Creations

Divinely Human - 2017 Ornament

My 2017 (18th annual) ornament was inspired by some conversations this year about legacy. With next generations in mind, we wondered out loud what we would include and exclude if we could control our family legacy.  And what about when something (we regard as) “messy” pushes its way into our story?

 Consider Jesus’ genealogy in Luke 3: 23-38. Through layers of human messiness, God navigates his redemption plan culminating in the birth of a promised Savior who is “Divinely Human.” I pray this nuance of his amazing story blesses you.

 Glenn Trevisan (Christmas 2017)


 Divinely Human - 2017 Ornament

Divinely Human - 2017 Ornament

The cover of our church bulletin reads: “Real God, Messy People, Changed Lives. The Gospel Changes Everything.”  The explanation begins, “The gospel is the story of God’s work as He restores a broken world full of broken people through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Broken people are God’s specialty. Any faltering that we fear would mar our legacies is lovingly handled by a God who separates each of us from our sin. Not only is our broken state where he begins his redemptive work in us, often he transforms our lowest points into inspiring testimonies!

Perhaps to prove the point, the human ancestry of God’s son includes several instances of indiscretions that would no doubt be voted off the family tree if that option were available. Instead, these ancestors are openly included along with everyone else in genealogies featured in not one but two gospels, Matthew and Luke.

Matthew’s genealogy starts with Abraham to establish Jesus’ Jewish lineage while Luke goes all the way back to Adam to establish a relationship with the entire human race. “Divinely Human” illustrates the Luke genealogy:

  • A Christmas "family tree"
  • with God as its trunk
  • and beads depicting some ancestors of Jesus, the treetop star.
 Top to bottom "bead "key" for Divinely Human ornament based on  Luke 3: 23-38

Top to bottom "bead "key" for Divinely Human ornament based on Luke 3: 23-38

“Divinely Human” highlights the ancestry of Jesus Christ whose birth Christmas marks and celebrates. Divinely sourced and sovereignly orchestrated through a human lineage marked by both faithfulness and foibles, the baby Jesus arrived “in the fullness of time” to Bethlehem, as foretold. (see Galatians 4:4 & Micah 5:2)

Genesis 49:10 establishes that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah, fourth son of Jacob and Leah, a marriage arranged through a deception on the part of her father, Laban. Jacob’s preference for and subsequent marriage to younger sister, Rachel was cause for jealousy between the two sisters whose vying for Jacob’s favor literally “produced” the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel!

Years later, Judah would be party to another deception, fathering descendent Perez when lured into sex by  daughter-in-law Tamar posing as a temple prostitute.  Further down the line, former prostitute  Rahab married Salmon, one of the Israeli spies she sheltered in Jericho.  Their son Boaz was the kinsman redeemer of Ruth who he met gleaning grain in one of his fields.  They married and had Obed who brought much joy to grandmother Naomi. 

Ancestor Solomon (of Proverbs ”wisdom”) was second child of David and Bathsheba,  whose first husband’s death was arranged by David. Finally came Jesus whose mother Mary’s conception story was probably a closely-guarded secret known by only a select few before the gospel accounts were written and circulated.

“Divinely Human” illustrates God’s divine sovereignty that assures everything “works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28) undeterred by the human ancestry of our Messiah that features more messiness that most legacies can handle.

The “Good News” we celebrate at Christmas is this: In Christ, our redemption that is 100% dependent on God and 0% dependent on us. God’s legacy is us redeemed!


Notes:

COMMENTS: Are WELCOME and ENCOURAGED here about how the ornament and/or message struck you ESPECIALLY from ornament recipients. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO RECEIVE a 2017 “Divinely Human” ornament, simply request one at RoadReportJournal@gmail.com. My "extras" supply is very limited but if I can get one to you, I will.  If shipping is required, I will ask you to cover those costs.

Acknowledgements:

  1. Genealogy resource: “The Biblical Genealogy,” an awesome 11x17 chart detailing lineage from Adam to Jesus that is available at www.amazon.com/shops/biblegenealogychart
  2. Materials:
    1. Tree: This project was a definite go thanks to finding the “Pine Tree Rustic Tin Shape,” at AllTheMemories – Etsy (https://www.etsy.com/shop/AllTheMemories )
    2. Treetop star: 2nd key element was the treetop "Jesus" star found at GingerlilyFrance - Etsy (https://www.etsy.com/shop/GingerlilyFrance )
    3. Beads & Wire
      1. 6 beads were purchased from a Michael's Crafts store
      2. 3 beads were found at ScaraBeads – Etsy (https://www.etsy.com/shop/ScaraBeads)
  3. Scripture References: (see hyperlinks in text above)
    1. Anchor scripture is Luke 3: 23-38
    2. Also Galatians 4:4 and Micah 5:2
    3. 9 “birth verses” are listed on the ornament card
    4. A resource but not referenced is Matthew’s genealogy: Matthew 1: 1-17
  4. Advisors, editors, helpers: Grace Chapel Pastor Doug Walker and my wife, Cindy for editing assistance.  Thanks to Karol Gee for help with printing the ornament card.

The Making of "Divinely Human"

I enjoy watching the featurettes about "how this movie was made" sometimes offered on DVDs.  Fascinating how it all comes together, the approaches the director and actors took, etc.  In that vein, I offer this pictorial featurette on the making of the "Divinely Human" ornament. For those of you who like that kind of thing.....

Reason for the Season — 2016 Ornament

God’s love for me, for us, human beings is a key inspiration in my faith in Jesus Christ.  God is love and Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love.

I pray that comes through in this blog and in my life, if you know me personally.  That God loves the likes of me not only never ceases to amaze me, it keeps me going in life that I’m not often very good  thriving at. In fact, that I thrive at all is entirely due to the Lord – merciful, forgiving, loving..

God’s “love” for me, for us, is a major theme of my writing and in these ornaments.  Christmas is sometimes expressed as “Love came down” in the person of Jesus, the season’s reason, right?

Than last December, one of our pastor’s Advent messages suggested that Jesus is NOT the reason for the season after all!

Alarmed? Intrigued? Well read on and (hopefully) enjoy this 17th annual ornament from me, “Reason for the Season.”

Merry Christmas


On December 13, 2015 Grace Chapel pastor Doug Walker opened his third, “Simply Advent” sermon with the story of the Christmas shepherds.  He noted they were not waiting or looking for a Messiah at all that night, just going about their work shepherding sheep.

Their night and lives changed when an angel appeared to them to announce a “joyous” birth of a Savior, their Savior.  No mention next of them wondering why the angel said this baby was their Messiah, only that they hurried off to Bethlehem and, well, the rest is history.  Jesus is the reason for the season, right?

Doug recalled when ‘Jesus is the reason…’ messages surfaced 10 or so years earlier,  “perhaps to counter the sense that commercialism stole Christmas and to fight back against secularism. However,” he continued, “what if Jesus ISN’T really the reason for the season? What if WE are?”

The Gospel explains Doug’s rationale. Sin broke humanity’s connection with God so badly that only a perfectly acceptable sacrifice could repair the breach. Jesus was that perfectly acceptable sacrifice, sent by God for us.

