Welcome to the December Archive. You are welcome to read the entire archive, or find a topic on the list below that is of interest to you. Just click the link, and you will be taken directly to the day it was written. Enjoy, and may you know God's peace as you read His Word.
    You are welcome to use these writings or pass them on. All we ask is that in all things you remember the Author and give Him the glory, and remember this vessel which He has used to bring them to you. Peggy Hoppes

































Scripture quotes taken from the American Standard Version

A WORD FOR TODAY, December 2005

Advent officially began on Sunday, with the first Sunday of Advent calling us to watch and wait for the coming of Christ both as a child and as the King in glory. Sunday began this time of preparation for Christmas and for the long awaited fulfillment of Christ's promise that He would return. Though the church officially recognizes Advent as the four weeks before Christmas, beginning with the Sunday after Thanksgiving, most people begin to count down on the first day of December.

It is fun to look at all the advent resources available. Many Christian bookstores, and some secular stores, carry a variety of items for kids and adults. Schools prepare craft projects of paper chains with twenty-five loops so that the children can take one off a day and see how Christmas is coming. There are calendars with candy inside, calendars with little windows revealing surprise pictures or bible verses. There are dozens of devotional books available for adults and there resources available for families. Online you'll find many different kinds of Advent calendars and devotionals that you can visit daily to be uplifted and prepared for the coming of Christ.

Each year I try to find some interesting way of counting down the days to Christmas through WORD. This year I am basing the series on a book I found in England. It is called "The Advent Garden" by Jenny Hyson. In this book, the author looks at Advent through the creation, choosing something different each day from 'God's Garden'. I am going to use the same items, but will look at them from a different perspective. Throughout Advent (including weekends) we will see how God is glorified by His creation and how we can see Him daily just by looking at the world in which we live.

December 1, 2005

Garden  The Advent story begins at the beginning, in the Garden of Eden. God created the heavens and the earth long before any of us were born. Even then, God had a purpose and a plan for everything He created. We might find it hard to believe God has a good purpose for creatures such as mosquitoes and alligators, but God knows that they are good. What point is there for a fruitless fruit tree or for the weeds that grow in our yards? Yet, we know that God has a purpose for it all, even when we don't know what that purpose might be.

In the garden there is diversity and yet everything was created by God. The annoying little ant is gloriously and wondrously made by the hand of God. In his life we see perseverance and strength. We can learn from the way ants live, from their communities and their work. We can see that God provides even for the smallest creatures and cares about them. The huge blue whale lives mostly out of sight of humans, in the deepest depths of the ocean, and yet we can see God's handiwork even when our glimpses of those amazing beasts are brief. What is so amazing is not necessarily the individual creatures, but how perfectly everything works together. Look at the food chain, the circle of life and the water cycle. We learn about these in elementary school, but do we ever really consider how God is revealed in the order of this world? In God's great garden the birds fly south for winter and the leaves turn colors in spring. The first spring flowers always show up just as we are wishing that winter would be over.

"These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that Jehovah God made earth and heaven. And no plant of the field was yet in the earth, and no herb of the field had yet sprung up; for Jehovah God had not caused it to rain upon the earth: and there was not a man to till the ground; but there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. And Jehovah God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. And Jehovah God planted a garden eastward, in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed." Genesis 2:4-9 (ASV)

God created heavens and earth and He created man. He placed us in the garden He formed with His own hands and gave us the responsibility of caring for it. Yet, we were not only given a great work, we were given an even greater privilege. The birds in the air and the grass on the ground point to the One from whom all things come. The gift of life is in seeing God all around us. This is not to say that all things are gods, or that God is in all things. Rather, it is in seeing how God's hand has created and sustained the world so that we might know His presence in our lives at all times and in all places.

In this time of Advent, as we look at the garden in which we now live, we know it is different than what is described in the book of Genesis. Years have passed since that first day God put man in the garden. We have not always lived well and we have not always been responsible. Yet, even now as our garden is spotted with housing developments and high rise buildings, we can see God's hand in the weeds that are creeping through the cracks in the roadways on which we drive. We can see God's hand in the wildflowers that bloom and in the litter of kittens that stray birthed on our porch. We can see God's hand in the stormy clouds and in the piles of dirty snow that lines our driveway. And though we may not always understand, there is a purpose for it all and we are called to glorify God our Creator in this garden in which we live. Thanks be to God.


December 2, 2005

Fruit  One of my favorite Christmas traditions is our Christmas tree. Actually, we put up three in our house here in Texas. The Christmas trees, of course, offer the kitties the perfect opportunity to get into trouble. They love to eat the tinsel and Tigger has been found chewing on the branches of the artificial tree. Dangling ornaments and wires are perfect targets for playful cats. When Tigger and Felix begin one of their games of chase-tag, I always wonder if they are going to crash into the tree and knock it over.

I remember the tree being a similar problem for the children when they were young. Toddler fingers are drawn to the shiny balls hanging on the low branches. They learned that they should not touch eventually, but for those early years we had to be very creative in the way we displayed the tree. We tried to set it out of reach. One year we wrapped large boxes and used them as decoration at the base of the tree, making it impossible for a toddler to get close enough to cause trouble. I'd like to do that with the trees this year because a kitten is almost more trouble than a toddler. However, boxes would not keep the kitten away.

"Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which Jehovah God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, Of the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat." Genesis 3:1-6 (ASV)

One of the hardest questions asked by non-believers is "Why would God put the fruit tree in the middle of the garden and then tell Adam and Eve not to touch?" They argue that it is not the serpent doing the tempting here, but rather God himself, and they can't believe in such a being. I know some folk choose not to put things in their homes, like Christmas trees, because they don't want to risk the problems that come with children and animals around. I have to admit that we lost some balls over the years, but it was worthwhile. We enjoyed the tree and the children learned that some things should not be touched.

There were two fruit trees in the middle of the garden – the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve could touch the tree of life; as a matter of fact it was that tree that would keep them alive in the garden. The untouchable tree was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

As we walk through this Advent garden, we see that God has given us all things. He even gave Adam and Eve a tree they should not touch because in doing so they would create a chasm between themselves and God that they would be unable to cross. And yet, even as Adam and Eve were eating the fruit of that tree, God already had a plan to restore their relationship. This Advent we wait, once again, for the coming of the Savior, the child to be born in Bethlehem. We can be reminded when we look at our Christmas trees that even when things are there to tempt us, God's promise of forgiveness is true. Thanks be to God.


December 3, 2005

The Giving Tree  One of my favorite children's books is a story called "The Giving Tree." This book is written and drawn by Shel Silverstein, an author specializing in poetry for children. Even though he writes for the young, his books are read by the young at heart no matter their age. His poems are often silly or whimsical, some of them do not make much sense, but they all have a message – a lesson to be learned.

"The Giving Tree" is the story of a tree that loved a boy. The story begins when the boy is young and playful and follows his life until he is an old man. It is a story of sacrificial love, for the tree is willing to give the boy anything he needs, and the tree is happy when the boy's needs are satisfied. When the boy was young, he used to play beneath the branches of the tree every day, gathering leaves, climbing the trunk, hanging from the branches. He would eat her apples and sleep in her shade. It seemed as though he loved the tree as much as the tree loved the boy. And they were happy. As the boy grows older the story takes a sad note because the boy becomes greedy, demanding and is no longer happy. He stops playing beneath her branches and finds love elsewhere. When he is penniless, she gives him her apples to sell. When he is homeless, she gives him her branches to build a home. When he wants a boat to sail away from his problems, she gives him her trunk to build a boat. She just wants him to be happy, but none of those things make him happy. Finally when the boy is an old man he returns and the tree has nothing left to give. "I am just an old stump." But the boy did not need anything except a quiet place to rest. Even to the end the tree had something to give – he sat on her stump to rest. And the tree was happy.

Trees often have a central role in the stories of God. Abraham planted a tree (Genesis 21:33), Absalom's head got caught in a tree (2 Samuel 18), Elijah rested under a tree when he was fleeing from Jezebel (1 Kings 19) and the furnishings of the temple are made of acacia wood (Exodus 25). Jesus calls Nathaniel from under a tree and he curses a fig tree for not bearing fruit. And of course, Zacchaeus climbs the sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Jesus.

"And he entered and was passing through Jericho. And behold, a man called by name Zacchaeus; and he was a chief publican, and he was rich. And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the crowd, because he was little of stature. And he ran on before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, He is gone in to lodge with a man that is a sinner. And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord, Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have wrongfully exacted aught of any man, I restore fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, To-day is salvation come to this house, forasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:1-10 (ASV)

The mighty tree has so many uses both living and dead. A living tree bears fruit and provides protection. A tree that has been cut provides wood for our homes, paper for our books and a multitude of other products that make our lives better. I doubt the trees are 'happy' as was the tree in Shel Silverstein's book, but God is certainly glorified by this most incredible creation. And as they say, "Only God can make a tree."

Zacchaeus climbed into the branches of a tree to see Jesus and the tree happily lifted him up. Though Zacchaeus was a sinner, Jesus saw him in the tree and invited himself to dinner at his house. There Zacchaeus heard about the love and mercy of God and by God's grace he was saved. Ironically, this same Jesus who called Zacchaeus from out of the tree climbed on to his own tree – the cross – so that the forgiveness Zacchaeus knew from that day was more real and perfect through the blood of Christ. As we walk through Advent, seeing all sorts of trees – from the brightly lit Christmas trees in our homes to the barren trees in the bitter winter – we can see God. Like that tree in "The Giving Tree," even though we are greedy and demanding sinners who don't know how much He loves us, God gave everything – including His Son – for our sake, so that we can be truly happy. Thanks be to God.


December 4, 2005

Vine  Our item of creation today is the vine. Now, when Jesus spoke of the vine, he was usually referring to a grapevine, a plant that few of us have had any direct experience growing. We might enjoy a glass of wine occasionally and I imagine not a few of us have visited a winery or two in our lives. Yet, I don't expect that there are many vineyard owners in the reading audience.

I did some research about vineyards, since it is an example that Jesus often uses in the scriptures. Of course, Jesus' audience might be more familiar with vineyards because it was a different time or place. Jesus' friends and family could not go to the local grocery store or wine shop to purchase wines from all over the world. We also have far more drink choices. They did not drink water because it was unhealthy. Fermented drink was the best thing because the impurities were killed in the fermentation process. The wine they drank would most likely have been locally produced, on a vineyard that the people would have passed on a regular basis. When Jesus, or any of the prophets, spoke about vines, they were familiar enough to understand.

