GLEANINGS (December 12, 2016):

  • LESSON FROM A RABBI – Keep Christ in Christmas!
  • TROUBLE IN THE FAMILY? – Peace at Christmas!
  • MERRY CHRISTMAS – With an eye on the future
  • RESCUED FROM CHINA – Young pianist to play at Carnegie Hall later this month ______________________________________________________________




Karl Vaters, pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship, Fountain Valley, California, shares…

When people come to your church this Christmas season, they want to hear the story of Jesus. Give them what they came for.

‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ is a familiar saying this time of the year. But you don’t expect to hear it from the local rabbi!

What do Jews think about Santa?
For several years I was involved in our town’s Police Chaplaincy. One year, at our December meeting, the Methodist pastor noticed that the napkins had a picture of Santa Claus on them. He slid one across the table to the rabbi from the local synagogue. ‘Hey Steve,’ he asked, ‘what do Jews think about Santa?

‘Nothing,’ the rabbi responded as he picked up the napkin. ‘Santa is a Christmas character.’

‘But he’s a secular figure,’ countered the Methodist. ‘Don’t you even let the kids get presents from Santa so they won’t feel left out?’

‘No,’ the rabbi responded. ‘We don’t worry about that. Actually, I think Christians ought to keep Christ in Christmas.

Until this point, my interest in the conversation had been minimal, but when a rabbi tells me to keep Christ in Christmas, he has my full attention. ‘Did I hear you right, Steve?’ I asked him.

Keep Christ in Christmas!
‘Absolutely,’ he said. ‘As Jews, we don’t secularise our holidays. It amazes me when Christians water down their message with things that have nothing to do with their faith. In fact, I’ve actually delivered a “keep Christ in Christmas” message to my congregation as a lesson about not diluting our faith with non-Jewish images and celebrations.’

As the conversation went on, my attitude shifted from curiosity to gratitude as my friend, the rabbi, taught me the following lessons about Christmas – and about being Christian:

  1. They’re coming to church for the Jesus story
  2. Believe what you believe, but don’t be a jerk about it
  3. Why blend in when we can be set apart?

Link for rest of article with full text – This article first appeared in Church & Culture December 06, 2016 issue of Christianity Today. Used by permission of the recommended Christianity Today, Carol Stream, IL 60188, Link:






Marlene Bagnull, Special to ASSIST News Service, reflects…

How fast 2016 has flown by! As I have reflected on it, I took the photographs off the piano so that I could decorate it for Christmas. But then I cringed as I noticed a charred mark on the paneling behind one of the photos. That black area reminded me of a Christmas when our home had been anything but peaceful.

My mother and stepfather were visiting. We had been trying to get along with them even though the relationship was strained. But on Christmas Eve tension erupted into a bitter argument. I was distracted from saying things I would have later regretted by the smell of burning wood.


A candle had tipped over on the mantle and was causing the paneling to smoulder right near the thermostat. Trembling with fear of what might have been, I soaked the wall with water and later hung a photo to hide the damage. The damage in the relationship with my parents was not so easily disguised. Painful memories have a way of refusing to stay camouflaged.

It’s not always calm and bright at Christmas!
At Christmas we are forced to face the fact that all is not always ‘calm’ and ‘bright’ in our relationships with a brother or a sister, a parent or a child, an in-law or cousin. This season of joy can turn into one of misery and animosity as we find ourselves having to spend time with people who go out of their way to avoid us the rest of the year.




Not all families get on so well as this one

When our homes are filled with conflict, what can we do to have ‘peace on earth, good will to men’?

1) Keep our eyes on the One whose birth we celebrate
The Gospel of John opens with the poignant words: ‘His life is the light that shines through the darkness – and the darkness can never extinguish it’ (John l:5 TLB). The reality of that ‘first Christmas’ was not just the angels’ song, but Herod’s decree that every baby boy two years old and under be slaughtered (see Matthew 2:16). The shadow of the cross was already hanging over the Holy Family as they were forced to flee to Egypt.

Jesus never promised us problem-free relationships, but he has promised to give us the wisdom to know how to love those who may be anything but lovable. Uneasy relationships do not have to spoil the joy of Christmas if we follow Jesus’ example and respond with love and forgiveness.

2) Try not to put unrealistic demands on ourselves
Despite my having 364 days to prepare for it, Christmas Eve generally finds me still racing to complete my ‘to-do’ list. I overextend myself and end up too tired to enjoy Christmas much less to cope with difficult family members. We need to learn when to make a good night’s sleep a priority so that we’re able to handle added emotional pressures.

