Follow Dan on Facebook

 

 

 

Words of Hope for Everyday Life:

 

January 18, 2018

A Timeless Gem Turns 105.

It was January, 1913 in the tiny southwest-Michigan town of Pokagon. Rev. George Bennard, a traveling minister and resident of Albion, MI, was in town to preach a 3 week revival meeting. At the church parsonage, just around the corner from the church, he wrote the 3rd and 4th verses to a song that he began writing in Albion the month prior. He said that he wrote the song "out of my own need."

In a little church that still stands in Pokagon, Rev. Bennard then proceeded to introduce "The Old Rugged Cross" to the world for the first time in its entirety. Accompanying himself on the guitar and singing in his baritone voice, he was joined by a lady on the pump organ while a gentleman played the violin and a 4-member choir joined their voices with his. (That original organ has been located, restored and now is in the church sanctuary).

One of the world's most beloved hymns was born very quietly in an obscure village in the snow belt of southwest Michigan 105 years ago this month. Perhaps sub-zero temperatures and three feet of snow clung to that tiny church on the day those 4 verses warmed the souls of every listener inside, an old wood/coal stove popping and crackling nearby. Since that January day, the power of the pardoning blood of Jesus, shed so humbly on a rugged old cross, has warmed the souls of countless millions around the world who've taken the message of this old song to heart by faith. Years of haunting guilt and separation from God melted away as this song's words found their way into listener's lives, exchanging their past for the eternal warmth of Christ's love and total forgiveness.

A barn in a little town called Bethlehem, a small town called Nazareth, a splinter-laden criminal's cross "on a hill far away", a little church in an obscure town in Michigan's Mitten...God so often uses the unlikely and unsuspecting to accomplish the impossible.

"On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And I love that old cross where the Dearest and Best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

Refrain:
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.

Oh, that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He’ll call me someday to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I’ll share."

("The Old Rugged Cross", by Rev. George Bennard, 1913)

The Old Rugged Cross Church and Museum: http://the-oldruggedcross.org/

Image may contain: sky, house, tree, cloud, plant and outdoor
Image may contain: sky, plant, flower, tree and outdoor


 

 

January 17, 2018

We don't have to fathom the sea in order to stand on its shores. It is enough to know we are in the presence of vast greatness, to appreciate its beauty and power...and our frail smallness...to have it surround our ankles in speechless wonder. We do not know all that is buried in its depths but it is enough for us to be touched by those waters and listen to their rhythm. We are content with mystery because we are soothed by its presence.

Nor can we begin to plumb the depths of the mind of God. Yet, we can know we are in the presence of Infinite Understanding, be overwhelmed by what He knows, let it begin to dampen the soles of our feet. We don't have all the answers, nor can we always understand. We must reach a place in our journey where it is enough to lay our head against the chest of the One who does. We cannot rest while we wrestle...but only when we trust like a newborn. We are soothed by His heartbeat, not by the extent of what we know.

"...the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth...there is no searching of his understanding." (Isaiah 40:28)

Image may contain: ocean, sky, cloud, twilight, outdoor, water and nature


 

 

January 16, 2018

"Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.

He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.

Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."

- Isaiah 40:28-31

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and nature


 

 

January 15, 2018

A Path in the Sea.

Jesus, whose voice brought the seas into existence, was the One who spoke again and Galilee's turbulence became instant glass. He who walked atop heaving, midnight waters...piercing the wailing wind with each stride...will match us step-for-step through our crashing waves.

We will not sink when our eyes are fixed on Him...Peter proved that. Though we steal fear-filled glances at the towering waves and quickly plunge deeply up to our necks, His hand will catch us...over-and-over again...when we call His name. With our hand firmly grasped by His, He will hold onto us when we can no longer hold onto Him. What The Master says, the seas must do. If they continue to heave, He has not told them to cease. In such times, He has chosen to show us His enduring power rather than His conquering power.

He knows the way through the midnight seas when we cannot see how one could possibly exist...it is like a paved highway at noontime to Him. He is our Eyes, our Compass, our Comfort, our Strength. He sees the Great Calm on the other side of the passing storm and He will get us safely there.

He was, is, and always will be, the Christ of the Sea.

"Thus saith the Lord, which maketh a way in the sea, and a path in the mighty waters." (Isaiah 43:16)

"...he (Peter) was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him..." (Matthew 14:30, 31)

"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." (Hebrews 13:8)

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature

 


 

January 14, 2018

Peace Like a River.

Life has a way of picking us up and carrying us along on its choppy, tossing surface like an autumn leaf in uncharted waters. We find ourselves suddenly blind-sided by a very troublesome situation and we're left to drift helplessly in its merciless, momentary whims. Or are we?

It was the evening of November 7, 2009. My father-in-law, Larry Wright, and I stood on the banks of the mighty Ohio River in Ripley, Ohio. The Ohio flows westward to meet the Mississippi, which meant it was flowing from left-to-right as we stood there on the Ohio's north shore. Yet, there was a light ripple on the face of the waters, moving from right-to-left...eastward...evidently from a very slight breeze across the surface. No evidence was visible of the massive river's movement toward the west...by all appearances, it seemed to the contrary. Yet, silently hidden beneath the surface, the waters of the Ohio were not deterred in the least...they were strongly flowing toward the Mississippi in great volume without delay.

The next afternoon, back home in Michigan, I received a phone call from one of my bosses stating that I would be losing my job in 12 days, that our company would be closing its doors unless a miracle occurred...which it didn't. I suddenly entered strange, cold, deep waters that I'd never had to ford before...joblessness. In retrospect, those moments along the Ohio River's banks the evening before were an encouraging lesson for me to fall back on. God was at work in the midst of this swirling turmoil and would not be deterred in accomplishing what was next in my life.

On the surface, circumstances in our lives may be going very contrary to reason and plan. Yet, there is a much more powerful dynamic going on beneath the surface. Trials and heartaches send repeated, stark ripples in the opposite direction we think we should be going. As significant and life-altering as they are, compared to the infinite power of God, they are like mere ripples on the deep, mighty, Ohio River. God, in His infinite power and wisdom, keeps accomplishing His unfathomable, loving, eternal plans in our lives when we commit ourselves totally to His care. It's a mystery now but someday...perhaps not until Heaven...everything will make complete and perfect sense.

Sometimes we need to stop still in our tracks and pause to ponder along the banks of The Mighty River of God. He is working on our behalf...powerfully...when we least can see or sense it. He will carry us safely Home, undaunted and undeterred, no matter the circumstances that assault us on the surface of life. He is deeper and stronger than anything we'll ever face.

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." - Jesus (John 14:27)

Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace,
Over all victorious, in its bright increase;
Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day,
Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

Refrain:
Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

("Like a River Glorious", vs. 1 & 2, by Frances R. Havergal, 1876)

 


 

January 13, 2018

He was 82 and near the end of his life, this former slave-ship-captain-turned-minister. His memory failed him at times and his sight was nearly gone. Needing help to walk to the pulpit, his assistant read him the lines of his sermon so he could repeat them to the congregation.

"Jesus Christ is precious", the aged voice said, this man who had written the words to "Amazing Grace". His assistant then read him a new set of words to speak but, ignoring them, the old preacher again uttered "Jesus Christ is precious." When the assistant whispered that he had already stated those words, John Newton, determined, again told the congregation "Jesus Christ is precious!"

 

 

January 11, 2018

What we value the most drives our life and its direction. Jesus taught us "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21).

 

 

 

 

January 9, 2018

Every winter has its summer, 
Every trial has its end, 
Every midnight has its morning, 
When we know the Friend of Friends.

Every mystery has its meaning, 
Though by human mind unknown,
The answer...found in Heaven,
Where we'll kneel before God's throne.

All His love, His peace, His glory,
Will wash o'er us constantly,
And we'll finally know the reason,
Why He brought us through the sea.

- Dan Hays

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." - I Corinthians 13:12

 


 

January 8, 2018

A Window Will Open.

This was the first hymn of the New Year for our congregation yesterday. Though we don't know what these next 12 months hold (and I'm thankful we don't), I'm deeply grateful that God's infinite hands hold every second. Whatever the realm, be it mental, physical, emotional, spiritual or financial, He always finds a way to meet the needs...though not always the wants...of anyone who commits the care of their life to Him! As we look back over our lives, seeing how He "showed up" in amazing ways before, we know that He will do so once again...every time...this year as well!

So much of our journey is about trusting and resting in God's big hands...hands that move with precise timing, opening just the right window in Heaven in response to His all-seeing eyes and infinitely-loving heart!

Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.

Refrain:
God will take care of you,
Through every day, o’er all the way;
He will take care of you,
God will take care of you.

Through days of toil when heart doth fail,
God will take care of you;
When dangers fierce your path assail,
God will take care of you.

All you may need He will provide,
God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied,
God will take care of you.

No matter what may be the test,
God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast,
God will take care of you.

("God Will Take Care of You", by Civilla D. Martin; music by her husband, Rev. Walter S. Martin, 1904)


 

 

January 7, 2018

On a frosty November morning this little bird sat so still in our back yard. I was able to slowly inch my way closer and closer, snapping photos as I went, until I was maybe two feet from it. I wonder if I could have eventually touched it, had I kept shortening the distance a bit at a time. It seemed at peace with my presence and I certainly was fascinated with how it didn't fly away. I went back into the garage for a moment and when I returned, it was gone. I looked to see if it had simply hopped a short distance away and around the garage's corner, but to no avail. It had flown away.

Isn't that a lot like Jesus and us? We find ourselves in the shivering, frost-covered grasses of November, a long way from the warm mornings of July. Not sure of our next direction, missing those better days, we linger long in hopes that He will find us. And He does. Out of pure love and courtesy, the Savior doesn't storm the scene. Rather, He chooses to slowly approach us, His nail-scarred hand gently moving ever-closer by degrees. We're pretty sure we like what we see, yet not entirely sure we can trust Him with everything that we are. Will He suddenly capture us against our will and forever take away our freedom to soar? Is it worth the risk? Do we really want to leave the familiar, as unpleasant as it is, for Someone we don't even know?

The Savior lingers patiently in the stillness and awaits our choice. If we so desire, we can make a move toward Him. Never having been in His nail-scarred, all-forgiving hands, we're fearful of what we might find. Love or betrayal. Pain or peace. Freedom or imprisonment. Grace or emptiness. Lies or Truth. Everything or nothing. In our never-ending indecision, we find ourselves motionless in the frozen grass.

Then, for whatever the reason, He seems to slip away...though not far. Is the Christ no longer interested in who we are and what we need? Did we linger too long, losing our only chance to know Him? Do we no longer want to be faced with the responsibility of the all-important choice between the cold life we now know and the promise of hope and Love Divine forever? Unsure and overwhelmed, we decide not to stay. We fly away from that sacred ground of seeing Him for who He is...Love Divine, overflowing with hope and meaning...deeply discontented with who we are but still opting to live out our days and our foreverness without Him. Tomorrow has to be better than today. But it never is.