Wow! If we are the reason for the season, doesn’t that change the premise of Christmas gift giving?  No longer is it about commemorating the gifts given to baby Jesus. Rather, gifting extends the gift of Jesus that God gave to us!.

“However,” cautioned Doug, “An item that is offered as a gift only becomes a gift when received by the intended recipient. Likewise, Jesus’ salvation only applies for those who receive Him as their Savior and Lord.

Like the shepherds were not looking for a Savior that night and were unaware of their need for one until after they “met” Him, most of us are like that too.  We go about our lives with hopefully few needs but many wants.  How high is Savior/Messiah on our gift list?

Doug’s message brought to mind when I received Jesus as my Savior. Before I gave into belief, I had no sense of needing a Messiah/Savior either.  Only afterwards did my need to be saved dawn on me.

Christmastime brings out our gift lists, our wants. However, wants only stoke desires while needs starve well-being.  Desires are rarely satisfied but met needs sustain us for today and beyond – perfect description of salvation, a need met for today and beyond.

Consider that God was much more concerned about the breach in His relationship with us than we are or were.  He knows we need Him, that He is the key to our lives, so He stepped in to repair the breach caused by our sin by sending His Son, Jesus to become the only sacrifice that would be acceptable to Him, the one and only God.

God made us the reason for the season in the hope that we would receive His gift and would, in turn, make Him the focal points of our lives. Those of us who receive the gift of Jesus may now share Him and His salvation with others.

That’s what I am doing with this little ornament, sharing the good news of Christ’s salvation with people I care about.  Once I was a grateful recipient, now I am a Gift giver.

What an amazing reason for a season!


I enjoy watching the featurettes about "how this movie was made" sometimes offered on DVDs.  Fascinating how it all comes together, the approaches the director and actors took, etc.  In that vein, I offer this pictorial featurette on the making of the "Reason for the Season" ornament. For those of you who like that kind of thing.....


Notes:

  1. COMMENTS: Are WELCOME and ENCOURAGED here about how the ornament and/or message struck you ESPECIALLY from ornament recipients. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO RECEIVE a 2016 “Reason for the Season” ornament, simply request one. Limited supply of extras so no guarantees but if I can get one to you, I will.  If shipping is required, I will ask you to cover those costs.
  2. Acknowledgements:
    • To Doug Walker, Pastor of Grace Chapel Church in Farmington Hills, MI whose message on 12/13/2015 inspired this and several other of my ornaments over the years.  Doug, I cherish your faithfulness to the Gospel and friendship and support of me.
    • Honorable mention to fellow Grace Chapel member, Rick Neal who read his poem “My Christmas Want” at that 12/13/2015 service, the theme of which also bolsters this ornament’s “Reason for the season” idea.
    • Thanks also to Grace Chapel Office Administrator, Karol Gee for help with printing my ornament labels and card.
  3. Ornament “hardware” components:
    • While the idea for this ornament came early, it wasn’t a go until I found the nifty little mirrors at Consumer Crafts.  With those in hand, all systems were go.
    • Finding the just-right-sized ornament body (“unfinished wood sign cutout”) at Factory Direct Craft was also a huge time saver.
    • The “Blooming Pepper Berry Garland” from JoAnn Fabrics was a nice “framing touch” suggested by my wife, Cindy.
  4. Ornament Scriptures:

The anchor scriptures printed as a label on the back of the ornament are:a) Isaiah 9:6 (NIV): For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, … And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.; b) Luke 2:11 (NIV) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

Trust in the Lord — 2015 Ornament

After my dad’s death in December 2014, I received some items of his – shirts, a jacket, shoes, boots, and a walking stick. While these items were welcome replacements for a tired wardrobe sparingly maintained through years of variable employment, wearing them often caused me to muse how I was literally ‘walking in dad’s shoes’ during this year after his departure from us to be at last “face to face” with our Lord. (1 Cor 13:12)

Keeping his walking stick and boots near our back door often reminds me of dad and figuratively of life as a journey in need of sturdy shoes and a stout walking stick. A photo I took of them there adorns my 2015 journal cover and inspired this ornament design and message – offering context for situations that arose this year. It regards shoes, a walking stick and Proverbs 3, about what we “Trust in” and “lean not on…” in our journey along life’s roads.

“Trust in (the Lord) … and lean not on (your own understanding)” (Proverbs 3: 5-6)

2015 Trust in the Lord Ornament

Figuratively, we each have a walking stick for our life journey – a belief system or constitution that casually guides us during normal times and that we lean more heavily on when the road gets a little rough or treacherous. God’s message to believers in Proverbs 3:5-8 is essentially, “Make me your walking stick.”

The Hebrew verb “batach,” translated “trust” in verse 5 occurs 118 times in the Old Testament. In the literal, physical sense, it means to lean on something for support. While the verb often depicts people trusting in things that prove to be unreliable, here the object of trust is the LORD. Trust in (lean on) me with all your heart. In all your ways submit to me.

Not only does the LORD insist he is always reliable for trusting in and leaning on, our own understanding is not so reliable. Adding “lean not on your own understanding” renders this as a “both/and” proposition – to both “trust in” the LORD and to “lean not on” our own understanding.

Even though Proverbs 3 is God inviting ancient Israel in the older testament to “Trust in me,” the principle follows all through the Christmas story that launches the newer testament. After Israel vacillated wildly between the blessings of trusting in the Lord and the repercussions of failing to do so, along comes Jesus. The long-awaited Messiah not only modeled how to walk out life trusting in God, he audaciously presented himself as the way to do so. (John 14:6)

That Jesus’ beginnings didn’t follow a Messiah-like script should prepare us for the unusual form of “understanding” that trusting the LORD requires. A sampling from Jesus’ messages: “To be rich, become poor …

to be comforted, mourn…. to be satisfied, hunger for righteousness… to receive mercy, humble yourself…. to save your life, die…the first are last… to be found, become lost… love your enemies….”

To both trust in the Lord AND lean not on your own understanding is to affirm that God has the “why” fully covered because he is also the way. Mind you, dulling followers’ minds is not the LORD’s goal here. The exact opposite in fact, “life to the full” – to flourish in the freedom of grace found only in Christ! (John 10:10)

Also in Proverbs 3, God offers some great benefits to those who accept the both/and proposition: 1) crooked paths made straight (v6); and, deep, “bone-felt” well-being (v8).

How does God deliver such lofty claims? Follow the story that unfolds all through Scripture. “What he desires, that he does,” proclaimed Job (23:13b). “Our God … does all that he pleases,“ said David (Psalm 115:3). “As I have planned, so shall it be,” wrote Isaiah (14:24). Christmas is the unveiling of God’s ultimate stroke – Jesus Christ who said of himself, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18).

All this year, I repeated this verse over and over to counter unsettling thoughts, situations and developments – “Trust in” and “lean not on…” When what life brings seems vexing, insurmountable or both, be assured that God is trustworthy beyond your understanding. True well-being comes when we take him at his word and live accordingly. (see John 16:33).

“Trust me on this,” says the LORD, “and lean not on your own understanding.”  


Notes:

1. COMMENTS WELCOME and ENCOURAGED here about how the ornament and/or message struck you ESPECIALLY from ornament recipients. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO RECEIVE a 2015 “Trust in the Lord” ornament, simply request one by emailing me at FarmingtonGlenn@gmail.com.  No guarantees but if I can get one to you, I will.  If shipping is required, I may ask you to cover those costs.

