I was visiting my daughter and her family back in mid-October – great time, and lots of fun with her two little ones. It’s very common for a continual stream of music to be playing on the VERY LOUD speaker system, something to which I have become accustomed. About midway through the week, the selection turned from the worship music genre typically played, to Christmas music. No, that wasn’t a typo (i.e., I really meant Christian music). Katie had decided it was time to start getting into the Christmas spirit, despite harvest and pumpkins and the fall colors one would normally enjoy during that season. She expressed that it was something “I just need this year.” I tend to be a bit old-school and come from a time when even Thanksgiving and Christmas were quite separate holidays. So, I would prefer to have my carols with a cup of cocoa a lot closer to at least the end of November, but I have to admit that I enjoyed the festive Yuletide entertainment as well.
After I returned home later in the month, my husband purchased a little gizmo that plays music on demand. Saturday, October 25th, it was gray, cold, and snowy outside. It seemed like a perfect fit for another round of Christmas carols. I requested Christmas music and listened to about four numbers, but it still felt early (for both the snow and the holiday music). Interestingly, the next morning as I did my exercise routine, I turned on the local Christian radio station. They too had opted to put together a Christmas playlist, explaining that while they would return to regular programming until closer to the holiday season, they thought that their listeners needed a little bit of Christmas cheer. One of the first songs I heard was “We Need a Little Christmas.”* Apparently, many people felt like Katie.
It is undeniable that this year has been extremely trying for so many reasons. Before it began, likely no one would have predicted that unlike the year’s numerical meaning of clear vision, insight, and near perfection, 2020 brought us months of uncertainty, frustration, and even hostility. We certainly are looking for something in our lives to lift our spirits and help us to harken back to happier days. But is it merely a feeling of goodwill, comfort, and joy that we seek, or do we need something more?
Before Jesus was born, the nation of Israel had a challenging existence. There had not been a prophetic utterance from God for over four hundred years. They were under the severe rule of the Roman Empire, and they were looking for a leader to bring deliverance and restoration of their once powerful kingdom. Much is found in the Old Testament about the Messiah, and God’s people clung to words like those found in Isaiah, “The government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6b-7, ESV). So, the people of Israel wanted someone to rescue them practically and politically, and when God sent his Son into the world as the Word says in the Book of Acts, “[The people in Jerusalem and their rulers] did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets, which are read every Sabbath” (Acts 13:27b, ESV). God sent them the King of kings and Lord of Lords, the One who would provide for their deepest needs and longings, the One who would set them free from the ravages of sin and provide them more than an abundant life on earth, but life eternal. They did not understand that God’s kingdom is one like no other, and the guarantees of peace, prosperity, and power are realized within the heart, above and beyond one’s circumstances.
And so, we too need King Jesus whom God sent into the world over two thousand years ago. Though he came in a humble manner, he wields infinite power to give us his strength. Though he came into an impoverished setting, he bestows his riches for salvation on all who call on him. Though he came as a servant, he reigns eternally and extends that authority to all who follow him. At Christmastime, we think about the baby who came in the environs of a stable to a poor family in the unassuming town of Bethlehem. But let us remember and embrace him as the King, majestic, glorious, splendid, who rules and reigns forever. We need his leadership, his provision, his peace, his protection, his guidance, and his gift of redemption, and we need it now!
“Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray… let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield” (Psalm 5:1-2, 11-12, ESV).
*Herman, Jerry, “We Need A Little Christmas” (1966). Vocal Popular Sheet Music Collection. Edwin H. Morris & Company, Inc. New York, New York. Score 5566
It was super sweet. My eight-year-old granddaughter, Libby, is becoming quite handy in the kitchen. In that particular way she takes after this Nonnie, and following in my footsteps, a lovingly made edible is a gift from the heart. Thus, for Mother’s Day, Libby decided to make her mother breakfast in bed. It was simple enough – a piece of toast, eggs, fruit, and some tea, but it was very appreciated by her Mama who was grateful for the wonderful gesture that allowed her to linger in bed a little bit longer on this celebrated day.