Soon, the Savior steps back into the chilled air, only to find us no longer where we were, or even nearby, but gone. Had we remained, we could have taken the very short flight from the cold life we knew and lighted within His cupped, warm, ever-loving hands...the ones that took the nails on our behalf.

He's still standing there, waiting patiently for us to come to the end of ourselves in the cold. Home is in His hands.

"Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." - Jesus (Matthew 11:28)

Image may contain: grass, plant, outdoor and nature

 


 

January 6, 2018

Like an Old Walnut Tree.

This past fall saw a bumper crop of nuts fall from the walnut tree in front of our house. I don't ever remember a year when there were more. They just kept falling and falling...lots of them...and I was happy when they finally ceased to drop to the ground. Thus, I was quite surprised and amazed to look up into the tree one morning in mid-December and see a few walnuts still hanging on. That big, old, tough tree didn't want to let go of 'em for whatever the reason and it brings a very important point to mind.

Everyone needs a purpose, a reason to get out of bed and face another day, something to contribute to the betterment of society. Without it, we shrivel up and die. In the younger years, the reasons pretty well take care of themselves: acquiring an education, the demands of a career, raising a family, maintaining a house and yard, etc. The walnuts dropping from the tree, if you will, are many and they continue to fall over a prolonged length of time.

When the nest empties out, a few more years somehow find themselves quickly in the rear-view mirror and perhaps retirement is a reality, what is there then to live for? What if one's spouse is gone, the grand kids are older and have their own friends, etc.? There's now a gaping, nagging void to fill and a leisurely life of pleasure simply can't do it. Like the old walnut tree, we still need to be productive during the colder months of life.

Though we're all different, we're all the same: we each need to give and receive love. So many times in my life it has been the small, unsuspected things that have made such a huge difference for me: just the right thing at just the right time in just the right place. For instance, a genuinely-caring clerk in a store, an elderly couple shuffling down the hallway...still tenderly in love after all those years, someone's well-worn Bible, reading a hand-written letter from years ago, a black-and-white photograph of a total stranger. Small things speak volumes.

You have something to offer the world and it really doesn't take much to make the world a better place. Can you lend a listening ear on the phone? Bake a plate of cookies for your neighbor? Say an encouraging word to the young mother with three toddlers in the checkout line in front of you? Send a card to someone...just because? How about volunteering at an elementary school as a "grandparent" to help with reading skills? What seems like a little contribution can make a lifetime of difference for someone. Small is huge: we all know there's immense power contained in one tiny atom.

Please remember that what you've done in the past still lingers on and blesses people today. Like a pot of coffee in a distant room or a loaf of bread baking in the oven, the life you've lived is a pleasant, warm aroma in the memories of those you've touched. What you did decades ago still influences and guides lives today...because it was done in genuine, patient love. The smallest of things, even those you've long forgotten, will carry forward much longer than your years on earth and will be multiplied in the lives of others you cannot see.

Most importantly, you can pray. Never underestimate the power of talking with the God of the Universe. Even if you can't leave your home anymore, you can sit in your favorite chair and greatly bless the world day after day through prayer. Your prayers will reach God's ears and He will touch street people, abused and hungry children, single parents, people contemplating suicide, families on the brink of divorce, troubles on the other side of the world and so much more. In a split-second. Because you asked Him to. I personally feel that the most influential people in the world do not sit in elite halls of power, scheming on the phone with others in high positions. Rather, they sit in easy chairs. They're people too frail to venture out into mainstream society but they still have a mainline-hotline to Almighty God's ear and heart.

Like the old walnut tree, you still have something clinging to the branches of your life...something to give...no matter your age. It's time to let it fall to the ground and bless others.

"Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age..." - Psalm 92:13,14


 

 

January 5, 2018

Be Still.

It's no mistake that Psalm 46:10 tells us "Be still, and know that I am God..." Our Maker knows that when the cold, crashing seas of trial wash over our souls we need a very safe place to hide, an infinitely-bright Beacon of Hope, a clearing of our vision, a very powerful reset button. Otherwise, we are caught in the riptide and carried far out into the merciless seas.

As I reflect back upon the worst trials of my life...and there have been many...I will mention three: the loss of Mom in 2012, Debbie suffering the intrauterine death of twins in 1985 and the loss of my job in 2009. Soul-rocking, deep, dark trials they were. They shook me to my core. Had I not been able to still my soul before the Lord of the Universe and simply listen, the outcome would have been far worse.

Being still before God is not a knee-jerk reaction for me in times of great trial. Rather, it is a place I have to journey to by choice. Once there, though, I can begin to truly deal with what I'm facing. First and foremost, I have placed myself before the only One who doesn't change...the Source of Infinite Love, Grace and Peace. Answers, as quiet, simple and incomplete as they may be, begin to be found and I can work outwward from there. At times, the only answer may be that He is there...I found that to be the case when we lost the twins. A repeated choice to trust completely in what I've heard from Him must be made...yes, over and over again...returning to a place of resting in Him and what He has made known to me.

Being still is the polar opposite of our frantic, unending searches for answers and solutions here in the realm of Time. I've been there. Yet, only when we begin to touch Eternity can we truly begin to know what we need to know most of all. It begins by the stilling of our soul before Almighty God...then listening...then trusting...then resting.

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

(Be Still My Soul, vs. 1 & 2, by Katharina A. von Schlegel, 1752; music - Finlandia, by Jean Sibelius, 1899)

Image may contain: people sitting, ocean, sky, cloud, outdoor, water and nature


 

 

January 4, 2018 (entry #2)

Anyone who can sit down in their warm home as the bitter winds of winter blow...no matter how small their abode, and enjoy a warm meal...no matter how basic it may be, is a multi-billionaire.

 

 

January 4, 2018

What a Friend!

It was nearly 4 months ago, the second Saturday evening of September, and the Michigan Hymn Sing was underway in Flint. The atmosphere was exceptionally sweet as ~1100 people gathered under one roof from different cities, towns, backgrounds and denominations to simply leave their differences at the door and join their hearts and voices together to praise one God and one Savior. Timeless-song after timeless-song filled the air. Hymns we'd sung since childhood, words and melodies buried deep within our spiritual bones and DNA, rolled from our hearts, souls and tongues.

Then, in such a sweet way, we began to sing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus". What transpired in my heart during that song I simply cannot describe. The beauty in the room exceeded human experience...or, should I say...captured it. I was sitting near the front of the church and at one point during the song I chose to stop singing and simply listen. The voices from in front of me mingled with those of many, many people I could not see...pouring sweetly over me from the ground floor and the balcony...voices that embodied pain, trial, loss and betrayal...scars that were accumulated over the course of many years on life's long road. It was as though I could hear their life stories embodied within the words being sung...and how The Friend of Friends saw them through it all. Tears began to roll down my face...I was blessed beyond what I can say. Heaven and earth met for me as those precious, well-worn words and notes flowed from a thousand tongues...lives with mud on their boots...people who had experienced the truth of this song first-hand in life's sloggy, cold trenches and found them to be true, just as I have.

Can you imagine how it would sound to assemble every person living on planet earth today that has found Jesus to be a Friend of Unspeakable Worth and have them join their voices together to sing this song? The sweetness of that beauty would be incomprehensible. Better yet, can you imagine slipping just inside the gates of Heaven for a few minutes and listen as innumerable millions of souls encircle Jesus...in all of His loving, brilliantly-shining splendor...and sing together "What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!" I guess that's why they call it Heaven.

And a sweet, wonderful taste of it washed over me and through me at a Hymn Sing on a Saturday evening in Michigan last September.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

("What a Friend We Have in Jesus", by Joseph Scriven, 1855; music by Charles Converse, 1868)

Image may contain: 1 person

 


 

January 3, 2018

Dealing With the Letdown.

I got to wondering yesterday, as I brought our manger scene in from the snowy cold, if the animals in Bethlehem's stable felt a letdown when Jesus, Mary and Joseph moved out. Whether they stayed one night or one month, we don't know. Yet, how could anyone possibly get better house guests than they? I, for one, feel that those beasts who called that little barn "home" knew whose gentle presence they were in: their Maker and Master. I believe they missed that little family when they left.

Those beasts of burden were eyewitnesses to excited shepherds bursting on the scene out of nowhere the night Jesus was born. Never had they experienced such an overflowing, standing-room-only crowd of house guests...the excitement was once-in-a-lifetime. And so was the worship. Then, as those sheep-tenders spread the word to others, who knows how many people dropped by to see the Newborn King in the ensuing days.

I'm thinking there was a letdown in that Bethlehem cattle shed once all was said and done...and it has me thinking. When we take down the lights of December, put the songs of Christmas away for another year and the house takes on a less-festive appearance, there's a distinct letdown that follows. Not so fun.  The unique beauties of December are once a year...as they should be...but it takes a bit of resetting within our heart as we see them disappear once again.

January reminds us that it's much more about what we cannot see than what we can. The lights of December celebrate the arrival of The Light of the World. Christmas carols remind us that The Song of Songs was born into a world longing for a melody from Heaven to be sung in harmony on Earth. The evergreen tree in our living room tells us of the everlasting life that Jesus offers us to those who embrace Him in their hearts; the ornaments are symbolic of the graces and blessings He gives to us.

So, as another Christmas season fades into our memories, in a much more vivid and enduring way it lives on, just as it has for 2017 years or so. The symbols come and go. The real things live on...in our heart: the people, the moments, The Light of the World, the Song that He sings within us. And, best of all, one day the symbols of Christmas will become very, very dim as we experience our ultimate reality: looking straight into the eyes of Jesus in Heaven!

Just ask those gentle beasts who made room for The Savior in their humble home in Bethlehem.

"While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor
Image may contain: outdoor and nature


 

 

January 2, 2018

There's Room for Everyone.

Pastor Hal Phillips has encouraged our church to read through the New Testament in 2018. By reading one chapter a day, Monday-Friday, we can accomplish our goal. I really like the idea and yesterday I read the 1st chapter of Matthew.

The majority of Matthew 1 contains a long list of generations beginning with Abraham and ending with Joseph, the custodial father of Jesus. What's so exciting about that, you ask? Hope. In this long list of imperfect people, two stand out very starkly: Rahab and King David.

Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho. When she hid some Israeli spies on her rooftop and denied knowing their whereabouts when questioned, she was granted her request that she and her family be spared when the city was conquered by the Israelis. She had heard of the God of Israel and His power, believed He was the God of the universe, and her faith in Him was greatly rewarded (Joshua 2:1-21 and Joshua 6:22,23). Rahab was a new person within, she had experienced a change of heart.

King David had sex with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of David's very honorable warriors, while Uriah was away in battle. When David learned that she was pregnant with his child, he sent for Uriah to return home from the battlefield, wanting Uriah to sleep with his wife, eat luxurious food and rest. Uriah returned, but refused to sleep with Bathsheba. Being the honorable man that he was, knowing that his men were in the dangers of battle, he could not bring himself to live a life they could not. Frustrated and desperate, David ordered that Uriah be put on the front lines of battle and then have his fellow-soldiers withdraw, making him an easy target. Uriah was thus fatally wounded and David took Bathsheba as his wife (2 Samuel 11). David eventually grieved greatly over his sin and had a change of heart. He wrote Psalm 51 out of the sorrow for his wrong against God and man.

