A Tough Nut to Crack


“The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

 

It’s so simple. Buying gifts shows people how much much we love and appreciate them, right? Buying just the right gift, on the other hand, is personal, loving, and shows that not only are we generous but intuitive and thoughtful. We spend a lot of time on this particular aspect of the Christmas season. So what if it’s a lot of work?

Only, maybe we weren’t very generous when we schlepped out to the store again for another bottle of sparkling cider and the gluten-free stuffing mix, were we? Maybe we were even less than thoughtful when we shouldered our way through that family who was taking a little more time than we thought necessary and cut in front of the single mom trying to wrangle her kids as well as her meager cart. We weren’t being particularly generous when we dug out the dregs from the back of our cupboard for the canned food drive were we? Yes, I’ve been there too, Scrooging away the entire Christmas season, missing out on the meaning, the memories, and the Message.

We just get so wrapped up in the festivities and the supposed “have to’s”. We want to practice the carols for the choir sing along and the Christmas pageant has to be just right, but we forget to hear the music. We miss the fact that the Christ child came to be more than the centerpiece of our Precious Moments Nativity scene. We forget He came to seek and save that which was lost. (Luke 19:10)

Today I wrote a letter to someone I had offended, and refused to make up with, months and months ago. That’s never pleasant, is it, to admit that maybe you’ve been the Scrooge instead of the Bob Cratchit. Ahem. Now, I don’t know how it will be received; and really, I’m sure there are more of these letters I should be writing, baby steps, right? Of course, it would be alot easier to avoid having to write these difficult letters at all if I could just admit right away when I’m hurt and offended, or hurtful and offensive, and get the relationship dealt with right away. But alas, I seem to be rebellious to the last. Naturally, it all comes down to a problem I have with pride and disobedience. Sigh, at almost 40 years old, no less, that’s the real issue here. How ironic that we should be so stubborn about taking a back seat during the time of year when we are supposedly celebrating the One who had every reason to expect special treatment and permanent cuts in line…..and who served, and toiled, and bled, and died……instead. There are definitely times when what I’m actually celebrating is Jessiemas, instead of Christmas. (What a lame name for a holiday, right?)

Maybe the gift we should focus on most this season is one that is free, yet the most difficult, to give: Christ-likeness.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” ~ John 1:1-14 (King James Version)

Seasoning the Seasons


“Prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish, and someday, you will be a real boy.” ~ The Blue Fairy ( IMDB, Disney’s Pinocchio, 1940)

 

It’s a strange thing, an awkward, how-can-it-be thing, when the holidays which are supposed to inspire feelings of benevolence, charity, patience, and generosity inside of us (no matter how we choose to observe them) are often rather commercial spectacles of excess, envy, self-indulgence, and competition. It is a wonderful thing to enjoy the blessings and fruits of hard work and God’s favor, don’t get me wrong; but when the decorations, food, and traditions become overly important, it’s difficult to actually enjoy these holidays. Worst of all, the people we are supposed to be teaching and sharing the deeper meaning of the seasons with get in the way of our dreams of “perfect”, things can get a little bit ugly, and by things I mean me. (Do you do this too?) Ugh. Embarrassing.

Of course it is so so easy to get wrapped up in the wrong things at this time of year (little pre-Christmas pun there). There are holiday specials to watch, and blogs to read (ahem), and recipes to try, and gifts to buy, and crafts to make, and bows to tie, and cinnamon-scented this and that, and Grandma Bobo’s Christmas tree skirt, and carols to sing, and bells to ring (hey I will rhyme most anything), and plays to watch, and Grandpa’s Scotch, and crab dip made from imitation, and Clark W’s Christmas Vacation………….So, it may be a good idea to stop, rewind, and remember why we have these often maddening special times. Maybe should recall the seasonings (or as it is also called, fruit) which make the Holidays truly bright…

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” ~ Galatians 5:22-26

“That” Woman


“In this day and age, some turn 18 and think they’re a man or a woman and that’s it, but that’s just not true. You have to establish your manhood or your womanhood with actions.” ~ Orlando McGuire (American actor, producer, and stunt artist)

 

Wonder Woman is my absolute favorite superhero, always has been. However, in spite of her stars and stripes falling in all the right places and, among other things, the ability to detect lies like a confessor from Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series; she is only a cartoony, man-made archetype of a woman. The woman I want to discuss in this post is far more intimidating. I’m speaking, of course, about the Proverbs 31 Woman.

“A capable, intelligent, and virtuous woman–who is he who can find her? She is far more precious than jewels and her value is far above rubies or pearls. [Prov. 12:4; 18:22; 19:14.] The heart of her husband trusts in her confidently and relies on and believes in her securely, so that he has no lack of [honest] gain or need of [dishonest] spoil. She comforts, encourages, and does him only good as long as there is life within her…” Proverbs 31:10-12 Amplified
It goes on from there….Ugh! Talk about a tall order! If you take this passage literally, like a laundry list of do’s and don’ts, it can seem seriously, well, impossible. I, myself, do NOT meet the criteria to even join the same neighborhood watch as this woman. I can’t sew and know next to nothing about real estate. I’m not always encouraging, I do more than just eat the bread of idleness. I sometimes even bake it. I have often felt that it was unfair of God to include this part of the Bible at all. Who can actually do these things? This woman isn’t human!
As in every other aspect of our lives, when we feel inadequate, pathetic, weak, and sad, God is not only Jehovah Jirah (My Provider), He is also El Roi (The God Who Sees Me). He knows you, and he provides, in Jesus Christ. This is not about condemning women who do not meet the impossible, fluctuating, and contradictory standards of beauty set out by the schizophrenic women’s magazines in “news stands” all over the place. This is not about pointing fingers at those of us who live a less than DIY, handcrafted, homemade, homeschooling, organic lifestyle. This is not about being the everything for everyone in your life. This is about Jesus, who, when he lives inside your heart of hearts, can lift you up to a place in your mind and day to day life where HE is the all-sufficient, never-running-dry well that we as women can draw from to help meet the need we have so that we can, in turn be the women the world desperately needs us to be.
“But I say, walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh (of human nature without God). For the desires of the flesh are opposed to the [Holy] Spirit, and the [desires of the] Spirit are opposed to the flesh (godless human nature); for these are antagonistic to each other [continually withstanding and in conflict with each other], so that you are not free but are prevented from doing what you desire to do. But if you are guided (led) by the [Holy] Spirit, you are not subject to the Law. Now the doings (practices) of the flesh are clear (obvious): they are immorality, impurity, indecency, Idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger (ill temper), selfishness, divisions (dissensions), party spirit (factions, sects with peculiar opinions, heresies), Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the [Holy] Spirit [the work which His presence within accomplishes] is love, joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness, Gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence). Against such things there is no law [that can bring a charge]. And those who belong to Christ Jesus (the Messiah) have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires. If we live by the [Holy] Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. [If by the Holy Spirit we have our life in God, let us go forward walking in line, our conduct controlled by the Spirit.] Let us not become vainglorious and self-conceited, competitive and challenging and provoking and irritating to one another, envying and being jealous of one another.” ~ John 1:16-26