It was her younger sister, Bekah, who told me about Libby’s gracious gift to their mom. She was also quick to inform me about a time when Libby treated her to breakfast in bed. I’m not sure if it was just for the ease of preparation or if it happens to be a favorite, but Bekah’s breakfast special was cereal. Keep in mind that Bekah sleeps above her sister in a top bunk. I still laugh when I think back to how Bekah told me about Libby’s surprise. “Yeah, Libby made Mommy breakfast in bed for Mother’s Day, but she did for me one time too. Mine was cereal, but when she gave it to me, she got cereal sand all over my sheets!” First of all, I’ve never quite heard the crumbly remains of cereal referred to in that way before. But I noted that Bekah was telling me this in a very jovial manner, and I interpreted that as her delight and thankfulness for her sister’s kind act, gritty sheets and all.
The reason I love this story so much is because I am familiar enough with my granddaughters to know that there are times Libby and Bekah are not showing much love and appreciation for one another. Anyone who has seen two children in the same room for more than a passing moment would be able to concur that disagreements, arguing, and sometimes outright fighting come with close proximity. But Libby’s overture toward her sister and Bekah’s receptive response show how they can often pull together and support each other, demonstrating kindness, gentleness, and love that is heartwarming and genuinely considerate.
Unfortunately, people in general can treat each other with disrespect and even hostility, stories about which seem to cram news feeds these days. It is so sad! The saddest thing of all, though, is when it happens amongst those in the Body of Christ. In the book of Galatians, Paul makes reference to those who “bite and devour one another,” and tells them to “watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15, ESV). This was written to people in the church, and it shows that the problem has been around since the church’s inception, and it is ongoing.
Before Paul warned people about the hardship of tearing each other apart, he gave the positive side of the equation by reminding them to “serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13d-14, ESV). He also wrote these words in the end of second Corinthians: “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss,” (2 Corinthians 13:11-12, ESV). The words speak loudly to us today. While those in the church may disagree and argue from time to time, the bottom line is that we need to love and support each other, asking for forgiveness when necessary and remembering our common ground that gives us true peace, our relationship with God the Father through his Son, Jesus. While Libby and Bekah have a blood relationship by birth that brings them together, the church has the kinship of blood-bought-redemption through Jesus’ death on the cross.
The bond is strong and so should be our affection for one another and our willingness to put aside differences and love each other as Christ has loved the church. It will show the world much when they see brothers and sisters in Christ demonstrating kindness, gentleness, and love toward each other. And even if a little cereal sand is a result of the effort, we won’t let a little bit of grit get in the way of a godly response that will bring honor and glory to our Lord.
Despite my reluctance, I have had to step into the world of prescription glasses. Actually, it is no surprise as the last time I had to renew my driver’s license I had to squint so hard when looking into their vision testing machine, my eyeballs almost popped out of my head. Though I took more than one try to get it right, the compassionate DMV associate gave me a green light. However, I knew then that the next time I would be up for a license renewal, I would likely not fare so well. Even though I still have a couple years until that time, my husband continued to remind me that it would be in my best interest to get an eye appointment for an evaluation. I have neglected to mention that I also have used over-the-counter readers at ever-increasing strength for quite a few years. So I made and kept the aforementioned appointment. The combination of near and farsighted irregularities, along with astigmatism in the right eye, led to the following choices: (1) separate eyeglasses for near and farsighted use, (2) trifocals, (3) progressive lenses, or (4) giving up my driver’s license and preparing myself for auditory books for the rest of my life. Since I’m not ready for choice number 4 at this time, I decided to try the progressive lenses. I was measured, and all the info went to the lab.
The glasses were supposed to be available in two weeks – they took four; it should have been a hint. I finally picked them up along with wearing advice and instructions. I had heard this already, but I was told it is common to give one’s eyes (mind, body, soul, and spirit) two weeks to adjust to what is now to be a permanent fixture atop one’s nose. So, I wore them continually, except for showering and sleeping, of course. Because I opted for transition lenses, they tint when in the sun – pretty cool! I was not having too much trouble negotiating stair steps or the divots in our road when on prayer walks – awesome. Though the television screen seemed magnified by a thousand, I was seeing that clearly enough – bonus. There was one problem though, a big one. When I would try to read, I had to tip my head back into a very awkward position or I had to push the frames up into my forehead to see the print clearly. At first I thought I just needed to be a good sport and finish out my two-week trial period, but when I shared my experience with my husband, he called the office and got me a new appointment. It turned out that the correction for reading was way too narrow and far down in the lenses to allow for optimal sight. A measurement error of just a few millimeters when creating the lenses caused my perception to be way off. What was meant to be a fix for my inadequate eyesight was in fact a fail on the part of the lens manufacturer. They went back to the drawing board, and I went back to my readers (for now).