What does including the names of Rahab and David in the lineage of Joseph, the man who would raise God's Son, Jesus Christ, say to you and me? Jesus, the friend of sinners (Matthew 11:19), has room for each and every one of us in His family! His arms are continually open to us all. Any haunting thought that things in our past disqualify us from ever knowing Him and serving Him are entirely false and unfounded. We all are welcome within His heart and arms.

God makes the rules of the Universe, not us. He has chosen to grant total pardon to everyone for our sins...no matter how big, small or numerous they may be. Incomprehensible? To the finite mind of humans, yes. Yet, that is what Divine Love is...incomprehensible. Though it cannot be comprehended, it is able to be experienced.  What God leaves to us is the freedom of choice: whether or not we will meet Him on His terms and receive His complete, entire forgiveness, new heart and new life. He will not force Himself upon us. That's not the mode of operation of Divine Love. God has lovingly extended to us His best, most gracious, most sacrificial offer...His very Son. He longs for us to join His family and patiently awaits our reciprocated love in return. He has an unparalleled amnesty program going. It's our decision to either wither away and die in a foreign land or come Home and enjoy Divine love, peace and life forever.

How do we come Home to the God of the Universe? 1) Talk honestly to Him, admitting our sins. 2) Accept the complete pardon He has granted us when Jesus shed His blood for us on the cross. To gratefully tell Him we have done so helps us to personalize this priceless gift. 3) Invite Jesus to live within our heart from this moment forward.

If a prostitute and an adulterous murderer have a place in God's family, we all do. I've taken Him up on His offer...I've come Home. How about you?

"...wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." - King David (Psalm 51:7)

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." - Jesus (John 3:16)

Image may contain: plant, sky, flower, outdoor and nature

 


 

January 1, 2018

Split Rock Lighthouse, completed in 1909, stands high above Lake Superior's north shore on sheer, solid rock. The region in Minnesota where it is located experiences such a wide range of extreme weather. July sunshine bakes it, November's freezing rains encase it and this morning's -16 F temperature in nearby-Silver Bay makes it shiver to the core. Built amidst elements and conditions over which it has absolutely no control...no matter the onslaughts this beacon of hope has faced for 100-plus years...it still stands immovable and strong.

We tend to live from summer to summer in our soul...we look forward to those sunrises-upon-glass...and we need them. Often. All we have to do is groggily walk out the front door of our cabin-of-the-heart and there they are, warmly glowing upon the lake of our soul, ready to bless us once again.

Yet, we know that not all our days are lived barefoot-in-warm-sands. Reality and experience beg to differ. We face the gamut of soul-weather throughout our days, many times beyond our control. I'm beginning to see that it's not so much what the conditions are in which I find myself on any certain day. It's much more about what my soul is built upon.

Like Split Rock Lighthouse, if I make it my top priority to dig down deep into Almighty God, the Infinite Rock who transcends the Universe, I can weather the uncontrollable storms that will inevitably come my way. I may shudder and shake to my very Foundation, but I will still be standing when yet another storm has passed me by. I also can more sweetly enjoy the warm afternoon sunshine of summer and autumn's brisk, clear air. I am not dependent on what transpires around me. I am secure, no matter what, due to Who I am founded upon. This is where genuine peace and joy are found. To choose to dig deeply and build our soul upon the only Rock-Solid Foundation in the Universe...and nothing more...is to know "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).

What are you and I basing our peace and stability on in 2018? Nothing other than The Eternal God, His Son Jesus Christ and God's timeless, transcendent words in the Bible will withstand the storms of life. I've chosen to build my life, soul and heart upon The Rock.

Not unlike a house high atop a rocky, Northern Minnesota cliff.

"And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock." - Jesus (Matthew 7:25)

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, water and nature


 

 

December 31, 2017

Grains of Infinite Grace.

Here we are at the conclusion of yet another year...already! Isn't it humbling how fast time goes by? Also, isn't it humbling how we make it through all that we experience year-by-year? It's mind boggling when I stop to think of it.

Heartbeat-by-heartbeat and breath-by-breath, one sometimes-very-small step at a time we've found our way through the challenges and joys, heartaches and hilarity of 2017. For some, it's a year they wish a "fast forward" button existed and for others, they long for one labeled "replay".

Through it all, we've had enough grace for each moment. We wouldn't be here otherwise. The vast majority of the moments of this year have vanished from our memory...the everyday, routine habits of daily living. Yet, they were filled with God's infinite grace, weren't they? The many meals we've forgotten, the faces in the grocery aisle, the tip-your-head-back-belly-laughs, the gas pumps we've stood beside with winter winds at our back...His grace filled them all...His routine provision to bless and cheer us, to enable us to go forward in our journey. The moments we do recall, be they mountaintops or deep valleys, were loaded-to-overflowing with God's infinite grace...though we may not have sensed it in the valleys. Yet, here we are on the other side of them and peering blindly into another year.

How about His whispers, those God-Moments, His Winks-from-Above in this past 12 months? They stopped us, they stunned us, they soothed and encouraged us. They weren't idle gifts. They were deliberate, intentional moments when God parted Time, reached His hand through the precipice and said in no uncertain terms "I love you, my child. I am here. I see, I care, I will see you through to the end. Keep going, I am Your Strength, Guide and Shield." Grace, God's Infinite Grace infused our lives in those moments, bringing a little bit of Heaven's brilliance to the murkiness of Earth. We do well to replay them in our hearts and minds when shadows of doubt begin to creep in around the edges.

With all the Infinite Grace God has given us this year, we have no cause to fear as we journey into 2018. Jesus is "the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8). There will be plenty of grains of Infinite Grace to feed us throughout the year.

"Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find, to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He Whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best—
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest."

("Day by Day", vs. 1, by Karolina W. Sandell-Berg, 1865)

Image may contain: bird and outdoor


 

 

December 29, 2017

Lake-Effect Life.

I-94 in southwest Michigan has to be one of our state's most dangerous highways during the winter months. Having dealt with treacherous conditions on this stretch of road in years gone by, it was nothing new that hazardous conditions were part of our trip to and from Chicago this week to visit our son, Lance. Lake-effect snow from Lake Michigan loves to come to rest upon this part of the state and it pays no special favors to I-94. Clear sailing on this highly-traveled road can turn very treacherous in short order.

Whether it's an out-of-nowhere band of snow or a large snow storm, havoc is quickly wreaked upon drivers. Highway speeds can drop significantly in a short time, then decrease even further yet...we were moving at 5 mph at one point...and some cars and semi trucks put on their 4-way flashers.  There wasn't a lot of snow on the road...usually a thin layer at best.  Rather, it was a dull, dangerous glaze that was the culprit.  Rather, it was a dangerous, dull glaze that was the culprit.  Cars were off the road, police cars had their flashers going at various scenes and wreckers were coming to the rescue of stranded vehicles. For one to drive this highway in winter without being aware that danger can arise at any time is to be whistling in the dark. If bad weather sets in, to not slow down and exercise cautious wisdom is to beg for disaster.

Isn't this so much like our day-to-day lives? We can be moving along just fine when, out of the blue, we are blind-sided with an unforeseen problem of great significance that requires a sudden, drastic change in our lives. If we don't apply prayerful wisdom, caution, and focused care, we will very likely end up stranded and helpless in life's ditch...or even worse. When serious trials create treacherous roads in our lives, we must slow down the speed of life. It's imperative that we lower our expectations regarding what can be accomplished...our "rate of travel" and "time of arrival", if you will, will change dramatically...whether others understand it or not. Some things may have to fall off our schedule completely for an undetermined amount of time. Others facing similar trials may zoom right past us and wonder why we are moving so slowly...let them go on by. They may well end up in the ditch just around the next curve, having carelessly chosen to not face their troubles in a wise fashion.

When facing the dangerous roads of winter...or life...our speed of travel must fit the need of the moment. We must keep moving forward though, no matter how slowly. To pull onto the shoulder of the highway and stop is to greatly increase the chance of a disastrous collision...one literally becomes a sitting duck as others weather their trials. Simply put, we cannot quit in the storm. To ask for God's hand to be upon us in our troubles, as well as imploring His wisdom and direction, are such crucial steps to take.

As we slowly progress through the storms of life, our road gradually begins to clear over the long haul. Little by little, we can resume normal speed...normal life...as we reach, by God's infinite grace...the other side of the assault of weather we've endured.

Lake-effect snow...lake-effect life...just like on I-94 in the winter, it's wisest to proceed with caution and prayer.

 


 

Christmas Day, 2017

Lord Jesus, Light of the World, thank you for being born into this world and for being born within my heart. Your first bed was a dirty manger, a feed trough for beasts. You continue to be Food for all who receive You within their deepest being...beasts who hunger for, and are transformed by, Love Divine.

How silently, how silently, 
The wondrous gift is given; 
So God imparts to human hearts 
The blessings of his heaven. 
No ear may hear his coming, 
But in this world of sin, 
Where meek souls will receive him, still 
The dear Christ enters in.*

"Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us," (Luke 1:78)

* "O Little Town of Bethlehem", by Phillips Brooks, vs. 3, 1868

A Very Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Image may contain: fire


 

 

December 24, 2017 (entry #2)

For all those who grieve way-deep-down this evening, whose silver tears spill over out of nowhere...aching for those who've flown away and for years-gone-by...you are not alone. By the millions, we are together-yet-separate, gathered in solitary easy chairs and at firesides, alone with our memories.

There burns one Candle of Comfort. He whose birth we celebrate silently rests His hand upon our shoulder as His tears keep time with ours.

 


 

December 24, 2017

The Christmas Leaf.

From that late-April day in a mid-Michigan small town, when I first began to unfold in the springtime sun on the highest branch of a Sugar Maple, I was determined to do things my way, to cut against the grain...to modify a phrase that human beings use, I would "be my own leaf". In addition, finding myself stemming from the loftiest of positions, I felt I was of privileged birth and thus much better than the leaves below me who soaked up the very same cool sunshine as I.

I was entitled to my arrogance, I thought. I was the first to feel the falling raindrops. No one saw the rays of the rising sun before me and I was the last to watch it sag beneath the western horizon. I even had a clearer view of the moon than any of my fellow citizens. Though in size, shape and color I differed not from the leaves beneath me, the thought completely engulfed me that there was none that was as great as I.

When the gentle night breezes of June stirred the leaves around me, fluttering and rustling together as though offering applause to that which moved them, I dug in my heels and stood stock-still. Nothing greater than I would move me against my wishes...I controlled my own destiny on my own terms in my own time. I valiantly stood up to mid-July thunderstorms. While others beneath me quaked and shuddered...or were stripped from their branches...I barely quivered in the gales. I seemed to be invincible.

Brisk northerly winds in early October ushered in two nights of heavy frost. The tree we clung to became totally ablaze in brilliant orange within just days. My sense of pride was now in overdrive. Against the brilliant-blue autumn sky, I was breath-taking and I knew it.

