5 People I’d like to have lunch with.

Or, to be more grammatically correct, “with whom I would like to have lunch.” So, now that’s out of the way, here’s the list and why:

The Dalai Lama. I’ve always found him to be such a jolly fellow. Always smiling. Very caring and gentle. I’d probably mention my long-ensuing fascination with the Himalayas and the Buddha’s teachings. I’d mention I’ve seen Seven Years in Tibet several times. I’d ask him to read my post from early 2015 titled “The Pursuit of Happiness,” about the life of Peyangky, a nine-year-old Buddhist monk in Bhutan. I’d like to discuss with him the Bodhisattva’s teachings, and ask how can there be so many similarities with the morals and ethics presented in Bible and yet the purported spiritual outcomes are so different. I’d also ask what good is the cycle of reincarnation if you never know you’re reincarnated? And yes, I’d have to eventually mention that I’d been a fan of the Seattle grunge band Nirvana, and ask if was that wrong.

John Lennon. Man, where do you start? How ‘bout, “We miss you terribly. You left too soon. But you left us with so much — to sing, to think about, to remember that ‘All you need is love, love.’ Really like those glasses. Yoko, not so much.” I’d let him know that I’ve seen Help countless times and it’s still fab.

William Shakespeare. My collection of The Complete Works, we’ll never get through. There may be a comment hinting about his authorship being in question, now a legitimate field of scholarly inquiry. I’ll mention that I saw Richard Burton portray his best Hamlet at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway. I’d ask if he liked being known in literary history simply as “The Bard,” and if those frilly, starchy Elizabethan collars were terribly uncomfortable.

Abraham Lincoln. I’m not sure if I could actually eat in the presence of this giant figure of Americana. Maybe we would both weep most of the time, for the nation, then and now. About the bloody Civil War battlefields, where so many gave up their lives for causes so opposed. Barefoot boys shooting at each other with rifles that just weeks before were used to shoot squirrels, holding the line alongside decorated academy trained men smartly uniformed in blue or gray. I’d tell him I actually did weep when I visited his Memorial, overcome with a sense of the awesome weight of his presidential burden, that carved solemn face forever musing his beloved country’s heritage and destiny. Wonder what he’d think if I shamefully confessed that moral principles and incorruptible integrity were apparently no longer valued by our government today? Then I would honor him by reading a stanza penned in 1865 by Walt Whitman lamenting his passing: “O Captain! My Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills; For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding; For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning.”

And lastly, Kim Jong Un. Never really cared for Korean food, so on my side of the table it will be a water and appetizer event. Maybe I’d at least order a side of Mandu, the Korean version of a pot sticker. But since I’m German, I’d be more comfortable just calling them dumplings. First question: “With all due respect, sir. Are you nuts, or just a self-styled Asian Napoleonic megalomaniac?” But wait. There’s really no difference. (Pausing for translation and response, if any.) Next question: “So unlike the millions of devoted followers who literally worship you as The Supreme Leader, you seem to be eating pretty well. Must be all that Chinese take-out you order.” The interview might be headed South from here (pun intended) and besides, I find the man’s presence in the civilized world so creepy, I’d probably have to excuse myself and head for the shower just to try to feel clean again. — Actually at this point I’m hoping to get this posted before Big Kim pushes the blinking red button launching a nuke-loaded ICBM aimed at my backyard.

If you know me at all, you’re probably saying, “What? No Jesus Christ on the short list?” Interestingly, it is He who makes the offer to dine together. “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Rev. 3:20) This is both a metaphor describing God’s desire for personal relationships, and a prophetic promise for those who desire to realize that relationship by sharing an actual meal with Him at table. Barry Jones, writing for the Dallas Theological Seminary’s blog, says “I’m becoming increasingly convinced that food is one of God’s love languages. It’s worth noting that at the center of the spiritual lives of God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments, we find a table: the table of Passover and the table of Communion.”

