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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Christmas Wake Up Call, Part One: A Much Needed Smack in the Face

When is the last you were smacked? I mean an outta nowhere, open-palm wallop on skin? Chances are, if you ever have been smacked, you remember it. For me, I was about ten years old. My mom was taking me somewhere in the brown Gran Torino station wagon. (Kids: in the old days, station wagons wuz what had instead of minivans). I don't recall what we were talking about just before my mom pulled the car out of the driveway. But I must have said something really smart-mouthed because my mom's hand rose and fell like a lightning bolt-fly-swatter. She smacked my bare thigh just above the knee so hard she left a throbbing, red hand print. Ever been smacked like that?

There's something powerful about a smack like that. It brings with it a stinging, burning pain. But more than anything, it shocks us. I mean you could be doing or thinking just about anything and --SMACK-- you are abruptly brought to attention.

Right about now you are likely wondering what in the world this has to do with Christmas. You saw the tender manger scene above and thought, "Awwww, look at the baby Jesus. I bet this will be one of those tender Christmassy posts." Uh…not so much. Don't misunderstand me. I love Christmas as much as anyone. I love going out in the chilly air with my family to find just the right tree. I love baking (and eating) cookies. I love just sitting in the room with all the lights off except the tree's multicolored splendor. I love the decorations, the memories, and the nostalgia. I love singing the songs about little baby Jesus too.

But you know, I wonder if all the wonder of Christmas, along with the worldly commercialism of the day, has lulled us into a kind of a fuzzy ignorance. Much like frostbite causing its victim to feel a strange sleepy warmth…just before you freeze to death.

We drive around the neighborhoods and see the cute manger scene. We read the Christmastime Scriptures and sing, but like Charlie Brown, I ask "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"

"Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us." Matt. 1: 20-24

This little child is GOD with US. The God of the universe--all powerful, all knowing, all good--God took on frail, aging, human flesh…our flesh. Let's say you have a good job--lots of bennies, great vacation, unbeatable salary. Would you willingly give up that job and take a volunteer position with the company if it mean everyone else would get a promotion and a pay raise? Not sure I would either. But God came into the world as a baby human. A baby human destined to be mocked, destined to be spat upon, destined to be whipped and scourged, destined to be ramrodded through a corrupt legal system, and destined to die on a criminal's cross. Have you thought of that lately? That little baby was on a mission, a tragic, sacrificial mission. SMACK. Can you feel it?

I may be in danger of losing some readers who don't believe or aren't sure they believe all this Christmas hooey anyway. But stick around. This is all about you. The other part of the verse above that I highlighted in red is that this little baby will save his people from their sins. Sin: the missing of the mark, the falling short, the willfully doing the wrong thing, the willfully neglecting to do the right thing. We're all guilty of it even by our own standard of good, right? I mean, don't you know that you've screwed up? Somewhere you said the wrong thing or did the wrong thing and felt some guilty twang in the pit of your stomach. Of course you have. So have I.

We've all broken our own standard. And Biblically speaking, our standard is flawed and far short of God's standard of good. That sin--ANY sin--is a death sentence. The Bible says, the wages of sin is death. But it's not just death of our flesh, the clock of life expiring, and we drift off into nothingness. I find that very few people, VERY FEW, hold to a belief that this life is all there is. Most people believe there's something after...that we humans are somehow transcendent beings. We are. All of us already have eternity. But we do not have the same eternity.

Have you ever had a bad day? No, I mean a REALLY bad day. From start to finish, just everything goes wrong. Those days stink, don't they? On such days, we long for a smile or some happy reprieve. What if it was more than a day? How would you feel about enduring a week, a month, or even a year? Maybe some of you are battling something chronic and you're right there, right now. You know the misery of things being bad for long periods of time. You know in a way that most of us cannot fathom. But in most cases, there is a reprieve. Sickness goes away. Vacations and holidays come. Friendly faces return.

Now, suppose things never got better.

When I was a kid, I rode my bike down to a local recreation center that happened to be near a volunteer fire house. I'd been there before and I'd seen the firemen bringing case after case of soda into the fire hall, and they just sat there in stacks near the soda machine. So, I decided to help myself to a 16 oz. bottle of Orange Crush. Bad move. One of the firemen caught me red-handed. He took me into his office, demanded my home phone number, and called my father. From the time the fireman hung up the phone to the time my father arrived, I sat and thought about what was going to happen. There was absolutely no escape. I was stuck there in that office, awaiting punishment that I absolutely deserved. And my father was coming. I couldn't imagine facing him…the shame and pain I'd bring him and his indignant anger over the shame I'd brought on myself and our whole family name. I will never forget the waiting and the inevitability of the coming punishment.

