierced for our transgressions;he was crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,and with his wounds we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray;we have turned—every one—to his own way;and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,so he opened not his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief;his soul makes an offering for guilt,he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,make many to be accounted righteous,and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors;yet he bore the sin of many,and makes intercession for the transgressors.

From Isaiah 49, 52, and 53

Isaiah, I believe your report


(image credit)

Isaiah, I Believe Your Report

by Sheila Dougal

O God of Isaiah!

I believe your report!

You cut me from the Rock.

You planted in me the Word.

You made me your child because you became the Servant.

My transgressions pierced You.

My sins crushed You.

One of your smallest stones yet you laid me.

One of your least fruitful trees yet you planted me.

One minuscule cell of your body yet you formed me.

One of your most-lost sheep yet you sought me.

One of your shameful women yet you call me daughter.

One of your children far off yet you adopted me.

One of your sick from head to toe yet you healed me.

One of your proud and obstinate yet you humbled me.

One of your sold in chains of lust yet you redeemed me.

One of your blind yet you opened my eyes.

One of your deaf yet your voice you made me hear.

One of your dead yet you made me alive.

Your pierced feet are beautiful!

Your scarred hands bear my name!

See and be satisfied!

Your child believes!

Good news! Scandalous, glorious news!

No one has ever published so good a report!







the good stuff

I’ve been mostly offline for the past 10 days while at Sierra Bible Camp with my sister, her family and my boys.  But we’re home now, back in the groove of booking faces and hashing tags (as Mister Brown would say), and accessing the world wide web between loads of post-camping laundry and back-to-school shopping.

This is our second year going to Sierra Bible Camp with my sister.  Last year I was only there for the last 3 days of camp, my boys were there for the whole week.  This year I was able to take time off work to go for the entire week and was very blessed with being able to teach 6-9 year olds the gospel while I was there.  Teaching and listening to the teaching from Mister Brown (the speaker for the camp), and hearing people’s stories and watching my sister and her children’s ministry team work with 35 kids between infancy and 9 years of age stirred me up!  I needed stirring.

As I think over the specific ways God impressed something on me this past week, I come up with 7 good things.

1. It’s good to get away with God

Honestly it’s been years since I’ve been to any kind of organized Christian retreat or camp… more than 14 years.  I intentionally seek out time alone with God each day.  A walk alone.  Sitting out on the patio alone.  Staying in my room alone.  Praying, reading scripture, chewing on the gospel in my fight to live by faith and turn from my old sinful self.  But there is great benefit to a setting aside, week or even weekend, away from the daily grind, soaking up what the Holy Spirit would teach and comfort through God’s word and God’s people.

2. It’s good to be with God’s broken people

The church is full of people.  With problems.  Like me. It gets messy.  It’s hard to hear people’s stories sometimes.  But to see the power of the gospel really transform a person’s life, little by little… watching those “ah-ha” moments of revelation as a Bible verse is studied or preached.  Seeing people sing for joy and repent of sin and love people different than themselves… it’s a beautiful thing.

3. It’s good to serve children and their parents

The week at Sierra Bible Camp I spent as a co-teacher with my sister of the pre-campers (age infant to 3rd grade).  My sister has a God-given charismatic personality that instantly engages children.  I’m not so charismatic, but I love the gospel and the scriptures… I love to talk to kids about Jesus.  Being around my sister is good for me.  Her zeal and passion and joy are contagious.  She makes me want to smile more and dance around a little.  Getting to work with her and her team of faithful, loving women who served these 30 plus littles and their parents lit a fire in me!  When you have to put the good news about Christ and the doctrines of justification and sanctification into words and illustrations a 6-9 year old can understand, it reminds you of the wonder of how simple and deep the gospel is.  God’s message in Christ invites little children to come to him.  And it’s a joy of joys to get to be the one doing the inviting!

4. It’s good to hear God’s word preached with power and application

Mister Brown was the guest speaker at the camp this year.  His ministry through Proclaim Ministries and Hello Mister Brown, has a huge impact on students but also the parents and teachers who get the privilege of hearing him too.  Being a black man, raised in “the hood”, as he put it, without a father, in a church where he confessed he was focused on the pretty girls more than God, he had a life experience that could testify to the transforming power of the gospel while understanding the circumstances many of the students there found themselves in.  He brought the gospel message in every talk while teaching the Bible, emphasizing the importance of memorizing scripture, and connecting the Bible to the relevance of the broken young lives listening to him.  I HIGHLY recommend him as a speaker for youth events. I left each session convicted of my laxness towards memorizing scripture and speaking it into my life and my sons’ lives.  I left praying, confessing and resolving to make God’s word my priority.

5. It’s good to revive resolves

The combination of working with those kids and meeting people with stories of broken lives, seeking Jesus, and the preaching of God’s word sent me home here to Arizona with a renewed desire to love my husband and children, teach my boys the ways and word of the Lord, and to give myself to the building up of the local church in whatever way God would have me do that.  I love the church.  I love God’s people.  I love that we’re broken and being made new day by day and we love each other.  My resolve to pray with confidence in God’s promises and to pour out my heart to the Lord, trusting that he will not give up on his promise to complete the good work he’s started in me.