As I was reading some websites about vineyards, I realized that creating wine is a very difficult process. The grapevines take a great deal of tender loving care, and patience. It usually takes three years to produce fruit, with some vines barren up to six years. The vines should be carefully pruned and trained to grow along a trellis or wires. Wine grows best in the dirt that other plants dislike – rocky hillsides with low yielding soils. It costs a lot of money to start a vineyard and takes many years before a vintner even sees a return on his investment. It takes many vines to make one good bottle of wine. It seems strange that such difficult agriculture would be the example that Jesus would use when talking about the relationship between God and His people.

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh it away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he cleanseth it, that it may bear more fruit. Already ye are clean because of the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; so neither can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for apart from me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; and so shall ye be my disciples." John 15:1-8 (ASV)

Though we are not familiar with grapevines or with vineyards, these are the perfect type of fields to use as an example of God's relationship with His kingdom. After all, aren't we all difficult to tend? Aren't we like that low yielding soil, full of rocks and like a steep hillside? We take careful pruning and it takes a long time for us to produce good fruits. Yet God, the faithful vineyard owner cares for us lovingly and with patience, working the soil, pruning us perfectly. And like the vineyard, it takes far more than one person to produce the good works God has called us to do in this world.

Jesus says that He is the vine and we are His branches. In a vineyard it is hard to discern which branches come from which trunk, as they weave together over the years. So too do we grow together as we share our life of faith in the vineyard. However, we will not live or produce fruit if we are cut away from the vine. We are called into fellowship with Christ and with one another, working together to share God's kingdom with the world. As we look at the vine this Advent, we are reminded that we do not live in faith alone, but rather we are woven together with Christ and with other Christians to glorify God with the fruit we produce. Thanks be to God.


December 5, 2005

Olive  There is a commercial on the radio starring a single man living in an apartment building with plenty of pretty single girls. The narrator announces that this poor guy forgot to stop buy the local convenience store to get drink and snack supplies. Suddenly there is a knock at the door and standing on his doorstep is the pretty model from down the hall and she is thirsty. All he has is tap water so she is disappointed. The announcer says that she will tell all her friends and he'll never have a date with a pretty model again. All this happened because he did not stop at that convenience store.

Our hospitality nightmares probably don't have such dire consequences. When I know company is coming I buy so much food that we could never eat it all. I want to ensure that my guests will be able to find enough to eat that they enjoy and are satisfied. This often means making a bigger variety than usual, especially when I don't know taste preferences. It would be a different story if I did not know the company was coming, but even then I probably could find something to eat. At the very least I could manage some canned fruit and a peanut butter sandwich.

There are those, however, that having company drop in might be a sacrifice. There are too many people who are barely earning a living wage. They can't feed their own family let alone a guest. Feeding a stranger might just mean starving a child.

"And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land. And the word of Jehovah came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Sidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow there to sustain thee. So he arose and went to Zarephath; and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks: and he called to her, and said, Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink. And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thy hand. And she said, As Jehovah thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in the jar, and a little oil in the cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said; but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it forth unto me, and afterward make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith Jehovah, the God of Israel, The jar of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that Jehovah sendeth rain upon the earth. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days. The jar of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of Jehovah, which he spake by Elijah." 1 Kings 17:9-16 (ASV)

The widow feared for the life of her child, knowing that if she fed Elijah her son would go hungry. She was preparing their final meal – a meal made from the only flour and olive oil left in her home. She had no money to purchase more, even if there were more to purchase. The entire region was enduring a famine, there was no rain to grow the crops and everyone was suffering. Elijah asked her for her last loaf of bread, perhaps the last loaf in her village.

Elijah asked her to have faith that God would provide. The drop of olive oil and handful of flour never ran out and the three were satisfied until it rained again. They ate bread for many days on the promise of God. The olive tree is our creation reminder today. When we look at the olive tree we see God's gracious generosity and our call to share all that we have. When strangers or friends come to our door, we need not worry about sharing all that we have because God has provided it to us for just such a moment. Thanks be to God.


December 6, 2005

Noise  We are all familiar with the great questions. "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" "What is the meaning of life?" "Why did the chicken cross the road?" Of course, that last one is a joke, but even as a riddle the question leaves us thinking. I've seen a long list of humorous answers as well as an even longer list of similar questions. "Why didn't the Lutheran cross the road?" The answer, of course, is that he did not like change. Some of the questions make us laugh, while others are designed to make us think. They are questions that seek truth or define what is real. They might seem silly, but to those that seek to know they are a jumping point for deep discussion or debate.

Our question for this sixth day in Advent is, "If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear, does it make a sound?" On one hand the answer is yes, because the sound waves will be created whether or not there is anyone to receive them. On the other hand, without the receptor, is it really sound? These questions can keep you running around in circles.

When we visited the great redwoods in Northern California, I heard a description of the sound made by a falling tree. Of course, the great redwoods are huge and when they fall the earth trembles beneath their weight. In one grove we visited, a park ranger was pointing out a tree that was newly fallen. She said that it had gone down just a few nights before during a storm. It seems impossible that a tree so large and strong could be blown over by a gust of wind, but that is what happened. The earth was water soaked and the shallow roots just couldn't hold on. She said that the sound was frightening, a loud cracking and then a deep thud. Trees make other sounds also. Have you ever heard the wind whistle through the branches?

Even though those sounds might be creepy or spooky on a dark night, nothing would compare to hearing a tree shout for joy. In movies like "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Lord of the Rings" trees are given personalities and the first impression of the characters upon hearing them talk is fear. I can talk about my trees singing in the spring, but I would not expect them to make a sound. Yet, the scriptures tell us that when Christ returns, even the trees will should.

"Oh sing unto Jehovah a new song: Sing unto Jehovah, all the earth. Sing unto Jehovah, bless his name; Show forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples. For great is Jehovah, and greatly to be praised: He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols; But Jehovah made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him: Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Ascribe unto Jehovah, ye kindreds of the peoples, Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength. Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name: Bring an offering, and come into his courts. Oh worship Jehovah in holy array: Tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, Jehovah reigneth: The world also is established that it cannot be moved: He will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; Let the field exult, and all that is therein; Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy. Before Jehovah; for he cometh, For he cometh to judge the earth: He will judge the world with righteousness, And the peoples with his truth." Psalm 96 (ASV)

Advent is not just a time for looking forward to the birth of the baby Jesus, but it is also a time to look forward to the coming of Jesus in glory. In that day, whenever it shall occur, all of creation will rejoice. The trees will sing out for joy. The thought of such an event might bring fear to our hearts, for Christ will come with power and authority beyond anything we can imagine. The world will be turned upside down and things will never be as they were. He will come as judge. Yet, we do not wait in fear but rather hope because the coming of our Lord is the fulfillment of all His promises. The singing trees will be just one sound in the symphony of peace for which we long. Thanks be to God.


December 7, 2005

Streams  We built a pond in our garden in our back yard. The garden is beautiful, but we were never able to get control of the pond. Due to its distance from the house, there is no electricity available to put in a pump. To keep the pond clean and clear, it is best to have moving water. Motionless water gets stagnant, dirty and even poisonous. We thought about putting fish in the pond, but we knew that without a pump to make the water flow the pond would be an unhealthy environment and the fish would not live well.

My grandmother owned a rather large tract of land that we used to visit when I was young. At the back edge of the property was a stream. It was about twelve feet wide and ran rather swiftly. Though there were some deep pools along the way, it was a shallow creek with lots of rocks. I enjoyed sitting there on a warm summer day with a book. The sound of the running water was calming and I always felt at peace when I was there.

Though it was a rather shallow creek, fish definitely made their home there. Sometimes I ran across someone fishing and I remember seeing a man catch a pretty good sized fish one day. It seems odd that the fish would survive in such shallow water, especially since it was so fast moving. Yet, there were just enough deeper pools where the water runs more slowly and the fish have places to hide. The water teemed with life because it was a healthy environment, a place created to sustain the fish and other creatures that lived where the creek flowed.

There are many different types of water in the world. We have oceans, lakes, rivers, ponds, creeks and puddles. There are also human created bodies of water such as reservoirs, swimming pools, sewage containment and fish hatcheries. The drainage ditches in Texas fill with water when it rains, only to run off or flow into the ground. Some of the bodies of water are suitable for fish, others are too polluted or are naturally unable to sustain life.

"Behold, a day of Jehovah cometh, when thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall Jehovah go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle. And his feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east; and the mount of Olives shall be cleft in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south. And ye shall flee by the valley of my mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azel; yea, ye shall flee, like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah; and Jehovah my God shall come, and all the holy ones with thee. And it shall come to pass in that day, that there shall not be light; the bright ones shall withdraw themselves: but it shall be one day which is known unto Jehovah; not day, and not night; but it shall come to pass, that at evening time there shall be light. And it shall come to pass in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the eastern sea, and half of them toward the western sea: in summer and in winter shall it be. And Jehovah shall be King over all the earth: in that day shall Jehovah be one, and his name one." Zechariah 14:1-9 (ASV)

The ancient Christians used the fish as a sign of their faith. The fish comes from the Greek word for fish which also spell out the first letters of the Greek words for "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior." As we look at the streams of living water, like that creek behind my Grandma's house, we are reminded that Christ is the living water that sustains our faith. We are like those fish, living in a world that is not always safe, but we can rest in the promises of God. While we wait the coming of the Lord, we look forward to the promised Day that will be both frightening and full of joy. Our Advent journey leads us ever closer to the moment when Christ will come to reign forever, to judge the world and to be worshipped by all of creation for eternity. Thanks be to God.


December 8, 2005

Landscaping  It is interesting to look at the landscaping of the homes in our neighborhoods around town. I my own neighborhood, the landscaping was designed by one company, so the houses – though different – are very much the same. The landscaping company used similar plants with similar purposes. The type of planting was dependent on the style of home, to enhance the features of the house. A home with a large porch, for example, has plants that grow low to the ground while the homes with no porch have larger bushes. Every home has two trees, one to line the road to give consistency to the neighborhood and the other in the yard to eventually to provide shade for the home.

In older neighborhoods that landscaping is more individualized. The homeowners have had the chance to choose plants that fit their needs and tastes. Some folk choose to have manicured lawns with formal gardens. Other homeowners prefer large trees and wildflowers. Some landscaping is designed to enhance the qualities and hide the defects of the house. Many people will plant tall bushes to hide air conditioners or grow vines to highlight arches. The landscaping serves a purpose besides being beautiful.

