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Oh Little Town of Bethlehem


English: "(...) Entry of Pilgrims into Be...

English: “(…) Entry of Pilgrims into Bethlehem at Christmas time. It was taken in 1890.” (text from same source) Note: At the source of this picture, several pictures portray Christmas in Bethlehem in 1898 (not 1890). This picture seems to be the only exception. It could be that the indicated date is actually a typo… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Autograph manuscript of first stanza ...

English: Autograph manuscript of first stanza of O Little Town of Bethlehem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On December 21st, our family will be gathering with others in worship for the seventh annual joint simulcast Christmas service with the people of Bethlehem at the Washington National Cathedral.

Prayers, readings, and hymns alternate between Washington, D.C., and Palestine via the Internet, bringing together people of different lands, languages, and ethnic backgrounds in celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace.

In this age of turmoil and religious strife, it may be a surprise to some to know that Christians have religious freedom in Palestine and that Christmas and other Holy Days are celebrated vigorously!

The carol, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”, was inspired by a pilgrim’s first visit to Bethlehem many years ago. This year it will acquire new meaning for me as we join in song with the “Living Stones”, as the descendents of the first followers of Jesus call themselves today. Let me encourage you to visit and attend church services in Palestine when you make your pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Inspiration awaits.

Learn more about the writer of “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”, Philip Brooks and his journey, below.

http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/Notes_On_Carols/o_little_town_of_bethlehem.htm

http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/HTML/christmas_classics_videos.htm#Chap_02

The Imam and the Pastor


National Church of Nigeria, Abuja

National Church of Nigeria, Abuja (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abuja National Mosque

Abuja National Mosque (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some friends of ours work with this organization. We’re pretty impressed with their work.

They shared the following DVD with us. Tell me what you think.

Why the Trinity?


StJohnsAshfield StainedGlass Baptism

StJohnsAshfield StainedGlass Baptism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several days ago, I was reading the story of Jesus being baptized by John Baptist in the book of Matthew, chapter 3.  He writes in vss 16, 17: “At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

My first thoughts after reading went to our Muslim friends who always ask us if we think Jesus is God’s Son. It’s a painful subject and often a conversation stopper or an argument starter because they believe very strongly that Christians worship THREE Gods! WE DON’T, but trying to explain why we believe in ONE God who is Triune is very difficult and inconvenient.

I love and respect our Muslim friends and I understand their passion for the One True God…Allah and His purity, so I want to explain why we also worship ONE God.  But, I’ve never been successful in explaining our beliefs in the Trinity to their satisfaction.

As I understand it, a good many Muslims think we worship God the creator who had sex with Mary thus producing a son, Jesus.  Some believe we worship God, Mary and Jesus. Not True.

Others don’t believe this, but all believe that Jesus is NOT God’s Son.

And who can blame them? If we’re honest, it’s difficult for us Christians to understand much less explain.

That’s why I’m posting this article from Christianity Today about the Trinity, “Three is the Loveliest Number”. It may not persuade any Muslims, but it provided me with an “epiphany” about Christians (and perhaps why so many in our country expect more of the USA as a once/so-called Christian nation).

Christians are called to be culturally different from other cultures that do not believe in the Trinity.

We are called to a lifestyle of relationship, with God and with others:   Love, forgiveness, gratitude, joy, peace, patience and other qualities that always existed in God’s relationship with His Son are to be in evidence in our daily lives.

What a great challenge to begin the New Year!

I hope you enjoy this article as much as I did.

Three Is the Loveliest Number | Christianity Today.

Fox/Twitter Debate: Republicans Loudly “Boo” the Golden Rule


Check out these links, and then read my blog this afternoon.

http://usa.mediamonitors.net/content/view/full/93469

Fox/Twitter Debate: Republicans Loudly “Boo” the Golden Rule.