We can have a similar experience regarding the world and what is going on around us. Our vision is blurred by a point-of-view that has been shaped by our environment in the past and the circumstances and information by which we are surrounded in the present. It causes our perception to be way off, even if the viewpoint we’re looking through is just slightly skewed. We might try to bring things into focus by using what is touted as the best and latest fix for our attitude or behavior, even advocated in Christian circles. But, we still are not seeing clearly. Frankly, we have to go back to the lens. The only appropriate glass for our clear and cognizant view of the world is to look through the lens of the Bible. It is solely as we perceive what is around us by shining the light of God’s Word on it that we can really see the truth about the world and about ourselves.
Psalm 119 is especially authoritative on the use of God’s Word to shape our view. Here are just a few examples of the wisdom it contains about the Word: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (vs. 18). “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors” (vs. 24). “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments” (vs. 66). “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation” (vs. 99). “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (vs. 104). “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (vs. 105). “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (vs. 130) (all verses ESV). By looking through the lens of God’s Word we can be sure that we are seeing things with godly perception, and we will be more prone to live our lives with the right perspective.
I’m thankful that there are such things as corrective lenses so that I can continue to read, drive, enjoy God’s wonderful creation, and see those that I love dearly. Even more, I am grateful to God that he has given his Word through which we can perceive the world. May he always lead me to see as he sees so I can respond like him.
For the last couple months it has been my joy and pleasure to be with my three-year-old granddaughter and her baby brother. We spent some of that time in her home, some in mine, and some traveling for a family gathering. My daughter, Jordyn’s mom, is very selective and careful about screen time, but when driving in the car passing the hundredth cow or the thousandth acre of flat farmland, it’s time to bring out the video entertainment. Such entertainment is also useful when every adult in the household needs some down time and the kids are still at the top of their game. During the weeks we were together, Jordyn became captivated with a particular movie and its spunky and endearing character, an ambitious little land snail who became known as Turbo. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Turbo has a dream to be a racer, and when he winds up flowing through a car’s fuel system and becomes infused with nitrous oxide, he is able to live out his wish, and he actually wins the Indy 500! I will spare you reiteration of scenes and quotes, which I definitely could do because we watched the show at least ten times. We also read and learned about land snails and their water-inhabiting cousins, and Jordyn became quite the expert in all things snail.
God, of course, was observing all of this even more intently than we were, and he chose to give Jordyn a special blessing. When we arrived at my son’s house that is in a small, gated community in southern California, much to Jordyn’s delight, the lower part of his house was a snail haven. The funny thing is, though there were snails here and there on other homes in the neighborhood, the majority of mollusks had decided to take up residence on Uncle Kris’ abode, and there were numerous sizes and choices with which Jordyn could engage. And engage she did! Of course, every snail received a name from the movie, most of them “Turbo.” Jordyn would hold one each day, and interestingly, these little creatures would reveal themselves while in Jordyn’s hands. They would stretch their mushy bodies out of their shells, and with their knobby eyes they would view this little girl that had become so enamored with them. She would talk softly and insure them that they needn’t be afraid and that they were in good hands. If you are unaware, the natural response a snail would have to ANY creature picking it up would be to take refuge inside its shell and stay there until put back into a safe environment. Somehow Jordyn had acquired the knack of making these little creatures feel comfortable enough to share time with her. To my mind, it is quite the accomplishment both on the part of Jordyn and her shell-bearing friends.
I wonder if I can be so receptive and comforting to those who are taking cover in their own shells. Not snails, of course, but individuals who are encased in armor built of shame, fear, self-degradation, addiction, or the myriad number of habits and heartaches that are not their homes but their means of incarceration. Do I have an open heart, mind, eyes, and ears to welcome a person needing to reveal inner thoughts and feelings without being threatening or judgmental? Can I be a confidant for one who may have a view that I myself do not hold? Can I be more like Jesus who sought to save the lost by meeting people where they were, helping them to have a better understanding of God, and sending them on their way healed, filled with hope, and aware of God’s unique purpose?
The Bible reminds us in James, “Know this, my beloved bothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20, ESV). It surely is an accomplishment to be able to put these things into practice and make people feel comfortable enough to open up to us and share what is inside. As we carefully engage with others and give them a place to feel safe and understood, we will bring God’s love and grace to those who are hurting. We just may be able to bring them out of their shells and set them on a path to healing, filled with hope and purpose.
Thank you for the lesson, my little snail whisperer! I look forward to watching Turbo with you again sometime soon.
Several weeks ago I was reading Matthew’s account of the passion and resurrection of Jesus. As I contemplated his great sacrifice and the eventual victory he experienced, my thoughts brought me to Jesus’ forty-day temptation in the wilderness. The report in the book of Mark indicates that it is likely the devil sought to tempt Jesus to sin in various ways and many times more than what is written in Matthew and Luke. The three instances recorded in those books reveal temptations regarding provision, position, and power. In each case, Jesus used Scripture to combat the wiles of Satan. It occurred to me that when Jesus resisted the enemy, he exhibited two important virtues – self-control and patience. He was willing to wait on his Father’s timing in the short-term to satisfy his hunger, and for a much longer period to inherit his kingdom and to wield the authority that accompanied his rightful role. He took no shortcuts, he did not claim entitlements, nor did he push his way through to a place of ease and adulation (though legions of ministering angels were always at his disposal – from Matthew 26:53). Jesus manifested patience throughout his life and ministry, taking a much longer and harder road to the cross. His selfless act made it possible for his Father’s perfect plans to be fulfilled.
As we navigate through challenges that certainly could be characterized as those of biblical proportions, tremendous opportunities are open to believers to live out our faith in new and interesting ways. As we open our hearts fully to the workings of the Holy Spirit, we can show the same virtues that Jesus did to those around us – our children, our parents, co-workers, neighbors, and friends, even while keeping social distancing in mind. In the book of Galatians these virtues are called “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23a, ESV). Along with patience and self-control, the characteristics of love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness are listed. These all testify to a genuine faith in the Lord and a willingness to yield to his ways and promote his values and principles to the world.
In the first of a series of pamphlets entitled “The American Crisis” Thomas Paine, a British-born political philosopher turned American and supporter of American independence, wrote in the midst of the revolutionary war era in 1776, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” While some of his philosophical writings are not in line with Christian doctrine, presently, we can relate to that particular statement. It is hard to live through such a time when there is so much sickness and death, businesses folding, and financial hardship in millions of households. Perhaps most heartbreaking are the accounts of people who are either ignoring authority, taking advantage of others’ needs, or willingly sacrificing civility, displaying concern only for themselves. These “works of the flesh” have been evident since Adam’s fall from grace. God desires that we his people show others the best of who he is through attitudes and actions that are counter to human nature and in line with his character. It comes down to a simple choice: selfishness vs. selflessness. Through the Holy Spirit at work in us we can be patient and self-controlled in the midst of trial as well as demonstrate true love, joy, peace, and the other fruit of the Spirit in ways big and small.
A couple weeks ago before stay-at-home procedures became the mandated norm in her state, my daughter, Katie, was at a store with her little girl. As she waited in line, a mother near her gave her young son four quarters and told him it was all he could have to get a little squishy ball from the adjacent vending machine for himself and for his little brother. My three-year-old granddaughter, not wanting to be left out of the procurement of such a valuable treasure, began to express her desire to get one too. Mama held her ground as Jordyn gave way to her emotions over the thought of leaving the store without a ball. Obviously seeing her distress, the little boy turned around to my daughter and asked, “Can I give her mine?” Not wanting to steal his joy and with tears in her eyes, Katie allowed Jordyn to receive the precious gift. This small act of kindness speaks volumes in a world that often encourages a “take what you can” mentality. As we go through what may be the biggest crisis of our lives, let’s pray that God will allow his Spirit to rise up in us so we can be more like his Son and like that little boy. May the fruit of the Spirit be so evident in each of our lives allowing selflessness to triumph over selfishness, and we will open the door for the perfect plans of the Lord to be fulfilled. “Now the works of the flesh are evident… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:19a, 22-23, ESV).
We pray you had a very blessed Easter. In spite of the times, “He has risen, as he said” (Matthew 28:6b, ESV) and that gives us cause to celebrate no matter what is happening around us.
Thomas Paine,The American Crisis, Wikipedia, edited update: April 11, 2020, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.
It is no secret that in this world filled with technology, we living in relative prosperity have become attached AND distracted by said technology. As I am writing in a busy airport terminal, in row after row of passengers I see screens of every type. Viewing cell phones, e-readers, and tablets, very few people are engaged in conversation with each other, though I will say there is a din (travelers likely in momentary discussions over seat assignments, delays, or where to find a good cup of coffee). It is apparent that while we may be sitting within spitting distance of family and friends, let alone people with whom we are unfamiliar, people in general, and particularly this younger generation, are more likely to have Herculean-strength thumbs from tapping a cell phone all day than they are able to engage in meaningful conversation for more than a nanosecond (likely to ask if they can plug into a shared outlet). It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway—what a changed world we live in! Yes, I know that in many ways there are benefits and betterments. But there are also many things we are losing due to the technological advances society has made, especially in the last fifty years.
I have a fond memory of a fourth grade unit we did in school. It was a series of lessons on the telephone. The telephone booklet, which I have saved in a scrapbook of school memorabilia, walked us fourth graders through the mechanics of the telephone including how to dial, the proper way to speak into the receiver, information and emergency calls, and use of a phone book to find both personal and business numbers. Among the pertinent information are several pages on telephone manners. It was definitely something we practiced. With two telephones in the room, each classmate had likely more than one opportunity to participate in a polite exchange. Among the booklet’s phrases are recommendations for passing on a message to another household member, letting the caller know that the intended recipient of the call will soon be available, apologizing for making a call to a wrong number, and kindly responding to someone who has made the wrong-number call. It is also interesting to see that proper phone etiquette includes hanging up the phone gently so as not to cause a banging noise in the caller’s ear.
If you and/or your children were scratching your heads throughout most of the last paragraph, let’s move into the twenty-first century. We, of course, largely communicate through the devices mentioned in the first paragraph. I’m fairly certain that schools do not teach a unit on a proper way to make calls and converse on the cell. Nor is there some sort of tutorial on polite messaging of any kind. We have largely moved away from verbal (deep) conversation on a device, and we especially lack the skills to do so face-to-face. Probably one of the oddest practices is to see people texting each other not only in the same building, but in the same room! Their messages are not only concise, but they can be downright cryptic! “BTW,” “TY,” “RTN,” “K,” and the ever-popular “LOL” are all a part of accepted text conversation. Alexander Graham Bell invented the original telephone in 1876, and he is either gleeful about the advance of his invention, or he is turning somersaults in his grave at the loss of true, heartfelt communication among members of the human race.
As with all matters, it is important to look into God’s Word to see what he has to say about communication and connection. First of all, God invites us into the most intimate relationship with him, calling us his children and making himself known as God the Father. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1, ESV). He has opened an avenue of communication with him through prayer. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:5b-6, ESV). His desire is that we spend time with him just as Jesus modeled many times. “In these days [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12, ESV). It is clear that the Lord also wants us to have fellowship and connection with each other. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).
In Ephesians 4 and 5 we find advice to guide us in our communication: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor,” (4:25). “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,” (4:26). “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (4:29). “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (4:31-32). “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (5:4). It is apparent that the Bible promotes healthy, loving, encouraging communication to develop and enrich relationships among us. We would be wise to heed the Lord’s direction.
Of course, Jesus did not carry a cell phone in the back pocket of his tunic, but he has always known the future of communication, both to the positive and negative sides of the matter. His desire has always been for us to speak in real and affectionate ways to our heavenly Father and lovingly and truthfully converse with one another. This is the essential art and the true heart of communication.