God's creation has often been used as a hiding space. Deer hide in the thicket to be protected from predators. Birds hide in the trees to be safe from inclement weather. Children play hide and seek by crawling into the bushes or standing behind the trunk of a large tree. Criminals take advantage of the landscaping to hide from their illicit activities. A mother used papyrus grass to protect her child when his life was threatened.

"And there went a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived, and bare a son: and when she saw him that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when she could not longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch; and she put the child therein, and laid it in the flags by the river's brink. And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him. And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river-side; and she saw the ark among the flags, and sent her handmaid to fetch it. And she opened it, and saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews' children." Exodus 2:1-6 (ASV)

God's creation serves many purposes. The plants and trees help keep the air and the water clean. The provide food for animals and people, shade for those who are hot and tired. God's creation even offers a place for people to hide – for both good and bad reasons. In the case of Moses, the papyrus grass was a haven from certain death at the hands of Pharaoh. God provided the hiding place where Moses' mother could place the child – a place where he would be found by someone who would care for him. In this small act, Moses' mother and the daughter of Pharaoh set in motion God's plan to have Moses in a position to grow into the man God ordained him to be.

When we look at God's creation on this eighth day of Advent, we should remember that God's creation is not only given to us to use and abuse. God has a plan even for the bushes and trees that surround our homes and neighborhoods. Every blade of grass, as meaningless as it may seem, was designed with a purpose in mind. If God would go to so much trouble for something as seemingly insignificant as papyrus grass, what must He have in mind for each of us?


December 9, 2005

Grain  Grain is a vital part of our life. Grain feeds the animals we eat such as cattle and poultry. Few of us go through a day without some form of grain in our life. We eat bread, use the oils that are taken from the grain not only in our food but in other products. For some cultures, grain products are a majority of their subsidence, as grain is usually easy to grow and takes less maintenance to produce a crop. Of course, even grain has its risks – poor weather or a plague of insects can destroy a field. However, most communities can produce at least enough on which to live.

Grain is easier to farm because of the way it is seeded and harvested. With some seeds it is important to specially prepare the field, laying out rows so that the fields can be weeded regularly. It is important that the seeds not be planted too close together. Just a few days ago we saw how difficult it is to tend a vineyard. A wheat or corn field can be planted and almost ignored until harvest time. The farmer should check the field regularly for water, insects and other problems, but grain plants do not need to be pruned or weeded. When it comes to planting, the seeds do not need to be buried – they can simply be scattered. At harvest time, the plants are cut down, gathered and separated unlike other plants that have fruit that needs to be carefully removed from the stalk or vine.

In our modern age, planting grain has become very simple. Specially designed equipment makes it easy to scatter the seed over a large field. They can cut a field and collect the grain in a matter of hours instead of days. There is even a special machine that can drive through a field of cut wheat and turn over the stalks so that the straw will dry more quickly. In ancient times, all these tasks had to be done by hand with only the help of a strong animal pulling the plow.

Since grain is an important part of daily living, not only today but throughout the history of man, Jesus used stories about grain and farming to illustrate the Kingdom of God. Though we have modern conveniences, we can listen to these very same stories and understand the concepts Jesus was trying to convey. We still have the same needs for grain and the fields still grow the same as they did two thousand years ago.

"And he spake to them many things in parables, saying, Behold, the sower went forth to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured them: and others fell upon the rocky places, where they had not much earth: and straightway they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And others fell upon the thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked them: and others fell upon the good ground, and yielded fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He that hath ears, let him hear." Matthew 13:3-9 (ASV)

Of all God's creation, perhaps grain is the one thing that most directly touches our lives. Nearly everything we eat relies on grain products in some way. Many other aspects of our daily living is dependent on grain in some way. Perhaps that is why Jesus included in His prayer "Give us this day our daily bread." He was not only asking God to provide a loaf of bread to eat; He was referring to everything that sustains us in life. Grain was a significant part of Jesus' teaching, showing through His parables both the advantages and disadvantages of this vital part of creation.

In today's parable, we see that the easy method of planting the seed – by scattering – means that there is some loss. Some grain seeds are devoured, some wither and some are choked by weeds. Yet, even though some are lost, the field still produces far more than what was invested. During this Advent look at God's creation, we see in the grain – whatever form – so many aspects of our life of Christian faith. We are reminded that we are called to pray to God in supplication and thanksgiving for everything we need. We see that as we give our faith to the world some of the seeds we hope to be planted will be lost. We also see that God provides an abundance without much help from us. Thanks be to God.


December 10, 2005

Growth  One day when we were traveling in England, I noticed a field of large flowers. The bottoms looked much like the leaves found on carrot plants but the tops were a lovely yellow flower. I checked with a friend who knows about flowers and she suggested the plants were either linseed or mustard. Since both are commonly used in British produced products, I was not surprised. The size of these plants was surprising however. No matter how often I heard the story of the mustard seed from the scriptures I never really did understand how a tiny seed could grow so large.

I doubt that most people have mustard seeds in their home, but I imagine just about everyone has some form of mustard in their refrigerator. My family goes through mustard so quickly that I keep at least one unopened package in the pantry just in case. We don't tend to make our own mustards, which take ground seed, vinegar or other liquids and some sort of ground grain product. Other ingredients can be added to enhance the taste, sour ingredients for a sour taste or sweet ingredients for a sweet taste.

Looking at the tiny seeds, can you imagine how many must be necessary to make the amount of mustard we use today? In fifteenth century Britain, it is noted that a household used eighty-four pounds of mustard seed in a year. That is compared to just three pounds of cinnamon and five pounds of pepper! It is thought that our modern recipe for mustard was first created by the Romans.

The seed is such a tiny part of the plant, especially when considering how large the plants grow in the field. When we were traveling, we saw acres of these yellow flowered plants, all standing several feet tall. The flowers on the stalks were large enough to hold perhaps a hundred seeds. Seeing those plants and considering the amount necessary to meet the needs of modern America, I can better relate to Jesus' parable.

"Another parable set he before them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is less than all seeds; but when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the heaven come and lodge in the branches thereof." Matthew 13:31-32 (ASV)

Mustard has a very strong flavor, so when I order a sandwich that will include mustard I specifically request a very tiny amount. Too much mustard overwhelms the taste of the other ingredients. Yet, I have noticed that many people smear large quantities of mustard on their sandwiches. According to one website I visited, some people even eat bread with mustard alone.

It is amazing how one little seed can give so much. Jesus describes the mustard plant as being like a tree. Though I am sure this is an exaggeration, the plant is much bigger than you might expect. Certainly as we look at the mustard products that are used worldwide, we can see that a tiny thing like a mustard seed can certainly be much larger than it appears. As we enjoy the Christmas season all around us, perhaps even enjoying some treats with mustard, we can be reminded of this parable from Jesus in which He tells us that the smallest amount of faith can grow into something huge. Mixed with other ingredients, like community fellowship, worship and study, that tiny seed of faith will be enjoyed by many people and God's kingdom will grow. Thanks be to God.


December 11, 2005

Wildflowers  Someone once said a weed is just a wildflower that is growing in the wrong place. After all, many of those plants we try to remove from our manicured lawns is nothing more than a wildflower – an uncultivated flower or plant. Clover is lovely covering a meadow, but it is annoying to the neighborhood gardener. Even dandelion has a certain beauty – every child sees it when they pick those flowers for mom – but we hate to see them in the yard.

Poinsettias are a wildflower. Or perhaps we should call them a weed. That may be difficult to believe considering we spend hundreds of millions of dollars every Christmas season to put them in our homes and to decorate the sanctuaries in our churches. Yet in Mexico they grow alongside the road. Of course, the poinsettias we buy are now hybrids, carefully bred to produce blooms of many different colors and shapes. I even saw a plant this year that looks like a mini tree. The stem looks like a trunk and the blooms have been shaped into a round ball on the top of the trunk. It was a beautiful plant and it is impossible for me to see them as weeds.

Poinsettias were discovered by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. He was interested in botany and while wandering in the countryside of Mexico he found a large bush with red flowers on the side of the road. He took a cutting and began growing the flower at his South Carolina home in 1825. A professional nursery in Pennsylvania was the first to sell Poinsettia plants. In 1997 alone, 60 million pots of poinsettias were grown. Tomorrow is National Poinsettia Day in the United States. These are all fascinating facts about what is nothing more than a wildflower – a weed.

There is a lovely legend about the poinsettia. It is said there was a girl named Pepita, a poor Mexican girl who had no gift to present to the Christ child. On Christmas Eve, the worshippers gave gifts to Jesus at the church. She was very sad, but her cousin Pedro said, "Even the smallest gift, given in love will be acceptable in Jesus' eyes." So she knelt by the side of the road and gathered a bunch of weeds – wildflowers – which she made into a bouquet. She fought tears because she knew that these were not worthy of the Lord, but as she took the bouquet to the front of the church the weeds were transformed into beautiful bright red flowers. The other worshippers knew they'd witnessed Christmas miracle. The plants are now called, "Flores de Nocha Buena" or "Flowers of the Holy Night" because they bloom each year during Christmas.

"Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment? Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life? And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Matthew 6:25-34 (ASV)

During this Advent journey we have looked at many different types of plants and the ways in which they can remind us of the grace of God. During the Christmas season, it would be difficult to miss seeing one of the beautiful poinsettia plants because they are everywhere. Most of us have probably even purchased one for our own home or as a gift for someone else. We see them as beautiful and find it difficult to believe that they were at one time nothing more than weeds on the side of a road.

We aren't much more when you think about it. We are unworthy and have nothing worthwhile to give to the Christ child as a gift – even those who are wealthy have nothing of value to give to Him. Yet, Christ came not to receive our gifts, but as the greatest gift. He came to give His life for us and through Christ God sees us as more than weeds. He transforms our lives, like He transformed the bouquet of weeds for Pepita, and makes us heirs to the Kingdom of heaven. He provides us with all we need and everything we have is His. As we look at the poinsettias, we are reminded that we need not worry about tomorrow because God loves us enough to provide enough for the day even though we do not deserve to receive anything from His hand. Thanks be to God.


December 12, 2005

Perfume  Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? I still have a few things to purchase before I will consider my work complete. I am mostly concerned with filling the children's stockings. It isn't an easy task, especially since the children have gotten older. When they were children I could buy a few small, cheap toys or a candy bar to put in there. Now that they are teenagers, their interests are much different. While many of their gifts would fit into the stocking, they are much more expensive – instead of matchbox cars, Zack wants video games and instead of crayons Vicki wants scrapbooking supplies.

One of the things to purchase as a Christmas gifts are fragrances. Look at the aisles of any of the stores and you will see islands filled with different gift boxes or baskets filled with lovely smelling things. Many of those items would fit perfectly into a stocking, like perfume, body lotion or potpourri. Lavender sachets and sample sized shower gels are fun to discover on a Christmas morning. Candles and fancy soaps have long been exchanged between friends.

