December 29, 2012

Remembering and Restoring…



I slept in till eleven this morning.  No pitter pat of feet to hasten my waking.  I think I needed the little extra anyway.  The junior Skelton entourage left in the wee hours to make its way home today.  I lent a hand to the pulling on of little socks and shoes, the tucking into carseats with kisses of blessing and hushed goodbyes.  No tears; we were all too sleepy or too focused on catching ferries and double checking that favorite blankies, pillows and soothers were not left behind.  Then with a prayer of thanksgiving and petition for their safety and blessing the old van was off with a chirrup and whine into the early morning darkness…

Now the house wears that hollow emptiness of guests just gone, and despite the soothing cello and harp of Christmas medleys, it is all too clear that the festivities are over.  Today is for restoring life to the old quiet order.  It seems  already to be happening. There are no matchbox cars in sight, no stray tires even.  No blocks, or lego or coloring books.  No dollies, strollers, rattles or stuffies. 

Undoubtedly there will be remains—I’ve already found a little lost red T-shirt from last night’s last laundry…and I spy a miniature plastic ‘popcan’ that rolled away to hide amongst the woodstove’s implements…And there are the memories of our being all together again, but all grown up and with babies in tow. It was a rare delight never to be relived.  For babies grow, and downy cheeks turn to stubble.  Baby coos to deep-throated conversation. “Can I have a cookie please” morphs into  an adult avoidance of calories. 

So for this morning, this quiet interlude awash in remembering and restoring, I am glad for the time spent last night making play dough and real bread dough together.  Never mind that the salt was forgotten in the real thing and we shall have to suffer through a couple loaves of very flat bread.  The pink and the blue dough got their share of salt, and play…  I’m glad of the sticky hands stuck in the real thing that had to be washed and washed to get un-‘stuck’, until little shirts were wet and had to be taken off and thrown in the laundry, letting little half-clad people run around screaming for sheer delight… They had fun at Grandmom and Grandad’s house. That’s what matters.  And they know that they are loved.

And I think they tasted morsels not just of goodies but of grace.  There was the night I had to slip out to take out the trash or some such thing.  No sooner had I gone, then looking in the sliding glass door I saw a chair had been pushed up to a desktop and little fingers worked to pry sweets from a forbidden tree.  Oh the shock and shame of being caught red-handed. He knew he must not touch this tree.  There were dozens of other treats and candies and cookies for the asking.  Why must he go for this one? It was the Eden story all over again.  We had read it together in his new Bible Story book just that morning, how Eve had taken fruit from the forbidden tree and shared it with Adam and been turned out of the garden.

Standing in the doorway I reminded him of it now.  He remembered the storyline: the tree, the ‘apple’, the sadness.  Now he was reliving it.  What’s to be done for this longing for the forbidden which proves to ‘taste yucky’ in the end anyway? It proves us to be sinners all.  But I at the door, checked my words of shaming remembering there is grace too. And would he like to have a candy from another tree when Grandmom finishes her chore?  It’s his for the asking. 

Christmas is about the joy of a Saviour being provided for our reconciliation to God, about a re-opening of the Way to the Tree of Life. And this Grandmom is glad.  It would be only a matter of time till I crumbled and gave in to my own temptations spewing ‘madness’ on my progeny.  I too would need to be forgiven and offered a sweet from the Tree of Life.  Grandmom too would be caught red-handed but forgiven.  “Sorry”s and hugs all around—for this is grace and I am glad for it as I sit remembering and restoring my soul…

Wishing you and yours richest blessings and restorative grace this fast receding holiday season…



December 21, 2012

Has anyone seen the King of the Jews?

Angels heralded the news of His birth.

Shepherds came to see Him freshly swaddled.

A couple old people in the temple lingered long to cherish the moment of his dedication.

Foreign astrologers brought gifts for royalty and bowed in worship.

But largely his birth was missed, this one born King of the Jews.

Herod was caught off guard, as were the religious leaders and scribes.  They knew the text well that predicted his birth but they weren’t expecting it any time soon. They had no felt need of a Savior. They were in power in their little realms…A king would threaten their dominion.

He would be born in a stable, make His triumphal entry on a humble donkey, and wear a crown of thorns at His coronation—this King of the Jews.  He had come to save His people from their sins, Mt.1:21 not their Roman overlords.  It seems that only those who perceived themselves in need of a Savior were on the scene to welcome Him.

