Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Gifts

Okay. We always preach that Christmas isn't about the gifts. I get that--I think.

I am unemployed this year. I have always had a job. Sometimes I went without working when my son was young, but as soon as he was old enough for school I took part-time jobs. I like having my own money and I like buying for others. That's what made this Christmas hard. I couldn't buy gifts like I wanted. I just didn't have the money. Even buying little token gifts seemed impractical. I decided to dust off a store credit card and buy some gift certificates. That way family could use the cards the way they wanted. The certificates were considerably less that I would have wanted, but it was something. I could save some of my dignity. I put the gift cards in a white envelope safely in a drawer with a couple of presents for my son and dogie treats for our two pets, my Christmas cards and bows. I knew, however tempted I was, I could shop no more, not unless I found a dream job.

Late Christmas Eve I finished my baking, cleaned the kitchen, wrapped a couple of gift, bagged the dogie treats and put them under the Christmas tree. Then I went back upstairs to my room to take the gift cards and put them in envelopes to give to family at a gathering the next day.

I searched through the drawer, horrified! The white envelope was gone! How could it be? I thought I had been so careful.

I mentally went though the steps I had taken, tried to recall each time I had opened that drawer. Could the envelope have fallen from the drawer when I took out my Christmas cards? What if that envelope got mixed with the envelopes I had thrown away after addressing my cards? What if was stuck to some ribbon when I wrapped gifts and was thrown away? Every scenario ended with the gift cards being thrown away.

I prayed a frantic prayer that I would find the cards and instantly the thought came to mind that Christmas wasn't supposed to be about gifts anyway. I knew this, but the gifts weren't for me. Then I thought about the people who had miserable Christmases because they were worried that they couldn't buy gifts for others.

That's ego. I thought.

This last part of this year had been so bad for me that I was surprised that I had any ego at all. I lost a job that I loved and had been turned for other jobs countless times. Yes, having a gift in hand, however small, was probably an ego thing for me.

I kept praying and looking for the cards for 3 exhausting hours. Christmas is about Jesus, I thought as I listened to carols on the TV and dumped the contents of yet another drawer onto my bed.

At 2:30 I decided that I needed some rest. Maybe I would remember something when I awoke the next morning.

At 6:00 a.m. I awoke and began to search the garbage cans to see if I could find my lost presents. I asked God to help me understand what He might be trying to teach me through all of this. I also told Him how vulnerable I felt, being without a job, like I was useless and unable to support myself. I fought back terrible, unproductive feelings.

Again and again I reminded myself that the lost cards could not keep me from celebrating Christmas and I began to make a casserole for my son and his father--my ex-husband. We almost always celebrate Christmas together since that means we both get to spend the day with Adam.

Even though I tried to hide my disappointment, they were both aware that I was upset. Adam was sure his present would cheer me up and insisted we open gifts.

Then a got a phone call from a cousin who wanted to wish me a Merry Christmas. She was about to go visit her daughters. I told her about going to visit my family empty handed and she said that she was about to do the same. Her hours at work had been cut and there was no Christmas bonus. She feared that she may not have a job at all.

"My daughters will just have to love me for who I am and we will all have to be happy with each other's company this year," she said. There was wisdom in her words.

"Yes, I know what you mean." I was beginning to feel a little better.

My son finally could stand it no longer. "Let's open gifts!"

I said good-bye to my cousin and Adam and I headed downstairs. That was when I saw the gift bag with dogie treats under the tree. Why I walked to the bag, I don't know for sure. I looked inside the bag and saw it, a white envelope, barely sticking above the chew sticks.

I fell backward, onto the couch and began to wipe the tears from my eyes. "You found it," Adam his dad said at the same time. I nodded, still unable to speak.

It is easy to see how selfishness can ruin the spirit of Christmas. I never stopped to think how giving gifts or becoming upset about not finding the right gift could be just as destructive.

Reminiscing over past Christmases we remembered activities with family or friends. We remember charitable acts we perform. We gather for special Christmas Eve services or gather with popcorn to watch It's A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol. We really don't remember who did or who didn't buy us a gift--and if we do, we need to be reminded why we celebrate Christmas. It isn't about spending money to help our economy--or our ego--it is about the birth of the Christ child. It's about the world getting an advocate--a Savior.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and have a real Christmas story to tell. I will save it for later since dinner guests are waiting.

I hope you enjoyed The Magi's Journal and that some of you might copy the entries and keep them in a folder with your decorations and pull them out next year to use during you devotional time. They were written to help inspire you during the Advent season.

