A Way in a Manger

the manger

Hi TD,

Let’s be honest. In the midst of this busy and commercialized season, we can easily lose sight of the true meaning and weight of Christmas. Perhaps we know the Christmas story so well that it has grown somewhat stale to us, or we think that the miraculous birth of Jesus has very little to do with our present life and troubles. After all, the event happened thousands of years ago in a land far, far away.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I hope that reading this blog post by Vaneetha Rendall Risner can help us come to the Christmas story in Scripture with fresh eyes and enlarge our hearts to adore the Child born King who meets us in our trials and troubles today.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to DesiringGod.org, who is well acquainted with suffering, having experienced 21 surgeries by age 13, multiple miscarriages, the death of a child, unwanted divorce, just to name a few. The pain and disappointment she writes about in this particular post is about her diagnosis with post-polio syndrome, which involves increasing pain, weakness, and limitations in her body.

– Kathy

A WAY IN A MANGER

I chipped a friend’s china plate as I struggled to put it on the counter. My arms are failing and I can’t quite gauge what I can and cannot do. I wanted to help clean up, to make things easier, but instead I made things worse.

I spiraled downward after that, regretting going to her house in the first place. When I surrendered my life to Christ, I felt He was going to use me. But I expected to serve out of my strengths. Not my weaknesses.  It’s hard to serve when you feel inadequate.

In the midst of my disappointments, I started reading the Christmas story, trying to imagine how Mary felt.

For Mary, carrying the Son of God was costly. No one would have believed she was a virgin. Her premarital pregnancy was scandalous, bringing disgrace to everyone affected. Yet God had called her to this. He had entrusted her with carrying His precious Son who would reign over the house of Jacob forever.

Mary had been given an incredible honor. So she might have expected something notable to happen before Jesus’s birth. Earthly kings had fanfare associated with them. How much more the Son of God?

So Mary may have felt disheartened as she trudged, in the last stages of pregnancy, to Bethlehem, about eighty miles away.  With no one to help her but Joseph, her betrothed.  The Bible does not mention her even having the donkey we like to imagine her riding.

Where was Joseph’s family? They must have gone to Bethlehem for the census too, but they don’t appear to have accompanied the young couple. Were Mary and Joseph not welcome with the rest of his family? All we are told was that the couple went together with nowhere to sleep but a stable.

And as she was delivering Jesus, did Mary wonder why God had not intervened? Scripture does not record that this birth was anything other than ordinary. Messy, bloody, the way all babies are born. And then wrapped in swaddling cloths according to the custom.

And where to lay him? In such a familial society, surely most women would be surrounded by relatives, eager to rock a newborn baby. But Mary and Joseph were alone and exhausted. So where in a draughty stable of beasts do you lay your newborn infant?

They chose a manger. A crude feeding trough for animals. It was the best they could do under the circumstances.

I wonder what Mary thought as she placed Jesus in a manger. Was she hesitant to put him there? Did it feel safe? Did she and Joseph have to shoo the animals away as they came to the manger in search of food? Did seeing the manger highlight for her the desperation of her situation?As she watched her sleeping baby, did she wonder if this was really what God had planned?

And then the shepherds came. They told the young couple all that had happened. Angels proclaimed his birth and sang of God’s glory.

It must have thrilled Mary to hear the shepherds account. Though she and Joseph had been alone at his birth, heaven had been rejoicing. And the heavenly host had sent the shepherds to come and worship Jesus, confirmation that her sleeping baby was indeed the Son of God.

And how did the shepherds find them? How did they know it was the Savior?

The manger. The shepherds knew it was the Christ-child because of the manger. That was their sign from God. The angels had said, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

There might have been other babies born in Bethlehem that night. And they may have been wrapped in swaddling cloths. But no other child would have been laid in a manger.

This manger, this messy, dirty, smelly feeding trough, was the sign that God used to show the shepherds where the Savior lay.

Signs in the Bible were significant. Gideon’s sign was the wet fleece and dry ground and vice versa. Hezekiah’s sign was the shadow that went backward. And Ahaz’s sign was that a virgin would conceive. All of these were miraculous. Extraordinary. And unnatural.

And so as Mary put Jesus into the manger, it must have felt unnatural for her as well. No one would expect to find a baby in a manger. Let alone the Son of God. It was as remarkable as the other signs.

When the shepherds told Mary of their “sign,” it must have been an amazing confirmation for her. One that she treasured. The manger had been God-ordained all along.She hadn’t escaped God’s notice.

Perhaps Mary needed a sign just as much as the shepherds. To know that she was in God’s will. That God was still with her. That she was being used by God.

We all need that sign. We want confirmation. In our natural world, we think confirmation of our decisions is that things go well. They fall into place. They get tied up with a bow.

