Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How Do You See Him?

Having been through the “Is Santa Claus real?” phase of my children’s lives, I hadn’t really thought much about the original St. Nick until recently. A new friend gave me a ceramic St. Nicholas, about two feet tall, wearing a red robe with white trim. He now sits on a table as you enter my brightly decorated living room.

So, what’s so newsworthy about this gift? First, the giver crafted him by hand. That’s always special. Second, it was a complete surprise. Third … perhaps a bit of explanation.

I’m a very light-skinned white woman with blue eyes. I live in a southern state where blacks and whites view each other with suspicion—especially in these last few racially charged weeks. My very brown-skinned St. Nick is a treasure from a black woman I have known about a month.

Considering our short friendship, how did we overcome the barriers that would normally separate us from each other?

We met as peers, found common interests, laughed at silly stuff, recommended favorite books, shared our visions of a preferred future, and formed a lifelong friendship. Sometimes we talked about race and the ridiculous notion that skin color would have any effect on our opinion of each other.

What does this story have to do with the Christmas message? St. Nicholas, the original Santa Claus, may briefly reign on Christmas Eve, but on Christmas Day Jesus Christ reigns as the infant King. He came to earth as a Middle Eastern Jewish male. Color, race, gender—none of these keep me from calling Him Lord.

Jesus—God incarnate—was not lily white.

“Some children see him
Dark as they
Sweet Mary's son
To whom we pray
Some children see him
Dark as they
And, ah
They love him, too

“The children
In each diff'rent place
Will see
The baby Jesus' face
Like theirs
But bright
With heav'nly grace
And filled
With holy light

“O lay aside
Each earthly thing
And with thy heart
As offering
Come worship now
The infant king
'Tis love
That's born tonight.”
—from the song “Some Children See Him”

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Remembering One Silly Ghost

Remember when Halloween treats were mostly homemade goodies? If not, then you’re not old enough to salivate over candy apples, sugar cookies with orange icing and licorice eyes and mouths, or dozens of kinds of brownies nestled snuggly in your brown paper bag decorated by hand with crayons and/or construction paper. And our ghost of choice was Casper, the friendliest of all.

All of that changed when Houston, Texas, became the scene of the horrific murder of a child poisoned by Halloween candy. Eventually, his father was prosecuted for the crime, but the damage was done. Parents became fearful of their children being given tainted candy. Now everything is individually wrapped and mostly awarded to kids in malls or other tightly controlled environments.

Today I will go to see my grandchildren in their costumed glory, lucky enough to live in a neighborhood full of families known and trusted by their parents. They will “trick or treat” the old-fashioned way, going house to house with their Dad while Mom stays behind to deliver her wrapped store-bought offerings to kids she knows. Almost—but not quite—like days of yore.

One Halloween I’ll never forget. My parents had moved to a house with a fireplace (an extravagant feature). Dad—always one to play a prank—climbed up on the roof and hid behind the chimney, where he donned a white sheet. As one or more children started up the walk to our house, Dad jumped out from the chimney and yelled, “Boo.” As you might guess, none of them stayed around long enough to check out the candy!

So tonight, make a memory, no matter your choice of activities. And thank you, Charles Graham, for your silly antics that still make me laugh.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

We're All "Keepers at Home"

Now that I am retired–having had a “day job” throughout my married life—I’ve found housekeeping can consume most of my time, if I let it. Tasks that might have gone days (OK, weeks) in the past now haunt me as I pass them multiple times in a day. Yes, I’m a “neat freak,” whose penchant for everything in its place can drive me crazy.

But housekeeping is more than a certain standard of cleanliness. According to Titus 2:4-5, it’s in the category with godly virtues such as love, purity, and kindness. When he wrote, “To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home …” (v. 5), perhaps Titus recognized that a “keeper” is one who guards, protects, and takes care of something of value. For example, a doorman watches and approves all that passes through the door for which he is responsible.

In her book, Living in a Zoo, Brenda Lancaster writes to the keepers of the home, “You are to watch for anything that will be harmful to the inhabitants who dwell there,” making sure “that only the godly and upright things are allowed to enter your gates!”

Keepers of the home—and many guys stand guard duty, as well—are careful to protect their homes from intruders that may enter through the TV, Internet, books, and magazines. If you wouldn’t let an evil person through your doors, don’t let him or her in through wires and cables. Otherwise, we demonstrate way too much confidence in our own abilities to overcome temptations. And we “tempt God” as we demand that He rescue us from the pitfalls of perusing sinful living. If you wouldn’t want someone else to see or read it, don’t excuse yourself.

Guard your home—not just in front of the children or grandchildren—but as a way to demonstrate “sensible, pure, workers at home (NASB).”

Image courtesy of Iamnee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Dark, Darker, Darkest

The pastor at the church we're attending is preaching from Jesus'"I Am" statements in the Book of John. Sunday was "I am the light of the world." If Pastor Jason doesn't mind my putting words in his mouth, he highlighted several truths I'd like to explore with you.

First, light overcomes all darkness. In perfect darkness, even the light of a candle can be seen miles away. So distance from the light source gradually dims the light until utter darkness results. My master bedroom doesn't have an overhead light. I have to go several feet to reach a table lamp. Recently I stepped on one of my dog Lily's squeaky toys before I got to the table. Now that will get your attention!

Spiritually, when we move away from the Source of all Light, darkness will ultimately consume us. The Creator of the sun and the moon and the stars is also the initiator of the "light" in our lives. Isaiah prophesied that the Jewish people living in darkness would someday see a great light, the light of the world, fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Isaiah 60:1-3). We cause our own spiritual darkness when we choose to live "a distance" from the Light.

