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Archive for December, 2019

It is the eve of the New Year …

2020 … just like perfect vision.

It is interesting that it is as we look back we see the year that has been lived with clarity, perfectly.

When we look back a year ago, we had no idea what was in store in our lives, in the lives of those who we love. We did not know what changes would occur, what friends we would make (or lose), what lives would be lost (or born), what celebrations would be had, what struggles we would stand, shaking in our boots, and face … or hide from.

As I look back at one year ago, I wonder how I might have done things differently … if I knew then what I know now. What would I change? What would I do the same?

But, we cannot live life backwards. The hours and the days move only one way, forward. The learning is done in the moments that we live, and the wisdom that we gain … well it is gathered over time.

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn”

We cannot look forward to 2020 with clarity. Oh, we can make plans, fill our calendars and have good intentions, but the reality, the clarity of this new year will only provide 2020 vision as we peer back at it, one year from now.

The shadows on the days to come will be illuminated by being able to look back. To know what is ahead of us, can only be seen fully when looking at it, in reverse. What we see is only clear in it’s reflection.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

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Weary to the bone would describe most of us at this time of year. Many of us have worked to ensure that Christmas is perfect, filled with presents and an appreciation of the available peace through the birth of the babe in a manger.

We go to bed at night weary, we wake in the morning weary …

“He leads me
beside the still waters.”

The Pulpit Commentary, for Psalm 23:2b, describes this particular verse as referring to waters of refreshment. Remember, it is from the 23rd Psalm … the part of scripture that is greatly intended as comfort, encouragement and hope in times of darkness, sorrow, pain … weariness.

The 23rd Psalm is a perfect Psalm of the advent season. It is a reminder that we have at our disposal a reset button when life is a struggle. It is as if David, the shepherd, understood that the Messiah, who we anticipate each advent, would be the good shepherd, who offers direction, comfort, redemption … rest.

Timothy Keller, a theologian, author and speaker said,

“After creation God said, “It is finished”—and he rested. After redemption Jesus said, “It is finished”—and we can rest.”

Jesus is our source of rest. He is the antidote to bone tired weariness. It is in him that we can find rest, refreshment. What a great start to the new year ahead, to let him lead us to still waters.

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It is as if infancy were the whole of incarnation by Luci Shaw

The waiting of advent is coming to an end, as we celebrate the new born king.

Tonight the stories of a manger, and angels, and shepherds, of a stable, and virgin mom and a donkey come to the part where the birth of the babe seems to be the culmination, the end of the story …

yet, the birth of the baby Jesus is only the beginning of the greatest story ever told.

I love this poem, by Luci Shaw, how she reminds us

It is as if infancy were the whole of incarnation
(by Luci Shaw)

One time of the year
the new-born child
is everywhere,
planted in madonnas’ arms
hay mows, stables,
in palaces or farms,
or quaintly, under snowed gables,
gothic angular or baroque plump,
naked or elaborately swathed,
encircled by Della Robbia wreaths,
garnished with whimsical
partridges and pears,
drummers and drums,
lit by oversize stars,
partnered with lambs,
peace doves, sugar plums,
bells, plastic camels in sets of three
as if these were what we needed
for eternity.

But Jesus the Man is not to be seen.
There are some who are wary, these days,
of beards and sandalled feet.

Yet if we celebrate, let it be
that He
has invaded our lives with purpose,
striding over our picturesque traditions,
our shallow sentiment,
overturning our cash registers,
wielding His peace like a sword,
rescuing us into reality,
demanding much more
than the milk and the softness
and the mother warmth
of the baby in the storefront crèche,
(only the Man would ask
all, of each of us)
reaching out
always, urgently, with strong
effective love
(only the Man would give
His life and live
again for love of us).

Oh come, let us adore Him—
Christ—the Lord.

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Hugs by Evgenii Kuzovkin

It’s my guy’s birthday today. It’s the thirty-first of his that we have celebrated together. That means we have spent 60% of his birthdays together. And we have been married thirty years. And we met just a few months before his twenty-fourth (not that I am giving any age hints 😉 ).

Phil has always been a husband and dad who would drop whatever he was doing to help us out. But, recently, his willingness to help me, when I needed him the most, opened my eyes to what a gift he is in my life.

During the recently hospitalization and subsequent death of my dad, Phil would ask me each day (some days, multiple times),

what can I do for you today?

