As I have enjoyed several Advent and Christmas services in recent weeks, I have also enjoyed many of the old hymns: "O Little Town of Bethlehem, Joy to the World, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Silent Night" and a number of others. It occurred to me that, apart from the beauty of the lyrics and the melodies, there is comfort in the familiarity I have with these songs. Like old friends, they visit faithfully each year to bring the warmth of memories and reassurance that the joys of Christmas have been renewed. Within a few notes these songs link us with Christmases across the centuries and we are reminded that the Christ of Christmas came for all generations. In a sense we are celebrating with all those who have gone before as we share the same words and the same melody they knew. I am reminded that there is great comfort also in knowing that the Jesus we adore today is the same, living Lord, who has been known and loved by all who have gone before. He was born two thousand years ago but renews His bond with each generation. I believe that as we look intently to the Lord each morning and quiet our hearts we will also experience the familiarity of His presence. Knowing Jesus is like singing an eternal hymn, beautiful for its melody and beautiful for His familiarity.
Psalm 118:14 The LORD is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation.
Monday, December 29, 2008
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Luke 2: 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
I'm convinced that God shows up when least expected. I'm not sure how much advance planning Joseph was capable of as he entered Bethlehem for the census, but I don't think Mary could have been faulted if she'd been upset that the best her husband could do was a stable to give birth to the promised "Son of the Most High". There they were in the city of David and Mary was about to deliver the one to inherit the throne of David. But there was no room for them in the inn. I suspect they would have made room for a king, but the innkeeper didn't realize that the King of Kings was about to enter the scene. I doubt whether many babies have been delivered in stables or barns as the birthing location of choice and I doubt whether many feeding troughs have been given as cradles at baby showers. As the Lord looked down the corridor of time, however, these are precisely the conditions that were planned for the one who was both Son of God and Son of Man to make His earthly entrance. I believe that the Lord will show up in our lives when we least expect it, as well. At a time when nothing seems to be going your way, when circumstances and events aren't coming together the way you'd imagined, the Lord will appear. And when we feel defeated, denied and discouraged He'll delight in changing everything you could imagine, just by showing up in your life...as He promised He would.
Merry and joy-filled Christmas to others who find themselves in the stable,
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
The greatest excitement I have ever known came as I anticipated Christmas on Christmas Eve. My parents put up the tree after we went to bed, decorated it and then arranged all the gifts beneath and around the tree. Stockings were stuffed and hung on the fireplace too. When my sisters and I awoke and came downstairs, the house had been transformed and we were in awe and wonder. It wasn't hard to believe in Santa when that was our experience as youngsters. The greatest fulfillment I have had as an adult was when I realized that God is real and that He wanted to personally lift my burdens and dwell in my heart. The day I accepted Jesus as my savior I was transformed and my heart was filled with awe and wonder as I became aware of His presence. This morning it occurred to me that we have the daily opportunity of "anticipating Christmas" as we await Jesus' return. No one knows when that might be...it could be today. In another sense, we anticipate Jesus' showing up each day in the midst of our thoughts, our problems, our family, our work...our individual lives. He has promised never to leave us...it's a thrill to look for His presence today! It is Christmas Eve and we are anticipating Christmas tomorrow. But we can anticipate Christ every day.
Song of Solomon (Message version) 6:11-12
One day I went strolling through the orchard,
looking for signs of spring,
Looking for buds about to burst into flower,
anticipating readiness, ripeness.
Before I knew it my heart was raptured,
carried away by lofty thoughts!