Dining together in ancient times and even in our current day culture conveys the idea of intimate fellowship (Luke 19:5-7; John 13:1-5; Matt. 9:10). Jesus, looking ahead in anticipation of that kind of fellowship with his followers, promised not to partake of the Passover meal again until He dines with them in the Millennial Kingdom (Isaiah 25:6; Mat. 8:11; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:18).

So in this case, my “lunch” will not be a fictional fantasy. Jesus has already booked the reservation. The menu will certainly include fruit from the tree of life and fountains of living water, but most importantly, the breaking of bread in the pleasure of the company of the One who is the Bread of Life. (John 6:35)

 

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“Rain, rain, go away.”

“Come again some other day.”  I remember looking out the window singing that lyric as a child when a summer thunderstorm kept me from playing outside. But personally I have never had to hope and pray like countless desperate folks in gulf coast Texas right now, facing more than an afternoon of inclement weather.

Before this weekend, what I usually thought of when I heard the name “Harvey” was the 1950 comedy-drama film based on a play of the same name.  Starring Jimmy Stewart as socially dysfunctional Elwood P. Dowd, the satire cleverly exposes the questionable sanity of a man whose best friend is a six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch tall invisible rabbit he calls Harvey. But from now on, Harvey will be recalled in my mind as a disturbing expression of Mother Nature’s uglier side. Powerful. Unstoppable. Destructive. A killer.

Watching news broadcasts from on scene and the Weather Channel’s live coverage is difficult. I’m sitting at my kitchen table eating lunch while thousands of people just like me are in dire peril. They are parents with small children, wading in water waist-deep. Handicapped, young and old. Children carrying small pets. But most, having lost or abandoned everything they own, carry nothing. Even from outer space, Harvey’s portrait looks monstrous. An impressive swirling cataclysm. But somehow it feels about as far away from me as it probably looks from the International Space Station snapping still shots of it some 250 miles below. And I feel dang helpless.

I think the newscasters might run out of adjectives to describe the situation if this storm continues through the week as predicted with even more rain. I’ve already heard “apocalyptic,” “epic,” and “of Biblical proportions” more than several times. Why not just call it Harvey the Monster?

This past week we’ve seen both the incredible beauty of a total solar eclipse, with crowds of onlookers gasping and applauding as a brilliant shard of diamond-like light broke out of the dark orb above, and we’ve seen tiny rain drops fall out of the same sky to accumulate in depths now counted by feet instead of inches. Both events will go into the history books. We are all part of that history, some days safe and happy. Others, not so much. When the moon got out of the sun’s way last Monday, people folded up their lawn chairs and eclipse viewing glasses and went home. But for thousands of Texans, there will be no going back home from Harvey.

I’ve seen some heart piercing photography from the flooded streets in Houston and the surrounding towns under water. I’m sharing one special shot here with you because it shows that when everything is lost, what remains is always the best, the best of each of us — love in the arms of a loved one. Even Harvey can’t take that away. So wherever you are tonight, especially if you can enjoy the blessing of a dry bed, a hot meal and clean water, grab your family, hug tightly someone you love, and don’t let go.

It’s time for the back-to-school blues

And greens and reds and . . .  Apricot, Aquamarine, Mulberry and even Goldenrod. Sound familiar? No, these are not options on paint chips at Sherwin Williams. They are crayon colors. Who hasn’t had a box or two in their school desk or backpack? If many decades ago like me you went back to school in the Fall with one of the original Crayola 64-Packs, those more exotically named colors would have been included among the choices in your arsenal for creative expression. Maybe because I was artistically adept as a young grade schooler I couldn’t wait to pop open that box, to inhale the unique, unmistakable aroma of that amazing pallet of colors trapped in wax until I released their magic onto a blank piece of paper the first time we had art class.

Since Binney & Smith first began producing Crayola crayons in 1903, many colors over time have been cycled in and out. Earlier this year the company replaced Dandelion with yet another hue of blue. Some colors have remained the same shade but just experienced a name change over the years. Peach for example, previously labeled as Flesh, was probably renamed to be more politically correct and less racially exclusive.