Aromatic items are not only perfect for Christmas gifts, but they are also purchased around Christmas for decoration. Many people who would not use candles during the rest of the year are sure to have some handy for their holiday table or to decorate their nativity scene. This is true not only because candles give a rosy glow to a room during a party, but because many of the candles have a lovely scent. Every year it seems like the candle manufacturers have discovered a way to scent their candles with our favorite smells. Bayberry, pine and vanilla have been around for years. Now you can even buy candles with the scent of sugar cookies, pumpkin pie or coffee. You can find fruit flavors, flower flavors and natural flavors. There is ocean breeze and rain. I even saw a candle named, "Snow."

The tradition of using fragrances goes way back into history. Lavender was tossed on the floor of Medieval homes to cover the smells of the animals that lived inside with the family. Embalming materials included scents to overcome the smell of death. Incense has been used in religious ritual since the beginning of time. Some scents are very expensive, some are very pleasant. Some of our memories are even tied to dreadful smells. Even though the sense of smell is such an important aspect of our life, it is still a wonder that one of the first Christmas gifts was frankincense.

"And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship him. And they, having heard the king, went their way; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and worshipped him; and opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way." Matthew 2:8-12 (ASV)

The giving of gifts at Christmastime comes from several different traditions. The story of Santa Claus evolved from the stories surrounding St. Nicholas. Many of our personal traditions have roots in the stories of our own families like the giving of handmade ornaments in our family. All these traditions point back to the story of the wise men visiting the Christ child in the Gospel of Matthew. When they found the child in Bethlehem, they knelt before Him and offered Him the best gifts. They might seem like strange things to give a child – gold, myrrh and frankincense – but each has a symbolic meaning. The gold reminds us of wealth and royalty and though Jesus was quite poor, He was the Son of the King, God Himself, and first born of the Kingdom of Heaven. Myrrh was used as oil for anointing the bodies of the dead and reminds us of Jesus' humanity and death. The frankincense is a very expensive aromatic incense that was used in worship – showing us that even the Gentile wise men recognized Jesus as the incarnation of God.

As we smell the scents of the season and look at the Christmas presents gathering under the Christmas tree, we are reminded of those first gifts that were given to Jesus. Through their offerings, the wise men showed us the character of Christ and His purpose in the world. As we consider these things this Advent, we are also reminded of the greater gifts given – the gifts from God, especially our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.


December 13, 2005

Birds  We like to feed the birds, so we have a couple of bird feeders around the yard. When we put food in the feeders, our yard becomes the party place of the neighborhood. We have counted as many as three dozen doves in our yard at one moment, along with a large number of smaller birds. I don't know how it happens, but a quiet yard suddenly gets filled with birds when they discover food has been put into the feeders. It is like one bird finds the food and calls all his friends to share.

Talking about birds reminds me of a story that has been shared all over the Internet. A man was on the side of the road with a large birdcage. A boy noticed that the cage was full of birds of many kinds "Where did you get those birds?" he asked. "Oh, all over the place," the man replied. "I lure them with crumbs, pretend I'm their friend then when they are close, I net them and shove them into my cage." "And what are you going to do with them now?" The man grinned, "I'm going to prod them with sticks, and get them really and so they fight and kill each other. Those that survive, I will kill. None will escape." The boy looked steadily at the man. What made him do such things? He looked into the cruel hard eyes. Then he looked at the birds, defenseless, without hope. "Can I buy those birds?" the boy asked. The man hid a smile, aware that he could be on to a good thing if he played his cards right. "Well," he said hesitantly, "The cage is pretty expensive, and I spent a lot of time collecting these birds, I'll tell you what I'll do, I'll let you have the lot, birds, cage and all for ten pounds and that jacket you're wearing." The boy paused, ten pounds was all he had, and the jacket was new and very special, in fact it was his prized possession. Slowly, he took out the ten pounds and handed it over, then even more slowly he took off his jacket, gave it one last look then handed that over too. And then (well, you've guessed it) he opened the door and let the birds go free.

"In the mean time, when the many thousands of the multitude were gathered together, insomuch that they trod one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. But there is nothing covered up, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. Wherefore whatsoever ye have said in the darkness shall be heard in the light; and what ye have spoken in the ear in the inner chambers shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pence? and not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not: ye are of more value than many sparrows." Luke 12:1-7 (ASV)

You probably know the rest of the bird story. The man is compared to Satan, the boy is compared to Jesus Christ. We are like those birds, but the price Jesus paid for us is much harder than a ten pound note and a beloved jacket. Jesus gave His life for ours, that we might be set free.

During this Advent journey, we can look at the birds of the air, especially those living in our neighborhoods enjoying the treats in our bird feeders, and remember the value that has been put on our heads. Though we aren't worth much more than those birds in the cage, Jesus willingly went the cross and gave His life for ours. He set us free, free from sin and death. Advent might be about waiting for the birth of Jesus, but in everything we look forward to His purpose and His work, which is ultimately the cross. Thanks be to God.


December 14, 2005

Hens  One of my most special memories of my dad happened when I was just a little child. My dad worked as a tow truck driver for many years. His work mostly took him to accidents, some of them fatalities or life and death situations. Most of the time when Daddy got a call, we watched him leave the house not knowing what sort of job was ahead of him. Sometimes, however, when he knew that the situation was not so bad, he would take us along for the ride. His tow truck was not always used to move cars, sometimes there were situations that required the heavy equipment to take care of a problem. The leverage could be used to lift heavy beams, telephone poles or trees that had fallen in inconvenient places. It was on this type of call we were more likely to be invited to ride.

One of those calls came when I was about five years old. A mother duck and her ducklings had been crossing the street. Mother duck waddled on ahead of her babies, they followed along without a care in the world. Unfortunately, the mother duck walked across a sewer grating. She was just large enough to be able to do so without falling through the holes. Her babies, however, were much smaller and they all ended up in the sewer. As soon as she realized what was wrong, she began making a fuss and the passing cars saw the upset duck. Someone called the police who tried to lift the grating, but it was too heavy to do so with human strength. There was no other means of escape, so they called my dad to lift the grating with his tow truck.

We've all heard stories of the sacrificial love of mother birds. Several years ago after a fire in the Northwest, a story circulated about firemen finding the charred remains of a bird. Underneath her wings were her chicks, scared but alive. A mother hen will gather her chicks under her wings at the first sound of danger, and the chicks no just where to go when they are afraid.

"Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." Matthew 23:36-39 (ASV)

Today's scripture is preceded by a long monologue by Jesus about the woes of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. They claimed to be faithful believers, doing all that God had commanded of them. Yet, in the midst of their self proclaimed righteousness, they were found to be hypocrites. They did not do what they taught and expected others to do. They sought the approval of men and the world. They were teachers of the Law but did not know God or His ways. They led people blinded by their own opinions and desires rather than guided by the Word of God. They were so blind they missed the Messiah for whom they were longing.

In missing the Messiah, they missed the salvation of God. They missed the miracle, they missed the blessings. They missed the mercy. Jesus shows His incredible love for His people – even the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees – in this passage. Even after a long monologue of woes, Jesus still gave them the chance to turn to Him. He wanted to gather His people under His wings like a mother hen but they did not even recognize that they were in danger. Instead they thought themselves in good standing with God. One day, however, even those who were blinded would see the light, they would see Christ as He comes again. When we look at the mother birds – ducks, hens or birds of the wild – we are reminded that there is a place where we can go for safety. Be warned, however, as the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees did not recognize the danger, we too will not turn to God if we do not realize how much we need Him. It is easy in the hustle and bustle of the holidays to forget that we are loved by God this much. Thanks be to God.


December 15, 2005

Rooster  We were shopping one day and I saw a picture of a rooster that was really cute. It was when we were preparing to move to Texas and the packers were already packing our boxes. The last thing I needed to do with that crew was add to their work with new purchases. Since there were stores near our new home I did not worry about it. I thought I could find similar pictures after we moved in.

No such luck. I went to the store a few weeks after we moved in but could not find those particular pictures. I didn't mind, but by then my family had decided I needed a rooster. They went out of their way searching for something cute for me to decorate my kitchen. I have to admit that I looked at a few things myself. As I shopped, I noticed that there were roosters everywhere, apparently a very popular creature to use for art and sculpture. My sister even got into the act and bought me an adorable little hinged trinket case shaped like a rooster. Suddenly I realized I had a half dozen roosters around my kitchen. It looked too much like I wanted to collect them. That's how those collections get started.

I've wondered why roosters are so popular these days. In the Chinese calendar we have been in the year of the rooster. Roosters symbolize aggressiveness and vigilance. They are certainly aggressive animals, which has made cock fighting very popular. In the west, roosters represent the morning since they act as an alarm clock for dairy farmers. In some cultures, chickens (a hen and a rooster) are present at wedding ceremonies; it is hoped that the rooster's crow will chase evil spirits away from the marriage couple. They also represent the hope that the newly wed couple will have many children.

There is Christian symbolism to the rooster also. In many towns, particularly in Europe or European founded cities, there is usually a church called "the Rooster Church." It is the Rooster Church because it has a metal rooster on the steeple, like a weather vane. It is not meant to be a weather vane, but rather stands as a reminder of Peter's denial of Christ at His trial.

"And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, that thou to-day, even this night, before the cock crow twice, shalt deny me thrice. … And as Peter was beneath in the court, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest; and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and saith, Thou also wast with the Nazarene, even Jesus. But he denied, saying, I neither know, nor understand what thou sayest: and he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. And the maid saw him, and began again to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. But he again denied it. And after a little while again they that stood by said to Peter, of a truth thou art one of them; for thou art a Galilaean. But he began to curse, and to swear, I know not this man of whom ye speak. And straightway the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word, how that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept." Mark 14:30, 66-72 (ASV)

It seems as though our life in Christ should be so easy, after all, Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. Life living in thankfulness for the forgiveness and grace of God would be marked by right living and praise in action. How much moreso should it have been for Peter who not only knew Jesus was the Christ, but also lived with Him, heard Him speak, ate with Him. We believe based on the Word, He had faith based on very real experience. How could he deny his Lord?