Have a great afternoon!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Magi's Journal--Final Entry


Bethlehem, Jerusalem, the mountains, and the desert are all behind us. Though it is in the distant horizon, I see our city, home! Shouts rang from our caravan the instant the city came into view.

What our future holds for us when we reach home, I can’t say. We are no longer the same men as when we left.

We have had little time to think of our future for we have driven our caravan, with little mercy, to ensure our escape. Seeing home makes the struggles worthwhile.

We have pledged to share what we have experienced. Whether others will welcome our message is really of little concern to us. We must still share this message.

When we started this journey we did not know what would happen to us, or what we would see. We were commanded to go. We obeyed.

Now we are just as strongly commanded to share our good news with others. I pray that Jehovah will give me the words to say to my family and friends.

As we pass down the words of the Hebrew prophet, Daniel, maybe something we have experienced on this trip will live on, also. Maybe we have established our place in history.

* * * * *

Scripture Meditation:
Acts 1:8b

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Magi's Journal--Entry 24

The Escape

Our plan was to camp outside Bethlehem and continue to interview this family. Then we would report our findings to Herod before returning home.

Evening fell on our campsite. It had become second nature to look toward the heavens when darkness came. Though far from home, we always found comfort in the star. This night, however, there was no star. Though we searched the sky, we knew that the star, our constant guide was gone forever.

I felt a deep emptiness inside, as if something great, a moment with destiny, had come to an end. Never had my life seemed so full of purpose as it had on this quest. I feared that it never would, again.

Sleep eluded me. My mind tried to sort through all that had happened. We had seen this king and had knelt at his feet. Now the star was gone. Though I felt a longing, I also felt a strange, sense of peace. We had accomplished the task set before me.

All that was left was to report to Herod and then return to our families.

* * * *

“Zachariah, Zachariah,” Zedekiah called, tugging at the flap door of my tent. “Wake up! Wake up!

He entered the tent and in a quieter voice whispered, “We are in danger!”

My head was clearing and I thought aloud, “What is it?”

“Herod! I had a dream and I am sure it is a warning!” Zedekiah’s low tone sounded imperative. “Herod lied. He doesn't want to worship the king. He plans to kill the boy.”

This sounded likely and I whispered, “What should we do?”

Zedekiah glanced past the flap of the cloth door, before replying, “I suggest we, first of all, keep our suspicions a secret. It is possible that anyone might betray us to Herod for a fee.

“I believe we should leave immediately, bypassing Jerusalem with as little attention as possible. We must distance ourselves from the city. Then, if someone in his palace does become wise to our betrayal, we will have a head start and be out of Herod’s reach.”

“At least we will have accomplished the task for which we were born.” Hours ago I thought our adventure had come to an end.

“I assure you that I don’t plan to give up without a fight.” Zedekiah replied in a firm voice. “I have a message for my people. We must tell everyone what we have learned about the Hebrew prophecies, that this world has an advocate.”

Zedekiah’s enthusiasm encouraged me. “We will push ourselves and our beasts. There is a good chance we will make it, too.”

“That’s the spirit, my friend.” There was a chuckle in Zedekiah’s voice as if he had accepted the challenge and I felt comforted. “We need to let Malchiah know our plans. We will survive this!”

* * * * *

Scripture Meditation:
Matthew 2:11a

Monday, December 22, 2008

Why I'm Not Shopping Today

Guess what? There are only 3 shopping days left before Christmas and I am stranded at the house, waiting to be chauffeured around by my son. Why? --Because one of God's little woodland creatures decided to make a home in the engine of my car.

I asked my son to check my oil and he came in from the garage to get the flashlight, claiming that there was garbage in the engine. Upon further inspection we realized that the leaves, twigs, pine needles, Hershey wrapper, and part of a chewed up report card were part of a nest.

Some creature was nesting in my car! How long has the nest been there? Who knows.

Don't think that I wasn't driving my car, either. Saturday I drove it into town to work. Sunday I drove it to my mother's house--in town.

What had happened to my little woodland creature? Was it still somewhere around the garage? Would it return to my car? Was it now living at my mother's house or in the parking lot where I worked? Did it fall out onto the highway?

Anyhow, the little creature gnawed the wires around my battery and now I am stranded.

Magi's Journal--entry 23

The Mission of the Messiah

Reluctantly, we returned to the campsite, our minds filled with wonder. This child, with his pensive expression, never left my thoughts. What knowledge was hidden behind those bright eyes? What was his gift to the world?

The next day we returned to visit the home of the carpenter. We spoke of the child and Joseph talked with us about Hebrew prophets of old; King David, Micah, and Isaiah. We told Joseph what we knew of Beltheshazzar, whom he knew as the prophet, Daniel.