Though he has always been willing to drop what he’s doing to help out, this is the first time that I can remember him offering his help, so directly, so intentionally.

At first (because, hello … I am a capable person) I tried to wave his offer off, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that the to do list was bigger than I ever could have imagined and that a brain muddled by shock and grief is not capable of functioning as it would normally.

In no time, I was handing over things that needed to be done, with ease and great appreciation.

As I look back on those days of confusion, decision-making and sadness I also look back and see him …

offering, supporting, comforting, listening … with eagerness to help, to love, to serve me.

He was the personal flotation device that held my head above water, allowing me to help (along with my brothers) hold my mom up.

At the time, in my muddled state, I simply received his offerings of help and support. As the days have moved along, I an so thankful for his willingness to help … in any way, even when I got things mixed up, and that affected his time, his plans, his schedule.

Still, weeks later, he frequently will ask what can I do for you today? And, his question makes my heart swell with pride, appreciation.

His selfless acts of love, devotion and service to me have made me so thankful for him, for our marriage together … for the perseverance (of both of us) through the seasons of marriage that were tough … requiring more devotion to our commitment than devotion to each other.

Through all of this, I could say, of my Philip, what Queen Elizabeth said of her husband, Prince Philip, 0n their Golden Anniversary (50th) :

“He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments, but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay.”

To my Philip, on his birthday of … more years than mine ( 😉 ), I have never been more thankful, more proud to be yours. May this be the start of your best year yet.

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“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning.”

I have read those words of C.S. Lewis many times over the years, now I have lived them, breathed them, groaned them. I would add to Lewis’ description the feeling that my heart is not beating properly, that it has lost it’s physical rhythm, by the shock of death.

Death and Christmas …

I have been pondering these two this advent season. They both occur, despite our being ready. They affect us all, whether we choose them or not. They settle into our souls, bringing memories from the past. They each affect us well beyond their seasons, for their seasons impact the rest of the calendar year.

… they are difficult to celebrate simultaneously.

Yet …

Death and Christmas came together in the life of this babe, who came at Christmas. Our Joy to the World was birthed out of our need of a redeemer, a saviour. Our Silent Night, so calm and bright, ended at the Old Rugged Cross. Peace on the earth, goodwill to men came at the cost of Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.

There cannot be a more specific, more momentous illustration of death and Christmas than in Jesus’ final conversation with a person, as he hung on the cross.

In Luke 23:38-43 Jesus is hanging between two criminals. One of them is yelling insults at Jesus and asks, “aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” The other responds, “we are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Two men, similar criminal activity, similar guilt level. They are, humanly, of the same sin-condition … both guilty of the sin of birth and the sins of life. At this point in the story, they are both condemned to die, physically, eternally.

Then, in his final act, his only hope, that second criminal speaks to Jesus, himself …

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

No pleading, no excuses. Just a simple question asked as a last hope … but it is more than that … for in his simple question comes the heart-level acknowledgement in who is beside him. His question shouts out, in his quiet, shaking voice …

I know who you are … my eyes and soul see that you are He who can save me.

And, in his last words spoken to man, to all of humanity who acknowledges him as our Saviour, Redeemer and Lord, Jesus replies …

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

In the midst of the death of the Christ, is the hope born in the Christmas babe … for a criminal on a cross …

for my dad, for me … for you.

Death and Christmas … they are difficult to celebrate simultaneously. Yet, the sadness I feel over the death of my dad, is born out of the happy memories I have of him. And my (our … for I am not alone in feeling this) earthly great loss will one day be eclipsed by the joy of eternity … an eternity that began with birth of the saviour of the world, at Christmas.

“The pain I feel now
is the happiness I had before.
That’s the deal.”
C.S. Lewis from A Grief Observed

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If I hear it, I turn off the CD, the radio … and I seem to hear it so very often this Christmas season.

“I’ll be home for Christmas …. “

Having lived away from ‘home’ for most of my life, I have had years that I long for that childhood home for the holidays more than other years. This year is a bit different, for what I long for is not so much place, but time.

Seasons, such as Christmas, have triggers that can instantly thrust us into memories of the past.

Snow falling can take me back to snowy memories at Christmas time, when new toboggans, skates, hats and boots would be used. A clear, starry night can take me back to the wonder of searching the night sky for reindeer and Santa. Chocolates can take me back to the thrill of when the Ganong red box was brought out of the closet, signalling that Christmas truly had arrived. The concerts of the season put me back on a stage, as a child, reciting lines, singing Gloria in Excelsis Deo. The trees, the presents, the food, the events … all symbols of the season, all triggers in the mind to another time and place.

