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Happy Easter. May each of our journeys lead to a point at which we realize we have a Father who loves us so much He sacrificed His own son so we might never be separated from Him again. For God is love, and I can think of nothing more tragic than spending this life or the next without Love Himself. There is nothing in this increasingly depraved world that could be more worthy of celebration than knowing, through the supreme sacrifice on a hill long ago, Love has us and will never let us go.

He is risen. For us it may seem incomprehensible or even impossible. But our minds are finite. His is infinite. For God, nothing is impossible. He brings new life– literally. He spoke the world into being and He did not allow His son to remain in a stone tomb after being cruelly murdered. He was raised to life on the third day and not only exists but said He would return to this earth to set things right.

He isn’t out to get you. He wants to walk beside you and call you child and friend. He has provided you a hope and a future. When you say, “I believe,” you are covered by the blood and given a new identity and purpose. The way might not be easy, but you are guaranteed victory in the end. Which, by the way, is the beginning of an endless story that will be more wonderful than you can ever imagine.

May He be more real to you than ever before this Easter Sunday. He is risen indeed.

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It made me think that for all the joy and fanfare of the Easter celebrations, for all the mystery of faith in God, for all the billions of words used over centuries to explain it all, Christianity itself has a 6 word autobiography: Jesus is risen from the dead. There are thousands of words in the Bible and none of them make any sense without these 6 words. –Vicar Simon Cutmore

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©2016 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

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Click picture to go to NORAD's site

Click picture to go to NORAD’s site

Originally published December 2013

S-s-s-s-SANTA!!! 

If that’s you as Christmas approaches, know that you are not alone in your unbridled exuberance. The North American Aerospace Defense Command, NORAD, starts tracking Santa TONIGHT!

(AAAAHHH!!!) (more…)

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Service 3Serving others. Community service. Volunteering. Donating our time. Giving back. Paying it forward. There are many ways to describe the act of giving of ourselves and our time for others’ benefit. Why do we do it? And what do we hope to get out of it?

This is a topic that’s weighed heavily on my mind lately. Volunteering is in vogue right now. Whether or not you have a full-time job that is primarily about serving others, it’s fashionable and in some cultures or churches even expected that you serve others even more than that, to the point that people neglect their own families and relationships to fulfill these expectations.

Central to my Christian faith is the idea of serving others. Jesus did it; so should we. It is in attending to the needs of other human beings and creatures that we model what Christ did for us. He didn’t stay in His little corner and hope everyone got their problems figured out on their own. He jumped in with both feet and asked, “how can I help you?” We are His hands and feet on this earth and are to continue in this way.

But, as is the tendency of us fragile and inherently self-absorbed human beings, we often expect certain rewards and recognition to come along with these supposedly selfless acts. In recent years I’ve become increasingly concerned about the number of awards ceremonies, dinners, Facebook pages with pictures of volunteers, and other means of recognizing those who give. Should volunteers be recognized? Absolutely! But sometimes the pomp that accompanies these celebrations threatens to exceed the glory that accompanied the original act. Are we going overboard?

Of particular concern to me is the growing practice of volunteers taking selfies and other photos of the great work they’re doing. Do I appreciate what they’ve accomplished? Very much. Do I want to see selfies of the same people over and over with those jaws-dropped, wide-open-mouth-see-my-tonsils smiles people only do when a camera’s around? No. It would be more humble to allow others to recognize us and not self-promote every time we do a good deed.

The Jewish carpenter from Nazareth talked about self-promotion in Luke 14:

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Am I saying to never take a selfie when you’re donating your time or to keep cameras away? I’m not saying that. I’m asking others to consider how excessive amounts of that appear in the wrong forums. On your personal social media site or LinkedIn, where you’re trying to land a much-needed job, who cares. When you’re representing a nonprofit or other organization, consider how many, many photos of the same people, especially those who like to photograph themselves, might come across. Is that a group you really want to work with? Is it a clique or is it open to all?

Another issue I’ve been pondering about volunteering and giving of yourself is how people who don’t publicize their efforts can be treated as if they’re not doing enough. Some of the most magnificently giving people I know are those who will never, ever receive a public reward and most people outside of their orbit won’t ever know the amazing commitments they had. This is why a lot of the Hollywood-style awards shows just crack me up– is it really giving if the point is to laud the deeds of the “mighty” with all the glitz and glamour?

