Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Does this make my bum look big?

Science to the rescue!

In one of the more humorous stories on tap for the New Year, a team of scientists will be testing whether or not certain clothing really does make a person’s bum look big. Seriously!

IT is one of the greatest female dilemmas and has led generations of women to ask: "Does my bum look big in this?"

Now, a team of researchers from Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University are launching what is believed to be the world's first scientific study to answer the often asked question of how clothing can affect the appearance of the female rear.

The team, from the university's School of Textiles and Design, based in Galashiels, believe the study could have major implications for retailers.

Female volunteers wearing hundreds of different types of clothing will have their behinds photographed for the research.

Participants will then be asked to look at the pictures to assess how big or small each model's backside appears. The study will examine how various designs, colors, patterns and fabric types affect perception of bottom size.

Tax dollars hard at work! But, on the other hand…it does have practical implications for world peace!

However, the scientists would probably offer more help for married relationships if they also studied this issue: “How should husbands answer the question, ‘Does my bum really look big in this?’” Now that is a question worth pondering!


And since there are no scientific studies forthcoming, I think I’ll start my own study. Here. On this blog. In this post!

I am going to boldly go where no one has gone before, and offer beleaguered husbands some answers to “the question,” when it comes. Here, in no particular order, are my best attempts to help. [Caveat: Not responsible for lawsuits or bodily injury which may occur. Use at your own risk!] It could be that these answers will impress her, and help build marital dialogue and relational growth, lol. How should one answer? Some "scientific," sensitive answers as follows, for your benefit and consideration:

  • No honey, it doesn’t make your bum look big…it just reflects your magnanimous glory for the world to appreciate!
  • No honey, it doesn’t make your bum look big…it’s just that the sparse threads of that garment do not begin to approach the fullness of your impressive expanse!
  • Um, [cough, sputter]…gee, honey, now that you mention it, it does make your perfect shape seem a bit, ah, um, obtrusive, shall we say?
  • Um…aww, baby, I always did like your conspicuous derriere, and this just makes it all the more conspicuous!
  • Aww, baby, you know I’ve never been much on fashion, and this is a true fashion statement which I am not qualified to judge: With your high-fashion-eye, what do you think?
  • Oh, no honey, it’s not that it makes your bum look big…it’s just for a second there I thought I was looking at your Aunt Glinda [or, fill in appropriate relation, lol].
  • Drum roll…finally, “No baby, it doesn’t make your bum look big…it’s just…why didn’t you tell me we were expecting twins?”

Ladies, please vote as to which response is MLTGMK – “most likely to get me killed,” lol! Remember, this is serious scientific analysis so all of your replies will help resolve the dilemma!

And, of course, this is all intended to generate relation-building dialogue and wholesome discourse! And, with the proper answer used in the precise manner, can easily build the self-esteem of the wife [and perhaps save the life of the husband, lol].

As ever, your altruistic and sensitive blogster,


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Women deserve better than abortion

In honor of the virgin Mary
Who carried her baby Jesus
In spite of the scorn
Of small-town gossips...

In honor of the innocents
Massacred by Herod
When their very existence
Threatened his comfort...

In honor of women today
Pressured not to carry
That very child, who
Will bring them new life...

In honor of the innocents
Taken from the light of day
Because their very existence
Threatened human comfort...

We lift this verse:
A voice of weeping and wailing,
Rachel crying for her children,
Because they are not!

Women deserve better
Than this: surely the heart
Must confess this theme
This time of year!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Follow the star

We turned so many dusty pages
In our hope to find the truth...

Then the star tore through the darkness
"From Jacob shines a star!"
And the worldless One who is the Word
Will be worth a journey far...

We will find Him, we will find Him,
We will follow His light...
What was darkness, what was shadow
In His presence is delight

In castles, through kingdoms,
We know where to start...
To find the King whose kingdom is the heart!

Michael Card

Friday, December 23, 2005

Killing Christmas with human wisdom

The world-changing faith of a single girl

The whole thing narrows and narrows, until at last it comes down to a little point, small as the point of a spear -- a Jewish girl at her prayers.

C.S. Lewis

It is, in point of fact, extremely improbable, under existing conditions, that Jesus would have been permitted to be born at all. Mary’s pregnancy, in poor circumstances, and with the father unknown, would have been an obvious case for an abortion...

Malcolm Muggeridge

The calling as great joy and great pain

I am amazed at the faith of Mary, her inner purity, her deep reservoir of courage, her resiliency and spiritual power. She strikes me as a slender oak tree, supple and bending with the wind and rain, but never to break…only to put down roots and provide shade for others, and life for her world.

She experienced the “sword that would pierce through her own soul,” the indescribable joy and pain of the calling…with such purity of spirit!

I see that spirit reflected in so few persons in our modern time [but I have seen it!]. We’ve jettisoned high spiritual relation for the comfort of family and religious forms, relegating calling to never-never land as a thing for priests and saints: we’ve created a humanistic spirituality where “others” do the real spiritual work for us, the intercession for a culture, and we escape to live self-centered lives like everyone else…yet we are such good Christians! After all, we go to church and are in “the Church,” are we not?

In the words of Kierkegaard, we subtly use religious form to destroy the true self. We escape to the crowd of family or church to lose the responsibility of being that integral self before God. Instinctively, we think there is too much pain in the call, so we try to manage it.

We cannot accept its joy because of the risk of pain.

But in the word of Philip Yancey, “often the work of God comes with two edges, great joy and pain,” and Mary embraced both.

She refused then, as she would refuse now, to accept the “advice” of a caring culture or family that would relieve her of her spiritual burden. And, in the process, she *just happened* to bring forth the Savior of the world.