2. Acknowledgements:

  • Was thrilled to find this great Ken doll “shoe store” at AliExpress.
  • These instructions helped me achieve an authentic driftwood look for the walking stick –  although the instructions made this look easier than it turned out to be.

3. Ornament Scriptures:

The anchor scripture is Proverbs 3: 5-6 but for context read Proverbs 3: 5-8

Supporting scriptures and resources:

Lying in a Manger — 2014 Ornament

This year’s 15th annual ornament, “Lying in a Manger” speaks to 2014, a “What’s wrong with this picture?” kind of year – odd, puzzling and periodically disturbing….

Last Christmas, I was six months into a promising new position that abruptly ended in early January. Following another ten months of career-searching, I turned to simply finding a job and landed a part-time position with a major retailer in early November where I presently work.

As the rest of the year teetered through a series of ups and downs and in-betweens, Christ was my anchor along with my wife, church and family.

RBC Ministries ‘Discovery Series’ booklets are among several favorite sources of Biblical teaching and context including “The Real Gift of Christmas” by Dan Schaeffer that gave rise to this year’s “Lying in a Manger” ornament inspiration that speaks into the “What’s wrong with this picture?” dilemma. I pray it and my message offered below (on explanation card for ornament recipients) resonates with any and all oddities in your picture as well.
— Glenn (“FarmingtonGlenn”) – Christmas 2014

2014 "Lying in a Manger" ornament

Lying in a manger...

While the baby Jesus “lying in a manger” is the central point of the tranquil scenes we prominently feature among our Christmas decorations, the actual birth event was probably not so tranquil for first time parents Joseph and Mary. The story told in Luke presents the manger crib as a concession because there was “no room at the inn.”

Luke declared that “the time came for the baby to be born,” suggesting no time to second-guess the unlikely birthing place. Perhaps in the quiet after the birth, Mary and Joseph’s thoughts turned again to reconciling the lofty claims offered by angelic messengers to both of them just nine months earlier with this birthplace fit well for animals of labor but not so well for a redeemer king. Had they somehow missed an important cue between then and now?

Could the cards be any more stacked against their baby to enter into the world to be saved at such a disadvantaged position? Where had they gone wrong?

Meanwhile another angelic disturbance was underway in the night sky above the dark pastures surrounding Bethlehem. This time a group of shepherds is the odd audience for a heavenly host of angels heralding a Savior born in the town of David who is Christ the Lord. He is to be found “lying in a manager.”

This time, “lying in a manger” is a sign given to find the right baby among many babies in Bethlehem that night due to families streaming into town to be counted in the census imposed by Caesar Augustus. No other baby would be “lying in a manger,” only Jesus, the one they sought.

But why shepherds? And why send them off to seek the baby in the manger?

God laced every moment of that evening with message and meaning, suggests Schaeffer. To shepherds, lowest on the Jewish societal strata, were given the honor to be first to see the Savior and then to release news of his arrival to the community. What comfort for them to seek their redeemer in a place that they of all people would know where to look and not feel unfit to visit?

Still, imagine their wonder as they searched. What kind of Savior arrives in a stable birthing room and a manger crib that would be unusual even in their own time? Indeed, what kind of Savior?

Then what of Mary and Joseph? Queried Schaeffer, “When the rugged shepherd worshipers arrived to see their child, did Mary and Joseph sigh in relief? Did the joy of confirmation flood their souls, washing away any doubt that might have accumulated in their hearts?”

“I think it did,” he surmised. “The heavenly-inspired visit by the shepherds was an additional confirmation that their present circumstances were exactly what God had deemed.”

So this Christmas, permit this “Lying in a Manger” ornament to be a sign for you as well, an invitation. Nothing about your situation is the least bit odd to God. Rest assured that he is working for His glory and your good. So bring your stuff and yourself to him whatever your current state. Like the shepherds, you are welcome and fit to visit.


Notes:

  1. COMMENTS WELCOME and ENCOURAGED here about how the ornament and/or message struck you ESPECIALLY from ornament recipients. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO RECEIVE a 2014 “Lying in a Manger” ornament, simply request one by emailing me at FarmingtonGlenn@gmail.com.  No guarantees but if I can get one to you, I will.  If shipping is required, I may ask you to cover those costs.
  2. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
    1. The inspiration for this ornament came from my reading in September 2014 of “The Real Gift of Christmas”, an RBC Ministries ‘Discovery Series’ booklet by Dan Schaeffer.  Link: http://web001.rbc.org/pdf/discovery-series/the-real-gift-of-christmas.pdf
    2. Star charm: Finishing touch, the “Antique Brass Star Outline” charm http://www.artbeads.com/bba-ch002.html
  3. LYING IN A MANGER SCRIPTURES:

    The anchor scripture is Luke 2:12 but for context, read Luke 2: 4-19.

UP SIDE DOWN — 2013 Ornament

 2013 "UP SIDE DOWN" Ornament

2013 "UP SIDE DOWN" Ornament

Life has not unfolded as I envisioned it as a young dreamer many years ago. Similarly Christmas 2013 bears little resemblance to its “year zero” original. However, in the words of author Dallas Willard, we live in a “God-breathed world*.” There is nothing humanity can make or unmake, do or undo with Christmas or anything else that God did not create, permit or control.

God breathed new life into me 30 years ago and as I’ve walked on in faith since then, I seek God’s context in every moment and to “lean not on my own understanding.” Through God’s eyes, UPs emerge in the mundane and amazingly from the deepest of DOWNs.

So, this UP SIDE DOWN ornament is available this year by request AND your pledge to think about and comment how its message strikes you.

Enjoy!


Christmas celebrates the birth of a child said to fulfill ancient Jewish prophecies about a Messiah King like their great King David (1050 BC) who would vanquish their enemies and establish an everlasting reign of peace. (Isaiah 9:6).

While Jewish scholars today discount prophecies Christians claim are messianic, the fanfare of Christmas 2013 would have suited their UP expectations for Messiah more than Christmas “year zero” did. In looking for an UP king like David they were caught looking in the wrong direction. Here are a few points of confusion.

DOWN #1 – How Jesus arrived – born to a mom who insisted she conceived while still an unmarried virgin. Really?

DOWN #2 – Birthplace. Although Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David, in “year zero” it was little more than a backwoods town located literally in the shadow of the local king’s fortress at Herodium that towered 2,487 feet in elevation over Bethlehem (elevation 775) just 3.1 miles down the road. God could pick anywhere. Why Bethlehem?

DOWN # 3 – Convoluted birth story. He wasn’t born at home surrounded by a royal family but in an animal stall in a distant city. His only visitors were shepherds who say they were summoned by an angelic host and the mysterious magi from who knows where who followed a star.

A stall? Shepherds and Magi?  Angels and a star? Could the Messiah King’s entrance be any less credible or more confusing?

After the shepherds departed, it was noted that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

What things did she ponder? . . . (Was anything about Jesus’ birth NOT ponderable?)

DOWN # 4 – Jesus’ compelling manner but counterintuitive message first wowed the crowds but ultimately confounded them.

