Which Road To Travel?

Remember what it’s like to have an idea, a thought, a desire to do a particular something?  A part of you feels excited.  Another part is scared.  You don’t really know if it’s the best route to take.  In your heart you know you only want God’s best.  You want to follow His will for your life.  The only problem — you can’t figure out if you should attempt to climb the summit of Mount Unknown or not.  You might be successful or you might very well come crashing down in full view of everyone watching.  What in the world should you do?

Uncertainty is such a part of life’s journey.  We may wonder why God doesn’t just drop a sign from heaven to instruct us clearly in the way ahead.  Why does making decisions have to be so difficult?  I’ve had those same thoughts myself along my own journey through life.

First of all, there is actually beauty in not knowing because the right road could still have some dangerous pot holes ahead.  If we knew the right way and all it held, we might just slink away in fear anyway.  Not knowing but trusting anyway builds our faith and our stamina in God.  Even so, how can we know upon which road we should proceed?

God’s Word tells us in Proverbs 11:14 that there is safety in having many advisors.  In other words, when unsure of a way to go, consult with those whom you see as walking closely with God.  Look for advice from others, just be careful that the advisors you choose are those whose own desire is to seek God in all they do.  I have often, over the years, sought counsel and advice from those more experienced than me who walk an obvious path of keeping God first in their lives.  They have been a huge blessing to me along my own life’s paths.

Last, but by no means least; in fact, the best comfort of all, is Jesus Himself.  We read in Romans 8:34 that Jesus “is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.”  How about that!  He is “pleading for us.”  When we don’t know the way to go, Jesus is coming to Father on our behalf, asking His Father to show us the way.  When we are troubled, Jesus is coming to Father on our behalf, asking His Father to send His own comfort and peace into our troubled hearts.  He literally, because we are His own, holds us as His own, before His Father in heaven; who by the way, is our Father in heaven, too. Father loves us so much that He gave His Son’s blood to purchase our freedom.

So, are you wondering today which way to go?  Seek God’s people to stand with you, and take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is bringing your needs to His Father.  With godly advice and the truth of Jesus leading you — walk on.  He will close the doors you should not enter and open wide the ones in which to proceed.

Every road taken with God is not always a safe one, but it’s always the best one, and it’s the one that brings ultimate joy when the journey is complete.  Never fear the unknown for when we get to our tomorrows, we discover that Jesus has been there all along, planning our route.

The First Time I Saw Him Cry

I suppose we have all had the experience of a memory of long ago popping into our minds; at times, apparently for no reason at all.  This happened to me this week.  Suddenly, and for a reason I could not explain, I was seeing in my mind’s eye the first time I ever saw my father cry.

I was 11 years old.  My Dad was 32. He was in his air force uniform with a duffel bag at his feet.  As he hugged my mom and then me and my sister, he stood back and that’s when I saw the tears glistening in his eyes.  I had never seen him cry before.  He made no apology for crying.  He didn’t even try to wipe the tears away.  Instead, he hugged each of us one more time and then he left.  I thought with my 11 year old understanding, that the tears were because he was saying goodbye for a while.  Now, with adult comprehension, I know the tears were for so much more.

He was leaving to serve the first of two tours of duty in Vietnam.  He first served in Danang and then TanSonNhut.  He was  there during the Tet offensive. He was wounded on an air field when a bomb destroyed the plane he was on, causing him to fall thirty feet to the tarmac. He had to lay on the airstrip for several hours while crossfire whizzed over his body.  He dare not lift his head for fear he would be shot for sure.  Once I asked him, years after the war, “Dad, did anyone you knew ever get killed while you were there in Vietnam?”  His answer, “Everyday,” left me speechless.

As I reflect upon the first time I saw him cry, I can now, with better knowledge of the situation, guess that they were for more than a goodbye.  He must have looked at our faces, cherished the way we felt in his arms, knowing that it could be the last time he would ever see us on earth.  He knew he was going to war.  He knew what was happening there.  He was in a situation in which there was no way out.  He was proud to serve his country, but the cost could be the greatest he could give.

Perhaps he also imagined the pain his death would bring to his young wife of 28 and to his daughters of 11 and 7.  He must have felt the weight of agony with the very thought, but there was nothing he could do about that either.  He could only let the tears come in his grief, but I know, too, he held on to prayer which was his connection to the heavenly places.  My father knew that his heavenly Father would bring us all through whatever the future would give.

