Friday, December 29, 2006

Refiner’s fire: A reflection of the face of God

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

1 John 3:2

Come forth as gold

Amy Carmichael

Through these months, acceptance has been a word of liberty and victory and peace to me. But it never meant acquiescence in illness, as though evil circumstances were from Him who delights to deck His servants in health.

But it did mean contentment with the unexplained.

Neither Job nor Paul knew (so far as we know) why prayer for relief was answered as it was – with long, initial silence. But I think they must now stand in awe and joy, as they meet others in the heavenly country who were strengthened and comforted by their patience and courage. They must stand in awe, too, as they understand now the Father’s thoughts of peace toward them!

Hardly a life goes deep but has tragedy somewhere in it: What would such people do without Job? And who could spare from the soul’s hidden history the great words spoken by the Apostle Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” [2 Cor. 12:9]. Such words lead straight to a land where there is gold, and the gold of that land is good.

Gold – the word recalls Job’s affirmation: “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” [Job 23:10]. And it recalls the ringing words of the Apostle Peter: “[All kinds of trials come] so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine” [1 Peter 1:7]. And it brings the quiet words of Malachi: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver…” [Malachi 3:3].

The picture of the Refiner is straight from Eastern life. The Eastern goldsmith sits on the floor by his crucible. For me, at least, it is not hard to know why the heavenly Refiner has to sit so long. The heart knows its own dross.

“How do you know how long to sit and wait? How do you know when it is purified?” we asked our village goldsmith.

“When I can see my face in it,” he replied.

Blessed be the love that never wearies, never gives up hope! even in such poor metal our Father may at last see the reflection of His face.


My Father, if you are working into me some traits I would not have chosen to work on myself [for example, patience!], then I ask for your grace to carry me through.

‘Purify’ me of everything but perfect acceptance in you…


Amy Carmicheal, Rose from Brier, 3.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Who are these who ride by starlight?

Who are these who ride by starlight

Words: Marnie Barrell, 1996
Tune: Bethany

Who are these who ride by starlight
from the corners of the earth,
leaving home, forsaking comfort,
drawn to one mysterious birth?
These are wise men seeking wisdom,
disciplined to watch and pray;
we will read the signs and follow,
see where Christ is born today.

Who is this who hears the wise men,
trembling while their tale is told,
sending troops to slaughter blindly,
crush what cannot be controlled?
This is Herod, every Herod
building power by others' pain;
we will mourn the murdered children
while their blood is shed again.

Who is this, a homeless exile,
destined from His earliest hour
for rejection, conflict, danger,
marked for death by worldly power?
Jesus, born to show God's glory
shining through despair and loss,
we will know you when we meet you
by the shadow of your cross!


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford: A man who could embrace obscurity

A real man who didn't sell his true self for power

In December 2004, in his devasting critique of modern media, with its fatal, postmodern divinity, Robert D. Kaplan commented on the character of Gerald Ford:

It may take longer for the realization to seep in that Ford has been our greatest contemporary ex-president. For in an age of mass media - where divinity is dependent upon being noticed by the crowd and being forgotten is the equivalent of excommunication - high character is rightly defined by the willingness to embrace obscurity the moment one relinquishes lofty bureaucratic responsibility.

At the time, I was struck by the depth of the analysis -- and interested in its application to Ford, about whom I knew practically nothing. And yet now, as I compare Ford to say, Jimmy Carter, who keeps surfacing as a media addict, mainlining on the IV drug of annointed visual power, seemingly always with the point of hurting Israel, the wisdom of Kaplan's words is clear.

His words are prophetic, an insightful philosophy of history and human nature. And though he didn't mean it this way, perhaps Kaplan gave the best epitaph that could ever be given a man in a postmodern generation: He had the power to embrace obscurity.

For in an age of mass media - where divinity is dependent upon being noticed by the crowd and being forgotten is the equivalent of excommunication - high character is rightly defined by the willingness to embrace obscurity the moment one relinquishes lofty bureaucratic responsibility.

Gerald Ford was a real man.

The scandal of God as a child

A glimpse of divine love: infinite, yet scandalous to human reason

Is the Incarnation too hard to bear? In human pride, yes it is. In human theology, yes it is. And yet, here we see that accepting God the child, as a child, is a first step to human wholeness: God becomes the divine Son to us, as we accept Him as the child. The miracle of love is wrought in us when we come to Him as a child, daring to accept in Him the unity of His will: “He has not two thoughts about us,” MacDonald says. He only has one, and this is love, infinite love. Here we find a God who “finds His blessedness in the outgoing of blessedness.” Here we find the true meaning of the self and the other, the gift and giver. Here we find the unity of God’s will, and its incredible power: the will of God will be done for His children, simply because God is a child to them; His love cannot be forever disappointed because He gives in simplicity of will, not for himself, but for His loved ones. In weakness God conquers all.

And yet, it is precisely this dimension of God – God the child, God the joyfully tender, God the self-giving – that human reason, human pride, rejects. When we see God like this: with childhood in divine nature, completely self-giving to the point of death, it shocks us. We want that not for ourselves; neither do we want it for God. And so we steer Him away from the cross: “Far be it from you, Lord!”

However, though it be scandalous at first, let us stop here a little while, and see if there is merit in God the child! Perhaps it will be here that healing begins – as the heart bows to the inner meaning of gift and giver, and dances again as a child with the Child, the Son of Man, our God!