Yet, I wonder how often this Christmas season we've denied Him, too. How often have we chosen to say "Seasons Greetings" so as not to offend someone? How often have we picked Christmas cards with a non-religious theme just to keep a sort of peace? How often have we gotten so caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas that we have forgotten to take a moment to praise God for Christ or read the Christmas story to our children? The rooster might remind us of many things – aggressive behavior, morning or vigilance – but this Advent season it also reminds us of our denial of Christ. We, like Peter, don't always stand up for what we believe. Sometimes we even go out of our way to avoid sharing our faith. Thankfully, Christ came for sinners just like us, so the rooster also reminds us of the forgiveness Peter received despite his denial. Thanks be to God.


December 16, 2005

Dove  Today we consider the dove. A great many of the birds that congregate in our yard are doves. There are times when we have counted two or three dozen of the birds on the fence, waiting for their turn to feed. Though there are a few that create a ruckus when they are not getting their own way, most of the birds live peacefully, not only with each other but with other types of birds. I love seeing the small finches at the top of the feeder while the larger doves sit on the bottom or feed from the fallen seed on the ground.

I suppose others have observed this behavior from doves and that is why the dove is seen as a symbol of peace. Many organizations have incorporated a picture of a white dove in their logo or letterhead. I did a web search on the word 'peace' and Google came up with nearly two million pages. As I clicked in and out of these many pages, most of which were for organizations working for peace in the world, I saw many different doves. Some of the organizations were familiar and their work has earned the respect of the world. There were some organizations, however, that claimed a message of peace while promoting sick and disgusting pursuits. It seemed like the word 'peace' was used as a draw without a real desire to restore broken relationships and bring strangers together for the sake of others.

Doves are a popular figure in Christmas decorations and stationary. Every year we receive at least a few Christmas cards with a picture of a dove. I'm sure we've used them ourselves. Doves have additional symbolism to Christians; they are the creature of God's creation most referred to in the Bible. There are about four dozen references to the dove in both the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Often the dove represents the Holy Spirit and is a sign of God's power and anointing. In Noah's story, the dove is a symbol of safety and a new life.

"And he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; but the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him to the ark; for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: and he put forth his hand, and took her, and brought her in unto him into the ark. And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; and the dove came in to him at eventide; and, lo, in her mouth an olive-leaf plucked off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. And he stayed yet other seven days, and sent forth the dove; and she returned not again unto him any more." Genesis 8:8-12 (ASV)

Imagine what it must have been like for Noah and his family aboard that ark. They had been stuck on that boat we those animals for a long, long time. The weather was terrible, there was nothing to see. The only thing to do was take care of the creatures on board. I could understand completely if Noah and his family thought God had forgotten them. Feeling abandoned and living with only the hope that God would take care of them, Noah and his family had little to which they could look forward.

But God remembered Noah and his family and the rain stopped falling. Then the water seemed to recede. Eventually Noah sent out a raven, but the raven could not find a place to land. Then he sent out the dove. The first time there was nothing. The second time the dove came back with an olive leaf. Finally, the dove did not return. There certainly was hope and it would be time for Noah and his family to begin anew.

As we see the doves in our Christmas decorations and cards, we are reminded of many things. Peace on earth, goodwill toward men is a popular message at Christmastime and it often accompanies those pictures of doves. The dove also reminds us of God's presence in this world. The dove in Noah's story reminds us that God does not abandon us; He is faithful to His promises. There is a deeper sense of peace that comes from such knowledge, a peace that passes all human understanding. Thanks be to God.


December 17, 2005

Eagle  There have been stories in the news recently about people who have shot and killed bald eagles. Such a crime is punishable with up to four years in prison. The reason for such a stiff penalty is that besides being the symbol of American spirit and strength, the bald eagle is an endangered species. The number of bald eagles in the United States is measurable, and there are people who keep a record of these birds and where they are living. The bald eagle population has been growing because of the protection and one was recently spotted in Oakland, California – not in a zoo. Yet, there are some people who find some sort of pleasure in killing these magnificent birds.

I don't know how anyone could do such a thing. We saw a bald eagle at Six Flags while we were on vacation this summer. Even as he was calmly sitting in his habitat, unable to escape into the crowd, the eagle had an awesome appearance. I can't imagine how they must appear in the wild with the freedom to protect themselves. The bald eagle we saw was at least a yard long from head to tale, with large talons and a huge beak. Though I am definitely larger than the bird, I know he could cause me a great deal of pain. Of course, the people who kill these magnificent animals use powerful rifles, never even facing the danger of the eagle's talons or beak.

The eagle is symbolic of many things. They represent strength and freedom. In Native American tradition the eagle also represents vision. In other arenas, the eagle represents a great spirit, a state of grace that is reached through inner work, or the air. This symbolism comes from the characteristics of the eagle. The eagle soars high in the sky. He can see prey from far away and when he does, he swoops great distances at great speed to catch the animal. There is an incredible beauty in the flight of the eagle, awe inspiring to those who have seen. Of course, the bald eagle is just one type of eagle. There are hundreds of different birds of prey, most of which have similar qualities.

Eagles nest high on craggy mountains, in places impossible for predators to reach. This is to protect the baby eagles and ensure their young lives until they can fly. Unfortunately, this type of nest leaves little room for flight training. Other birds can jump out of their nests and fall safely to the grassy ground if they don't know how to fly. However, a baby eagle would plunge hundreds of feet into a rocky ravine or a rushing river. There comes a time when the baby birds have to fly, so the mother eagle pushes her babies one at a time out of the nest. If the baby bird does not fly, the mother swoops to catch him on her back before he can crash to the ground.

"Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard? The everlasting God, Jehovah, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait for Jehovah shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint." Isaiah 40:28-31 (ASV)

When we see the eagle, or any of the other magnificent birds of prey such as falcons or hawks, we are reminded of God's strength. The news stories about the people killing bald eagles tell us that even though they are magnificent and powerful creatures, they are vulnerable. So, too, powerful and strong human beings have some vulerability.

As babies, they are cast out of the nest in the hopes that they will learn to fly. Yet, the mother does not risk the baby's life. She is ready to catch him and lift him to safety. As we see pictures of eagles, or even catch a glimpse of a bird of prey in the sky, during this Advent journey, let us remember that God is there for us. He might push us out of the nest to make us fly, but He will not allow us to be smashed against the rocks. We will be raised on wings like eagles, the wings of God's power and strength. Thanks be to God.


December 18, 2005

Deer  We attend a church in the country. It is not quite a country church because we are surrounded by housing developments, but we have plenty of land, trees and critters running on our property. It is not unusual for the preschool children to find unusual insects, such as the walking stick that wandered onto our playground and the occasional scorpions that find their way into the church. There are plenty of ants, birds and other small creatures. There are even deer. We often arrive on a Sunday morning to see a herd of deer lying amongst the trees.

The deer are not friendly, but they are not afraid. They won't let you approach, but they rarely run away. Last spring we even discovered a mother deer had given birth to her baby in one of our unused fenced areas. She knew it was a safe place because people did not go into that area. Since it was fenced, her baby would not wander off, but she was still able to get in and out herself to go find food and water. Most predators would be unable to get in so she could leave for awhile knowing her baby was safe. I doubt she was ever far away, but she trusted her human cohabitants enough to place her baby in the confines of the fenced area.

This was a wonderful situation for the deer, but there was one problem. There was not fresh water available within the enclosure. The fawn was healthy enough to leave, so he or she received everything needed to sustain life. I suppose the mother's milk, dew on the grass and collected water provided just enough, but it seems to me the baby must have gotten thirsty. I often wonder about the other deer, as I'm not aware of any running water in our area. Yet the deer are numerous in our neighborhood so there must be enough somewhere. Perhaps they have to travel great distances to get a drink, a journey that would make them even thirstier.

"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, So panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? These things I remember, and pour out my soul within me, How I went with the throng, and led them to the house of God, With the voice of joy and praise, a multitude keeping holyday. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him For the help of his countenance. O my God, my soul is cast down within me: Therefore do I remember thee from the land of the Jordan, And the Hermons, from the hill Mizar. Deep calleth unto deep at the noise of thy waterfalls: All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me. Yet Jehovah will command his lovingkindness in the day-time; And in the night his song shall be with me, Even a prayer unto the God of my life. I will say unto God my rock, Why hast thou forgotten me? Why go I mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? As with a sword in my bones, mine adversaries reproach me, While they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God; for I shall yet praise him, Who is the help of my countenance, and my God." Psalm 42 (ASV)

I traveled to my sister's house for the weekend, a rather long drive. About halfway there I start to get thirsty, so I have to look for a place to stop and get a drink. Sometimes it is difficult – no easy access off and on to the highway or even no place available that sells drinks. By the time I find a good exit, I'm very thirsty and anxious to alleviate my thirst. Perhaps that is the way the deer feels when she gets to the stream after a long journey, especially the baby trapped behind the fence for days or even weeks.

We are on a long journey. Advent is only four weeks, but it seems to last forever. Though we've reached the fourth Sunday, Christmas is still a week away. For those of us longing to see Christ, every day, week or year seems like an eternity. So, we are panting in expectation for the water of life to be readily available to us. Though we wait, however, we also have that living water in the here and now. Our souls cry out to the Lord, just as that of the psalmist, but as we look at the deer in the field and forest we are reminded that our God is present even when we think Him most absent from our lives. Thanks be to God.


December 19, 2005

Humps  Have you ever watched someone prepare their car for a long journey? Have you ever done it yourself? No matter how hard we try to plan well and pack lightly, it seems that we always have something just a little too big to fit properly in the trunk of the car. We try packing everything one way, then we take it all out and try another way. Somehow we make everything fit, but we often end up choosing to leave behind something we wanted to take. I've seen cars on the highways packed to the roof, with more things tied down on top of the car, especially at this time of year. It is funny to pass by a car such as this with children sleeping on pillows cramped in the back seat by a huge pile of presents while suitcases dangle perilously over the edge of the roof.

Things weren't much different in Jesus' day, though they didn't have a motor vehicle with which to travel. Instead, travelers loaded all their things on the backs of camels, burdening them with tons of stuff. Even today people in Middle Eastern countries still use camels. The pictures are funny to see, because the camels carry so much stuff that the burden looks bigger than the animal. They are hearty creatures, however, and can carry that weight with little difficulty. They can go long distances with little water and though they might be slow burdened with so much stuff, they are strong and unrelenting. The only trouble comes when the camel driver takes the beast through a narrow passage – though the animal might fit, he can't get through with such a big burden on his back.