To me the most disappointing aspect of the coloring experience was that of course with use, the points disappeared. Then it was a matter of peeling back the paper, and in the absence of some kind of sharpener, using the blunt end to try to render a crisp line. I suppose to my fellow elementary schoolmates that wasn’t a matter of great concern. But it bothered me. Maybe it was this disposition for perfection that led me to a career not in fine art but interestingly as a graphic designer. When I started, the profession was known simply as “commercial art,” the creative arm of the advertising world. When technology took over in the 90s, creative possibilities got a lot more sophisticated, and limitless. Eventually I gained the advantage of learning that my hand on a mouse could portray a world of imagination that my little fingers gripping stubby crayons tried to but could not. An old dog can learn new tricks.

Just thinking about my school days back in the 50s makes me wonder if the old adage “The more things change, the more they stay the same” might be a bit true. I grew up during the Cold War. We didn’t obsess about a wall to keep out undesirables, but there was an Iron Curtain between Russia and the rest of us. Gas was 25 cents a gallon. So was a pack of Camels. We had three-channel black and white TVs with rabbit ears reception that never actually helped get all the fuzz off the screen. I had a little battery operated transistor radio with an earpiece that let me listen underneath my bed covers at night and fall asleep to the latest rock & roll sounds beaming out of WLS Chicago. The only air conditioning we had in dad’s car was four windows rolled down all the way.

So, since then obviously much has changed. Some things are easier, and better. But maybe not human nature. Maybe it’s the same, because here we are today hearing about the threat of nuclear war. It was my generation they taught to “Duck and Cover” under our desks at school in the event of an atomic bomb blast. (Did we really believe that would help?) We worried, prayed and lived unscathed through the Cuban Missile Crisis, and now we will again endure what seems to be perennial saber rattling by another enemy opposed to truth, justice and the American way (the principles our comic book Superman fought for every issue).

I guess there are only a couple options for dealing with the current situation.

A new national poll finds that public concern over escalating tensions with North Korea is widespread, and that nearly three in four Americans are concerned the U.S. could get involved in a full-scale war. So we could live in fear, hanging on every “Breaking News” bulletin that crawls across the bottom of our television screens. Or we could ignore it, like it’s just another intensely dramatic action movie that eventually comes to a reasonably satisfactory ending and we get up out of our seats and go home to a normal life. Starbucks is still open. And the gym. Tomorrow’s a new day, right?

My plan, however, will be the same for this threat as with every serious concern that comes into my life. I will rely on the Bible’s admonitions to “Be anxious for nothing.” “Fear not.” “Be strong and courageous.” I think so many stories and verses from scripture could be summarily translated from Hebrew and Greek like this: “God says, ‘Hey, relax. I got this.’ Period.”

So tonight when my head hits the pillow, I’ll remember Psalm 4:8 which declares, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.” (KJV)

Peace and safety. Those are good things.

I need a spoonful of sugar, right now!

Disney’s 1964 musical-fantasy film Mary Poppins was replete with happy tunes, but one that recently came into my head and stayed for days was the song that includes the lyrics “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, The medicine go down, The medicine go down.” I even started humming it. Involuntarily.

Wondering about what practical truth this cute aphorism means to convey I did some research. One article I read stated that experts have actually discovered that infants who are given sugar feel less pain during injections than those who go without. Pediatrician Paul Heaton discovered that a tiny amount of sugar can actually ease the discomfort felt by babies when receiving their shots. A few drops of a sucrose solution put on their tongues before an injection was found to act as an analgesia, effectively blocking the pain they felt in their arms or bottoms. Dr. Heaton reported that “The sweet taste works through nerve channels in the tongue that perceive sweetness in the brain which reacts by producing endorphins, a pain reliever.” He claims his practical studies have revealed what parents have known and proven for generations — that a sweet treat works best to distract discomfort of any sort.

