Trial

Take the adventure that comes

Aslan and Lucy from "The Last Battle," Chronicles of Narnia. (see notes for image source)

Aslan and Lucy from "The Last Battle," Chronicles of Narnia. (see notes for image source)

I write this for myself but feel free to read along.  This is a reminder for now and to have here to come back to again and again.  Because these feelings repeat.

I’m discouraged and I don’t feel like writing.  What do I have to say that anyone would want to read?  But here I am, writing anyway.

I find myself lacking a sense of call or purpose to wake up to today; or a future or dream to give the day some perspective.  But another day awaits that needs to be lived out.  

This awful, foreboding sense of failure washes over me, a strong sense of having fallen short but not knowing what hand I had in it or how to get back to generally succeeding again except to just live into this new day, do my best and lean into the Lord; And not take myself too seriously.

Today’s to-dos seem more than can be done in a day.  Some are in my sweet spots but some will stretch me.  Lately, more stretchy ones are in the mix than I prefer but I’m kinder on myself as I get older, more O.K. with good enough being good enough than when I was younger.  I’ve learned a thing or two about imagined perfection and excellence and their associated costs.  May I invoke that learning when today’s hour is late and some unchecked items remain.

“We must go and take the adventure that comes to us,” said a character in C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle,” the seventh of seven books of his Chronicles of Narnia.  The remark was offered as our heroes faced a daunting situation.  What to do or how to proceed was not at all clear while peril was certain and the odds were heavily stacked against the good guys.

In the case of these stories, the adventure-takers were all believers in and followers of Aslan,  the lion Lord of Narnia that Lewis modeled after Jesus Christ.  The adventure was viewed as one that Aslan had a hand (or in this case, paw) in allowing or causing to come to them. They knew he expected them to go forward despite their uncertainty.

So must I.  You too.  To go forward, live today.  

As we take on our to-do lists, keep the story God wrote, just for us, at hand.  Its guidance and wisdom is strong.  Filling its pages are the stories of other’s journeys very much like mine and yours.  

Whether you see yourself taking on the grand or the mundane, God levels every task and adventure, somehow rendering the grand mundane and the mundane grand.

Speaking to the sense of call or purpose, Os Guiness wrote,

“We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called first to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God Himself.”
— Os Guiness, “The Call - Finding and fulfilling the central purpose of your life”

 

So here is the new day, brought directly from God, the author and source of all life and every moment of every day. We believers in him enjoy relationship with him through his son Jesus.  

Therefore, thanks to his mercy and grace, the burden of my past can be shed so I start this day with a clean slate, wholly forgiven and new.

O.K….(deep breath).  Ready now to “go and take the adventure that comes.”


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.

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!

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!

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