But the process is one that should convict us: We look now and think, “Oh, isn’t she beautiful and faithful and spiritual!” but let’s be brutally honest – what would we have advised her with all our 'Christian wisdom ' today?

“Mary, God expects us to be normal and comfortable!” “Mary, all this talk of calling and angels and destiny…that is ok for childhood dreams, but this is the real world, you know!” "Mary, you've got to think of what this means for your career and for your family."

It is convicting and humbling and awe-inspiring at the same time.

But we need to look at the Annunciation, the birth of Jesus through new eyes. How much do we water down the plan of God in American Christendom, and call it the will of God, or at least “good choices?” Here, the plan of God leads a poor country girl through an unplanned pregnancy, through mysterious night callings, in a culture that stigmatized and stoned such indecorous actions

Mary’s faithfulness to God countered prevailing wisdom…yet brought the Wisdom of the ages. Her faith sits in judgment of our culture and culturally comfortable advice that would reject the divine call for ‘normal life.’

Killing Christmas with human wisdom

Selection from Philip Yancey

Christmas art depicts Jesus’ family as icons stamped in gold foil, with a calm Mary receiving the tidings of the Annunciation as a kind of benediction. But that is not at all how Luke tells the story. Mary was “greatly troubled” and “afraid” at the angel’s appearance, and when the angel pronounced the sublime words about the Son of the Most High whose kingdom will never end, Mary had something far more mundane on her mind: But I’m a virgin!

In the modern United States, where each year a million teenage girls get pregnant out of wedlock, Mary’s predicament has undoubtedly lost some of its force, but in a closely knit Jewish community in the first century, the news an angel brought could not have been entirely welcome. The law regarded a betrothed woman who became pregnant as an adulteress, subject to death by stoning...

C. S. Lewis has written about God’s plan, “The whole thing narrows and narrows, until at last it comes down to a little point, small as the point of a spear -- a Jewish girl at her prayers.”

Today as I read the accounts of Jesus’ birth I tremble to think of the fate of the world fate resting on the responses of [a] rural teenager... How many times did Mary review the angel’s words as she felt the Son of God kicking against the walls of her uterus? How many times did Joseph second-guess his own encounter with an angel – was it just a dream? – as he endured the hot shame of living among villagers who could plainly see the changing shape of his fiancĂ©e?

Malcolm Muggeridge observed that in our day, with family-planning clinics offering convenient ways to correct “mistakes” that might disgrace a family name,

It is, in point of fact, extremely improbable, under existing conditions, that Jesus would have been permitted to be born at all. Mary’s pregnancy, in poor circumstances, and with the father unknown, would have been an obvious case for an abortion; and her talk of having conceived as a result of the intervention of the Holy Ghost would have pointed to the need for psychiatric treatment, and made the case for terminating her pregnancy even stronger. Thus our generation, needing a Savior more, perhaps, than any that has ever existed, would be too humane to allow one to be born.

The virgin Mary, though, whose parenthood was unplanned, had a different response. She heard the angel out, pondered the repercussions, and replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Often a work of God comes with two edges, great joy and great pain, and in that matter-of-fact response Mary embraced both. She was the first person to accept Jesus on His own terms, regardless of the personal cost.


Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 32.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A holy descent

The God of power, as He did ride
In His majestick robes of glorie
Resolv'd to light, and so one day
He did descend, undressing all the way.

George Herbert

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas in a diseased Christianity

One best becomes a Christian -- without "Christianity."

When Christianity entered the world, people were not Christians, and the difficulty was to become a Christian. Nowadays the difficulty in becoming a Christian is that one must cease to become a "Christian."

Only a person of will can become a Christian; for only a person of will has a will that can be broken. But a person of will whose will is broken is a Christian. The stronger the natural will, the deeper the break can be and the better the Christian. This is what has been described by the expressive phrase: the new obedience. A Christian is a person of will who no longer wills her own will but with the passion of her crushed will -- radically changed -- wills another's will.

Relationship to Christ is the decisive thing. You may be thoroughly informed about Christianity as a whole, you may know how to explain it, present it and expound it -- but if with all this...your relationship with Christ is indifferent, you are a pagan.

In so called Christianity, we have made Christmas into a great festival. This is quiet false, and it was not at all so in the early Church. We mistake childishness for Christianity -- what with our sickly sentimentality, our candy canes, and our manger scenes. Instead of remaining conscious of being in conflict that marks a life of true faith, we Christians have made ourselves a home and settled down in a comfortable and cozy existence. No wonder Christmas has become little more than a beautiful holiday.

Christianity has been made so much into a consolation that people have completely forgotten it is first and foremost a demand.

Soren Kierkegaard

Gold, circumstance and mud

Sharing grace in stories

“Do not forget…some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2

I’ve been touched by recent stories of God’s quiet guidance…the simple ways that God gets through to a life, in the midst of human circumstance. I was especially touched by John Hetman’s sharing of his encounter with an angel or “angelic presence” that kept him from impulsive suicide all those years ago.

For those of you who can share your personal stories of God’s guidance, I would encourage you to share…if you can, please add your comments in the “Advent meditation on guidance.”

Perhaps you feel your story is not sensational, or whatever, but I would encourage you to still share. Please do not feel intimidated! There is something about a testimony of grace – no matter how seemingly small – that touches other people. What may seem small or insignificant to you may be the exact word that another person needs to hear for hope and healing…

And, maybe you feel your story is not some big “victory” or happy ending kind of thing. Maybe all you can do is share a bit of light that God has given you in the midst of pain…if that is the case, then I would urge you to share all the more!