This is the time of year when many of us catch some kind of cold or flu virus. I'm not sure why this happens every winter. Unfortunately, these bugs can show up at the worst times over the holidays. About a week ago, my computer caught a virus. Just like the human sickness, this computer virus was contracted in some mysterious way. I must have clicked on something that triggered the intruder to get into my operating system. My computer virus was clever. It had the appearance of a computer security service and announced that I had a number of other "bugs" that needed to be eliminated if I would only buy their service. It was obvious that this was an unwanted visitor and I had no interest in paying for the service...but I had a very hard time finding and eliminating the intruder. Every few minutes, as I tried to do real work on my computer, an unwanted sales pitch would pop up. It was very distracting and I was beginning to feel very ill. Fortunately we know a skilled computer professsional who was able to log on to my computer from long distance. He diagnosed the computer illness and eliminated it because he had the know-how. I think the worst part of the virus were all the unknowns: "How did I get it?", "How can I get rid of it?", "What other damage might this cause?" I thought about other problems that come my way in life. Often I don't know why they have surfaced. I may have done the wrong thing, but I'm not always clear what that was. There is a good chance that I don't know how to solve the problem and there may be much frustration, as a result. Fortunately I know a skilled eternal companion who can look into my personal operating system, identify the bug and eliminate it. It's likely that there will be a lesson or two associated with the whole process as well.
Psalm 6:2 Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am weak;
O LORD, heal me, for my bones are troubled.
Monday, December 22, 2008
On a walk yesterday afternoon I spied several large black birds, possibly crows, fly one at a time into dense woods. They moved unhesitatingly through thickly placed trees without striking a branch and I marvelled at their ability to see and to fly with such skill. I am amazed to consider the flight of birds, anyway. These are creatures fashioned to move in harmony with the wind and air, which is an apt analogy for the Christian who seeks to walk in the heavenly wind of the Holy Spirit. But I was doubly amazed to consider the design of these birds that allowed them to command the air and to negotiate a forest simultaneously. I suppose this is a picture of our daily life. We need vision and we need moment-by-moment guidance to "fly" through the day and to maneuver with confidence past obstacles that surround us like a pine forest. With the Lord, I can fly above the pull of the earth and with the Lord I can move through a dense woods full of issues and challenges. With the Lord I am like a large bird flying confidently through a forest.
Job 12:7 (The Message version) 7-12 "But ask the animals what they think—let them teach you; let the birds tell you what's going on. Put your ear to the earth—learn the basics. Listen—the fish in the ocean will tell you their stories. Isn't it clear that they all know and agree that God is sovereign, that he holds all things in his hand—"
Saturday, December 20, 2008
|This morning I viewed the breaking dawn as the soft pinks and orange tints of a newborn day reflected off broken banks of light gray clouds. It occurred to me that the beauty was increased by the clouds. I suppose we do need some clouds... I considered the awesome spectacle that God recreates on a daily basis as He brings light, once again, to us. He fashioned our world in such a way that the upward view is ever changing and ever fascinating. Mystery and wonder are in the skies and even weather patterns defy absolute prediction. By way of contrast, I reflected on the view of earth from space. From space the view of earth becomes a well defined focal point. It is beautiful, but the blackness of space is the dominant reality and there is no day there where dark becomes light on a regular basis. From the sky we receive our cue to fresh starts every 24 hours, our months are marked by the rotation of the moon every 30 days and our year coincides with one trip around the sun. The earth makes sense as a dwelling place for man because of its relationship with the great above. And so the Lord is the apt dwelling place for man spiritually because of our relationship with Him. It is our view of the Lord, like our view of the skies, that is full of wonder and mystery and yet full of meaning as well. We are earth dwellers with vital heavenly ties.|
Job 26:5(the Message) He spreads the skies over unformed space, hangs the earth out in empty space. He pours water into cumulus cloud-bags and the bags don't burst. He makes the moon wax and wane, putting it through its phases. He draws the horizon out over the ocean, sets a boundary between light and darkness.
Friday, December 19, 2008
I was watching one of the enormous battle scenes from the "Lord of the Rings" movie series the other night with my daughter. Before the fight began the "good guys" knew that there would be many casualties. In fact, the king acknowledged that they had very little chance of winning, but that they would ride into the fight anyhow. It was their only hope. Then last night I watched a World War II movie called "U-571". The dramatic victory for the good guys in that story came when a young sailor sacrificed his life intentionally to turn one last valve and permit his submarine to fire the torpedo that saved his shipmates. It occurred to me that the only way victory is possible in the difficult fights is when "mission" becomes more important than our individual lives and we see beyond our personal safety. We have a great mission as children of the Lord. We are truly wrapped up in the great battle of the ages...right vs. wrong, eternal life vs. death, the forces of God vs. the forces of Satan, light vs. darkness in our culture. Perhaps it is also true that we must capture a vision of our mission...a mission that is bigger than our individual lives and a mission that was chartered by the Captain of Life when He laid down His own life. Perhaps once that mission becomes dearer than our lives we will give our lives to it. The mission is greater than any man and yet the mission calls for ordinary people like you and me!