The second day of November found me a mere shadow of myself and it scared me...my essence of orange was now mingled with brown, though I stubbornly clung to my lofty branch with unbroken determination. Throughout this month known to hold significant winds-of-change, I would not let go of who I was or my lofty position. I clung to that highest branch well into the days of December...until I alone remained. A cold, solitary feeling set in but it proved what I always knew: I was superior to those who had fallen before me.

I reached a point of exhausted existence in the afternoon winds of December 24th and was pulled...against my will...from my high-ranking perch. My landing was not soft for I didn't find my resting place upon the brown-and-green grass as many others had. The fast-moving air carried me to a driveway of hard, wet concrete. There, I tossed, rolled and finally came to a halt. There I lay...again alone...but this time it was different. Suddenly, my arrogance vanished into the wind that had stripped me from my place of pride. I found myself like all other leaves...at ground level, my high-ranking life now indistinguishable from any from the lowest branch. I laid there for hours that seemed like weeks.

In the damp cold of midnight, curled, brown and alone, I again heard The Whisper I had steeled my soul against for my entire life. I had sensed it in those breezes and winds that stirred my neighbors. Yet, I conceitedly ignored it, talked over it, drowned it in busyness, fought bitterly against it...until this moment. Lying there helplessly, I looked my own withered self in the eyes and listened....for the very first time.

Then, I heard them. Voices filled the wee hours of Christmas darkness with mercy, truth and love. The wet, nearly-iced pavement upon which I lay became strangely warm. Luminescent beings-with-wings lit up the black sky above me...the source of those voices. A Glow shone upon me and a Voice within those angelic voices spoke...as though only to me. My pride was entirely gone and my self-sufficiency a distant memory as The Truth surrounded me with Light. I could no longer rigidly fight against It. In my own way, I spoke from my heart to The Truth. I confessed my brutal stubbornness, my hideous arrogance, my resistance to The Whisper in the Wind...in other words, I met The Truth on His terms. Immediately, I felt something I never knew I needed until that very moment: an all-encompassing, unconditional pardon from The One I had so long resisted.

Strangely but beautifully, from that cloudless sky-of-coal floated a single snowflake from the now-open doorway of Heaven. It lighted upon me with a gentleness I never knew existed. Then another found its resting place upon me...then another and another. Within minutes, my brown-and-withered being was covered with a peace and purity unable to be found on Earth. Though all around me the flakes melted away, they clung determinedly...with the strength of Heaven itself...to my very being. I felt more beautiful than I ever had before...even in the peak days of October.

I had been humbled by The Whisper in the Wind. When I finally faced The Truth and admitted my long-term resistance to It/Him, I felt at home and complete...something I never knew, though I told myself I did...in my days of blatantly-arrogant pride.

As I lifted my eyes and peered through Heaven's doorway, I suddenly was transported back across two millennia in time and far across the sea. In a humble town called Bethlehem, inside a lowly barn, I saw The Truth laying in a feed trough for beasts...God-as-a-Baby-Boy...Jesus.

As I lovingly adored Him, I knew without doubt that the snowflakes that clung to my very soul had fallen from His loving, tiny hand.

"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 Savior, which is Christ the Lord." - Luke 2:10,11

"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool." - Isaiah 1:18

 


 

December 23, 2017

Christmas as a Child.

To utter the phrase "Christmas in childhood" immediately opens the door for me to a room full of memories filled with excitement and anticipation, joy and beauty, love and warmth from Decembers past. It is impossible to put a value upon those memories...and I would not trade the entire world's wealth for them.

Live Christmas trees wrapped with multi-colored strings of screw-in light bulbs, time-honored Christmas ornaments seen year-after-year, the simple star on top with a white bulb, spray snow and aluminum tinsel. It was top-of-the-mountain to turn all the lights off in the room, have the tree lit...along with a candle or two...and have Christmas records playing softly.

The atmosphere of the house, simply put, wore the garb of December. Old, familiar Christmas decorations were in various rooms, adding a beautiful flavor tasted only once a year. Mom was in her glory as she adorned each room and the glittering joy of this season's beauty fell upon the rest of us.

Mom baked and baked in the kitchen. Date-nut bread, Russian tea cakes and frosted cut-out cookies were standard fare and I can still taste each of those delicacies. My favorites were the cut-outs. There were various shapes...a candle, wreath, star, and ginger-bread man come to mind...created in made-from-scratch-and-hand-rolled dough year-after-year by those old, metal molds. It was a big deal when Mom let us help by pressing those molds into that delicious dough.

There were children's Christmas programs at church. A large, two-piece wooden stage was hauled upstairs from the church basement by men and placed on cinder blocks in the front of the sanctuary. An artificial grass carpet was placed on it and kids would one-by-one file to the microphone and nervously, softly and awkwardly say their "piece" to the delight of all the adults in the audience...if they could conquer the stage fright. After the program, we would each get a small candy Christmas tree...chocolate-covered marshmallow adorned with tiny, multi-colored dots...it sat in a white paper tray inside of a wrapper that exuded "Christmas". You would think I was handed $10,000...I still greatly treasure the memory of one of those trees in particular.

The Christmas programs at Flint Christian School involved various grades of students walking single-file along one side of the audience and up onto the stage in the gymnasium. We filled the risers row-by-row and stood with nervous focus upon our music leader, sang our songs and then, relieved, filed back off the stage. 45-50 years later, I will still hear or sing one of those songs from time to time and a special warmth fills my heart due to those memories. "Birthday of a King" is one of those songs. The sound of children's voices singing Christmas music carries a healing sound that no other voice can carry. It is a gift from Heaven. I am sure that many an adult's heart was warmed, comforted and blessed as they sat in that school gym during those programs. Burdened by the cares of life, they walked out those doors better than they entered them, their December now brighter for making the time to be there.

There were the treasured, annual family gatherings of the Weisgerber clan on Christmas Eve. Honoring the instructions of Grandma (in Heaven along with Grandpa) to "always stick together", adult siblings took turns hosting the evening, beginning with the oldest, Uncle Ed and Aunt Jean and trickling downward. No matter whose house held the clan that particular year, the rooms were filled to the ceiling with a jolly boisterousness as adults laughed loudly and cousins brimmed over with bright-eyed childhood joys that only Christmas Eve can hold. Again, I would not take all the money in the world for what those memories mean to me. This past July 29th, the extended family gathered from multiple states (as far away as California) for a treasured Saturday I will carry to the grave with me. There was such a beautiful atmosphere that hung over those grounds at Linden County Park...like a sweet cloud...an atmosphere that had its roots in Christmas Eve's of decades before. That day was one-of-a-kind and we'd lived long enough to realize that precious fact. We knew we were on sacred ground. The day was capped off as we held hands in a large circle and sang "Amazing Grace"...no doubt the story of the Weisgerber family. We walked away with a golden glow in our hearts that will last the rest of our days.

Visits to Grandpa and Grandma Hays' house in December held its own beauty, seeing the familiar white tree with tiny lights and the decorations Grandma would adorn their house with year-by-year. The special joy of going to their house on Christmas evening is a treasure to this day. Though they moved to California when I was 12, the atmosphere of those visits still remain locked into my Christmas Memory Room.

Christmas mornings at the Hays house would find us kids up early...well before Mom and Dad...filled with excited anticipation. We'd turn on the Christmas tree lights, look at present after present and see whose name was on this one or that one, trying to guess what might be inside. I still remember some of those gifts...I still treasure a small, 3-blade jack knife from 45-50 years ago. I fondly recall the excitement of seeing a very large package one year as I walked down the stairs...it was one a hockey rink with knobs that controlled the players, sliding them forward and backward, etc. I'd sure love to play another game on it today! Before we would open our gifts, Dad would read The Christmas Story to us from Luke 2:1-20, keeping the true meaning of Christmas front-and-center in our minds.

All this and more, my memories of Christmas in childhood, come alive in December and become even more vivid as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day near. No wonder The Christ entered this world as a Child. There is nothing else remotely like the joys of being a kid at Christmas time.

The closer I get to Heaven, I'm seeing that those glittering joys of childhood Christmases-past are, even at their brightest, simply a foretaste of the far-surpassing joys that await all who embrace The Christ of Christmas. No wonder Jesus told us we cannot enter Heaven's Kingdom unless we become like children (Matthew 18:3). As beautiful and precious as those old Decembers were, we'll look back from Heaven's living room and see that they were mere sketches of the masterpiece that awaited us.

Thank you for taking the time to step into The Room of Christmas Memories with me today.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

 

 

 

December 22, 2017

In Pursuit of Knowledge: A Coming-Home.

A long journey across the desert, traveling at night in order to follow a brilliantly-shining star, was not my first idea of a scholarly endeavor. Born into wealth, my parents placed top priority on the attainment of knowledge. I've embraced their ideals throughout my years, now working on my second doctorate. As a physician, completing my degree in astronomy is taking significantly longer to complete due to the daily demands of my medical practice. I needed a long break from my practice and studies, the entourage of Wise Men needed a physician to accompany them and, obviously, the study of the heavens was of great interest to me...so I joined the caravan. I just couldn't buy into following a majestic star westward for an indeterminate length of time. In my mind, to think it would lead to a "divine king" bordered on absurdity.

I've never been a man to believe in anything more than what I could ascertain through intense, thorough study and logic. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know. From my viewpoint, the universe contained a book comprised of limitless pages to be read, knowledge led to more knowledge...concept was built upon concept...and I was always thirsty to turn the page. In the big picture, who or what authored those pages was rarely a consideration for me. I was consumed with the content of the book. If there even was an Author, he/she/it would be so unknowable and distant, their Mind so far above the brightest human intelligence, they would be simply impossible to relate to.

Other learned men in the camel-train felt differently. They were older than I and we had previously engaged in lengthy discussions on the origins of the universe. Interesting and stimulating talks around campfires were commonplace...it seems men bare their deepest thoughts as they stare into night-time flames. These scholars patiently and gently laid out their case for a Creator...and somewhat convincingly so. I would at times raise heated questions and amazingly, they didn't return fire-for-fire. These wise men...and I didn't begrudge that fact, for they had traveled earth's paths twice as long as I...simply and factually laid out their long-thought-out line of reasoning based on ancient holy writings held dear, coupling them with observations and studies of all we find around us. In essence, they felt there could be no effect without a Cause, no design without a Designer, no book without an Author. As a lover of the heavens, I did admit that the universe was a perfectly-tuned, precisely-running clock. I could not totally dismiss the presence of a Clock-Maker but I was content to live life as though there was none. It was far more convenient to ignore that possibility...living life on my own terms was paramount.

As our night-time journey westward continued by the week, I had plenty of time to ponder as I rocked back and forth in the saddle of my beloved camel, a graduation gift from my parents upon my completion of medical school. My years of week-in-week-out medical practice and the pursuit of further education left me little time to "go deep" in my heart, mind and soul. This was a rare stretch of time for me and, to be honest, I was a quite uncomfortable with it all. I was better off with my days being overloaded with demands that kept my attention diverted from the mysteries of life. In a sense, I felt like a captive although I was far from my day-to-day demands. Yet, the lives of these highly-learned men traveling with me spoke without speaking...there was a depth and a peace to them that I had not yet found in my thirsty pursuit of knowledge.