Service 1

I see teachers, cops, nurses, firefighters, and others routinely recognized for their service to the community. That’s awesome. We need them, we appreciate them. I also know some very old people who’ve taken care of generation after generation of their families without much of a thought for themselves. How is their service any less? They will never have a certificate to frame for a lifetime of unfailing love but persist in putting family first and taking care of their own until the end. Likewise, Batman doesn’t attend an annual superhero awards ceremony. Most residents of Gotham will never know just how much he’s given to keep their world safe.

I know people whose jobs that seem more about profit than service, but they use those profits to make life better for others. There are also those whose jobs are just that, jobs, a means to pay the bills, and their personal lives are very focused on service, but those who think job titles are everything look down upon them. No matter what our paying job is, there are very valuable ways to serve through that and outside of that. Titles and degrees and professional qualifications don’t make us better givers; it’s about what we do with the time and resources we’ve been given.

In Christian circles, I’ve often heard how the “people who are really serving God” are those who are missionaries and ministers. Yes, those are challenging jobs that require a lot of sacrifice and many of them will have high stations in eternity. But God did not design all of us to be missionaries and ministers. We can serve God in a multitude of ways, and none of them should be considered less important than the others. We are different parts of the same body. I’ve seen some very selfish and even wicked people occupy these “higher”– meaning more visible– positions in the church and yet still be lauded as saints simply because of the position they hold.

Recently, when I suggested that someone become involve in an organization I enjoy, they scoffed as if the very notion was ridiculous. This was a good reminder to me that we might think someone else isn’t serving unless they’re serving the causes we support and on topics we like. Some are passionate about education, others history, others medicine, others clean water, others holding drug-addicted babies at the hospital, knitting hats for cancer patients, veterans, animals, music, native plants, wildlife, whales, or wombats. If you are a lawyer who volunteers your time to those who can’t afford legal services, are you better than the high school graduate who is passionate about preserving history? No. You’re not. We are have unique gifts and therefore we serve in unique ways. We all have a purpose. We all have a place.

Finally, I sometimes wonder if the people who get the biggest and most public awards for their countless hours of high profile volunteering have healthy home lives. I wonder if their children wish their parents were around more or if their spouse feels abandoned. I can’t judge, I know. I just puzzle over this, because while I’m a firm believer in supporting various causes, I feel that family should come first. And there are activities you can do as a family to help others.

In a similar vein, married people should not disparage singles for filling up their time with service rather than cruising bars to find a mate. One of the best ways to find a lasting relationship is to meet like-minded people through acts of service. If you care about the same things, you will do more together. The reverse is also true. Service-minded singles shouldn’t thumb their noses at those who serve God through caring for their family members.

Really, the bottom line in this train of thought is this question: are we serving for the right reasons? Are we doing it because:

1) It’s trendy

2) It’s expected

3) Everybody else is doing it

4) Other parents/friends/churchgoers/coworkers will look down on us if we don’t do it

5) We’ll get our picture in the paper/be able to make a t-shirt/*selfie!*

6) We have something to prove

7) We crave the attention that comes from it

Or are we doing it because:

1) We truly believe in the cause

2) We want to see others succeed

3) We want to live an authentic version of our faith

4) We are passionate about the topic

5) We want to advance the kingdom

6) We act out of love and genuine concern

7) We want to give back/pay it forward

Some would say, “Who cares what their motivation is! I’m just glad they’re volunteering.” They have a point. But to truly achieve joy through service I argue that the second set of motivations is infinitely more powerful and effective than the first.

God is keeping score. He knows our deeds. None of them are hidden from Him. So while sometimes we have to sell ourselves and what we’ve been involved in to land jobs or higher positions in organizations we volunteer for, we don’t have to be constantly crowing about what we do for others. There are also ways to promote the organization and mission without looking self-absorbed.

In the end, I guarantee we’ll find that some of the people who have given the most are the ones we never knew were giving at all. They were playing to an audience of One.

Service 2

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©2015 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

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Rajai Shahr Prison, Iran

Rajai Shahr Prison, Iran

Many of you are familiar with the story of Saeed Abedini, an American pastor imprisoned in Iran. The ACLJ has just published a Christmas letter he wrote, and I am riveted by this man’s faith and hope in the midst of the extreme physical hell and torture he’s enduring. As the letter says, this is his third Christmas in prison; America hasn’t yet brought him home.