Scripture offers clues for understanding:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
— Isaiah 55: 8-9

AND

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.
— Proverbs 3: 5-7

Hint! Hint! Relationship with God requires both heart and brain. Jesus would affirm and reinforce that idea. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34)

The verses quoted on the ornament’s pages are just a small sampling of Jesus’ UP SIDE DOWN-ness . Others include: bless your enemies (Rom 12:14), value godliness over wealth (1 Tim 6: 6-9), take joy in hardship (James 1:2), God sets himself against worldly wisdom and strength (1 Cor 1:27), and “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. “ (Matt 16: 25).

Christianity today presents the birth of Christ as a holy and magical event – God touching down on planet earth. But as a stand-alone event in history, it wasn’t that at all.  It is only so in context to the greater story of God’s efforts to connect with humanity and that story didn’t begin in Bethlehem but in Eden.  Christmas is really part of that greater story and Jesus has a significant role in it.

Which is why Christians believe that Christ is the answer to why we are. Arriving as he did, odd as it seems, went EXACTLY as planned. But to truly hear and see and know him “breathing life” into us and the chaos around us, we need to completely INVERT our perspective – UP SIDE DOWN!


  1. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
    • To SeaLemonDIY on You Tube (http://www.youtube.com/user/SeaLemonDIY) for the lesson on how to make my little book with real pages.  She has many other DIY “How Tos” there as well. Check it out.
    • To my friend and Pastor, Doug Walker for yet another lesson to build a Christmas ornament around. If you read back through prior ornament messages, you’ll note that I attribute many of my ornament lessons to Doug’s teaching. Doug is pastor of the church we attend, Grace Chapel in Farmington Hills, MI (www.graceepc.org). The “counterintuitive, upside down gospel” is a predominant theme in his messages.
    • To my new colleague, Sister Joyce Van de Vyver who encouraged me not to abandon my ornament project this year when I was thinking of doing so.  Thanks!
       
  2. TEXT of UP SIDE DOWN  Ornament

    FRONT COVER: UP SIDE DOWN (upside down)
    INSIDE FRONT COVER: THE GOOD NEWS?
    1st page: lean not on your own understanding… (Proverbs 3: 5-7)
    2nd page: The virgin will conceive and give birth (Isaiah 7:14)
    3rd page: I came (not) to bring peace… but division (even within families) (Luke 12: 51-53, paraphrase)
    4th page: He was despised and rejected…Like one from whom people hide their faces (Isaiah 53:3)
    INSIDE BACK COVER: By Glenn Trevisan, Christmas 2013
     
  3. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO RECEIVE a 2013 “UP SIDE DOWN,” simply request one by emailing me at FarmingtonGlenn@gmail.com.  If you receive one,  I respectfully ask that you offer a comment about the message by email, Facebook (if we’re already “friends”) or here on at RoadReportJournal.com. I’m not fishing for “likes” but how the message struck you.
     
  4. Dallas Willard quote from his book, “The Divine Conspiracy”
     
  5. BIBLE READING: If you are serious about answering why you are, grab a bible, start with prayer to ask God to reveal himself to you and give you understanding. For a great Bible reading program, check out the Bible Reading System on my blog. I’d be happy to walk you through it.
  6. About Glenn’s Ornaments: See the pictures and stories of all the ornaments under category Creations.

Blessed Are the … Yeast? — 2012 Ornament

Glenn's 2012 Ornament (13th Annual): Blessed Are the…Yeast?

I was struck one day in my Bible reading with what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God. His audience did not have 2000+ years of Christianity behind them heralding him as God incarnate. But they had an idea about the kind of kingdom God’s would be. If it was truly God’s, it would certainly dominate any earthly rival.

But domination was not among the ideas Jesus shared about the Kingdom of God nor were might, majesty or power. Rather, ordinary and even lowly fit better for this kingdom Jesus claimed was home to him and “at hand” and accessible to all present.

Jesus depicted Kingdom people as poor in spirit and meek, mournful, merciful, peacemakers (Matthew 5: 1-10). And then he drew upon common, every day items to describe how Kingdom “subjects” were, like salty salt (v13), light-giving lamps (v14) and in another lesson, seeds that grow into giant trees, and a small portion of yeast that leavens a large batch of dough (Luke 13: 18-21).

Yeast. That one struck me. You can’t get more ordinary than yeast.

In 2012 after four plus years of career search posturing, I failed to secure any of the positions I sought despite making “the finals” on several occasions. But as I searched, I kept God in clear view and trusted that the doors that opened were either opened by Him or allowable by Him for me to pursue. This I did with every one. And here I stand, where I now am.

While I can’t see how my present fits with the balance of my life, I trust I am where God wants me right now. I am not in a career but I have a job with a good company. I don’t have impact like I would as an organizational manager but I can certainly be Kingdom yeast in my workplace.

The lesson of yeast and all Jesus’ kingdom analogies is that attaining the manner of God’s kingdom does not require any measure of success or status in this kingdom, the kingdom of the world, life now. In fact, success in this world may jeopardize our ability to truly see or at least dim our view of the Kingdom of God. (I need to keep that in mind if I should ever find my way back into whatever it is I think I’m looking for!)

Another realization from further study on this topic: virtually every Biblical character experienced this wandering into seemingly wayward places while being attentive to God, including Jesus himself. Think of his beginning, our Christmas: The scandal of his apparent illegitimacy seemed to cling to him even into adulthood – John 8:41?

When in this life, you feel helpless or impotent or left by the wayside, be alert to God slipping in under the radar to win you back to himself or re-establish your relationship with him. Christmas is about that.

If you should be so fortunate to join or rejoin the Kingdom procession, take heart when (not if!) you wander into some places and situations that are not what you had in mind. Where you find yourself will be where He is accomplishing His purposes in and through you.

…In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
— John 16:33b

Notes:

  1. ORNAMENT TEXT:
    FRONT: Fleshman’s (Blessed Are the…) YEAST; All Natural
    BACK: BLESSED ARE THE … YEAST?; (Jesus) asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to”  It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”  (Luke 13: 20-21, NIV84)
  2. PERSONAL NOTE: This year’s ornament title melds words from three of Jesus’ teachings:

    1) Borrowing a “Blessed are…” from his “Beatitudes” – how God’s Kingdom is (Matthew 5: 1-16)
    2) A missing word, “Least.” How God is “in” our care of the least among us.  (Matthew 25: 40)
    3) And, “Yeast” – Jesus comparing the Kingdom of God to an ordinary staple of life that  everyone could relate to. (Luke 13:21)

    All of the above describes the year of 2012 for me – The sense of not hitting the mark (Least) and being merely ordinary (Yeast) in a world attentive to everything but.  But, all the while, “Blessed…” by people in my life lifting me up and, every step of the way, God!
  3. DESIGN INSPIRATION: came from the Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast package (http://www.fleischmannsyeast.com/landing.html). I presume their yeast is great but their package had perfect ornament appeal!

Abide in Me — 2011 Ornament

WAIT, REST, TRUST, ABIDE:

Three years after I was separated from my position of 30 years, my life remained in “stuck” mode still. So I plowed ahead, one step at a time, clinging to my faith in God. He was faithful. He provided. He spoke.