As I have remembered this week, the first time I saw my father cry, a verse in Psalm 56:8 comes to mind: “You keep track of all my sorrows.  You have collected all my tears in Your bottle.  You have recorded each one in Your book.”  That’s such a beautiful and comforting picture.  You see, while you and I can share our grief with another, receiving comfort from those close to us; the fact remains, the only One who can truly know what we feel is Jesus Himself.

Isaiah 53:3-4 tells us that Jesus was, “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief…it was our weaknesses He carried; it was our sorrows that weighed Him down.”  Isn’t that absolutely beautiful?  He knows the deepest places within us where pain crushes and grief tears us apart inside, perhaps causing such sorrow that we sense a loss of purpose; we become void of all hope.

If you are hurting today, if you feel no one truly understands, then please be reminded   that Jesus cares so much for you.  He treasures your every tear, holding them as a reminder, not for Himself because He never forgets, but to remind each of us that He loves us deeply.  He will take our pain and He will comfort us, giving us fresh hope and purpose for tomorrow no matter what the future may bring.

He really is our everything to get us through anything.

The Purpose Of the Yoke

In the days of long ago, before farmers had tractors to do the work, donkeys, horses, or oxen were used to plow the fields.  A wooden crossbeam, called a yoke, would be attached across the neck of the animal with reins that the farmer would hold to guide the animal in the right direction.  The farmer held a plow and together with the plow and the yoked animal, straight rows would be furrowed, ready to then plant the seeds for the desired crop.  While the yoked animal assisted greatly with the task at hand, it was only the skill of the farmer that could guide the animal to keep the rows straight.

I was thinking about the yoke earlier this week as I was reading in Matthew 11:28-30, “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.'”

This passage, upon first reading, can seem anything but helping to ease a burden.  We picture a yoke as onerous and vexing.  Why would anyone want to wear one?

If we concentrate merely upon the yoke, then yes, we get a picture that is oppressive and troublesome to even think about.  The yoke definitely does not paint a pretty picture in our minds.  Good news!  It’s not about the yoke; it’s all about the farmer.  It’s the farmer who has the skill to guide the animal in the right direction.  In the above illustration; again, it’s not about the yoke, but about Jesus who guides us with every step we take.  As the verse reminds us, Jesus teaches us the right way to go.  He is gentle in His guiding and He uses everything in the fields of life to instruct us in His ways, and His ways are full of beauty.

If all we do is focus on the yoke, the difficulties of life that we face, then we will fail to pay attention to the One who instructs us into all truth, guiding us along the furrows of untamed soil, that we may reap crops of joy and peace and courage.  The yoke is merely an instrument that our perfect Teacher uses to keep us close to Him so that we may feel His tugging here and His guiding to the right or the left there.

Without Him, we will be all over the fields of life, making senseless tracks that lead to destruction. However, with Him, we are always pointed in the right direction that promises fruits of goodness for all our days.

In our passage, the phrase “let me teach you,” is also translated “learn of me.”  You see, as we become familiar to the guiding of the One who holds the reins, then we sense His gentle touch, we recognize His words of encouragement.  As we learn His ways, what happens then?  Trust grows.  Faith grows.  Therefore, joy in the midst of any unfurrowed field, grows, too.  Why?  Because our faith is in the One who holds the reins. We trust that He indeed knows the way we should go.  Therefore, in gladness, we bear the yoke, and take off with His leading into the fields of uncertainty, at last realizing that He always knows the most wonderful way in which we should go.

Kicking Sharks

A few days ago, riding down the road, I turned on the radio. I missed the first part of an incident being reported, but what I understood was this: a man had somehow met with an accident and was treading water in the ocean. Whether this was a boating or small plane accident, I don’t know, but the report stated that the man had been treading water for several hours. The Coast Guard found him and thankfully rescued the man. When the Coast Guard came upon the scene, they discovered that several sharks had been circling the man who had been bleeding from a cut on his forehead. The man said that he had been frantically kicking the sharks for about three hours.

There is no doubt, that if not for the outside intervention of the Coast Guard, in time the man would surely have died and met a terrible end. The man had great resolve. He was highly motivated to do whatever he could in his own strength to save himself. Even so, he could only have kicked sharks for a limited amount of time. Without the arrival of the Coast Guard, no matter his efforts, the man would be lost forever.

