5 Extraordinary Christmas Miracles and the Ordinary People Who Experienced Them

(A message delivered on December 9, 2018 during  worship services at River’s Edge and Chateau Senior Living homes in Sacramento Ca.)

In the bible there are many examples of God doing extraordinary miracles through ordinary people.   I am going discuss five of those examples.

(Read the Gospel of Luke Chapter 1, Verses 5-25)

The first two we learn about in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke, are the Hebrew Priest Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth.  In verse 6, Luke tells us that both Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in the sight of God, meaning they did what they did to exalt the Lord alone.  This was unlike many of the priests at that time who tried to make a good showing for others.  They lived in a small village in the south region of Jerusalem rather than an elite luxurious city.  And they had problems just like ordinary people including two big problems that only a miracle from God could solve.  The first was that they had no children.  A huge social stigma was attached to being childless at this time of history.    So much so that in their society, barrenness was a commonly accepted grounds for divorce.

Their second problem was that they were “well advanced in years” so much so that having a child would have been impossible under normal circumstances. But, as nothing is impossible for God, not only did he bless them with a son, but that son was the man we call John the Baptist. As the angel Gabriel said about John the Baptist in Luke Chapter 1:15-17; “he will be great in the Lord’s sight…and filled with the Holy Spirit” … he will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God…he will go ahead of the Lord…strong and mighty like the prophet Elijah”.  And just as God had commanded, Zacharias  named the baby John, which mean “The Lord is gracious”.  Jesus himself, in Matt 11:14 would say about John “…he is Elijah who is come”.

Zacharias and Elizabeth…two ordinary people who God chose to do extraordinary things through and bless with an extraordinary miracle.

The third ordinary person, also in the first chapter of Luke, is Mary the young woman God chose to be the mother of Jesus. Mary was a young virgin woman probably not much older than 12- or 13-years old, living in the town of Nazareth and promised to be married to a man named Joseph.  For a young Jewish woman living at that time there was nothing extraordinary about that. But God had extraordinary plans for Mary.  As verses 26-35 explain, God sent the angel Gabriel to this ordinary woman with a message and a mission.  The angel reassured her that, “God has been gracious with you.  You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God.”   Mary asks Gabriel; How? I am a virgin?  But God had a plan and by the power of the Holy Spirit Mary became pregnant.

Mary responds to the news in verse 38 saying “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”  The Greek translation for this word “handmaid” or, as some translations say “servant”, is the lowest form of servanthood.  This is a bond slave, a “doule”.  She is saying; ”I am the Lord’s slave or bondmaid to do the will of God with humility and submission.”  A completely humble ordinary person that God uses for an extraordinary purpose… by the power of the Holy Spirit to become the mother of the savior of the world.

The fourth person we learn about in the second chapter of the gospel of Luke verses 8-20, is actually a group of ordinary folks who participated in an extraordinary miracle. They are the shepherds who the angels appeared to.  We don’t know how many there were, but the Bible refers to shepherds, so we know there were more than one. God chooses the shepherds to be the first people to be told about the birth of Jesus.

In biblical times the job of the shepherd was a very ordinary.  By the time Jesus was born the population of Palestine had grown and most people engaged in some sort of animal husbandry and agriculture.  The job of a shepherd was considered unskilled labor and they were in the lower class of society.  While this job was not as well respected with people in Jesus’ time, God did not consider it so.  The bible has many references to the shepherd including the metaphor of God as our shepherd.  Many of the great leaders in the Old Testament were shepherds including; Abraham, Moses and David. Jesus describes himself in John 10: 11 as; “the good shepherd, who is willing to die for His sheep.”   In Genesis 49:24 Jacob refers to God as “the Shepherd, the Protector of Israel.”

These ordinary Galilean shepherds were chosen for an extraordinary purpose…to hear from an army of heaven’s angels about, and to be witness to, the new born baby that was to be the savior and redeemer of the world…JESUS! And as Luke 2: 20 says “The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen just as they were told.”  They became the first to tell others of this wonderful event. They were some of the first evangelists.