But His messages were confusing: Be Still – Wait – Rest – Trust. This is not what the career-search gurus are advising. (Apparently, God and them are tuned into different channels.)

I turned to trusted advisers including the pastor of our church, Doug Walker. But Doug and God were in cahoots. (Apparently, he and God are tuned to the same channel!)

So, in honor of God and Doug, the message of my 2011 “Abide in Me” ornament is this: Listen for God and cling to Him. No matter what life brings, don’t let go – Ever.

2011 "Abide in Me" Ornament

Doug’s message on April 10, 2011 regarded Jesus’ teaching found in John’s gospel.  “I am the true Vine,” said Jesus. “Abide in me, and I in you.”  (John 15:1,4)  This term rested at the center of Jesus’ description of the kind of relationship He and his Father (God) have with each other and that each believer is invited to share.

The setting was significant as Jesus was sharing Passover supper with his closest friends, the last supper they would enjoy together before Jesus execution the next day.  Perhaps while lifting a cup of wine, Jesus used a grapevine metaphor to illustrate this “abiding” concept. He is the “true” vine, whereas God the Father is the vinedresser.  Believers are branches who “bear fruit.”

“Abide in me,” said Jesus, and you will “bear fruit.”  What fruit? The kind that flows from a branch, a person who clings to the Vine, to Jesus.  The fruits of the Spirit are listed in Galatians 5: 22-23: “love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.”

I appreciated Doug’s message, but it wasn’t making me feel very fruity. I was struggling.  Life wasn’t working for me.  Then Doug offered Jesus’ explanation about how fruit production occurs – by simply staying connected to the vine, to Jesus.  Through thick and thin, we cling, hold on, never let go and fruit will flow, “much fruit.”

And then he talked about “the catch.” About how “abiders” who bear fruit get PRUNED.  Why?  So that more and better fruit will grow.

Pruning.  Jesus friends would know about pruning. They were Jews, people of the land and sea – shepherds, fishermen, and vintners. The language of the land was in their marrow.

They would know how pruning worked, and why.  In the metaphor of likening a vine branch to a person, they would know that a person being pruned would not take to the treatment very kindly.  Pruning hurts.  It’s not fun.  Think about recovering from an incision.  The dang area hurts.

In my Twitter profile, I describe my journey as, “Negotiating the perils of earth life using a Bible as a flashlight.”  Life is full of peril. Cindy and I are living in that peril right now.  When God is the flashlight, the way he shows is often not the same way as what we hear in the culture around us.  The Christian life is not easy or for the feeble of heart.  Believers live in that tension.

But this is the life God has given us to live and Cindy and I are committed to walking with our God through every moment of it.

Christmas is, first and foremost, about the birth of Jesus Christ who we Christians believe to be God’s own son. Messages like these that are scripted in the lore and language of every day people reflect a very personal God.  But Jesus’ arrival on the scene was God’s most dramatic demonstration that people matter.

Of all the “matter” conceived by God, the so-called “Intelligent” creator, people are the matter that matter the most.  The God of Jesus is a personal God to each and every person who ever lived and ever will live.  For God, everything is personal!

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…Abide in me, and I in you.
— Jesus (John 15: 1, 4a; Context: John 15: 1-8)

Daily Bread — 2010 Ornament

FOOD FOR LIFE

My career challenges continued in 2010 through closure of my home care business, finding some temp work to get by and then landing a new position in early December. I locked in with God via regular prayer and He answered with both insight and practical help. Even so, the “whys and wherefores” remained a mystery. Faith, applied practice to follow God, kept me in the game. “Daily Bread” became to expression of how that happened for me this year – how God not only meets our needs but desires our dependence.

Our Daily Bread — 2010 Ornament

The term “Daily Bread” is generally attributed to the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11.   I drew the 2010 ornament title from this scripture but the ornament’s lesson is from the story of manna and quail recorded by Moses 1500 years before Jesus appeared on the scene.  In Exodus 16, we read how God responded to the Israelites hunger by providing a daily portion of bread and meat to them in the forms of manna and quail. This provision would continue for the duration of their 40 years of wandering in the desert.  God’s provision is later recalled in Deuteronomy 8 as the people are challenged to remember and remain obedient to God as their memory of his miraculous provision fades with time.

The elements of this story that we related to was how this provision of food was attributed as a trial, a blessing and a discipline.

  • The trial occurred when they experienced hunger and cried out to God for relief.
  • The blessing arrived in God’s response with food to satisfy their need.
  • The discipline regarded following God’s instructions to the letter – to gather only enough for a single day.  If more was gathered, the extra amount rotted before the next day as well as other repercussions from being out of favor with God.

The last two years of joblessness and underemployment have brought the realization of daily need into our perspective.  God taught that EACH DAY we are to literally depend on him for THAT day only – like the Israelites 3500 years ago.  Furthermore, we saw how God uses the very hunger that he wove into our nature to draw us to himself.  As God nourishes our bodies, he challenges us to consider that he can meet our spiritual hunger as well.

I contend that a belief system should offer a plausible explanation of life as it really is.  Christianity “works” because it speaks to life as it is, both physical and spiritual.  Bible lessons connect the two.  While God gave us natures brimming with hungers and passions, when we satisfy them at just the physical level, we fall short of our full potential.

When God made us with bodies that need food to survive, he created a world able to more than meet that need.  However when the Israelites are later challenged to remember how God responded with manna and quail, another idea is introduced – that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Thousands of years later, Jesus affirmed these lessons by demonstrating the rich connections between the spiritual and physical realms.  While Jesus performed feeding miracles on several occasions, his radical pronouncement, “I am the bread of life.”  (John 6:48) echoed Moses’ words of Deuteronomy 8:3.  In his discourse with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, he distinguished between the properties of the well’s water that only temporarily quenches thirst and the living water he provides that offers eternal life.  (John 4:13).

So I offer you my 2010 ornament, “Daily Bread” to share how God showed us this year how we need to turn to him anew each and every day for all the sustenance we need – physical and spiritual.  For “his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3: 22b-23a)

(glenn 12/9/2010)

Give us each day our daily bread. (Luke 11:3, NIV-1984)


Notes

Ornament back/bottom:

go out each day and gather enough for that day.  (Exodus 16: 4)
man does not live by bread alone (Deut 8:3)
I am the bread of life (John 6:48)

Scripture References: Matthew 6: 11; Exodus 16: 4, 12; Deuteronomy 8: 3, Lamentations 3: 22b-23b; John 6: 47-50

  1. Daily Bread (Matthew 6:11, NIV-1984):

    Give us this day our daily bread.
     
  2. Manna and Quail: Sustenance in the desert (Exodus 16: 4-5, NOV-1984):

    4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”
     
  3. Hunger that bread alone cannot quench (Deuteronomy 8: 1-5, NIV-1984):

    1 Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the LORD promised on oath to your ancestors. 2Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. 3 He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you.

    8 I am the bread of life. ( Jesus) (John 6:48, NIV-1984)
     
  4. Provision when needed (Exodus 16:12):

    “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’”

    his compassions never fail. They are new every morning(Lamentations 3:22b-23a) 
  5. Life-giving water (John 4:5-13, NIV-2010):

    5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

    7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

    9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])

    10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

    11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

    13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  

Life to the Full — 2009 Ornament

FULL LIFE: MANY PEAKS & VALLEYS

2009 was a full year with a lot of changes occurring in my life. At the beginning of the year, I was in my fifth month of unemployment with no end in sight. By Christmastime, I was marking my fifth month of getting a new business underway. From one extreme to another… Sure was a “full” year……

2009 "Life to the Full" Ornament

I drew the term “life to the full” from John 10: 10, the New International Version of the Bible (NIV): “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

As a regular Bible reader, this is a familiar passage to me.  However, it’s also a verse that our pastor, Doug Walker often teaches on.  On the surface, “life to the full” hints of “the good life” or the attainment of “health, wealth and prosperity” or even that “good things comes to those who wait.” But it is so much more than just that, says Doug.

Dictionary.com defines full as “completely filled; containing all that can be held; filled to utmost capacity; complete.”  Along that line, says Doug, “life to the full” not only encompasses all that life brings (and throws) but Jesus-followers have something extra – a sort of real-time radar that God parses out to His followers to guide and empower their steps along the way.  To the extent that we live in that perspective, we not only have an assurance about outcome but we have an opportunity to partner with God in a “divine conspiracy” to reclaim the universe from the “bad” influences now seeming to run the show and restore the rule and order and goodness of God’s original creation.

Doug’s “life to the full” idea runs all throughout the Bible.  It is part of what Doug calls Jesus’ “upside down” gospel that holds that life is not what it seems.  What’s really going on is a whole other story orchestrated by God that is unfolding behind the scenes.

The pages of the Bible offer many examples of this conspiracy.  Check out the stories of Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Esther, Job, Joseph, David, Jesus, and Paul to name just a few.

The Christmas story is another perfect illustration of this divine conspiracy.  Despite that the very time, place and manner of Jesus’ birth fulfilled multiple prophecies made hundreds of years earlier, all of those anxiously awaiting his arrival expected a different kind of savior and not only failed to recognize Him, they ultimately executed Him!

As I considered a 2009 ornament that would reflect what God was doing in my life this year and how I could make a Christmas connection, Doug’s “life to the full” teaching resonated for me.  I’ve been faced with finding a new way to earn a living.  At times, my efforts seemed extraordinarily hard and even now I have no sense of when I will emerge to a renewed sense of competence and stability.  But, thankfully, this period of life has allowed me to grasp what Doug has been trying to help me to see – that roads marked with more questions than answers are exactly the kinds of roads Jesus invites his followers to venture onto – roads where fullness is found at every turn.

Says Linda Dillow in her book, Calm My Anxious Heart, “If we fix our focus on our faithful Weaver, we will someday know that the most exquisite work of all our lives was done in those days of darkness.  Faith is walking in the dark with God, holding His hand. “

So I wish you “life to the full” this Christmas.  If your life lacks the fullness that is only possible in Christ, I do not hesitate to desire for you anything that God may allow in order for you to know Him fully – even if a few “days of darkness” are involved.  To know Him is not only worth any price that can be paid, it helps you avoid making the really fatal error of executing your savior!  (gt – 12/9/09)

In All Things — 2008 Ornament

FOR THE PUZZLED

As Christmas ornament-making has become a tradition for me, I periodically jot down ideas about what God is doing in my life. But this year, the process was clouded by my feelings about being jobless for the first time in my life after being unexpectedly dismissed from my position as President of CLF just three months short of my 30th anniversary!

Turning to prayer and the Bible for inspiration and guidance, I ran across Romans 8:28 and held onto its promise – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

This Christmas, I dedicate this year’s ornament, “In All Things” to offer hope to everyone puzzled by life about how God’s view is clear even when ours is not.

2008 "In all things..." Ornament

That life is puzzling to us but not to God really bugs me sometimes.  You see, God holds this trump card – He is “sovereign.”  This means that he is able to work things out to advance his own purposes.  Wouldn’t you just love to be sovereign in that way?

Now God’s sovereignty is not only good news for him but also those of us who follow him.  Why?  Because God made everything “good” including humans who were made in his image and charged to rule creation in the same manner as he(Genesis 1:26-31).  Those are his purposes.

But things didn’t work out that way because humans decided they wanted to rule their own way – contrary to how God prescribed.  So humanity and creation is broken and pretty much existing apart from God, in opposition to his purposes.

But God is still sovereign and, because he is so, he WILL achieve his purposes.  He has a plan that he revealed immediately when humans decided to go their own way.  In Genesis 3:15, as he admonishes Eve for her participation in disobeying him, he also includes a promise – that the power of “sin” would one day be crushed by one of her descendents!

Down through the ages that followed, the plan unfolded as God “sovereignly” caused seemingly unconnected plots and subplots to “somehow” bring his plan to fruition.  The promised descendent finally arrived on the scene in the form of Jesus.  And then, through Jesus, God “crushed” the power of sin as 1stCorinthians 15: 21 summarizes: “just as death came into the world through a man (Adam), now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man (Jesus).”

So God getting his way is why we have Christmas but what has this to do with my hope in the midst of unemployment and the challenges that you are facing in your life? Well, look back to Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” 

Those who love God also desire what God desires – his purposes.  So as we believers conduct our lives in pursuit of His will, all things that occur, even the most evil and painful ones, will “work” for our good and to fulfill God’s purposes for our lives.  That’s the promise.  Now as to HOW God makes that happen, well – only He knows!

Since the passage says that God works in all things, he is surely working in mything as well. My part of the equation is to love him and to align my life with his purposes – even when I don’t fully understand how his purposes will be achieved through me.

To reflect that idea, the ornament is three sections of a puzzle with the “next” piece “missing.”  When life is a puzzle, we don’t know what piece is going to fit in that spot, hence the bulb dangling there with a question mark (?) on one side.  God working out the answer (in the background) is represented by the exclamation point (!) on the other side of the bulb.

All believers may rejoice this Christmas that God has our backs.  At the same time, let us pray for family, friends and colleagues who are not yet believers.  Since unbelievers are on their own, apart from God, pray that they soon begin to follow Jesus along with us so that they too can have the assurance that God has their backs as well!

Now God’s sovereignty is not only good news for him but also those of us who follow him.  Why?  Because God made everything “good” including humans who were made in his image and charged to rule creation in the same manner as he(Genesis 1:26-31).  Those are his purposes.

But things didn’t work out that way because humans decided they wanted to rule their own way – contrary to how God prescribed.  So humanity and creation is broken and pretty much existing apart from God, in opposition to his purposes.

But God is still sovereign and, because he is so, he WILL achieve his purposes.  He has a plan that he revealed immediately when humans decided to go their own way.  In Genesis 3:15, as he admonishes Eve for her participation in disobeying him, he also includes a promise – that the power of “sin” would one day be crushed by one of her descendents!

Down through the ages that followed, the plan unfolded as God “sovereignly” caused seemingly unconnected plots and subplots to “somehow” bring his plan to fruition.  The promised descendent finally arrived on the scene in the form of Jesus.  And then, through Jesus, God “crushed” the power of sin as 1stCorinthians 15: 21 summarizes: “just as death came into the world through a man (Adam), now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man (Jesus).”