6. It’s good to be outside

Northern California is a beautiful place!  Spending time outside is almost instantly a magnifier of God’s praise in my heart.  The detail and purpose and design in God’s creation captures me.

7. It’s good to play

Have you heard of Gaga Ball?  I played this not-too-technical game with kids I’ve never met before, my own kids and other adults.  I never won a round.  But watching the kids self-govern the game fairly and cheer for each other and call each other out on things was great fun.

Tomorrow I go back to a full time work schedule as a nurse and my sons start their first day of high-school and eight grade.  May God be with me in every circumstance everyday to live for his glory!

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter." – Martin Luther King Jr.

I have been silent. And this post probably won’t exactly be the voice heard round the world.  But in a society where social media is the public square I feel like I’m trying to hide in the shadows if I don’t speak up even though I know speaking up will most likely get me rejection.

I have many dearly loved gay and lesbian friends and family. I just want to say I love you! My disagreement with the Supreme Court’s views (and society in general) about marriage and homosexuality is because I have a love for you that I believe comes from God.  It’s not bigotry.  It’s not hate.   It’s not fear.  It’s not prejudice.  I disagree, but I love you.

I will listen to you and be your friend. I will never shun you because you embrace what I believe to be what’s not right.  I know you are coming from a position of what you believe is right.  I too am coming from a position of what I believe is right.  I believe what is right is defined by God.  I believe he is the one who created marriage.  I believe he is the Creator of human sexuality and knows what’s good and right for us.

I believe there was a real man named Jesus of Nazareth who walked our soil a couple thousand years ago. He was the only right man. I believe He was the only God-Man. I believe he is the only one who has the real right to say what’s right and what’s wrong.

He was, and is, a friend of sinners.

I too was a lover of my own version of sexuality and my own version of what is right once. But when I heard Christ’s loving call to leave all that behind and follow him and I saw the love and the forgiveness and the offer of life in him that I could not resist.

And so I follow him. Not the culture. Not fear. Not prejudice. Not popular opinion. Not my own desires even. I follow the Friend of Sinners who calls us out of the tangled mess we weave of our lives into true freedom. True life. True love. True peace.

So I love you family and friends!  You know who you are. I really do love you with the love that the friend of sinners has loved me with. I love you and I call to you with him to leave what you define as right for what he defines as right. He is full of love and truth.

And if you find this to be bigotry or prejudice or hateful I would just ask, would you have coffee with me?  Would you sit down with me and listen, and let me listen to you, even though you don’t agree with me?  Would you get to know me and see if my life is one that reflects the love I claim?


The discipline of the Gospel is coming to God on His terms -Barbara Hughes

Determined not to complain, but rather give thanks in all things, I’m just going to share something that has spoken to me this week as I have been going through this season of Lent, meditating on what Christ has done for me:

 When asked how they know they are Christians, people often answer with “Because I accepted” or “I prayed” or “I went forward.”  Notice the “I”?  All of these answers give prominence to what the person has done.  This is the root of the general confusion about the Gospel.  The Gospel is about what God has done!

Christianity is the only religion in which salvation cannot be earned.  Christians know our salvation has been accomplished by what God alone has done, not by what we have done… 

The Gospel belongs to God.  It is His Gospel. From cover to cover the Bible is about God’s Gospel.  It was His idea and His plan: “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you'” (Galatians 3:8)

The Bible, beginning in Genesis, reveals God’s plan to restore us to what we were created to be- people made in His image, joyfully living under His loving rule and blessing.  But while it saves us, “the Gospel is not primarily about man and his needs, although these are not unimportant nor are they unrelated.”  As good as it may sound, a man-centered gospel is not God’s Gospel.  A gospel that primarily focuses on man’s needs or guilt or feelings or wants or ambitions is not God’s Gospel.  God’s Gospel is amazing news about what His son Jesus Christ has accomplished on the cross.  It is about what God has done…

In a day when everything (including theology) is decided by popular opinion, how easy it is to believe another gospel.  How easy it is to shape our god according to what we think he should be like and not allow the whole of Scripture to explain Him…

Our part is to believe.  But we must believe in this Jesus- the Christ God has revealed in the holy Scriptures and not one of our own imagination.  Here I must ask: In what gospel do you believe?  Is your Jesus a messiah defined by your own imaginings or the promised Messiah defined by the Scriptures?  The Jesus of the Bible is utterly wonderful!  And His Gospel is the only path to godliness.

– Disciplines of A Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes


The Gospel

This morning I was gripped by a video I saw at Exemplify.

I hadn’t heard of John Piper (I know, you’re probably wondering if I live under a rock or something.) It’s so makes me tremble when I realize a little unknown housewife in Arizona is being burdened and praying for the same things that men of God are stepping out and preaching…and I had no idea! I’ve just been crying and praying and vidoes like the one I saw at Exemplify and this are like little reminders from God, “I’m sending out my message Sheila. Even if it seems where you are no one is preaching it, keep praying, I’m working.”

I’d encourage you to go watch the video at Exemplify and this one too. We don’t grow out of our need for the gospel. We grow up in it!!