So, what’s the last of our fifth extraordinary Christmas miracles and who is the ordinary person who experienced it?  It’s you and me. This Christmas season I would like you to think about this;  we ordinary Christians are witness to, and the undeserving recipients of the most extraordinary miracle of all, the miracle of our salvation.  It’s the miracle of our salvation and how God made it happen, how He executed His perfect plan, from the beginning of time. This miracle is so magnificent that just thinking about it should bring us to our knees in awe and thankfulness every day. As it was foretold by the prophets and proclaimed by armies of angels. That our perfect sovereign God would send his son to earth as a baby born to a virgin girl. His name is Jesus. And as He grew, He lived a perfect life, loving even the most unlovable people, teaching, healing, and giving hope to a fallen world. And then he died an unthinkable death.  But not for long because Jesus conquered the cross and was raised from the dead and now sits at the right hand of God.  And all this so that who every believes in Him is given…freely…the miracle of eternal life with Him.  WOW!  Doesn’t it just make you want to be like one of the shepherds and sing praises to God and tell everyone you see!  You and I, ordinary people, through our belief in Jesus, are recipients of the greatest miracle of all, the miracle of our salvation.

In the bible Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians 3:7-11; “But Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless.  Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage.  All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him. I could not make myself acceptable to God by obeying the Law of Moses. God accepted me simply because of my faith in Christ.  All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised him to life.  I want to suffer and die as he did, so that somehow I also may be raised to life.”

Praise God and Merry Christmas friends!

Christmas Cardinal Painting By Marianne Gonzales

(Acrylic on Canvas)

The Cardinal has become a symbol of Christmas.  Its bright red color represents the warmth and beauty of the season and brings cheer during the drab gray winter days. The cardinal’s red color should also be a reminder for us to focus on the blood of Christ that was shed for the redemption of all humankind.  Let it Snow

“Having gifts…let us use them.” (Romans 12:3-8)

I am humbled and also contemplating my calling as a Christian artist/leader. Here’s why; I received a message from a friend. She was thanking me for encouraging her to show her art work in a recent art show I organize at my church.  Frankly, I was surprised and humbled by her acknowledgement and appreciation.  The reason for my surprise is because my desire to encourage, teach, and help Christian artists to share their gifts is a calling from God done out of my effort towards obedience.  Just like much of the artwork that God inspires and allows me to create. It is part of my calling as a Christian artist. Therefore, in creating art and encouraging other artists, I am turning this calling into an act of obedience to God. My goal and prayer is that all my work and efforts would be motivated by my desire to please God and give Him glory.  That is why, when someone thanks or credits me for encouraging them to share their art, I am humbled.

This striving towards obedience is also my motivation for organizing opportunities for Christian artists to display their creations.  As Christian artists we are called to create things that give glory to the original creator, the one that taught us and continues to teach us to create.  If you are an artist and a Christian, what motivates you to create and show your art?  Do you attend a church that supports and encourages creative types to use their unique gifts? Are people at your church given opportunities to use their creative and unique gifts as part of worship and other events? Scripture teaches us, “For as in one body we have many members and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ,” (Romans 12:4). Therefore, if you are a leader in your church, do you look for, welcome, and encourage artists that exist within your membership?  Does your church provide opportunities for artists that work outside the traditional and expected art forms (i.e. music and liturgical arts) to use their God given gifts?  1 Peter 4:10-11 is very clear about how this should work.  “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace; whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

If you are a Christian artist are you taking time to encourage other creatives to use their gifts as a way to give glory to God?  Let’s go back to scripture to learn what Jesus has to say about this unique mission for His people. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14-16)  So friends, “encourage each another every day, while you still have something called ‘today’.  Help each other so that none of you will be fooled by sin and become too hard to change.” (Hebrews 3:13 ERV)

So this is why I am humbled and contemplative today. These are some of the questions and thoughts that my friend’s message brought to my mind.  We are all called…no commanded…to support, encourage, teach, and help others to shine their light for God’s glory.  This is our Holy calling.

Jesus Overwhelmed (Matthew 14:33-35)

 

I have been hearing the word “overwhelmed” in conversations with my Christian artist friends lately.  I have found over the years that the word overwhelmed is a word that people use to describe a feeling of a great mental and emotional weight accompanied by anxiety.  I understand how artist types, including myself, may be especially prone to these feelings.  It may be because we tend to have a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity to our surroundings. This sensitivity can sometimes lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious. Many of us also tend to be perfectionists which can also lead to anxiety.  This anxiety includes being in constant state of criticizing oneself because “good” never seems “good” enough.

