Saturday, December 31, 2011

Review... and a resolution

The end of another calendar year, and time to kick in my annual tradition of review. Today I'll look at the past year for significant changes. For God's work and help.

I wrote lots of entries in my 2011 morning pages. After I finished one journal, I'm partway through another. The snapshots of grace-in-process keep accumulating in blogs. (Yes, a writer writes. Always words, spilling onto page upon pages.)

This morning, I listened to a half hour of scripture, read aloud from Genesis--Jacob through Joseph's brothers selling him into slavery and then devising an elaborate cover story for their dad, and Daniel--Nebuchadnezzar dreaming, falling into insanity, and returning to glorify God. What stories! (What a mess and what beautiful redemption, time and again.)

We may view people in scripture with pity because of their lack of Western technology and manners. But they were like current people: self-aggrandizing, under pressure from family and work, committing sins of deception and unfaithfulness. What messes we create for ourselves, doing wrong and trying to wiggle out of the consequences. How we hurt ourselves and others in the process! Yet, the biblical characters turn again and again to ask deep questions, "Does any of this mean anything? Does life have value and purpose?"

Jesus was funny, a good teacher who drew crowds of people interested in being near him. He healed, blessed, and encouraged, even though he knew the suffering that he would endure, the weight of our killings, the lying, the stealing, the treachery, the tears caused by our adultery and harlotry, the poverty caused by refusing food and help in the name of gods and culture, and our intentions for revenge and harming others. The only people he ridiculed and exposed were those who presented masks of holiness and veneers of rule-keeping. Oh, Jesus ripped into them big-time!

Jesus knew human nature and the awful task ahead. But he kept his perspective on what life is like, sheltering in the presence and unguarded towards God. His life shows abandonment to abundance. Joyous beauty. Peacefulness. Companionship. Exuberant good works. Humour. Cheerful focus on God's goodness.

As I review the year, I want to know, "How have I made a difference to God and those around me? Can God accomplish the purposes He created me for? Can God speak clearly about what pleases him and other things that I need to lay aside to enjoy what he has planned?" Or do I really want to hear what God says?

Am I courageous enough to release my willfulness and expectations completely, come what may? My heart pounds to think of how awful 2012 may be, what challenges, illness, distress, and deaths. What loss of comforts and pleasures may lie ahead?

Wait! Wait! That's not at all how Jesus showed us how to live. He recklessly embarked on a life OPEN to God. "I've come to do the will of my Father," he said. His whole life could have been clouded by humanity's tendency toward darkness and scarcity. Instead, he also opened himself to all the pleasures of being human. He laughed, played with children, traveled in a company of intimate friends and family, and lived life to the full. "I've come to give you life, and that more abundantly," he told his followers.

That's just what we all want! Our heads admit that God's nature is marvelous beyond comprehension. That he loves us and provides all our needs. He shares his infinite resources and blessings with those willing to obey him.

Our hearts feel the shame of how short we fall, how poorly our efforts measure up, and how often we wander away. So we shun God's forgiveness to live in hovels of our own making rather than palaces of grace lit by the Creator's nearness.

What would we ask God on this last day of 2011, if he spoke to us face to face? Are we brave enough to say, "Here we come, all yours! Where you lead, we'll follow, whatever it costs," or "Here we are, send us!" Maybe our lives, amid sorrows and horrors aplenty, would be set on fire with beauty and joy and pleasures beyond human comprehension.

Today, I'm in, pounding heart and all! How about you?

Read more:
Psalm 150 Malachi 1-4; Revelation 21:22-22:21

*Lord, they came to you in their distress. Isaiah 26:16 (NIV)

*Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Moravian Prayer: On this eve of a new time and new day, we pray, giving Father, that you guide us as in ages past. Feed us with your word, calm our fears, and simply hold us close. Following your example, may we never cease to kneel at the feet of our friends. Amen.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lies our mirrors tell us

The looking glass lies. But it's not because the image is incorrect. It's because we can't see past our preconceptions to what is really there. Sure, we may pat down a stray lock of hair or swipe away smudged eyeliner. But who really knows what they look like? (BTW: photo = a guy's T-shirt? Most women would see the opposite view of themselves.)