Deuteronomy 20:1 "When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the LORD your God is with you, who brought you up from the land of Egypt."
Thursday, December 18, 2008
|There are many reasons why we look forward to Christmas and to the joys of the holiday season. Once you get past the important spiritual aspects, you begin to appreciate all the great food and treats that emerge at gatherings of friends and family. In fact, I've just about decided that it isn't healthy to go through a day without some exposure to chocolate (even beyond the holidays). When we were young, we learned about the basic food groups: milk, meat, bread, vegetables and fruits. We were taught about eating from each of these groups daily for good health and strength. For some reason they neglected to include chocolate...but I would submit that it qualifies as a food group. The thing about chocolate is that not only does it have some degree of nutritional benefit (we won't quibble about how much). It also makes you feel good and can lift your spirits with even a small taste. I suppose that led me to a parallel thought that we need to feed our minds and our souls with food that not only satisfies...but that delights. If our soul is satisfied, we will tend to come back for more. Perhaps that's one reason that a taste of God's Word enhances each day (something like chocolate....even better).|
Isaiah 55: 1 "Ho! Everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
With the arrival of the internet, a new phenomena also arrived. It has been called "virtual reality" or sort of a parallel reality. Virtual reality allows you to go places and meet people without actually going anywhere or actually being in anyone's presence. On the one hand, this expands our ability to interact and to "travel", but on the other hand it allows us to "hide" from the real experience of being in the presence of others and to enjoy the benefits that go with the expense and time commitment of real travel. Sometimes I think that, as Christians, we settle for a "virtual reality" when it comes to our spiritual lives. We may content ourselves with hearing about the Lord rather than personally hearing from Him. We may be aware that there are great needs in the world for the Gospel but we may reason that those needs will be met by others who are more spiritual. We may have heard many times that God loves us, cares for us and has a plan for us but we may not have approached Him nearly enough to enter that love, feel that care or experience that plan. It's important that we not confuse spiritual reality with virtual reality. The best things in life may be invisible, but very real, nonetheless.
John 8: 31-32 Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. "If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you."
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
|Remember that familiar saying, "to err is human, to forgive divine"? This morning I was reflecting on sin...and how "to sin is human, to forgive divine." (not your typical early morning thoughts!). It occurred to me that there is one inescapable reality, there are four consequences, and one preventive remedy for sin. The inescapable reality is that each of us will sin. It is in our nature to do that, even though the Lord has made payment already for the penalty...we still will blow it. The tendency to sin has infiltrated our fabric and we may even surprise ourselves...but each of us will fall short of God's best from time to time. There are four kinds of damage that sin causes. First there is the direct damage of the sin, itself. Second there is relationship damage with others as a collateral kind of damage. Third, there is a break in your relationship with God and fourth there is damage to your relationship with yourself. I think the last one is most interesting, because as you seek to recover from sin you have to begin with yourself. One mistake I think many of us make is to "beat ourselves up" when we sin. Naturally we're disappointed in ourselves, but if we just beat ourselves up we don't open up our understanding to learn from the sin. After all, it was our "self" that blew it to begin with. How can we hope to improve things by pummeling that same "self"? No the healing has to begin with forgiveness. We need to confess that we have blown it to God and to those we've wronged and acknowledge our human failure and then we are in a position to be restored in the broken relationships, to heal spiritually, and to learn a lesson that we can apply and grow from. One preventive remedy is found in Psalm 119, verse 11 "Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You" To the extent that God's thoughts reside within our thoughts we have a greater resilience and resistance to sin. I believe that, even in the sin and recovery process, there is hope for spiritual growth.|
Monday, December 15, 2008
I have been reminded recently that I am not the source of light or strength in my life. In myself, I am really weak and prone to failure. This morning as I set out on a jog, it occurred to me that the gift of life that allows me to run, to think, to enjoy even the basic aspects of life comes from God. For some reason, I tend to forget that. I often make the mistake of thinking that the strength and the life comes from within myself. But this morning I remembered that there is One who has given our lives to us (because He gave His life for us). Not only do I have nothing to do with the source of strength and life within, I had nothing to do with my design or my appearance on earth. I was reminded that it's all a gift. Why am I so presumptuous to think that, having been given life, now I must complete it with my personal wisdom and strength? Like the keeper of a lighthouse, it's my honor to carry the Light and to display the Light. But it is good to be reminded that I am not that light. That is too much weight for anyone to carry! It was liberating to bow before that truth.