Interestingly, while thinking about this premise it dawned on me that Mary Poppins’ childish refrain may convey wise advice indeed, well beyond the scope of mere practical medicine. Here’s why.

To my dismay, a close friend of mine and I occasionally engage in a spirited but amicable repartee regarding the seeming inevitability of trials that befall everyone at one time or another. He consistently drags out his Bible’s well-worn verses from the Book of James that champion the necessity and benefits derived from suffering. I myself would prefer that suffering and affliction not be a part of life, mine or anyone’s. He and James say it must be so in this current age of fallen man. I say I don’t like that reality, and remind him that even Martin Luther didn’t want to include James within the scriptural canon. He says, well, it’s still there.

The problem of suffering in this life has been agonized over (pun intended) for centuries. Every religion tries to posit an answer. In this post, I have no intent to resolve the issue, but I have a thought I want to share. It’s mine; and I’m not a theologian, just a person who believes in a God who wants to help me deal with issues that trouble my soul.

Here goes. So, what if – what if – we interpret physical or emotional suffering as a form of medicine we need to take to help cure us from something even worse, from spiritual diseases that could eventually be fatal: like a prideful, selfish arrogance that says “I’m the center of the universe. It’s all about me.  It’s my life and I want it my way, and I’m living for myself whatever it costs me or the rest of the world around me. And I certainly don’t want or need any divine help.” Did you notice that there was a lot of “I” in there, (that would be ego) instead of the “I Am” (that’s God’s name)?

And what if . . .  the complimentary dose of sugar represents . . .  faith? Without it, without the realization that in the worst of circumstances God is with me, cares about my pain and has a purpose for everything no matter how unconscionable, life’s intense struggles can be difficult and maybe impossible to endure. No, lacking a deep rooted faith, the medicine alone – affliction or whatever you call it — will be bitter, and I will spurn it. I will just stubbornly suffer to spite my suffering.

Am I implying that a callous, disinterested God wants us to suffer? Causes cancer, AIDS, mental illness? Kills babies and children, delights in destructive hurricanes and earthquakes and wastes the lives of countless innocent people in the horrors of war? Certainly not. The Bible portrays the Creator’s character as quite the opposite. “In the beginning,” God, never intending for His creation to descend into a world of pain and death, “saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” (Gen. 1:30) We actually have a loving God, “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness” (Ex. 34:6), who can use pain and brokenness to our advantage, for our ultimate benefit, to refine his followers in holiness, and to bring unbelievers to a place of surrender, belief and dependency. Pain, in the light of eternity, should never be portrayed as pointless or as an end in itself. So suffering can be redemptive. Mourning can turn into dancing. (Psalm 30:12)

Is faith the necessary prescription I’m looking for, the sweetness that balances out the distasteful? This curious analogy became personally more relevant recently when two families I know suffered the tragic loss of their sons, just in their twenties. It’s a parent’s worst heartache. Inconsolable grief, for the families and those of us who loved them. No reasonable, rational answers can be found to soften the great sadness that will never go away. Like Job we lament the great gravity of our distress, “Oh that my grief were fully weighed and my calamity laid with it on the scales!” It’s immeasurably heavy.

Isaiah 53:3 says prophetically that even the Christ Himself would be “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face.” We have then a God who understands our plight, our desperation in this fallen world full of trials, struggles, disappointments, suffering and death. He is kind enough though to provide comfort in the worst of tragedies by assuring us that He “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Maybe we need the strong medicine. Ever heard the expression, “There are no atheists in foxholes”? Facing imminent death, perhaps even the most hardline skeptic in the fury of battle may hope for the possibility of some saving grace bestowed to even the most wretched of lost souls and be saved with a simple childlike dose of faith.

Do I understand it? No. I don’t know why life is so short for some, or suffering so long for many, or why billions of galaxies are out there in a seemingly endless expanse of space while we drift alone on this particularly privileged planet. But as directed I will take a spoonful of faith in the One who holds it all together. Ironically, even the sugar of faith will at times itself be tested, for its validity and effectiveness.