I watched the young king's mother. Every minute her eyes were on the boy as she silently listened to our conversation. Her dark eyes occasionally shone with wonder. More often they seemed sorrowful.

When Mary walked outside to the garden, I dismissed myself for a breath of air. I found the woman working with her fragrant herbs, though she appeared to be in deep meditation.

I hesitated to address the young woman, knowing that her customs forbade such boldness. My quest for knowledge, however, was too overpowering.

“Madam,” I humbly began. “May I ask, what is it that disturbs you so?”

“You don’t know?” She seemed surprised.

I nodded.

“It is in the prophecies.” Her voice was quiet. I saw that her lips trembled and eyes moistened with tears. She paused, fighting to keep her composure. Then she spoke again. “My son, the child I adore, is just who you say he is. You do rightly to worship him."

“The prophets said that the Chosen One will be a man of sorrow and will be rejected by many. His own people will despise him and he will be rejected because of who he is. I do not understand how this can be. I only want to protect him.” She put trembling fingers to her forehead and could speak no more.

Could she be telling the truth? What purpose would be served for this child to suffer such a fate? I longed to say something to comfort this woman, but was at a loss for words.

My thoughts traveled to my own wife. She mourned every cut and scrape our children received. She feels each struggle our children faced.

“I have only recently learned what it means to follow the path Jehovah has chosen for us. I do understand that obedience pleases God. You must ask your Jehovah to help you bare this burden. He will give wisdom you need to parent this child,” I finally said. The words were weak, but it was all I could offer.

In the past few days I have stood in the presence of two kings. One powerful king is known and feared because of his great brutality. This woman says the second king will be a suffering servant. I wonder which king will be considered the greatest.

* * * * *

Scripture Meditation:
Daniel 7:13a-14

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Magi's Journal--Post 22

The Child

“This should be the home!” I couldn’t hide my excitement.

We gazed down from a hill to the modest earthen home. Outside was a woman, on her knees, weeding the garden. Underneath a cypress tree a young man carved a decorative design into a bench. Between the two, a small child played.

That boy looked like any other Hebrew child we had seen. The child glanced up, toward our caravan and even in the distance, I felt as though we made eye contact. Within was a sudden, overwhelming sense of awe. Without thinking, I slid from my beast and started walking down the hill to the family, barely aware that my companions were doing the same.

Malchiah whispered, “I believe this child is indeed, the one.”

I looked to my friend. His dark eyes were wide and his face was pale. Nearing the parents, he bowed his head, as though approaching royalty.

I glanced toward Zedekiah who followed Malchiah’s example. I did the same.

The husband seemed awkward. It was clear that the man was a mere artisan. He looked to be a carpenter of some sort and did not formally recognize our gesture of humility.

Birds cawed in the distance. A cool breeze rustled in the tree branches and brought with it the rich fragrance of the herbs from the nearby garden.

Moments passed. Perhaps we had not followed the customs of the Hebrews. As a sign of greater humility, we knelt on one knee, still not making eye contact with the family.

“Stand up,” the young carpenter finally said. “Who are you and why do you bow?”

We faced the carpenter, but continued to kneel. I searched the eyes of the carpenter and realized that he truly appeared confused by our behavior. The woman stood just behind her husband, holding the child tightly in her arms.

Then I looked into the eyes of the boy. Though he looked like any other child, there was a presence about him. I gasped faintly, feeling an instant communion that went far beyond words. I comprehended something, as though this child could offer me a refreshing drink of water after a long, long journey.

Again the young carpenter, Joseph, in his firmest voice demanded, “Stand up. Who are you?”

“We are Magi’s,” Zedekiah replied. Slowly we all stood. “We have come across the desert and mountains to worship the child king.”

“We bring gifts to show our good will,” Malchiah added, “gold to emphasize the royalty of the king. Frankincense represents that this boy will be a priest for his people. He most valuable gift of all is Myrrh. This is to say that the child will . . .”

I turned to a servant and commanded, “Hurry, bring this new king his gifts.”

We sat with the carpenter and he shared a strange tale of travels the couple made to Bethlehem. They even told us of the angel’s proclamation and of the shepherd’s visit after the birth of the child. For now the young couple felt it best to stay in Bethlehem.
I would have doubted their stories except that the child was there, sitting near us. I looked again into those bright eyes and felt as though there was wisdom there, far beyond his years. There was no doubt that our journey had come to an end.

* * * * *

Scripture Meditation:
I John 4:9

Friday, December 19, 2008

Magi's Journal--Entry 21

Finding the Child-King

How should we search for this baby? Where should we begin?