I filled my university office with mirrors. The room, on the north side of the building, needed light. "What better way to illuminate a space than mirrors?" I thought. Plus, I like big airy spaces. I found the mid-grey paint dreary and without charm.

After moving in a long maple file cabinet and topping it with glass, I hung a tall mirror from desk to ceiling next to the windows. "Why do you rate a corner office?" asked one professor, perceiving another window in the reflection.

Then I bought a long accordion of eight two-sided 6'X2' mirrors previously used to display retail clothing and placed it against one dark wall. With its great view of the soccer fields, deep red, orange, and pink accents, and a round glass table... the room radiated brightness.

 "How can you work with so many mirrors in here?" asked my assistant, checking her makeup and fashions. "I'd be so distracted, always looking at my reflection!" I laughed aloud with delight at her antics and enjoyed her great sense of style. (Not a problem. I rarely glanced in the mirrors' direction: I don't care much what happens after makeup is applied and I walk out my front door.)

Scripture says God's word is our most honest life-mirror. I wonder if we get so accustomed to our religious culture and the words heard in many settings that we miss its meaning. Surely I would be sweeter, kinder, and more patient if I understood God's interest in humanity and his lovingkindness day by day. What changes is God's mirror requiring of us today?

Read more:
*Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I cry to You all day long. Rejoice the soul of Your servant, for to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You. Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications. In the day of my trouble I will call upon You, for You will answer me.

Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord; nor are there any works like Your works. All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name. For You are great, and do wondrous things; You alone are God. Psalm 86:3-10 NKJV

* All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you. Psalm 145:10

*Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NIV

*Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. Luke 1:68

* Psalm 146 Zechariah 1,2; Revelation 18:1-10

Moravian Prayer: Knit us, Lord, from mountain to sea, from sky to earth, one shall we be. Blessed and redeemed by you are set free. Thankful to you, praising are we! Amen.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Releasing the rules.

"They thought inner holiness would be proved by external separation from the world. So they invented rules for dress, behavior, and relationships that would show their dedication to God."

I'm writing about Evangelicals and early Pentecostals in the first decades of C20. Missionary men and women set standards for converts overseas, too. Sometimes the "Christianeeze" was pure silliness. Lou Page apologized to her family in a letter from Fiji: "Sorry that our toddler is barefooted. Our shoes have worn out and it is very hot here." What?! She feared the judgment of her parents and siblings because her kids were shoe-less, which would have been the sign of an awful or impoverished family in the United States.

When our kids were growing up, they experimented with weird fashions. Our daughter wore black for over a year, when Goth trends were just beginning to appear. We were choosing our arguments carefully at the time, so we stipulated modestly... regardless of color. She wore long-sleeved shirts and dropped her hair over her eyes. But she wasn't un-dressed, so we let it go. We could have had great fights with her, but why? We wanted her to love Jesus, and she seemed to be on shaky spiritual ground for a bit.

Fashion ranked low on our child-rearing priority scale. Our boys have dressed well and poorly. One wore parkas in summer and left the house in T-shirts in winter. Another wore the same outfit all week, though he showered every day. We could have made much ado about nothing. Eventually, they outgrew their quirks.

Families shun each other over disagreements about holiday traditions, furniture placement, and other unimportant things. Churches seem to split over the color of the carpet, the length of the hem, and theological quibbles. Is our Heavenly Father pleased?

Jesus scolded those who made rules to define the faith of others. By the time he grew up, Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes had hundreds of little qualifiers to demonstrate holiness. It's really sad to read about early Pentecostals and 'holiness movements' who thought their rules would make God happier.

We keep trying to help God along with our additions to his grace. Sure, he expects us to align ourselves with his nature in worship, truth, honesty, faithfulness, goodness. (Read the 10 Commandments for basic alignment with him. They're not just laws. They're reflections of what he's like.)

This coming year, I'd like to be open to new ideas about a life devoted to God. I have a few "should" and "could" items to let slide, expectations that are not life-changers and some that may not even be realistic. I want to release my fears and failures to wallow in God's pool of forgiveness, sprinkling his abundance on those around me. Spiritual peace with God expresses itself in righteousness and joy, even if we wear more jeans than dresses, sweep our porch only when we notice the pine needles cluttering it, and wash the front door only when the doggie paw prints catch our eyes.

