A Winter Night in New England

Tonight I am watching my woods fill up with snow.  My dog does not think it strange for me to stand here.  And I have no promises to keep before I sleep.  Sorry Robert Frost.  I could not resist.  But like Frost I am filled with awe at the rugged beauty of tree arms holding snow instead of leaves.  Under the white blanket myriads of furred creatures sleep with their noses tucked in for a long winter’s nap.  Chickadees, tufted titmice, juncos, gold finches, cardinals, blue jays and woodpeckers filled up in anticipation of a muffled night of softness.  It’s a sweet thing to be tucked in on a New England night with the crackling of the fire and the shimmering shadows on wooden walls. 
These are times when all I wish to do is thank all my friends for their care.  My family for their love and my Jesus for His promises that not only will this never end but it will grow better as millennia pass.  How can it be that it is so difficult to spread the Gospel?  I am not only thinking about people whose lives are so busy they can’t pause to ponder the joys.   But I am thinking of those who have grown up thinking they are Christians and yet still harbor doubts of their salvation.

The only conclusion I can come to is it is just too good to be true and we are told when something is too good to be true it isn’t true.  But in this case it is all true.  The Gift of God is eternal life.  According to the dictionary a gift is “something given to somebody, usually on order to provide pleasure or to show gratitude.”   Jesus said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”   Luke 12:32

A Real Tomato

Have you ever looked at a tomato?  I mean really look at a fully ripe, lush, shiny red tomato.  Sitting in the sun it is a thing of beauty.  When I was a boy someone told me in ancient times people thought tomatoes were poisonous.  I wondered who was the first brave person who dared try one only to discover it wasn’t dangerous, or maybe someone tried to commit suicide by eating one and it didn’t work, or maybe they tried to use one as a means of capital punishment only to have the intended enjoy his last meal.  They could always throw them at bad public speakers.
It’s marvelous that tomatoes grow from those tiny white seeds. One would never know what a tomato looks like by only looking at a tomato seed.  Paul had this in mind when people asked him what we will look like after the resurrection.  So he wrote the following in I Corinthians 15.  “When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.  But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.”
So the answer to the question is Paul didn’t know and neither do we.  What we do know is it will be splendid. “Just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man.”  Verse 49   In verse 51 Paul calls it a mystery.  This is a mystery we all should love because it is about us, His redeemed.  No wonder sometimes we refer to someone as a “real tomato.”

A Blast of Cold Air

I opened the door about five this morning to let my dog out and was smacked in the face by the most wonderful blast of cold air.  It was marvelous, refreshing and invigorating.   I know I should have been energy conscious and quickly closed the door to save household heat but I was prodigal.  I held the door open and basked in the luxury of fresh air.  Wow.  It was terrific.
So easily we grow accustomed to the norm we don’t notice the norm itself is degrading.  In this particular incident the air in the house had slowly grown stale.  But that isn’t nearly as important as the concern that we become accustomed to the values and norms of the world around us.  We all do it.  J. B. Phillips in his paraphrase of Romans 12 says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” 
It is so easy to grow lukewarm.  All we have to do is nothing.  It happens all by itself.  Fortunately things happen to us, like a blast of cold air, and we are jarred into the reality of our state of being.  Then it’s time to take action.
New Year’s is on our doorstep and we often make resolutions about doing better at certain things, like losing weight.  That’s important for most of us.  But more importantly is something we talked about yesterday – putting on and wearing “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3.   That’s a blast for everyone with which we come into contact.

Dress Like a King

Just hours after England’s three-year-old Prince George appeared at church for holiday services, the knee-length coat he was wearing was sold out.  If you had been quick enough on the computer you too could have had your little boy dress like a prince for only $147.00.
Actually, we can do much better.  All of us can dress like a king.   Paul said, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Romans 13:14.  Apparently Paul liked this illustration because he used it in two of his other letters – once to the Colossians and once to the Galatians.  Paul liked nice clothes for what could be nicer than, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12
That’s a very chic wardrobe.  You can go to the closet and say, “What shall I wear today?  Compassion?  Hum, I think today I will wear patience.”  Well, that will not work.  You don’t have to choose, you just wear them all and you will be the best dressed person in the world.  You will be ripe for the cover of all or any fashion magazine because these are timeless classics that never go out of style.
Paul said to the Galatians, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” 3:27   It is exciting to think that we can wear the righteousness of Christ. All of the blunders, stupidity and deliberate acts will no longer matter because in Christ we are as perfect as He is perfect.  I wish that meant we would no longer do all the blunders, stupidity and deliberate acts.  It doesn’t.  It means we are legally covered as long as we are committed to growing in Him.