The lowly shepherd outcasts seemed an unlikely welcoming committee, but then again,  maybe not.  They weren’t pre-occupied with important business or illusions of being indispensible cogs in a very busy gear box! And most importantly they weren’t blind to the wonder of a night sky bright with angels.

Two tottering old folks, Simeon and Anna,  whose physical vision was likely beginning to dim with age, seemed unlikely to recognize Him.  And yet they lived focused on the hope of their Messiah’s coming—the ‘consolation of Israel’, ‘the redemption of Jerusalem’ Lk.2:25ff. They were assured that they would live to see the day.  And here it was, their King was born and they got to see Him!

This term of Simeon’s, ‘consolation’, is intriguing.  It is the same Greek root used of the Holy Spirit Himself, the “Comforter”, whom Jesus would send to abide with his followers for ever (Jn.14:16).  This same Spirit who led Simeon into the temple to meet His Messiah and to bless him and his parents, was the One who would Comfort and seal the Redemption of all who place their hope of salvation in the Messiah.  Wonderful.   

And what of those mysterious strangers riding into Jerusalem in search of a newborn King?  How did they know he had been born?  Were there legends in their histories of the great God of the Hebrew people?  The One who sent plagues on Egypt, who fought Israel’s enemies, who dwelt in their Temple and received their sacrifices, making them prosper or fall according to their allegiance. Had they heard of His renown?  They saw the star.  They knew its meaning.  And they came to worship.

What are we to make of these gifts?  Gold is of course fitting for a King.  But frankincense?  It was always to accompany the meat offerings in the Temple.  Its sweet savor was pleasing to God.  Did the ‘wise men’ know?  Did their gift foreshadow the offering of this Lamb of God for the sins of the world in just a few years time?

Then there was the myrrh (literally, “Smyrna”), a bitter gum exuding from incisions in a certain tree’s bark.  It was a costly perfume and an antiseptic. It would be practical for skinned knees and wounds.  But it was more.  Myrrh was used for embalming.  When Nicodemus prepared Jesus’ body for burial he would use 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes. Jn.19:39,40  What more fitting gift for the King of the Jews, the Savior who would be crucified and buried, but whom the tomb could not retain!

This Jesus, “being found in human form…” come to save His people from their sins is the Christmas story.  But somehow I can’t stop there, with salvation left suspended in time.  It’s all that Simeon saw of it. And he was content to die in peace.  But we are privileged to see so much more of the story unfolded, how He “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” , and  how “God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name…”   Here’s where we stand in the story of redemption, given the choice to welcome this King as our King while it is yet optional. 

We get to join with the shepherds and ‘wise men’ and the faithful few, like Anna and Simeon, who eagerly awaited their Redemption.  For we are a waiting people too.  The rest of the Plan has not been fulfilled, the part that says “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil.2:8-11  Then  Redemption will be complete.  One can only imagine how the angels will be singing then!

And the words of an old cantata I sang as a kid ring in my ears: “The King is coming, The King is coming, Praise God, He’s coming again!”  We are people with reason to rejoice and to worship.  Our sins which are many have been forgiven.  Our salvation is just on the horizon---


And if you are needing an interlude from all the Christmas busyness, may I suggest this turn of heart—“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits…” Ps.103—It will do wonders.

"So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him." Heb.9:28

“For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” Gal.5:5

‘…when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed…” II Thess.1:10

December 14, 2012

A Peace of My Mind

The morning fire wards off night’s chill, as I sit all nestled in my blankies, with tea and toast, chewing on morsels of the Word.  I’m reflecting on this peace Jesus came to bring, this peace that seems more elusive than ever at the very season that celebrates ‘peace on earth, good will to men’

You know the fluster, the pressure—presents to buy, cards to send (which hopefully will include a re-cap of the whole year and a picture of the whole family, right?), parties to attend (or host!), baking to do, meals to plan, shopping and more shopping for that other ingredient, that little extra, that perfect stocking stuffer—These are the surface things.  That’s not to mention the underlying loneliness, grief and sadness that the memories of Christmases past may evoke for those whose dear ones won’t be coming home this year or others with no home to come to…

It’s a season in desperate need of peace.  At my house too.  So I sit here morning by morning, determined not to be too busy for this—and I chew on the Word, beautiful words-- Zechariah’s prophecy over his son, for example, who will

‘give knowledge of salvation to his people, in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ Lk.1:79 

My feet need such guidance! 