What are you willing to let go at the end of this year, to hold tightly to God's hands?

Read more:
*Psalm 148:1-6 Zechariah 10,11; Revelation 20:1-10

*From heaven the Lord looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die. Psalm 102:19-20

*Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17

Moravian Prayer: As this year draws to an end, empower us to let go of all that holds us down: our burdens, our shame, and our fears. Free us, Lord and Savior, and hear us when we call. Amen.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Trying to wrap my head around it...

"Oh, that ramp? Margaret used to ride her motorcycle up into the kitchen after her trips, so it wouldn't get stolen."

I laughed with delight, reading about a female missionary who used every sort of transport. She went afield on horseback. Though she'd never ridden, she bought a horse from the nearby village, got bucked off and jumped back on until it settled down, and hired a horseboy to tire out the frisky beast before a trip so she could ride it. She pedaled her bicycle through the jungles without fear, considering the God who called her more powerful than the lions she saw sitting next to the trails. Her husband dropped her off in one village to preach and continued to the next where he'd evangelize. She was spunky, fearless, and effective.

Margaret is just one of ten missionary women that I'm studying. These women knew the power of the gospel. They loved to tell how God interrupted human history, defining all our stories by his own. Around campfires, in makeshift huts, and in newly built churches, they shared how Jesus came to earth as a baby in an ordinary family, how he grew up and reached adulthood. They told how he healed the lame and restored sight to the blind, expecting God to do the same for their converts. And, not surprisingly, God honored their faith with supernatural healing and provision for them and others.

Today, I'm still reflecting on the beauty of God-come-to-us, which we celebrate at Christmas. It's easy to say, "It's nice of God to be born into a poor rather than kingly environment, nice that he 'walked among us,' and nice that he grew up in a normal family so he could experience human emotions, work, and relationships." And it's true - he did come as a commoner, which is all cool.

I just can't wrap my head around the splendor he left behind, the worship of the entire universe, and the angels at his beck and command. He made everything, knew how it was put together, and understood all the intricacies of math, words, poetry, and physics we explore and wonder at. He set it aside for dirty, sweaty physical labor, walking and riding donkeys, plain food and drink, and siblings who didn't believe he was God's son. Yet we have no record of him sighing, "This is too hard. Honestly people, get a grip! Can't you see who I am?"

There was no "TA-DA, I'm here!" in Jesus' presentation of God. With all he did and didn't remember about where he came from and what his mission was, he never grandstand-ed, never showed off his divine power, and never pointed to himself rather than his Father in heaven. For over thirty years, he worked as hard as every other Galilean. Then he suffered and died in our place. (We proud, faithless, unbelieving, uncaring rabble. He died in OUR place.)

Some day we will stand before the Creator of the Universe. He will ask us whether we accepted the unimaginable gift he offered or if we preferred to go our own way. I hope to say with a crowd of others, "I opened the gift, lived in the shadow of its glory, and love you, O my God, for your generosity!" How about you?

Read more:
*Psalm 147:15-20; Zechariah 8,9; Revelation 19:9-21

*Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day, and shall be my people. Zechariah 2:11

*In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." Matthew 2:1-2

Moravian Prayer: God, how we stand in awe! Your favor encompasses more than we will ever humanly understand. Encourage us to be life-long seekers, eager to have a closer relationship with you. Amen.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Promises fulfilled...

It's Boxing Day, the day after Christmas Day. Another year with the  hoopla of buying and wrapping gifts, rearranging and cleaning, cooking and serving the feast (or feasts, for some). What a wonderful reminder of God's promises, kept through Jesus our Lord.

One year, we gave our children a gift on Christmas Eve, another Christmas Day, and one for each of the 12 Orthodox Days of Christmas. That Christmas lasted a long time. (We did that once. When I was young. And had energy to burn!)

This year, our celebration with family filled Christmas Eve. The kids gave me my gifts early, as requested: dozens of little serving dishes. Our square bamboo plates corralled individual servings of traditional and new foods.

Everyone had to pitch in this year. Jonathan helped more than I can remember any of our kids doing, including baking fresh pretzels and rye bread. Yum yum. W smoked a 20 lb turkey - especially delicious ... an indulgence for me (mostly vegan). The grandmas baked and brought delicious cookies and Nanaimo bars. Veges, breads, desserts... a feast medieval kings couldn't have imagined.