The Savvy Shopper

I’m sitting here looking at an ad in GQ magazine for a thousand dollar pair of jeans.  Both legs have frayed holes in them and they look like they have been tied to the back of a car and dragged twenty miles down a gravel road.   Are people really that gullible?  Surely one could get such a ragged pair of jeans in the throw away bin at the Salvation Army.  It must be something akin to the Emperor’s clothes.  If enough people say it’s cool and chic, someone will buy them.
But wait a minute.  Couldn’t someone make a similar accusation against God?  Jesus came and paid a horrendous price for us and what did He get?   He paid for a bunch of losers.  Thieves, boasters, prideful arrogant alcoholics, drug-addicted cruel self-seekers, liars and murderers are what He bought.  I’m not so sure God is a savvy shopper.  Honestly, He has lousy taste when it comes to His friends. Even His enemies picked up on that.  They said, “When the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, how is it that he eats and drinks with publicans and sinners?”  One of His closest friends was a woman of ill-repute.  Why He would even eat with you and me!  That’s getting pretty low.

Ah, but there is a difference.  The thousand dollar pair of jeans will only continue to deteriorate, but all of us reprobates will change.  Someday we will be everything He longs for us to be.  Someday we will be so much like Him we will get confused and think we are seeing Him when we are seeing each other.  So, just maybe, He really is a savvy shopper.

An Evening Prayer

They start the day after Thanksgiving.  Radio stations devoted entirely to holiday music fill our lives with traditional sounds.  There seem to be two kinds.  The first kind play the Rudolf, Jingle Bells and Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer genre.  The second kind lean toward the more sacred or the more classical.  Sometimes I think I cannot bear another playing of Feliz Navidad.  My apologies to my Spanish speaking friends.  I really did like it the first 300 times.  One of my favorite songs of the second kind is The Evening Prayer lullaby from Hansel and Gretel.  It really doesn’t have a strong connection to Christmas but is often played during the holidays.
The lyrics are as follows, “When at night I go to sleep, fourteen angels watch do keep: two my head are guarding, two my feet are guiding, two are on my right hand, two are on my left hand, two who warmly cover, two who o’er me hover, two to whom ‘tis given to guide my steps to heaven.”  I encourage you to listen to it on any one of many renditions on YouTube.com.
The assurance of God’s care and love for us is essential.  Tonight I especially think of all the children of Aleppo, who, while not Christians, are just as loved by God as we.  He knows their fears, hunger and pain.  Just this week we sent $500 from Spring of Life to western Uganda where we received an urgent plea from a pastor who is protecting and trying to feed 23 refugees from tribal killings.  

This world is not a fair place but our heavenly Father watches and cares and will someday make all things right.  Christmas is to remind us of that Father who gave us His only Son to mend this broken world.

Our Smudged Glasses

When our grandson arrived this morning, he had just driven all night from North Carolina.  As would be expected he immediately fell asleep.  Silently I picked up his glasses noting that like most college boys his glasses were fingerprint smeared.  When he awoke and put them on his world was vivid and clear because grandpa did his thing.  Jesus tells us to call God, Father, but on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel God looks more like a grandfather.  My thoughts paraphrased Jesus’ words, “If we as human grandfathers know how to clean our children’s glasses, how much more will our Heavenly Grandfather enable us to see more clearly.”   Matthew 7:11 – sort of. 
In Proverbs 4:18 Solomon wrote, “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day.”   Isn’t it interesting that as we age our physical eyesight grows dim but our understanding of life and its challenges becomes clearer?   I once heard an aged man say, “If I had it to do over again I wouldn’t change a thing.”  Honestly, I thought, how could you be so dull?  Didn’t you learn anything along the way?  You had to have made mistakes.  We all do.  Would you really do it all the same?  The wise learn from their mistakes.
Life is all about learning.  Eternal life is all about learning forever.  I have many really bright friends. I can hardly wait to talk to them when they are 200 or 300 or more.  I know I will be more wowed by their comprehension and cognitive powers because I am wowed now. Until then I pray that our Heavenly Grandpa will continue to daily clean the smudges off the glasses of our minds.  