I thought to myself that this is exactly what takes place in our spiritual world. When we think of eternity, dreaming of what heaven may be like, desiring to get there, it is absolutely useless to think for a moment that our own efforts, no matter how noble, will be our ticket to paradise.  Jesus plainly told His disciples in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” We may tell ourselves that our good works will earn us a place in heaven. We may tell ourselves that our generosity will secure our allocated spot. We may deceive ourselves into believing that enduring suffering with a joyful attitude will be just what’s needed to take us to heaven.

None of the above is true. We humans actually make it so very difficult in the things we tell ourselves, doing our best to convince our own selves that we are good enough. In speaking about human effort we are told clearly in Romans 3:10, “There is no one that is good enough; no, not one.”

Hoping for heaven doesn’t have to be uncertain. It doesn’t have to be hard.    Understanding the truth is the most beautiful life changing experience that brings peace to man on earth and certainty about eternity.  Take a look at God’s own words from Romans 3:23-26: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in His grace, freely makes us right in His sight. He did this through Jesus Christ when He freed us from the penalty of our sins. For God presented Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus Christ sacrificed His life, shedding His blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when He held back and did not punish those who sinned in past times, for He was looking ahead and including them in what He would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate His righteousness, for He Himself is fair and just, and He makes sinners right in His sight when they believe in Jesus.”

No one has to tread the waters of uncertainty, depending on their own resolve and effort to save them from the deceiving sharks of this world.  The only necessary thing is to look to Jesus.  Like the Coast Guard who saved the day, only He can reserve a place for you in heaven, saving you from every sin, and covering you by His perfect grace.

 

The Conquering And The Conqueror

I have recently observed an incident involving two women; both have been victims of various types of abuse in their lives. However, as I observed their words and behavior during a conversation they were having, I concluded that the first woman allowed the abuse she suffered to dictate to her an inability to show kindness and compassion to the other woman. When this first woman heard something that reminded her of her own abuse, she suddenly became incapable of offering time to be a listening ear to the other woman who was deeply hurting by a recent event in her life.

On the other hand, as I observed the second woman, who attempted to share her wounded heart, I was reminded of this second woman’s overall attitude and behavior. She has suffered tremendous abuse throughout her childhood and teen years, including multiple sexual assaults from more than one of her uncles. Consequently, during her young teen years she developed a problem with bulimia.

In truth, while both of these women have suffered abuse, the second woman has suffered far greater abuses and for a much longer time. Even so, she has risen above the chains that can emotionally imprison a victim. She consistently gives time and a listening ear to anyone who needs to talk out their own troubles. At times, what people share, naturally reminds her of the hurts that she, too, has suffered. Nonetheless, she does not allow those reminders to shut her down, rendering her too stressed to be a needed listening ear. She does not allow her mind to be held captive by those memories.

What makes the first woman a slave to her pain while the second woman makes pain her slave? The first woman is controlled by her stress levels while the second woman controls her stress. How does this happen?

We read in Psalm 27:10, “Even if my mother and father abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.” The second woman has learned the beauty of that verse which reminds us that no matter who may reject and abuse us, Jesus in all His beauty has promised never to leave us. We also read in Philippians 2:4-5, “Don’t just look out for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” The second woman has come to understand that Jesus is the one who can offer perfect comfort and peace to the hurting and faultless strength to the abused. He is also the one who can enable someone to be that listening ear to another, rising above the effects of their own pain.

The world’s philosophy says to take care of number one, avoiding anything that reminds one of their own pain. The philosophy of Jesus says to be that listening ear to those who hurt because when you are reminded of your own pain, Jesus is big enough to squash it, tame it, and bring it into submission. Through the strength of Jesus, personal pain can be brought under control rather than the pain controlling one’s mind and emotions and behavior. Isn’t that amazing?

There is absolutely no pain of this world that is stronger than the peace of Jesus. When we learn of Him and His ways, then we take on that strength, rising above the status of victim; thereby, enslaving pain, never allowing pain to dictate inability to simply offer someone a listening ear.