Your tears, bottled in the priceless vessel of God’s grace, can become sacred ointment for the deep wounds in another person’s soul!

At any rate, for further encouragement, here are some Christmas stories that I’ve heard recently…stories that have encouraged me, challenged me, and moved me to tears and action.

Gold, circumstance and mud

The first story is told by Rex Knowles, a pastor who was home with his children the week before Christmas [which, as Patrick O'Hannigan astutely notes, cannot truly be termed 'babysitting!' Thanks, Patrick!]. Anyway, while Rex Knowles was there with his children, thinking disjointed and anxious thoughts, God’s grace broke in…in the form of his dear children acting out the Christmas story. Listen to how Rex tells the story:

I was babysitting my four children while my wife had gone shopping. Baby-sitting to me is reading the paper while my wife had gone shopping. Baby-sitting to me is reading the paper while the kids mess up the house. Only that day I wasn't reading. I was fuming…

There was a knock on the door. Then Nancy's voice, "Daddy, we have a play to put on. Would you like to see it?" I didn't. But I have fatherly responsibilities…so I followed her into the living room. Right away I knew it was a Christmas play, for at the foot of the piano stool was a lighted flashlight wrapped in swaddling clothes lying an a shoebox.

Rex, age six, came in wearing my bathrobe and carrying a mop handle. He sat on the stool and looked at the flashlight. Nancy, age ten, draped a sheet over her head, stood behind Rex, and began, "I'm Mary and this boy is Joseph." “Usually in this play Joseph stands up and Mary sits down, but Mary sitting down is taller than Joseph standing up so we thought it looked better this way.”

Enter Trudy, age four, at a full run. There were pillowcases over her arms. She spread them wide and said only "I'm an angel."

Then came Ann, age eight. I knew she was a wise man because she had on her mother's high heels and walked like she was a wise man riding a camel. On a pillow she carried three items, undoubtedly gold, frankincense, and myrrh. She walked across the room and announced, "I'm all three wise men. I bring precious gifts: gold, circumstance, and mud."

That was all. The play was over. I didn't laugh, I prayed. How near the truth Ann was. We come at Christmas burdened down with gold, with the showy gifts and the tinselly tree. Under the circumstance we can do no other. And it really does seem a bit like mud when you think about it. But my children saw through the earthly and found the real reason for Christmas -- to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Gold, circumstance and mud!

Seen through a child’s eyes, they take their proper place: a child holds gold lightly, dances with circumstance, and plays in mud.

And God? God looks at mud as the building block of human life: He takes mud, breathes on it, and it becomes a living soul: Adam and Eve, man and woman. And God looks at the worst circumstance as a door of grace. Finally, gold given by God does not own the person, but provides for kingdom purpose…

Gold, circumstance and mud: kingly gifts after all!

A brother like that

The second story is a story my father used to tell, but I hadn’t heard it for years until this week. It’s the story of a street child with a heart in touch with God.

A man named Paul received an automobile from his brother as a Christmas present. On Christmas Eve when Paul came out of his office, a street urchin was walking around the shiny new car, admiring it. "Is this your car, Mister?" he asked.

Paul nodded. "My brother gave it to me for Christmas." The boy was astounded. "You mean your brother gave it to you and it didn't cost you nothing? Boy, I wish..." He hesitated…

Of course Paul knew what he was going to wish for. He was going to wish he had a brother like that. But what the lad said jarred Paul all the way down to his heels.

"I wish," the boy went on, "that I could be a brother like that."

Paul looked at the boy in astonishment, then impulsively he added, "Would you like to take a ride in my automobile?"

"Oh yes, I'd love that."

After a short ride, the boy turned and with his eyes aglow, said, "Mister, would you mind driving in front on my house?"

Paul smiled a little. He thought he knew what the lad wanted. He wanted to show his neighbors that he could ride home in a big automobile. But Paul was wrong again. "Will you stop where those two steps are?" the boy asked.

He ran up the steps. Then in a little while Paul heard him coming back, but he was not coming fast. He was carrying his little crippled brother. He sat him down on the bottom step, then sort of squeezed up against him and pointed to the car.

"There she is, Buddy, just like I told you upstairs. His brother gave it to him for Christmas and it didn't cost him a cent. And some day I'm gonna give you one just like it...then you can see for yourself all the pretty things in the Christmas windows that I've been trying to tell you about."

Paul got out and lifted the lad to the front seat of his car. The older brother climbed in beside him and the three of them began a memorable holiday ride.

That Christmas Eve, Paul learned what Jesus meant when He said, "It is more blessed to give than receive."

I wish I could be a brother like that!

Indeed. God, grant me the grace to be a child in deed and action…this Christmas!

Redemption from the monsters

The third story kind of ties them all together.

It’s the story of a mother who was putting her young daughter to bed. The daughter was concerned about monsters under the bed, and fretted and fussed. The mother tried to re-assure her, but the daughter imagined one horror after another. But then, the young girl got a smile on her face, turned toward her mother and said, “I know! I’ll just ask Jesus to keep me safe from the monsters. They can’t get me then!”

The mother tried to affirm the faith of her daughter, but in that moment, her mind went to young girls half-way around the world, not much older than her daughter, girls who face terrible real life monsters…monsters that look like human men, but act like demons – animals that rape and kill and steal a childhood.

And her mind thought, “How do we tell those girls about the love of God?”

The question is one that echoes in me: some people encounter monsters, and God delivers them…by grace and prayer. But how do we share the love of God with those who are encountering “monsters” of any kind, yet seem to be losing the battle?