Second, we darken the Light by focusing on the wrong things and making ourselves the judges of what are the right things. God has been pretty clear about what pleases Him. See 1 Samuel 15:22, for an example. Using God's Word as a weapon against others presumes God's judgment on their sins as being greater than His judgment on our sins.

Third, and even darker, is establishing structures that degrade other humans. Dehumanizing anyone diminishes the truth of his or her being made in the image of God. Setting ourselves up as "more worthy" than another flies in the face of Jesus' admonition to serve Him by serving "the least of these" (Matt. 25:45).

If we "walk in the light" (1 John 1:7), we have fellowship with one another. Humm ... maybe a little more Light would dispel a little more darkness that separates believers in today's world.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

From King to King—All in One Week

Palm Sunday reminded me that Holy Week began with “”Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Luke 19:38) and ended with Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. What a sad thought that because of my sin He had to endure the agony of the cross in between.

He also had to endure the agony of betrayal. Strangely, the disciples genuinely asked Jesus, “Lord, is it I?”—as though any of them could be the betrayer. Really? I mean, really? Wouldn’t Andrew or James or Matthew know his own heart well enough to say, “No way”? And yet, I have betrayed His Lordship in word, thought, and deed.

Celebrating the Lord’s Supper was probably the disciples’ most intimate time with Jesus; yet in the following hours, all but John would sin against Him, including Peter. I too have sinned in taking the Lord Supper in an unworthy manner (1 Cor. 11:27-28).

The whole world grieved the injustice of Jesus’ death. The earth will continue to grieve until the wrong is righted when Jesus comes again with a new earth, free from sin and suffering—“when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay” (Rom. 8:21, NLT).

Before we move from the crucifixion to the resurrection and the new earth, let’s pause to remember Jesus’ purpose in literally dying—not just playing dead. His blood was shed, his body tortured, to pay the price for our sins. For without the shedding of blood, forgiveness was not possible (Heb. 9:22).

And He chose to die, an act of mercy and grace in God’s eternal plan of redemption. Now Christ is risen! In the words of our church’s choral Easter music, “Open your heart to the music of grace.”

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:4-5, NKJV).

From King to King, all in one week. So what changed? An eternity for each of us who call Jesus Lord!


Monday, March 3, 2014

A Safe Place

"When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by."Exodus 33:22

Recently my husband Sim and I were on our way to church dinner one Wednesday evening. I was supposed to “man” a display booth outside of fellowship hall. Our plan was for Sim to eat, then relieve me at the booth, and I would eat.

All’s well that goes well, right? Our car rounded a curve on the interstate and WHOP! Sim veered to the left but couldn’t avoid hitting a piece of metal in our lane. Not able to change lanes due to the traffic, he really had no choice but to run over the object.

Whatever it was got stuck under the car beneath the driver’s side. The left front tire would no longer turn, and we skidded to a stop just inches off the stripe at the edge of the road.

On the passenger’s side (that would be me), cars whizzed around the curve, having no warning that there we sat. On the driver’s side, a sixteen-foot wall of rock kept us from moving the car any further off the highway. Did I mention a similar rock wall was on the other side of the three lanes of traffic?

Sim yelled for me to get out of the car. What? Climb over the console in the middle of the front seat? Sheer terror helps one to overcome obstacles! Once outside, we had no protection. If a car rounded the corner with a distracted driver, we’d be squashed like the proverbial bug.

But Sim led me to a literal cleft in the rock, where we huddled until two road assistance vehicles appeared behind our car. One driver put up lane closure signs while the other jacked up the car and retrieved the metal object. “Drive off,” he shouted as he hurried back to his van. Did I mention the temperature was in the 20s?

We couldn’t wait to share with our Christian friends that God had provided a cleft in a rock and hidden us there in His hands. Moses found a similar cleft provided by the same God on Mt. Sinai. Moses feared for his life, lest he see the face of God as He passed by him. None of us can endure a complete dose of God’s glory!

The next time you need a safe place, hold out your hands to the one who knows where all the “clefts” are located in your stone walls.

Monday, January 27, 2014

To Mothers of Miscarriage and Stillbirth

A soon to be released movie, based on the book Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo, is the remarkable story of a little boy who died and went to heaven—briefly. God sent him back to his family with an amazing story to tell.

This story is particularly griping to me because in heaven Colton meets a sister he never knew, a sibling his parents had never told him about. His mother had miscarried early enough in the pregnancy that they never knew her gender until Colton told them.

This incident encourages me because I’m reassured that my stillborn daughter is happy and whole in heaven, totally loved by her heavenly Father, and awaiting her parents and siblings in eager anticipation.

I am fortunate to have a grave and a marker to prove that Shera Lynn Hassler was stillborn on April 18, 1976. Most parents of miscarriage and stillbirth have nothing but painful memories. No visible reminders assure them that a little one lived for a few weeks or months in utero.

Parents are left to grieve pretty much on their own. Often family or friends don’t take the loss seriously because to them the baby was never real, almost as though he or she were an illusion. Not so to the mother whose pregnancy test was positive, who felt the nausea or the faint little flutterings beneath her belt.

This child of love is so real, will always be real, will always be missed. Even with the assurance of a heavenly reunion, the hole remains, unfilled by another subsequent child or children. This is as it should be. A child is irreplaceable.

I wrote this poem last week when I learned of a women who suffered several miscarriages. I hope it will convey to other mothers God’s perfect gift of Hope.

Little tiny feet and hands that will not run and play,
Trees unclimbed, blocks unstacked, a cheek unkissed today.
But in my dreams I see you still and frame your tender face.
And at my table, settings laid, I save you, dear, a place.

I know you’re just a blink away, a prayer, a loving thought.
In time I’ll join you up above, my home already bought.
I’ll praise and sing and joyfully tell to all both near and far,
Not who you were or could have been but who you really are.