"The young man saith unto him, All these things have I observed: what lack I yet? Jesus said unto him, If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sorrowful; for he was one that had great possessions. And Jesus said unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And when the disciples heard it, they were astonished exceedingly, saying, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them said to them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee; what then shall we have? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath left houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit eternal life. But many shall be last that are first; and first that are last." Matthew 19:20-30 (ASV)

We've been that family with the car crammed so tight that we don't know how we will fit another thing. I remember when we moved from Spokane, Washington to England, we did it during the holidays. All our household goods had already been sent overseas and we had to pack our car with everything we would need for two adults and two small children for at least two months. We also had to ensure that we would be able to take everything on the airplane to England. The car was full when we left Washington. We planned our stops along the way so that we could visit some family. At every stop, aunts and uncles showered the children with presents that they were sure our children would love – large dolls, noisy cars and games that were cumbersome. We were able to make everything fit into two new steamer trunks we purchased, but our burden was heavy. It was hard getting everything to the airport, on the plane and then home from the airport at our new home in England.

As we consider the camel today, we are reminded that the burdens we bare make it difficult for us to get around. Heavy loads mean we will go more slowly and perhaps not fit through some of the doorways God has opened for us. This is why it is harder for a rich man to go to heaven, because it is harder for us with any sort of wealth – even if it is just a little bit – to let go of the things we have. We carry all sorts of things in our cars as we travel home for the holidays, but we also carry all sorts of things in our souls that make it difficult for us to let God be God. The camel reminds us of the burdens we carry and that Jesus has given us the grace to let go of our burdens, to take up His cross and to follow Him. Thanks be to God.


December 20, 2005

Lion  It is nearly time to take Felix for his annual exam at the veterinarian's office. It is an event I am not looking forward to experiencing, particularly after last year. Felix has never been a fan of the vet, though I'm sure most pet owners can say the same thing. There is something about the place. Perhaps it is the smell of so many different types of animals or the memory of the needles. Or it might have something to do with strangers touching and poking him.

Last year Felix rebelled. He did not want to get into the travel cage, but I managed to get him in. He wasn't particularly anxious on the way, though he cried as he usually cries when traveling penned in the box. He refused to get out of the cage in the vet's office, though eventually we did manage to get him out. He cried and growled; he hissed and crouched in a corner. Unfortunately, in our effort to take care of the business, it seems we made him even more upset. The more we tried, the angrier he got. Eventually he attacked, and when I grabbed him to give him comfort he bit me. It was a rather serious bite, the nearly went clear through my finger. The practitioners cleaned my wound and bound my finger and everything was fine. Felix did not get a very good exam last year, though we managed to give him his shots. Hopefully he will do much better this year.

Animals have natural instincts that sometimes help and sometimes hurt. In Felix's case, his natural instinct to protect himself meant he did not receive the proper care. Yet, that very instinct could save him if he were in a truly dangerous situation. Though Felix is not a lion, he is in many ways like the cats you might see in the wild. Though he has been domesticated, he has a similar nature. He has proven he can hunt; he managed to catch a bird once when he escaped outside for a time. He can take care of himself in many ways, just like the lions in the wild. Yet, I can't imagine myself having a wild lion as a pet. Felix is very loving, secure and happy to be in the presence of people. He doesn't even mind being kept in the house most of the time. Lions get nervous when trapped and are likely to attack.

"Then they came near, and spake before the king concerning the king's interdict: Hast thou not signed an interdict, that every man that shall make petition unto any god or man within thirty days, save unto thee, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions? The king answered and said, The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not. Then answered they and said before the king, That Daniel, who is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the interdict that thou hast signed, but maketh his petition three times a day. Then the king, when he heard these words, was sore displeased, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he labored till the going down of the sun to rescue him. Then these men assembled together unto the king, and said unto the king, Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians, that no interdict nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed. Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee. And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting; neither were instruments of music brought before him: and his sleep fled from him. Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions. And when he came near unto the den to Daniel, he cried with a lamentable voice; the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions? Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, and they have not hurt me; forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt." Daniel 6:12-22 (ASV)

When we hear the story of Daniel in the lion's den, we are reminded that we too face enemies. When the enemy is upset, like Felix was that day at the vet, he tends to attack with viciousness. Of course, while we can all name people whom we consider to be like enemies, every human being faces an even greater one. The adversary, the enemy of God, knows his time is limited in this world. Though in some ways he might rule, in the hearts of some men and in the circumstances that seem out of control, God is in charge.

Daniel was trapped in the den with hungry lions. It seemed an impossible situation for him. Yet, his prayers were heard and God sent an angel to help. I doubt any of us will ever find ourselves trapped in an actual lion's den, but we may be in situations that seem hopeless. Even when there seems to be no earthly hope for us, in Christ there is always hope. The lion reminds us that though we face difficulty, we have a Father who loves us and takes care of us. Thanks be to God.


December 21, 2005

Prey  You've heard it said, "They are fighting like cats and dogs." The relationship between these two animals has often been played up in stories and in film. Cartoons like "Garfield" and "The Looney Toons" play up the fact that dogs want to eat cats and cats have the freedom to get just close enough to annoy the dog and stay safe. The stories usually create real conflict when the dog gets free and begins chasing the cat in earnest. In the end, somehow everyone finds a way to get along.

This clash between cats and dogs is so popular in fiction that most people think that they can't get along together in real life. Yet, I have known many families that have had both cats and dogs. In some families, the animals get along very well, taking care of one another, even sleeping or playing together. We so often put human characteristics on animals that we naturally assume that cats and dogs are opposites and can't get along. Yet, cats are not really prey for dogs or vice versa.

Human beings are about the only animal that fights, and kills, for all the wrong reasons. Even lions, which are thought to be so wild and violent, will only kill when they are hungry or threatened. Even then, the killing is limited to only what is necessary for life. Unfortunately, that is not always true of humans. We hear horror stories of men, and women, who stalk after prey of a different kind – hurting the weak and innocent for all the wrong reasons, and often leaving waste in their wake. Human beings do not find satisfaction in 'just enough', we want more. We want everything our heart desires, so that often means causing unnecessary pain to others.

As we consider the relationships between all animals – like the wolf and sheep, goats and leopards – we might think that the sheep and the goat would not stand a chance against either the wolf or the leopard. However, in the right circumstances these animals could live in harmony – especially when they are all satisfied. The wolf and the leopard would have no need to kill the sheep or the goat if they are not hungry or threatened.

"And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of Jehovah. And his delight shall be in the fear of Jehovah; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins. And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea." Isaiah 11:1-9 (ASV)

God created a perfect world where everything and everyone lived in harmony. Human creatures brought sin into the world by rejecting God's Word and trying to be like Him. Through Adam and Eve's disobedience, even the animals had to live in a world where there is hunger and thirst, threats and danger. Even the animals are forced to live in conflict with one another.

Yet, there will come a day when the entire world is in harmony again. Even the wolves and the leopards will lie with the sheep and the goats. There will be no need for animals to kill, for even they will be satisfied by God's provision. In that day even human beings will live in harmony with one another. No longer will there be men and women who harm others for the sake of some unnatural desire. There will be no need for war or hatred. Everyone will know God and will live according to His Word. Then, and only then, will we know true peace. Our journeys through life are not always pleasant and the things we see around us are at times quite horrific. The news is certainly filled with stories that make our hearts sick with grief. But as we look at the animals and their prey, we can know that one day none of that will be necessary for the Lord God Almighty will rule over a creation that lives in peace. Thanks be to God.


December 22, 2005

Donkey  I was reading some information about donkeys and one comment caught my eye. "Donkeys prefer to do what is good for the donkey, which is not always what the human thinks is best." They are independent creatures, though they can be hard working and a benefit to human existence. Though the history of domestication is uncertain, donkeys seem to have come from the African wild ass, domesticated about six thousand years ago.

Donkeys have been used for many purposes. Donkeys were also used to trample seed into the field and to thresh the harvest. Donkey's milk is high in sugar and protein, so is very healthy to drink and use for food. They are beasts of burden, developed to help nomadic peoples move from place to place. Interestingly, the females (jennies) generally bear people while the males (jacks) carry the pack. The donkeys made it possible for whole families to move along with the flocks. Before donkeys, the men would follow the flocks and the rest of the family waited for their return. The tame donkey could be trained to be led on a halter or it could be trained to follow a particular path on its own.

Even with such abilities, the donkey is often seen as a joke. In the movie "Shrek" donkey is an overanxious, stubborn fool, constantly annoying Shrek and creating stress in the lives of everyone he meets. Though at times he tries to be a peacemaker, his peacemaking never quite catches hold. In other images, we see the donkey sitting on his hind while his master, if he can be called a master, pulls at the rope in an unsuccessful effort to make the donkey rise and walk. Usually the donkey suddenly decides he is willing to move and the master ends up flat on his hind.

Strange as it might seem, the donkey plays a very special and important role in the life of Christ. In the Christmas story, we see the donkey bearing Mary on their long and hard journey to Bethlehem. Some stories portray the donkey as kind and humble about the role he is to play. He takes care to move cautiously so as not to harm Mary or the baby. In the stories it is as if that particularly donkey knew it was given an awesome task. Jesus rode on another donkey later in life.

"And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and came unto Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village that is over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any one say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway he will send them. Now this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, Meek, and riding upon an ass, And upon a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did even as Jesus appointed them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their garments; and he sat thereon. And the most part of the multitude spread their garments in the way; and others cut branches from the trees, and spread them in the way. And the multitudes that went before him, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest." Matthew 21:1-9 (ASV)

When we look at the donkey, we see a humorous figure, a beast of burden, a loyal friend. In the Christmas story we see a quiet character whose burden was heavy but whose steps were light. It is not the way we would expect a king to travel, for the kings were more likely to be on a chariot with splendid horses. Yet, the donkey was not only the choice for his mother when it was time to go to Bethlehem, Jesus Himself chose to ride the donkey into Jerusalem on His victory tour. The people saw the donkey and recognized that the humble figure riding was exactly the one for whom they were waiting. We won't look forward at this moment to the passion of Christ, but on that first Palm Sunday, the humble donkey was the sign of the King.

The donkey reminds us that Jesus did not choose the biggest, the best or the powerful. He chose the humble and foolish to share His message. We are like those donkeys – the one that bore Mary and the one that bore Jesus – called to bear Christ into the world. When we think we are not good enough to take the Gospel to others, let us always remember that Jesus preferred the donkey and He has called us for a purpose. Thanks be to God.


December 23, 2005

Sheep  Some people use a special technique of counting sheep to go to sleep. The imagined sheep provide the person with a monotonous task that causes the person to almost go into a trance, leading to a deep and wonderful night sleep. I don't think this technique has ever worked for me, since the sheep start transforming into the things that are keeping me awake in the first place. However, some people insist that it works for them.