If you have rejected Jesus…if you sneer at the little baby Jesus and think you'll just take your chances or even that you might just save yourself through good behavior, you are totally where I was in the Fire Station. You've blown it. You have sinned. You're caught red-handed. There's nothing you can do to escape. And now, you're waiting. Whatever number of days you have left in your life are all you have. And this life is as good as it will ever get for you. But after that...

For those who reject Christ, eternity will be a horror beyond reckoning. There are differing opinions on what hell will actually be like. Some say that it is literal fire. Others say absolute isolation. In any case, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. The thing to remember is that we're talking about forever. There will be NO escape. It will go on and on and on and on. This is not some theory that I've concocted. This is what the Bible teaches. If you have sinned you are separated from God now. If you die, you will be eternally separated from God and from every one and every thing you've ever loved. It will be unimaginable suffering, and it will be never ending. SMACK.

It reminds me of Jacob Marley, Charles Dickens' character who comes to warn Ebeneezer Scrooge of the terrible fate that waits for him at death's door. "It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men! If it goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death! It is doomed to wander through the world! Oh, woe is me! And witness what it cannot share but MIGHT HAVE SHARED on Earth and turned to happiness!"

Marley tells us that he wears the chain he forged in life. He made it link by link and yard by yard. We ALL have such chains, and these links connect us to eternal horror. There is only ONE escape, and it's on this side of the grave. That little child in the first picture. Jesus.

He bore all the sins of all humanity when he went to the cross. He already paid the price for your eternal salvation. Rescue waits like a vast reservoir above you, waiting to wash you clean and carry you one day to heaven. The Bible tells us all we have to do is believe. Believe what?

Various sections on the Bible make it clear that we all must: 1) recognize the trouble you're in. 2) realize there's nothing you can do to save yourself 3) agree that Jesus is the Son of God who's death on the cross is enough to save you and 4) accept God's gift and thank Him.

Look, this life might seem long. You might be young and feel pretty close to invincible. I imagine a fair number of the 155,000 people who die every day probably feel that way too. The point is, you have no way of knowing which day will be your last. This life is not all there is. You are transcendent. You will spend forever somewhere. So remember Jesus--not for the little ruddy-cheeked baby in the manger scene. Remember Jesus for the one who willingly endured death on a cross to pay the debt that you could never repay. And thank Him this Christmas.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Motiv8 Blog Tour, Plus2: The Miller Brothers

The Miller brothers have had the distinct privilege of growing up in a CBA Bookstore. As children they learned first hand the value of faith-based stories while helping their parents operate several Christian bookstores and clubs for 30 years. As a result, Lumination delivers more than simply good stories, we bring passion to write and illustrate stories that inspire and illuminate the truth of God's Word in a fresh way.

Christopher & Allan are formally trained with a degree in Computer Animation. They have worked as animators for the popular CBA kids video series, Juniors Giants, and have recently written and illustrated the newly released book The Legend of Gid the Kid and the Black Bean Bandits, the first book in the Heroes of Promise Series (Warner Press Kids).

Okay, so that's the company line about the two authors in this week's blog tour. I got to know Alan and Chris Miller for just a couple of days while on our far northwestern leg of the Fantasy Fiction West Coast Tour. I can tell you they are two of the most amazingly creative folks I've ever met. And that's coming from a creative type! You should see their basement entertainment room. Full size movie posters of animated movie greats, life size Larry the Cucumber standups, and more DvDs than you can shake a ten meter electric cattle prod at!

They do their own digital animation and have a studio in their homes. I am SO jealous. I've done a fair amount of digital art, but never animated. Someday, maybe Alan and Chris will give me some pointers. LOL. But seriously, they do some cool stuff. They are also two of the most enthusiastic fellows you are likely to meet. Talk about sold out for the Lord and for the mission they believe He's called them to: Chris and Alan are absolutely on fire. They are a big part of the Christian Arts revolution that I pray is coming.
About their books...well, I really don't know. BUT, while you can't always judge a book by its cover (silly publishers sometimes don't let the authors have ANY input on the art that will cover their own books), you can for Chris and Alan. They have designed the cover and artwork for their books. And just take a look at these cool covers. I especially like the design below. It just screams: COOOL STUFFF CAN BE FOUND HERE!!