So Much Is Relative

One afternoon when our older son was only three years old we were heading south from Nairobi when suddenly a giraffe started running alongside our car.  Its lanky trot was beautiful to behold when Eric exclaimed, “Never in all my life have I seen something like that.”  Well, me either.  But my lifespan and his were just a tad different.   Jesus’ promise to us of eternal life (see John 3:16) presents an interesting possible scenario.  We are three thousand years old when we get to see an amazing super nova explosion. Turning to a traveling companion who predates us by a million or so years I say, “Never in all my life have I ever seen something like that.”  Laughing at my innocent youth he says, “Actually, neither have I.  Didn’t Paul say something to Timothy about not allowing others to despise our youth?  
So much about life is relative.  I have a friend with a very old chocolate lab.  The gray muzzled guy has had a long life of sixteen years.  Jesus pointed out a poor widow who gave a mite to the temple and told us she gave so much more than the rich who gave out of their wealth. While teaching in Russia one of my students invited us home.  He and his wife were very proud of their home.  It was a very large metal culvert converted for living by building a wall on each end.  For them it was a mansion compared to most of their neighbors.
The next time we are feeling pretty good about our goodness we need to remind ourselves that Jesus was perfect and our righteousness is like filthy rags.  (Isaiah 64:6)  But the good news is despite that.  He covers us!!  Merry Christmas to us! 

A Good Kind of Pride

Tonight was the last class for this semester.  We traditionally have pizza.  So there I was coming from the far end of the parking lot carrying seven extra-large pizzas and my book bag filled with all that stuff teachers accumulate during the semester.  Before I got to the building I was puffing.  As I leaned on the pad that automatically opens the doors one of my female students also got to the door.  She said, “Can I help you carry some pizza?”   This was a “girl!”  Really now, I needed to protect my masculinity and as I started to say, “No thanks. I’ve got” my brain hijacked my stupidity and I blurted out, “Oh, yes please!”  I was about to allow my foolish pride kill me.  Proverbs 16:18 – Pride goes before a fall, might have taken on meaning all of its own. 
All of my life I have heard that pride is a sin.  But I have come to believe that should be qualified.  I have yet to discern how being proud of others can be harmful.  I am very proud of my sons.  I am super proud of my wife.  I am proud of my very obedient dog.  If being ashamed is the opposite of being proud then Jesus is proud of us.  Hebrews 2:11 says, “So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.”  The “them” in that sentence is you and me.  How could it be that Jesus is proud of us?  It’s an overwhelming thought.  Again I think I need to qualify this by saying, “Sometimes.”  It would be smug to say otherwise.  There are some moments that are not so great.  He must be proud of what we will become someday.  His love knows no bounds.

It Happened to Us

My mother used to make me clean my plate every night.  Her rationale was there were children in China starving; therefore, we should not waste food.  My question was just because someone else doesn’t have enough food why do I have to overeat?  Child developmentalists today do not recommend making children clean their plates as long as the children realize there will be no dessert in place of the peas they choose not to eat,
This all came flooding back to me this evening while watching families streaming out of Aleppo telling stories of mass executions of families.  Here I sit in my Archie Bunker chair in a warm house with no viable threat to my safety.  One of my students complained this week about something being unfair.  The issue was trivial.  Life is not fair.  Why should we have so much?  Why should we have billion dollar submarines electronically walling us off from our enemies?  We have more chance of drowning in a bathtub than being harmed by a terrorist.
There are so many things in the universe that are not fair.  We complain that it isn’t fair that we have to suffer because of Adam and Eve’s mistakes.  Yet I don’t hear anyone complaining that because of one man’s righteousness all can be forgiven and given the gift of eternal life.  See Romans 5:19.  
I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty about their blessings.  We should rejoice and be thankful for all we have.  At the same time we shouldn’t forget that our opportunities are not necessarily because we made wonderful choices in life.  We didn’t ask to be born in America or Sweden.  It happened to us.