3) Avoid having unrealistic expectations of others
It is unlikely that people who have been less than pleasant throughout the year will suddenly become nice just because it is Christmas. Yes, I believe that God is able to work miracles, but it is just as great a miracle for us to learn not to set ourselves up to be hurt and angered through our unrealistic expectations of others. If I want peace in my family, it must begin with me.



The real centre of Christmas


There is no way I can remove that charred area of paneling without replacing the entire wall, but it can serve as a positive reminder to keep working at relationships before they are damaged seemingly beyond repair. Each visit with my relatives is a chance to lighten the tensions that exist between us. Truly, ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself’ (2 Cor. 5:19, NIV). Because Christ came, we can be reconciled to one another.

Marlene Bagnull is the author of five books including Write His Answer – A Bible Study for Christian Writers. Links /


Ed Delph



Ed Delph shares another thought-provoker…

As we go into this Christmas season, let’s take a look at the way Jesus looked at people. It was unexpected and ‘over the top.’

Starting over
Talk about a Christmas present! Jesus gave people the gift of starting all over again. Jesus didn’t look at people by their history, he looked at people by their destiny. In a real sense, Jesus recognised people by their calling, not the mistakes or missteps made on the way to their calling. Jesus usually turned their mistakes made into a ministry about their mistakes made for others. That’s called redemption.

Author Mike Murdock points out this concept in the life of Jesus. ‘Jesus was born with a terrible stigma. his mother, Mary, was pregnant with him before she ever married Joseph, her betrothed. The Bible says that they had not had a sexual relationship, but, ‘that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 1:20). Jesus never looked back. He never discussed the situation with anyone. There is not a single scripture in the entire Bible where he ever brought up his background or his limitations.’

Ignoring people’s thoughts
Jesus never took his past into his future. Jesus didn’t allow people’s thoughts about his history to short circuit his destiny. We all could learn a lesson from that. God’s not mad at you – he’s mad about you. That’s unexpected and liberating. That allows us to go forward into our future. Though no one can go back and make a brand new beginning, everyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.

It’s no accident Jesus came to earth! God re-birthed a brand new destiny for an old religion with a rough history. Jesus was the Alpha of a New Testament and destiny for his people. He was also the Omega to the Old Testament and the law way of ‘you didn’t perform well so you are disqualified’ from doing things. He dealt with the sin issue of people’s past so they didn’t have to bring that into their future destiny.

No one ‘too bad’ or ‘too good’
There was no one too ‘bad’ for Jesus. Take the women at the well with her history of broken relationships, a horrible reputation and the shame that goes along with that and let Jesus meet her. What concerned Jesus about her was her destiny, not her history.

Jesus wouldn’t let her hide behind her past. He opened the door of her mind to unlimited future possibilities as a new team member of Jesus’ movement. She ended up running her race looking forward and upward rather than limping along looking backward and downward.

There was also no one too good for Jesus. Sometimes people take their piousness into their future. The rich young ruler kept all the commandments of the Old Testament. Jesus didn’t recognise the ‘goodness’ of his history either. He responded to him by noting the rich, young ruler’s God-given destiny was to sell all he had and entrepreneur a ministry to the poor. The ruler wouldn’t give up his good history which impeded his destiny.

When Jesus wanted to change the identity of two of his greatest leaders from their history to their destiny, He changed their names. Simon Bar Jonah was his past history. Peter was his future destiny. Saul was his past history. Paul was his future destiny.

Run forward into your future!
Have you ever seen a runner who ran a race backwards and won? Many people are fixated on past events, past failures, past disappointments or even great accomplishments they have done.

Here’s my advice. Close those chapters in your life that should have been closed a long time ago. Close those disabling chapters by forgiving yourself or others if necessary. Some people need to forgive God for their past or present circumstances. Playing victim is no fun and very costly in terms of your God-given destiny.  Get in the race and, for goodness sake, gaze forward.


And, just like Jesus, never mention or be limited by your past again. Merry Christmas!

Dr Ed Delph is president of Nationstrategy, an organisation with the strategy of envisioning and empowering today’s leaders in the church to be some of tomorrow’s leaders in the community. Links:  /




Dan Wooding, ASSIST Director, shares a joyous story…

In a remarkable video, a 13-year-old girl’s fingers fly over the piano keys. Full of joy she’s playing Chopin’s Étude Op. 10, No. 5 – a piece that requires smooth, velvet-tipped fingers, a supple wrist, speed and lightness. Click here to listen:

thebuzz-12-12gIt seems from the expressive playing she’s lived a life along the same cheerful theme.