 

You Are Here (Part 2): Kneeling at the Manger, at Easter Time


“Once in royal David’s city / Stood a lowly cattle shed, / Where a Mother laid her Baby / In a manger for His bed: / Mary was that Mother mild, / Jesus Christ her little Child.” ~ Cecil Frances Alexander

 

I know, I know. It’s not Christmas time any more. However, we mustn’t see our celebrations as valid at only one time of the year and separate our sacred into the little boxes on the calendar. What we celebrate is part of who we are every day of the week. The thing which occupies our thoughts the majority of the time is the thing we truly celebrate. The birth of Christ is worthy of contemplation at any time, as is the Cross, the empty tomb, and the promise of Christ’s return. It seems so easy for us to forget that the day to day trials, struggles, frustrations, and heartaches that we all face have their direct answer in the birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and eventual return of Christ. Jesus’ death may not have paid for your overdue parking ticket, but his blood can cleanse your heart and fit you for Heaven, and even fit you for a better mental and emotional life here on earth.

Therefore, even though it is well past December, here we are again…..the same old problems, the same old stories, played over and over again in our homes, churches, and places of work. The news is full of yet another, familiar, senseless, tragic, hopeless ending of someone else’s sad tale. The tinny Christmas music that flooded the malls and grocery stores at the end of last year may have seemed often hollow. Decorations that were the be all, end all have mostly been torn down, thrown away, and forgotten. Christmas celebrations are a distant memory, as is the hope and goodwill they inspired. We may continue to wonder what there is to sing about in this dark world. We may wonder how we can trust our fellow man when he is capable (and culpable) of such great evil. How can there be any goodwill or peace on earth? How can we pull our eyes off of our own wants and needs and problems, and think of others when we’re barely hanging on ourselves? We fear for our jobs, our children, our futures, and in many cases our very lives. Celebration is a luxury we can ill afford these days….

And yet, there was once that one baby, Heaven’s crowning jewel, in the dirt and squalor of a stable in Bethlehem, and it meant something for all of us.

 “Even as [in His love] He chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (consecrated and set apart for Him) and blameless in His sight,even above reproach, before Him in love. For He foreordained us (destined us, planned in love for us) to be adopted (revealed) as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will [because it pleased Him and was His kind intent]– [So that we might be] to the praise and the commendation of His glorious grace (favor and mercy), which He so freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption (deliverance and salvation) through His blood, the remission (forgiveness) of our offenses (shortcomings and trespasses), in accordance with the riches and the generosity of His gracious favor, Which He lavished upon us in every kind of wisdom and understanding (practical insight and prudence), Making known to us the mystery (secret) of His will (of His plan, of His purpose). [And it is this:] In accordance with His good pleasure (His merciful intention) which He had previously purposed and set forth in Him, [He planned] for the maturity of the times and the climax of the ages to unify all things and head them up and consummate them in Christ, [both] things in heaven and things on the earth.” ~ Ephesians 1:4-10 Amplified
It is bogus to imagine that preparing our hearts for Easter means merely thinking briefly and distractedly on a beautifully stained wooden cross up on the platform at church, draped artfully with some kind of cloth, maybe with lilies at its base. If the habit of our minds is to passively absorb the images and opinions of the day from Facebook and other media then the ability of us to consider anything seriously or thoughtfully will be pretty flabby. Life and it’s management requires careful planning and thought. No amount of memes or HTML will train your brain appropriately for the tasks necessary for a successful life, much less qualify you to thoughtfully and soberly consider the deeper things of life and spirituality. That would be as effective as flossing madly one day before your dentist appointment when you often forgot to even brush your teeth.
Most thankfully, the death of Christ on a cross is exactly what the doctor ordered. For we all do, indeed, fall short in some way. Personally, I frequently fall short when it comes to my patience and temper, not to mention my “homemaking” abilities. The fact that these things are constantly causing my grief has not been enough for me to improve. It seems ingrained deep, deep inside of me to be this way. I can work on these things, but gradually my efforts fall by the wayside and I am back in Molasses Swamp. Do you share this experience with me?
 “We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am a creature of the flesh [carnal, unspiritual], having been sold into slavery under [the control of] sin. For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled, bewildered]. I do not practice or accomplish what I wish, but I do the very thing that I loathe [which my moral instinct condemns]. Now if I do [habitually] what is contrary to my desire, [that means that] I acknowledge and agree that the Law is good (morally excellent) and that I take sides with it. However, it is no longer I who do the deed, but the sin [principle] which is at home in me and has possession of me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot perform it. [I have the intention and urge to do what is right, but no power to carry it out.] For I fail to practice the good deeds I desire to do, but the evil deeds that I do not desire to do are what I am [ever] doing. Now if I do what I do not desire to do, it is no longer I doing it [it is not myself that acts], but the sin [principle] which dwells within me [fixed and operating in my soul]. So I find it to be a law (rule of action of my being) that when I want to do what is right and good, evil is ever present with me and I am subject to its insistent demands. For I endorse and delight in the Law of God in my inmost self [with my new nature]. [Ps. 1:2.] But I discern in my bodily members [in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh] a different law (rule of action) at war against the law of my mind (my reason) and making me a prisoner to the law of sin that dwells in my bodily organs [in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh]. O unhappy and pitiable and wretched man that I am! Who will release and deliver me from [the shackles of] this body of death? O thank God! [He will!] through Jesus Christ (the Anointed One) our Lord! So then indeed I, of myself with the mind and heart, serve the Law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” ~ Romans 7:14-25 Amplified
As with me and my own failings and shortfalls, it is inappropriate for us to use this amazing Gift as an excuse to continue wallowing in our sin. We do not have an excuse to fail, but we now have a reason for Hope. Perhaps our continued failings can help to serve as a reminder that there is continual Hope for those of us living today. This Hope goes beyond this mess we have made to the very heart of each one of us, to the part of us that is most truly who we are and will live on after the death of our bodies. This Hope goes beyond the systems and plans and rules we use to try to force ourselves into being better, worthier, more employable, or more lovable. This Hope is even greater than all of these regulations and best intentions. This Hope is eternal, and this Hope has a name. His name is Jesus.
“So a previous physical regulation and command is cancelled because of its weakness and ineffectiveness and uselessness– For the Law never made anything perfect–but instead a better hope is introduced through which we [now] come close to God.” ~ Hebrews 7:18-19 Amplified
 “For I am the least [worthy] of the apostles, who am not fit or deserving to be called an apostle, because I once wronged and pursued and molested the church of God [oppressing it with cruelty and violence]. But by the grace (the unmerited favor and blessing) of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not [found to be] for nothing (fruitless and without effect). In fact, I worked harder than all of them [the apostles], though it was not really I, but the grace (the unmerited favor and blessing) of God which was with me. So, whether then it was I or they, this is what we preach and this is what you believed [what you adhered to, trusted in, and relied on]. But now if Christ (the Messiah) is preached as raised from the dead, how is it that some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not risen; And if Christ has not risen, then our preaching is in vain [it amounts to nothing] and your faith is devoid of truth and is fruitless (without effect, empty, imaginary, and unfounded). We are even discovered to be misrepresenting God, for we testified of Him that He raised Christ, Whom He did not raise in case it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised; And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is mere delusion [futile, fruitless], and you are still in your sins [under the control and penalty of sin]; And further, those who have died in [spiritual fellowship and union with] Christ have perished (are lost)! If we who are [abiding] in Christ have hope only in this life and that is all, then we are of all people most miserable and to be pitied. But the fact is that Christ (the Messiah) has been raised from the dead, and He became the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep [in death]. For since [it was] through a man that death [came into the world, it is] also through a Man that the resurrection of the dead [has come]. For just as [because of their union of nature] in Adam all people die, so also [by virtue of their union of nature] shall all in Christ be made alive.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:9-22 Amplified