After our entourage’ paraded through the city we decided to set up camp on its other side. We hoped that letting others know of our presence would encourage cooperation.

A crowd quickly gathered along the sides of the street as we passed. As I looked into the multitude, I was acutely aware of mothers holding their young children. With each child I asked myself, “Is this the one?”

That evening the star lingered over Bethlehem. Its light shone pure in the otherwise dark sky. After basking in its glory all this time, I realized that our motivations had changed, becoming more pure.

When we started this journey, we traveled out of obedience. It was a responsibility that had been passed to us from generation to generation.

We also traveled out of curiosity. Even old men like me, search for one last adventure.

We also wanted to share our knowledge with the others.

Now our quest has changed. I cannot explain it, but the journey and all its hardships have influenced my thinking. I am no longer the person that I once was.

I am told that water from an artesian spring is the purest of water. Rainwater lands on the porous ground and it soaks into the dirt. The waters and its impurities are filtered through the layers of soil and sand. When the water finds its way back to the surface in artesian pools, it is fresh and drinkable. The travel through the rocks and soil changes the water, makes it pure.

It was the travel to Bethlehem that has changed me--us--all of us. At this moment, I can’t even say what that change is.


“Sir, we have found a midwife,” a young servant called to me. “Perhaps she has some information for you.”

A midwife--of course! Our search might finally be near an end.

* * * * *

Scripture Meditation
2 Corinthians 5:17

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Magi's Journal--Entry 20


The priests at Herod’s palace told us that Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David, of old. Many prophets, including our own Beltheshazzar, foretold that a king, greater than David, would come and bring deliverance to his people.

“It does not look like the home of a king,” Malchiah commented as he looked at the town before him. “How could this be the city of two great kings?”

The roads narrowed by the earthen structures on either side.

“It is truly a modest place,” Malchiah continued.

“Certainly not the place I would have chosen,” I agreed, noting the musty animal smells along the dirt roads.

“It is difficult to say which would be less desirable, the desperate poverty of Bethlehem, or the corruption and cruelty of the palace we just left,” Zedekiah added.

“Perhaps that alone is a sign that it is time for a new leader to come into our world,” I mused. “This world is a very dangerous place.”

Malchiah gave me a skeptical look. “Zachariah, do you really think that one child will make a difference in this world?”

“I don’t really know,” I confessed, in a quiet voice. “I have to believe that this child can.”

* * * * *

Scripture Reference:
Isaiah 53:1-3,5,6

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Magi's Journal--Entry 19

Fleeing Jerusalem

We made our way out of the city with much less fanfare than on our arrival. Passing Herod’s Temple, I was reminded of the glory days of the Hebrews, the time of King David. His son, King Solomon built a glorious temple dedicated to their God.

Our soldiers raided the temple and stole its holy relics. Beltheshazzar, or Daniel, was taken from his family and brought to live with our ancestors. He taught our people about the God of the Hebrew’s and their way of worship.

“The rituals of their faith are very complicated,” Zedekiah mused, almost reading my thoughts. “People are weeded out. Gentiles, women, and men with physical imperfections must worship separate from the Hebrew men. Only a priest may pass behind the curtain of the Holy of Holies, once a year, after a ritual of purification. Only they may stand before the presence of God.”

“The holy God is hidden behind the curtain,” I mused as I gazed at this entrance of this 2nd temple. “The prophecies say that one day there will not be a curtain, or barrier, that separates Jehovah from his people. Some day the Creator will, once again, move among his creation.”

The city left me with wonderment. Imagine, a God walking among men?

* * * * *

Scripture Meditation:
2 Corinthians 6:16

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Magi's Journal--Entry 18

Herod’s Deceit

Our caravan paraded along the streets of Jerusalem in a grand show of finery and wealth. People stopped their work to gaze as we passed, which might have been enjoyable except we were only concerned with an audience with Herod--a man known for his unpredictability and cruelty.

Upon arrival, we learned that Herod was not granting any audiences that afternoon. Then we were invited to spend the entire day as palace guests. It was an invitation we did not dare refuse though I knew that none of us would sleep well, under the roof of this king.

“What do you think,” Zedekiah whispered, when we were alone. The sunlight streamed into the corridor, revealing the splendor and beauty of the stone palace. I was too apprehensive to appreciate the surroundings and knew would sleep more peacefully in a cold, dark cave.

“I will be much relieved when we are far away from here,” Malchiah mumbled under his breath. “Did you hear Herod rant when he realized our purpose? He acted as if the child born would be his direct enemy.”

“He said he wanted to worship the child, but I fear something quite different,” Zedekiah added.

“--But we got what we came for,” I reminded them both, “valuable information.”

