The Cincinnati Benga
I snagged a pretty sweet "White Elephant" gift this year at my family's gift exchange. I pulled the #1 ticket out of the twenty something people that were gathered which according to family rules meant that I was afforded the opportunity to take the gift of my choosing at the end of the night. Unfortunately, for my cousin from Pittsburgh that meant he wasn't going home with those three containers of candy and that sweet Bengals coffee mug. I quickly hustled my prize to my locked car (white elephant gift exchanges in my family don't necessarily end when the game ends). I've used this mug just about everyday since then for my morning coffee.
Last night as I was sipping my hot chocolate my wife mentioned her discovery that the new mug was not dishwasher safe. We laughed as we noticed that several significant portions of it were missing. The "Bengals" logo now said, "Benga" and portions of the striping was now missing as well. As I finished up my drink I began to reflect on the similarities between that mug and my life.
My mug was created in a way that coming into contact with a dishwasher brings harm. The mug was not designed for this type of atmosphere. Too much heat and too much pressure. As I think about my life I'm reminded that I was also created for specific atmospheres. When I put myself in situations that I wasn't created for I put myself in harm's way. I start to look different from how I was created to look. According to Genesis 1:27 I was created in the image of God and according to Isaiah 43:7 God says, "Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.’”
God created me for His glory.
When I put myself in situations that I wasn't designed for I compromise God's original purpose for my life. My life and God's glorious purpose for it starts to get marred up. I lose some of my markings, it starts to become difficult for others to see what I was originally created for.
If I continue to stick my new coffee mug in the dishwasher it will eventually lose all of it's distinct markings. Sooner than later it will be indistinguishable from all other coffee mugs. It will still be a mug but not the glorious, wonderful mug it was created to be originally.
So it is true for our lives as well. You and I were created for God's glorious purposes. We were designed to be distinctly different. We were created in the image of God and part of our role is to protect that image. Guard what God has created you to become. Protect what He has done and continues to do in your life. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
My church has for many years participated in, provided really, a time of Christmas caroling at Niederman Family Farm Liberty Township, OH. The Niederman's have always been so gracious and faithful as they have opened their barns and lights to the community to help spread the true meaning of Christmas. Our church has filled one of the many nightly slots of singing & entertainment for the Niedemans during this seasonal light display for close to 10 of its 17 year history.
On the evening of December 1, 2013 we again filled this role as our choirs sang Christmas songs and our young people read Scripture to the crowd of cookie eaters and hot chocolate drinkers. It was also on the evening of December 1, 2013 that I would enjoy one of the final meals I would eat with my father before his earthly journey would come to an end.
As I grazed the Frisch's soup & salad bar that night, I didn't fully comprehend the close proximity of my father's passing. He had been diagnosed with lymphoma in the Spring of 2013, had completed some treatments, was starting to feel better, look more like himself and had actually been declared cancer free in August. His journey would end in 36 days.
The next 29 days went by with relative normalcy. We laughed. We talked. We ate. We hung out. We did the normal stuff that families do. On December 30, 2013 I received a phone call from my mother expressing concern over my dad's worsening condition. The cough was back. For the proceeding 10 months, the cough generally indicated bad news. Fluid, compression, something about his lungs, in the end, it always pointed back to cancer. That evening, December 30, 2013, my dad would return to the hospital for the last time. His journey would end in 7 days.
The next several days would contain a litany of test, suggestions on courses of action, consultations, etc. Back and forth we went to the hospital, each day hoping and praying for a change in the foreseeable future. On Wednesday January 1, 2014 much of our family gathered to celebrate the New Year with our parents at the hospital. Brothers, wives, granddaughters and grandsons all gathered in laughter and celebration. My dad seemed healthy. He was sitting up, cracking jokes, telling stories, he was himself and we, his family played the only role we knew to play, one of just being a normal family. His journey would end in 5 days.
On Sunday January 5, 2014 I sat on my couch heavily debating my next move. I was tired, it had already been a long day and I had not yet visited my dad on that day. I wanted to go but was tired and visits could be made tomorrow. After all, there's always more time and like we often do, I thought, "I'll get to that tomorrow." His journey would end in 1 day.
I'm thankful for a wife with discernment and that I made the decision to see him on that Sunday evening. Although we didn't speak much because of his pain, I was able to simply sit in his presence. His presence was comforting. Things were always right when he was around. Things would always be okay once he showed up. Even in the midst of his physical struggle that evening, he whispered the words, "I'll be okay buddy."
He would indeed be okay. In fact, in just under 24 hours he would be far better than I could have ever asked or imagined. In hindsight, perhaps that's what he really meant by his words, "I'll be okay buddy."
As I passed that Frisch's last on my way to Niederman this year I was reminded of the lessons I've learned through the loss of my father and questions came to my mind.
Would I have done things differently had I know the reality of his passing at the 36 day mark? What if I had known at the 29 day mark? What about 7 days? What if I truly understood what was going to happen with just 1 day remaining? Would I have said more, done more, loved more?