What about the person struggling for one last breath, facing cancer, heart or lung failure?

Or what about the girl crying quietly inside, with so many wounded dreams…hurt by rape of body or mind, trust broken…in a hundred pieces, this Christmas?

We have to find some way to present the call of Christ in a way that is real, and addresses real hurts, real “monsters” that infringe on beautiful hearts every day. I think the only way we can offer hope is like the real Jesus did…not some candy coated, sentimental substitute for grace, but rather the real thing: Yes, there are wounds, Jesus said. Yes, there are broken people. But, He answered in these terms: I have come to give beauty for ashes.

Gospel honesty is recognizing the ashes that people deal with every day. We don’t hide from the monsters under the bed. But we answer them in terms of the Messiah:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on Me…
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
…to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion --
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of depression.

We can only answer as Job did, staring death in the face:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my body is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!

Now that is a Christmas message worth sharing! The wounds are real, but they are faced head on by our Christ…

May God bless these words to your life this day…may He take your mud and make it gold for your wounded heart, this very day, this good day!


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Advent meditation on guidance

Interactive thoughts on divine guidance

The Christmas story is amazing on many levels, but I find it particularly compelling on how it relates to divine guidance in human time. Consider the story again for a few moments, and ask yourself these questions:

What does this story show about how God reveals His presence and will in human time? How does God get through to us; how does God lead a life?

Consider these questions and hear the story in your spirit, as I share what it means to me, regarding guidance. And, after you read the article, please take a moment to add what it means to you, ok? Perhaps we can journal some helpful thoughts together…principles of God's guidance!

Revelation through words of the spirit

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.”

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

God gives Mary a word to her spirit, through angelic visitation.

I class this as a ‘word to the spirit’ simply because it is a spiritual word with angelic means. The angel speaks to the spirit of Mary, and Mary responds in kind: ‘I am the Lord’s handmaiden…may it be done to me even as you have said.’

Both word and reply were spiritual in nature, and confound our natural understanding.

I class it this way because many people say, “Well, I’ve never been visited by an angel!”

I would just reply: “How can you be so sure?”

Have you had any impossible dreams lately? Have you been touched by a calling and vision beyond yourself, which carries a hint of divine intent…a mystery which troubles and perplexes you, yet fills you with higher things?

The divine story is still going on. Yet we have inundated ourselves with so many things that even were an angel to come, we could not see it right away. Our eyes have been covered over in layers of worldly things, which Mary did not allow in her life.

So she saw the angel and received the words in clear form. And agreed with them, though they were impossible...

All that to say: The spirit words may be there, deep in your soul. Follow them for greater revelation!

Revelation through revealed word

“Where is He who is to be born King of the Jews…?”

Most people don’t realize it, but the Wise Men had high level access to many Hebrew Scriptures: When the magi show up in Judea asking, “Where is the King of the Jews?” they are not just pulling words out of the air.

Persian magi received parts of Jewish Scripture hundreds of years before Christ, during the Jewish captivity in Babylon [from 602 BCE and on]. During these years, Hebrew Scriptures were shared at the highest levels of world study. Several world edicts even reflected this Hebraic wisdom. For hundreds of years the Persian magi had the Torah and probably several of the prophets. These wise men definitely had the prophecy of Numbers 24:17:

I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel...

A Star will rise from Jacob’s house, a Scepter out of Israel…

Linking this knowledge of Scripture with their incredible knowledge of heavenly movements, the stars and natural sciences, they deduced the time of Messiah, or the promised regent King of Israel, ruler of the world.

A deep awareness of Scripture informed their natural knowledge.

And so they came to the courts of Herod, with this information: The King of Jews is born! Where is He? They naturally assumed that the present rulers would know about this holy birth, and support it. But surprise! Herod was furious…he was far more interested in his own rule than the plan of God.

So Herod called in the priests and sages and said, “Where is the prophesied King to be born?”

The Jewish priests had access to more Scripture than the magi, and they said, “Bethlehem!” They quoted Micah 5:2:

That is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’

When Herod heard that, he turned his mind to destruction: “Go find him, and bring me word again, that I may worship Him also…” he told the magi. But, as we know, he intended to kill the Christ all along.

Here we have two very different treatments of Scripture: The magi sought Scripture as a treasure, and used all the Scripture they had to find God. Herod used Scripture as a tool, to create his own way and destroy the will of God in the world.

There is a third way to treat the revealed word: ignore it.

But on this continuum, the world finds itself: Some treat it as a tool for their own ends, and twist it; some treat it as a treasure, and use it in relation to God; others ignore it as outdated and archaic.

Lesson: Scripture is supernatural revelation. We ignore it or twist it at our own peril. We are safely led by God as we humble ourselves to Scripture as a “pearl of great price.”

God guides us through the revealed word.

Revelation through natural signs

“Where is he who is born King of the Jews?” “We have seen his star when it first arose, and have followed it to worship Him!”

The magi were guided by a star that brought them so far, to the land of Judea…

Now, was this star coincidence or real guidance?

For millions of people living then, the star was coincidence. But for certain faithful persons who sought the will of God and saw the heavens with eyes of the spirit, the star was guidance.

Lesson: God is in the details of human life. God’s hand can be seen throughout the natural order, but we must have eyes to see. When God acts, do we see it? Are signs merely coincidence?

Or is there a divine hand, and sovereign guidance?

The reverent heart can see the revelation of God in signs of nature and natural life.

I once met a man on a golf course who told me that his life had been saved when an oak leaf stopped internal bleeding in him. Doctors were amazed: an oak leaf had somehow ingested into his system, and this leaf wrapped around the aneurysm. I mentioned divine thankfulness -- he, with a shrug, mentioned coincidence: “Just lucky.”