A healing scandal: God as child, gift and giver

George MacDonald

But the word of one who has seen this truth may help the dawn of a like perception in those who keep their faces turned towards the east and its aurora; for humans may have eyes, and, seeing dimly, want to see more. Therefore let us brood a little over the idea itself, and see whether it will not come forth so as to commend itself to that spirit, which, one with the human spirit where it dwells, searches the deep things of God. For, although the true heart may at first be shocked at the truth, as Peter was shocked when he said, “That be far from thee, Lord,” yet will it, after a season, receive it and rejoice in it.

Let me then ask, do you believe in the Incarnation? And if you do, let me ask further, Was Jesus ever less divine than God? I answer for you, Never. He was lower, but never less divine. Was He not a child then? You answer, “Yes, but not like other children.” I ask, “Did he not look like other children?” If He looked like them and was not like them, the whole was a deception, a masquerade at best. I say He was a child, whatever more He might be. God is man, and infinitely more. Our Lord became flesh, but did not become man. He took on him the form of man: He was man already. And He was, is, and ever shall be divinely childlike. He could never have been a child if He would ever have ceased to be a child, for in Him the transient found nothing. Childhood belongs to the divine nature.

Obedience, then, is as divine as Will, Service as divine as Rule. How? Because they are one in their nature; they are both a doing of the truth. The love in them is the same. The Fatherhood and the Sonship are one, save that the Fatherhood looks down lovingly, and the Sonship looks up lovingly. Love is all. And God is all in all. He is ever seeking to get down to us — to be the divine man to us. And we are ever saying, “That be far from thee, Lord!” We are careful, in our unbelief, over the divine dignity, of which He is too grand to think. Better pleasing to God, it needs little daring to say, is the audacity of Job, who, rushing into His presence, and flinging the door of His presence — chamber to the wall, like a troubled, it may be angry, but yet faithful child, calls aloud in the ear of him whose perfect Fatherhood He has yet to learn: “Am I a sea or a whale, that thou settest a watch over me?”

Let us dare, then, to climb the height of divine truth to which this utterance of our Lord would lead us.

Does it not lead us up hither: that the devotion of God to His creatures is perfect? that He does not think about himself but about them? that He wants nothing for himself, but finds His blessedness in the outgoing of blessedness.

Ah! it is a terrible — shall it be a lonely glory this? We will draw near with our human response, our abandonment of self in the faith of Jesus. He gives himself to us — shall not we give ourselves to Him? Shall we not give ourselves to each other whom He loves?

For when is the child the ideal child in our eyes and to our hearts? Is it not when with gentle hand he takes his father by the beard, and turns that father’s face up to his brothers and sisters to kiss? when even the lovely selfishness of love-seeking has vanished, and the heart is absorbed in loving?

In this, then, is God like the child: that He is simply and altogether our friend, our father — our more than friend, father, and mother — our infinite love-perfect God. Grand and strong beyond all that human imagination can conceive of poet-thinking and kingly action, He is delicate beyond all that human tenderness can conceive of husband or wife, homely beyond all that human heart can conceive of father or mother. He has not two thoughts about us. With Him all is simplicity of purpose and meaning and effort and end — namely, that we should be as He is, think the same thoughts, mean the same things, possess the same blessedness. It is so plain that any one may see it, every one ought to see it, every one shall see it. It must be so.

He is utterly true and good to us, nor shall anything withstand His will.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

A most humble birth for the King of kings

Who could have guessed this? A loyal man, a virgin girl, a lowly King! Merry Christmas!

Hear, O Shepherd of Israel!

Some quiet prayers for Christmas Eve

Psalm 80

Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock;
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.
In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh,
stir up your strength and come to help us.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance
and we shall be saved.
O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angered
despite the prayers of your people?

Restore us, O God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance
and we shall be saved.
You have brought a vine out of Egypt;
you cast out the nations and planted it.
You prepared the ground for it;
it took root and filled the land.
The mountains were covered by its shadow
and the towering cedar trees by its boughs.
You stretched out its tendrils to the Sea
and its branches to the River…

Turn now, O God of hosts, look down from heaven;
behold and tend this vine;
preserve what your right hand has planted.
They burn it with fire like rubbish;
at the rebuke of your countenance let them perish.
Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand,
the son of man you have made so strong for yourself.
And so will we never turn away from you;
give us life, that we may call upon your name.
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance
and we shall be saved!

Psalm 85

You have been gracious to your land, O Lord,
you have restored the good fortune of Jacob.
You have forgiven the iniquity of your people
and blotted out all their sins.
You have withdrawn all your fury
and turned yourself from your wrathful indignation.
Restore us then, O God our Savior;
let your anger depart from us…

Show us your mercy, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
I will listen to what the Lord God is saying,
for He is speaking peace to His faithful people
and to those who turn their hearts to Him.
Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear Him,
that His glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.
The Lord will indeed grant prosperity,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness shall go before Him,
and peace shall be a pathway for His feet!

A Song of the Spirit (Revelation 22:12-14,16,17)

Behold, I am coming soon', says the Lord,
and bringing my reward with me,
to give to everyone according to their deeds.

'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last,
the beginning and the end.'

Blessed are those who do God's commandments,
that they may have the right to the tree of life,
and may enter into the city through the gates.