If a man who is being slowly murdered for leaving Islam can rejoice in the true meaning of Christmas this much, how much more the rest of us?

#SaveSaeed – you can help!

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Rajai Shahr Prison 2014

Merry Christmas!

These days are very cold here. My small space beside the window is without glass making most nights unbearable to sleep. The treatment by fellow prisoners is also quite cold and at times hostile. Some of my fellow prisoners don’t like me because I am a convert and a pastor. They look at me with shame as someone who has betrayed his former religion. The guards can’t even stand the paper cross that I have made and hung next to me as a sign of my faith and in anticipation of celebrating my Savior’s birth. They have threatened me and forced me to remove it. This is the first Christmas that I am completely without my family; all of my family is presently outside of the country. These conditions have made this upcoming Christmas season very hard, cold and shattering for me. It appears that I am alone with no one left beside me.

These cold and brittle conditions have made me wonder why God chose the hardest time of the year to become flesh and why He came to the earth in the weakest human condition (as a baby). Why did God choose the hardest place to be born in the cold weather? Why did God choose to be born in a manger in a stable, which is very cold, filthy and unsanitary with an unpleasant smell? Why did the birth have to be in such a way that it was not only hard physically, but also socially? It must have brought such shame for Mary and her fiancé that she was pregnant before marriage in the religious society of that time.

Dear sisters and brothers, the fact of the Gospel is that it is not only the story of Jesus, but it is the key of how we are to live and serve like Jesus. Today we like Him should come out of our safe comfort zone in order to proclaim the Word of Life and Salvation though faith in Jesus Christ and the penalty of sin that He paid on the cross and to proclaim His resurrection. We should be able to tolerate the cold, the difficulties and the shame in order to serve God. We should be able to enter into the pain of the cold dark world. Then we are able to give the fiery love of Christ to the cold wintry manger of those who are spiritually dead. It might be necessary to come out of the comfort of our lives and leave the loving embrace of our family to enter the manger of the lives of others, such as it has been for me for the third consecutive Christmas. It may be that we will be called fools and traitors and face many difficulties, but we should crucify our will and wishes even more until the world hears and tastes the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas means that God came so that He would enter your hearts today and transform your lives and to replace your pain with indescribable joy.

Christmas is the manifestation of the radiant brightness of the Glory of God in the birth of a child named Emmanuel, which means God is with us.

Christmas is the day that the heat of the life-giving fire of God’s love shone in the dark cold wintry frozen hearts and burst forth in this deadly wicked world.

The same way that the heat from the earth’s core melts the hard stones in itself and produces lava, the fiery love of God, Jesus Christ, through the virgin Mary’s womb came to earth on Christmas to melt the hard heart of sin and wickedness of the world and removes them from our life. In the same process, the work of the Holy Spirit is a fiery rain of God’s Holiness and Mercy that flows into our body, soul and spirit and brings the light of Christ into us and through us making this dark, cold, wintry world into radiant burning brightness. He is turning our world into a world full of peace, joy, and love that is so different than the dark, cold, and wintry world that we used to live in. Hallelujah!

So this Christmas let the lava-like love of Christ enter into the depth of your heart and make you fiery, ready to pay any cost in order to bring the same lava love to the cold world around you, transforming them with the true message of Christmas.

Pastor Saeed Abedini

Soaking in the lava love of Christ

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Please visit the ACLJ’s page discussing this letter.

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A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes…and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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©2014 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

 

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If you haven’t heard it already (it’s gotten nearly 15 million hits on YouTube), may I present the astounding a capella Mary, Did You Know? as performed by the Pentatonix.

Check out the Pentatonix YouTube channel for more Christmas magic. Their only instruments are their voices. Even if you think you don’t know who they are, you might remember when they did a cover of Imagine Dragons’ Radioactive with violinist Lindsey Stirling.

The secret ingredient that makes their group so exceptional is bass Avi Kaplan. Who knew that such range and depth– such a luxuriant, mature tone that sounds more heavenly than earthbound– could emanate from one so young. See his and Peter Hollens’ Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair for more of Avi.

(Thank you to my people who introduced me to the first song.)

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©2014 H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com. All articles/posts on this blog are copyrighted original material that may not be reproduced in part or whole in any electronic or printed medium without prior permission from H. Hiatt/wildninjablog.com.

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From http://www.youtube.com/user/HyperPixelsMedia

Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. –C.S. Lewis

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