So I guess I will sheepishly condescend to my friend in the faith who encourages me through every little bump and major tremor in my own personal life with the provocative admonition of James to “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-3) Oh, I almost forgot. The chorus ends with a line that cheerfully declares that, with some sugar, “the medicine goes down . . . in the most delightful way.” Well, let’s try it and see.

My shameful proclivity for superficiality

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Enjoying a mug of hot tea
tonight I find it a reliable source
of comfort, to help ease away the
mental and physical distress
lingering on from a hectic day.
I’ve slumped into the soft cushions
of the love seat, the dog at my feet,
snuggled up next to my slippers,
that mug of my favorite
Ceylon Orange Pekoe steaming
on the table to my left by the lamp
with its warm white glow a friendly
assurance that darkness and fear
this night must keep their distance.
I didn’t actually brew it from tea leaves.
I just dip the bag right out of the box
into microwaved hot water, a thought
that makes me realize I’m not much of
a connoisseur when it comes to teas,
nor to wine.

I do like an occasional glass or two,
and I appreciate my Porto, tawny or ruby,
especially to help take the bite out of a
chilly Spring evening. But I could not
discuss with you the unique subtleties of
a Cab or a Merlot.

I’m usually prompted to make
my selection from the maze of displays
at the liquor store based on the
label design presenting the most
creative artwork and attractive typeface;
yet another realization that reminds me
of how I sometimes perceive people,
from the outside, like the proverbial
judgment of a book by its cover.
I can’t count how many editions of
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein I’ve wanted
to grab off the shelf just because of
the graphics on the jacket cover.
That in itself, a bit scary.

Such was my experience last week at
Bob’s Discount Wine and Spirits Outlet.
Cautiously inspecting it as though it were
some sort of mysterious, magical elixir,
I stood there wondering what would
actually come pouring out of this enticing
yet unfamiliar bottle of White Zin I had in
my hand and what might be fermenting
behind that anonymous face staring
at me from the next aisle over.
Perhaps in either case, a vintage
from the grapes of wrath.

Hello 2017!

I really appreciate and enjoy the cycles of nature. There is a time to plant, and a time to reap. Night and day. The four seasons. The calendar year – which we have an opportunity to begin anew today. I like seeing the moon waxing and waning across the sky. Like our long ago ancestors, I’m pretty sure that after the winter solstice, the sun will begin its climb upward, giving us a little more light day by day until the June equinox. Then we head backwards again for six months. Even the weather can have a certain rhythm to it, as warm and cold fronts come and go and high and low pressure systems race over the globe. There can always be some surprises thrown in now and then. Here in Nebraska we say, “If you don’t like the weather, stick around cuz it’ll change soon.”

I think God had a good idea when He made our environment this way. It’s a chance to periodically launch a new beginning. Every morning when the alarm buzzes, I know I have a fresh start at life. The so-called weeping prophet Jeremiah declares that the mercies of God never fail; that they are new every morning. And that’s after three chapters of lamenting over the immense suffering and distress of God’s people, whose arrogant disobedience brought them ruin and capture through the Babylonian invasion. But as is so often recorded and acclaimed throughout the Old Testament, after correction comes redemption.

So today it’s time to switch out the kitchen calendar, to start remembering to write the correct year on our checks. Ooops. But most importantly, this is a good day to realize that a “do over” is possible. Like taking a mulligan on the golf course, unless you’re touring the tournament circuit. Even if we messed up last year, our prodigal Father God is looking for us to come back home, to get back into the family where we belong. My New Year’s resolutions may include a long list of behaviors and attitudes I need to work on, but primarily I’ve resolved to truly surrender my life and all it involves on a daily basis to the Lord. That’s almost like having another January 1 every day.

Have a wonderful 2017 everyone!