But what if the confirmation in the kingdom of God is that things get increasingly hard? The opposite of what we wanted? More humbling than we ever expected?

What if the confirmation is that God is with us in our desolate places? What if the confirmation is the manger? 

When our dreams and plans are falling apart, and our life feels humble and obscure when we were hoping for something prettier, maybe we are exactly where God wants us to be. Where He can use us most.

So as I mourn my weakness and disappointments, I remember the manger. My suffering is not glamorous. No one’s suffering is. It’s messy and painful and humbling. And yet God is glorified in it.

The manger highlights the way God uses our deepest pain, our humiliation, the things we wish were different, the despised and the lowly, to bring Him the greatest glory. God’s kingdom is upside down. The last shall be first, the weak shall be strong, and the foolish shall shame the wise.

And God incarnate will be laid in a manger.

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

Vaneetha Rendall Risner

 

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TD’s UNI-versity Night. One.

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Hey TD!

Come be a part of TD history this Friday, as we host TD’s UNI-versity Night. One., our first ever event honing in on celebrating the diversity of gifts, talents, pursuits, interests, and passions of TD’s leaders and students alike, with a focus on empowering that diversity in unity towards fulfilling our calling in Christ!  Breakouts will be insightful, engaging, and inspiring as we learn to see God at work in various spheres of our world.

This would be a great opportunity to invite your friends!

You will select two sessions to participate in. Check out the sessions and profs below on Cloudup.  You can download them from Cloudup to send them to your friends as well.

Check out the sessions and profs below:

 

If possible, please email us at totaldevotionmbcla@gmail.com with your two selections, so we can get an idea of room sizes needed.

Here are the pdf’s in case Cloud up doesn’t work for you:

TD’s UNI-versity Night. One. 

TD’s UNI-versity Night. One. bios

See you Friday at 7:15 p.m. for the Pre-TD Party!

TD Showing Hope to Orphans

Hey TD!

During Offerings 4, we showed some videos in an effort to continue to get us more familiar with the ministry of Show Hope and the movement to care for orphans (particularly those with disabilities) in Jesus’ Name, as TD begins its journey towards doing its part to live out true Christianity by heeding James 1:27’s call to care for orphans.

So committed is my family to do our part that my family plans to go to China this summer with Show Hope to visit the Kingdom work being done there at the care centers, especially Maria’s Big House of Hope.  We plan to get an “on the ground” look and feel of the work there, personally engaging with the orphans, staff, and ministry.  We believe this will give us a deeper look into how we can possibly further our impact (and the impact of TD and MBCLA) in the years to come.

If you haven’t given your small group leaders your pledge for your small group to sponsor orphans, please do so this week!

(Several people have asked how the time with Steven Curtis Chapman was at my home.  Above is a short but great video that my son, Randall, put together of that magical night with the Chapmans and the leaders of Show Hope)

Please take the time to watch these great videos again (or for the first time), so you can get more familiar with the work we at TD will be joining in via sponsorship and more :

Disability Ministry in China is Booming!

Hey TD, this is some encouraging news from Joni (just posted yesterday)!  I’ve always wondered why God has taken a Chinese church like ours and led it to be such a large force at the Murrieta Hot Springs Family Retreat for so many years.  It may well be as a segue for some of you to minister to the disabled in China!  Jenny has already served at a Family Retreat in Shenyang, China a couple of years ago.

This summer, Nathaniel is serving as the co-ordinator team leader for the STM’s at the same Family Retreat in Shenyang!  Please pray for him as he has been given quite a responsibility and workload.  May God’s hands and heart reach those families affected with disabilities in Shenyang!  Thanks in advance! – Arthur

Disability Ministry in China is Booming!

  • By: Joni Eareckson Tada

Map of China showing where Joni and Friends is serving

In the last few weeks, three Wheels for the World teams have been delivering wheelchairs and Bibles (and Joni books in Chinese) in different parts of the People’s Republic of China, sharing Christ’s love and giving practical help. Just last week, we held our International Family Retreat in Nanjing with many special-needs families hearing the Gospel for the first time. In addition, our Pastor’s Conference was extremely well attended as we taught these Christian leaders all about the Savior’s mandate in Luke 14. And finally, this past weekend our teams completed a Special Education Training Conference, helping Chinese leaders understand how to reach children with autism (with a biblical worldview)! Please join me in praying that God will “grow” all the Gospel seeds we are planting throughout China (and the map shows you where). Praise be to God for His indescribable gift! And join me in asking God to cover our teams with His safe hand as they journey home to the U.S.