Practicing Peace


The word, “Peace”, seems to irritate some Christians. They want to qualify it in “spiritual” terms, not “Hippie” peace and love…Secular terms…How many times have I seen the bumper sticker, “Know Jesus, Know Peace. No Jesus, No Peace”
Peace! I get that, I really do. I’m thankful for a peaceful heart and relationship with my creator and it has grown as I’ve matured in my faith.
But, many church people I know squash talk of peace with a knowing shake of their heads and a quote from a well-known passage in the Old Testament, though out of context:
“Peace, Peace, and there is no Peace”,  in context, it referred to false prophets who soothed Israel in ancient times, telling the Jews that everything would be okay, when it wasn’t.  In other words, Liars.
I understand where they’re coming from when Evangelicals do this. We believe and experience that Christ brings peace to our hearts through His forgiveness and love.
So it’s frustrating and painful to watch people struggle towards peace outside of that transforming faith and love, when we know darn well that nothing short of a “miracle” will bring it. So, Christians/Evangelicals just don’t think it’s “worth the trouble”. Why bother?
Here’s where I disagree.
Jesus said in His sermon on the mountain, “Happy are those who work for peace for God will call them his children”.  I think He was serious about wanting people’s hearts to have a peaceful transformation leading to peace.  If we’re not out there mixing with people who aren’t peaceful, how on earth can this transformation take place?  I guess you could say, I expect God to show up in the midst of the process, in unexpected ways!
My experience in Evangelical Churches in the USA where I live and worship is that people often respond negatively to good news coming out of the Arab World. I’m told frankly that it is because of the church’s “Biblical” foundations which they feel excludes the Arab world from…? The Peace Process?
However, there are a growing number of followers of Christ around the world who, despite criticism from devout believers, are working to break down barriers to peace in the Holy Land, hoping to exclude neither Jew, Palestinian, nor Christian from the process.  I like to count myself among that number.

The “Christ at the Check Point” Conference,  http://christatthecheckpoint.com/ , in Bethlehem is one place where all of us come together to learn from Palestinian believers how it is done.

Read this article by Munther Isaac, Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College to learn more.

How Evangelicals Are Learning to Be Pro-Palestine, Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace, Pro-Justice and Always Pro-Jesus
by Munther Isaac

Many evangelicals, who were discouraged by the failed prophecies and the “mood of doom” that dominated the evangelical church in the second half of the 20th century, are rediscovering that the gospel also speaks powerfully to issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation. Books about the end times, such as those written by Tim LaHaye and Hal Lindsey, no longer dominate the bookshops, and people are being challenged by writings that focuses on the here and now, instead of the there and then!

In particular, the evangelical church typically has looked at the Middle East through the eyes of prophecy, leaning towards an unconditional support for Israel. Evangelicals in the West cheered the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent wars, believing them to be signs of the second coming of Christ—all the while neglecting the impact these events had on real people in the Middle East, specifically on Palestinians, and especially on the Palestinian Church.

The irony for Palestinian Christians is that evangelicals, with their over-emphasis on prophecy, have lost the capacity of being prophetic!

In many cases, when Palestinian Christians (or those who are sympathetic to them) share their take on things, they are demonized, ridiculed, and even accused of being anti-Semitic. The mere presence and voice of Palestinian Christians presents a dilemma for many Christian Zionists, who prefer a simple black-and-white perspective. But over the years, Palestinian Christians have challenged the Western church to consider what it means to be the church. They have reminded them of the importance of justice and peacemaking. If our theology produces apathy to injustice, it must be re-examined. In the words of Carl Medearis, “If your end-times theology trumps the clear commands in Scripture to love neighbors and enemies, then it is time to rethink your theology.”

Many who come to visit the “Holy Land” are troubled by the situation of Palestinians, and are beginning to ask questions about the occupation and the injustices that Palestinians are facing on a daily basis.
Facts do not lie. There is still the problem of about 5 million refugees, of whom about 1.8 million still live in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and the surrounding Arab countries. The 700 kilometer-long (435 mile) separation wall continues to affect the lives of Palestinians, leaving thousands living in isolated ghettos. The building of this wall has been judged illegal by the International Court of Justice.

The building of settlements continues to complicate matters for Palestinians and remains one of the biggest obstacles to peace. Though Palestinians and Israelis share the same water resources, per capita use in Israel is three and a half times higher than in the West Bank, due to water restrictions placed on Palestine by Israel. The Israeli military occupation is the longest occupation in modern history. Any visitor to the Palestinian areas cannot escape these realities. Checkpoints, the wall, refugee camps, land confiscations, and lack of water define the reality of Palestinians.

More and more evangelicals are paying attention to the Palestinian Church and its testimony and ministry in the midst of the conflict; the writings of Elias Chacour, Naim Ateek, Mitri Raheb, and Alex Awad are good examples, along with the nonviolent peace activities and advocacy by Palestinian Christian organizations. There are also the writings of many Western evangelicals who are sympathetic to Palestinians, and new documentaries that offer a different perspective, such as With God on Our Side and Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.