There is an advertising campaign on television that plays on this idea. A mattress company has created a herd of sleep sheep that find creative ways to stop people from buying that particular mattress. Supposedly the mattress is so good that the sheep are no longer necessary. The mattress put them out of a job. So, they try to cancel the sales, block the doorways of the stores and threaten the people who have bought the mattress. In one commercial, they go into the bedroom and look all pathetic, hoping that the people will take them back. There is always one sheep that is like the leader of the group, one that comes up with the ideas. The ideas never work, however. The mattress is simply too good. They are sheep without a shepherd and their life has become very difficult.

The lamb is an important figure in the story of Jesus. Throughout the Old Testament, God is seen as the Good Shepherd, and Jesus attributes Himself the same title. Lambs were vital to the temple rituals, as the slaughtered sheep provided the blood of atonement for the people of Israel. The Passover lamb was, and is, an important part of the remembrance of God's redemption of Israel. Even in Jesus' story, lambs were present, as the first people to hear of His birth were the shepherds in the field.

"And there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. And an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this is the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased. And it came to pass, when the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger. And when they saw it, they made known concerning the saying which was spoken to them about this child. And all that heard it wondered at the things which were spoken unto them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart." Luke 2:8-19 (ASV)

The lamb reminds us of many things. We are reminded of our need for a shepherd and that God is our Great Shepherd. The lamb reminds us of sacrifice made both in Old Testament times and especially by Jesus Christ. The lamb reminds us of the redemption that comes from God, from the gift God gave in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. John the Baptist proclaimed "See, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." Most of all at this time of year, the lamb reminds us of those who heard the story – humble shepherds in a field – and who went to see the child and share the good news with others. We are sheep of the Good Shepherd and we have seen His salvation in Christ Jesus. Let us go and tell the good news to all we meet. Thanks be to God.


December 24, 2005

Star  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Over the past four weeks we have looked at all that God created – flowers and trees, animals of every type. We've seen how God perfectly ordered His world that He is glorified in even the small, weak and foolish things of His creation. If we only take the time in our busy lives to look, we can see the handprint of God everywhere. This is not a belief that everything is a god, but rather that one true God is glorified by every aspect of that which He has created. We worship by recognizing His hand in the world and by praising Him for everything He has created.

I enjoy star gazing. Whenever I hear of an astronomical event like a meteor shower or a comet passing, I try to take the time to watch. It is often hard to see these things living in the city, because the light pollution blocks the light of the stars in the sky. We can usually see the major stars and find the constellations, but the stars in the sky are usually very easy to count.

It would have been much different for those living when Jesus was born. Since there were no electric lights or cars on the road, the night was dark and the stars were more numerous than can be counted. The closest I have ever come to seeing the sky as they might have seen it two thousand years ago happened when I was a youth. I was camping with the girl scouts on the top of a mountain. Since we were far from a city, we could see millions of stars. The constellations were even a little hard to locate because there were so many other stars to see.

In those days there were people who watched the sky for every little change. It was believed that changes in the sky were omens or signs. For some magi in the East, the sudden appearance of a new star one night meant the birth of a new king. They set off immediately and traveled great distances to find the king and worship him. They had some knowledge of prophecy in Hebrew scripture and believed they were looking for the king of the Jews.

"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise-men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we saw his star in the east, and are come to worship him. And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written through the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, land of Judah, Art in no wise least among the princes of Judah: For out of thee shall come forth a governor, Who shall be shepherd of my people Israel. Then Herod privily called the Wise-men, and learned of them exactly what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship him. And they, having heard the king, went their way; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and worshipped him; and opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way." Matthew 2:1-12 (ASV)

From the beginning of time the stars were used to tell time, understand the seasons and to be signs of greater things. This is how God created the heavens and the earth. Even today I often look to the sky in wonder and awe of God's magnificence. Yet, though He has created everything we see and everything beyond our ability to see, He is concerned about every blade of grass and baby bird. Even more so, He knows every hair on our head and every thought of our heart. When Jesus was born, God sent a star to guide strangers into Bethlehem to see and worship this new king. Such a minute detail reminds us how involved our Lord God Almighty really is in His creation. It is no surprise then that God would use His creation to reveal Himself in many other ways. We have seen it during the last four weeks. Now that Advent is over and Christmas has come, I pray that we will not forget to look for God in the world and to take Him with us wherever we go. Thanks be to God.


December 25, 2005

Man  There is one last creature to consider as we finish our Advent journey. Man. In the beginning man was the last creature to be created, but God created him in His image. In other words, man is most like God. Now we have spent generations trying to understand what this means. Most of the pictures of God put God in man's image – that bearded old man on a throne. Yet, the scriptures show God in a number of different ways, and even describe Him as a woman, a hen, a lion and a spirit.

Perhaps the most shocking image of all is the one we see in the Christmas story. We see God as He has come into the world – as an infant in a manger. Consider this – God came into our midst and was born a man, sent His Son to take on the flesh of humans to live and die for the sake of the world. It is shocking enough that He came in flesh. Even worse, He came as the son of Mary and Joseph. They were people of no import. He did not arrive as the son of a king or in a priestly household. Mary was very young, a virgin and her pregnancy was a source of gossip. We know little about Joseph except that he was a carpenter, probably not one of great wealth or position. Jesus was born into a world of political and religious upheaval.

The scriptures tell us little about the birth. He was born away from home as His parents needed to travel far to register for a census. He was visited by shepherds and strangers, otherwise the birth passed with little fanfare. The king felt threatened and killed a number of innocent children in an attempt to secure his own future. The child and parents ran to Egypt for a time, but eventually returned home. He was circumcised according to the rules of His ancestors and had an unusual experience in the temple when He was young. Other than the numerous visits of angels that came to proclaim His birth, there was nothing special about this child's life. And then we hear nothing until He turns thirty and begins His ministry.

So, at Christmas we are faced with the shocking image that God broke into the world – not as a white haired king to rule, but as an innocent and helpless child who lived and loved and learned about the world just like you and I. Yet that infant was far different. He was not another human, born into a cruel and chaotic world. He was, and is, the Word in flesh.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not. There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light. There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth. John beareth witness of him, and crieth, saying, This was he of whom I said, He that cometh after me is become before me: for he was before me. For of his fulness we all received, and grace for grace." John 1:1-16 (ASV)

All of God's creation was given for a purpose and as we look at the world in which we live we can see God being glorified by everything that was made. Yet, through it all God chose to redeem the world by taking on the very shape of the creature that has done the most damage – the one who was created in His image but turned away – man. God came in flesh to save the world.

So, while we see at Christmas the image of God in the manger, and adore the image of the baby in His mother's arms, we are reminded that the baby came for a purpose and glorified God in the most shocking and horrifying manner. While He did live and love and serve, He came to die. We who believe are taken into His image, recreated to be like Him as we were once created to be like Him. We are called to live, love and serve just as He did, but we do not need to die in the same manner. For death is no longer shocking or horrifying. It is just a new beginning, as we are welcomed by Christ through faith by grace into the eternal relationship for which we were once created in the beginning. Thanks be to God.

May you all have a merry and blessed Christmas. This may be the end of one journey, but it is just the beginning of another. I pray that we will continue to walk in the light of Christ and seek Him in all our circumstances, seeing Him in all that He has created and living to take care of that which has been given to us.


December 26, 2005

Ideas  I love to do devotionals based on a series of ideas, like the past few weeks of Advent. When I sit down to write I don't have to worry about whether or not I will find a topic for the day. When I plan to do a week based on a specific passage, like the lists of fruit or gifts, I am guaranteed something to say. When I am not doing a series, I spend a great deal of time thinking about the world around me and how it relates to our faith and the kingdom of God. It usually is not difficult – there are really so many ways we can see God's hand in the world.

Unfortunately, when I'm in the middle of a series, it seems like there are ideas everywhere. When I do see something that would be great to use, I think about writing it down so that it will be available when I have the freedom to use other ideas. However, I'm usually not near a pencil and paper and I think I will remember. I never do.

So, now I'm here on a day following a four week series of messages. I know that during the past twenty-five days I saw God's hand working in so many ways, yet I can't for the life of me remember any of the ideas. Of course, I never wrote any of them down, either. I suppose some of them would be old stories anyway and uninteresting to hear so long after the fact. Though I don't recall anything in particular, I do remember that the stories would have provided a good message for each of us.

It seems like this is typical of what happens to us all the time. We get so focused on one thing that we have difficulty hearing or seeing the other things that are happening around us. We watch TV and we ignore our neighbors. We get into a good book and miss what our kids are doing. We are so busy with church work that we forget to read God's Word or share the Gospel with the world.

"Now when they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. But they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon the Lord, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep." Acts 7:54-60 (ASV)

Throughout the Christmas season a great many people did a great many wonderful things for other people. Our church gave food to the food bank and presents to a number of families that they might have a nice Christmas. Others were overwhelmingly generous with gifts to charities and their neighbors. It is truly the season of giving. Yet, in the midst of all this generosity, I wonder how many people remembered to take time to pray, read God's word and focus on God. Even with the time I spent writing my normal daily, I don't think I spent nearly as much time as I should have with God. There were too many other things to accomplish.

It is good that we serve our neighbors and give generously throughout the year. Though our good works will never take us to heaven, service to others is how God has called us to live. Stephen, the first martyr, lived a life of service. He was selected to be the disciple who would lead other disciples in the care of those who needed Christian aid. He is a good example to follow. We should remember, however, that Stephen was not so caught up in the work of his task that he forgot to spend time with God. When he was martyred, he was as able to share the story of salvation as Paul or Peter or the best trained evangelists of our day. We are unlikely to face the same fate as Stephen, but we are called to live a similar life. It is not just a life of living in this day or doing a few things. It is a life lived in Christ every moment, not only in the way we serve, but also in the way we seek God. It is in the time we spend with God daily that we receive the strength to face our troubles. Thanks be to God.


December 27, 2005

Garbage  Today was garbage day, and a rather busy one for the garbage men. Since Christmas was on Sunday, there were extra large piles of garbage in front of many houses, including ours. We had several boxes from both Christmas gifts as well as items we'd purchased before the holiday. The can was full of extra paper and waste from all the partying we enjoyed. I felt bad as I watched them lift the heavy can to dump all my junk into their truck. Then they moved on down the street and did the same for most of my neighbors. It is a hard day for them, that's for certain.

I've always enjoyed watching the garbage men, though it might seem like an odd habit. I remember once when I was young, while I was waiting for my school bus I saw the garbage men doing their job. When they came to the house just across the street from my bus stop, I saw them go through the can and pull something out. It was a scale. Now, the scale most likely did not work any longer, or else why would someone put it into the garbage can? It didn't matter to the garbage men. They set that scale on the road and began weighing themselves. They laughed about it, picked up the scale and tossed into the back of the truck, then went on their way.