Temporarily Able Bodied

T-A-B (Temporarily Able-Bodied) $12.99

On Saturday, Sandra, Eunice, and I were able to help Jenny as she teamed up with prolific author and disability ministry specialist,  Dr. Jeff McNair, to help train World Impact missionaries to the inner city in how to rightly think about and understand those affected by disability, according to God’s eyes and will. 

It was a special time and a great time of reminder and value for me, even though I am a leader in disability ministry.  And that’s how it is, isn’t it?  Those of us with titles, experience, knowledge, etc. are often the ones who most need fresh reminding of why we do what we do in the first place.  This Slice of Infinity by Margaret Manning is a great essay for all of us to read and remember who we really are. – Arthur 

My friend Sylvia is a paraplegic. She has not been able to use her legs since she was a high school girl. A horrible accident took away her ability to walk or to run, and left her without any discernible feeling in the lower half of her body—her spine severed, the nerves do not receive the necessary information to register sensation or stimulation.

Prior to her accident, Sylvia was an aspiring athlete. Without the use of her legs, this aspiration would be put on hold, but not permanently. Though she is paralyzed in body, she is not paralyzed in spirit. And she eventually competed in several World Championships and in the Paralympic Games. Her determination to excel at world-class competitions, despite her injury, and her intention to live a full-life has been an immense inspiration to me.

Sylvia uses a term for people like me who have the use of our legs. We are “TAB’s”—Temporarily Able Bodied. Every day I wake up with a new ache or pain, or I see my stamina waning, I recognize the truth of her naming me a “TAB.” I truly am temporarily able bodied—at some point in my life, I will need assistance in many of my daily tasks.

Sylvia is not one to ask for help: she drives, works at least a 40 hour week and has traveled the world. She has mastered the art of navigating the world in a wheelchair. Yet, there are times when even this accomplished athlete needs some assistance. She is grateful for the technology that has developed excellent, lightweight wheelchairs. She is grateful for friends who can reach for the pan in the high cabinetry when we have gathered for home-cooked meals.  And she was grateful when we helped her out of the wheelchair and into the lake so she could swim one beautiful summer day not too many years ago. She welcomes the kind of assistance that develops her abilities in spite of her disability.

While I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like to be physically paralyzed like my friend Sylvia, I certainly understand the emotional, spiritual and psychological paralysis that results from trauma or duress. After suffering my own form of paralyzing accident, I experienced what I could only describe as a numbing paralysis. While my body functioned, my mind and heart were paralyzed. I could not create any momentum to move me past the questions that imprisoned me or the doubts that bound me. Initiative fled away, drive and determination left me. I was stuck and unable to move. All that had propelled me forward in the past stalled, stopped, and froze. I was, practically speaking, immobile.

I know that my emotional, psychological and spiritual paralysis doesn’t compare to my friend Sylvia’s being a paraplegic. But it did help me understand what it must feel like to lack the freedom to move and to have a sense of being able.

The gospels are filled with stories about paralytics. But the story that always gets my attention occurs in Mark’s gospel. Jesus was teaching in Capernaum in a house that was filled to capacity with listeners. There was not any more room for anyone, let alone a paralytic being carried on a cot by four friends. Yet the crowded house would not deter these determined friends. They were so determined to get their friend to Jesus that they got up onto the roof of the house, with their paralyzed friend, removed the portion of the roof above where Jesus was teaching, and lowered their friend down on his pallet.(1)

I’m not sure how the owners of the house felt when part of their roof was removed, but Jesus, the gospel tells us, saw their faith—faith that went to extraordinary lengths to bring their friend to him. As a result of their faith, Jesus declared that the paralytic’s sins were forgiven. To demonstrate his authority to forgive sins, Jesus then heals him and tells him to “rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And immediately, the paralytic jumps up (perhaps for the first time) and went out before everyone so that “they were all amazed and glorified God.”

In periods of paralysis, we are forced to depend on others, perhaps even relying on the faith, courage, and strength of those who see our abilities even through our disability. Something very beautiful and healing occurs when we allow others to offer us assistance. In my own paralysis, friends gathered around to help me. They did the things I could not do any longer. They said the prayers on my behalf; they believed on my behalf. When I slowly began to move again, they held my arms and steadied my legs. I came to experience a kind of healing because of the assistance and help of my friends. Their faith inspired movement in me towards the God who heals. Indeed, those who are willing to carry the cots of their paralyzed friends embody God’s healing love and care.

There will always be times in life that inhibit forward movement—or any movement at all. In those times, we trust that there will be others to help carry us and care for us.  And when we are moving along, perhaps with such momentum that we could miss those lying in cots along our path, may the same kind of care and determination to help others cause us to stop, pick them up, and carry them with faith to Jesus.

Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.