The star we pursued rose higher and higher with each night of our journey westward. At long last, its beams cascaded down upon us from directly above. 1000 miles now separated us from the sands of home. To be totally honest, down in the deepest part of my being, I was a bit thrilled to be here myself. The excitement of my comrades was contagious, their eyes shone like the eyes of children anticipating the opening a birthday gift. This tiny town of Bethlehem, a simple, run-of-the-mill place, hardly seemed to be where one would find The King of the Universe, but who was I to differ? By now, I was along for the ride, trusting my mentors' research and, strangely enough, just as curious as they were.

With gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh in hand...presents fit for a king...we crowded into a little abode where we found a man, teenage mother and little child contentedly at peace in the presence of total strangers from a far-off country. It was almost like they were expecting us...something I could not quite comprehend. There was a total "at-restedness" to the man and girl...Joseph and Mary is how they introduced themselves. There was an enormous peace throughout the entire room, filling every corner. My comrades were on their knees, heads bent low to the floor, unashamedly weeping in the presence of The Child- King. I'd never seen them in such fashion, these logical, methodical, men-of-knowledge-and-wisdom. There was a "coming-Home" to the entire scenario...that's the best way I can put it.

Standing in the back of the group and wordlessly taking it all in, my skepticism started to melt. Suddenly, I felt as though I was in the presence of the Author of the book of the universe, an infinitely-thick volume from which I'd only read a few sentences. I was becoming overwhelmed with a sense that knowledge, wisdom and their pursuit was a journey with no end...there would always be another page in the book to read...and ultimate fulfillment would never be found in the turning of the pages, as noble as that process was. And what if I did reach the end of the book? What then? The thought was empty and unsettling. An eternal Light was turning on deep within me, a Light that my learned friends had previously experienced and now could see in the flesh.

My knees began to buckle under the weight of what I was experiencing. I, a proud, highly-intelligent man of achievement was suddenly dwarfed in stature by a Child named Jesus. I was being drawn into His presence of pure Love...a Love I never dreamed could exist. The fulfillment I found in my pursuit of knowledge was being far-surpassed by the Love in this little, simple room. I was overwhelmed by the Divine for the first time in my life. I had stared into the heavens many times and been lost in deep awe. Now, when gazing into the eyes of this Little Boy, a far-greater awe was engendered. I had found an infinitely-deeper universe...the Love of God.

I could no longer resist. I, too, found myself with knees on the floor, my head bowed low, tears flowing...tears of pure joy, something I was totally unfamiliar with. The clock of my soul had struck midnight...the beginning of a new day. I was in the presence of the Clock-Maker; I embraced Him as my own. The Designer of my hunger was also my Satisfying Bread

I had come Home for the first time in my life. Somehow, I knew it would be forever.

"And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God."  (Ephesians 3:19)

 


 

December 21, 2017

I lived a life on the run for years, a stray, a vagabond since the day my mother weaned me and pushed me out of my rotting-straw bed and into a dark back alley. A cold rain had fallen the night before and my 6-week old paws felt chilled as they slipped across drenched cobblestones as I scampered in the pre-dawn darkness. I was quickly being initiated to a lonely life-on-the-street in the little town of Bethlehem.

Immediately, my instincts took over and I scrounged by the hour for bits of food. My many steps between bites of nourishment drained what little puppy fat I still carried on my frame. Home varied with the night, wherever a suitable place of shelter presented itself. I eventually came to believe my name was "Git", for that's what most people said when they saw me...some muttered it with tired apathy while others shouted it in heated anger. I viewed myself as they did...unwanted, despised, a hated outcast. I joined an informal fraternity, dogs-on-the-street. We clung together in small packs...our meager attempts at knowing the feeling of family...and we scattered time and time again at angry outbursts from humans. The gnawing desire to belong was so deep, so strong, so aching that we, undaunted, would gather again and again in place after place. With flea-bitten, mangy fur stretched over our frail bones, we belonged to no one else but each other.

Then, for reasons I still cannot comprehend, I was ostracized from the pack. I know of nothing I did to harm the alpha male, but he viciously ran me off and I now was totally alone. Sitting daily in the doorways of businesses on Main Street, I looked into the eyes of people by the hour. Most of them quickly looked away, a few tossed a food scrap to me. Rare was the person who stopped, bent low and patted my head...but oh, those moments were replayed countless times in my mind as I sat there, longing for the next touch of someone who cared even the smallest amount.

On an erratic basis, I chose to spend the night in a little stable attached to the back side of the town inn. A gentle old soul named Benjamin owned the inn and he never ran me off. If he saw me slip in through the hole he never covered (I wishfully hoped it might be because of me), I would soon find a large handful of table scraps just inside the hole and I made quick work of them. I loved Benjamin's voice...it was warm and soft...there were notes of care in it...it was a soothing salve for my ever-aching soul. I didn't hear such tones on the street.

Just past midnight, Benjamin's voice jarred me from my restless sleep. Though still warm, it carried a sense of deep remorse as he apologized repeatedly to a man and teenage girl. "I'm so, so sorry...I have no room in my inn. I've been sold out for weeks... folks have been traveling here from afar due to the taxation edict handed down by Caesar Augustus. In fact, just hours ago, I rented out the only spare room of my house to a family", he said. "The least I can do is let you stay in the stable for free, Mary and Joseph."

The two weary travelers settled in with a hurried sense of urgency. The man clawed together some fresh straw for the girl to lay down in. Then, he stuffed some handfuls of fresh hay into the nearby manger. "A kind soul he must be", I thought, feeding beasts he's never met. I'd like to get to know him."

Suddenly, the darkness was pierced by the cry of a baby. I'd heard the cry of a newborn before...in back alleys. As a street-dweller, you hear most everything but I'd never heard a newborn's cry in a barn, and I'd never heard a Voice like this one. It was the strangest thing. This baby boy's wordless voice was like Benjamin's, multiplied times a million. I could just sense a love from another world in its every rise and fall. Us street dwellers have an innate sense of knowing true Love when we come across it. We've had to sift through countless voices brimming with facade.

I left my thin nest of straw in the corner and crept toward this Voice I could not resist. Then, I saw Him. He was somewhat like me, a vagabond. He was dressed in shabby strips of cloth...kind of like my thin, patchy coat. I immediately felt an indescribable affinity for Him, whoever He was. Somehow, I knew I was Home, though I never knew what that meant since puppy-hood. I then heard His name softly slip from the mouth of the teenage mother. "Jesus", she so tenderly said to Him, "I love you. Welcome to our world."

Bent humbly and low, I slowly inched toward the man at the young mother's side to soak up the moment. His hand ran across my bony back and blotchy coat before it rested softly upon my well-defined ribs. He gently pulled me close to his side. I could tell he had the same heart as the Baby in the manger. Somehow, I knew I would not leave that barn alone in the morning, that I now belonged to someone who cared, who loved me, who wanted me...

...not only on earth, but in the Heart of Heaven...the Heart of the Christ Child.

(Photo: Public Domain, pexels.com)

Image may contain: dog and outdoor

 

 


December 20, 2017

The Unending Gift of Being Wanted.

He sustained a bullet wound to the head in Europe during World War II... entering the side of his head and exiting from his forehead. It caused him trouble with vision in one eye that worsened over the course of his life. He felt that no one wanted him, she told me. "But I did", she said. He was in the latter-half of his 30's when she vowed the rest of her life to him and him to her.

There is nothing quite like being chosen, of someone greatly desiring your presence in their life and going to great lengths to let you know it. This dear lady went to the ultimate height, pledging all of her remaining days to an older man whom other women passed over, a hero who sustained a very serious injury while defending the freedom of the world. Perhaps those who left him on the sidelines of life hadn't looked past his face and into his heart. This precious woman possessed such a warm vision-of-the-heart, knowing that what was on the inside of this man was what counted the most.

Her heart is so much like the heart of Christ the Savior! He said "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you..." (John 15:16). These words are for everyone, from those dressed-to-the-nines in downtown Chicago to those picking through a garbage dump in Calcutta. He sees past it all...our game face, staged lines and looking-so-good behavior, the street person's multiple layers of hand-me-downs, the businessman's thousand-dollar suit, our net worth, our failed relationships. He sees the clutter deep down inside us, feels that knawing ache, He understandingly runs His gentle hand over our scars and longs to close our freshly-gaping wounds. He infinitely loves us and sees the potential He ingrained within us at our conception. He knows that who we really are, we are within...for He made us in His image and He is all about life-within-the-heart.

The ever-living, ever-loving Jesus has hand-picked each of us, just as we are, right where we are. He has pledged Himself to us not only for this short trip called life-on-earth, but for eternity-without-end in Heaven.

I chose to take Him upon His offer...I've pledged my life to Him in return. It's the best decision I've ever made. It feels beyond-good to be wanted by the Maker and Ruler of the Universe.

"...for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." (I Samuel 16:7)

Image may contain: night


 

 

December 19, 2017

Fresh Graves in December.

This past Sunday marked 5 years since we stood at Mom's open grave. Her sudden, unexpected slipping into the arms of Jesus 3 days prior brought the worst of emotions into a beautiful season of cheer, strings of lights, warm songs and good will. Dad's phone call on that Friday afternoon, December 14th, began a whirlwind of very foreign events...grieving and laying to rest the precious one whose very blood flows through your veins. Truly, it's a journey beyond words.

Visiting Mom's grave the following morning, the sight of those heaping clods of earth were so surreal. Beneath that raw, unhealed earth lay the lifeless little body of the lady who only 5 evenings earlier was smiling, chuckling, walking and talking. The human mind and heart has great difficulty processing such enormous contrasts. No wonder they call it shock. True, I knew where she was...in a place called Heaven, in the presence of Almighty God and Christ the Savior. She would never again be ill and she was enjoying the presence of precious loved ones and friends who reached those shores before her. I did not begrudge that fact in the least...rather, I found great comfort in it. Yet, each of us left behind were found on a trail of life and grief we'd never walked before.

Some of you may be facing an open grave this December. Others may be facing your first Christmas without a precious loved one lost earlier this year. Maybe you know this will be your last Christmas with someone whose life has reached its final page, aside from a miracle. Perhaps a doctor has recently handed you a dreaded diagnosis, your family recently broke apart in bitterness or your financial situation has suddenly reversed. The real world doesn't go on vacation when the calendar reaches December 1st. In fact, trials and heartaches become magnified this month.

All I can say is that you will get through it, just as countless millions have before you, myself included. Will it be easy? No. When we love, we hurt. Tears will flow, hearts will ache, precious memories will be relived over-and-over again. I've once again ventured back to Christmases-past this month. I have replayed Mom's last phone call to me, 3 days before she went Home, many times over the years in my memory. Wounds heal slowly, they break back open, they close a little tighter, they open and close again. Grief can blind-side you out of nowhere. Yet, you just keep putting one foot in front of the other on life's pathway.