Saddest Night of the Year

The evening wouldn’t be proper without hearing the tune Auld Lang Syne, to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight. Every year I have to look it up because I have forgotten the meaning. Originally a poem penned by Scottish bard and lyricist Robert Burns in 1788, the song’s title may be translated into our modern-day English as “long, long ago,” “days gone by” or “for the sake of old times.” The familiar first four lines pose a rhetorical question:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

Starting in 1929, renowned bandleader Guy Lombardo and his orchestra performed undoubtedly the most recognizable version of the song on New Year’s Eve for decades. Search for it on Spotify. It sounds like a funeral dirge. Maybe because we are in mourning for the end of the year? Putting it to bed for the last time so to speak. For whatever reason, hearing it and thinking about closing yet another annual chapter of my life always makes me more sad than festive.

Don’t get me wrong. In my younger days, I was guilty of my fair share of shameless debauchery in celebrating the evening away into mindless oblivion, with regrettable results. Of course my first resolution the following day was always, “I’ll never do that again.”

So hours before and after the ball drops in Times Square, there will be millions of folks reveling around the world. Lots of merriment and cheer. Truth is, that will probably go out the window or down the toilet tomorrow, when normalcy dawns with an aggressive hangover headache.

I’ve nothing against partying – within legal, healthy physical and emotional limits, of course. But I guess in finally aging into responsible maturity I have found other ways to express a sensinew-years-eve-clockble sense of rowdiness. I’ve no need to blow up leftover Fourth of July M-80s or to fire gunshots into the below-freezing midnight sky. Go ahead. Do it if you have to.

But the wife and I plan to spend the final hours of 2016 in relative comfort in the sanctuary of our home. First we’ll enjoy a home-cooked, medium-rare prime rib and all the fixins dinner. I may even crack open an ice cold can of Sam Adams Winter Lager (Santa left me a 12-pack). Afterwards I will probably spend some time in the easy chair reviewing the year in quiet meditation. Last January, the Lord presented me with a challenge to be more resourceful and deliberate with my time, to make what I do with my life count, and especially to have an encouraging, inspirational impact on other men for the kingdom of God. I will ask Him how I did.

Before the midnight hour though, I will probably doze off and miss the dessert round of a taped episode of the Food Network’s Chopped. When the fireworks go off around the neighborhood, the dog will bark, and the wife and I will wake up to a new year – to be thankful for each other, our health and well being, our family, for old acquaintances never to be forgotten, and joining in with the aged poet, “We’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

Headline: Baby Boy Born To Save World

For Americans, this has been a year of politics at its worst in campaigning for the highest office in the land. Millions of dollars were spent just to seize a four-year long opportunity to occupy that renowned chair in the White House as Chief Executive of the most powerful country on earth.

This Christmas season then especially as I read again what the prophet Isaiah wrote 600 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, I can’t help but see an obvious contrast between what men – or women – will do for a position of power versus how God operates in expressing His rightful ultimate authority. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6 KJV) Sound familiar? Handel included this verse in perhaps one of the most famous of choruses in his 1741 Messiah oratorio. Chances are you have or will hear it on the radio or at a church service. There are enough theological statements in this scripture to contemplate and write a book or two about, but for today, the phrase that speaks to me concerns the government being on His shoulder. It’s a metaphor of course, a symbolic and very visual representation of a real circumstance yet to be realized.

Think about it. The same shoulder that bore the cross up the bloody road to Calvary will carry the glorious weight of governing the nations of the world, no longer the enterprise of either good or evil men. He will reign in righteousness on the throne of David with a scepter of compassion in one hand and a rod of iron in the other. And so will be fulfilled another messianic prophecy: “He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war anymore.” (Is. 2:3-4)

But as for now, as it has been for countless centuries, the world remains full of suffering people, especially in the lands of the Bible. The solution to conflict and war will not come from a political party’s agenda, or a UN resolution, or even from the good will of well-intentioned religious men. What we need now more than ever is the Prince of Peace. But His appearance will come at a great expense. It means that the almighty creator of the universe would lay down His divine rights and become like His creation, in the form of a helpless child, born in a hostile land occupied by a brutal Roman Empire; and it ultimately would cost His innocent life as a sacrificed lamb for the sins of the world. There will be a cost required also for his followers: If you want to be my disciples, He said, deny yourself, take up your own cross and then you can follow Me.