So God getting his way is why we have Christmas but what has this to do with my hope in the midst of unemployment and the challenges that you are facing in your life? Well, look back to Romans 8:28 – “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” 

Those who love God also desire what God desires – his purposes.  So as we believers conduct our lives in pursuit of His will, all things that occur, even the most evil and painful ones, will “work” for our good and to fulfill God’s purposes for our lives.  That’s the promise.  Now as to HOW God makes that happen, well – only He knows!

Since the passage says that God works in all things, he is surely working in mything as well. My part of the equation is to love him and to align my life with his purposes – even when I don’t fully understand how his purposes will be achieved through me.

To reflect that idea, the ornament is three sections of a puzzle with the “next” piece “missing.”  When life is a puzzle, we don’t know what piece is going to fit in that spot, hence the bulb dangling there with a question mark (?) on one side.  God working out the answer (in the background) is represented by the exclamation point (!) on the other side of the bulb.

All believers may rejoice this Christmas that God has our backs.  At the same time, let us pray for family, friends and colleagues who are not yet believers.  Since unbelievers are on their own, apart from God, pray that they soon begin to follow Jesus along with us so that they too can have the assurance that God has their backs as well!

He Humbled Himself — 2007 Ornament

207 "He Humbled Himself" Ornament

DID YOU MEET THE NEW NEIGHBOR?

My 2007 ornament, “He humbled himself” depicts and honors the “star” of the Christmas story who set aside being God to move into the neighborhood.  The star depicts the height of glory from which Jesus descended to arrive in the most unlikely form possible – as a helpless human infant, to an unwed couple, whose pre-teen mom claimed to still be a virgin.  His crib was an animal’s trough, his mattress mere straw, his kingdom just a backwoods town.

His birth could have gone unnoticed except for the wonder that surrounded it – heralded by a star and a heavenly host and rumors of prophesies recorded hundreds of years earlier providing minute details about a savior to be born, with ties to times of old, to creation itself and to a messiah who would one day be installed as the glorified king of all eternity! 

Given all the build up, the birth circumstances didn’t exactly give the messiah a running start.  It’s almost like the author of his story stacked all the odds against him by design so that anyone he tried to “save” could not claim to being swayed by any appearance of privilege, status, prosperity or slate of hand.

So when the cards of life seemed stacked against me this year, I was able to turn to a God who knows what that is like, a God who said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28) – because hedescended to us, to meet us where we live, to demonstrate empathy by personal experience.  When we choose to align ourselves with him, his spirit takes up residence in us and, as we permit and yield, we become more like him,transformed into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18, Romans 12:2).

As we follow where he bids us to go, we ascend with him and discover heaven and its rule right here in the very midst of our lives. Occasionally, we experience a slice of heaven and see life as Jesus did.

The ornament’s theme scripture is Philippians 2:5-11 (from the New Living Translation):

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father
— Philippians 2:5-11 (NLT)

Jesus experienced life at the bottom and so he comes into our darkest, most despairing experiences in search of us, to pull us out and show us the life he has in mind for us, “life to the full” (see John 10:10).

Merry Christmas.  Wishing you “life to the full” – only available in Christ.

Bride of Christ — 2006 Ornament

MARRIAGE A MYSTERY:

I was honored this year to be invited by my niece Sarah to offer the mealtime prayer at her wedding banquet.  As I thought about that prayer and about the life that she and Patrick were entering into together, thoughts about marriage came to me that eventually inspired this year’s ornament design.

 Traditionally, a just-wedded couple’s first night together centers on consummating the spiritual and familial union sealed earlier at their wedding ceremony with their first physical/sexual union. This ornament draws its lesson from this most basic of all natures innately human – sexuality.

The terms “Christmas” and “Bride of Christ” encompass elements of our struggles with both sexuality and relating to God although neither term can be found in the Bible.  Rather, each regards aspects of God’s limitless desire to engage us at our level so that He might show us the abundant life that He offers to all people.

2006 "Bride of Christ" Ornament

God gifted humans with sexuality to (1) cause and sustain “oneness” (Matthew 19: 4-6)between a man and woman who have covenanted before Him to lifelong commitment and faithfulness with each other and (2) as a fun way to make babies and proliferate humankind (Genesis 1: 28).

Sadly in today’s world, our first exposure to sex is often in the form of an abuse of His design – advertisers’ use of sex to sell everything under the sun, … casual depictions of sex in our entertainment media … porn – the number one use of the internet, … premarital sex – more common today than premarital virginity, etc., etc., etc.…

In a society obsessed with sex, avoiding temptation is hard. Men in particular but many women as well struggle with maintaining a wholesome sexual perspective. Sharing in this struggle, I’ve devoted a lot of prayer and study to this topic.  Fortunately, God meets us where we are at, uses our struggles to build character (Romans 5: 3-4) and to demonstrate that nothing can separate us from Him (Romans 8: 38-39).  In Christ alone is forgiveness and mercy (Ephesians 1:7).  So, here’s where I’ve landed so far…

While God grieves the misuse of His plan for sex (Jeremiah 13: 26-27), our powerful craving for sex is by His design and He draws on that power not only to enable successful marital relationships but to try to drive home in us His intense desire to be “known” by us at the most intimate level. Throughout Scripture, God uses the language of sex to speak to us because, quite frankly, it is a language we understand – and so does He.   (On the bottom of the ornament, I listed some of these Scriptures.  Note in each how a sexual theme is stated or implied to convey a bigger idea.)

Forgiving my bluntness, a way to depict the “act” of marriage is as a “trinity” of physical, emotional and spiritual ecstasy experienced by a man and woman exclusively committed to each other for life. Furthermore, marital sex is ordained and encouraged by God down through the ages, so much so that He admonishes husbands and wives to not “deprive” each other “except by mutual consent” (I Corinthians 7:5).

I believe that the “oneness” that Scripture declares occurs in sex is when the spirits of two people “merge” via the physical act, which is why sex is set apart in Scripture from all other human acts, why its abuse is listed high on most lists of sins, and why purity and virginity is so highly regarded by God (see Genesis 2:24 &  I Corinthians 6: 15-20).  Think about this “trinity” next time you share this joyful, timeless ritual with your spouse. Marital union is a wonderful, prayerful, God-given example, although incomplete, of what oneness with God is like.

Isn’t it just like God to use our own carnal nature to draw us to Him? (That he GAVE us by the way!) – Another illustration of how He is not a distant God but as close as, … well, I hope you get the idea.

So, you ask, how does the innocence of the Christmas story relate to this theme? Well, one way to look at Christmas is God sending His Savior Son to the world via a sexual scandal of His own making. To a nation that stoned to death women caught in the act of adultery, a girl who claims to have never “known” a man is found to be pregnant. Moreover, the explanation she gives is about an angel visiting, of God “overshadowing” her to cause conception and that the child she bears is God’s own Son!  Imagine that story leaking in today’s press!


Notes:

Label, Front of Heart: Bride of Christ; Ephesians 5: 24-27

Label, Back of Heart:

Throughout Scripture, God uses the imagery of marital intimacy to convey His desire to be cherished by us. Israel, His chosen people, is His lover in the Old Testament and the Church is His Bride in the New Testament.  Not only is God NOT embarrassed by the emotional, spiritual and physical bonds that a husband and wife enjoy together, He defers to the most intimate of all human connections to illustrate the relationship He yearns to have with us. Being “known” in the “biblical” sense was God’s idea in the first place!