Jesus said when talking with His disciples in John 10:10, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give you a rich and full life.” Satan, the god of this world, seeks to steal all joy, kill all peace, and destroy ability to rise above the role of victim. Jesus came with HIs purpose to restore what pain has stolen, to heal what abuse has killed, and to bring back to life what being a victim has destroyed.

In Christ there is always victory.  Through Him we can be a conqueror.  He is our everything to get us through anything.

Feeding Donkeys

Across the United States this has been a wild weather week of freezing temps, ice and snow in places not usually found.  It has snowed in Florida and in Alabama this morning it was 19F/-6C!  A true winter wonderland of ice!

I have a welcome assignment this week – feeding donkeys.  I talked my elderly neighbor into letting me, on these exceptionally cold winter mornings, be the one to go into the field and feed the donkeys.  I take a hammer with me to break the ice in their water trough.  Doing this is a great pleasure to me.

I have a usual time to feed the donkeys but once in a while I’m delayed just a bit.  Even so, the donkeys are waiting for me.  In the afternoons I have a time that I feed them slices of apple for an extra treat.  They know the time I’m usually there, but if I’m late, I still find them waiting at the gate.

Blackie our cat waits for me, too, no matter if I’m delayed.  Every evening I take special treats for Blackie around 7:00pm.  The other night it was 9:00pm when I gasped as I realized I had forgotten Blackie’s treats!  I grabbled the bag of his tasty morsels and opened the door.  There was our sweet cat, waiting calmly on top of his house, showing no distress that I was late.

I am warmed to the depths of my heart by these donkeys and our cat who obviously trust  that I will come through for them.  They trust that I will be there no matter the delay.  It’s amazing to me.    Once again, nature has reminded me of something so important: the beauty of trust.

Last week I wrestled with some feelings of stress and frustration, all because of having to wait on something.  This something, I know, is of God.  He is arranging something there is no doubt, but it’s not coming to pass within my desired time frame.  He is waiting!  Why?  I have no earthly idea but that’s not the point, is it?  My time is filled with possible mistake, while God’s timing is always perfect.  He is never too early and never too late.

This morning as I walked over the road to meet with my donkey friends, I smiled as I felt the slightest warmth of the sun’s rays streaking across the frozen ground, shining over the donkeys and over me.  I poured the grain onto their feed  trays and broke the water in the trough for them to drink.  It comfortingly occurred to me that these donkeys don’t know the exact moment I’m coming on the scene — but they know I’m coming, so they trust and they wait.

This may be the first morning I ever prayed, “Lord, help me to be more like a donkey.”

“I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.  Wait patiently for the Lord.  Be brave and courageous.  Yes,wait patiently for the Lord.”  Psalm 27: 13-14

 

Blackie And The ‘Possum

I have observed the cutest thing lately; the friendship between a cat and a opossum (in the southern US it’s pronounced ‘possum).  Our cat, Blackie, has a house outside with three levels.  On top of this structure are his food and water bowls.  Several times over the past two weeks, around 8:00pm, a ‘possum comes on the scene.

I remember the first time I stepped outside and saw this visitor.  There was the ‘possum eating from Blackie’s food bowl and there was Blackie calmly observing, sitting right next to him.  It was like Blackie had invited the ‘possum over for dinner.  Since that time I have taken to putting extra food in Blackie’s bowl in the evening.  “Here’s some extra for your ‘possum friend,” I explain to Blackie, knowing of course, that he understands everything I say to him.

Contrary to this friendly ‘possum visitor, there is an orange cat that lives across the road who is not known for displaying a gentle nature.  Every now and again, he too, comes for a visit, but not a friendly one.  He hisses and snarls at Blackie, at times even jumping on him with claws extended.  I’ve noticed that, now when Blackie sees the orange cat coming, he simply gets out of the way.

I find there is so much wisdom in God’s nature. Christians are instructed to love everyone.  When someone abuses us, we are told to “turn the other cheek.”  Sadly, that has been misunderstood to mean, be anyone’s doormat.  It does not mean that at all.  My father used to say, “be kind to everyone; if they are not kind, but cruel, then turn the other cheek; but remember, you only have one cheek to turn.  Jesus was nobody’s doormat and we are not to be either.”  My father was a kind, humble, and wise man. He showed kindness to all but, like Blackie the cat, if someone arrived to do nothing but offer abuse, he just got out of the way.