Question: Are my eyes open to the presence of God in natural elements?

When others see ‘just a star,’ am I led to the King?

Revelation through relationship

Here the Christmas story gets really personal.

Herod had Scripture and now the proof of the star and proof of the magi. Herod had the same revelation as the wise men, yet he wanted to destroy the Christ child!

Lesson: Scripture is not enough. We must enter a vital relationship with God: communication and communion: learning the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”
Jesus uses the metaphor of the shepherd to paint a picture of obedience. It is the picture of a shepherd calling to his sheep in the midst of massed herds, and having his sheep hear and follow!

There are many, many voices out there. We live in an era of information overload. The average teen spends almost 6 hours a day in electronic media: TV, movies, computer games and messaging, etc. The average adult approaches this level on weekends…after being crushed by voices on workdays.

To hear and know the voice of God is a matter of relationship. Herod had revelation handed him, but still ignored the voice of God.

The prophet Isaiah put it this way: “Woe to you who light your own fires, who create your own light!” “You will lie down in torment.” “But all you that follow righteousness, who look to the Lord…you will be comforted.”

Divine guidance comes through divine relation. The natural state of humans is to create their own way, to follow other voices, to “light their own fires.”

But as we seek God through Christ, and respond to grace, God heightens our relation to him.

C.S. Lewis talks about levels of relationship and learning to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit, through all the other voices that call. Growth in awareness of the Spirit voice of God is a sign of spiritual maturity.

Lewis gives an example of this kind of relation. One day he sensed the Spirit of God nudging him to visit his barber. But he argued against it: It wasn’t rational. It wasn’t time to visit the barber and he had other things to do. But the voice came again: “Visit your barber.” By now Lewis had walked with God long enough that he recognized the voice of the Spirit [vs. his own impressions]. So, he put on his coat and went to the barber. As soon as he walked in the door, the barber exclaimed: “Oh, I had been praying that you would come!” “I urgently needed to talk.” Lewis said that a day later and he would have been too late. But in divine relation, he was right on time!

Relation is built through prayer and obedience.

P. T. Forsyth says that progress in prayer is progress with God. “In every act of prayer we have already begun to do God's will.”

Pascal talks about doing what is right before God, and having God grant higher faith in the process.

The magi came to Judea through obedience to the divine voice, and gained the Christ.

Similarly, we gain high guidance in walking with God in Word and Spirit: Divine relation!

Revelation through dreams and visions

Both Joseph and the magi were led by dreams…dreams that played a vital part in protecting Jesus, the Christ child.

The magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, so they quietly departed to their own country another way [i.e. fled from Herod]. Joseph and Mary took Jesus and fled to Egypt, where they were safe from both Herod and Herod Achelaus, the sadistic son of Herod who took over his throne.

Such guidance hearkens to the prophecy of Joel, which the apostles later referenced:

And it shall come to pass…that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions...I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will show signs and wonders in the heavens and in the earth...

This role of dreams shows the importance of feeding our conscious minds on good things.

If the last thing we see before sleeping is the news, etc., and first thing we read upon waking is the newspaper, we will dream dreams of human occurrence [most are]. But if the last thing we see is heavenly news -- prayer and Scripture mediation -- and the first thing upon waking is divine praise and order, we can dream divine occurrence. This will inform our understanding of human news.

In this light, the magi are a great study in divine guidance.

They rigorously applied themselves to knowledge and Scripture, within a working relationship with the God, and a humble acceptance of God’s presence through other daily means of dreams, visions and encounters. So God guided them in human time.

And lest we think that was ‘just back then,’ I beg to differ.

I believe that ‘God is no respecter of persons,’ and will guide all those who open to His person and ways. I’ve experienced this guidance in ways of extreme grace. And, maybe here to share a story which will encourage you…

Some of you know about the day that my friend Tim drowned...

They say a drowning person only comes up three times, but that day Tim went under and came up at least seven times.

We were there at Girl’s Dam to cool off on a hot summer day -- Tim, my brother and I. Tim was there to save us. We could not swim, but Tim said he could swim. I tried to save him, but couldn’t reach him…nearly drowning myself while he struggled in deeper water.

Gerald and I prayed on the shore: “God, save Tim!”

But after what seemed forever, it was over. He floated near the top, underwater, face down, hands flung out. Drowned. Gerald and I wept aloud: “Tim is dead! Tim is dead!”

Little did we know, at that moment, back at our home in Josephine, a vision appeared before my father – a vision of a person drowning. He and my mother immediately went into intercessory prayer for us. Meanwhile, little did they know, but seven miles away at Girls Dam, Tim started to move under the water. Never breaking the surface, he moved to us as if on a rope, and we pulled him out, alive.

Neither of us knew CPR, but there was no need: There was no water in his lungs: He began breathing normally. In instant answer to prayer, God preserved him alive.

I’ll never know why God acted so quickly and clearly then, when at other times and other prayers He chose not to reveal himself so clearly.

But I do know that on that day, I saw first hand a God who controlled space and time, who has the power and intervene and guide human affairs.

I don’t know why God showed himself that day so strongly, but I know that He did. I still go back to that in referent, and let that inform my relation today…and sometimes, mysteriously, I find that the same God who guided then is still guiding now in just as strong a way, if not stronger…though unseen.

He is the one who chooses the moments of light, the moments of clarity, for His good purpose: As Pascal said, ‘Partial light, partial darkness…’ for our high sake and for His glory.

Most of us have not had that dramatic of an intervention, but we all can have a relationship that will bring divine guidance in moments of need.