I don't know what I would have done through Mom's loss had I not had the God of the Universe to lean so heavily upon. I experienced first-hand that at life's rock bottom, He is The Rock. He is the one who binds up the wounds of the heart. No one else can reach that deeply. I found Psalm 147:3 to be true: "He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds."

One of the reasons Jesus was born was to walk with us through life's darkest valleys. God loved us and cared enough for us to not stay remotely distant. Rather, He chose to rub shoulders with us, to taste of life-in-the-flesh firsthand. He drank from grief's deep, bitter cup at the grave of His dear friend Lazarus and "Jesus wept" (John 11:35).

The risen, ever-living Christ is a priceless Counselor, a deep Source of Peace at any time of year...He's only an honest, heart-felt prayer away...even in the cold darkness of December.

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

Image may contain: sky, tree, cloud, outdoor and nature

 

 

December 18, 2017

Born in a Barn.

George's woes started early in life. His quiet, quaint home town in Michigan's western Upper Peninsula seemed to be heaven-on-earth, but nothing could be further from the truth. His father, a World War II Veteran who had spent time in a Japanese POW camp, was an angry and abusive man when sober and even worse when drunk...which was several nights a week. In attempts to deal with it all, his mother was a functional alcoholic and very distant emotionally. The continual cycle of fighting, screaming, sleepless nights, treasured objects dashed to pieces, hollow apologies and empty promises scarred young George deeply. His report card bore the marks of failure in every class but one: gym. For that single hour, with his gifted athleticism, he was free of the heavy ills that haunted him. He always changed clothes for gym class in a far corner of the locker room, ashamed of the scars across his back...results of his father's belt-buckled attempts to beat good grades into him.

One summer night, his right eye swollen shut from his father's fist, he slipped out the window of his bedroom and fled his hell-on-earth at age 15. Big and athletic, he lied about his age and was able to secure work on a lumbering crew. George soon learned the relief found at the bottom of a few cans of beer each night...as temporary as it was. For a few hours, memories of his father's red-faced, jugular-bulging tirades disappeared and his mother's loveless motions seemed meaningful. Denying that he was a shadow of his father, he wrote it all off as what a guy does when "out with the boys".

When the Vietnam War began, George was too young to join the U.S. military. He repeatedly heard his Marine Sergeant father, wounded amidst the horrors of Iwo Jima, tell him that when he reached 18, he would be less than a man unless he enlisted to fight for his country. Unable to escape those haunting whispers in his mind, he didn't wait for the draft and chose to enlist in the Marines within a week after his coming-of-age. Within 3 months, this acne-faced boy was in the steaming jungles of 'Nam. Suddenly, his old home in the U.P. didn't seem so bad...the fear and horrors he faced hourly here were far beyond description. He grew up fast living by the gun...and spiraled ever-deeper into substance abuse with his comrades. An exploding grenade was his ticket out of Southeast Asia, 8 months into his tour of duty. His belly bore the huge emergency incision that spared his life, but George lived the remainder of his days without his spleen and left kidney.

Falling in love at age 20, he married the girl he covertly admired in high school at 21. It was a love-hate relationship, two people from alcoholic homes of dysfunction. Neither George or his wife knew what the sacrifices of real and dedicated love looked like. Their marriage counselors were movies, TV and friends caught in the same cycle of desperate brokenness. Two kids and 4 years later, their union ended in bitter divorce. Unwilling to admit that he was reliving the echoes of his father, George continued to self-medicate with booze and drugs...barely holding a slightly-above-minimum wage job. With his wages poured into addiction, he was behind on rent on his low-end apartment and found himself evicted. Living in a truck in the Upper Peninsula in winter is a slow method of suicide...an option sounding better and better all the time to George. Divorced and totally estranged from his kids, he had nothing left to live for. Yet, something kept him holding by a thread to this world...but what it was, he couldn't explain.

On one of the county back roads, an old barn seemed like a mansion to George. He night-after-night would park his 4-wheel drive pickup in the woods off a nearby side road and walk across the open field once darkness set in...sleeping bag under his arm. He became friends with the beasts who called that aging structure home and he would toss them a few crackers before climbing the ladder to the hay loft above their stalls. The rising body heat of those huge animals raised the temperature of the midnight air enough to make winter survival possible...but again, he didn't know why he should even care.

Lonelier than a single pine in the wilderness, George would drink himself to sleep night-after-night...haunted by memories of anger, abuse, war, failure and the repeated cycle he was desperately and helplessly caught in. Before passing out in the hay, his final thoughts each night were hopes that he'd never wake again.

The night of Christmas Eve, 1972 was the loneliest he'd ever known. George had no one and nothing to live for. Having lost his job the week before, even his drinking buddies had left him and he was totally at life's rock bottom. Beyond-desperate for his pain to end, he downed more liquor in less time than in any drinking challenge he'd ever undertaken and the world quickly faded away in that old barn.

It was somewhere between 2:00-3:00 am when George awoke to a sound he'd never heard before. Voices, sweet voices, singing words he remembered from his few visits to Sunday School with a friend in kindergarten. He could not see the faces of the singers, but a strange glow was seeping in through the slots between the gray boards he called home. Unexplainably, he felt a warmness all around him...a far cry from his usual middle-of-the-night shivering. Something he had never known was wrapping all around him...love, genuine love, Love from another world.

"The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight"* flowed like molten gold from the mouths of those singers, whoever they were. Whatever/Whoever they were singing about, he wanted to hear more of it, but they soon finished and vanished into the night. In the quiet after-glow of this visit from another world, the warmth, strangely enough, remained. Then, in the wee-houred Christmas morning darkness, he did what he had only done a few times before...in the jungles of Vietnam...he talked to a God he wasn't sure existed. As the words flowed, so did his tears. Incessantly, both poured from his broken being. Strangely, this time George knew he was connecting with the Loving Source of All...he was coming Home to a totally unfamiliar place.

Then, the Glow of Glows appeared beneath him. He heard the hooves of those friendly beasts gently stir in the straw, as though making room for a Visitor. He felt a Warmth much unlike that which the beasts shared with him...it had a quality of forever-ness to it. Instinctively, George knew he was in the presence of the Holy, but strangely, he wasn't afraid. Instead, he was beautifully drawn into the Warmth, this Love from another world. To call it an oasis in the desert was a gross understatement. A Voice spoke from the Glow in tones George had wordlessly longed for his entire life: "I am Jesus, God's Son, and I was born on Christmas for you. I love you, George...beyond anything you could ever begin to imagine. Will you give your heart and life to me? I will heal your heart, mend your brokenness and give you meaning. I am your Savior, your Hope, your Everything."

Then, again, the barn went dark, yet remained strangely warm. In those first hours of Christmas, 1972, George came Home. You could say he was born in a barn, just as his new-found Savior was nearly 2000 years before. His breathing became soft and rhythmic as he drifted back to sleep like a baby. For the first time in his life, he knew heavenly peace...the Peace of The Baby.

* "O Little Town of Bethlehem", excerpt from verse 1, by Phillips Brooks, 1868.

Image may contain: snow and outdoor

 


 

December 17, 2017

Jesus doesn't always remove the snow that falls upon our souls, yet He warms us in the midst of it.

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

(In the Bleak Midwinter, by Christina Rossetti, 1872; music by Gustav Holst, 1906)


 

 

December 16, 2017

God writes the greatest of stories. It's impossible to improve upon His story line...and it's never more evident than with the Christmas Story.

All of the characters, the elements, the settings, the struggles...everything dove-tails perfectly to bring The Savior into our world. The story-line in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 has such a magnetic way of drawing the reader in...exactly as The Author of History intended. Everyone finds themselves somehow, somewhere within it.

From society's lowest (the shepherds) to its highest (the wise men and Luke the Physician), God was speaking. He wrote into the plot an aged, barren aunt (Elisabeth) and a young, pregnant, single mother (Mary). A very religious man who lacked faith in God (Zacharias) and some rough-as-a-corncob men who didn't (the shepherds), a God-following, humble craftsman (Joseph), a power-hungry, ruthless king (Herod) and so much more figure into how God introduces The Savior to the world.

The Story of Stories is topped off by the most unlikely of scenarios: The Maker of our endless Universe hides within the flesh of Newborn Jesus, His first inhaled air being tinged with the odor of manure. He didn't grow up in a regal palace but in a town of 400, raised not by royalty but by uncommon commoners. The Writer was consistent with His theme throughout Scripture: He delights in surprise, in the small and everyday, in using the routine through which to speak...in other words, He finds us where we are.

God is telling us that He is highly approachable through Jesus. How much more non-threatening can He be than to wait in a barn for our visit...not as a power-brokering king surrounded by body guards but as a baby boy kept warm by the body heat of beasts?

Image may contain: night


 

 

December 15, 2017

A Merry Little Christmas.

It doesn't take that much to have a Merry Christmas, at least in the opinion of its Author. His blueprint for a successful Christmas called for a lot of "little": a little town called Bethlehem, a little stable, a little manger and a little baby boy named Jesus...also known as "God With Us".

Perhaps our emphasis should be more on "little". So many times The Infinite Christ shows up in such places and ways...and suddenly, everything becomes much bigger.

Image may contain: snow and outdoor

 


 

December 14, 2017

Of Heart, Hands & Hearth.

It was 5 years ago today at approximately 1:30 pm that I got "the call". I know right where I was when I heard Dad's voice on the other end. Suddenly, it wasn't Christmas. Mom, who'd had a very routine morning at home, was in very serious condition and was going to be rushed from dialysis to the hospital. Though she had endured many illnesses and come very, very close to death before (on my 44th birthday, I thought I said my final goodbyes to her as the ambulance personnel were in her family room, only to miraculously and beautifully hear her talking before I ever entered her room in ER), somehow I sensed in my spirit that this time, she was gone. And she was.

Everything comes crashing to a halt when the one who carried you into this world suddenly leaves it. The night of December 14th of 2012 was the worst of my life. Grieve, toss, turn, think, pray...repeat...repeat...repeat. The little lady who walked so briskly in her home the evening before and smiled her beautiful smile of great-grandma-joy was now gone from this world. Gone for good. There are no words for loss like that. None.

As my mind walks back across the years this morning, there are innumerable moments that Mom gave to each of us. It's impossible to put a value on what she did for us...much too high for this world's standards of wealth. If it's possible to somehow condense the blessings she poured into our lives into a few words...and there's simply no adequate way to do so...it comes down to heart, hands and hearth.

Mom's faith in Jesus Christ, the One whose birth-celebration fills up not just one day in December but the entire month, was what her life was unquestionably built upon. Everything flowed outward from Him living within her heart. Her very-well worn Bible was opened early in the morning, before us kids were out of bed. Her conversations with the Lord began in those early hours, ran throughout the day and, if she couldn't sleep, throughout the night. Jesus was not just her Savior, He was her Lord and her Source through the many trials of fire she walked through in life. For instance, at age 23, Mom buried her beloved mother. Two Novembers later, her dear father was placed beneath the sod next to Grandma. Mom carried those wounds quietly and deeply for a long, long time. As a kid and as an adult, I could sense it surface from time-to-time.