'I, Jesus, have sent my angel to you,
with this testimony for all the churches.

'I am the root and the offspring of David,
I am the bright morning star.'

'Come!' say the Spirit and the Bride;
'Come!' let each hearer reply!

Come forward, you who are thirsty,
let those who desire take the water of life as a gift.

Psalm 117

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
laud Him, all you peoples.
For His loving-kindness towards us is great,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever.

Isaiah 32:1ff

See, a king will reign in righteousness,
and princes will rule with justice.
Each will be like a hiding-place from the wind,
a covert from the tempest,
like streams of water in a dry place,
like the shade of a great rock in a weary land!

Love came down at Christmas

Words: Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), 1885
Tune: Hermitage

Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas:
star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
love incarnate, love divine;
worship we our Jesus,
but wherewith the sacred sign?

Love shall be our token;
love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and to all men,
love for plea and gift and sign.

Luke 1:67-79

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke
this prophecy:

'Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for He has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
as He spoke through the mouth of His holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who
hate us.

Thus He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered His holy covenant,
the oath that He swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before Him all our days.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to His people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace!'


Saturday, December 23, 2006

India’s endangered species: girls

Indian female feticide: 10 million killed in 2 decades

According to a UNICEF report released this month, 7,000 fewer girls are born in India every day than the global average would suggest. This is attributed to both abortion after ultrasound tests and also the killing of newborns.

Renuka Chowdhury, Minister for Women and Child Development, says that in India, 10 million girls have been killed by their parents in the past 20 years, either before they were born or immediately after. She aptly calls it a “national crisis.”

"Today, we have the odd distinction of having lost 10 million girl children in the past 20 years," Chowdhury told a seminar in Delhi University.

"Who has killed these girl children? Their own parents."

In traditional Hindu practice, girls are often viewed as liabilities: they are tools in trade, property to be bartered – not only in the lingering practice of dowry, where the bride’s parents pay for the groom to marry her, but also in the continuation of a kind of emotional suttee, where the wives only have rights as their men choose to give them.

Scratch the surface of Indian society, and you’ll find powerful social prejudice, to the point of female devaluation. And now, that devaluation is seen in the destruction of unborn and newly born girls: as technology increases, so does selective killing… inordinately biased against girls.

"Even today when you go to a temple, you are blessed with 'May you have many sons.'"

Female feticide worst in places of militant Hinduism

Perhaps not surprisingly, the incidence of female feticide rises in the places where traditional Hinduism is practiced militantly. For instance, in the western desert state of Rajasthan, where militant Hinduism controls much of the political and police infrastructure, newborn girls are often killed by pouring sand or tobacco juice into their nostrils.

"The minute the child is born and she opens her mouth to cry, they put sand into her mouth and her nostrils so she chokes and dies…

"They bury infants into pots alive and bury the pots. They put tobacco into her mouth. They hang them upside down like a bunch of flowers to dry…

"We have more passion for tigers of this country. We have people fighting for stray dogs on the road. But you have a whole society that ruthlessly hunts down girl children."

Is it any surprise that this state of Rajasthan is also the place where orphan caregivers have been terrorized and tortured, this last year? Some people are very invested in making sure that young girls don’t get a chance, that outcast children remain outcast – locked into their sordid place.

Female feticide not a matter of education, but ideology

Also, interestingly, in India, the incidence of female feticide also rises in relation to education and social class. Chowdhury says that the practice of killing baby girls is ‘more prevalent among the educated, including in upmarket districts of New Delhi, making it more challenging for the government.’

"How do we tell educated people that you must not do it? And these are people who would visit all the female deities and pray for strength but don't hesitate to kill a girl child…”

One can sense the frustration in her voice: the very ones who supposedly wouldn’t do such a thing – educated classes – are the ones who practice it most. Underlying her words is the rampant drumbeat of a lingering caste system, and all its ideological devastations.

In other words, the India that Amy Carmichael discovered, where young Indian girls are most at risk, where beautiful girls are devalued and sold before the altar of Shiva, that India still makes itself known – to the tune of 10 million dead girls in 20 years, and countless other millions broken into little inner pieces, trapped in physical and spiritual slavery.

And, when caregivers offer integral intervention to these outcast girls, they soon find that they only risk their own lives and reputations: in many places, it isn’t safe to rescue girls from social destruction. Just ask Sam Thomas and the Hopegivers caregivers, who’ve been persecuted, imprisoned and terrorized this last year, in Rajasthan!

The place to counter female feticide…

The place to counter this female feticide is in the heart – to change the heart, to offer a new vision to the mind. In practical terms, this means supporting those who are making a difference – those who actually rescue these girls and tell them that their life has infinite meaning!

In other words, there is an inward and outward demand that this feticide places upon us: it begins in our hearts, we who say we care, and then flows to the point places of need. It begins as we look in the mirror and say, “Who, me?” and then answer by saying, “Yes, I too bear the blame.” And then, giving and living to make a difference: give to people like Hopegivers, who exist to meet this need, among others. And, then live like we really care about feticide: it’s pure spiritual foolishness to act as if we are against female feticide in India, and then voting to support abortion here in the USA. It’s like the lady who said she supported missions in Africa but wouldn’t let a black man pray in her church – the same human idolatry underlies both feticide and abortion…

Look in the eyes of these girls, and ask if they deserve a chance at equal life. Ask if they are worth the world – and consider how many lights like theirs have been darkened!

