Basking in the wonder

Christmas morning 2017

Christmas morning 2017

While the snow that started around noon made for dicey driving to and from our family’s annual Christmas eve celebration, it also ensured a snowy Christmas day. Growing up here in the north, snow on Christmas added to the wonder of the holiday, unchanged for me even though I’m also now north of 60.

“Snow-geeked” Christmas morning, I clicked on the holiday lights then bundled up to clear snow from around the woodpile.  A while later, I settled into the early morning lull with a fire roaring and fresh coffee in hand.  Soon enough, everyone would awake to launch into Christmas day.

During my childhood, a Christmas eve snowfall might lure me away from ravioli dinner to press my nose to a window pane to scan the night skies for signs of a reindeer-drawn sleigh. While I would feign difficulty falling to sleep, I was long gone when “Santa” crept into my room to leave a stocking stuffed with surprises to hold me until mom and dad’s signal next morning to traipse down the stairs to check out presents gushing out for under our Christmas tree. But first, we always looked for telltale crumbs from the cookies and milk left for Santa the night before.

As I recall those memories, I’m grateful how mom and dad managed to build ceremonial moments into Christmas morning to gather around the manger scene to mark the baby Jesus’ birth. We carried that forward when raising our family.

Gradually I grew then eventually I knew the difference between the fantasy and the reality. Turns out the reality’s wonder bested the fantasy and we raised our own children in that wonder while respecting traditions fellow parents chose. Our children are now grown and gone but, thankfully, come home for Christmas.

We’ve really been “into” Christmas this year, launching into it all Thanksgiving weekend.  We added to our outdoor display and got caught with my ornament project, gifts, greeting cards, church and various “convenings’ of the season.

We’re wearing out favorite Christmas CDs. One song in particular is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “I heard the bells on Christmas day,” written in 1864. Remakes on Christmas CDs  by Casting Crowns and Steven Curtis Chapman are particularly good but my favorite is MercyMe’s version. [click and listen while reading on...]

Recall how it goes?  The Christmas day bells herald a familiar refrain, “peace on Earth, good will to men.” The listener is initially bolstered by hearing the bells but later despairs as the reality and persistence of strife and hate on earth mocks the claim.  

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

We Christians live in this tension that sometimes overwhelms and teases our faith.  But as we  meditate and persist with sound doctrine and counsel and prayer and obedience, God’s presence and power rises, rallying the refrain to a building crescendo.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor does He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men

MercyMe’s ending stirs me,

I can hear You! I can hear You! I can hear You! .....
Oh yeah, yeah
I could still hear You!
The world can hear You!
— MercyMe from Christmas Sessions, 2005


Sometimes I think we’ve applied too much fake fairy dust to Christmas that needs no such treatment from the likes of us.  Its wonder stands on its own. Nevertheless, at this moment, I want to stay in the stillness of Bethlehem for just a while longer before venturing back into the harsh realities of day to day life and ultimately, to the cross.

Beyond Bethlehem, Jesus’ real work beckons, where the world takes issue with what we believe and know to be true, that Jesus is indeed who he says he is.  Nevertheless, I’m staying put today, basking in this moment of wonder and stillness.

Tomorrow will come soon enough.


Banner photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash



Healing Wasn't Why He Came

July 19 is an auspicious date for me, the day that both my mom, Nancy and brother, Roger died in 1977 and 2014, respectively, 37 years apart.  In memory of them and to offer hope to many loved ones today whose passionate prayers for healing seem to go unanswered, I again share this reflection I originally wrote after Roger's death. I pray it ministers to you.

True healing here

True healing here

Recently, cancer took my brother Roger's life. Even though the insidious disease resisted treatment every step of the way, he managed to hold it at bay for over thirteen long years. Meanwhile, he was able to see his two children into their teen years and to solidify a life legacy that those of us who knew him will carry with us for the rest of our lives.

Roger is ninth of my parents’ ten children that I am oldest of.  A simple man by choice, he was devoted to his family and successful in his work. Accomplished in golf, the game was not so much a platform for his golfing skills and intense competitiveness as just another avenue through which he touched others with his character, wit, warmth and genuineness. Family, golf, character and a great sense of humor are four common descriptors expressed about Roger.

A significant number of people cared about his Roger’s well-being and deeply desired for him to beat cancer. I have no way of knowing how many people prayed for Roger during his illness but a few expressed to me their belief that faith-doubters would be swayed toward belief by Roger overcoming cancer.  While I know my own faith would be bolstered by that happening, I think the relationship between healing and belief is weak.

Healing WAS a big drawing card for Jesus’ earthly ministry but when he began to shift away from healing to focus more on his true mission - to sacrifice himself to redeem people from the curse of sin, his popularity waned and the crowds thinned.  That the throngs were drawn more to his miracles than this message didn’t sit well with Jesus.