But the girl is Anni Zhang, daughter of imprisoned Chinese dissident Zhang Lin. Faced with a future of no education and life in a Chinese state-run orphanage, Anni endured inhumane treatment by the Chinese government before fleeing to America, leaving behind language and family alike.

Struggling against the odds
But today, Reggie Littlejohn, President of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers (, and her husband Robert, are raising Anni as their own daughter. She stated, ‘We are so proud of Anni. She is flourishing, both as a pianist and as a top student. Her father was trained as a nuclear physicist, and Anni has inherited his strength in math and science. Her story is an example for all those who struggle against the odds! Through our help and her own hard work, Anni is a witness to the hope of a new beginning and to the beauty, brilliance and infinite value of Chinese girls.’

In February, Anni’s video was chosen as winner of an international competition for a chance to perform in New York’s Carnegie Hall later this month. Incredibly, Anni achieved such recognition despite the fact that she had only been playing piano for two years when she competed.

‘I never thought I would make it to Carnegie Hall, but with help from my American parents (the Littlejohns), my teacher (Matt Wang), and God, I made it,’ she said.

And ‘made it’ she has, in more ways than one, for according to Chinese law, Anni should not only have stayed in China, but she never should have lived at all.

China’s youngest prisoner of conscience
A story posted on Women’s Rights Without Frontiers website days that Anni was born the second daughter in her family in violation of the One Child (now Two Child) Policy, meaning Anni’s family had to endure persecution to keep their daughter. Family Planning Police came daily to pressure Anni’s mother to abort her. Anni’s father was able to get permission for Anni’s birth only after a long and difficult struggle.

‘Although Anni’s parents never thought of aborting her, countless others in her generation have succumbed to forced abortion in China under such circumstances. Anni could easily have been one of the 400 million lives “prevented” by China’s One (now Two) Child Policy of coercive population control. Or she could have been selectively aborted because she is a girl, as happens to so many second daughters in China,’ the story stated.

Anni was dubbed ‘China’s youngest prisoner of conscience’ when, in retaliation for her father’s work protesting the Communist Party, she was kidnapped out of school and detained overnight, enduring hours without food, water or a toilet. She was ten years old at the time.

“She and her father Zhang Lin were later kept under house arrest without leave for Anni to go to school. Her father was only recently released from in Anhui Province for defending Anni’s rights.”



Anni with her father, Zhang Lin, before he was detained in China for advocating for her right to go to school

In 2013, Zhang Lin asked Reggie Littlejohn to help him get Anni out of China because she could not lead a normal life there.

The Littlejohns felt God was calling them to open their home and welcome Anni into their family, becoming her American parents. Anni and her older sister Ruli arrived in America in 2013 with help from many sources including US Rep. Chris Smith, Jing Zhang, president of Women’s Rights in China, and brave activists in China, several of whom suffered lengthy detentions and even torture.

Sacrifices not in vain
But such sacrifices have not been in vain. Today, Anni has thrown herself into the study of English, of which she had no previous knowledge, and is a straight-A student.

Anni says she owes thanks to God for winning the international competition. ‘God did a total miracle, because I never could have made it without his help,’ she said. ‘Winning the competition to play in Carnegie Hall was 1% me and 99% God.’

Reggie Littlejohn stated, ‘Anni’s performance at Carnegie Hall will be one of the highlights of her life, and of mine. I never dreamed I would have a Chinese daughter – much less one as talented as Anni. But it will be a bitter-sweet occasion, because her father will not be there to share it.’

Zhang Lin was released from prison on September 9, 2016 and has applied several times to the Chinese government for a passport. Each time, his application has been denied, even though he told the authorities that he urgently needs a passport to come to the United States to see his daughter perform at Carnegie Hall.

The fact that the Chinese government refuses to give Zhang Lin a passport under these circumstances underscores their inhumanity. It is pointless and cruel that they are depriving Zhang Lin and Anni of the joy of his attendance at her Carnegie Hall performance.

Anni said, ‘I miss my father and wish he could be with me at Carnegie Hall.’




Reggie Littlejohn


Reggie’s first address at the European Parliament redefined the debate about China’s One Child Policy, revealing it to be systematic, state-sponsored violence against women. This address was included as a chapter in the book, Human Rights in China After the Olympic Games, (Human Rights Without Frontiers, 2009), available on


Disclaimer: Articles, as well as the sources linked to, do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ConnectingwithYou! Our thanks mainly to Dan Wooding, ASSIST ( and other news sources for timely gleanings



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