And as you ponder this, consider a gift to Hopegivers, this Christmas! As one said long ago, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!”

In your gift, in your life, in truth, the light goes on, still!

Merry Christmas as you make a difference this year, here!


Friday, December 22, 2006

Where is this stupendous stranger?

Prophets, shepherds, kings, advise!

Words: Christopher Smart (1722-1771)
Tune: Rustington

Where is this stupendous stranger?
Prophets, shepherds, kings, advise.
Lead me to my Master's manger,
show me where my Savior lies.
O Most Mighty! O Most Holy!
Far beyond the seraph's thought:
art thou then so weak and lowly
as unheeded prophets taught?

O the magnitude of meekness!
Worth from worth immortal sprung;
O the strength of infant weakness,
if eternal is so young!
God all-bounteous, all-creative,
whom no ills from good dissuade,
is incarnate, and a native
of the very world He made!


Always winter and never Christmas...

Here's a word for all those who feel as if Christmas has been robbed from them. Here's a word for those living in a winter-land frozen and cold, seldom lit by the candles of hope. Here's a word for those who have had hope stolen from them by the brokenness of those around them...

I say to you, hurting child, and to you, hurting parent, with that waiting child still inside, please do not give up hope this Christmas! There is One who sees your tears, your prayers and silent lips, your waiting dreams -- and though you may not feel His gaze, His eyes are for you, loving and faithful. You can trust Him, even when you can't trust those closest to you...

And not long, though we cannot say when, yet it shall be -- the frozen winter will break, the creeks will run clear of ice, the leaves will burst through the snow, and the flowers will bloom again; yea, the gentle rose and calling dove will bless your faithful eyes, in joy!

That for which you waited in hope, you will find, though not by human means!


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

December fields await the King

Twilight wings over a pastoral scene, the light and air filled with prescienting things, sun a brief hint of light, orange, pink, then blue -- heraldry for a king, yet stable ready, cattle stall -- it must be a
humble King, who bows so low to rule!

My heart overflows with a good theme; I sing my song to the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer: Thou art fairer than the children of men; Grace is poured into thy lips: Therefore God hath blessed thee for ever!

Gird Your sword upon Your thigh, O Mighty One, with Your glory and Your majesty. And in Your majesty ride on, ride on because of truth, humility, and righteousness; and Your right hand shall teach You awesome things.

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom! Alleluia!

Psalm 45:1ff

The God of power, as He did ride
In His majestic robes of glorie,
Reserv’d to light; and so one day
He did descend, undressing all the way.

George Herbert

Monday, December 18, 2006

A Christmas prayer in behavioral health

When Christmas pierces the heart…

Last Christmas was a dark day for me, spiritually. Working a 24-hour chaplain shift in a major city hospital, it opened my eyes to human brokenness, on a level I had not seen. And with the brokenness, raw questions: How do we respond to a world broken…seemingly beyond hope? How do we offer light, when that light only seems sucked into a ravenous black hole at the center of our human universe – an event horizon from which no light seems to escape?

That day, the questions came fast and furious, wearing human faces: death, hurt, and pain: a man came into the Emergency Department with his throat slashed from ear to ear, his life too much to bear on Christmas Day. ED staff got him up to surgery still alive – a minor miracle, a major tragedy. A woman came in, beaten by her man – on this, of all days…face swollen, one eye shut, yet still with tears coming out, when she talked about her life. Another young woman tragically died in ED, her grieving family gathered around her, shocked beyond belief, hurting to the core of their being, smell of Christmas dinner still on their clothes…

Scratch the surface of Christmas, go an inch deep beneath the tinsel and commercial wrappings, the false sentimentality and trappings, and you’ll find pain – human pain, human depression, human darkness. And what answers do we give to those whose hearts are pierced on this day, of all days? As people of faith, how honest are we about the unseen pain on Christmas, this day when the ‘Word became flesh’ to bear our pain?

These questions flooded over me, without respite, one after another, last Christmas. Gone was the warm time with family, sheltered by favor and love, singing peace on earth… here, in these medical walls, the siren song of human condition: death, pain, emptiness: This day, I felt death as an entity; I encountered sorrow as a thing, something inconsolable and deep and ravenous.

So there I was, in late afternoon, without answers – a chaplain supposedly with the answers of God, yet feeling so empty inside. Somehow my feet kept going through the motions, and I found myself in the Behavioral Health unit, answering a call – fulfilling a promise to visit a lady on Christmas Day.

I talked with her, then her friend wanted to talk…and soon, those two requests turned into an impromptu group session, as others looked on.

It was a nice session. We talked about each other, about dreams, Christmas needs. We then shared prayer requests, and then talked about what those requests meant – why those things were close to our hearts. And then I prayed for the group by name.