You Are Here: An Inside Job


“We view ourselves on the eve of battle. We are nerved for the contest, and must conquer or perish. It is vain to look for present aid: none is at hand. We must now act or abandon all hope! Rally to the standard, and be no longer the scoff of mercenary tongues! Be men, be free men, that your children may bless their father’s name.” ~ Sam Houston

A lack of hope. The news headlines are full of many things; anger, poverty, cruelty, fear, hate, and the latest opinion on the latest opinion. One thing it lacks, among many others, is Hope. The headlines report that the bomb is dropped, the casualties are mounting, the child is lost forever, the families shattered, the money gone, the places of worship burned, the fields are salted, the cities mere rubble. Eventually, everything ends in death. After death and destruction, what is there left to do but mourn?

“THE HAND of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. And He caused me to pass round about among them, and behold, there were very many [human bones] in the open valley or plain, and behold, they were very dry.”  ~ Ezekiel 37:1-2 (Valley of Dry Bones)

“THERE WAS a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of the hill country of Ephraim, named Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives, one named Hannah and the other named Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” ~ 1 Samuel 1:1-2 (1 Samuel 1)

“Now when Jesus came back [to Galilee], the crowd received and welcomed Him gladly, for they were all waiting and looking for Him. And there came a man named Jairus, who had [for a long time] been a director of the synagogue; and falling at the feet of Jesus, he begged Him to come to his house, For he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.” ~ Luke 8:40-42 (Luke 8)

“It was now about the sixth hour (midday), and darkness enveloped the whole land and earth until the ninth hour (about three o’clock in the afternoon), While the sun’s light faded or was darkened; and the curtain [of the Holy of Holies] of the temple was torn in two. [Exod. 26:31-35.]And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit! And with these words, He expired. [Ps. 31:5.]” ~ Luke 23:44-46

The Bible is full of examples of despair, bitterness, want, grief and hopelessness. One day or another, the shadows fall on all of us. The main thing which distinguishes the Bible from so many other books is that it offers Real Hope for those on whom the shadows have fallen.

Joshua 1 talks about such a time in the history of Israel. The swelling masses had just been witness to some of the most amazing miracles ever performed by God. They had followed Moses, the man who faced down the Pharaoh and at long last had led them through to a long-awaited life of being free after being under slavery for generation after generation. However, things don’t always go as planned. Their dynamic leader, Moses, died. What was going to become of the teeming crowds of Israelites somewhere in the desert of Sinai? These men and women knew how to be slaves. They needed a strong leader who was going to help them and not take advantage of them, they were in every way refugees on a massive scale. So, God raised up a new leader, and generation, to pick up the torch and carry on with the plan for the Children of Israel to finally have a permanent place to call home.