We walked silently down the hall, escorted by Herod’s servants. Though our time here was stressful, I still felt a small sense of triumph.

Herod called his advisers and priests to join in his conference with us. We asked them about the birth of a Jewish King. They shared prophecies that we had never heard. We, then, understood that the Hebrew Messiah was to be born in the tiny city of Bethlehem.

When we were dismissed, a servant escorted us to the grounds where the rest of our caravan camped for the night. On our word everyone broke camp quickly and moved beyond the city’s gates.

Malchiah looked over his shoulder at the palace. “What do you think of the promise we made--to come back and report to Herod after we find the child?”

I rubbed my beard thoughtfully and replied, “I think it was necessary to say almost anything to get out of that palace.”

* * * * *

Scripture Meditation:
Micah 5:20

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Magi's Journal--Entry 17


This land of the Romans is a hostile place. The political climate is tenuous in the best times. We must be quite cautions in all our dealings.

We may be near to our final destination. Jerusalem, the Holy City, would be the ideal place for the birth of a king. What will we find here?

“If we are looking for royalty, it seems reasonable to check the palace,” Malchiah suggested.

We agreed that this would be a logical idea and decided to camp outside the city gate. It would give us time to rest and prepare to meet with royalty.

“What if Herod knows nothing about a Jewish king,” Zedekiah asked.

“Then we have prepared him for the alliance he should eventually make,” I replied thoughtfully. “He should be pleased to be forewarned."

“--But what if he is not,” Malchiah challenged. “He is not known as a rational monarchs. Power and fear can be a dangerous combination.”

The thought was sobering, but we had a job to perform. This man, or his advisers, may have valuable information for us.

“I do not see that we have a choice. The course is laid before us. The result--no one can control,” I said with a sigh, realizing that our destiny must be fulfilled.

“Still, we should use all that we know about the art of flattery--er--diplomacy,” Malchiah advised. “If we conduct ourselves in just the right manner, we could come out of this with our lives.”

I smiled weakly at my friend’s dry humor. I was pleased to travel with this courageous companion. My faith is renewed when I think of how far we have traveled.

* * * * *

Scripture Meditation:
Hebrews 11:6

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Magi's Journal--Entry 16

Aware of the God of the Star

When I awoke the next morning I felt rested and rejuvenated. The poison had finally left my body and I was more at ease than I had in been in many months.

My mind was also at peace. My resentment was gone. Instead, I saw the remainder of our trip with a great sense of anticipation. I quietly joined my friends who had taken care of me the night before.

I decided I must discuss my thoughts with the my companions. “I know you will believe I am a fool but I have just been thinking about the tales of Belteshazzar, Daniel, and his faith in the Hebrew God. He believed that his God was the only god worth worship. Remember--he worshiped no other.”

My friends stopped working to give me their full attention. Both appeared surprised. Glancing around to see if anyone else was near, I whispered, “Do you--have you ever considered that he might have been right?”

Zechariah and Malchiah then looked at each other, but did not speak. I continued, “Otherwise, why are we even here? Nothing we are doing makes sense if we don’t believe what Beltheshazzar believed, that the Hebrew God is the one and only one worthy of worship. Beltheshazzar prophesied that in due time he would send a Messiah to the Earth--a king of kings."

I then waited, in awkward silence, expecting my friends to harshly rebuke me.

Zechariah finally replied, “We did tell you that when you were ill, we prayed to the Hebrew God on your behalf. We have already thoughtfully considered what you are saying.”

“I suggested we keep our minds opened to what this trip has to teach us,” Malchiah added.

* * * * *
Scripture Meditation:
Isiah 1:18
I John 4:9

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Magi's Journal--Entry 15


My companions were traveling with lighter hearts. They were relieved that I am well and were delighted that the sky cleared and the star was easily seen.

I, however, was still in a dark mood. I am an independent man, an educated man with a mind of my own! There is only so much I am willing to give up for any spirit. Still, my conversation with Malchiah continued to run through my head.

It was almost morning and I felt spent. My head throbbed as if it would explode and my joints felt like they were on fire. My body trembled like a reed in the wind. Beads of sweat dotted my forehead and I was overwhelmed by defeat.

“Oh God,” I whispered, as I dismounted. “You refuse to let go of me, like a jackal, chasing down its prey. You track me and cause me to run until I can run no more. I am trapped, God. What do you intend to do with me, now?”

I was overtaken by a sickening dizzinessiness and everything went black. My hand slid from the saddle, and I slowly slid to the ground.