W "shops" electronics all year. Our kids choose numbers to pick unwrapped presents from a lotto-box... this year included remote helicopters, an IPod Shuffle, cables and LED flashlights, earbuds, and who knows what else. Since I have not shopped, the stockings were a bit bare. (Yay for super-Santa and his loot!)

Family and friends from Canada and the US joined us. We all like each other and get along, so holidays are full of laughter, memories, and love. What fun it is to see the next generation of little kids come into the circle, getting to know Grandmama and Grandpapa (great-grandparents). W brought our daughter Kirsten home for the day from skilled-nursing care. (Her recovery is on track; she comes home today after almost 3 weeks in hospital and post-surgery care.) We missed one brother and his family in Switzerland and Germany and nieces in Winnipeg and California (love you!)

We traditionally read the Christmas story in 11 parts and sing a matching carol between readings. We randomly pass out scripts, and then read them in chronological order. One of the little guys hopped on my lap to pound out his version of the carols on the piano as I accompanied the singing. [If you'd like a copy of the readings&carols, send a request to]

Like last year, some attendees had never experienced a big family Christmas where everyone gets along. Hopefully, they'll have ideas for recreating Christmas for their own families in years to come.

Phone calls that don't come as promised, money that disappears, and offers of help that don't materialize. They're all part of our human experience. Unlike promises we make and break to each other, God never reneges on what he offers us. Though we don't experience perfect healing, trouble-free relationships, or painless negotiations through life, He remains constant.

Christmas is proof of God's love and faithfulness, a Savior given at the right time for the salvation of humanity. Have you experienced the joy of that encompassing love? If not, I'd love to introduce you to the faithful One.

Read more:
*And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  So he came by the Spirit into the temple.

And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” Luke 2:25-32 NKJV

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Just in time, ... this time.

"I hope I can find twigs to build a fire. I'm so weak. This is it for us." The widow drags herself along the city wall, frail and starving. She has enough food for one last meal for her son and herself.

There is no more after that.

She's sold what she could, scrounged off everyone she knows, and the bit of grain left in the bottom of the pottery is their last food. Elijah the prophet had called on God to prevent rain. Crops had failed. All her neighbors were in the same bind.

A man suddenly approaches her. The Bible tells the story: He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” 

He has nerve, this older fellow. Asking for water in a dry land. For food in a place where everyone is starving. “As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die. She's not happy with God, Elijah's God. What has he ever done for her? And Elijah, well, isn't hes the cause of all their troubles in the first place? He has nerve, asking her for help when she has nothing left. 

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.’"

She went away and did as Elijah had told her.  So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.

Elijah got hungry, along with everyone else. When his own food and water ran out, God sent him to ask for help. His request became a miraculous source for himself and others.

Both he and the widow found provision through their obedience. Yet, their story is not smooth from here on out. The son dies (dies! dies?), yet God... (well, read the rest for yourself in 1 Kings 17).

When God miraculously supplies our needs, we expect to sail into a fantasy future of peace, joy, and abundance. We forget that this world contains many other people. God gave each of us the privilege and responsibility of determining our life course, and that affects everyone around us. 

The daughter who gets pregnant out of wedlock touches her mother, father, lover, and that newborn forever. The addict hurts those watching the downward spiral with pain and scarcity. The philanderer tears the heart, breaking the security and trust of the spouse and family. The careless investor or splurging shopper plunges the family into financial ruiin. So none of us are "safe." What is safety, anyway?

The gospel says that in good times or bad, we have utter security. God, who gave humanity the freedom to choose right or wrong, is sovereign... when we gather a few sticks for our last breakfast. When we cry at the deathbed of a loved one. When our coffers are empty and the cupboards are bare. God can send an Elijah. Or he can walk, sits, and sleep alongside us in our suffering, knowing the decisions we have to make.

Scriptures have no easy answers to life's big questions. It shows only that the pattern of obedience to God, whether times are easy or hard, allows us to access God's provisions.