It is amazing what people throw out in the garbage. It is even more amazing that someone would be willing to root through someone's can to find a treasure or two. Yet, there is a man who goes through our neighborhood on garbage day and picks up many of the things we consider junk. I've seen him take worn out furniture, broken electronics and other things from the cans in our neighborhood. By the end of the day he has a full truck. I'm not sure what he does with his treasures, but he's often got to dig through a bunch of smelly garbage to find them.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and all that exists in our world. He created the trees, animals and even man. When all was complete, God said, "It is good." Created in the image of God, we are good. But we failed. We tried to usurp God's power and control; we tried to be like God. First it was Adam and Eve who failed, but we can't lay the blame only on them. We too are sinners.

"Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: According to the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions; And my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, And done that which is evil in thy sight; That thou mayest be justified when thou speakest, And be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity; And in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts; And in the hidden part thou wilt make me to know wisdom." Psalm 51:1-6 (ASV)

With Christmas barely over, it is easy to feel pretty good about ourselves. We had a lovely holiday. On top of piles of gifts we were able to give one another; we were very blessed to be able to do a great deal for others this season. It is tempting to boast about our goodness and generosity. Yet, those good deeds are no more than treasures found in a garbage can. We were created good in the beginning, but we failed, every one of us. We are all sinners in need of a savior – the Savior.

Our sin makes it harder on those around us – like our extra garbage makes this day more difficult for the garbage men. It might seem to us, and to the world, that we are good because of the wonderful things we have done this Christmas season, but we aren't. We are like the garbage in the garbage can. But God is like that guy, picking through the garbage and finding treasures. He goes into our hidden parts and teaches us His ways. He gives us faith and shows us truth. In knowing how filthy we truly are, we turn to Christ who makes us clean. It is only by His mercy and grace that there is anything worth rummaging for in our lives. Thanks be to God.


December 28, 2005

Innocent  There was a recent incident that involved some youth. A playground that is used by a preschool and daycare center was disturbed by someone to the point that it was unusable for the children. It took the teachers and caregivers a great deal of time to restore the playground so that it would be safe, taking away their necessary prep time. It did not appear that the destruction was vandalism, but rather foolish play of some kids a little too big for the toys. It was irresponsible because they did not report the damage or clean up their mess.

We tried to figure out who might have done this. We could pinpoint a time when the playground was clean and we knew that there was a group of youth in the area between that time and when the teachers discovered the mess. We assumed that they must have had something to do with the situation. As we questioned the kids and sponsors that were nearby, we realized that they really did not have the opportunity to do so much damage. We eventually found the culprit, but not until we blamed the wrong people.

This is certainly not the first time innocent people have been blamed for something someone else has done. Even worse is when someone decides to blame someone – and bring about punishment – for something that they did not do. In the case of Herod, he was afraid of what Jesus might do and so he took out his fear on others, hoping to remove the threat and save his position.

"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, Wise-men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we saw his star in the east, and are come to worship him. And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written through the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, land of Judah, Art in no wise least among the princes of Judah: For out of thee shall come forth a governor, Who shall be shepherd of my people Israel. Then Herod privily called the Wise-men, and learned of them exactly what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search out exactly concerning the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word, that I also may come and worship him. And they, having heard the king, went their way; and lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. And when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And they came into the house and saw the young child with Mary his mother; and they fell down and worshipped him; and opening their treasures they offered unto him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. Now when they were departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I tell thee: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. And he arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt; and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt did I call my son. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the Wise-men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the male children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the borders thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had exactly learned of the Wise-men." Matthew 2:1-16 (ASV)

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, the day we recall the horrific death of the children unfortunate enough to be in caught in Herod's fear. Herod thought that if he killed all the children, he would rid himself of his problem. Jesus was taken far away before Herod's men could come. Herod jumped to all the wrong conclusions – beginning, of course, with the fact that he though Jesus came to take away his throne. He assumed that he could win by removing any possible hurtle, like those poor children in Bethlehem.

We remember the Holy Innocents because they are a reminder that our sin touches others, at times those who do not have anything to do with our problems. We blame the wrong people for things that happen; we jump to conclusions that cause heartache and destruction to innocent people that just happen to be in our way. We may not be evil like Herod, scheming to keep our power and position and willing to have innocent children murdered, but we aren't much better. We run over innocents to get our way and blame others to make ourselves appear right and good. As we remember the babies, we see that our sin – which brought Christ into the world – reaches far beyond our world into the lives of many others.


December 29, 2005

Martyr  We often hear the story of St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, around Christmas. We hear his story because our image of Santa Claus – the jolly elf credited with giving gifts to millions of children on Christmas Eve – is loosely based on the fourth century saint. It is said that Nicholas gave a generous gift of gold to a family to save the daughter from slavery. The gold was to be used as a dowry. As the story is told, Nicholas threw the gold in the window of the home and it landed in a stocking or shoe – this is why we hang stockings for Santa to fill on Christmas Eve.

What we don't hear about is Nicholas as Bishop. While he was an incredibly generous man – it is believed he gave away everything he owned to the poor – he was also a man devoted to Christ. He did not concern himself with niceties or manners. He spoke the truth and confronted those who taught against the scriptures. He was involved with the Council of Nicea, and is said to have even slapped Arius for teaching that Christ was only a man.

There was another man unwilling to cave to the desires of the world or the opinions of the powerful was Thomas Becket. He was an important man in the court of Henry II. Henry thought he had a friend in the church when Becket was made Archbishop of Canterbury. However, Thomas was unwilling to cave on certain aspects of the faith and the practice of the Church. Henry wanted more control but Thomas refused. Thomas spent some time in exile in France but he met with Henry and returned home. Even after he returned, Thomas refused to do what Henry asked. Henry said, "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" In response, four knights murdered Becket at the high altar at Canterbury Cathedral, much to the consternation of Henry II. Henry ended up doing penance and Thomas Becket became a saint. Canterbury Cathedral has long been the destination of many pilgrims, people hoping to be blessed by a miracle at the tomb of this martyr.

"But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you through our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by epistle of ours. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word." 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 (ASV)

Some of the stories we hear about the saints are not necessarily true. Through the years their generosity and bravery has been exaggerated. Though the stories may be unbelievable, we can trust that they were men of faith who loved the Lord so much that they were willing to give of their lives for His sake. St. Nicholas's slap almost cost him his position as a bishop – not that it mattered to him. His only concern was that the faith be taught rightly and that Christians believed the Word of God.

Thomas Becket's faith did cost him his position in the court of the king and his life. Though it was a mistake, the king never meant for the knights to so cruelly kill Thomas, we are reminded by his death that standing up for truth can cost us everything. Unfortunately, a great many of us would rather create a false sense of peace by allowing disagreement and accepting other opinions and practices as truth. I don't know anyone that would slap another teacher for teaching heresy or who would stand up to warriors bent on violence because of one's faith.

This is the day we remember Thomas Becket, the martyr of Canterbury. He died at the hands of others who assumed that his death would be the best for the king, the country and for the church. The kind, the country and the church lost someone great that day, a man who would have continued to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world. We remember him because he was unwilling to give in to the world. He stood up for what he knew what was right and shines as an example we too can follow. Thanks be to God.


December 30, 2005

Year End  It is hard to believe that we have come to the end of another year. It seems like just yesterday we were thinking about the New Year and all its possibilities. Now we are at the end and are thinking about everything that happened. The news programs are filled with the best of, and the worst of, everything that is anything. They've talked about the politics, religion, weather and people that made the news in the past twelve months. They've talked about the good and the bad, the hopeful and the horrific.

And we certainly did have quite a year. We began 2005 with the aftermath of the tsunami in Asia and ended with fires in Texas. In between we faced too many hurricanes and other storms. We saw the death and destruction caused by natural disasters and human frailty. War, peace, death, life, marriage, divorce – we've seen it all. It seems like many of the stories this year ask the question, "Where did we/he/she/they go wrong?" The review of 2005 is filled with accusation and judgment. While it is true that many of our difficulties are the fault of a person or group of people, I wonder if it is helpful to spend so much time looking at what was wrong. Wouldn't it be better to think about what we should now do right?

As we come to the end of the year, I wonder if there are things from your own experiences that are being reviewed in the same way. Are you considering your difficulties this year and wondering who to blame? Instead of focusing on the past, shouldn't we be looking toward the future? If so, where do we start? Are there people who need to be forgiven? Are there relationships that need reconciliation? Jesus came to bring reconciliation between God and His people and in the forgiveness we have from the blood of Christ we are able to forgive those who have harmed us – including ourselves. Forgiveness brings reconciliation, and that is what the Lord desires for His Creation.

"But if any hath caused sorrow, he hath caused sorrow, not to me, but in part (that I press not too heavily) to you all. Sufficient to such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the many; so that contrariwise ye should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest by any means such a one should be swallowed up with his overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you to confirm your love toward him. For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye are obedient in all things. But to whom ye forgive anything, I forgive also: for what I also have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, for your sakes have I forgiven it in the presence of Christ; that no advantage may be gained over us by Satan: for we are not ignorant of his devices." 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 (ASV)

We are approaching another new year. The television news programs and other shows will look back on this year and remember the big events that have affected all our lives. This is not a bad thing to do, and we should probably spend some time looking back on our own lives. Are there relationships that need healing? Are there people who need forgiveness? Are there actions that need to be confessed so that you can be reconciled with those you love? We don't begin a new year by laying blame and casting judgment. It is much better to begin anew with forgiveness.

Paul was writing to the Corinthians about someone who had committed a serious offense against the people. They were quick to push that person away, to attack and punish him for his sin. We do the same when someone hurts us. It is so easy to jump on the bandwagon and continue negative responses to those who sin. Once we set ourselves on that path, it is difficult to turn it around. We don’t want anyone to think we are being tolerant of his sin or provide encouragement for similar actions. So, we hold fast to our pain and keep punishing those who sin. Yet, Paul tells the Corinthians to forgive this sinner. He says that the man has suffered enough. He tells them to comfort him and lift him up so that he won’t become depressed. What we do not realize is how quickly Satan will grasp onto our negative responses and use them to deceive God’s children and turn them away from the Lord. When we forgive, we keep our eyes on Jesus, knowing that He has forgiven us all our transgressions. Let us do the same before the end of 2005, so that we can be reconciled to all as we enter into a new year. Thanks be to God.


December 31, 2005