As the crowds increased, Jesus said, "This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. (Luke 11:29)

Healing and miracles demonstrated Jesus’ power over biology and chemistry but the cross is where Jesus’ greatest demonstration of power occurred - where he sacrificed himself to break the stranglehold of sin that is the cause for all that we suffer - sickness, pain, despair, trial and death.  The power of Jesus' cross occurred where the real action is - in the spiritual realm.

By bringing Roger to God in our prayer, we followed in the footsteps of those who did the same in Jesus time. On two such instances, Jesus acknowledged the faith of the bringer(s) in the healing of the brought - 1) the centurion who requested healing for his servant (Luke 7: 1-10) and 2) the friends who lowered the paralyzed man through a hole they dug in the roof of the house to where Jesus was teaching below (Mark 2: 1-5).

So did God answer any of our prayers for Roger?

Diagnosed in 2000, his disease was arrested briefly between 2006 and 2010.  The rest of the time,  this usually fast-progressing disease worsened steadily but slowly.  Although he endured through several crisis and sampled a few new treatment developments that emerged, surviving as long as he did could be attributed as easily to medicine as to God.  Ultimately he shared the same fate as those who Jesus unquestionably healed during his ministry.  Roger experienced the fate all of us will also face - mortal death.

While Jesus was able to heal bodies effortlessly, those healings were temporary whereas the much harder work he did on the cross made something more permanent possible - eternal life for all who believe in him. In contrast to the difficulty of Jesus’ work on the cross, our belief work is easy and just a little earnest faith is all that’s needed…. as little as a mustard seed…

(Said Jesus): "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you. (Luke 17:6, NIV)

…. as meager as mere crumbs of food that fall from someone else’s table….

(Said Jesus): “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:26-27, NIV)

Roger in 2014

Roger in 2014

Two days before he died, Roger opted to begin hospice care. Perhaps sensing his mortality, he put the word out for family members to visit with him if they wished.  I was able to see Roger the day before he died.

As Roger’s body faded, I prayed for his faith to rise up in him, to know beyond doubt and be comforted by the sure and steady hand of his Lord and Savior gathering him in.  

I firmly believe that only when we are finally face-to-face with our Lord will we truly understand why healing wasn’t why he came.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11: 1, NAS)        

If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9).

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.  (Revelations 21:4)

Originally posted by Road Report on August 19, 2014

Image by Aaron Burden via Unsplash



No shame, imagined

Wearing a cross: shame redeemed?

Wearing a cross: shame redeemed?

I cling to pride even though I never would have thought myself very prideful.

Shame is pride’s offspring.  We know we are proud whenever we feel shame. Shame cannot exist without pride.

Was reading Psalm 26 by David when the phrase in the NIV “be put to shame” caught my attention.  I was particularly struck by verse 3 when David claims:

“No one who hopes in you (God) will ever be put to shame”
— Psalm 25:3a, NIV

Ever?  As in never?

What about verse 2 when David wrote, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me?” (Psalm 25:2)“

Is David wishy-washy or is he simply admonishing himself to always resolve to trust in the Lord so that, among other benefits, he will not be put to shame?  He concludes the Psalm with another reminder:

“Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.”
— Psalm 25:20

I relate to David’s struggle. I revere God too but sometimes shame weighs heavy on me.

While David had much to be proud about - warrior, hero, musician, king, author, he is also open about his weakness and sinfulness.  Note verses 7 and 11 where he asks to be judged by God’s character not his own.   Really proud people would rarely say anything like that.

BibleGateway produced 147 uses of the word “shame” in the NIV including 52 variations on the phrase “put to shame.”  While the very first mention occurs before the first sin, when “Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25), most of those mentions regard the shame of those who have little or no regard for God.

How long will you people turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods? (Psalm 4:2)

Even a cursory study of shame in the Bible clearly shows shame presented as a primary  language and manner of the world.  

Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.

To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.
— Jeremiah 6:15a and Proverbs 18:13

Modern life holds this to be as true as ever.  In stark contrast is God’s assurance as echoed above by David and elsewhere:

“As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him (the Lord) will never be put to shame.”’
— Romans 10:11 referencing Isaiah 28:16

Never?  Imagine never experiencing shame, especially in 2017?

Here’s another never to bank on - that God doesn’t leave us to depend on imagining what never/ever experiencing shame looks like.  In answer, he sent his son Jesus to model life that drew completely from God and completely disregarded every other influence. (See Philippians 2:7, ESV)

Every person and being who came against Jesus failed to put him to shame.  Jesus’ ultimate triumph over shame was when...

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
— Hebrews 12:2, NIV

While the cross was for a moment in history associated with one of the most diabolical execution methods ever conceived by humanity, today it is a symbol of redemption, not to mention an adornment,.

Imagine forsaking pride and never again suffering shame?  Imagine drawing life only from the Lord and giving no other person or being or idea a foothold for pride or shame to take root?

Thanks to Jesus, we don’t have to imagine.

Image source: wearing a cross