So why, as Christian artists, should we be especially concerned about these feelings? There are two reasons.  One reason is that this feeling can lead us down a path of stifled creativity and a diminished drive to engage in our artist work.  And, as this work is a gift and a calling given to us by our Creator, it is very important that we do not allow negative feelings, thoughts and emotions to stifle it.  The second reason is that being overwhelmed and anxious in this life is NOT how God wants us to live.  Given this, I would like to start by exploring what the bible has to say about the feeling of being overwhelmed.

In scripture the apostle Mark tells of a time when Jesus, knowing the great trial, pain and suffering ahead of him said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.  Going a little farther he fell to the ground and prayed” (Mark 14:33-35).  Let’s break these verses down a bit.  First off, don’t you find it reassuring, to learn that even our Lord Jesus had such times of feeling overwhelmed and anxious?  We do not live in a bubble of isolation where no one understands our pain.  Jesus understands it! “My soul,” he says “is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of DEATH.”  His suffering is so strong that he describes it to his good friends as sorrow and death.

He goes on to asks his friends for help. “Stay here and keep watch,” he tells them.  When you’re feeling overwhelmed do you reach out to your friends, your “tribe” of fellow artists and Christians?  Maybe attend an artist’s retreat, join an art club, get together with friends to create art.  God’s perfect plan includes placing us in community with other believers and artists who can listen, care and maybe help.

What does Jesus do next?  He goes straight to prayer. “…he fell to the ground and prayed.” Jesus, who is our model in all things, shows us how to deal with feeling overwhelmed…turn to God in pray.  Jesus himself said “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). He is there if you just seek him and ask for His guidance and help.  God’s perfect plan for us is that we would live joyful, productive lives, in communion with him, engaged in our community and in activities that bring glory to Him.

Acknowledging that creating art can be both physically and mentally exhausting is also important. This exhaustion can help contribute to feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious.  Add to that the constant stress of deadlines, high cost of supplies, entering art shows only to have your piece rejected, time constraints…the list goes on and on.  Are you taking time to rest and recharge your creative battery?  I recharge by engaging in other types of art like singing in choir, seeing a good movie, going to a gallery, reading and writing.  I also spend time alone. My “quiet time” is extremely important to me.  How did Jesus recharge?  The Bible tells us, “Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'” (Mark 6:31)  I love this quote by Saint Francis de Sales who was a Roman Catholic bishop and doctor in the 16th century; “Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself.”  Be patience with yourself. Give yourself a break. Get some rest.

Another helpful attitude I have developed over the years is to think of my art as a process not a product.  Try creating art just for the sheer joy of it.  With no preconceived ideas. I think that creating art should be like going on an unplanned road trip, full of fun and adventure.  Try not to approach it with feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious.  Surrender the notion of constantly trying to control the outcome.  Rethink how and why you create.  A resource I would highly recommend is a book by Steven Aimone called “Expressive Drawing, A Practical Guide to Freeing the Artist Within.”  This book is a colorful fun “workshop” full of examples and inspiration that will help you rediscover the fun adventure that creating should be.

If you’re a creative type or any type who has been feeling overwhelmed and anxious remember:

  1. Pray every day, constantly.
  2. Spend time with your tribe.
  3. Don’ t be afraid to ask for help.
  4. Take time to rest and recharge.
  5. Rethink how you think about and approach each project.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

The Christian Artist and Christmas.

This Christmas season has been especially exhausting to me. To say I’m exhausted is an understatement. It’s more like a feeling of being completely depleted.  Wrung out.  Near collapse.  Last night at our church’s Christmas eve service, while singing in the choir, the great weight of this overwhelming exhaustion hit me hard.  This unusual feeling startled me so much that I prayed to God to help me get through the evening.  I understand and appreciate that this time of year finds many people in this same condition but for me this is a very out of the ordinary feeling. I’m not used to being exhausted.  My normal state is one of joy, excitement and creative energy.  I have very little patience for those who complain about being “exhausted” and “overwhelmed” as part of their normal conversation.