We are to seek opportunities to show love and kindness to others, even strangers. However, if another continually, like a toxin, brings poison into our peace; thereby shattering our joy, just keep out of the way.  We are instructed to be vessels of love, bringing peace and kindness into our worlds.  We are not to take revenge.  We are to be kind to the unkind but we don’t have to stand there and let someone habitually wipe their feet on us.

May this new year bring you wisdom in all your relationships.  May you be a person filled with God’s love, being His hands of help, and His words of encouragement, but may you remember, no one has to habitually entertain toxic people.  My father also used to say, “no one has the right to take your joy, unless you let them.” May we all have the heart of Blackie to lovingly share our food bowls with the ‘possums that suddenly enter our world, while having the wisdom to simply get out of the way when hissing cats will continually leap into our paths.

“Bless those who persecute you.  Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them….Never pay back evil with evil.  Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.  Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.  Dear friends, never take revenge.  Leave that to the righteous anger of God…..Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.”      Romans 12:14,17-18, 19, 21

Happy New Year everyone!  May all your relationships be blessed with the love of God and with His wisdom.

Like I’ve Never Heard It Before – “Through The Innkeeper’s Eyes”

Through The Innkeeper’s Eyes  By: Charles Martin

“…And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” — Luke 2:7

The night is cool and turning colder. The air smells of woodsmoke, lamp oil and manure. Quirinius is governing Syria. Caesar Augustus has issued a decree. “Register the world! Take a census.” Under the dominating hand of Rome, men and their families scurry to their birth homes to register. Jerusalem is overflowing. Bethlehem is packed.
It is dark. Past the evening meal. A young man leads a young girl riding a donkey up a small trail and into Bethlehem. He is pensive. Every few seconds, he glances over his shoulder. The rumors have preceded them. As have the whispers. She’s pregnant but not with his child and to complicate matters, they’re not married. It’s a scandal. According to Jewish law, he should put her out and she should be stoned.
The innkeeper has had a long day. He watches warily. The tired young man asks, “Sir, do you have a room?”
The innkeeper shakes his head. “Full up.”
The young man strains his voice. “You know of…anywhere?”
The innkeeper leans on his broom handle. Half-annoyed. His patience is thin. “Try down there. But…you’re wasting your time.”
The girl winces. The contractions have started. The stain on her dress suggests her water broke. The innkeeper’s wife eyes the barn and whispers. “We can make room.”
Hours later, the couple returns,. The young girl is sweating. Doubled over. The young man is frantic. The innkeeper is in bed. Upon hearing the knock, he rises reluctantly and unlocks the door. “Son, I told you…”
“Please sir…”. He proffers to the young woman. “She’s bleeding.”The innkeeper’s wife appears over his shoulder. She says nothing, which says plenty. The innkeeper trims his wick, and for the first time, looks into the young man’s eyes.

The innkeeper gently grabs the reins of the donkey and leads the young woman to the barn where he spreads fresh hay to make a bed while his wife appears with a towel and some rags. She brushes the two men out and helps the girl.
The innkeeper and the young man stand at the door of the stable — little more than a cave carved into the rock wall. The animals seem amused at the ruckus. The innkeeper lights his pipe. The young man shuffles nervously.
Behind them, the screams begin.
The innkeeper speaks first.“You the two everyone is talking about?”
The young man doesn’t take his eyes off the cave. “Yes sir.”
Another puff. Another cloud. “What happened?”
The young man is not quick to answer. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
The innkeeper laughs, “I don’t know…I was young once. She’s a pretty girl.”
Another scream echoes out of the barn.
“Is the baby yours?”
The young man rubs his hands together. Calloused, muscled. They are the hands of a stone mason. “No, he’s not. I mean, he will be but…I’m not the, well…”
The innkeeper chuckles. “You sure it’s a he?”
The young man nods. “Pretty sure.”
“You intend to marry?”
The young man glances over his shoulder. “Soon as she heals up and…”
Another scream and the the innkeeper changes the subject. “You here to register?”
The young man nods.
“What family?”
“House of David.”
The Innkeeper raises an eyebrow. “Good family.”
The screams have risen to a fever pitch. The young girl is out of her mind. The innkeeper’s wife calls from the stall. “Honey, I need some hot water.”
The innkeeper disappears and leaves the young man alone. Above a star has risen. Abnormally bright.

Elsewhere, in the throne room of heaven, the Son of God rises from His throne and takes off His robe and the golden band about His chest. He unbuckles His sword and leans it in the corner of His throne along with his diadem. Then He removes His priestly and kingly garb where it is folded by attending angels —each having three sets of wings. When finished, He stands naked save a loin cloth. “His hair is white wool, as white as snow, His eyes like a flame of fire, His feet are like fine brass as if refined in a furnace, and His voice is the sound of many waters.” (Rev 1:13-16) Like Niagara. Or the break at Pipeline. Finally, He takes off His crown and places it on the seat. The heavenly host — millions upon millions — bow at His feet, and yet…it is pin-drop quiet.

God the Father rises as His Son crosses the fiery stones. The Father hugs the Son, buries His face on His son’s cheek and kisses Him. The time has come. On earth, the sons of Adam have lost their way. Each gone their own way. Astray. Things are bad. The entire human race has been taken captive and the enemy is torturing them. Not one of them will survive the night. The Son has volunteered for a rescue mission but it’s a prisoner exchange. Their freedom will cost the Son everything.  His life for theirs.

The Father holds His Son’s hands in His and tenderly touches the center of His palm. He knows what’s coming. A tear rolls down the face of the Ancient of Days. The Son thumbs it away. “I’ll miss you.” He glances at the earth below and hell in between. Billions of faces shine across the timeline of history. He knows each by name. They are the “joy set before Him.” (Heb 12:2). He turns to His Father, “I will give them Your Word. And declare to them Your Great Name.” (Jn 17:14, 26). The Son looks with longing at His home. As He turns to leave, He says, “And…we’re going to need more rooms in this house because when I come back…”. He waves His hand across the timeline. “I’m bringing them with me.” The Son — who’s countenance is like the sun shining in all its strength — exits heaven blanketed in the singing of more than 100 million angels and bathed in the tears of The Father. (Rev 1:16)

The Innkeeper returns as the cries of a baby pierce the night air. His lungs are strong. The Word made flesh. (Jn 1:14) The wife clears the mucous and the cries grow louder. The young man exhales a breath he has been holding for a little over nine months. The innkeeper stokes the fire in the corner and hugs the young man, “Come!”
The hay beneath the young woman is a mess. The baby boy has entered the world in much the same way the nation of Israel left Egypt. Through blood and water. The animals look on. The rocks cry out. (Lk 19:40)

The woman places the baby on the mother’s chest and the two lie exhausted. The young woman is exposed and the young man is uncertain as to his role. He has yet to know her. The innkeeper’s wife leads him to the young girl’s side where he cuts the chord and then slides his hand inside hers. His heart is racing. She is exhausted. Sweaty. The afterbirth arrives and the innkeeper’s wife begins cleaning the woman. The young mother stares at the boy and hears the echo of the angel that appeared to her some ten months ago: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk 1:32-33)

But, it is a bittersweet moment because she knows well the words of both Isaiah and the Psalmist. How the Messiah will suffer. Be cursed. Bruised. Pierced. Despised. Rejected. Oppressed. Afflicted. Cut off from the land of the living. He will bear our griefs. Carry our sorrows. All His bones will be out of joint. His heart will melt like wax. He will give His back to those who will beat Him, pour out His soul unto death, bear the sin of many…and become unrecognizable as as man. (Is 53, Ps 22)

She turns to the man who did not leave her when he had every right. The honorable man who will be her husband. She hands him the boy and speaks His name, “Yeshua Hamashiach.” The young father holds his son and whispers, “The Son of Righteousness has come with healing in His wings.” (Mal 4:2)

The innkeeper and his wife stand at a distance. They can’t take their eyes off the boy. She whispers, “Every male who opens the womb…shall be called holy to the LORD.” (Lk 2:23) On the air above them there is an echo. Faint, at first, it grows louder. The innkeeper stares at heaven. The star above them is daylight-bright and casts their shadow on the ground. Finally, he can make it out. Voices. Purest he’s ever heard. Singing at the top of their lungs:   “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Lk 2:14)

The innkeeper knows now. He bows low and speaks loud enough for the young couple to hear. “…The Lord Himself will give you a sign; Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” (Is 7:14).
God with us.