As Christmas approaches, I hope yours is merry and bright. I wish you GREAT joy and peace in 2012. And in times of trouble, my prayer is that God gives you a heart quick to turn to him, so that you recognize Elijah when he approaches you to ask for help.

Read more: (thanks, Tillie!)
*The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. Psalm 14:2

*Jesus asked the disciples, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." Mark 8:29

*I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. John 12:46 NASB

Hymn by Philip Bliss:
The whole world was lost
In the darkness of sin,
The Light of the world is Jesus! 
 Like sunshine at noonday, 
 His glory shone in. 
 The Light of the world is Jesus!

Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee;
 Sweetly the light has dawned upon me.
 Once I was blind, but now I can see:
 The Light of the world is Jesus!

No darkness have we
 Who in Jesus abide; The Light of the world is Jesus!
 We walk in the light
 When we follow our Guide!
 The Light of the world is Jesus!

Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee;
 Sweetly the light has dawned upon me.
 Once I was blind, but now I can see:
 The Light of the world is Jesus!

Ye dwellers in darkness
 With sin blinded eyes,
 The Light of the world is Jesus!
 Go, wash, at His bidding,
 And light will arise. The Light of the world is Jesus!

Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee;
 Sweetly the light has dawned upon me.
 Once I was blind, but now I can see:
 The Light of the world is Jesus!

No need of the sunlight
 In Heaven we’re told;
 The Light of the world is Jesus!
 The Lamb is the Light
 In the city of gold,
 The Light of the world is Jesus!

Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee;
 Sweetly the light has dawned upon me.
 Once I was blind, but now I can see:
 The Light of the world is Jesus!
Philip P. Bliss

*Psalm 145:17-21 Haggai 2; Revelation 17:9-18

Moravian Prayer: Stir around us, over us, and through us, sweet Spirit, to carry us closer to the manger. Inspire us to seek all that is good, all that is pure, and all that is holy. Amen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Almost sunny

The weather report says "37o. Mostly sunny today." I like the light coming in my office window. We had some trees trimmed earlier this week. Plus my calendar reports that days will get longer from now on. Thank God! Overhead, the clouds are swirling and there's not much sun to be seen. Our house must be in the other area, "probably overcast."

I'm glad to be inside instead of shopping or in pre-Christmas traffic. W has been out and about every day and says it's crazy "out there." And he hasn't even gone inside a mall! We know some of you are loving the shopping, the wrapping, the cooking and baking... but this feels like a quiet year, a between times, for us. Our granddaughter is young enough that she won't remember that we didn't fuss (5 months).

Life is a matter of perspective. Somewhere the sun shines brightly. Maybe it's in San Antonio, Texas, where the faintest hint of a white patch causes the weather forecaster to enthuse, "Partly cloudy today, folks!" 

We're grateful for a good report from Kirsten's surgeon yesterday. She exchanged a heavy cast for a boot that she can take on and off (yahoo, showers!). Her bones are healing well, and even the incision - usually a slower mend for RA sufferers - is coming together. She got some stitches out and on the way home, had lunch with her dad at a cool downtown restaurant.

So, it's mostly sunny over here after all. The clouds of deadlines, finances, illness, and other stressors sometimes want to shade us, but we know God see through them to bring us warmth and light.

Thanks be to God during this Christmas memorial of his arrival among us!

Read more:
*Then I will live among the people of Israel and be their God, and they will know that I am the LORD their God. I am the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I could live among them. I am the LORD their God.  Exodus 29:45–46 NLT

*Does disaster befall a city, unless the Lord has done it? Amos 3:6 NLT
*Even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid. Matthew 10:30-31 NLV

*Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:28-29 NKJV

*Psalm 145:8-16 Zephaniah 3; Haggai 1; Revelation 17:1-8

Moravian Prayer: Holy Creator and Sustainer, bring to us your peace. Spread your love and mercy where hatred and loathing have pierced many. Place the newly born Christ child in each heart and may the multitudes sing his lullaby. Amen. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Beggars one and all!

"It can't be me!" Judas had the nerve to ask Jesus if he was the betrayer. He probably had the appointment set in his mind. Or can one just pop up at a Pharisee's house and say, "Hey, man. I can deliver Jesus to you," without thinking it out in advance?