John 1:4-5,9 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The other night I was visiting my daughter and son-in-law and meeting new grandson, Andrew, for the first time in the hospital. As I approached the maternity ward, I found myself in a group of young people who were being given a tour of the hospital as they are walking through their first pregnancies. I listened to the seasoned nurse as she briefed the couples on all the services they would expect to encounter in the delivery and newborn care process. The nursing staff inside the ward were upbeat as they directed me to my daughter's room and I was impressed with the kindness and helpful attitude of the nurse who tended my daughter. It occurred to me that a hospital is a place where most people are hoping to make the best of a bad situation and the hope is for healing...but the maternity ward is a different kind of place. This is the entry gate for new little people as they make their first appearance on the planet. It's a place that represents optimism and hope. It's refreshing to realize that in maternity wards all over the world God is repeatedly showing that He continues to hold out the marvelous gift of life and the awesome potential of new life for new generations of people. So, while it can become possible for some of us to grow weary of life's battles and feel a bit beaten down by its storms and trials, we also can take heart that the God of Life is still very much in the business of creation, growth and restoration (that all begins anew with each tiny baby).
Matthew 2:1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to , 2 saying, "Where is He who has been born ? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him."
blessings (with thanks for that very special Christmas baby),
Thursday, December 11, 2008
|Yesterday morning Andrew Kolbe Cook made his earthly arrival. Our second grandson decided to come a little early...he didn't want to miss the Christmas celebration! Actually they needed to bring him into the world a little before the full term due to some pregnancy complications. So he faced two adjustments to plan already in his life: learning to adapt to schedule changes and finding alternative solutions to life's issues. I was fascinated to learn that he has a little bit of a challenge with breathing because of these changes. If he could have arrived on time, his lungs would have been a little farther along and if he'd been delivered through the birth canal, the pressure would have cleared fluid from his lungs as well. I thought it was interesting that the trauma of birth also has positive developmental impact. Andrew is a fighter and working hard to breathe. He's begun the battles of life. I suppose the thought that struck me is that, as difficult and painful as labor and delivery are, God has designed purpose into every aspect of the process. And so it is true for us that the challenges and trials that come our way may develop our spiritual "breathing" and squeeze us in all the right places to aid our development.|
James 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Monday, December 8, 2008
It occurred to me this morning as I walked in the crisp December air and thought about the Lord: "It doesn't get much better than this". In one sense it's just another Monday...the start of another work week, with a familiar set of concerns from job and family. But in another sense I realized that I start this day in the company of the God of the Universe. His Spirit lives within and I have the benefit of His help and guidance. Although I may have many unanswered questions and although I may not have a clue as to the future, there is absolute rest knowing I'm secure in the One who has the answers and holds time in His hands. I realized that Jesus faithfully went to the cross on my behalf so that I could experience this ordinary Monday in close relationship with Him and His father. So, although this is an ordinary weekday in one sense...in another sense it just doesn't get any better!
1 Timothy 6:6-7 Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
I'm a low key car enthusiast and enjoy scanning through car magazines. An issue came this week of one the magazines with a fascinating article. It seems that a young industrial design student at North Carolina State University decided to see how far he could go using wood to build a high performance car for his master's thesis. He has progressed pretty far in the project and has developed fascinating new methods of creating wood fiber cloth (something like fiberglass) for the skin of the car. One quote from the article seems to capture the heart of this challenge: "Imagination is the principal element in the project". The student has used wood for most of the steering system, some of the springs and suspension...even the spokes of the wheels are wood. The seats are made of wicker!