But all are not so inviting. In the dark night air, invisible armies draw invisible battle lines. Forces gather. Battle plans are drawn. Even now, the boy’s life is in danger.
Just over the next hill, beyond earshot, lies another hill. Mt. Moriah. It is an ancient and storied hill. It is the hill where Melchizedek reigned as Priest to God Most High. Where Abraham raised the knife above Isaac. The hill where Ornan the Jebusite built his threshing floor. Where the plague stopped. Where David danced before The Lord and returned the ark. The hill where Solomon built the temple — which towers even now. And in about three decades, forces will gather on this hill to execute this boy.

Daylight breaks the horizon, the innkeeper tends the fire and “the people who walked in darkness Have seen a great light; Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, Upon them a light has shined.” (Is 9:2) Mary wraps Jesus tightly in swaddling clothes, lifts Him from the stone trough, and cradles the suckling baby: “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient…” (Phil 2:6-8).

Joseph kneels and presses his lips to the forehead of his son. He knows the words by heart. Written over 600 years ago, Isaiah is speaking about his Son. About this very moment. About this improbable beginning. About this King who stepped off His throne to become a boy who will grow into a man and walk from this cave to that hill — and down into hell — to ransom you and me.

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

What I Found In The Box

I’ve been doing much sorting out of closets and drawers in recent weeks.  Many of you will have seen the old photos I’ve posted on Facebook; memories of long ago.  It’s fun taking those walks down memory lane.

Yesterday I began going through boxes and files in what was my Dad’s office.  He went to heaven five years ago.  At that time I sorted through the office but left some boxes to sift through at a later time.  Yesterday the “later time” came.  It was no surprise to find pages of sermon notes, but suddenly, my breath stopped short.  I discovered pages of a type of journal – about me!  My Dad had made notes of conversations we had over the years; those times when together we righted all wrongs in the world, solving the most complex of problems.  Then there were comments he wrote about plays and books I had written and speaking engagements I had taken.  He wrote concerning one play, “Vickie wrote a play for our church youth,  I know it’s going to be good.”  Another time he wrote, “Vickie performed a monologue she had written about Mother Mary.  It touched many hearts.”  Still another time he made a note that a pastor had phoned him after I spoke at a conference in his church saying, “Vickie’s words captured all our attention and changed lives.”  As I read on I had to keep dabbing at the corners of my eyes to keep the tears from rolling down my face.

For just a brief moment I wondered why he had recorded all these things about me, but ever so quickly the answer came; it was because he loved me and was proud of me.  That realization brought more tears of gladness for the relationship I shared with my father, and for this reminder of how he felt about me.  As I contemplated this surprise find, I was then reminded of how our Heavenly Father also feels about each of His children.  Read the following from Psalm 139:16-18 and mediate upon just how He feels about you.

“You saw me before I was born.  Every day of my life is recorded in Your book.  Every moment was laid out before a single day passed.  How precious are your thoughts about me, Oh God.  They cannot be numbered!  I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!  And when I wake up, you are still with me!”

Our earthly fathers may or may not be proud of us, but Jesus never stops cheering us on as we walk our earthly paths, longing for the day when we will be able to see Him face to face and hear His words, “well done good and faithful servant.”  His thoughts toward us are always the best and most loving thoughts.  His desires for us are, without exception, to be filled with His own peace and joy and courage.  Just think, every time you succeed at anything in life, He is writing it down; not because He may forget, but only because His love for you and me is beyond measure.  Let that sink in and walk today in great blessing with the reminder of Father’s perfect love for you.

Rose Petals

I was going through some boxes filled with old black and white photos and other items of long ago. I came across a Bible of mine that I used in high school and college. It was old and tattered, a reflection of how I loved it. Fondly I flipped through the pages, reading notes I had written in the margins, reading verses I had underlined. Just inside the back cover I had pasted a poem. I remember it being of great comfort to me. I never forgot the poem over the years, at times reciting it to myself in times of uncertainty along life’s journey. The author is unknown. I share it with you now:

It’s just a tiny rosebud
A flower of God’s design.
I can’t unfold its petals
With these clumsy hands of mine.

If I can’t unfold the petals of
This flower of God’s design,
Then why do I think I have wisdom
To unfold this life of mine?

“But once He has made His decision, who can change His mind? Whatever He wants to do, He does. So He will do to me whatever He has planned. He controls my destiny.”
Jeremiah 23: 13-14