I know, ultimately the peace Jesus came to offer is reconciliation to a Holy God, a removal of enmity between us, a bringing us near, adoption, Sonship. These are awesome realities we are never meant to take for granted. But do they percolate through the way I live from day-to-day, especially in the pressure-cooker seasons of life? Am I at peace in my scurryings around to ‘make Christmas’? Must I even scurry?  Just the sound of the word makes me feel rushed!

There are so many things Christmas ends up meaning: the party, the baking, the music, the pressure of gifts not yet bought, not yet thought of!  All these things vie to outdo the one thing that is needful—O come let us adore Him, Jesus Christ the Lord.  I get this when I’m quiet in the mornings and the day’s cares aren’t yet on my plate, but in the hustle and bustle? in the middle of the ‘to do' list?  How do I maintain that peace?  This is what I want for Christmas, the whole season through, this peace that passes human understanding, that guards my heart like a nutcracker sentry. 

How does that happen? What does the Word tell me? “Keep in step with the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.”  I hadn’t thought of anxiety and irritability as lusts of the flesh. And that demanding everything to be ‘just right’ may be an unruly desire… These may be part of the ‘spirit of Christmas’ but they’re certainly not fruits of the Spirit! 

Love, joy, peace…ahhh these are the things I truly want.  Mary sat at Jesus feet adoring, attentive to His Words.  Martha scurried about preparing, heedless of the moments she was missing.  Too rushed to listen in on the conversation. Petulant that Mary wouldn’t help her.  It wasn’t wrong of her to fix a meal, to serve, or even to plan a party. It was wrong to lose sight of what would most please her Guest of honor.  Most of all He wanted to spend time with her. Jesus always had time for people.

Every year at this time I tread this fine edge between imitating Mary and Martha.  But I see now the advantage I have over Martha. She did not possess the indwelling Spirit of God.  Being a God of order, not confusion; of peace, not pandemonium, (I Cor.14:33) I can rest assured that he will guide my steps in the way of peace. He will give direct in all the planning and doing of what is really needful, as I keep an ear open for His direction and re-direction!  As I keep my eyes open for the people in my path who need the peace He would exude through me, or perhaps just a ride into town?! Or a visit over lunch?!  These are opportunities I have already missed in my hurrying. (I’m grateful for forgiveness and fresh chances) So  I press on, intent on ‘keeping the peace’ for the rest of the season. 

My reminders:

Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal.5:16)

“…but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Rom.8:5,6

Rejoice in the Lord always…(He’s is the Lord after all. Not I. Relax!) Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Phil.4:4-6

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” Is.26:3

These verses embody my Christmas wish for you and me:

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Col.3:14-17

May all we do be wrapped up in love,
flowing from a heart at peace (regulated by Jesus, our Pace-maker) and saturated with His Word. 
Then our souls will sing as we go.   
And may everything we do and say reflect Jesus’ rule in our hearts as Prince of Peace and God with us.

Then we will overflow with thanksgiving for God’s love, God’s peace and God’s Word--all gifts to us at Christmas.

“For God so loved the world that He gave us his Son…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...for He Himself is our Peace.” Jn.3:16,Jn.1:14,Eph.2:14

Peace be with you and yours this Christmas time.


December 7, 2012

Rooted and Grounded in Love

I had a silly dream the other night--the kind you wake up from shaking your head at the preposterous suspension of good sense and logic in dreams. Anybody knows you cannot sustain a cut tree by periodic submersion in water, and yet this was the challenge that beset me in my dream: how to keep this silly ornamental fig propped up in a bucket long enough to give it a drink. Weird. Upon waking the solution was obvious—a Christmas tree stand of course! That took me off on another tangent—how strange the tradition of propping up dying trees and dressing them all pretty to celebrate the birth of a Life-giving Savior. All the while the tree is dying, if not dead. The charade is prolonged as long as needles remain (or until the housewife cannot stand the quantity of needles on the rug, or her firefighter husband recognizes the fire hazard this no-longer-evergreen is presenting…)

But I assure you we still haul in Christmas trees year-by-year. They are a beloved tradition. Now we grow and cut our own, a readily renewable resource. They grow like weeds along the roadside here, readily transplantable and voila, in a few years time, your own Charlie Brown tree! With more patience and a little trimming, a more refined look. Still, once that tree is severed from its roots, it becomes unstable and as good as dead. There will be no more growth, only a delayed wilt if we dig out the Christmas tree stand and water it well… And it occurs to me that this is my life in Christ—

I am rooted and grounded in Love (Eph.3:17). As I come to comprehend the extent of this perfect Love it will be to me a stabilizing, energizing, sufficient supply for life. Apart from it I am vulnerable to wilt. I reel from harsh words. I cringe when misunderstood. I slump and drop needles… But rooted and grounded in Love I can be like the tree planted by a stream "and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit" Jer.17:8. I'm thinking on these things this week--this love beyond measure, this love that extends forgiveness and acceptance.