In a couple weeks, on the steps of the capitol building in Washington, D.C., a change of administration will take place. Like so many others before him, a president-elect will swear the oath of office and a new perspective on how this United States should be governed will begin to take shape. Sooner or later, though, the long foretold epiphany of the most momentous transition of all time will finally be accomplished. It will be apocalyptic – the commencement of an everlasting government, the kingdom of God in power and glory on earth – so much more ambitious than any human effort to build a novus ordo seclorum, boasted about on our dollar bills; and far outlasting famed Egyptian and Chinese dynasties, it will be forever, not a proposed mere thousand year Reich.

A foreshadowing, a hint of this transition from man’s way back to God’s way has already begun, long ago on that silent and holy night in a little town called Bethlehem, in a stable, in a manger. As Isaiah wrote, a child is given, the Son of God, to save the world, to bring us long sought-after and longed for peace.

This is truly good news! It should be every newspaper’s headline. Or Breaking News on CNN and Fox News. Remember what the angel told the shepherds: “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (KJV) Even Charlie Brown has heard about it! Like Linus said on stage to the Peanuts gang after quoting it, “That’s what Christmas is all about.”

To all my readers, I wish you a Merry Christmas, and express my sincerest hope that during this festive but often stressful season you will find comfort in the message of the herald angel to you personally. As the old carol says,

“God rest you merry gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay.
Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day;
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy.”

Can I see some I.D. please?

I am so weary of all the slander, name calling, lying, and the literal and verbal rock-throwing back and forth in what has become a shameful, self-perpetuating “their side versus my side” news media frenzy. These days, because both rational and emotionally driven sentiments are so sharply at odds, one cannot in good conscience sit on any kind of a fence. You have to take a stand. Actually, that’s pretty much the way the Kingdom of God works. Jesus said you are either for me or against me. You cannot serve two masters. Choose between the broad road to destruction, or the narrow path to eternal life. It’s all very black and white, with no shades of gray to hide in. Pick a side then.

A couple days ago I read a guest post on a politically oriented website I occasionally take a look at. It was an article about the ugly, hateful divisiveness expressed during the long months of campaigning rivalry and especially after the shocking results of the election became known. It was written by Riaz Patel, who characterizes himself as a gay, Muslim, Pakistani-American immigrant TV producer.

“The worst outcome of the election” he said, “is that we have each been reduced to a series of broad labels that no longer reflect who we are. Mexican. White. Republican. Immigrant. Muslim. We may try to look at people as labels but we’ll never truly see them because THEY do not look at their own lives and families as labels.”

I think Patel is right about the accelerated tendency for prejudicial bias, for pinning labels on the fine citizens of these United States, regardless of whether the appraisals are accurate or assumed. trumpclinton3On one side of the political battle fighting to the death you will find liberal elitists — sophisticated intellectuals, yoga practitioners, art lovers, wine tasters, rainbow flag waiving ultra-tolerant, all-inclusive I’m okay/you’re okay Unitarians. Who’s on the other side? Hillary said that Trump supporters were all ”deplorables,” relegated onto a curbside trash heap along with the great unwashed of society — the twelve-pack guzzling, vulgar, trailer park Neanderthal bigots who pick their noses in the check-out lines at Walmart and have to sign their names with a big “X.” Sounds like we now apparently have fabricated our own brand of caste system, like India?