We finished, and began to slowly file out, wishing each other ‘Merry Christmas!’ Then, one woman turned, and asked if she could pray for me. “Sure,” I said, without thinking. And she closed her eyes and began to pray, without ceremony, a touching prayer…

She prayed first that God would grant me boldness and peace, boldness to declare a divine word, and peace to accept it; she asked that I would be, in her words, “a Daniel,” strong to speak truth in a place that needed it, yet might deny it. Immediately, she had my attention: she had no way of knowing that my middle name was Daniel, nor could she know that my spiritual metaphor was Daniel. Needless to say, I tuned in – receiving her simple prayer in amazement…

She prayed that I would be anointed with vision and truth; that I would be kept from harm. Then she prayed, “Lord, pierce his heart with thorns from the crown of Christ, to make him everything he needs to be for your work.” When I heard this prayer, I cringed inside. “NO!” I thought, don’t pray that prayer!” “I cannot bear those thorns…” “That’s not a proper prayer!” Still cringing, I heard her pause. [I was grateful.] But then, in rapture of prayer, she said, “I see it! I see the crown of thorns surrounding his heart!”

And this stunned me. Amazement. Inner silence. In that prayer-moment, suddenly I realized that she was praying reality. My heart had been pierced that day…the Holy One was praying through her – one of His chosen vessels, slightly chipped, but true – praying in the Spirit on Christmas Day…in Behavioral Health. Sometimes those the world denies see more clearly than ever the world knows…

My heart paused before her prayer, and I bowed at an eternal throne.

I received her prayer – that at which I had cringed, I accepted: as she prayed, I opened my soul to the thorns, opening more fully to the Bearer of the thorns…

A wave of holy peace swept over me.

She finished her incredible prayer, never realizing how deeply God had guided it. How could I tell her? Now my heart was broken with holy wounds, and all I could do was weep…

I thanked her, and quickly walked away, tears in my eyes. I found a silent place, alone, and there, in quiet light, I wept. How often had I rejected the thorns, an essential part of the Person I loved? How often had I turned aside from thorns, the means of healing for those torn in this life?

Those tears opened my eyes to a Light, a Presence, a Person – the Child, a Man, in this place, this place of brokenness: this place was the meaning of His birth, His wounds. Truly, “He was wounded for our transgressions, and by His stripes we are healed.”

That prayer turned the rest of the day, bathing the evening in a holy light. My heart had been pierced; I accepted it, and as the stars filled the sky that Christmas night, I found it raised into newness of light.

It’s changed me. It’s changed how I view this holiday. It’s changed what I’m doing this Christmas…

Perhaps I’m more realistic, yet in the same instant, I’m more filled with hope. For I’ve seen the reason that He came, in graphic terms of blood and broken bodies, trapped souls, and yet, and yet – even higher, I’ve seen the answer in His wounds.

As we take those stripes, those thorns, into our inmost being, divine healing begins to work in us, and flow through our eyes…

And it’s my prayer that His children find this healing, this Christmas, and dare to be honest with it – in all that this means for others!


Sunday, December 17, 2006

A sovereign grace in a packing mistake

Allen Patterson shared this story with me, and I just had to put it on the blog. It captures well the incredible sovereignty of God, the divine Love that works in and through what we would consider mistakes -- to bring many sons and daughters to glory. Enjoy! And let it open your heart for a new awareness of the grace at work in your life, this season!

“If you are missing Baby Jesus, call 7162"

Jean Gietzen

When I was a child my father worked for an oil company in North Dakota. The company moved him around to different parts of the state, and at some point between one move and another, we lost our family Nativity set. Shortly before Christmas in 1943, my mother decided to replace it and was happy to find another at our local five and dime for only $3.99. When my brother Tom and I helped her unpack the set, we discovered two figures of the Baby Jesus.

"Someone must have packed this wrong," my mother said, counting out the figures. "We have one Joseph, one Mary, three wise men, three shepherds, two lambs, a donkey, a cow, an angel, and two babies. Oh dear! I suppose some set down at the store is missing Baby Jesus."

"Hey, that's great, Mom," my brother and I shouted. "We have twins!"

"You two run back down to the store and tell the manager that we have an extra Jesus. Tell him to put a sign on the remaining boxes saying that if a set is missing a Baby Jesus, call 7162," my mother instructed. "I'll give each of you a penny for some candy. And don't forget your mufflers. It's freezing cold out there."

The manager of the store copied down my mother's message and the next time we were in the store we saw the cardboard sign that read, "If you're missing Baby Jesus, call 7162."

All week long we waited for the call to come. Surely, we thought, someone was missing the important figurine. Each time the phone rang, my mother would say, "I'll bet that's about Jesus," but it never was. My father tried to explain that the figurine could be missing from a set in Walla Walla in Washington and that packing errors occur all the time. He suggested we just put the extra Jesus back in the box and forget about it.

"Back in the box!" I wailed. "What a terrible thing to do to the Baby Jesus. And at Christmastime, too."

"Surely someone will call," my mother said. "We'll just keep them together in the manger until someone calls."

When no call had come by five on Christmas Eve, my mother insisted that my father "just run down to the store" to see if there were any sets left. "You can see them right through the window, over on the counter," she said. "If they are all gone, I'll know someone is bound to call tonight."

"Run down to the store?" my father thundered. "It's fifteen degrees below zero out there!"

"Oh Daddy, we'll go with you," I said. "Tommy and I will bundle up good. And we can look at the decorations on the way."

My father gave a long sigh and headed for the front closet. "I can't believe I'm doing this," he muttered. "Each time the phone rings everybody yells at me to see if it's about Jesus, and now I'm going off on the coldest night of the year to peek in a window to see if He's there or not there."

My father muttered all the way down the block, while my brother and I raced each other up to the window where the tiny lights flickered on and off around the frame. "They're all gone, Daddy!" I shouted. "Every set must be sold."

"Hooray, hooray!" my brother joined in, catching up with me. "The mystery will be solved tonight!"

My father, who had remained several steps behind us, turned on his heel and headed back home.

Inside the house once more, we saw the extra figurine had vanished from the set and my mother appeared to have vanished, too. "Someone must have called and she went out to deliver the figurine," my father reasoned, pulling off his boots. "You kids get busy stringing popcorn strands for the tree and I'll wrap your mother's present."

We had almost completed one strand when the phone rang. My father yelled for me to answer it. "Tell'm we found a home for Jesus," he called down the steps. But the caller was not an inquirer. It was my mother with instructions for us to come to 205 Chestnut Street immediately and bring three blankets, a box of cookies, and some milk.

"Now what has she gotten us into?" my father groaned as we bundled up again. "205 Chestnut Street. Why, that's about eight blocks away. Wrap that milk up good in the blankets or it will turn into ice by the time we get there. Why in the name of Heaven can't we all just get on with Christmas? It's probably twenty degrees below out there now. And the wind is picking up. Of all the crazy things to do on a night like this."

Tommy and I sang Christmas songs all the way to Chestnut Street. My father carrying his bundle of blankets and milk looked for all the world like St. Nicholas himself with his arms full of goodies. Every now and then my brother would call back to him, "Let's pretend we're looking for a place to stay, Dad, just like Joseph and Mary."

"Let's pretend we are in Bethlehem where it is probably sixty-five degrees in the shade right now," my father answered.

The house at 205 Chestnut Street turned out to be the darkest one in the block. One tiny light burned in the living room, and the moment we set foot on the porch step, my mother opened the door and shouted, "They're here, they're here. Oh, thank God you got here, Ray! You kids take those blankets into the living room and wrap up the little ones on the couch. I'll take the milk and the cookies."

"Would you mind telling me what is going on, Ethel?" my father asked." We have just walked through below zero weather with the wind in our faces all the way. …"

"Never mind all that now," my mother interrupted. "There is no heat in this house and this young mother is so upset she doesn't know what to do. Her husband walked out on her and those poor children will have to spend a very bleak Christmas, so don't you complain. I told her you could fix that oil furnace in a jiffy."

My mother strode off to the kitchen to warm the milk while my brother and I wrapped up the five little children who were huddled together on the couch. The children's mother explained to my father that her husband had run off, taking bedding, clothing, and almost every piece of furniture, but she had been doing all right until the furnace broke down.

"I been doin' washin' and ironin' for people and cleaning the five and dime," she said. "I saw your number every day there, on those boxes on the counter. When the furnace went out, that number kept goin' through my mind: 7162. 7162.

"Said on the box that if a person was missin' Jesus, they should call you. That's how I knew you were good Christian people, willin' to help folks. I figured that maybe you could help me, too. So I stopped at the grocery store tonight and I called your missus. I'm not missin' Jesus, mister, because I sure love the Lord. But I'm missin' heat.

"Me and the kids ain't got no beddin', no warm clothes. I got a few Christmas toys for them, but I got no money to fix that furnace."

"Okay, okay," my father said kindly. "You've come to the right place. Now let's see. You've got a little oil burner over there in the dining room. Shouldn't be too hard to fix. Probably just a clogged flue. I'll look it over, see what it needs."

My mother came into the living room carrying a plate of cookies and a tray with warm milk. As she set the cups down on the coffee table, I noticed the figure of Baby Jesus lying in the center of the table. It was the only sign of the Christmas season in the house. The children stared wide-eyed with wonder at the plate of cookies my mother set before them. One of the littlest ones woke up and crawled out from under the blanket. Seeing all the strangers in his house, he began to cry. My mother swooped him up in her arms and began to sing to him.

This, this, is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing, she crooned while the child wailed. Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the Babe, the son of Mary, she sang, oblivious to the child's cries. She sang and danced the baby around the room until he settled down again.

"You hear that, Chester?" the young mother said to another child. "That woman is singin' ‘bout the Lord Jesus. He ain't ever gonna walk out on us. Why, He sent these people to us just to fix our furnace. And blankets we got now, too. Oh, we'll be warm tonight."

My father, finishing his work on the oil burner, wiped his hands on his muffler and said, "I've got it going, but you need more oil. I'll make a few calls tonight when I get home and we'll get you some oil. Yessir, you came to the right place," he grinned.

When my father calculated that the furnace was going strong once more, our family bundled up and made our way home. My father didn't say a thing about the cold weather and had barely set foot inside the front door when he was on the phone.

"Ed? Hey, how are ya, Ed?" I heard him say. "Yes, Merry Christmas to you too. Say, Ed, we have kind of an unusual situation here and I know you've got that pickup truck. I wonder if we could round up some of the boys and find a Christmas tree, you know, and a couple of things for …"

The rest of his conversation was lost in the blur of words as my brother and I ran to our rooms and began pulling clothes out of our closets and toys off of our shelves. My mother checked through our belongings for sizes and games she said "might do" and added some of her sweaters and slacks to our stack. We were up way past our bedtime that night wrapping our gifts. The men my father had called found oil for the furnace, bedding, two chairs, three lamps, and had made two trips to 205 Chestnut before the night was done. Our gifts were piled into the truck on the second trip, and even though it must have been thirty degrees below by then, my father let us ride along the back of the truck.

No one ever did call about the missing figurine in the Nativity set, but as I grow older I realize that it wasn't a packing mistake at all.


Friday, December 15, 2006

What forces deny the Christ child?

This comic is evocative, because it demonstrates an underlying reality of the Christ child: in whatever age the Son descends, He will be unwanted by the major power brokers of the day. Something in the nature of this child threatens the unjust proprietors of religious and political control. It will ever be that way until the consummation of the kingdom.

Messiah descended and will descend again, but until that day He will ever be loved by the lowly in heart and rejected by the proud. It is thus decreed by His nature, His person...


Mary the unwed mother, the refugee

The Incarnation in cultural terms

Philip Yancey

Perhaps the best way to perceive the “underdog” nature of the Incarnation is to transpose it into terms we can relate to today. An unwed mother, homeless, was forced to look for shelter while traveling to meet the heavy taxation demands of a colonial government. She lived in a land recovering from violent civil wars and still in turmoil situation much like that in modern Darfur, Iraq, or Somalia. Like half of all mothers who deliver today, she gave birth in Asia, in its far western corner, the part of the world that would prove least receptive to the son she bore. That son became a refugee in Africa, the continent where most refugees can still be found.

I wonder what Mary thought about her militant Magnificat hymn during her harrowing years in Egypt. For a Jew, Egypt evoked bright memories of a powerful God who had flattened a pharaoh’s army and brought liberation; now Mary fled there, desperate, a stranger in a strange land hiding from her own government. Could her Baby, hunted, helpless, on the run, possibly fulfill the lavish hopes of His people?

Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 40.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Winter corn in December wind

Here is corn still standing in winter wind -- freshly fallen snow, stalks rustling, swaying to match the breeze. I really like the light in December -- December light differs in hue and intensity even from October and early November. It creates incredible pastel and sepia tones in morning and evening. It truly is a sermon in nature, a hint of Advent! :-)

Accept the worship & the song my Savior & my God

Behold, the morning sun

Words: Isaac Watts (1674-1748), 1719 in The Psalms of David

Tune: Thatcher

Behold, the morning sun
begins his glorious way;
his beams through all the nations run,
and life and light convey.

But where the Gospel comes
it spreads diviner light;
it calls dead sinners from their tombs,
and gives the blind their sight.

How perfect is thy word!
And all thy judgments just!
For ever sure thy promise, Lord,
and men securely trust.

My gracious God, how plain
are thy directions given!
O may I never read in vain,
but find the path to heaven!

I hear thy word with love,
and I would fain obey:
send thy good Spirit from above
to guide me, lest I stray.

O who can ever find
the errors of his ways?
Yet with a bold, presumptuous mind
I would not dare transgress.

Warn me of every sin,
forgive my secret faults,
and cleanse this guilty soul of mine,
whose crimes exceed my thoughts.

While with my heart and tongue
I spread thy praise abroad,
accept the worship and the song,
my Savior and my God!


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Advent is when God enters our winters

In the bleak midwinter

In the bleak midwinter
frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron,
water like a stone:
snow had fallen, snow on snow,
snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter,
long ago.

So writes Christina Rossetti, in her hauntingly beautiful Christmas carol, ca. 1872. Following Milton, she explores the provocative theme that Christ came to earth, born on a frosty night, world blanketed by freshly fallen snow. It is a beautiful thought, and one with theological significance – the Lord of glory descends in the bleak midwinter, the darkest, shortest days of our year, Light of Light, very God of very God, to lighten our way – into our dark coldness He descends with the warmth of heaven’s light: our Lord Jesus Christ!

Christina continues this theme from Advent to Advent, where the fruition of the humble stable is found on another bleak midwinter, somewhere in human time:

Our God, heaven cannot hold him
nor earth sustain;
heaven and earth shall flee away
when He comes to reign:
in the bleak midwinter
a stable place sufficed
the Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

Then, compellingly, Christiana brings the theology to the human heart:

What can I give Him,
poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man,
I would do my part;
yet what I can I give Him?
give my heart…

And here we see the theological significance of His descent in midwinter: Before His descent, it is always winter. He comes to the cold, the frozen heart, and brings it life. He is no stranger to the frozen human soul, for that is why He came; indeed, that is just when He comes: in the bleak midwinter – just for you, for me! Our only real response is in giving Him that which is His – our heart.

Humanly speaking, we cannot allow our coldness to deny His warmth, for He is no stranger to the cold! That is why He descended, so long ago; and that is why He descends, now, this day, in the Spirit – just for you, for me!

The heart grown cold is just the place He desires: open, and see – your winter shall pass away! It cannot always be winter where the light of Life makes His home…

Amy Carmichael, in the midst of a winter of her life, applies this truth, in high, beautiful faith.

Every “winter” comes to an end

Amy Carmichael

See! the winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come… the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. “Arise… come with me!”

Song of Songs 2:11-13

“The Lord your God is with you… He will take great delight in you, He will [rest you] with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17

This morning, my helpers turned my chair, so that I could see the leafy enclosure upon which my room opens… And all this sweet greenness and dewy freshness is a message:

Leaves and flowers – down to the last bud – are nourished by the living sap within. They do not cause it to rise, or regulate its flow. They do not understand its mysterious power. But as it flows through them, it revives them. Renews them.