Mom's hands worked incessantly. Her loving, dedicated heart came out through her hands....and never more so than at Christmas time. Our home became alive in a very special way in December. Mom absolutely loved Christmas. Her hands were extra-busy during this season as she decorated the house and baked so many wonderful things in the kitchen. My favorite was her cut-out cookies...the dough was made-from-scratch and rolled out by hand...then frosted in red-and-green. Oh, to just sit down with her this morning, have a few of those cookies (okay, more than a few!), a couple cups of coffee and simply talk with her, rambling from topic to topic, seeing her pretty smile and hear her witty quips and chuckles. As we would sit at the table, nearby would be her Bible, opened to Luke 2...a red ribbon running down the middle...her traditional centerpiece for December. One of her most endearing Christmas traditions for me was when those hands put a stack of 33 1/3 Christmas records on the stereo and our house was filled with the heart-felt songs of Christmas. To lay in bed on December nights as a kid and hear those timeless songs softly drift upstairs...there are no words for what that means to me to this day. No wonder it's my favorite time of year to sing.

Though Mom worked in various, very dedicated ways to help those in need outside our home, the needs inside our home were her top priority. The hearth, not the outside world, was where her heart was. We knew she loved us, she cared and she'd do anything for our best interest. She was there. Her presence around the house spoke wordless, thick volumes of worth to us.

Mom, our hearts down here are feeling the void of your absence today...your presence simply can't be replaced. Yet, in another way we feel you near us. Our memories of you are what we're living on now. What you left behind will see us through until we meet again in Heaven: heart, hands and hearth. Thank you for your boundless, loving, giving, mother's heart. We thank God greatly for you.

Oh, by the way Mom, how many times have you sang "Come to the Manger" on those streets of gold...part of it in German...just like you did as a little girl for Christmas programs at church?

 

 

 

December 13, 2017 (entry #2)

5 years ago tonight, Debbie and I were at Mom and Dad's house. After enjoying a great pot of chili for supper that she and Dad had made earlier that day, Mom held up this little shirt with a big smile. She had recently bought it for then-North Dakota great-grandson Wesson and was proudly showing it to Debbie and I. Later that evening, just before leaving, I put my arm around her frail, stooped shoulders and said "see you later". I simply didn't realize what "later" would mean.

Jesus called her name early the next afternoon as she sat in a dialysis chair. An angel carried her safely through Heaven's gates never to be ill and suffer again. Mom saw the indescribable beauty of The Savior's face, He whose birth she celebrated so beautifully at our house each Christmas Season.

We love and miss you, Mom. We'd love to see that big smile one more time and hear you chuckle as you shared a thought with us. Thanks so much for always making Christmas such a wonderful, bright, beautiful season at our house! Perhaps you're hanging bulbs on Heaven's Christmas Tree at this very moment!

Yes, I'll see you later, Mom...at the feet of Jesus.

 


 

December 13, 2017

God’s Christmas Fireplace

Pull a chair up to God’s hearth,
He is waiting there,
A warm and crackling fire is on
And Love is in the air.

Let Him sing a Carol,
A Love song pure and true,
There’s a Baby snuggled in His arms
And He’s handing Him to you.

Hold Him close up to your heart,
Never let Him go,
Feel his soft breath on your cheek,
Soothes your spirit low.

- Dan Hays


 

 

December 12, 2017

" For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Image may contain: outdoor

 


 

December 11, 2017

Ringing the Bells of Memory.

How often did the shepherds replay the Bethlehem countryside's midnight sky lighting up like the noon-day sun? Simultaneously filled with startled-fear and wondering-awe as those brilliantly-shining beings hovered between heaven and earth, I'm thinking it crossed their minds every day for the rest of their lives.

How many times did those men living on society's low end ponder the angel's words "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord"*...with great emphasis placed on "you"? "You mean God valued ME enough to send ME a Savior?", they would say in their hearts. I think it was very often...and they felt valued like never before.

Their moments spent at the manger-side, kneeling, gazing into the God-Baby's face...just as the angels told them they would find Him...would linger forever in their hearts, minds and souls. It would have been continual food for thought as they manned the hillsides in the decades ahead. They had come face-to-face with God. Had I been one of those highly-blessed shepherds, my face would have been buried in my hands, bent low on my knees to the straw-strewn floor. Tears would have run between my fingers. I would have been overwhelmed to have been in the presence of The King of the Universe. I would have lingered long in His love-glow, soaking up enough for the rest of my life.

I have been replaying some of my "God-Moments" this morning. As with all of us, His tender mercies have overflowed in my life. None of us would be anywhere without them. Although every moment is, in reality, a God-Moment, it's those mountaintop interventions that I've been pondering. All of them were huge. Not all of them would appear that way to an outsider, though. Divinely-timed moments carry immense power in the spiritual realm, no matter how "small" the material pieces involved. A sparrow lighting near me has often reminded me that God is watching both of us. I have never forgotten seeing a blind man with folded-cane in his left hand, his right hand resting upon the shoulder of a friend, walking trustingly and confidently through a shopping mall. I really needed that example of faith in Jesus...and He provided it. I have replayed that sight time-and-again in my mind.

The dramatic moments...big or small...that God sends to us don't last. They vanish like the angels did on that first Christmas night. Yet, just like the shepherds did over their many dark, lonely nights that comprised the rest of their lives...amidst their mind-grinding routine of tending sheep on that very same hillside...it is a very good thing to rehearse God's blessings in our lives...and to again be thankful for them. Ringing the "bells of memories" brings us warmth, strength, purpose, meaning and encouragement. They light up the hillsides of our hearts in the night. Those interventions-from-Above keep our eyes upon the heavens, from which The Giver of "every good and perfect gift" (James 1:17) will bestow our next surprising blessing...right when we need it.

Many times, He shows up in the unsuspected, common places...like a fly-trodden feed trough in a little barn 2000 years ago.

* Luke 2:11

 

 

 

December 10, 2017 (entry #2)

O Holy Night.

On Christmas Eve, 1906, "O Holy Night" was the first song ever played live on the radio.

Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden, broadcasting from Brant Rock, MA, played a phonograph of Handel's "Largo". He then followed by playing "O Holy Night" on the violin, singing the last verse as he accompanied himself. Following this, he read The Christmas Story from Luke 2.

 

 

December 10, 2017

My Story.

I jostled continually in his arms. My teen-aged master, Cornelius, had run down full-speed the hillside and through the city gate of Bethlehem before he slowed down, panting, to a brisk walk. He and his comrades, "those good-for-nothing shepherds" as the townsfolk called them, were in a state of bewilderment and near-mania. The midnight skies had lit up brighter than the noon-day sun 10 minutes ago with beings from another world. One of the older men called them angels...a word he had heard his faith-filled grandmother use when he was just a schoolboy.

Those beings, whatever their name was, had brought a strange-but-beautiful message of joy and hope to these men working 3rd shift on the cold, dark hillside. I heard the words "Fear not" from one of those beings above me...and the quivering arms of Cornelius relaxed only slightly as he held me tightly to his heart. I wish I could have seen these messengers-from-Above...I could tell they were beyond-extraordinary by the hushed-but-excited voices of these men who occupied the lowest rung of society's ladder. Yet, I hadn't ever seen my master's face. I knew nothing but total darkness. I was born blind. Had it not been for the tender heart of this teen boy who dearly loved me, I would have been left alone in the wilderness to be devoured by wolves...I was considered next-to-worthless.

After coursing through several side streets and back alleys, the shepherds suddenly slowed their steps, then came to a standstill. Cornelius said, "This must be it...it's the only other stable in town, the broken-down one owned by old-man Thaddeus. The angel did say we'd find The Savior laying in a manger."

My master's youthfulness prompted him to lead the way to the grayed, half-falling-apart door. Through the cracks, he could see a teen girl and an older man muttering back and forth as they peered into, yes, a manger...their faces glowing with joy. Tentatively, the door creaked open as the two of us led the way inside.

I felt Cornelius take 3 steps into the tiny room and halt. Slowly, reverently, he sank to his knees, holding me close on his descent into the rotting straw. I felt hot tears falling from his eyes...eyes that could see Someone I could not...and my young wool soaked up each one. Somehow, he knew he was in the presence of One much greater than he, Someone he had wordlessly yearned to meet, never knowing Whom it may be.

Knowing my master's movements well, I could tell he had now raised his head. He exchanged a few words with the teen girl...I think her name was Mary...but she said it so softly I couldn't be sure. Slowly but deliberately, he stood to his feet and took 2 more steps and again stopped. I felt myself slowly leave his chest as he gingerly reached toward the manger, placing my little frame next to the newborn Baby Boy laying on fresh hay within it. Cornelius whispered in my ear "just lay still next to Him and keep Him warm." I felt his bare legs next to me, as well as some rags around his upper body.

Suddenly, I felt like I'd come Home. I never knew any other home than the loving, strong arms of Cornelius, my shepherd- boy master. Yet, instantly, I knew I was in the presence of One much, much older than a newborn. In my spirit, I could tell this little boy was from another world. He had a "foreverness" to His being...The Ancient of Days is a good way to describe Him. I felt cared for immediately. The tender love I felt from Cornelius was multiplied by infinity...it's the only way I can describe what I felt. Why He would need my small amount of warmth was a total mystery, but I felt so fulfilled and important to provide it. As I lay quietly beside Him, I soaked in the warmth from another world from His being.

My pent-up anger over my inability to see started to bubble to the surface as I lay there. Why me? I hadn't asked to be born blind. I was missing so much in life and I was frustratingly bitter. True, I'd come to a point of semi-resignation to my plight...Cornelius' love and acceptance helped me greatly...but I still battled it all in my quiet hours at night while he slept nearby. I really wanted to see everything in my world, especially this special Treasure laying beside me.

The Newborn stirred. The teen girl's deep maternal instinct was quickly in motion as she quietly hushed Him as He squirmed in the prickly hay. I felt His tiny right hand brush across my useless eyes as He settled into a new position...and I felt a warmth flow into them. Then, it happened. I didn't know what "blurry" meant, but that's what it was. My eyes that never knew light began to see as though through a rain-blurred window. I dared not move should I ruin what was taking place. Slowly, the water drained from the window pane and I shuddered with joy. A fresh, shining Newborn's face came clearly into focus...it perfectly matched the infinite love I felt flowing from His heart for me. Never seeing a smile before, I didn't know what to call it, but that's what was on His face as His young-but-ancient eyes met my newly-born ones. My eyes then blurred again, this time from tears. I knew what they were for they had flowed bitterly on many occasions.

For the first time in my life, my tears were warm...not with anger, but with joy...unspeakable joy! In my attempts to love and warm The Master, He had given me my sight.

(Scripturally, we know that Jesus's first miracle was performed as an adult at a wedding in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-12)...but thanks for traveling with me along the path of "what could have been, had He deemed it"!)