“Moses My servant is dead. So now arise [take his place], go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land which I am giving to them, the Israelites. Every place upon which the sole of your foot shall tread, that have I given to you, as I promised Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon to the great river Euphrates–all the land of the Hittites [Canaan]–and to the Great [Mediterranean] Sea on the west shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong (confident) and of good courage, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only you be strong and very courageous, that you may do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you. Turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe and do according to all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall deal wisely and have good success. Have not I commanded you? Be strong, vigorous, and very courageous. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” ~ Joshua 1:2-9
Whoa. That’s a seriously huge thing to ask of someone, and to say it all blunt like that: “Moses My servant is dead. So now arise.” It would be understandable that Joshua might need a teensy bit of encouragement…or probably more like a ton. God is ready. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong (confident) and of good courage, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.” Uh, say that again, please? So God repeats himself and continues to give Joshua instructions and heartening encouragement.
See, in our very sad world, the story ends with bad news. It’s just so easy. Heavy diagnosis, loss, death, rejection, betrayal…..those things bring us to our knees. In the stories that God tells, however, people start out, not on their knees, but on their faces. A desperate cry is heard, borne out of the anguish for the thing that is desperately desired and yet impossible to attain.
For my own part, I went to bed and woke up with a terrible attitude. I have been fighting against telling someone off, but in my head I am letting them have it. This is a bad place to start off. Nothing good can come out of me if a bunch of bad stuff is going on inside of me. Of course, it just so happens that this is December. Christmas music is blaring at us from all sides and the competing philosophies of Feel-Good Festival of Stuff vs. Honoring the Gift of Christ’s Birth are in full swing. And here I am in the middle of all of that with a frown on my face, tightness in my chest, and bitterness in my heart.
Enter, stage left, the person of Christ in the form of a baby. What an unassuming form for Jesus to use. Even the stretching and lengthening of his human body as he grew were just the same old thing that had happened to every other baby since forever. God has been knocking on the doors of our hearts longer than we can imagine. Why? It’s easy to blame God for the terrible things that happen, but you can’t actually have it both ways. He is not a god of our own making. He does not follow our rules. He is GOD. He does not choose the things that make this world an ugly and scary place to live. He gave us life, and then he came to give us eternal life.
The Bible calls him El Roi, the God Who Sees (Genesis 16 The Story of Hagar). God does, indeed, see our physical crises as human beings. So much of our suffering is too plain to miss. Underneath, though, inside our hearts is a much bigger problem. Our hearts are where all the ugliness of the world begins.  God look at our hearts. (1 Samuel 16:7)
And He will establish you to the end [keep you steadfast, give you strength, and guarantee your vindication; He will be your warrant against all accusation or indictment so that you will be] guiltless and irreproachable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah). God is faithful (reliable, trustworthy, and therefore ever true to His promise, and He can be depended on); by Him you were called into companionship and participation with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:8-9 (whole chapter)
So, we see that the Valley of Dry Bones is inside of us as well, but Jesus came with rivers of living water (John 7:37-38). God can restore more than just our circumstances! God can restore our hearts and relationships as well! Now for me to take that message to heart myself and let him restore my own.
“1 THEREFORE, SINCE we are justified (acquitted, declared righteous, and given a right standing with God) through faith, let us [grasp the fact that we] have [the peace of reconciliation to hold and to enjoy] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
2 Through Him also we have [our] access (entrance, introduction) by faith into this grace (state of God’s favor) in which we [firmly and safely] stand. And let us rejoice andexult in our hope of experiencing andenjoying the glory of God.
3 Moreover [let us also be full of joy now!] let us exult and triumph in our troubles and rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that pressure and affliction and hardship produce patient and unswerving endurance.
4 And endurance (fortitude) develops maturity of character (approved faith and tried integrity). And character [of this sort] produces [the habit of] joyful and confident hope of eternal salvation.
5 Such hope never disappoints or deludes or shames us, for God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.
6 While we were yet in weakness [powerless to help ourselves], at the fitting time Christ died for (in behalf of) the ungodly.
7 Now it is an extraordinary thing for one to give his life even for an upright man, though perhaps for a noble and lovable and generous benefactor someone might even dare to die.
8 But God shows and clearly proves His [own] love for us by the fact that while we were still sinners, Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) died for us.
9 Therefore, since we are now justified (acquitted, made righteous, and brought into right relationship with God) by Christ’s blood, how much more [certain is it that] we shall be saved by Him from the indignation and wrath of God.
10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, it is much more [certain], now that we are reconciled, that we shall be saved (daily delivered from sin’s dominion) through His [resurrection] life.
11 Not only so, but we also rejoice and exultingly glory in God [in His love and perfection] through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have now received and enjoy [our] reconciliation. [Jer. 9:24.]
12 Therefore, as sin came into the world through one man, and death as the result of sin, so death spread to all men, [no one being able to stop it or to escape its power] because all men sinned.
13 [To be sure] sin was in the world before ever the Law was given, but sin is not charged to men’s account where there is no law [to transgress].
14 Yet death held sway from Adam to Moses [the Lawgiver], even over those who did not themselves transgress [a positive command] as Adam did. Adam was a type (prefigure) of the One Who was to come [in reverse, the former destructive, the Latter saving]. [Gen. 5:5; 7:22; Deut. 34:5.]
15 But God’s free gift is not at all to be compared to the trespass [His grace is out of all proportion to the fall of man]. For if many died through one man’s falling away (his lapse, his offense), much more profusely did God’s grace and the free gift [that comes] through the undeserved favor of the one Man Jesus Christ abound and overflow to and for [the benefit of] many.
16 Nor is the free gift at all to be compared to the effect of that one [man’s] sin. For the sentence [following the trespass] of one [man] brought condemnation, whereas the free gift [following] many transgressions brings justification (an act of righteousness).
17 For if because of one man’s trespass (lapse, offense) death reigned through that one, much more surely will those who receive [God’s] overflowing grace (unmerited favor) and the free gift of righteousness [putting them into right standing with Himself] reign as kings in life through the one Man Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).
18 Well then, as one man’s trespass [one man’s false step and falling away led] to condemnation for all men, so one Man’s act of righteousness [leads] to acquittal and right standing with God and life for all men.
19 For just as by one man’s disobedience (failing to hear, heedlessness, and carelessness) the many were constituted sinners, so by one Man’s obedience the many will be constituted righteous (made acceptable to God, brought into right standing with Him).
20 But then Law came in, [only] to expand and increase the trespass [making it more apparent and exciting opposition]. But where sin increased and abounded, grace (God’s unmerited favor) has surpassed it and increased the more and superabounded,
21 So that, [just] as sin has reigned in death, [so] grace (His unearned and undeserved favor) might reign also through righteousness (right standing with God) which issues in eternal life through Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) our Lord.” Romans 5

 