Christmas has always seemed a strange holiday to me. We celebrate a baby, innocent and charming, interrupting human history to become part of an obscure rural family. Joseph and Mary don't even have the sense to get to Bethlehem early enough to snag a room at a B&B. And what was wrong with people in their town that they traveled with? Didn't someone take pity on the mom-to-be? Was she shunned? Maybe people thought, "Oh well, it serves her right for being pregnant. Better she has the baby out of sight."

Evangelical Christians tend to focus on the beginning and end of Jesus' life. Jesus does have a compelling story: he's born poor, experiences all kinds of adventures, does miracles, preaches sermons, hangs around with haves and haves-not, and dies a dramatic and cruel death. Well, it's more dramatic in retrospect. At the time, it seemed inglorious and a bad ending for a pretty nice guy.

Today I'm thinking about all the days between. Hours spent at the synagogue, memorizing scriptures with peers. Days when he played with brothers and sisters (who didn't seem to believe in his claims or spend much time following him around, even though he was the oldest). Nights when he sat around and joked with teen friends and listened to town elders. It was all quite ordinary.

Then he started saying some very startling things, intimate things about God that most of us had never thought of, as though he really knew God. Not that people liked what he was saying, or understood most of it. Even when he explained it to those who hung around him, he was hard to understand. He'd use the most ordinary examples, everyday life kinds of parables. But what was he getting at? Sometimes, it was hard to tell.

And he started doing some very startling things, things only God could do, giving God the credit as though it was normal for someone who loved God to heal the sick, walk on water, and multiply a kid's lunch so it fed thousands of people. Whaaaat? Did he want to make a display of his power? He kept telling people to keep things quiet, as though he was doing them a personal favor rather than putting on a production or show. What was the point, besides doing a few extraordinary good works and giving some relief to a hurting person or family? It was hard to tell.

Then, he gathers his friends around. He reminds them of things he's probably said and done for three years, in a final week of telling and showing. Later they'll write down what they remember and share it with others. But for now, instead of going out in a burst of glory, Jesus withdraws to be with an inner circle of his followers. What's coming is so horrible, so frightening, so awful that he breaks out in a bloody sweat praying to God about it. 

I read world news stories last week - murders, terror bombings, child abuse, sex traders, drug addicts, liars, cheats, thieves - I read about people who act out what all of us have thought about, even if our version could be classified as "sin lite." Everything dreadful and hideous - all I read about and thought about and have done against God - crushed Jesus, hanging on the cross. 

Jesus knew the fulfillment of Christmas, the life between, the agonizing death, and the bursting forth of resurrection power. Christmas and Easter, bookends of a life well-lived. (Well, some celebrate Pentecost, so I guess that's the bookend extension for them.) And still he dared it for me. And for you.

No wonder people push against public Nativity scenes, the posting of the 10 Commandments, and the singing of Christmas carols. There will be no little cows or teddy bear nativity scenes cluttering our house. No sports or hobby-themed trees put up at our house.

Think about what that Baby experienced for you and for me. I wouldn't want to celebrate Christmas either, except that I am a beggar. Today I'm on my face before God, asking him to apply his provision of salvation and righteousness. My prayers are shadowed, but lifted with thanksgiving and worship. 

Thank you God, for coming into our world as a little child. 
For living an ordinary life, even when your love for us kept breaking through with miraculous deliverance. 
Thank you for hanging in darkness so I could be redeemed from my brokenness. 
For gathering your hard-won triumph over sin and divine healing in your fists on that glorious resurrection day. 

I can't wait to see you and say, 
"All Glory and Power, 
all Worship and Honor, 
all Strength and Praise 
be unto the Lamb, slain before the foundation of the world." 

Read more:
*Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. Isaiah 35:5-6 NKJV

*Psalm 145:1-7 Zephaniah 1,2; Revelation 16:12-21

*May you have a full reward from the Lord, under whose wings you have come for refuge! Ruth 2:12

*A leper came to Jesus begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean." Mark 1:40

*When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table with the twelve disciples. While they were eating, he said, 'I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.'

Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, 'Am I the one, Lord?'

He replied, 'One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me. For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!'

Judas, the one who would betray him, also asked, 'Rabbi, am I the one?'

