Tuesday, December 22, 2015



I'll never forget pastor
Ryan Alonso's inspiring
Christmas message last
seasonencouraging us
to place ourselves into
Jesus' story. Little did I
know that Jesus was
gonna show up in mine.

It was the Sunday before Christmas 2014. As I recall, the brutal Florida winter temperatures that morning had dipped well below 78°. Yikes — I'm outta freaking antifreeze! I was the "new guy" attending the just-launched beachside campus of Central Life Church for maybe only the third time. I didn't know a soul. Nobody knew me. I was simply some unknown "Shmo" wearing festive nail polish and clutching a super-fab Hannah Montana lunchbox. Fearful of bogarting an acknowledged "Norm" seat of a church hierarchy member, I located a sure fire safe perch in the front row 'cuz you know how us church folk tend to gravitate toward the back of the Lord's house. 10am  showtime!

So there I was, sitting by myself, occupying my expansive piece of prime personal front row real estate taking in Pastor Ryan's heartwarming message of how the Christmas narrative becomes fresh and new when we place ourselves into Jesus' story. Solid stuff, to be sure. Then, just as Ryan was concluding the service, my phone pinged. You have a new text message. I glanced down at my phone and immediately recognized the number. Uh-oh, I better check this one sorry, Ryan. The text was from a one-time, long-time personal "colleague" who had decided recently that they no longer wanted me in their life. To paraphrase, the message indicated that I was a filthy hypocrite, a phony and a worthless, disgusting, despicable human being — and that once I had settled a certain financial issue with them the next day, they never wanted to see me, or even hear my name — ever again.

At that moment, my soul became so crushed by the anger, judgement and condemnation that this person was speaking into me (at Christmastime), I nearly vomited — right there in the front row right there in front of Pastor Ryan. For nearly an hour, I had been bathing in glorious light, but in a flash, I was drowning in a dismal sea of darkness. Then, Jesus showed up.

"Excuse me, sir," a soft, sweet voice spoke as I felt the gentle tug on my shirt sleeve. I looked to my left and there she was  now seated next to me — seemingly from out of nowhere — an angelic 10-year-old little girl named Natalie with huge, innocent brown eyes and fantastic, Slash-like curly brown hair. "God told me to make this Christmas card for you," she revealed, handing me a slightly frumpled piece of sketchbook paper on which she'd created an impeccable work of art  with the inscription, Merry Christmas! Joy to the World!

Wow. Unbeknownst to me, the entire time I had been sitting in the front row, distracted by, and reacting to the voice of the world, this precious child was sitting in the second row, hearing from, and responding to the voice of God. Simply put, I was speechless. A beautiful, honest and pure portrait representing God's peace, love, truth and light, I display Natalie's card prominently on my office wall year 'round. And it remains one of my all-time most cherished Christmas gifts. BTW, a year later, Natalie and I are no longer strangers. In fact, she's now become my 7th favorite person — EVER!

It never ceases to amaze me, when and where Jesus will choose to show up, or how he'll choose to speak to us once he arrives on the scene. He chose to show up on that December morning and speak to little Natalie. Then, through her, He spoke to me — all at Christmastime. Hmm.

Jesus Christ IS the reason for the season. Jesus is truth, light, peace, love, joy, kindness, patience, compassion and forgiveness. That's what the season is really ALL about. To perceive any of it any differently would be "buying" from the wrong "dealer."

In sum, as a wonderful little angel once told me, not too long ago, Merry Christmas! Joy to the World!

-Christopher Long 
(December 2015)

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