(Photo: Public Domain, courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net)

 


 

December 9, 2017

A Cobblestone Speaks.

I was dug from deep beneath the earth and tossed onto a mud-caked ox cart over 3000 years ago. The city of Bethlehem, which means "The City of Bread", was under construction and I was felt to be worth a piece of street pavement. After a bumpy ride into the newborn-town, rough, tanned, hard-working hands placed me within the dirt of a side street and pounded me firmly into place with a mallet.

Over the next 1000-plus years, innumerable events happened atop me. Wheels of carts rolled heavily over me, some of which pushed me and my comrades a little deeper into the earth. The mud-caked hooves of weary beasts pulling those carts used me as a firm foundation while their masters mercilessly barked at them. This really stirred my anger for I was part of a street with a long, uphill grade. Feet...oh, the feet of the people who used me as a stepping stone...impossible to number! My favorites were the bare feet of children...they accompanied little voices that more often were cheerful than not. Businessmen's well-made sandals hurriedly moved over me. Thin soles worn by the elderly shuffled and scraped across me on their way to market. I always felt privileged to be a part of their day for they had done so much for this little town we call home. I knew them well for I had felt their warm, toddling feet 80 years before.

Only a mathematician could calculate the number of sunrises I felt warm up chilly soul. I always welcomed them. Yet, sometimes I would not see one for days or even weeks...until the next heavy rainfall arrived...for beasts of burden mindlessly excreted their waste upon me as they worked. I not only missed the sunshine in-between rains but also the touch of human feet...I felt most useful when they graced me. You would think that I'd get used to these times of drought after so many centuries, but I never did...you'd have to understand my love for feet...especially those young, little ones of promise.

I had nothing to do in life but to lay there in the hard-as-rock earth, so I did a lot of thinking...and listening. Voices in this little town became very familiar...I followed them from young-and-innocent to old-and-weary, generation after generation. Some were like friends, others were so filled with bitterness and hate that I dreaded their sounds. I always wondered what those little voices and feet-of-promise held. Would they be the next mayor in town, a skillful tradesman, a loyal spouse, a loving parent, a person who cared for their fellow man?

Sadly, Roman soldiers' feet became commonplace in our little town in 63 BC. Few were the ones that belonged to the kind. Those feet walked sternly, ruthlessly and with unwavering authority. Helplessly, I dreaded their sounds and resented their presence for 6 very long decades.

Then, one day I noticed a very significant uptick in traffic, not only on my street but throughout our beloved Bethlehem. Streets were jammed unlike any time in my life...not that I minded their company. Voices of entire families, voices I'd never heard before, mingled with those of "the regulars". Their common theme of conversation, tinged heavily with generous amounts of complaint and disgust, was that of an empire-wide taxation demanded by the Roman emporer, Caesar Augustus. Not only did one have to pay it, but they had to travel...no matter how far or how costly...to their city of birth to do so. The only people in town genuinely happy about it all were the merchants, the inn keeper and, of course, the ruthless tax collectors.

One night during that taxation will live forever in my memory. My street was deserted and silent when suddenly the hoof beats of a donkey and the familiar sounds of a man's sandals approached me. Being past midnight, this was an uncommon occurrence and I wearily half-dozed, vaguely interested in the goings-on. Those steps stopped right next to me and the travel-weary-but-kind gentleman regretfully said, "Sorry, Mary, but this stable is the best I can do. The inn is full." There was a distinct urgency in her voice as she said, "It's fine, Joseph. Please, hurry, help me inside. He will be born very soon!"

The next moment changed my life forever. My thousand-plus years of a commonplace, obscure, side-street existence suddenly found its ultimate meaning. As this young, full-term, mother-to-be slipped from the donkey's back, her right foot used me for support as she steadied herself for 2-3 seconds. There was no sandal between her and I...and I immediately felt something entirely foreign to me. A sudden Warmth poured into me. It was unlike that of any mid-summer's noon-day sun. It didn't scorch and drain me, it filled soothed and filled me...to overflowing. No human's foot had ever transmitted such indescribable beauty to me...and I inherently knew this Beauty was not flowing from the girl named Mary, but from the One she carried within her. This was a Glory from Above, from God-in-the-Flesh, from Eternity-into-Time. I immediately, unquestioningly knew I had met my Maker, the One who had spoken me into existence.

I now knew why I was who I was, where I was, when I was. Plain, ignored, well-worn and weary, I, a very simple cobblestone, had helped...just for a moment...to carry The Savior of the World. My life and purpose was forever worthwhile. I had experienced the Infinite Love of the King. My stone-cold heart was warm with a Glow from Heaven. Had I possessed a mouth, I would have immediately burst into a song overflowing with joy.

But I didn't have to. From the skies just outside of town, the mouths of angels sang a melody no human tongue could ever sing. Its distant tune and words drifted so sweetly, so softly down my weary, ancient street: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."* Sweeping over me, those gentle sounds sweetly mingled with sudden cries coming from within the tiny barn I'd be stationed in front of for centuries...those of a Newborn Son, the One who knew I would someday meet Him the very moment He made me.

In this City of Bread, my starving, stone-cold heart was fed to overflowing by the warmth of The Bread of Life**. I would never go hungry again.

* Luke 2:14
** John 6:35

 

 

December 8, 2017

Christmas on Saginaw Bay.

Jim stepped a little unsteadily into his camouflaged jon boat, joining his 7 year-old yellow Labrador Retriever, Kiowa. The pre-dawn darkness, 30-degree December air and a stirring northeast breeze all combined to put an even colder chill across his soul. He had hunted waterfowl on Saginaw Bay since he was a kid. For a moment...just a moment...his heart was warmed by the memories of hunting so many years ago with Grandpa and Dad, using old-style wooden decoys. Now a year past 70 and a widower for 3 years, life for him routinely felt as dark and cold as the weather whipping around him. For hopes of finding fulfillment for even a few hours, he wanted to again visit these waters he knew so well and loved so much. The forecast was for spitting snow and winds reaching 15 mph...perfect for the ducks to be moving about. A slight chop on the water slowed him a bit as he headed toward a large, secluded stand of reeds...his favorite spot, gleaned from his many years on the bay.

He had watched his beloved wife of 45 years battle cancer over 6 long years. The ups-and-downs, the repeated rising-and-crashing hopes had taken its toll on him...and he still hadn't recovered. Monthly bills from the hospital and doctor were continually visiting his mailbox. His heart was bursting with chronic loneliness. Rare was the day when clear skies and sunshine were the forecast for his heart. His only son lived 4 states away and, though they talked weekly, their face-to-face visits were twice a year. His daughter and son-in-law lived just 25 minutes away but their hands were full with work and 3 teens...the oldest of which, his 17 year-old grandson, was struggling with identity issues, the high school party scene and plunging grades. Jim had spent countless hours with him on these waters in the autumns of yesteryear and they had been very close. But, as the high school years arrived, the two of them had mysteriously grown distant and it broke Jim's heart.

As he settled into his spot among the reeds, Kiowa nuzzled his hand. She was his best friend now, always loyal, always loving, always there...but she couldn't fill the void within him. Thoughts of turning his 12 gauge on himself and ending it all that morning suddenly were heavy and real. It could all be over in a moment. Why go on? He'd lived a full-enough life, the love of his life was gone and his remaining family had their own demanding lives to live. Yet, instead of picking up his gun, he buried his face in his hands and sobbed tears of wordless grief and hopelessness.

Jim had fished on Saginaw Bay on so many July mornings that he couldn't begin to count them. The balmy air, coupled with those mid-summer sunrises, made for bright, warm mornings. For some very strange reason, this is what he suddenly sensed as he sat there forlornly, hunting gloves holding his bowed face. He slowly lifted his head and was deeply startled. The eastern sky had not yet turned a light gray, yet it was uniquely brighter than the summer sun. Not a religious man by any means, he had heard of angels in story books and movies but had brushed them all off as simple fantasies of children. Yet, here he was, face-to-face with a being from another world, a man in a brilliantly-shining, white robe.

Jim found himself fearfully and quickly on his knees. Kiowa, on the other hand, seemed fully at peace as she sat attentively at his side. The brightly-shining man began to speak and Jim shuddered...he was lost in a moment he never conceived could happen. The being was telling him to not be afraid, that he was bearing good news of great joy. Though Jim could not begin to understand what this all meant, he did know that suddenly he had touched The Eternal. He had seen a ray of hope. This being, an angel, told Jim that a baby boy had been born that night in Bay Port, a tiny town of 400-500 along the bay's eastern shore. Beyond-stunned, Jim heard the angel say that this baby was Christ the Lord, the Savior of the World and that He could be found in the town garage, wrapped in clean shop rags.

As Jim feared that he was losing his mind or having a bad dream, more angels suddenly filled the eastern sky and their glow not only lit up the bay, it shined into his heart. They were praising the God of the Universe and he'd never heard such a sound. Nor had he ever felt such a warmth and peace...and he hoped-against-hope that it was all real. Then, the skies suddenly darkened as the angels went back to their Heavenly home. With hands shaking and mind spinningly numb, Jim immediately headed toward shore. He was mysteriously drawn to what he had heard and was compelled to follow up on it. Pulling his boat onto the trailer, he and Kiowa quickly headed down M-25 toward town.

Not sure exactly where the town garage was, Jim drove up and down the side streets until he saw a soft glow emanating from a small, cinder block building. It was still too early for the shop to open, but a Light was on so he pulled into the small gravel parking lot. As he and Kiowa approached the front door, the pull on his heart...so strong, so warm, so beautiful...became more intense with each step. He knocked on the door and listened. The kind, gentle voice of a man beckoned him inside.

Strange as can be, as he stepped inside, he saw a man and a teenage girl sitting on crates between two cars in the repair bays. The young lady was holding a tiny baby boy and, just as the angel had said, he was wrapped in shop rags...the red ones he'd seen for so many years. Overwhelmed as he walked toward them, he quickly dropped to his knees as Kiowa stretched forward on her belly. "His name is Jesus", the young girl said. "You are welcome here...stay as long as you wish."

Jim stayed on his knees for an undetermined, unhurried amount of time, his head bent low to the strangely-warm concrete. Wave-after-wave of peace and love flowed over and through him. Strangely-but-beautifully, anger, bitterness, doubt and hopelessness washed out of him by the bucket-loads. A Heavenly Love-Light shone into his dark soul and a Glow lit every corner within him. He felt a true sense of forgiveness for the many sins that had weighed on his conscience throughout the years. Everything he had longed for but could never put into words was here, in the presence of this tiny boy named Jesus.

It wasn't a hallucination. It wasn't a dream. It was God touching earth. It was a widower's lonely soul being rescued by The Savior. He couldn't find the words for it all. Eternal life beyond this world was now his. He had experienced Divine Love and Grace first-hand.

Jim arose from his knees a new man as Kiowa's tail whipped back and forth with great joy. Christmas had come to Saginaw Bay.

Image may contain: sky, cloud, tree, outdoor, nature and water