Garrison Keillor of public radio’s Prairie Home Companion fame commented in the Washington Post the fateful morning after the votes were tallied: “Raw ego and proud illiteracy have won out and a severely learning-disabled man with a real character problem will be president. [We] Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids.” Wow. Maybe he and those loathing the newly defined four-year future of America should all just retire to Keillor’s fictional retreat at Lake Wobegon for imaginary group massage therapy and lament together over cocktails the demise of an egocentric progressive era the Clintons failed to force on the rest of us. What they believe is mostly make-believe anyway.

So how is it that we are to I.D. ourselves? About those labels . . . it’s difficult to not find yourself in one category or another — Single or married. Male or female. Employed or not — although a small segment of our current culture in decline is making a strong effort to blur those traditional distinctions. I find it interesting that Paul in his letter to the Galatian church writes “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So does this mean that in a mystically spiritual sense Christian believers are transformed into some kind of science fiction automatons, marching through life on command like mass produced troopers in Revenge of the Clones, except without the weapons?clone-troopers

I’m sure there are many discourses on the theological interpretation of Paul’s simple statement. In my opinion, I think it points to the contrast between enmity with and separation from God as a consequence of Adam’s disobedience, and our reconciliation with and acceptance by God as a result of redemption through the saving work of Christ.  As a part of Adam’s natural lineage, without Christ I was defined as a fill-in-the-blank sinner, with a broken mindset, doomed to a propensity for falling short of God’s standards and marked by every sort of human fault. But now by faith in Christ, I am found in Christ, in whom there is no division. The fracture is healed. I’m not defined and separated by my gender, my job, my social status, my family heritage, and not even by my pre-salvation past. Rather I am who God says I am: a warrior, an over comer, forgiven, a new creation, holy, victorious, a beloved child of the King. In Him all believers are united, as one, without human distinctions, but also without surrendering the personal uniqueness that makes each of us, well – unique. There’s only one me.

I will, of course, continue to mark the appropriate boxes on surveys and applications, identifying myself for a pertinent piece of the big demographic pie. And I will always without hesitation acknowledge my particular station in life as a husband, father, grandfather, retired senior citizen, Caucasian male and a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ. So are those labels, or actually just part of my exclusive name tag? Let me introduce myself.

HELLO, I’m . . . so much more than just words.

Super Duper Moon

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Last night I took the dog out for our usual after dinner walk. It was chilly, in the mid-forty degree range. Of course the most distinct feature of the evening’s outing was the much-publicized Super Moon. In a scientific sense, it was “super” because it was the closest a Full Moon has been to Earth since January 26, 1948, and it will not match that proximity again for another 18 years. Visually, it was estimated to appear about 14 percent larger than usual, but what I saw Monday night around nine o’clock was more than super. It was spectacular.

Emma and I headed out on our regular route for a couple blocks and then on a path up a hill into and through the neighborhood park. There’s a bench at the top of the incline. I’m usually a little out of breath by then so often we just pause there for a few minutes. But last night I was so captivated by the natural beauty of the moon in its glowing whiteness, I had to just sit a while and take it in. The sky’s customary black canopy was washed out by the amazing spotlight brightness of that ashen sphere some 223,000 miles distant from my little dog and me. Mars was twinkling red in the west and diamond shimmering Venus was still prominent, just about to dip below the southwestern horizon. But overhead only the blinking lights of an occasional 747 and a couple first-magnitude or better stars were visible. I had to strain and squint to find the North Star.

There was such an atmosphere of peace, there on that cold metal park bench, saturated in pure moonlight. The folks in neighborhoods all around me were undoubtedly about their regular household affairs, getting ready to call it a day. But at that moment in time, in my personal center of the universe, it was just me, the dog, the Super Moon – and God, the One Who long ago spoke the cosmos into being and Who arranged like some epic musical composition a unique astronomical event last night just to reveal His awesomeness to me. On the way home, I kept looking back over my shoulder. moon2_0Through silhouettes of bare maples and even thick spruce trees the view was hauntingly majestic. I thought about Psalm 19 where it says, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Last night that reality couldn’t have been more obvious.