We hope and pray you are experiencing joy in God this Christmas season!
As I have mentioned in previous prayer letters, I will be leading a Bible study in the Gospel of John for a group of about 1,000 young people at the Urbana Missions Convention, the mornings of December 28, 29, 30, and 31. I would really appreciate your prayers for my preparation, and as I teach at Urbana each of those mornings. The thousand or so people in the study I am leading have signed up specifically for the “International Poverty Track” at Urbana, so they are people who have at least an interest in, if not a calling to, the poor internationally. I am praying that this Bible study would be inspiring and compelling for this group as they consider God’s heart for the poor and suffering around the world.
Last Saturday, I had an all day “practice day” at which I taught all four texts that I will be leading at Urbana. It was very helpful. I got some really good feedback from the group about what things they really appreciated, and some suggestions for improvement. I have another practice day this coming Saturday, and I’m sure that will help even more. Thank you for your prayers for me and for the Urbana convention in this month of December!
The longer I live, the more I value questions. Questions have a lot of power. The power to suggest, “What if we tried this?”, create doubt, “What if this isn’t true?”, clarify motives, “Why do I believe this?”, and much more. I’ve been thinking about questions more often lately thanks to two very smart people, L.G. Palmer and C.S. Lewis. L.G. of course is my three year old daughter Lily Grace who has been a continuous fountain of questions, most of which begin with “Why?” Being around Lily and her questions forces me to shift out of a state of mental lethargy I didn’t even realize I had succumbed to. This is because a lot of things I take for granted as an adult are new and wondrous to a toddler and therefore worth asking questions about and investigating further. For example, we were stopped at an intersection when she asked, “Why does red mean stop?” It’s a great question that I never even thought about asking. Trying to find answers to her questions keeps me alert to the wonders of the world around me and humble because I have to answer, “I don’t know why” to a lot of questions.
I have been reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and have been learning so much from them. It is written from the point of view of a demon who is trying to instruct his nephew in how to lead a patient (a human soul) away from God (or “the Enemy,” as he refers to Him). Two statements that particularly struck me were from Letter 19, where Screwtape says,
Nothing matters at all except the tendency of a given state of mind, in given circumstances, to move a particular patient at a particular moment nearer to the Enemy or nearer to us.
In the meantime, get it quite clear in your own mind that this state of falling in love is not, in itself, necessarily favourable either to us or to the other side. It is simply an occasion which we and the enemy are both trying to exploit. Like most of the other things which humans are excited about, such as health and sickness, age and youth, or war and peace, it is from the point of view of the spiritual life, mainly raw material…
Since reading these statements, the question I’ve been reminded to ask myself in any situation, whether difficult or comfortable, is “Am I allowing this situation to bring me closer to God or create distance between us?” Because however complicated the situation or issue might be, it is as C.S. Lewis simply put it “raw material.” My hope this Christmas is that whatever situation we are in, we will choose to draw closer to God, especially since he first loved us and chose to draw near to us in a little town called Bethlehem.
Magic Princesses and the Love of God
Back to Dave: My favorite Christian singer in the Spanish language is Jesus Adrian Romero. In addition to his many amazing songs about God, he also has a beautiful love song which he wrote to his wife, called Mi Vida Sin Ti (“My Life Without You”), and another which he wrote to his two daughters, called Magicas Princesas (“Magic Princesses”). I love to listen to these two songs, and think of my own wonderful wife and daughters, and thank God for them.
I was recently watching a concert version of Jesus Adrian Romero singing Magicas Princesas on You Tube (If you wish, you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lr5fFf8PWL8). I was holding Emily on my lap, and Lily came to watch and listen to the video as well. She asked me what he was singing about, so I was explaining the song to her in English as he sang it in Spanish. I told Lily, “He is calling his two daughters magic princesses… He’s saying how much he misses them whenever he is away. He always wants to cut his travels short and come home… He is describing the joy they bring into his life... He is singing about how beautiful they are… He is saying that he always wants to tell them how important and valuable they are. He wants to nurture and protect their hearts… He is saying that his daughters are like a message from heaven of God’s love… He’s saying they are growing up so quickly, and he sometimes wishes he could hold onto them forever. But he knows one day they will grow up and leave home, and when they do, they will take with them a part of his life that will never return… And so on as he sang the song.
As we watched the You Tube video, the camera alternated between him singing the song on stage, and his two daughters listening in the audience. And his two daughters had tears in their eyes as they listened to their daddy singing the song. So Lily asked me, “Why are they crying?” I said that people sometimes cry when they are very happy, and they were so happy to know that their daddy loved them so much, and was singing to them of his love. I found the song quite moving, so I was actually tearing up a bit too as I listened to it and thought about my own daughters. So I told Lily, see I have tears in my eyes too, because I love you and Emily just like he loves his daughters, and I am so happy that God gave you to me! At this point Lily wrapped her arms around me very tenderly and affectionately, and laid her head gently on my shoulder, with such a peaceful and contented smile on her face, and just nestled there. And when the song ended, she wanted to listen to it again. And again, and again! We listen to the song over and over for about an hour until it was her bedtime, with her snuggled up to me all the while, and Emily on my lap. As we listened, Lily asked me to sing along with him. So I sang the song repeatedly in Spanish to my girls, and told them in English that I felt so grateful to God for both of them, and for their mommy, and loved them with all my heart. It was a precious and poignant time.
After the kids were in bed I did some reflection. One of the things Jesus Adrian Romero says in connection with some of his worship songs is that the spiritual world is just as real as this material world; and that our experiences in this material world are an invitation to experience the spiritual world. I was reflecting along those lines on how this experience of the love I have and was feeling very strongly for my own family was a reflection of, and invitation into, spiritual realities. And I thought about the truth that God loves me with a love that is so much greater, purer, and fiercer than the love that I, in my human limitations and smallness, could ever feel or express, even for the people who are most precious to me; and that the love I feel for my wife and daughters, for example, is an invitation to recognize how greatly – and far greater still – I am loved by my God. A few Scriptures came to my mind:
Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. (Isaiah 49:15)
It was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. (Psalm 22.9-10)
Thus says the Lord, your Creator, and he who formed you … “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you… Since you are precious in my sight, since you are honored, and I love you…” (Isaiah 43.1-4)
The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. (Zephaniah 3.17-18)
As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62.1-5)
It is, of course, this great love of God which sent Jesus into this world as a baby, and then to the cross. As we celebrate Christmas this month, I pray that you may know that YOU ARE LOVED, far more deeply than you even have the capacity to love anyone yourself. And may this knowledge fill your heart with joy in God, and rejoicing in the great treasure we have in him, above all else.
We are so grateful for you and your role in our lives. HAVE A MERRY AND BLESSED CHRISTMAS!
For the joy set before us,
Dave, Mini, Lily, and Emily
A quote to ponder:
A person is fully human when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labor by which all things live. (G. K. Chesterton)