Allow me to encourage you to be intentional in all that you do. We know not the day or the hour of our passing nor the passing of those we love. Do not settle for going on as normal. Do not settle for doing what you've always done assuming that there will be time tomorrow to do things differently or better. Do better now. Do more now. Do what you know you should do now. Live your life on purpose. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
A historical look at the manger...
Jesus was born into this world under humbling circumstances.
The actual birth of Jesus is recorded for us in the book of Luke Chapter 2. Take a minute to read the first 5 verses of chapter 2.
Luke 2:1-5 (NLT) says, “At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.”
Backstory: the Roman emperor decides that it’s time to count the people, the bigger your kingdom, the more respected you were and there's only one way to find out how big my kingdom is, count everyone. But, in order to do that, to keep it orderly, everyone had to return to the place they were born. In Joseph’s case, that’s Bethlehem.
Pick it up in Luke 2:6-7 where it says, “And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.”
Backstory: Here’s an often misunderstood part of the record of the birth of Jesus. We've all heard the phrase, “No room at the inn.” Yes, we’ve all heard that phrase but that’s not really the case. There was no inn. Bethlehem was a small village that likely didn’t have an inn. Inns were usually found in larger towns, much bigger communities than what we know Bethlehem was at that time.
So, if there was no inn, where do people who are coming through town stay? There are two important ideas that need to be understood to bring this passage to life. One is an understanding of what the architecture of the time was really like and two is an that the concept of hospitality was massive in this culture.
1. Hospitality: Joseph is returning to Bethlehem in accordance with the required census and he shows up only to discover that there’s no room, “at the inn”. Now, while there wasn’t an inn, there would have been a house, there would have been someone’s residence, someone’s space, someone’s pad for Joseph and Mary to crash in.
Now, that sounds weird to you and I because if a stranger showed up at our house needing a place to stay, we would likely respond wit an emphatic, "NO".
But in the Jewish culture turning someone away would have been a big no-no. If someone came and was in need, you took care of them. Even more so, if someone came and was from your town or from your village, you most certainly took care of them. Hospitality was huge, it’s just what people did.
2. Architecture: If we understand that Mary and Joseph didn’t stay at an inn and instead stayed at someone's home, we now begin to get a picture in our minds of a typical house right? We think front door, living room, kitchen, bathroom, a few bedrooms, maybe a basement, a garage, etc. That’s not at all what a house in Bethlehem looked like.
A house in Bethlehem look more like one medium sized room that everyone lived in. Houses in Bethlehem were not these elaborate structures. These were simple structures that they managed to fit lots of people into.
So, when we read that Mary and Joseph were turned away because there was no room, we don’t mean, “There wasn’t a room available” we mean, “There was no room available.” People were already packed into that space and squeezing two more people in, wasn’t going to happen.
So, the next best thing that a hospitality driven home-owner could offer was the area where the animals stayed. This lower area, 4-5 feet down from the human living quarters was this space where the animals were kept, likely attached to the rear of the main human living space.
What’s interesting about this idea as well is that we have this image in our minds of this super comfy, warmly lit, cozy little barn area that Jesus was born in. Probably not the case. If you study the culture you realize that the manger was probably made out of stone and built right into the ground. They poured the animal food into this and the animals would come and slop it all up so you can imagine that these were not sanitary or comfy little straw covered baby beds.
The reality is that Jesus was born in a really humble place. There was animal poop everywhere, there was a distinct smell that was not pleasant. It was probably dark and dingy. And yet, in the midst of this humble beginning comes the savior of the world.
Okay buddy, thanks for the history and social studies lesson, but what does any of this have to do with me? Allow me to suggest that there are a few similarities between Jesus' entrance into the world then and His entrance into our lives today.
Similarity #1: If we're honest, our lives are pretty crowded right? Not unlike the house that Mary and Joseph first tried to enter, our lives are packed full of stuff and we can sometimes find it difficult to make room for Jesus. It’s not that we’re trying to keep Jesus out it’s just that things are crowded in here and maybe there’s not as much room as there should be for Jesus.
Similarity #2: Our lives, if we’re honest can sometimes smell pretty bad. There are some things going on in our lives that aren’t the greatest. You might classify some of the things going on in your life as things that “spiritually stink”.
Lesson #1: No one expected Jesus to enter into the world in such a humble way. No one expected the Savior of the world to start where He started. In the same way, sometimes you and I also assume that there’s no way Jesus would want to start with us. “Oh, Jesus wants to come, but He wants people who have it together. He couldn't possibly come into the heart of someone as gross and messed up as I am.” Please don't miss this: even in the midst of the crowdedness, even in the midst the spiritually stinky stuff our lives, even in the midst of our grossness and messed up lives, Jesus will still show up.
It’s not a mistake that Jesus entered the world in the manner that He did. God was communicating a message to us even in how He brought Jesus to earth. His message was and still is: Make room for me in your life. Yes, even in your messed up, gross, imperfect, stinky life, if you make room for me, I will show up. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Check out www.apologeticsguy.com for more good information on this topic and others.