Then there is the “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference, in and of itself a big example of this change. Among the confirmed speakers for 2012 are ESA’s Ron Sider and Paul Alexander, John Ortberg, Lynne Hybels, Shane Clainborne, Tony Campolo, Samuel Rodriguez, Sang Bok David Kim, and many more.
In addition to the international speakers, local Palestinian and Messianic Jewish leaders will share their own experiences and offer diverse perspectives. Participants will meet Palestinian Christians, and be able to listen and see first-hand the realities on the ground, as seen through the eyes of the people.

Lynne Hybels, co-founder of the Willow Creek Church with her husband Bill, has described her discovery of the church in Palestine. She concluded after many journeys, “I am still pro-Israel, but I’ve also become pro-Palestine, pro-peace, and pro-justice and pro-equality for Jews and Arabs living as neighbors in the Holy Land. And the bottom line is always: pro-Jesus!”

If more Christians go to Bethlehem in 2012 and leave with the same attitude, we can start looking at this part of the world with hope, in a time when it is desperately needed.

Munther Isaac is the Vice Academic Dean at Bethlehem Bible College and a PhD candidate at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies. He is also the director of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. Learn more about the event.

Holy Land Trust – Sami Awad was presented with the “Visionary of the Year”


Holy Land Trust – Sami Awad was presented with the “Visionary of the Year”.

A Home on the Path to Peace


Our Front Door

My Mom would often say with sadness as we drove through the countryside past an old ramshackle home, “Each old house was somebody’s dream.” My dream came true but it took a while before I recognized it!

I suppose many people who sell their homes have a bit of nostalgia attached to them, but we’re a bit over the top with our Freeville, New York house.

English: Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) Polski: Ś...

Image via Wikipedia

As a little girl, I always wanted to influence people.

When we lived in Indonesia, I dreamed of someday owning a home with Cedar shingles and fragrant Lavender bushes in the yard.  I had forgotten that these were a part of my dream house until long after our purchase, and I began to dream once more.

While we were house hunting,  as I stepped inside this home I immediately imagined its vast open space filled to capacity with people laughing and talking in a warm glow. I was sold!

The vision was exactly right, as people from all over the world have called our place home, receiving a warm meal on a cold night, relaxing around the pot-bellied stove telling stories, playing chess or a raucous game of Foosball.

Many trees on our property were named after friends when we planted them;  Melany and Pak Eko, journalists from Indonesia, for instance. Unfortunately, little Melany, the Blue Spruce was struck down in her youth by an over zealous lawn mower. Another Blue Spruce is Ella, given to my Mother by her friend. Then of course, there was Sebastian, a flashy red Maple.

Our meadow in front pops in spring with yellow daffodils in honor of my Mom, some are really old ones with lots of petals, transplanted from her field in Western Pennsylvania.

The Burning bushes lining our driveway came from Grandpa’s farm before it was turned into an upscale housing development outside of New York City   We planted them hiring “boyfriend” labor, which was readily available for several years. We fondly remember the dedicated fellow who helped my husband plant one thousand yards of electric fence digging through multi-flora roses and forest, to keep the dogs in the yard.

Sadly, I transplanted the big beautiful lavender bushes so many times, they finally just gave up and died, but we made a new start by planting lavender in the rock garden by the patio. That rock garden was a source of extra money for refugee friends one summer.  It also became a bonding experience for fathers and sons, including Jon.

Carrying tons of rocks to make raised garden beds in our back yard, weeding the raised beds. cutting down trees, making bonfires, chopping wood, cutting brush to make “tunnels” through the brush where our kids and grandchildren can play.  Hundreds of games of volleyball, capture the flag, and international soccer,  funerals for our animals where we’ve placed little flower bulbs to mark their graves, and quiet hammock times talking and reading;  all memories of our now silent property. But, the coyotes howl and something scatters deer bones, as deer and fox use it as a path to somewhere.

Our guests have been notable in many ways; certainly as friends, some were well-known world figures, or relatives of them.  We’ve had discussion on many subjects around our table: Often they related to faith and deeply held beliefs, usually bonding our friendships in good humor and trust.

A few who sat around our table or on our grass floor mats helped to change history, such as opposition leaders of an Asian country who met in our home writing a petition demanding that a dictator step down, which he did the next day. A notorious activist rested from his Migraine which he said he got from researching and thinking about his “country’s poor”.  One fugitive came to our home bleeding, seeking a night’s sleep before he turned himself in.

I’m sad to leave here, but it’s comforting to know that our home will live on in the minds and memories of people from all over the world,  representing a place of peace to everyone who passed through on their way somewhere.

Colorado Blue Spruce covered in snow

Ella Augustine