We may have others to help us. Or we may have no one. But whether we are set in families or must face circumstances alone, we know that we must depend on something that is not of ourselves to keep us fresh and green.

Sometimes we are too spent even to pray for this renewing life to flow within.

We need not pray! There are times when all that is asked of us is just what is asked of leaves and flowers: They remain in the plant; the sap flows up to them: “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now remain in My love…” [John 15:9].

The most tired of us can remain, stay there, be there – no words can be too simple to explain what our Lord means by this: He says, simply, ‘Do not go away.’

…Even if we are completely silent, asking nothing, only letting our hearts rest in quietness in Him… He will cause the renewing life-sap to rise…

The things we would least choose to face are round about us. But in these things, says Rutherford, “Do not let yourself be thrown down or give into despair. Stand evenly at the will of God…”

“For after winter comes summer. After night comes the dawn. And after every storm there comes clear, open sky.”


My Father, all that has gone cold and lifeless in me… is that just your planned stillness before new life flows?

Are the hands I’ve clenched in troubled prayer, like tight leaf buds, about to spring into open-handed praise, because your Spirit comes again?

I believe, Father, that the joy of a new season in you is warming me right now…


Friday, December 08, 2006

A watercolor grinch Christmas

The Grinch, Mershimer edition

Here is an award winning painting by my nephew, Titus. His school is going to frame this and use it in subsequent Christmas decorations. Ok, ok -- I'm officially a proud uncle, lol.

However, perhaps the playing field wasn't equal, for the other children. I lovingly mentioned to my sister-in-law that maybe Titus had an unfair advantage, in seeing great modeling for the painting. For, as I astutely noted to her, this painting is a dead ringer for my sister-in-law on her Hulk pills, in her nightie! *grin x 2*

Needless to say, my life-expectancy just dramatically shortened, lol. If I suddenly disappear, or experience a polonium-210 kind of accident, you'll know what happened! :-)

Anyway, I hope your Christmas season is going well! Put away the grinch face and enjoy it, for awhile, lol...

Your sincerest and most wonderfulest Christmas blogger,


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Savior of the nations, come

Have you ever noticed how even the colors of the season hint at advent? As one poet said, "All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres..." So it is, the sky, the land, the air, all hint of Maker's care, and visitation: nature evokes praise, and highest prayer!

Savior of the nations, come

Words: Ambrose of Milan, ca. 397
Tune: Nun komm der Heiden Heiland

Savior of the nations, come;
virgin's Son, here make thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
that the Lord chose such a birth.

Not by human flesh and blood;
by the Spirit of our God
was the Word of God made flesh,
woman's offspring, pure and fresh.

Wondrous birth! O wondrous child
of the Virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
still to be in heaven enthroned.

From the Father forth He came
and returneth to the same,
captive leading death and hell
high the song of triumph swell!

Thou, the Father's only Son,
hast over sin the victory won.
boundless shall thy kingdom be;
when shall we its glories see?

Brightly doth thy manger shine,
glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin overcloud this light;
ever be our faith thus bright.

Praise to God the Father sing,
praise to God the Son, our King,
praise to God the Spirit be
ever and eternally!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Advent mystery with George Herbert

For those feeling weary in the journey, here are two of my favorite readings of George Herbert – favorites among many, I must say! For me, these are especially powerful at this time of year, capturing the inner mystery and meaning of advent: the God of power descended in human time, undressing all the way, so that Love could bid us welcome, that we might come just as we are to eternal table!

The God of power, as He did ride

Away despair! my gracious Lord doth heare.
Though windes and waves assault my keel,
He doth preserve it: He doth steer,
Ev’n when the boat seems most to reel.
Storms are the triumph of His art:
Well may He close His eyes, but not His heart.

Hast thou not heard, that my Lord Jesus di’d?
Then let me tell thee a strange storie.
The God of power, as He did ride
In His majestic robes of glorie,
Reserv’d to light; and so one day
He did descend, undressing all the way.

The starres His tyre of light and rings obtain’d,
The cloud His bow, the fire His spear,
The sky His azure mantle gain’d.
And when they ask’d, what He would wear;
He smil’d and said as He did go,
He had new clothes a making here below.

Love bade me welcome

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

A stunning cloud display

The weather system that coated the Southwestern U.S. with snow didn't bring as much precipitation here as wind, the cold front clashing with a weeklong warm front -- the mixture ended up with rain and really high winds. And, on Friday, some amazing clouds! Here is a pic which captures a sense of the sky that day -- blue, grey, dark and light -- a mixture of bright sun and fast moving clouds. Here, the sun lights the field in the foreground, while the background is a palette of colored clouds, high blue breaking through! And, notice the wind patterns on the field!

George MacDonald says, "All nature speaks, like the flower, messages from God, the Father of the universe."
The earth underneath us is His hand upholding us; the waters are in the hollow of it. Every spring-fountain of gladness about us is His making and His delight. He tends us and cares for us; He is close to us, breathing into our nostrils the breath of life, and breathing into our spirit thoughts that make us look up and recognize the love and care around us.

What a gift to see and know this breath of God, this delightful message, in the high clounds and searching wind! Pure grace, in the flower encounter, in the pattern of field and rain!