Advent lessons of guidance: We can take the signs of natural order from a level of coincidence to guidance by honoring revealed word [Scripture] and higher relation with God. Our dreams and visions can reflect God instead of fallen society.

We can come to the Christ and be led by the Christ in human time!


P.S. What does this meditation bring to your mind regarding divine guidance? In considering the Christmas story, what would you add concerning God’s leadership? Please feel free to share, and make this article an interaction on His intervention! :-)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Advent thoughts on dark matter

Dark matter in the galaxy cluster CL 0152-1357 is mapped in purple. The yellowish galaxies are the visible cluster member galaxies forming a filamentary structure, possibly in the process of merging.
Credit: Jee et al. 2005, Astrophysical Journal

Hubble sheds light on dark matter

“Indeed, these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?” Job 26:14

Science writer Robert Roy Britt notes that a new Hubble Space Telescope images project has mapped out invisible dark matter with unprecedented detail. It is quite fascinating, following several breakthroughs in recent years regarding the existence of dark matter and energy.

Astronomers don't know what it is, but every now and then they find more evidence of dark matter and pin down where the mysterious stuff resides.

A new project that recycled Hubble Space Telescope images has mapped the invisible dark matter with unprecedented detail. Researchers focused on two galaxy clusters that are so far away, and their light has taken so long to get here, that they are seen as they existed when the universe was about half its present age.

The observations provide additional evidence supporting a leading theory that galaxies form in cosmic webs, with regular material and dark matter condensing into nodes something like water drops gather at intersections of spider silk.

You can also think of it as froth gathering on the tops of ocean waves, said study team member Myungkook James Jee at Johns Hopkins University.

Jee notes that "It is very challenging to verify the simulation results observationally, because dark matter does not emit light.”

The trick is to look for subtle distortions in the images caused by gravitational lensing, in which the shapes of very distant galaxies are warped by dense concentrations of matter between us and the galaxies. The matter, which is not visible, bends the light with its gravity, and that reveals its presence.

"The images we took show clearly that the cluster galaxies are located at the densest regions of the dark matter haloes, which are rendered in purple in our images," Jee said.

In other words, look at the above image, at the purple haze.

That haze is not dark matter, but merely evidences the distortion caused by dark matter, viewed across time and space. Thrilled yet? You should be!


Those who live life based on only what they can see, touch, taste and handle…are sadly misguided. And this just a lesson of physical science! Not to mention the lessons of Word and Spirit…

There is more on this dark matter lensing in the December issue of Astrophysical Journal. And, this follows up research done in 2003…the results which confound physicists.

Wilkinson microwave anisotropy probe

An article in the U.S. News and World Report indicates that physicists are baffled by recent breakthroughs in astronomy and physics, astrophysics. The tracking of the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe reveals that our universe is composed of only 4 percent ordinary matter, in stars, planets, gas and dust. 96 percent of our universe is composed of invisible energy and matter: 23 percent exotic “dark matter” – called “dark” because it cannot be seen, only detected by its gravity – and 73% inexplicable “dark energy,” an anti-gravitational force that also cannot be seen. Physicist John Bahcall of the Princeton Institute of Advanced Study comments:

It really is strange and -- to our perhaps uneducated eyes -- arbitrary, ugly, or accidental. To live in a universe where only 4 percent of matter is ordinary matter I find awkward at best, implausible at the least, but there it is…

If I didn’t have all these facts in front of me, and you came up with a universe like that, I’d either ask you what you’ve been smoking or tell you to stop telling fairy tales. [1]

Only 4% ordinary, “real” matter! The rest is “dark matter” and “dark energy” that we can’t see or understand.

But Scripture gives us a cryptic clue: “Through Him all things were created. In Him all things consist, and by Him all things hold together!”

Those things that keep us from praising God – lack of understanding material existence, place in time, relational issues, physical or emotional pain, grief and circumstance that seem so “real,” so limiting – these things only make up 4 percent of the universe!

Praising God, living based on His character and word, opens us to the 96 percent we cannot see with our eyes, and links us with the resources of the God…the holy One who created the whole universe, yet dwells among His creation!

Let your mind dwell on that for a few minutes, this Advent…as you consider the implications of Incarnation and eternity!

A pregnant skydiver survives fall

Advent intervention for skydiver and her baby

They both survive a face-first fall

Every once in awhile a story just jumps out at you...and has to be told! And, this is one of those stories that warms the heart.

Shayna Richardson of Siloam Springs, AR, was making her first solo jump when her chute malfunctioned. She hit a parking lot face first at about 50 miles per hour...and though she was badly hurt, she survived. "I heard a snap and just started spinning," she said. "I didn't know what to do to fix it. I didn't know how to make it stop."

She cut away her primary chute so that her emergency chute could deploy, but it didn't open the whole way. She spun out of control, straight for the pavement below. Her last thoughts were, "I'm going to die." She remembers nothing of the impact...but she survived!

She broke her pelvis in two places, broke her leg, and lost six teeth. She now has 15 metal plates in her head and body. "I went into the first surgery," she said, "and they cut me from ear to ear and cut my face down, removed the shattered egg-shell bones and replaced them with steel plates." "I egg-shelled my entire face..." she said.

And, surprise! for when the doctors were treating her, they discovered that she was pregnant. Four surgeries and two months later, both Shayna and her baby are fine. The baby is healthy, its limbs and face intact...and heartbeat fine!

A great story of grace, isn't it?

It reminds me of an account I read about a tail gunner in WWII who fell from 18,000 feet without a parachute...and survived with no major injuries. He reached a terminal velocity of around 115 to 122 miles per hour [based on the friction generated by his burned flight suit and pack], yet woke up beneath a pine tree, lying on his back in snow...wondering if it was heaven!