“I surrender,” I whispered, then slept.
* * * * *
Scripture Meditation:
Psalms 8:1, 3-4.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Magi's Journal--Entry 14

Entry 14: Worth

I did all that I could to regain my strength--ate a little and rested a little. For two nights the star seemed suspended overhead as if waiting for us to follow.

On the third night I convinced my companions I was strong enough to travel. It was cloudy and the animals stumbled as we moved slowly along the path. Silently we worried for we could not see the star.

I was still very weak and seemed to lose energy quickly. When we stopped for a break, I could barely hang onto my beast. I slid from his back and onto my feet, barely able to stand.

This God of Belthshazaar is a demanding deity. He requires everything in me, and demands I bend to his will. It is my nature to be in opposition.

Malchiah noticed my struggle. “Are you all right? We can set up camp here if you are unable to travel further.”

“I am doing well.” I acted coolly, limping toward a cluster of tree while gazing into the darkness. In the distance were the hooves of Zedekiah’s horse as he scouted the path ahead.

“Let me help you,” Malchiah persisted, walking toward me and offering me a hand as I bent to sit on a stump nearby.

“Leave me alone. I just want to rest here a moment,” I said in frustration.

“Don’t be so bad-tempered. You shouldn’t be traveling at all.” Malchiah sat close beside me, under the gnarled old tree. “We almost lost you once. It is only because of a miracle that you are with us now.”

“A miracle,” I asked. “If this God is so all powerful, couldn’t he have warned me of the scorpion? Why doesn’t he move the clouds so we can see the star?”

I leaned my back against the tree trunk and sighed. “I don’t like the way this God does things!”

“Ha, and you called me the cynic. I have come to understand that I am here because this is my destiny. It is why I was born. I see no reason to be angry with God.” Malchiah’s voice was tempered by reason.

“I thought this God was different.” I mused aloud. “I thought the Hebrew God might know who I am--that he needed me to perform a task. I willingly complied. Now I feel--I feel . . .”

“Neglected? Betrayed?” Malchiah chuckled. “A god may want man’s help--but need man’s help? I don’t think so! You felt you were necessary to the plan of this great, powerful God. A true god does not need anyone to accomplish his will. If we had refused this journey, someone else would have taken our places or the task would be accomplished in another way."

“I hope you weren’t trying to make me feel better," I said, sullenly. “You are saying that God isn’t taking me for granted. Instead I’m simply worthless to him.”

My friend showed a hint of a smile. “I am simply trying to put things in the correct perspective. We are not doing God any favors. We are, however, following our destiny. It is not our burden, but our privilege to do God’s will.”

We were silent for a while. I stared into the sky, looking for some sign of our lost star. Then I closed my eyes and drifted to sleep.

Eventually I felt a nudge as Malchiah woke me. “It is time to continue. The animals have had their drink. Come on, we must try to find our way.”

In the distance I heard hoof beats, then a shout. Startled, we ran to join the other men in the caravan. Relief quickly replaced our apprehension.

“I found it! I found it--up ahead!” It was Zedekiah. He dismounted and tried to catch his breath. “The star! Once you round the bend you will see it, too! It is in full view. We are not lost!”
* * * * *
Scripture Meditation
Matthew 18:1-4

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Gifts on a budget

Part 1

Those of you who have followed my blog since mid-summer know that I am sharing an Advent devotional called The Magi's Journal. All together there are 25 entries that will be posted by Christmas.

This fictional journal is designed to cause the reader to meditate on the true meaning of Christmas and to think about our own spiritual journey. Feel free to copy The Magi's Journal to your computer. You may use it as a teaching tool or share it with family members.

These posts are archived in 2 separate lists. I haven't figured out yet how to combine both lists.

Part 2 Home-made Christmas Gifts

Though most of use are on a budget, we still want to share Christmas gifts with friends or our children's teachers. Here are a few easy do-it-yourself gifts. Any of these--or a combination of these will make a nice gift-as long as they are presented in pretty containers or arranged in a gift basket.

1. Almond Vanilla Coffee

* 1 lb coffee--I know, they don't sell it in the pound anymore. The measurements don't have to be perfect.
* 1 oz. almond extract
* 1 oz vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Store in an airtight container

2. Cinnamon Flavored Sugar

* Cinnamon sticks
* Sugar

Put several cinnamon sticks per cup of sugar into a closed container. Occasionally shake. After several days the sugar will take on the cinnamon flavor. The cinnamon sticks and sugar can be arranged in a decorative way in a clear container.

3. Lemon Flavored Sugar

Thoroughly dried lemon peels
* Sugar

Put dried peels into sugar in a closed container. Shake occasionally. After several days the sugar will take on a lemon flavor. Remove the lemon peels. This is great for flavoring tea.