Image: property of Walt Disney Pictures, Walden Media

Theresa’s Next Chapter


“MY SON, if you will receive my words and treasure up my commandments within you,
Making your ear attentive to skillful and godly Wisdom and inclining and directing your heart and mind to understanding [applying all your powers to the quest for it];
Yes, if you cry out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
If you seek [Wisdom] as for silver and search for skillful and godly Wisdom as for hidden treasures,
Then you will understand the reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of [our omniscient] God. [Prov. 1:7.]
For the Lord gives skillful and godly Wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He hides away sound and godly Wisdom and stores it for the righteous (those who are upright and in right standing with Him); He is a shield to those who walk uprightly and in integrity,
That He may guard the paths of justice; yes, He preserves the way of His saints. [I Sam. 2:9; Ps. 66:8, 9.]
Then you will understand righteousness, justice, and fair dealing [in every area and relation]; yes, you will understand every good path.
For skillful and godly Wisdom shall enter into your heart, and knowledge shall be pleasant to you.
Discretion shall watch over you, understanding shall keep you,
To deliver you from the way of evil and the evil men, from men who speak perverse things and are liars,
Men who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness,
Who rejoice to do evil and delight in the perverseness of evil,
Who are crooked in their ways, wayward and devious in their paths.
[Discretion shall watch over you, understanding shall keep you] to deliver you from the alien woman (or man), from the outsider with her flattering words, [Prov. 2:11.]
Who forsakes the husband and guide of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God.
For her house sinks down to death and her paths to the spirits [of the dead].
None who go to her return again, neither do they attain or regain the paths of life.
So may you walk in the way of good men, and keep to the paths of the [consistently] righteous (the upright, in right standing with God).
For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the men of integrity, blameless and complete [in God’s sight], shall remain in it;
But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the treacherous shall be rooted out of it.” ~ Proverbs 2:1-22
Today, my oldest daughter and firstborn graduates from highschool. It’s an odd feeling. No, it does not make me feel old. I feel more like long-awaited plans have reached a goal along the road of many goals. One long phase of her life, her childhood, is over. (Pause for tears before I can type again. Sigh) We have had some wonderful times, she and I, my beautiful Theresa, the child who first broke ground in my heart in a permanant, real sense. Theresa gets me, like few other friends have ever been able to do. She and I like a lot of the same things, and have a lot in common. In recent years, she has stepped in to a role of encourager, exhorter, and occasionally chasitzer, or is it chaser…..wait no that’s Harry Potter. Anyway, moving on…
When I thought about writing this post, I thought of all the encouraging, boring quotes I could use to point you off in the right direction, Theresa. But, they were boring, trite, overused, impersonal, and not the best I could give you. My best for you has always been my heart. My best has always been to try with shaking, imperfect hands, to point you in the direction of the One who will never fail you, the one accessory you dare not leave behind, and the friend who will never leave you or forsake you. God will never be too cool, or ditch you. He will hold your name in his heart and your life in his hand, so much longer than a tree. (Even a tree’s love has it’s limits, in spite of what Peter S. Beagle would say.)
I must grieve in that mother way, for the times of your childhood when I was your greatest hero, when you looked only to me to teach you things. I will cry a little because the next chapter means leaving some of these things behind, but not all. You and I can laugh only as you and I can, after all. But some of the dependencies you had in me must now be transfered to God. I know you and he have your own understanding. It makes me feel so much better about loosening my grip a little bit more. It’s like when you were little and learning to swim. I’d hold your hands as you stepped into deeper water, little by little you’d work your way past the cold torture of the water as it rose against your skin, your feet barely skimming the bottom. One day, you swam on your own, and you didn’t need me to hold your hands any longer. This has been the dance we’ve done for a long time now.
But times change, and people grow up. Your arms and legs are stonger now. You are able to swim, and learn, and decide, and choose, all on your own. I don’t always agree, or approve, but you have entered the realm of adult action and reaction. Bear it well, Daughter of Eve.
Many have or will or are graduating. This is the season for it. Many are going off on their own to tread the deeper waters of life, not all are as well prepared as you are, some are more so. Some of your future classmates will have more talent in some areas, some less. Many will have different ideas about life and God as they are away from their families and figuring it all out. Listen to them. Learn from them. Be thankful that your life lessons have not been what some of theirs will be. Be thankful that you have ever been surrounded by people who love you and love God and want more than anything for the two of you to be besties for life, and beyond. Yet while you are listening and learning and making new friends, never forget your Forever Friend.  He is the friend of sinners. He is the Savior of us all. Don’t be intimidated or brow-beaten into hiding the Light inside of you. The world NEEDS that Light, it is the only light there is in this dark world. (John 1:1-5)
In a world full of fleeting glowstick-light, the blazing hot sun of God’s love is the one you need to hold dear. In love, as you go about your day to day, this Light will shine on those around you. Love them. We all need love. When they are hard to love, be kind, when it is hard to be kind, be silent 🙂 , but pray. Bless those around you as much as you can and trust to God. He moves in secret places no one else can see. He is the God of hearts, who has a heart, and who changes hearts. While we both wait for a certain heart we both hold dear to soften, we can pray for that as well, and trust them to God.
For you, the best I have to give you is what you already have. Don’t only GO with God, go FOR God and IN God and BECAUSE of God. Not everyone is a missionary in a faraway place. Not everyone ends up in an official “ministry” position, and yet we are all called. We all can minister. This world is hurting so very much. We carry inside our hearts, the Balm for the world, for all the souls of the world. Be a balm. Be the BOMB balm. In times when you feel uncertain and inadequate, remember He is a balm for you as well. JESUS
My amazing, restless, bossy, wonderful, talented, limitless Theresa, you will do great things. Just remember to keep wisdom at your side, God in your heart, and never forget your pocket handkerchief.
“That people may know skillful and godly Wisdom and instruction, discern and comprehend the words of understanding and insight,
Receive instruction in wise dealing andthe discipline of wise thoughtfulness, righteousness, justice, and integrity,
That prudence may be given to the simple, and knowledge, discretion, and discernment to the youth–
The wise also will hear and increase in learning, and the person of understanding will acquire skill and attain to sound counsel [so that he may be able to steer his course rightly]–[Prov. 9:9.]
That people may understand a proverb and a figure of speech or an enigma with its interpretation, and the words of the wise and their dark sayings or riddles.
The reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord is the beginning and the principal and choice part of knowledge [its starting point and its essence]; but fools despise skillful and godly Wisdom, instruction, and discipline. [Ps. 111:10.]
My son, hear the instruction of your father; reject not nor forsake the teaching of your mother.
For they are a [victor’s] chaplet (garland) of grace upon your head and chains and pendants [of gold worn by kings] for your neck.
My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. [Ps. 1:1; Eph. 5:11.]” ~ Proverbs 1:2-10 Amplified

How to Befriend Your Spouse


“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” ~ Mother Teresa

First of all, yes, those cookies ARE quite adorable. You can find the recipe and many more stunning ideas at Make Me Cake Me. What a talent to appreciate, especially for those of us with a lack of talent in that particular direction. I can cook and bake, but my creations lack that cuteness factor. Sigh.