And Jesus told him, 'You have said it.'" Matthew 26:20–25 NLT

Moravian prayer: So many, dear Lord, come to you in sickness, pain, and darkness. Like a parent for a child, you provide a sanctuary of hope and healing. You come to us all with wings that cloak us in compassion and promise. Thank you, dear Savior, for your comfort. Amen. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Don't cry for me

This week two countries grieve the loss of their leaders. Czechs lit candles for their departed leader. To those of us in the West, the tears and wailing over North Korea's dictator's death seems surreal. How could people mourn someone who brought them poverty, hunger, and alienation from the rest of the world?

We come into this world and leave it alone. No one asks for our permission to begin or end our days. Only God knows the length and breadth of our lifetime.

It's been a great treat to watch Kinsey, our first grandchild, begin her development. Her personality has not yet emerged, but one thing is clear. She likes people and blossoms around them, as does her sweet mother.

Her Opa watches her every Friday night. When she wails and he can't comfort her, Oma knows the tricks to putting her to sleep. Oh, I can't wait to get this degree done so I can relax with her, too. Our house feels like it is slowly but surely being invaded by baby stuff. (Yeah, Mom, I remember the same thing happening to your place when our kids were little.)

What will life bring her? We don't know what aspirations will drive her, what her hopes will be, if she will marry and have a family, and if she will be beautiful or plain. We hope she has great joy and health, influences people toward a relationship with Jesus Christ, and lives a long, full life in a peaceful country.

Looking at the pictures of the outpouring of sympathy for this week's two dead men, I doubt that either she or I will generate such festivities in passing. I'd like to be remembered for loving others, serving with genuine care, and seeking after God with all my heart. Whether or not anyone lights a candle in my memory, I hope they don't cry for me.

Christians enjoy the wonderful hope of walking through death's door to be with God. That's what we were created for, and that will be the ultimate fulfillment. It's worth living a holy life that pleases God.

This Christmas, I'm thrilled to accept God's ultimate gift, a relationship made possible by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of his Son. Thinking about that makes me want to celebrate! 

Read more:
"The LORD detests people with crooked hearts, but he delights in those with integrity." Proverbs 11:20 (NLT)

*Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!  
      Behold, your King is coming to you;  
      He is just and having salvation,  
      Lowly and riding on a donkey,  
      A colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
      And the horse from Jerusalem;
      The battle bow shall be cut off.
      He shall speak peace to the nations;
      His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea,
      And from the River to the ends of the earth." Zechariah 9:9-10 NKJV

*2 Samuel 7:1-11,16; Luke 1:47-55 Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38

*Do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, and do not provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Jeremiah 25:6 NLV

* The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. Luke 1:49

*Even though there may be so-called gods - for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 1 Corinthians 8:5, 6 NLV

Moravian prayer: One true God, we are on bended knee. We are not always deserving of your wellspring of all that is good. Empower us to better serve your kingdom here on earth and to be gracious stewards of all that you have entrusted to us. Amen.

Saturday, December 17, 2011


What a weird word. It looks odd on the page. "Ear nest." "Nest-ness." Ok. Stop it.

One definition of "earnest" is: a serious and intent mental state, "a proposal made in earnest"

With such thinking, we could accomplish a lot - of construction or destruction.

Today as I plow through edits of another tutorial, I'm tackling them with earnestness. I may be up to my neck in bubbles in the tub, with a scented candle burning nearby, but I'm planning an earnest effort.

What requires your undivided attention?

Read more:
*They made their offering to the Lord with a whole heart. 1 Chronicles 29:9 (NASB)

*Just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. 2 Corinthians 8:7 (NASB)

Moravian Prayer: Holy Child of God, we contemplate what we will bring to you this season of birth and light. What will we offer you at the manger? Whatever gifts we bring, we will bring them with whole hearts and gratefulness beyond measure. Amen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Not quite a panic attack

Sometimes life feels overwhelming.

The schedule is packed. I run out of day before I finish my checklist. Friends call that they're on the way to Emergency at the hospital. A hot dish full of supper falls to the kitchen floor. And the dogs go ballistic as the doorbell rings.