My favorite memories of Christmas’ past involve Christmas Eve at the my Gram Smith’s house. The meal, the family, the gifts that Santa had dropped off earlier that day 😉 … such sweet memories. Then there was the drive home, my eyes fixed to the skies for the light from Rudolf’s nose. Early on Christmas morning, when the sky was still ebony, we would be awakened by my dad, NOT trying to be quiet, as he moved through the house, hoping to awaken just one of us so that we could get the day started. The stockings, gifts, laughter … such sweet memories. After the gifts were opened the turkey would be prepared for the oven, but also that big red box of chocolates would come out, filling the plastic tree candy holder … and we would study the ‘map’ from the box to plan our one chocolate selection well (there was nothing worse than making a mistake and biting into a vanilla cream one). Then the gifts that were not toys would be organized back under the tree, in a different form of decoration. Later we would eat that traditional turkey dinner, complete with mashed potato (not bread stuffing) dressing, flavored with summer savory. Once filled to the gills, we would play games, make puzzles, enjoy our toys with family.

My memories of childhood Christmas’ have a rhythm, patterns of rituals that cemented the joys of tradition, family and celebration within my being. And I am so thankful to look back and be so thankful.

But, as I ponder and write about those traditions from the place and people I love, knowing that I will only be home for Christmas in my dreams …

I am also feeling rather ‘homesick’ of another kind, missing one of the heartbeats of my childhood Christmas memories. His absence makes me homesick for that place and time, but also for the Christmas celebration in eternity.

I really hope Saint Peter is a morning soul, for he will be awakened raucously this Christmas.

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place

Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow
I’ve never been more homesick than now

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The image, above, tells the story of the Fall of humanity, Christmas and Easter in such a way that I am simply captivated.

Eve and Mary are characters essential to understanding the entrance of sin into the human condition, the coming of the Messiah and the redemption the world.

Eve, the mother of creation, the woman through whom God spread the seed of humankind, the taster of the fruit from the forbidden tree.

Mary, the virgin mother of the Messiah, through her was birthed the saving grace that could erase the the aftertaste of the fruit of the forbidden tree, forever.

They both said yes …

Eve (Genesis 3:6) was offered fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and she took it, because it looked good, and because she desired wisdom.

Mary was not offered the opportunity to accept or reject her virgin conception through the Holy Spirit, for she was chosen (“you are chosen from among many women” v.28) yet she did accept it, whatever it meant (“I am willing to be used of the Lord. Let it happen to me as you have said” v.38).

They both shared their tasks with their significant other …

It is interesting to me that it was not until Adam also ate of the fruit that “then the eyes of both of them were opened” (v.7).

Again a significant other was part of Mary’s story, as Joseph also had a job to do in the story, “and you are to give him the name Jesus” Matthew 1:21.

They both shared with all humanity …

Sadly, Eve’s desire for that lovely-looking fruit that would give her wisdom, only led to the fall of herself, and all who came after her. The seed of sin, through the disobedience of she and Adam, has been birthed in every human since, except …

Jesus. All man, all God, the seed of Salvation of all humanity, birthed into life from the womb of Mary. The seed she carried was the only cure for the genetic predisposition to sin that we all are born with.

They both shared in the gift of life …

“Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20). Though she symbolized the beginnings of human life, she was also a vessel through whom death entered our human experience.

Mary was a vessel as well, and through her son, life eternal was redeemed. She has been called the Ark (vessel) of the New Covenant, for she carried, not the law, but the fulfillment of it.

They shared the serpent …

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). For Eve, the serpent was a tempter, whose lies led her to destruction.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Though the serpent has been biting at our human heels for all time, the fruit of Mary’s womb, Jesus, came to crush it’s head and death itself … “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” 1 Corinthians 15:22

They shared maternal heartache …

Eve suffered the heartache of the murder of her one son, at the hands of the other (in a sense, her own sin led his death).

Mary suffered the heartache of the murder of her son, by those he came to save (in a sense, her own obedience led to his death).

They shared something with each other that is shared with us all …

If Eve felt the heavy weight of the sin of the world, it is the weight in Mary’s womb that took it away. In this they, and we are redeemed people.

Merry Christmas to all!

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