I guess I am still reeling from a wound unwittingly delivered—I didn't see it coming. It hurt. It still hurts. Yet I am forgiven so that I may extend forgiveness. It is the overflow of Love. Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…this love that is not easily provoked and refuses to assume the worst…(I Cor.13) This is the Love I have been shown. This is the Love that I can extend because I am rooted and grounded in Love.

Forgiveness is a much hashed-over topic. Is there anything new to say? I thought I understood it pretty well. But it never becomes quite so clear as when it is required of you… A friend pointed me to this clarification of the nature of true forgiveness written years ago by George MacDonald. He suggests there are forms of 'forgiveness' which do not truly 'send away' the offence but only refrain from revenge. We say we 'can't forget' when what we are doing is holding onto the memory in case we need to substantiate our claim to having been wronged. We hang onto the evidence, just in case… It bolsters our ego to be the one in the right. We hold hostage the wrongdoer to serve our pride. Is this true forgiveness? Is it the sort we have been shown?

God instead sends our sins as far away as the East is from the West. He removes all that would prevent our fellowship with Him. Restoration is the aim of forgiveness, not merely a refusal to retain resentment or take revenge. Is this my ideal? Or does my smug 'I forgive you' backhandedly imply 'but I'm not forgetting what you've done!'

George MacDonald explains the ideal forgiveness as one that hates the sin, not because it hurt me, but because it has broken fellowship with my brother…

One more will say: "He has wronged me grievously. It is a dreadful thing to me, and more dreadful still to him, that he should have done it. He has hurt me, but he has nearly killed himself. He shall have no more injury from it that I can save him. I cannot feel the same towards him yet; but I will try to make him acknowledge the wrong he has done me, and so put it away from him. Then, perhaps, I shall be able to feel towards him as I used to feel. For this end I will show him all the kindness I can, not forcing it upon him, but seizing every fit opportunity; not, I hope, from a wish to make myself great through bounty to him, but because I love him so much that I want to love him more in reconciling him to his true self. I would destroy this evil deed that has come between us. I send it away. And I would have him destroy it from between us too, by abjuring it utterly." [Unspoken Sermons I, "It shall not be forgiven"]

And here I am brought back to consider the poor fig tree. The truth is, there is more to its need to be rooted and grounded in love than merely allowing it to extend love and forgiveness to others who are in the wrong! This smacks of the noble-sounding sentiments of the Pharisee gone down to the temple to pray: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men…’ Lk.18:11 No, the greater reason for needing such grounding is that I need to be forgiven, continuously. I have been the one to do the hurting. It has done costly damage. Perhaps these wounds I reel from are nothing compared to the ones I have myself inflicted. Could it be I have unwittingly offended, worse yet stabbed, ones who had not seen it coming? Could it be they are reeling from my callous thoughtlessness? Yes, I know this to be true. And for this reason, I need more than a temporary dip in water to reinvigorate my leafy tips. This will take more than a Christmas tree stand. I must be rooted and grounded in love. There is no other hope for this old fig tree. I have been forgiven and continue to need forgiveness at least as much as anyone I perceive as having wronged me. I'm so glad a Savior has been born to us—One who took the initiative to seek and to save that which was lost before they had even come to their senses. (Lk.15)

We, without Him are feeble trees, parched and quaking, Charlie Brown trees, if you will. We carry about in these bodies the death of Jesus "so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies…in our mortal flesh". II Cor.4:10 But rooted and grounded in a living supply of water, there is life, forgiveness, grace! This is why I need this living supply of water.

There was once another tree, cut and formed into a Cross. For this, Jesus was born. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree." Why? "that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed." I Pet.2:24 Yes! I can string the lights and celebrate! I am rooted and grounded in love.  Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! II Cor.9:15

'It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'Lk.15:32


"…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Rom.5:8

Blessed [is] the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. Jer.17:7

He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, [so] great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, [so] far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Ps.103:10-12

"…according to the riches of his glory [may He] grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.Eph.3:15-19

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Eph.3:20-21


This beautiful song sums it all up:

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure