I AM making all things new

I like logic.  I like things to make sense.  I think we all do mostly.

I like to understand.

I like answers.

I like to have my little ducks in a row.

I like surprises… as long as I see them coming and can prepare for them appropriately…

 

My son loves math and finding a curriculum that continued to challenge him was daunting.  I stumbled upon Sudoku, I had never heard of it before, played it a little and thought he might like it.  He did… initially, until it became a matter of replication of formulae.  Then I found Kenken.  A mixture of Sudoku and math operations, it is harder and goes from fairly simple to hours of work, computation and elimination.  As I taught him how to solve a kenken puzzle, I began to enjoy the process myself.

 

I recently sent Mark a kenken puzzle and wasn’t very surprised that he quickly picked up (without even much in the way of instructions I might add) how to solve them.  The following three pictures are examples of kenken puzzles.  From simple to ridiculous.

 

*Quick simple rules.  Each dark outlined area is called a cage and in each cage the answer is the number, by way of the operation listed.  Each row and column must contain (in the first example) the numbers 1,2,3 without repeating in any subsequent row or column (like sudoku). 

3x3-5499154366842eeb7819c48acd7fa774       img_f16_t150_p1302_i1

 

kenken3  This third one doesn’t initially look as difficult but notice there are no operation symbols, therefore not only the numbers, but first the operation must be discovered.

 

There is no guess work to kenken.  There is some initial supposition backed by process of elimination and a lot of writing and erasing, but there is only one way and one answer to a kenken puzzle.

 

It is black and white.  It is entirely logical.  You do not have to wonder if you got it right.  There is no grading on a curve, no subjectivity if you try real hard…  it is right or wrong, utterly objective.

 

In a couple weeks Easter will be upon us.  If there is a polar opposite to logic and objectivity, it exists in the advent of Easter.  Sometimes we use the etymology of the word, whether Saxony or Hebrew or pagan or Christian, to back our own opinions on whether or not to hide eggs and eat chocolate.  But the celebration exists in the hearts and minds of Christians as the crucifixion and resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ.

 

Christ’s crucifixion and in fact, his life, was not logical.  It does not make sense.  In chess, we sacrifice pawns, we do not sacrifice the king.  In fact, in chess, the king is never taken.  It is illegal to even move into a position that puts the king into jeopardy.  When we win a piece, we snatch it from the board in triumph, setting it off to the side, out of play, defeated.  Not so the king.  The king is no great player in the game of chess.  He stands alone in the back, rarely even moving and then, only once and out of the way.  He is a defended object.  When checkmate is called, the king’s piece is rarely even removed from the board.  The game is simply over.  He can move no more.  The game of chess is tactical and logical.  Sometimes we see God as we see the king in chess.  Valuable… but only as the end objective, uninvolved, disinterested, separated from our small existence on this round green and blue chess board.  But we are wrong in that notion.

 

Unlike chess, Christ was not captured.  He was indeed arrested.  But capture assumes evasion.  Upon his arrest he did not evade.  Not in his speech, not in his actions, not in his defense, not in his death.  Nor did Christ sacrifice others in defense of himself.  It was completely totally inexplicably illogical.

 

And what of our fascination with the cross itself?  We wear them as jewelry, emblazon them on clothing, and hang them on walls.  They are crusted with jewels or shaped in ornate filigree, finely carved and crafted.  But the one on which Christ hung was none of those things.  It was not an emblem of beauty, it was a blood covered, rough hewn symbol of punishment and torture.  Visible to all, as a sign and warning and deterrence against crime.  The just punishment for the accused.  Go into any jewelry store and one of the most popular themes in design is the cross.  But I am left to wonder… where are the hangman’s noose earrings?  The Guillotine necklaces?  The electric chair bracelets?  Why do we cling to the cross?  It was not technologically advanced, it was not costly or of great value.  A fallen timber, stout enough to hold the weight of a man shuddering in agony.  Of all the mixed messages, the cross offers the wildest paradox.  That the bloodiest mechanism that the Romans used to intimidate, punish, and torture… the emblem of dominion and rule and power and might to crucify men; God used to free mankind by crucifying sin itself.

 

How carelessly and lightly do we toss around the phrase, “I would die for you.”  I think it is a statement intended to show great feeling or sentiment and I think the intent is gracious and I do not judge it when I hear it.  I have never spoken those words, but in my heart that force and commitment beats for a handful of people.  Even so, I would be very careful with those words.  Life is an amazing thing.  Instinctively we grasp, at times desperately at it.  Infants, just born, have an instantaneous response known as the Moro reflex.  Stimulated by picking the infant up from the floor and then lowering him sharply in a simulation of being dropped the baby will quickly thrust his arms out fingers wide as though grasping something and sharply bring them in as though holding on.  The reflex is tested by medical staff as a sign that the baby has a certain level of motor and neurological development.   The reflex is lost shortly after birth but only in its motor reflexive nature.  We all grasp.  We all cling and reach out.  I have done it.  I continue to do it.  Did it just this last week.  As adults, we like to feel the strength of self-sufficiency.  But the truth is, the humbling, sometimes embarrassing and humiliating truth is… we need people.  I reached out to Erin Sisson, to Mark, to Miranda, to my children.  I needed to be caught.  Need… sometimes it seems like a dirty little word.  It smacks of frailty and inability and lack.  But need is part of the human condition.  Need is not desire or want or transient.  The object of our grasp may change throughout life, but the underlying need to hold on… is extinguished only at the very end of life.  We struggle to continue.

 

“To live is Christ, to die is gain.”  I used to read those words and I understood them on some small level, like a thin film over a plate glass window.  Paul said a lot of paradoxical things.  Perhaps none so profoundly perplexing as this.  Sometimes when we fixate on our light and momentary troubles, we lose the greater focus and full weight of the gift of both life and death.  In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews he says, “let us run with


the race marked out for us.”  In the NASB translation, which I read most frequently, it says “the race set before us.”  I do not think of myself as any member of a brain trust, and this is precisely an example of why.  For some reason, reading that just this morning, hit me differently. Never in all my life of having tripped carelessly over these words….  has it hit me before that perhaps, just maybe, I have a raced marked out for me.  That my race was in fact uniquely designed for me, and that I have not been asked to chart its course, only travel it.  Too often I have tried to control its path, to see beyond the next curve, missing the scenery as I go.  I would love to fit my race into a neat package.  A package of my own design.  I would like the roadmap of my race on a turn by turn GPS with perhaps James Earl Jones narrating my next move.  “In one point five miles veer left toward your college degree.”  “In three miles take the exit toward your new home, on the left.”  But James was apparently booked when I needed direction and God was seemingly quiet (though not absent) on the subject.  What I have slowly (because …. I am NOT a part of a brain trust!) learned is that God has placed people in my life, with a voice of more value than James’ not because of the timbre or tone of their voice, but because of the quality and commitment of their hearts and minds.  Mark and Miranda are two such people.  They have been, in some very real ways, a sort of GPS for me.  A light in a dark place.  We can ignore the GPS, and the GPS is not always the most expedient, nor is it always up to date.  But it gives us clarity and clarity lends comfort and strength and resolve in the face of pain, weakness and uncertainty.

 

In college I took up competitive swimming.  I was not fast but had a good deal of endurance.  I began to train for a one mile national swim meet held annually in Huntington, Indiana.  During the course of training I met someone who was a competitive triathlete.  This last week, this conversation replayed in my head and the implications hit me particularly hard between the eyes, probably right where I needed it most.  I asked what he thought of when he was racing.  How did he keep going through all the stages and the distance.  His response was, “I double down.”  I asked him what that meant, as I had never heard that term before.  He told me that it was a reference to the game of Black Jack.  I said, “That doesn’t help me, contextualize it for me.”  This was his response.  “I hit my stride 10 miles ago, I went through the pain, the tired, the boredom.  Those were the little battles along the way, my temporary focus.  Now past all those things, I double down to keep going.”  I asked him, “Do you focus on the end line?”  His reply is what rings in my ears this week.  “I keep that in my sight, but there is race to be run in each and every step up until the very end.  If I stop one foot before the end, I haven’t finished.  Finishing strong has nothing to do with the 26.1 miles I just endured.  It has everything to do with the .1 before me.  Every step of that .1 is savored, because it is pain and heart and grit and tenacity.  It is the very hardest and the very best part of the race.”

 

It was mildly interesting then.  Poignantly more so now.

 

I have no idea how Christ made it to the cross.  I have no idea why he chose that path.  It could have been a quick end.  An instant death.  It was the finalization that was redemptive.  The resurrection that was perfecting.  Why did he choose the pain and suffering?  It was not logical.   It did not fit neatly into a kenken puzzle, something completely understandable, something black and white, right or wrong, yes or no.  If we could but figure out the X axis, we would subsequently have the answers to what lies on the Y axis.  But faith is not logical.  Nor is faith the mystical and magical contrivance we so often see in flowery sentimental poetry and annoying, seemingly deep tautologies such as, “it is what it is” in an attempt to explain it.  Faith, in simple words, is fairly easy to define and intensely hard to live within.  Faith is a choice.  It is a choice to have “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  It does not come from a place of proof, it is planted in the soil of the doubting human heart.  How paradoxical that God gave us the ability to choose to deny faith… or live abundantly in it; the consequence being, we must always be in a perpetual state of not quite knowing and yet ever choosing to trust in our blindness and his vision.  His roadmap, carefully laid out, and sometimes ever a mystery.  His ways are not our ways.  We were not called to understand the road map, only travel it.

 

Never fall into the falsehood that Christ’s death was pity for fallen man.  Or that His love was sentimental or nostalgic.  His death was the curse of sin, taken with full knowledge and understanding.  His own bloody and painful roadmap.  The difference being, every step along the way, he knew led him to one hill and a borrowed grave.   The measure of holy God’s hatred for sin, poured out on Calvary into the body of His perfect son, the Lamb of God.

 

Quickly following Christ’s words, “It is finished.”  are the words, “He gave up his spirit.”  In every reference in the Septuagint to the death of the patriarchs this word, גוע in Hebrew or (later) Greek, κατεπαυσε is used.  It is translated, “to cease.”  But the words, “he gave up his spirit” in reference to Christ on the cross is this phrase:  παρεδωκε το πνευμα.  It is translated, “He delivered up.”   Christ’s death was not martyrdom.  His life was not taken, it was given.  He did not merely die… he was in complete control of the relinquishment of his spirit.  And he submitted to the will of his Father, to the point of death.  The propitiation was completed on the cross in the death of not only the Son of God, but the sin of the world.  But only one of those two things remained nailed to the cross.  Crucified and dead. Christ’s bloody body was dropped to the ground, a mass of flayed and swollen skin.  A shell, a corpse.  But…  hope springs as morning breaks.

 

Morning has broken, a pretty song, NOT written by Cat Stevens though many attribute the song to him.  It was written by a timid, shy woman of 50 years of age in the 1930’s.  Eleanor Farjean.  She spent her childhood surrounded by books.  She did not feel she fit in with friends at school and retreated to writing as a way of expressing herself.  She wrote children’s books and poetry but is remembered mostly just for one small Gaelic tune.  Morning has broken.

 

Easter does not end at the cross.  Easter begins there.

****

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”   Revelation 21:3-8

 

*Warning…  The video below does contain graphic images, taken from the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”

 

Thank you Father, for this horrible wonderful awfully hard gift.  The gift of your Son, his blood, his resurrection and our hope for the future.  Make me new.

 

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What are you waiting for?

Mark Lyon and the Waiting game.  I watched it, he won it.

 

It’s the beginning of a new year.  New Year’s resolutions abound.  I never make them though I do not begrudge the practice in others.  I used to make them.  To learn a sport… failed that one.  I could not tell you the important stats on a given sport to save my life.  I don’t even know why I made that resolution!  To speak less and listen more… failed that one on the very first day when a friend mentioned that gun ownership should belong only to law enforcement and that they should turn their guns in at the ends of their shifts.  I had a LOT to say about that one!  CLEP (College Level Examination Program) is a way for students to get college credit if they pass an exam that covers a comprehensive compilation of the matter in a given subject.  One year I decided that my New Year’s Resolution was to CLEP out of Calculus, Chemistry and Biology, three subjects I had never had in my years growing up other than a cursory introduction to Biology and Algebra.  That meant I would have to teach myself the whole subject before the CLEP test date.  I believe it is quite possible that this particular resolution was made under the influence, because I would like to believe that I wouldn’t have done anything that hair-brained while under the full control of all my limited faculties!  But I was committed.  Biology was a little easier than I had thought, and having a bit of a pyromaniac streak in me, I loved Chemistry and signed up for lab time to blow a few things up… I mean, perform properly managed and carefully controlled experiments.  I passed both CLEP tests and went into Calculus cocky.   I did not pass!  But the hardest resolution that I ever made was …. to be more patient, and to be willing to wait.

princess bride

 

To many, wait is a 4 letter word.  Ok, well, wait is a 4 letter word to everyone unless you are talking about the relative mass of an object and it’s downward force…..

 

We don’t usually like to wait.

 

We wait in lines

We wait for test results

We wait for the light to turn green

We wait for appointments

We wait 9 months for a child to be born and many wait even longer to adopt a child

We wait for an answer to prayer

We wait for a movie to come out (my kids recently saw Star Wars, but the weeks waiting on that nearly killed them… and their mother)

 

We often see waiting as a waste of time.  Wait and time are irrevocably linked.   We see waiting as a passing of time while nothing is happening, but that is most assuredly not the case.  We see waiting as the passive opposite to action.  Waiting however, is not passive, it is often proactive, and it is not easy.

 

Last year I watched Mark starting a horse.  I have seen a lot of horses broken, and by broken, I mean broken.   Most of the horses that I saw trained, were trained for harness not under saddle, but the point here is the process, not the skill set.  I had never seen patience, calmness and active waiting, until I saw and heard Mark with that horse.

 

People that I had seen break horses, in my experience (disclaimer… my experience means and is worth very little) were trainers that held an inverse relationship with their horse’s actions.  We often refer to horses as being reactive, but humans are often just as reactionary.  As the horse becomes confused and frightened, his reactionary nature moves into the foreground and the trainers I observed then perceived this as stubbornness or stupidity or willful refusal.  The trainers frustration becomes an inversion of the horse’s responses.   In a frenetic attempt to goad, prod or badger the horse into a correct behavior, the trainer becomes almost hyper-active in his own choices of behavior.

 

Mark was not in a clinic in this situation, someone had simply come up and asked for help and typical of their response, he had quickly given it.   To be clear, I have little skill with horses.  I have a lot of history in their presence, not all of it good.  I do not have the skill nor do I have the understanding that many have and I hope that I have never made it seem so.  But I do watch and more than that, I listen.  I can hear Mark’s voice and the subsequent conversation.  Please forgive how I may describe what I saw, as it may seem naive or ignorant to those more skilled and knowledgable, but I am very clear on what I heard.  Mark’s body language and particularly his hands did not seem filled with any tension.  Mark was not resisting or fighting the horse, he was guiding.  It is subtle and I will not condescend to explain the difference, I expect you understand that, far more than did I.  Unlike what I had experienced growing up, as the trainer became more frustrated, he became very “busy.”  Mark became very quiet.  He was waiting.  He was unconcerned.  He was not stressing out over the horse’s behavior.   Waiting, was the best word that I could come up with for the process Mark was involved in.  He was waiting on the horse’s understanding and resultant decision.  He knew it was coming.  I guess I have needed a few experiences recently to make me more fully understand the process of waiting.

 

He explained that his goal was not to demand mindless acquiesce from the horse, but to help him see and move through the door he had opened for him.  He explained that he had shut any other possible doors and simply was waiting for the horse to take the path of least resistance, which happened to be the door Mark had opened for him.  Mark knew where the door was.  It was Mark’s goal to help him find the door and make the choice, not drag him to it and shove or whip him through it.  It was a great analogy and one that was easily relatable to his observers.

 

It became clear that he was creating in the horse a foundation for what would become a pattern in his future schooling.  Furthermore, it struck me that Mark’s willingness to wait on the horse to find the answer, indicated that he put great value on what it was he was waiting for.  What we are willing to wait for says a lot about how we value that end goal.  Not only what Mark was waiting on, but HOW he waited, said a lot about Mark.  Waiting is very hard.   And like many hard things, it requires practice, dedication and it is a choice.

 

I don’t think I really have a bucket list.  I’ve said that before though and then come up with things that I would have liked to have done.  I would love to see a falcon hunt.  The sport of falconry has always fascinated me, though I’m not really sure why.  One of the terms in falconry is called, “waiting on.”  It is precisely what it sounds like.  It is the active waiting of the falcon on the falconer.  Far above him, he will wait for extremely long periods of time for quarry to be released.

 

The Bible has a lot to say about waiting.  In Psalm 130 David says, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits.”  Doesn’t sound passive like sitting on the couch to me.  Both Matthew and Mark recount when Christ healed Peter’s mother in law and she got up and began to wait on them.  In restaurants we call them waiters.  Their job is not to sit in the back, but to wait actively on the table in their service.  They are waiting and watching on the ones they serve.  Waiting for orders or requests.  There are also a number of references to waiting, as a lion or a bear waits on its prey.  Also not a passive, inattentive picture in our minds.

 

We have come to live in a wait-free world.  We can hardly stand the 3 second wait for a reply to a text.  Microwaves cook food in minutes so we don’t have to wait.  Digital pictures can be downloaded and printed immediately so we don’t have to wait for them to be processed.  We don’t wait for relationships either.  We jump into and out of them as soon as the winds of discord blow.  We don’t wait for rewards.  We want instant gratification, immediate answers, fast turn around times, speedy Jimmy-Johns delivery.  We don’t like waiting for mail, we don’t like taking the train or waiting at the airport.  Everything has been tailored to suit our impatience and expedience.  At what great cost.

 

We have exchanged commitment to the process for simpler and quicker end results.  End results that are often woefully lacking in-depth and foundation.  For the last couple years I have prayed… begged… pleaded…. and then carefully qualified my prayer.  This last week was the wait of a lifetime.  Like that girl Veruca Salt, in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” when she sings that song, “I want it NOW”  …  I was that foolish child.  But waiting is an exquisite pain and a priceless process.  Waiting defines us in some ways.  And through the wait and defining, comes refining.

 

There is a time for everything.  A season for every activity under the heavens.

 

There is a time to wait.  There is also a time to NOT wait.  For what are you waiting?  Mark was waiting for something he knew was coming.  He designed the path and guided the outcome.   His vision, in many things and in many ways, has changed the lives of many horses and their owners.  In fact, Mark Lyon is the reason that I taught my children about Michael Faraday. Faraday lived in the early 1800’s and was largely self-taught.  Autodidacticism is the three dollar word for someone who largely teaches themselves about a topic and to expertise in that topic, often reaching a level of skill above what would be considered the norm.  Autodidacts also tend toward learning many different things, because theirs is not just an enjoyment of learning, but an insatiable and uncanny ability to grasp knowledge and possibly more importantly, to expound upon it.  To utilize it in a practical manner.  Michael Faraday was lauded by Clerk Maxwell, Ernest Rutherford and Albert Einstein, as one of the greatest scientists in history. Not for his one time accomplishment (we most often reference his invention of the Faraday cage but he did far far more than that)  but because of the foundation he laid in electromagnetics.  Michael Faraday was also a waiter.  Patient, sure of himself and his research, he was willing to wait for what he knew was coming.  His waiting was rewarded.  As was Marks.

 

We hear a lot about a brand new year and wiping the slate clean and starting fresh.  But there is something to be said for starting where you are.  We live often through great paradox in this world.  We attempt to forget the past and move forward and I am not saying that is always a bad thing.  I have done it and I know people of better esteem who have as well.  But staying the course, continuing on, plodding forward, all have their own unique merits.

 

A new year with new opportunities for training, both yourself and your horse.  Never has there ever been a better time to act, to wait.   Happy New Year, what are you waiting for?

 

 

Sent: Bronsmethhospital/ptserver/3

 

 

Merry Christmas

So little to give to two people for whom I care so deeply.  This is all that I really have, a few small words to give.  Mark and Miranda, may your Christmas be ever filled with this kind of love….

 

“Oh Little town of Bethlehem”…  A favorite among Christmas Carols for its sweet lyrics and simple melody.  Bethlehem itself however, held perhaps less appeal than that Carol.   It was known for little other than its sheep.  The lambs used for temple sacrifices, for the atonement of sins, were born and raised in Bethlehem.  The shepherds who guarded and watched over them, were officially labeled by religious leaders as sinners.  They shared a social caste system with dung sweepers, both ritually and socially unclean; and tax collectors, little more than Roman sanctioned thugs and thieves.

 

While shepherding was an important and necessary job, and had at certain times garnered a modicum of respect, at the time of Christ’s birth, the role had fallen into increasingly ill-repute.  Jewish scholars and historians note that purchasing milk, wool or a lamb directly from a shepherd was illegal as it was assumed that the purchase would almost certainly be stolen merchandise.  In the book of Zephaniah shepherding was paralleled with ostracism and a disconnect from the accepted and valued of society.

 

From the beginning of time, the very first murder occurred because of the rift between a shepherd and a farmer.  That rivalry continued.  Egypt was an agrarian society and they despised the unkempt “hillbilly” sons of Jacob.  Egyptian art and literature refered negatively to shepherds and their hatred peaked when shepherds overran and settled in lower Egypt, their flocks devouring the carefully cultivated crops.

 

The Mishnah, the “Oral Torah” of Jewish traditions, states that you must save a lamb or sheep from a fall in a well or pit, but makes it clear that no one should feel obligated to save a shepherd who had likewise fallen into a pit.  Nothing says, “you have no value” more than the socially sanctioned exculpation of your own demise.  It’s ok, it’s just a shepherd… don’t strain your back.

 

Matthew’s account of the birth of Christ starts with his genealogy.  But most people who read this account frequently start at verse 18, skipping over the somewhat tedious list of long, hard to pronounce names.  But that list is important.  There are a lot of lowly shepherds in that list and some other interesting people as well.  Rahab, the harlot.  The role of the harlot in history has always been linked to the fall of a nation, the descent into broken, lewd, failure.  And yet, there she is, her future forever secured not only in her link to Christ, but also through the birth of her son Boaz who married the next odd member of Christ’s line.   Ruth, not an Israelite, but a Moabite and an outsider.   An odd choice, a foreigner with foreign gods, to be related to the King of kings.  Tamar, who took matters into her own hands by disguising herself as a prostitute to sleep with her father-in-law.  Not the tidy heritage we think of in relation to the holy, blemish-free Son of God.  And there hidden in plain sight in Matthew 1:6 that most famous of women, unnamed and yet mentioned. “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife”  Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba.  And the list includes other notable mistake-makers, David may have topped the list, but he sure had company!  Amon, Judah, Manasseh and the list goes on.  The perfect Lamb of God was not afraid to hold a heritage of stain.  It was, in fact, not a random downline of simple sex and progeny.  It was designed and chosen.  He chose to claim the outcasts, shepherds, prostitutes and blunderers.

 

Odd choices, lowly they seem.  Insignificant and maybe a bit improper.  He chose some illiterate fishermen, a tax collector, a hot-tempered zealot and a cynical doubter instead of religious men to be his closest friends and confidantes.  He chose a borrowed crib and a borrowed tomb.  He chose a mother and father too poor to present the customary sacrifice for the birth of a first-born son and the ritual cleansing of Mary.  Instead, they brought the lowest acceptable sacrifice, two doves.  He chose the path in Jerusalem to an ugly wooden beam through the gate that all lambs travelled on their way to slaughter in the temple, the Sheep gate. He chose a donkey, a symbol of peaceful trade and lowly station for his first ride through the city.   Interestingly his next return will not be as passive or as peaceful.  The clear juxtaposition of choosing first a donkey and then a horse for his second return to Jerusalem was significant not only to the Jews, but to the ruling Roman body.  Horses were for royalty and for war.  Signs and symbols of power and might, they were used not only as transport, but as intimidation, terror and crowd control.  And his return to Jerusalem will not be through the sheep gate, it will be through the Eastern gate, the Golden gate, the only gate that enters from the outside directly to the temple mount facing the Mount of Olives to the East.  It has been sealed  for over a thousand years despite several plots and violent attempts to open it.  It will indeed be opened one day, only once, by only one King.

 

Memorial hospital, here in South Bend, has a little chime that plays for the birth of each child. It rings throughout the hospital.  It is not long or loud, but at any given moment, the tinkling sound lightens for a moment, that bleak house.  It pierces through the painful prognosis, the mechanical noises of IV pumps and infusion sets, the intimidating whine of the radiation room, the click and hum of a hundred different machines reporting on a hundred different problems.  It is a pause in the pain of a difficult place.  It is heard by the patients in the psych ward, fighting their own little monsters.  It is heard by the homeless addicts in the ER and the educated medical personnel alike.  By the staff as they clean, cook, organize and go about their daily duties.  I asked a nurse once if it became so common place that it almost didn’t register.  Her response, “Oh absolutely not.  It is always there, almost like we are waiting for it.”  She worked on a difficult floor.  Hers was the job of caring for high risk cancer patients.  The ones who were not making it.  She was the witness to stand in the room, quietly during the pronouncement that a person has left this Earth.  How fitting that her ears were ever tuned for the uplifting chime of a life entering it two floors below.

 

God chose a chime to herald the birth of his Son on Earth.  The chime of the host of Heaven.  Most assuredly more impressive than the tinkle of that little hospital bell.  I always smile just a little when I read the account of those shepherds long ago.  Not just a day job shepherding was.  Luke refers to them as living in the fields and watching the flocks at night.  An angel appeared and in my mind I think … his first words were to shout “FEAR NOT!”  scaring the living daylights out of the poor witless shepherds.  God’s unique sense of humor.  I admit that’s probably not how it happened, but I always felt the irony.  I am not sure where the notion emerged that angels are fair-haired, feminine, toga-wearing beings who emanate a soft glow and have beautiful white feathery wings.  Biblically, all references to angels are masculine and frankly a little scary! Their descriptions in Revelation are awe-inspiring, but in no way “gentle and sweet” as we tend to see them hovering over children’s cribs.   Ironic too is their presence and proclamation to a group of people who carried no social weight.  A shepherd’s witness was not admissible in the courts of the day, and they were considered less value than the sheep they were tending.  Yet God chose them.  The foolish things of the world, to confound the wise.

 

We wield logic, we rest in faith.  We use logic as a tool in winning an argument to a provable definable end, but we err greatly if we conversely see faith as the weak and passive opposite to logic.  Faith is not passive, it is living and active and permeates our every fiber.  From infancy we form our faith.  Children are creatures of amazing faith, simple, complete and unassuming.  Faith in fact, precedes logic.   But the two are not mutually exclusive and should work together like a finely tuned machine.  A few years ago a friend and I discussed the birth of Christ, his death and resurrection and the hope and faith in his promised return.  My friend disregarded faith as fallible and faulty, unsubstantiated, unprovable, unfounded.  An exercise for the weak of mind.  I reminded him that scientific method must by definition include human perspective.   Was the world flat until we discovered through astrocartography and circumnavigation, that it was not so?  Did the planets and galaxy clusters outside the Hubble deep space telescope’s ever-increasing view exist prior to their observation?  Did gravity exist before Newton formulated that every mass exerts an attractive force on every other mass?  Certainly.  Truth does not require our admission, it does not need our approval or agreement.  It does not need for us to understand it or recognize it or validate it.  Truth exists as a stand-alone, Pro se entity.   I wrote a chemical equation on a piece of paper, C12H22O….. X .  I asked him to solve for X using Pierre Provost’s theory of exchanges.  Provost’s theory is utilized throughout both applied and theoretical physics and I knew he would understand the reference.  He rolled his eyes and I can hear the haughty sneer of condescension in his voice as he shook his head and said, “That is ridiculous.  You can’t solve a Chemistry equation with a Physics theory.”  I smiled.  “Nor can you answer a Faith based question through logical argument alone.”  God will not be mocked.  God created a Universe more vast than any branch of Science can diminish.  He created a universe so exact in its minutiae as to hold a complete and working biome in a single droplet of water or a speck of dirt.  He will not be confused or concerned by our small disagreements and little logic problems.  (By the way… it’s O11… a disaccharide combination of monosaccharides that we call Sucrose… common table sugar.)

In a Micky Mouse special, Mickey proclaims, “Christmas is found by the way that we live, not what we receive, but what we can give.”

It’s a sweet quote and I am all for giving gifts.  I love it.  But to be completely clear, Christmas is NOT about the way we live.  If that notion were true, Christ’s lineage would be filled with people who could be seen to have backed up that claim.  His first birth announcement would have been at the temple in Jerusalem to the priests and religious elite.  His life would have been dedicated to the proper social strata.


Christmas breaks the rules and shatters propriety.  Christmas fulfills prophesy and promise.  Christmas is not logical.   Christmas is the I Am in the form of a powerless baby.  The I Am who slung the stars into space, more stars than are countable.  In fact, we threw out practical mathematics and developed a whole new theoretical branch of math and STILL can’t number the stars in the sky.  Our futile attempt to understand that which was never ours to comprehend.  And that unnumbered canopy that lights the sky at night, is but a small representation of the vast and pervasive love of a Father for his child.  A love that is without end, without comprehension, without explanation.   It is a relentless love that would command the prophet Hosea to marry the whore Gomer, to demonstrate to a wandering and fickle nation, His undying redemptive love in the face of utter faithlessness.   It is a love that cannot be destroyed, dimmed or denied.  It is not only, the soft gentle response of a mother to her child, but the thundering demand for justice from an entirely holy and completely righteous God.  It is an amazing and wild love, a violent and costly grace.  It is the untamed tidal wave, all-consuming and unfathomable.  Christmas is hope through the birth of a child born to die and through death to save.  Christmas is omnipotence wrapped in strips of cloth, with a dirty feed trough for a bed.  The Alpha and Omega in 7 pounds of wailing helplessness.

 

Christmas is radical.  Never in the history of the world has there been a more loved, more despised man. You cannot sit on the fence.  His very existence requires a radical choice.  He cannot be merely a good man, a clever prophet.  As C.S. Lewis put in his great trilemma, He is either liar, lunatic or Lord.   “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.”

 

Choose for yourselves this day, whom you will serve…

 

The baby in the manger who grew, struggled, was tempted, lonely, tired, hurt, tortured, abandoned, bled and died; is no longer the helpless infant in that still and silent town of Bethlehem.  He is very much alive and He is on His throne. He has conquered. The war is won, though the battle is coming.

 

The shepherds response to the angel’s message was as simple as they were.  They held no meeting to discuss the possible meanings and outcomes, they did not vote, they took no gifts, they had nothing of value to offer.  They simply came.  They abandoned the sheep on that hill, the lambs that would provide temporary atonement for sin.  They abandoned the temporary lambs to seek the One eternal Lamb, who could take away the sins of the world once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.  Make me as simple as those shepherds.  May I ever be willing just to come.  May your Christmas be filled with illogical, radical, life-changing faith in the knowledge of Christ’s deep and indescribable love for you.  His willing sacrifice to save you, not corporeally, but personally, intimately and eternally.  You were bought with a price, redeemed through His righteousness.  You were, are and always will remain loved beyond measure.  The very definition of love, the baby, the King, our Savior Immanuel.

 

To not only Mark and Miranda, but to all of you, each unique, valued, individual and precious…

Merry Christmas.

Giving Thanks

O wonder!
How many godly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t.

These words come from “The Tempest” (actually spoken by Miranda, but not OUR Miranda!) by William Shakespeare and are also the foundational plot line for Aldous Huxley’s “A Brave New World.”

 

But “beauteous” is not largely the adjective that would best describe our current times.  Though beauty can always be found in the natural world around us or in the eyes of friends and loved ones, the news it seems lately, is filled with ugly strife.  Both far off and at home, we are living an odd parallel of the twisted dystopian society that Huxley created in 1931 and set in the mid 2500 AD.  Huxley, a social satirist, was inspired by H.G. Wells and two of his utopian works, “A Modern Utopia” and “The Sleeper Awakes.”  The latter portrays London on the cusp of martial law and civil war.  Governmental tyranny has dehumanized society which has slumped into base behavior and hopeless squalor.   Huxley referred to his brave new world as a negative-utopian novel.  No offence to Mr. Huxley, but I think the term “negative utopian” is a bit of an oxymoron.  Maybe not.  It is a liberal belief, it seems, that blindly clings to illogical paradox.

 

If you have not read it, you might simply want to stay abreast of current events, the read is not far off our current sociological set of “norms.”   Individual responsibility, thoughts and actions are discouraged.  Historical literature is banned as subversive, children are taught by the state through hypnosis, reproduction is mechanized but sexual expression through perversion and orgies, drug use and movies with added tactile experience are heralded as the new strength and freedom of the ages.  Hedonism is the rule of the day.  Chastity, monogamy, and fidelity are ridiculed as obsolete or religiously oppressive.  (I’m talking about the book synopsis, just in case you might have confused it with 2015).

 

One of the most devastating effects of this brave new world, in the same way that Orwell wrote in “1984” is the judicious, incipient, slow twist and careful revision of history.  “Thought police” and “Think crimes” rule an increasingly socialistic society where you are taught what the answer is, not what to think about it. Questioning is forbidden, disagreement is dangerous. Remembering will get you quietly and permanently removed.

 

In 1947, Dylan Thomas wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night.”  Largely considered to be a poem in reference to his father’s pending death, the refrain, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,”  has become a much quoted rally cry in the fight against the encroaching passiveness and languor we find ourselves battling as of late.

 

Our history is the shaping feature of our future.  It provides us with a view of the consequences for our actions, not in theory but in historical fact.  It provides both a warning and a hope.  It is our heritage for good and for bad.  It both molds us and allows us the ability to break that mold to throw off the chains of tyranny and with the full knowledge of history, provides us a beacon to guide our way.

 

As certain factions in our government seek to rewrite history for their own political power point, control and manipulation;  it becomes increasingly important to stand up and become the torch bearers.  We uphold the banner, we remember and we will not forget nor will we silently sit passive.

 

Recently we have been told that our founding fathers were not the Christian examples that history set forth.  We are told that they were self-aggrandizing deists who saw a creator that designed the boat but pushed it out to sea, to float and function on its own. Sink or sail.  Disconnected and disinterested.  I see a Creator deeply and intimately involved in the minutia of our everyday lives, both historically and currently.  A Creator who sees when each sparrow falls, notices each tear shed in private, and numbers the hairs on our heads.  He will not sleep, he is not out of touch or behind the times.  Technology does not confuse him, terrorism does not alarm him.  He is I Am, and He is our history, our present and our future.

 

We are then reminded of our founding fathers imperfections; argumentative, uneducated, given to drunkenness, struggling with debt, depression and debauchery… time and technology change, the fallen nature of mankind does not.  This country was not built on perfection, but on perseverance and courage in the face of fear and struggle.  It was built on a firm foundation of faith.  Not on perfection or ability or strength did Peter walk on water, he did so solely and only on faith, with his eyes firmly fixed on the purveyor and author of that faith.  We know what happened when that vision strayed from the mark.

 

I live in the midwest.  I know what it means to be cold.  It is numbing.  That is the problem.  The stinging pain and burn of severe cold reminds us of our small human frail frame.  It keeps us humble in the face of a force greater than ourselves.  The pain of cold is both alarming and invigorating.  It is motivating.  But after too much extreme cold has been repeatedly ignored and overlooked, there creeps a subtle numbing.  The cold becomes less (so it seems but rarely is) it lulls us into a sense of complacent despondency.  It is not then the cold that steals life, it is the choice to accept abject apathy.  Become a helpless victim.  Refuse to accept the warmth and safety just a step away.  This is the numbness that seeps through the message of those who tell us that our “misguided notions” about history are romanticized and overdrawn.  That honor and integrity and character are mere fictionalized projections, a figment of our desire for historical heroes, not factual representations.  That the fulfillment of all we can be, is to get, not give.  That servanthood and sacrifice are synonymous with weakness and should be eradicated at all costs. We are bombarded with the lauding of self-adulation, self-actualization, self-promotion, self-esteem, self-presentation.  But history, the repeated battle cry of our heritage, tolls a different bell.  Self-sacrifice.

 

In a time of gluttonous ungrateful demands for more and more, we have lost the concept that gifts cost the giver.  Illusory superiority, a new term that liberal progressive ideologists have coined in the desperate hope that the term “self entitlement” will die away and slip into obscurity.  It will not.  We will not be fooled by semantics.  We will remember.  Because history teaches us where that slippery road leads.

 

May we always remember the truth of our history.  That as strangers in a strange land, we gave thanks.  We were thankful, not only for the bounty of the harvest, but for the simple warmth of hearth and home.  The comfort of friends and family.  The great gift of shared community.  Not proper high-society community with bone china dinner settings, polished silver cutlery and neatly dressed, finely attended homes.  We were thankful for savages, who bestowed upon strangers a grace uncommon.  We were a people marked by a thankful spirit for the little we had, because we understood the magnitude of those little things.  Stripped bare of the frills of easy living, we valued family, friends, food and home.

 

2015, the season of getting is underway.  I hope that we can pause for a moment to give instead of get.  I am not referring to the giving of tangible things.  I am talking about the extending of grace, the giving of thanks.  I pray that I will be remembered more for what I gave, little though that may be.  Lord, make me like that poor widow, who though only giving two small mites, gave out of a poor purse, but a rich heart.  I pray that our house will always be a home, warmed and lighted with laughter and simple grace, better by far than any amount of finery.  That we will always value simple things.  That we will hold hands when we pray, and hold tightly to each other when we greet and again when we must part.  I pray that I will be thankful for the life given me, the struggles from which I have been allowed to learn and grow,  the path in front of me, wherever it may lead and most importantly, the friends and family who stand ever with me on that path.

 

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  Ephesians 1:16.

 

May that be the touchstone of this season.  “Thanks for you”  not things for me.

 

Thank you, to all who read this post.  For your presence in our lives, for your encouragement and prayers and your light in an often dark place.  Grace and peace to you.

 

Happy Thanksgiving.