Now then, back to our show…

Many of you might think a blog post about befriending someone you live with, seeing day in and day out, sharing everything with from money to a toilet seat, is kind-of ridiculous. Now, hold on there, not so fast. Being married is unfortunately NOT always the same thing as being friends. Who has time for friends anyway? It’s a rough world. We’re all just holding on my our fingernails here. Who has time for friendship with their spouse, let alone anything as far-fetched as romance.

There, there, no one is here to judge. We’re all walking in the same forest here. Sometimes all of us get a little lost. No biggie. There is always Someone who not only has a map, but IS the map. God is always waiting for us to turn to him when we feel like we’re stuck in molasses swamp, or worse, headed for a cliff. All of us can get out of whack when it comes to the way we relate to those around us. Nowhere is this more painfully apparent that in our close relationships. When we get out of whack, or spouses feel it the strongest. Sometimes, as we drift away from relationships, stressed beyond comfortable by our own choices (ahem), our spouses may seem like strangers invading our space instead of trusted friends and lovers as they are meant to be.

To tell you the truth, sometimes, it’s just not happening. Sometimes, we see the slack-jawed, drooling, morning breath having face next to us by the harsh grey light of morning as we are serenaded by our alarm clock buzzer and think “Ugh not you again! ”  He snores, or she does. (I actually do the loudest snoring in my house. Groan) He leaves the seat up. She never fixes what I like for dinner. Why does he always hang out with that friend? Why is she so messy? On it goes. The quirks become bones of contention that choke the life right out of our marriages.

What, then, is the answer? How do we get ourselves back on track so we can enjoy the kind of home life that’s better than any romance movie can offer? We need LOVE, in steady, un-relenting, persevering, forgiving, gracious, my-cup-runneth-over doses. How do we do this realistically when there are soooo many sources of bad advice in book, internet, and real live person form? Advice can run from the manipulative, where we figure out how to trick our spouse into giving us what we think we want; to the doormat approach, where we let them do as they please, never confronting in love or expecting to be treated with respect; to the bullying our spouse into doing as WE please; to the two separate lives in one house approach. All of these methods will lead us down the path to a fulfilling alienation, separation, and death of our marriages, whether or not it actually ends in divorce.

The answer for this lack of ability to achieve a thrilling, fulfilling, lasting love that all of us long for is to turn our attention back to the One who created our hearts in this shape in the first place. God is Love. 1 Corinthians 13, tells us what, exactly this means.

“IF I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] of angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), and understand all the secret truths and mysteries and possess all knowledge, and if I have [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love (God’s love in me) I am nothing (a useless nobody).
Even if I dole out all that I have [to the poor in providing] food, and if I surrender my body to be burned or in order that I may glory, but have not love (God’s love in me), I gain nothing.
Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily.
It is not conceited (arrogant and inflated with pride); it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way,for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong].
It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail.
Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening].
Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end]. As for prophecy (the gift of interpreting the divine will and purpose), it will be fulfilled and pass away; as for tongues, they will be destroyed and cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away [it will lose its value and be superseded by truth].
For our knowledge is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect), and our prophecy (our teaching) is fragmentary (incomplete and imperfect).
But when the complete and perfect (total) comes, the incomplete and imperfect will vanish away (become antiquated, void, and superseded).
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside.
For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God]. And so faith, hope, love abide [faith–conviction and belief respecting man’s relation to God and divine things; hope–joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation; love–true affection for God and man, growing out of God’s love for and in us], these three; but the greatest of these is love.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13 (entire chapter) Amplified
So, for those of us who missed it the first hundred thousand or so times you’ve heard this often misquoted passage quoted or seen it, embroidered on pillows, printed on posters, etc, etc, this passage tells us about God. I recently learned this for the first time myself. Think about that for a moment. Who wouldn’t do just about anything for someone who treated them this way, right? WOW! For my part, I felt very silly for not realizing this passage was about God all along. I thought it was like that infamous Proverbs 31 woman, who’s list of amazing and unimpeachable qualities has been used improperly to beat women over the head for a long time. (It’s not about that at all though, but that’s a topic for another blog post. 🙂 )
I hope one day, when I walk those golden streets in heaven I will finally be able to grasp the amazing scope of the tapestry of the Bible and how it all ties together and points to God, even in its most inscrutable (to me) passages.  Here’s another passage which, surprisingly to me, ties in with 1 Corinthians 13 perfectly. (You can read the entire chapter here.)
“Now the doings (practices) of the flesh are clear (obvious): they are immorality, impurity, indecency,
Idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger (ill temper), selfishness, divisions (dissensions), party spirit (factions, sects with peculiar opinions, heresies),
Envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the [Holy] Spirit [the work which His presence within accomplishes] is love, joy (gladness), peace, patience (an even temper, forbearance), kindness, goodness (benevolence), faithfulness,
Gentleness (meekness, humility), self-control (self-restraint, continence). Against such things there is no law [that can bring a charge].
And those who belong to Christ Jesus (the Messiah) have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires.
If we live by the [Holy] Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. [If by the Holy Spirit we have our life in God, let us go forward walking in line, our conduct controlled by the Spirit.]
Let us not become vainglorious and self-conceited, competitive and challenging and provoking and irritating to one another, envying and being jealous of one another.” ~ Galatians 5:19-26
Originally, as this post was coming together, I had only thought as far as the “fruits of the spirit” bit of that passage. Just now as I was looking at it though, it occurs to me that that long list of nastiness before and after the “fruity” part is, unfortunately, what many of us bring to the banqueting table, instead. How many of us, from time to time, have felt our spouse was our enemy or rival instead of best friend and ally? The bad news is that we all have a past full of misinformation, bias, prejudice, hidden agendas, scheming, hurt, betrayal, and on it goes. We didn’t have the extreme advantage of Adam and Eve in the garden: fresh, clean-states, fully able to love with no past or guilt to get in the way. Fast-forward to now, we are further from God’s original design in our hearts than we are from our first ancestors in time. Look again at that passage! Therein lies the answer and help we all so desperately need.
“And those who belong to Christ Jesus (the Messiah) have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires.
If we live by the [Holy] Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. [If by the Holy Spirit we have our life in God, let us go forward walking in line, our conduct controlled by the Spirit.]” ~ Galatians 5:24-25 Amplified
The answer for all of us is Jesus Christ himself! God made us, and He made us to be with other people. He made us to be in pairs, families, communities. God made us for relationships. Jesus Christ came to redeem not only our souls, but also reconcile us to God and one another.
“There was a man all alone;
he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
“and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
a miserable business!
 
Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” ~ Ecclesiastes 4:8-12 NIV

So Cold It Hurts (Part 2) | My Blog, aka, Sorry My Mind Must Have Wandered


So Cold It Hurts (Part 2) | My Blog, aka, Sorry My Mind Must Have Wandered.

So Cold It Hurts (Part 2)


“Grief is the price we pay for love” ~ Elizabeth II (Queen of the United Kingdom, b.1926)

 

Once upon a time, there was a king. (You can read about him here.) Needless to say, he was not a good king. He was petty, unstable, and too heinously jealous to share his kingdom. A king in this time period had a lot of power, almost godlike. If you caught the disfavor of this king, it was often best to run and hide. Even a baby might be at risk from a king like this. In fact, many were, even his own sons were not safe from this king. Power in the hands of evil men and women is a fearful thing.

The name of Herod the Great has gone down infamously in history, like many before and after him. In the face of such overwhelming evil, sometimes it seems as if there is no hope, not even a hope of hope; but God always gets the last word. In the midst of the darkness and fear that characterized Herod’s reign, a tiny germ of hope was planted in the womb of a girl named Mary. This hope was greater than the darkness and evil of King Herod, because this hope had always been, from the beginning. This hope came before any man’s envy or malice or lust or pride. This hope was brighter than any man’s grief or suffering or hardship or humiliation or depression. This hope was everything. This hope was the world’s salvation.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” ~ John 1:1-5 NIV

I read a post on Facebook some time back from the Christian speaker Christine Caine that talked about overcoming discouragement, fear, worry, etc, by remembering (or perhaps realizing for the first time) that the power of God’s word is bigger still. Herod the Great could not stop God’s promise from being fulfilled. Herod Antipas (Herod the Great’s son) could not stop the fulfillment of Jesus Christ’s purpose, or defile it in any way. This was very encouraging to me.

I, for one, had a really aggravating end of 2014. As the time drew near for “Deck the Halls”, decking a human was looking more and more attractive. I am not overly fond of “Christmastime”….as in Martha Stewart, a gift for everyone, perfect house, have-to, need-to, shoulds. Christmas, as in the celebration of the birth of Christ I’m all about, don’t misunderstand. I also find that my children tend to test the flexibility of not only Santa’s naughty list but also my patience and love for them. The closer we get to December, the more the tempers flare, the mouths get mouthy, the chores are left undone, please and thank you are forgotten, and naturally, our bank account gets lower and lower. On years like this one, Christmas-ing is a sacrifice. I’m sure other parents can relate.

As things usually go, when your life is difficult, something will usually come along with a little sting to really grind home the point that you are not measuring up in one way or another. Whether it’s your family, friends, current or former classmates, co-workers, neighbors, housemates, or what have you, there will be friction between people of various kinds. Add to all of that the deaths, missed opportunities, regrets, and the rest of life’s sorrows, so much more poignant at the end of the year. The sharp edges in our lives often become most apparent at Christmastime. It’s not about that though…

“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” ~ John 1:9-14

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So here we are in 2015…..sound of crickets. Yeah I have many of the same stresses as last year, some added, some taken away. It’s been months since I blogged, or worked on my story, or did any graphic design, or felt really inspired, or victorious, or joyful…Yes, this on again off again people person with a sunny outlook and Pollyanna-esque attitude has been in some serious doldrums socially, spiritually, familialy, personally…..you get the drift. Then in the midst of all of that, my beloved compy took a permanent trip to that lost pile of hardware in the sky. I kept thinking there would be a jolt of happiness, or joy, or love, or SOMETHING, but day after day I drifted, having cut myself off from all my friends in some crazed plan to hide myself from anyone that could hurt my feelings or judge me….I felt God to be distant, though it was never true. One day as I was yet again using my hubby’s compy and our tax return was miles away, something struck me and it was this:

This struggle that we face as Christians, or even just HUMANS, isn’t always glorious, victorious, comedy, tragedy, or even noteworthy; BUT it is our personal decision that every day we will try; every time we fall, we will rise; every failing meets with an attitude of I can be better! It isn’t hard to fight when you have a visible, obvious threat. But when we are feeling apathetic, forgotten, pointless, helpless, hopeless, friendless….our fight is with ourselves. It is then our duty to move forward because it is the right thing to do. God is never too far away. He is always waiting, peering down the road waiting for his child to come home, to involve him, to walk beside him. Now, this blog post is not meant to be about me, specifically, I just thought I would share a bit of my own struggles for a moment, because none of us are ever alone in this, even when we feel that way. ❤ Let’s get back into it now, shall we? 🙂

 

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Sometimes, the big bad stuff in our lives seems soooo big and bad that we get the impression that there is no hope. Many early Christians must have felt this way with the overarching power so many of the rulers of the day held over their lives. Many things we face in today’s world can feel pointless and overwhelming. Thankfully, when we are able to lift our heads during a rare ceasefire, we can see that the Bible is full of examples of people in all walks of life who faced impossible, ending, embarrassing, threatening, and damning situations. These circumstances felt too big, too difficult; but then the wall crumbled, the whale spat them out, the sun rose, the enemy fled, the stones never flew, and the grave was empty. God showed up, and their lives were better than saved. They were changed.