He soon realized it wasn't heaven when the German patrol found him. But the commandant took him before the other Allied prisoners, and said in English, "Gentleman, behold a miracle!"

He celebrated Christmas that year with a little more fervor... :-)

God bless you all this Advent!

And never, ever...ever give up!

What is impossible for us is just God doing His thing. Isn't that the real meaning of Advent?


UPDATE: Click here to watch Shayna's out-of-control plunge!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Forest paradox

Forest paradox

Across the fertile fields the forest beckons
foreboding and beautiful --
Promising peace and splendor in lovely
Trees and dells,
Yet holding hint of danger from wild
Denizens and spells:
A thrill of beauty,
A chill of shadow
A rill of peril.
But if beautiful, then why foreboding?
And if perilous, then why compelling?
A paradox of life that I must enter to be complete...

Written while walking the forest fields near my Pennsylvania hometown

Thursday, December 08, 2005

In the still of the winter

When the fullness of time was come
God sent forth His Son
Made of a woman,
Made under the law...

Monday, December 05, 2005

God goes where He is wanted

Advent meditation

Luke 9:23 Then He said to them all, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me."

John 7:17 "If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority."

Jesus Christ

Christianity is not the doctrine of denying oneself. Christianity is to deny oneself.

Christianity has been made so much into a consolation that people have completely forgotten that it is first and foremost a demand.

Christianity is proclaimed in Christendom in such a way that obedience is taken away and reasoning put in its place.

Soren Kierkegaard

A lesson from loss of faith

Recently, I’ve experienced two related incidents which illustrate a failure in modern Christianity.

First, I learned of Brian Fleming, an atheist who was once a fundamentalist Christian. Brian now dedicates his life to proving that God doesn’t exist. Brian has produced a movie/documentary entitled, “The God who wasn’t there.” The premise of the movie is that Jesus is a mythical figure who really never existed.

Brian calls himself an “atheist Christian,” by which he means that even though he doesn’t believe in God or Jesus, since he was raised a Christian he has some of those ‘myths’ ingrained in him…and even likes seeing pictures of Jesus, since they make him ‘feel good.’

However, instead of “atheist Christian,” Brian would be far more accurate if he called himself a “fundamentalist atheist,” since what he has taken over into atheism is not a true ‘Christian myth’ at all, but rather a fundamentalist dogmatism, still intact in all its superficial moralism…just now with atheistic rather than Christian orientation.

But that gentle critique of Brian aside, there is a serious point here, especially for Advent, which I think is further illustrated in the second incident.

I talked with a young husband who made an attempt on his own life, purposefully OD’ing on cocaine. But he lived, still depressed. And his wife, with tears in her eyes and trembling hands, asked me to talk with him. “He has a problem with God right now,” she said.

And so I talked with him, gradually bringing the conversation around to God: “Is it true that you have a problem with God?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. “But I think I brought it on myself…” I tried to pierce the inner distance in him, strongly wanting him to sense God’s love. I called him by name and said, “Do you know that God loves you?” “Yes,” he said. “I think I do…I think the fact that I’m still here shows that.” His answers didn’t seem to match the disconnect in his eyes, and so I tried again: “Tell me about your faith journey,” I said. “Tell me how you came to this point…”

And then he surprised me. “Seven years ago I became a born again Christian…” he said.

I tried to process that, and he paused…and continued: “Seven years ago I became a born again Christian…but I think I may need to do it again.”

Those words echo when I hear of atheistic Brian Fleming, who says that “he committed himself to Christ several times.”

One man tried physical suicide, the other tries spiritual suicide, but both echo the same inner disease: they tried the easy, comfortable faith route that modern Christianity offers, but both need to ‘do it again’ in some way, both still seek fulfillment.

Both men are symptoms of deep disease in modern Christianity, an illness which Kierkegaard prophetically called, “A sickness unto death.” The established church dispenses a kind of ‘sanctified’ inner despair, using the language of faith to bless and normalize the rejection of Christ’s call on the individual.

The established Church is far more dangerous to Christianity than any heresy or schism. We play at Christianity. We use all the orthodox Christian terminology – but everything, everything without character. Yes, we are simply not fit to shape a heresy or a schism. There is something frightful in the fact that the most dangerous thing of all, playing at Christianity, is never included in the list of heresies and schisms.

And this is how the modern Church drives people away from faith: superficial moral certainty without depth of moral relation; authorial offer of absolution for lives in rejection of the inner call…priestly sanctification of spiritual despair.

Modern Christianity talks a lot about ‘making a decision for Christ’ or ‘being in the church,’ but seldom talks about the reality of life under Christ. And this leads to an inoculated populace, as such watered down version of truth is placed in their veins that they will never hear the real thing – after all, they are ‘born again’ Christians or ‘good Catholics!’

People are then content to live rat-race lives, chasing after the same gold with the same methods as the rest of the world, except for the fact that they go to church on the weekends…and mouth superior moral platitudes. Is it any wonder that the world has lost faith in faith?

A lesson from God’s loving intervention

John Sundquist, former executive director of International Ministries, ABC, tells of travelling to the former U.S.S.R. in 1976. On that trip he met an elderly Christian woman, a babushka, bent over from years, frail in body. She told him a riveting story of faith:

Dr. Sundquist, I did not know how to share faith in Christ. So, I purposed every day…to wrap up my Bible and walk to the park…where I would read until someone asked, ‘What are you reading?’ Then I would show them the Bible, and read to them about Christ. Every day…I kept this promise…one a day.