Label, Bottom of Ornament (Underneath):

Then the Lord God made a woman…and he brought her to the man (Genesis 2:22).

Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. (Judges 2:17a)

Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood (Jeremiah 3:9)

How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! (Song of Songs 4:10a)

… when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, … you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:8)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25a)

“Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” (Revelations 21:9b)

Later thoughts associated with the lesson but not the ornament: (2/15/2013)

  1. Jesus reaffirming the original design of marriage: established by God, two become one, man has not authority to separate. Divorce allowed by God as an act of mercy only because of man’s sinful “hardness of heart.” (Matthew 19: 3-8)
  2. Marriage as a mystery: Part of a teaching by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (Ch 5: 22-33).  The “mystery” reference is in verses 31-32 is: “As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.  This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.” (NLT)

    As noted on the ornament text, marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the church.  God’s relationship with his chosen people, Israel also mirrors this mystery. So both the old and new testaments are spanned by this idea: God/Christ as husband/groom and Israel/Church as wife/bridge.

    So, revisiting key markers of the conversation:
    • Established by God in the Garden of Eden: Then the Lord God made a woman…and he brought her to the man (Genesis 2:22)
    • Affirmed by Jesus: let no one split apart what God has joined together. (Matthew 19: 6b, NLT)
    • Explained by Paul: This is a great mystery… (Ephesians 5: 32a, NLT)
  3. For other biblical nuances of this idea, look at : As alluded in my ornament explanation, the Bible is filled with this idea. Any violation or watering down of it is entirely due to God making allowance due to man’s sinfulness and rebellion.

    Whole book examples:  Song of Solomon (expresses the romantic, passionate aspects), Hosea (expresses the faithfulness of the husband for an uncommitted and unfaithful wife).

Mustard Seed — 2005 Ornament

2005 "Mustard Seed" Ornament

MOUNTAIN-MOVING FAITH

The year 2005 was notable as being my 50th year on earth. When Iwas younger and striving to establish some kind of foothold in life, I recall thinking that age 50 should be about when I should have life pretty much figured out and would find living it a little easier. 

As anyone 50 or more reading this already knows, not so. Though we strive, we never arrive and we discover the truth of the statement, “It’s not the destination. It’s the journey.” Moreover, this year, the journey seemed to present more twists than usual that discouraged me most when I fretted and focused on myself. However, when I remembered to raise my eyes to God and seek His wisdom and will, I was granted perspective and, often, specific insight for my issues.  And, the more I did that, the more I appreciated that just a hint of God is more potent than a whole lot of me. 

Fortunately, He asks little of us, just the faith of a mustard seed.  “I assure you, even if you have faith as small as a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, ‘Move here to there,’ and it would move.  Nothing would be impossible.” (Matthew 17:19-21)

A mustard seed is so small.  Why do you suppose God asks so little of us? I suspect it is because He knows we are inclined not to trust in Him.  To the extent that we do though, He more than honors that trust, that faith, by coming alongside and granting us peace that “transcends all understanding”  (Philippians 4:7).

May you have faith as “small” as a mustard seed this Christmas and in the year ahead and know that peace of His that transcends all understanding.

 – Glenn

Clean As Snow — 2004 Ornament

2004 "Clean As Snow" Ornament

 PURE AS DRIVEN SNOW

The 2004 snowflake ornament reflects an idea God brought home to me during our church’s study last fall based on Rick Warren’s popular book, “40 Days of Purpose”.   The study’s main idea is that God has a purpose for our lives that is discovered by entrusting our lives to Him, which is just the opposite of our inclination to depend on ourselves. 

Coming out of the 40 Days study and into the Christmas season, our Youth Pastor Mike Gorr taught one Sunday on the difference between Christianity and other religions.  While other religions focus on what we “DO” to get to God and heaven, Christianity proclaims all is “DONE” (by Christ).   

I drew from 2 Scriptures to convey this idea – on one side is

No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it.

I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow.
— Isaiah 1:18a, NLT

On the other, written onto a heart, is:  “– everything…finds its purpose in Him” (Colossians 1:16, Msg)

Worldly Wisdom — 2003 Ornament

2003 "Worldly Wisdom" Ornament

WHAT SEEMS RIGHT ISN’T

In  2003, our family vacationed out west and along the way attended church in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where we heard a sermon by Pastor Don Landis entitled “God’s Wisdom”.  I was so taken by that talk that I ordered the entire 9-tape series after we returned home. 

The ornament is an X’d out diploma that bears each recipient’s name to show that man’s highest wisdom can’t hold a candle to God’s. 

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
— 1st Corinthians 1:27

Faith in God and God’s word (in the Bible) is what we each must embrace to benefit from the promise that Christmas offers.  This is why I made a personalized ornament for each person.

Sin is choosing to be self-ruled instead of God ruled.
— Rebecca Manley Pippert, “Out of the Saltshaker & into the World” http://tinyurl.com/76sm2ab (Amazon.com link)

Sadly, self-rule is the heart of human wisdom, the wisdom that is held in high esteem in our world, especially in western culture.  But human wisdom can’t get us to God, only Jesus can.  This is the audacious claim of Christmas.

Think about how the first Christmas sets this idea of God-rule up – staged to stand in stark contrast to how rule on earth occurs.  What a God we have to orchestrate this huge concept as He did!

 I pray that this truth takes root and flourishes in your heart and mind this year.

Spike of Love — 2002 Ornament

2002 "Spike of Love" Ornament

THE ULTIMATE PRICE

My inspiration for 2002was a Lenten sermon by our pastor during which he read an account of what the torture of crucifixion involved and the pain a crucified person endured.  As a reminder of what Jesus endured for our sake, he invited us to take a spike, a miniature version of the large ones that were driven through Jesus’ hands and feet. 

This is how I know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for me.
— 1st John 3:16

Liberty Bell — 2001 Ornament

 2001 "Liberty Bell" Ornament

2001 "Liberty Bell" Ornament

LIBERTY ENDOWMENT

Christmas 2001arrived just after the 9/11 World Trade Center – Pentagon attack.  Patriotism was feverish and I wanted to be reminded that all the rights we enjoy in this country are based on liberty conferred to us by our God.

Without God, there is no true freedom or liberty because we are ruled by self or other humans like ourselves who, no matter how well intentioned, eventually defer to self at the expense of others. 

The ornament is with the word “Liberty” affixed to its edge to depict the famous Liberty Bell.  Inside are “engraved” the following words from the American Declaration of Independence:

…all (people) are created equal (and) endowed by theirCreator with certain inalienable rights…
— American Declaration of Independence, 1776

Priceless Pearl — 2000 Ornament

2000-The-Priceless-Pearl2.jpg

GOT TO HAVE IT!

The first design recalls a children’s book Cindy and I used to read to Adam and Laura when they were babies based on the Scripture that likened the kingdom of heaven to a pearl or gem of great value.  Truly, uncovering the meaning of life through God’s son, Jesus is just like that – finding a priceless gem that you would sell everything to obtain.

Seek first his kingdom…
(for) the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.
When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had
and bought it.
— Matthew 6:23 & 13:45