The spiritual parallel that strikes me is the challenge we have of bringing as much of the Lord as we can into the fabric of our lives. The car design student has a passion for the natural strengths of wood and is eager to bring wood to all of his new car. We might be motivated in a similar way to take our passion for God and find new ways of allowing Him into more and more of our personal makeup. A wooden car makes a striking statement about a new ways to think about wood and to think about cars. The lover of Christ can make a striking statement about new ways to think about God and to think about life.
1 Chronicles 22:15 "Moreover there are workmen with you in abundance: woodsmen and stonecutters, and all types of skillful men for every kind of work. 16 Of gold and silver and bronze and iron there is no limit. Arise and begin working, and the LORD be with you."
blessings (from one project under construction to another),
Thursday, December 4, 2008
|The other day I heard myself say to a coworker, "By all means" as a signal to go ahead and take action on something. As soon as I said it I had a flashback to my Dad. This was one of his favorite phrases and I always liked the positive feeling it gave to an activity. Dad has been gone for about 12 years but this was one reminder that his imprint was placed deep within during the "growing up" years. My Dad was certainly my hero. I thought he was the smartest guy in the world and I knew that he loved me. Of course this makes me think of our . He has placed His imprint deep within as well and many of His marvelous phrases give hope and help and health as we trudge through life. When I was young the greatest joys I knew came from my father's praise, when I'd pleased him. I hope to have the same attitude toward my Heavenly Father..."By all means".|
Psalm 103: 13 Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
This morning, as I jogged before dawn, I spotted a "shooting star" briefly streak across the sky ahead. I thought about that chunk of stone from space that may have been traveling for years..even centuries or more..without difficulty until it reached Kingdom of God. Left to ourselves we'd burn up in an instant as we try on our own strength to make it. It would appear from space that it would be an easy thing to just fly in and land on the planet. But Heaven has an atmosphere too. The only shield that can blunt that heat and absorb its intensity is the one provided by Jesus. In a sense this illustrates the "one way" to salvation we have in Him, despite appearances of a broad entry. By faith we grasp the need for Jesus to be our heat shield and protector as we move into Heaven's atmosphere.and the friction of its atmosphere. I thought about the difficulty that spaceships have reentering . Apparently scientists studied meteorites that survived the fall to earth to determine how they made it. They found that, while the outer part of the rock had burned away, the core had remained cool. The outer rock burned up but the inner part had been insulated. When applications were developed for spaceflight they found that a blunt surface was more effective to dissipate heat than a sharp, aerodynamic one. Apparently the blunt surface slowed the vehicle down and didn't permit the friction to develop as much heat...and they alternated layers of very hard material with good to keep the heat away from the interior of the vehicle. It occurs that, just as reentry from space is a challenge, so is entrance into the
2 Samuel 22:31 As for God, His way is perfect;
The is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
32 "For who is God, except the LORD?
Monday, December 1, 2008
When I was a plebe at the 3 You will keep him in perfect peace,there were a number of disciplines we had to follow, many of which seemed silly. One example was that we had to "chop" or jog down the center of the hall of our dormitory and square all corners when we turned, shouting "Go Navy", "Beat Army" on alternate turns. When we were in ranks, marching, or sitting at the dinner table we had to keep our eyes and head straight ahead. If we turned our head or our gaze an upper classmen would scold us and say, "Keep your eyes in the boat"!..to get us to return our "straight-ahead" view. I was thinking some more about keeping my eyes on the Lord this morning. I realize that problems, circumstances, and just plain daily living make it impossible to absolutely keep my focus on the Lord all the time...so I think the key is returning our gaze to Him whenever it is moved off center. The scripture that came to mind was: Isaiah 26:
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.
I realized that our need for help should cause us to come to the Lord and trust Him to meet that need. He then can meet that need and provide the help we turned to Him for. Perhaps, more importantly, the result is complete and perfect peace in our hearts as a result of leaning in the Lord rather than ourselves.
I'm going to try to keep bringing my mind back to the Lord today and to depend on Him...because my greatest need is that "perfect peace".