But…then I fell ill…taken to the hospital for emergency operation…I was essentially was out of mind in medicine and treatment for 17 days, and could not read Scripture or share faith. Then they released me…and on the way home, I wept…for not sharing for 17 days.

I read in the tramcar…and prayed, Lord, let me make up for my lack! Then, a Russian soldier boarded the train…saw me reading my Bible, grabbed me by the neck and said, ‘Look people, this babushka is reading the Bible!’ ‘Read for us!’ he mocked her. So…she said, 'I opened to John 3:16 and read to the whole car': ‘For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’

The car fell silent. The Word went out…the soldier released her…she sat down. She then turned around and counted the people: There were exactly 17 other people in the car. [1]

Dr. Sundquist shared this story and then asked, “Why doesn’t this kind of thing happen in our time, here in the U.S.A.?” “It’s happening around the world.”

A lesson from faith in hurting sectors

What have we done with Christ…the Word? How have we banished Him from daily life?

Christianity is exploding in the Southern Hemisphere…where the church grows in grassroots conversions and the presence of God is celebrated in daily life…sometimes in signs, visions and healings much like the first Church.[2]

But high-level research also shows that here in the U.S.A. and in Europe, people are leaving the church in droves, a net loss of faith every year -- the rise of the media-driven megachurch has been paralleled by the greatest loss of faith our country has ever known. People like Brian Fleming are no accident.

But around the world, in developing countries…Christianity thrives and changes lives. What gives?

There is something going on that mystifies the experts and doesn’t make the evening news, but the wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing through developing countries. The best recent research shows that in 45 years, fully 34 percent of the world will be professing Christians, with 3 Christians for every 2 Muslims, and more evangelical Christians in Brazil alone than Buddhists in the entire world.[3] In just five decades, only 1 in 5 global Christians will be white and non-Hispanic.[4]

A lesson from the descent of the Word

Philip Yancey, after witnessing God moving around the world, says, “My theory is this: God goes where he is wanted.” [5]

And this is vigorous encouragement for believers this Advent: God is most active precisely where hurting people call His name. The developing countries rife with AIDS orphans, famine, terror and war…are exactly the countries where God is revealing himself in highest degree.

The Word is alive and well in our world. Our calling is to get on board with His work.

Though we in the West have pushed the Word to the margins of our lives…yet somehow, as He always does, the Word loves the margins, and shows up with the marginalized…the poor, the hurting, the destitute, the famished, the war-weary, the desperate, lonely ones.

If we would see the Word anew this Advent, we would touch His children, and in that touch, touch Him.

In that touch, and in that life, a light would spring forth even in our land…light that shatters comfortable moralisms, and pierces the darkness of our sickness unto death.

Yes, even in our time, in our land!

May it be so this Advent...



[1] John Sundquist, Lecture NBTS: ME-406 Global Mission Today, Spr Qtr 1-22-04.
[2] Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 7.
[3] The 34 percent figure is conservative by some standards, in Jenkins, Next Christendom. Brazil statistics from Yale Divinity mission director, quoted by Dr. John Sundquist, Lecture NBTS: ME-406 Global Mission Today, Spr Qtr 1-22-04.
[4] Jenkins, Next Christendom, 3-5.
[5] Quoted in Jenkins, Next Christendom, 15.

Friday, December 02, 2005

With devastating humility

God descends in frightening silence

Kierkegaard discovered the necessity of silence to the entrance of God. It is a lesson of transformation, repeated in every heart that learns His ways.

In silence the Incarnate Word tumbled out of heaven into our world. It is in silence that the Eternal Word is born again in our hearts.

We keep Advent best in silence…in great humility before the Word. In bowing now before the Word who once bowed so low, we find, miraculously, that we are born again for our world.

J.B. Phillips links this silence with ‘fright,’ since there is something in humans that flees the silence where God is encountered. He also links it with a kind of ‘devastating humility,’ such humility that destroys our pride and old ways of life: barriers to His presence. Thus is the Advent of God!

By far the most significant event in the whole course of human history will be celebrated, with or without understanding, at the end of this season, Advent. What we are in fact celebrating is the awe-inspiring humility of God, and no amount of familiarity with the trappings of Christmas should ever blind us to it. God’s intervening into human history came about with an almost frightening quietness and self-effacement, and as millions will testify, He will come once again with the same silence and the same devastating humility into any heart ready to receive Him.

Are you ready to receive this Word on His own terms this Advent?

Or, with the rest of modern humans, will you try to manage Him, reducing Him to platitudes of comfort and family -- surely nothing related to inner silence and ‘devastating humility!’

Behind all our fun and games at Christmastime, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done. We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago. Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet.

We shall be celebrating no beautiful myth, no lovely piece of traditional folklore, but a solemn fact. God has been here once historically, but, as millions will testify, He will come again with the same silence and the same devastating humility into any human heart ready to receive him.

Do we often think of the coming of Christ in terms of ‘fright’ and awe? Perhaps we should. The original ‘shock and awe’ campaign was the descent of the Word into our world. It shook Hell to its core, and will shake the hell in us -- in devastating humility and frightening silence -- if we let it.

The challenging Advent meditation is a call to walk away from the security of human idolatry and clamor of human wisdom into the ‘towering miracle’ of the silent Word -- the Word who still speaks and daily transforms those who receive Him for who He is.

He will come to you, mysteriously and mystically, this Advent.

Indeed, He is already at the door.

Will you open and be changed? Will you accept His humility and silence?


Thursday, December 01, 2005

A grateful harvest

"Then you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land
...which He has given you."