"Enough!" I yell at the dogs, while my heart is racing. They quiet. I answer the door, wipe the floor, call my friends, and toss the to-do list on the desk for tomorrow beside the thousands of pages of tutorial revisions. (Of course I can put gifts in the stockings tomorrow. And they don't have to be wrapped.) 

Ah, peace. Plus a hot water bottle in the bed and a cup of tea on the bedside table, courtesy of a loving spouse. Turn on the Bible reading program, shut off the lights, snuggle under the covers.

There, that wasn't so bad, I think to myself.

Wishing you peace and joy as the Christmas season unfolds.

Read more:
*Praise the LORD, for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love. He kept me safe when my city was under attack. In panic I cried out, 'I am cut off from the LORD!' But you heard my cry for mercy and answered my call for help." Psalm 31:21–22 NLT

*I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. Psalm 40:17 NLT
*Psalm 144:1-4 Nahum 1,2; Revelation 14:6-16
*As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 2 Corinthians 6:4,10 NLT

Moravian Prayer: Enduring God, help us see past material possessions and wealth here on earth to center ourselves on serving you all the days of our lives. Even if we have nothing, we have all in you. Amen.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Separated at birth

Twins separated at birth often have different experiences. But, especially if they are identical genetically, they may have similar personality traits and end up in similar jobs. Their core sameness influences everything they are and do.

I'm thinking about the genetics of being a Christian. What does it mean to be born into God's family? What traits should be automatic and obvious to everyone? No matter where we live, shouldn't some qualities be reflected, no matter because we are born into God's family? Shouldn't we look similar, no matter where we grow up and work?

Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit as norms for believers (Galatians 5:22-23) = ripening love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I like people with those qualities, but too often don't find them growing very well in myself. Today I am feeling impatient and frustrated, waiting for a phone call that was promised yesterday. It's not like I don't have work to do, but my full attention feels diverted from my tasks.

I don't want to grow defects that would bring shame on the tree that bears us. Jesus said his Father pruned off branches that didn't bear fruit (John 15:2). So my prayer tonight is, "God, let me nourish the fruit of the Spirit, especially patience and gentleness."

Read more:
*Psalm 143:7-12 Micah 6,7; Revelation 13:11-14:5

*My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all day long, though their number is past my knowledge. Psalm 71:15 (NIV)

*Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14 (NIV)

*Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14 (NIV)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Inconvenient life

So, here we have Joseph.

He's a normal, all-around nice guy with a small construction shop in an obscure town. Nazareth, to be exact.

He's not exactly looking for trouble. He's got a sweet fiance who will make a good wife. Everyone likes her, and she gets along with other people. Life should be peaceful.

Except that Mary sends him a message that's really bad news. "I'm pregnant." His night visitor tells him not to be afraid - his wife-to-be is expecting God. God-with-us, Immanuel.

What? No one asked Joseph for permission to turn his world upside down. His dream of a quiet life shatters. To top it off, the census is due, and the highly-pregnant Mary and Joseph have to trek to Bethlehem with fellow villagers. It's not an easy trip, at least a few days walk.

Joseph doesn't know that he won't return to Nazareth for a few years. The rage of Herod against Joseph's son will cause the massacre of infants and toddlers around Bethlehem, hardly something to endear Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to the place. They will have fled from their country to live among stranger where the language, food, and surroundings are unfamiliar. 

Egypt. The place his people left years ago. Going backward, not forward, it may have seemed to Joseph.

We don't always choose the path by which God works in the world. Sometimes we seems to be regressing to where we thought we'd never go. 

Somehow, Joseph put one foot in front of the other in his inconvenient life. He seems to have died before Jesus reached adulthood, but from the tender care Jesus later exhibited to others--including his mom--there must have been a lot of love at home.

What diversions are driving you crazy? What detours seem hard to bear? Let's wait, watch, and work like Joseph to bring the Savior's love to those around us.

Read more:
*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. Luke 2:1-7  KJV

Thank you Moravians: 
 Psalm 143:1-6 Micah 3:8-5:15; Revelation 12:18-13:10

All the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord,
because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. Ezra 3:11

No one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid;
that foundation is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11

Prayer: O Rock of Ages, we cling to you. When we fall on slippery slopes we

create for ourselves, your foundation is always there to provide for us
a safe place to land. All glory in Jesus Christ. Amen.