4. Bath Salts

* Epsom salt (bulk amounts can be bought cheaply)
* Essential oils/scented oils
* Food coloring
* Glycerin--found in pharmacies

Mix 1 cup Epsom salt with a few drops of glycerin. Stir. Add a couple of drops of essential oil. Stir. Add a couple drops of food coloring. Mix together. Put in a decorative container.

Have a great holiday!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Magi's Journal--entry 13 b


When I awoke again Zedekiah was sitting at my side.

“Hello,” my voice was raspy.

“Friend, we thought we had lost you.” His voice sounded genuinely relieved. “You know there is a limit to what we know--but we need not worry about that now.”

Zedekiah poured a strong brew into a cup. “Can you sit up? You need to drink to regain your strength.”

At first it seemed as though my throat no longer remembered how to swallow. Though the warm liquid was refreshing, swallowing seemed to take all my energy. I was too weak to even hold the cup in my hands for long. The thought of food was tempting, but I was just too tired to eat.

“Just take a bite or two. You will gradually get stronger.” I saw a hint of brightness on Zedekiah’s face. “Once you get nourishment, you’ll be able to fight the fever. Soon you will be well enough to travel again.

I nodded, too tired to reply. Feeling rather like a child, I allowed him to feed me a few bites of leathery meat, waving the third bite away with my hand.

“Drink?” I asked hoarsely.

“Good,” Zedekiah said, reaching for the leather water skin. “You know you gave us quite a scare when you first blacked out. We used our combined knowledge to treat your sting, but your body kept resisting treatment. I don’t remember who first suggested it, but we finally decided we should make an appeal to the God on your behalf.”

My eyes met his as I drank from the cup, somewhat confused. In a coarse voice, I asked, “Which one?”

“We are in the service of Belteshazzar’s God. He was the logical one.” Zedekiah’s voice had a matter-of-fact tone. As he took my cup, he added, “And now we can be thankful to him, that he has spared your life.”

I lay on my pallet and stared at the top of the tent. Thankful? I have been uprooted from my home and left behind all that I love. I have endured the dangers of travel and have even lost my health. How can I be thankful?

Zedekiah continued, “Your illness has caused me to have some unusual musings. I bring them up because of your comment ‘which god.’ Belteshazzar worshipped only the God of the Hebrews. Perhaps it is because of our journey, but I have thought much about the Hebrew God. What if Belteshazzar was correct?”

My head still throbbed with such consistency that I could not concentrate on my friend’s words.

I had no doubt that the God of Belteshazzar was great. I would have never begun this travel if I had though otherwise.

Still, this God needed us for his journey. Perhaps that is why I now feel so angry and disappointed. I offered my services to this God. He turned against me and allowed me to be stricken like this.

I continued to avoid Zedekiah’s eyes and soon fell asleep.

* * * * *

Scripture Meditation
Philippians 4:11-13

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Magi's Journal--entry 13 a

Entry 13: Broken

In the opened country I felt more secure. We had crossed the harshest part of the desert. We even managed to elude thieves that were notorious for hiding in the mountains and attacking travelers. We would soon be near civilization with its own set of dangers. --But for the moment I felt good--peaceful.

We stopped to rest, check latches on our pack animals, and to stretch our legs. A pebble in my sandals caused me to shed my shoes. In a moment of vulnerability, while lacing a strap, I felt a sudden, paralyzing sting on the heel of my right foot. I jerked away and fell to the ground, screaming in agony.

Though blinded by the pain, I felt the presence of my companions. They rapidly fired questions at me--but I could not answer. I could not speak or even open my eyes. The stinging sensation was so great it seemed to have tentacles that pierced throughout my body.

“Scorpion!” I gasped.

“Lay still, brother.” Malchiah instructed in a voice that tried to sound soothing. Then he turned toward the others and shouted, “Get the medicinal herbs! Hurry!”

Every touch seemed to encourage pain. I felt that a flame from within was consuming me, yet I still trembled like a caged hare. The men threw a blanket over my trembling body.

A hand was on my shoulder and Malchiah spoke again. “We are going to mix a paste to pull the poison from the sting. It might hurt a --.”

My screams interrupted him. I cried out from the mere touch of the infected area.

“Oh God,” I thought. “How can I go on?”

--And as the pain heightened, I feared that this foreign land might be my final home. My children would be fatherless and I would never see my sons wed.

How could I have been such a fool to believe the creator that Belteshazzar so faithfully worshipped, would be interested in the travels of a few old men? Could it be that the amazing star served no particular purpose at all. I am now here to die, so far from home.

Zedekiah held my shoulders firmly to the ground as others worked to apply the paste to my injured heel. My shirt worked opened and I heard Malchiah whisper, “Look, he has a rash on his body.”