John the Baptist paid the ultimate price and won the ultimate reward. Herod had him killed, but Herod didn’t defeat him. The picture at the beginning of this post of a silver platter is meant to remind us of John. It is also meant to point to not only John’s victory, but the final victory of Christ after the empty cross. Sin and death has it’s time, just as every dog has it’s day. The final word belongs to God. Maybe, during this time of Lent, when many around the world lay down their comfortable routine in remembrance of that long ago sacrifice, it would be good for all of us to take a moment and reflect on the gift of an empty cross, and the hope it represents for each man, woman, and child alive today. No matter the filth, the darkness, the hate, the prejudice, the fear, the POWERFUL love of Christ can lift us out of any pit.

 

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” Revelation 22:1-5 NIV

So Cold It Hurts (Part 1)


“How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?” ~ Alexander Solzhenitsyn (Russian novelist, Nobel Prize for Literature (1970), b.1918)

‘Tis the season to give to charity, celebrate, be festive, give gifts, dress to impress, overspend,  and feel good about ourselves. No? Well, what do YOU see when you look around at your fellow man in December? What do you and I see when we look in the mirror? Thanksgiving was less than a month ago. The day after we sit down to give thanks, we rise up early the next day with greed and animosity to fight tooth and nail on Black Friday. Thus begins the tender and reverent celebration of the birth of Baby Jesus. But wait, there’s more…

December is the last month of the year, so when we pursue all this stuff, this window dressing, cake frosting, twinkle light decorated stuff, as beautiful and wonderful as it is and can be, we are ending the year on a false note. For many people, Christmas has become yet another thing to pay off and feel stressed about next year. Utility bills are higher, food bills are even more so, and  while there’s nothing wrong with celebrating with our friends and loved ones, we are missing the elusive “Spirit” of Christmas. Bigger than the biggest Christmas blowout, grander than the holiday buffet at a casino, brighter than the lights on your town’s most lit-up neighborhoods’ houses (the houses, not the neighbors), the Glory of Christmas stands alone: precious, pure, loving, enormous, and shocking.

Many of you are parents. I have several children myself and they are dear to me. I would protect them with my life, at the cost of my life savings (HAHA, raising a large family doesn’t easily allow for savings), at the cost of my health, my sanity, or my reputation. Knowing this, and knowing that so many parents feel the same, good parents mind you, it is unthinkable that we even have a reason to celebrate in December at all. I would not have given up my precious children to an amazing, loving family, no matter how wonderful they were. They are My Precious! MINE! I cannot imagine giving them to someone amazing, BUT God gave His ONLY child who is strangely part of himself as well to a rabid, desperate, cruel, thoughtless, selfish, depraved, abusive, unfaithful, greedy, hateful world. True, he picked some wonderful parents in Mary and Joseph; but you can’t hide at home forever. On top of it all, Jesus’ life path led purposely to a horrible death on a cross. He lived a hard, lonely life, and without the aid of an angel bodyguard. He stepped where we step. He ate what we eat. Sometimes he went hungry. Sometimes he was cold. Sometimes he felt stressed and over-tired and underappreciated.

Jesus was the most underappreciated person who ever lived.  It’s not that no one appreciates Him, but He is the Savior of the whole world; and even the most devout have only a sliver of an understanding of the amassed depth and sacrifice of this first Gift of the Season. Our cold hearts just don’t get it. It is a gift of pure Grace every time another piece becomes clear to us. It’s not like we seek to understand often. Like the huddled forgotten who line our streets and alleyways, we turn away as we rush to our comfortable “zone”. In many ways, each of us could star in A Christmas Carol as Scrooge. We are all struggling with past hurts, sorrow, regret, possibly financially. This is a hard time of year to be hard up. My own family has been eating a lot of beans lately….a LOT of beans. (Pardon me)

Yet at the same time, we are so wealthy with the lavish gift of free will we each possess. Each of us can make a huge difference in the lives of those around us for good or ill. I see the news stories that break my heart of a child who was hurt and then grew up to hurt another child and on it goes. A cycle of goodness also repeats. My dad tells often of his own father who was faithful to whatever he deemed his duty. He was on time or early everywhere he went. He didn’t call in sick, he didn’t make excuses. He just did what he believed was right. That made an impression on my dad. He is the most steadfast person I know to this day. As a child who was adopted later in my growing up time, I didn’t have the full lifetime of exposure to this hard to come by trait. I am often late, for one thing. I do admire this dependability, though. It just seems like such a reach. (I think of my dad like I would a superhero, possessing abilities I do not have.) I am glad, though, that when my arm is too short, my legs tired of climbing, when I feel like I just don’t make the grade, steep as it is, the Hand of Grace reaches down to bridge the gap. 

The wonder of Christmas is about faithfulness. God had been hinting and pointing and nudging and promising the Messiah for a long time, to get us ready when He came. This was a time of great learning, mankind was not a bunch of cavemen beating rocks together. We had no excuse; but our hearts were cold, and most people missed it. For pete’s sake there was a HUGE new star in the sky and we were so wrapped up in ourselves that we missed the birth of our Savior! Jesus was the answer for their questions. He was the balm for their hurts. He was the Friend for the lonely and forgotten. But the issues of day to day living were too big in the eyes of the world then. Today, we are no different. Perhaps if we remember a present for everyone on our list we will be filled with that elusive Christmas joy. Maybe if we attend every single community sing and Pops orchestra program, or at least catch them on TV, we will experience the wonder. Maybe if our house is covered in lights… We go broke. Our feet ache. We ache with mourning and loss. The Holiday have-tos bear down on us and the TV and radio and internet are all bursting with the message of give, give, give…..but give STUFF!! No wonder our hearts are so cold. We can’t warm ourselves with things. A mountain of gifts will not make anyone feel less lonely, or more-loved. Of course, we all enjoy receiving presents, but this is not the point. Our hearts are still cold. (To be continued…)

 “Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. ‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ~ Revelation 3:17-22 NIV