Therefore, so as not be “one of those people”, I’ve spent much of today thinking and praying about how and why I became like this. “Why God?” I’ve been asking, “Why am I feeling so overwhelmingly exhausted?”  Yes, I have the normal life events happening, job changes, family illness, a long list of “to dos” but there must be something more going on.  And while thinking and praying about my new condition a thought came to me…I’m on sensory and emotional overload.  Those family illnesses I mentioned have been more than just a cold or the flu. They are things that have required hospitalization and trips to the doctor.  The long list of  “to dos” seems never ending.  Adding this to the extra music, decorations, lights, colors, people, food, noise, and hustle bustle of the season can make daily life become overwhelming to even the non-artistic types.

Please let me explain further. As an artist, the added visual and sensory stimulus that comes with the holiday season, combined with the everyday life stressors, can send us completely over the “cliff of exhaustion”.  Artists by nature are sensitive and many times overly aware of the visual and auditory beauty that surrounds us during Advent.  While we love it, look forward to it and eagerly participate in it, the sheer volume of it can leave us feeling a little out of sorts, uncomfortable and consequently exhausted.  As you know, being creative, whether it’s painting, writing or composing, takes a lot of mental and sometimes physical energy.  If one combines this with the normal exhaustion that accompanies the Christmas season an artist can begin feeling so overwhelmed that we may even run the risk of temporarily losing our motivation and desire to create.

So how, as Christian artists, do we “heal” from the onslaught of emotional, physical and spiritual exhaustion we call the Christmas season? The answer is simple. We pray, stay in the word, and hold tight in our hearts to the good news that comes with this time of year. On a quiet night, in a quiet town, at a quiet spot our Savior was born.  Hold on to this good news. While we are a long way from our eternal home right now, this good news guarantees repentant believers that someday we will be there. Where we can finally enjoy peaceful eternal rest.

Today, the words to an ancient Christmas carol have been on my mind. The lyrics are a prayer of praise, thankfulness and great hope.  They are a reminder that right here, right now I can find a measure of the peaceful rest I need in the promise of Christmas and Emmanuel.

 O Come, O Come Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel.

That morns in lonely exile here.

Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring come and cheer.

Our spirits by Thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night.

And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel

Shall come to thee O Israel.

O come Desire of Nations.

Bind all Peoples in one heart and mind.

Bid Envy, strife and discord cease.

Fill the whole earth with Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel

Shall come to thee O Israel.

Long walk home

“A Long Walk Home. ”  Oil on canvas by Marianne Gonzales

 

 

Beginnings

Hi Friends,

I thought I would start my first blog post by introducing myself.  I spent all my “growing up” years (no “serious” artist ever really grows up) in rural towns in Northern California and Southern Oregon.  I was (and still am) a very active and rebellious youngster. Because of this I started painting when my Mom bought me my first paint set as a way to “calm her down” (her words).  Creating artwork has been a calming force in my life very since. I did my first oil on canvas painting in Junior High School and fell in love. (Just as I side note; can you imagine, in this day and age, a Junior High art teacher giving his/her students oil paints?  This teacher is still one of the super stars of my childhood memories.) While oil painting continues to be my favorite medium I have recently been experimenting with mixed media and acrylic.

A few years ago, God opened my heart and mind to the idea that I should begin using my artwork to minister, teach, worship and further His Kingdom here on earth. (1 Peter 4:10-11 and Ephesians 4:11-16).  God has blessed me accordingly with opportunities to show my artwork at galleries in California and Oregon and it is included in private collections.  My painting titled “I Will Pour out My Spirit on All My People, Acts 2:18” has been published in two Christian magazines.  I currently curate the Art of Faith art gallery and annual art show at Fremont Presbyterian Church. I love teaching and sharing my love of art with others.  It is a great blessing for me to see others be inspired and encouraged to create art.  

 I’ve titled my blog “Meanderings” because when I think about my time here in this place (we call it “life on earth”), that’s the visual image that comes to mind.  God’s word teaches us in James 4:13-15; “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your Life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “if it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 

So, like a stream, I meander through this life, with God as my channel, determining my course, listening for and trying to follow His will, trying hard to love people and to do things in a way that brings Him glory until I’m called Home.  For me there is no higher calling. 

Thank you for reading.

I will pour out my spirit on ALL my people
Acts 2:17