“The poison is getting to him,” Zedekiah’s voice betrayed his concern. In a calmer tone he continued, “Zachariah, are you having difficulty breathing?”

I was already gulping air and couldn’t reply.

“We must do something,” I heard the panic in Malchiah’s voice.

“Pray,” Zedekiah replied. He sounded so far away. Everything seemed to be fading--far--away. I was suddenly afraid of being left alone. I saw, heard, or felt nothing more for what seemed like a long, long time.

* * *

Do I smell freshly baked bread? --And my favorite stew? It felt so good to be resting in my own bed. I could her my family talk around me as I slept. I have desired this for so very, very long.

I continued to sleep.

* * *

I awoke in a dingy tent with the hard ground below me. I felt grimy all over. I was confused, discouraged, and broken.

I slept again.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Magi Journal--entry 12

Surely Goodness and Mercy

Through the night we traveled. The valley walls greatly hid the lights of the night sky. Beasts stumbled and regularly the caravan came to a halt as we reloaded spilled equipment. I feared that we were crossing the valley like wounded animals--hurt and vulnerable. I was worried that somewhere among the shadows hid a predator--waiting to attack.

I gazed into the wall of darkness, aware of every sound around me--the snapping of every twig, the caw of each bird. With each noise I prepared for an attack.

Still the star loomed silently above us, guiding us through the valley. We could only see it and the path directly below our feet. All else was shadowed.

Only the star calmed my mind. It gave us light and guided our path. The darkness only promised us fear and danger.

I knew I must remember that the One who created the star was the same One who guides our path. We have only 2 choices; follow the path that He chose for us, or disregard everything we believe in.

Then it seemed as though the sky was opening up and becoming larger. The stars appeared to multiply and eventually moonlight streamed down upon us. We realized the walls of the canyon were no longer so steep.

Though there were still hills and rough roads ahead of us, I could feel the relief pouring over me, like the moonlight. As I looked toward my companions--inspecting their age-lined faces--I saw hints of relief.

Perhaps our travel was more than a journey of distance. It was a pilgrimage. In our dedication to the Maker of the Star, we set aside those things that seem sensible and safe for months, on a path to who-knows-where. The Maker protects us and leads us safely through the valley. God has delivered us from this place of despair. He has surely shown us mercy.

* * * * *

Scripture Meditation
Psa. 136:1

Monday, December 1, 2008

Magi's Journal--entry 11

Entry 11: Thou Preparest a Table

“Zechariah! Wake up! It is time to start your watch,” Zedekiah shook my shoulder.

“All right,” I snapped, far from rested far from rested. What little sleep I had was fitful--filled with nightmares.

“Old man,” Zedekiah continued to shake me. “It is time for you to take my place at the watch.”

“I am no older than you,” I spat back, “and I do hope you sleep better that I did!”

“It has been a disagreeable day all the way around,” Zedekiah mumbled.

We talked only a moment as I gave up my bed to my friend. I strolled along the camp, guarding my companions, trying to keep my eyes from wandering toward the freshly dug graves nearby.

I was weary, so tired. Earlier in the day, when I tried to rest, my mind kept returning to those we had buried only a few hours before. Men, women, and even a child were massacred.

One of the dead was about the age of my Meshack, just barely a man. His throat was slashed. As we dug his grave the only thought in my mind was that the man was too young to die.

My thoughts now are on my own family; my wife, Hend, and my children, so far away. When Hend went to bed did she think about me? Does she know that I worry about her?

Then my fears settle and my thoughts become more rational. Hend is a very capable woman. She is strong and wise--quite able to run a home smoothly--with or without me.

I know that my Meshack will take care of business in my absence. He will see that the older children care for the younger. I can count on them to make sure that the whole family is well. My home will run smoothly in my absence.

What of me? I need to see my family, to be with them. I would give much of my wealth to speak again with my sons. I would give the rest of it to have another of Hend’s meals, cooked and spiced just as I like.

I have always known how perilous this journey is. To bury these poor strangers has only made the danger more real. I wonder silently if I will ever see my family again.

As the sun fell low in the horizon, the campsite stirred once again. Our guides managed to capture several fat quails, enough for a sort of stew. Perhaps they realized that a good meal might help to lift our spirits.

It was an odd sensation as we gathered around our campfire to eat. The brightness of the fire contrasted with the dark unknown around us. We eat silently, wondering if, somewhere in the darkness, an enemy lay waiting to attack.

Tonight I long to find comfort in the glow of the star.

* * * * *
Scripture Meditation
Psa. 39:1-3,16