Forced to Face the Inevitable

A subject no one ever wants to think about has now been unavoidably thrust in front of our faces: death. The COVID-19 virus and its potentially fatal consequences have captured the headlines and newscasts, hour after endless hour, reporting infections and death tolls ticking upward incessantly. Regardless of whom we might blame as the perpetrator, Pandora’s Pandemic Box has been opened, the dreadful contents let loose like invisible dogs of war, aggressively stalking us at every turn, every time we get within less than six feet of another possibly asymptomatic human being.

Of course this is not the first time our species has dealt with the onslaught of a rampant global disease. Nature at its most virulent has been against us ever since we were expelled from the Garden of Eden. The Sixth Century’s Bubonic Plague is thought to have killed up to 25 million people, perhaps half the population of Europe, in its year long reign of terror. The infamous Black Plague (1346-1353) ravaged three continents, with an estimated death toll between 75 and 200 million people, thanks to rats and fleas invading urban ports from merchant ships. In more recent times, the Spanish Flu of 1918, tragically just after the horrific suffering and death of World War I, infected over a third of the world’s population, ending the lives of an additional 20 to 50 million people. Adding to the list nameless outbreaks of cholera, smallpox and influenza, it makes me wonder how any of us have survived this far. Science and medicine are the obvious difference makers; the experts, however, are yet struggling with a remedy to the scourge dominating our particular time in history.

Looking at examples of macabre artwork produced during the Middle Ages, especially in times of rampant disease, it appears that most folks must have been quite accustomed to sickness, the dying and the dead, accepting even death itself, personified by dark shrouded figures and animated skeletons, as a familiar part of everyday life.

Most civilizations and cultures throughout history have proposed their own particular interpretation of what happens after man’s fateful final moment. The suppositions are limitless. The ancient Egyptians were obsessed with death and preparing for the voyage into the hereafter, spending what could be seen as an irrational amount of time and treasure to insure those who could afford it a safe passage into the great beyond. Vikings reveled in the hope that death brought them into Valhalla, the great hall in Norse mythology where heroes enjoy an eternity with Thor and their fellow warriors in endless opportunities to feast and battle. Many English Romantic Period writers lamented over whether or not the grave might be the end. Poets like Blake, Wordsworth and Keats all hopefully portrayed death as possibly a new beginning, the doorway to a happier life. In his poem “On Death,” Shelley ponders,
“Who telleth a tale of unspeaking death?
Who lifteth the veil of what is to come?
Who painteth the shadows that are beneath
The wide-winding caves of the peopled tomb?
Or uniteth the hopes of what shall be
With the fears and the love for that which we see?”

By sickness, accident or natural causes, we all come inevitably to our own death. The question is, then, how will we prepare?

Today as the Christian world celebrates what is commonly called Easter, I personally am believing and take comfort in the words of an ancient hymn sung by the church down through the centuries as a Paschal Troparion in the liturgy to celebrate Resurrection Sunday:
“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life!”

And thus we find the answer to Shelley’s poetic query.

At this difficult time when the realities of life and death are more pressing than usual, may I suggest, if you have not done so, that you pause to examine the claims of Jesus Christ. He said He would rise from the dead (Matt. 16:21). He promises eternal life to anyone who would but believe in Him (John 5:24). He states that because He died and now lives, He alone holds the keys to death and the afterlife (Rev. 1:18). He declares that He is the only way to a right relationship with God (John 14:6). These astonishing assertions are either true or false. Being made aware of these statements, one must make a decision about Jesus. He is either the Son of God who came to save sinners (John 3:16) or He was a delusional maniac, and if so, then not even worthy of being characterized as just another religious “good teacher.”

Writing to the young church in Rome, the apostle Paul summed up the prerequisites for the assurance of an eternal life with Christ after death: “. . . if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10) Saved from what? you might ask. This “salvation” is so much more than a “get out of hell for free” card. The biblical word carries with it the meaning of wholeness, pardon, restoration, healing, and soundness in spirit, soul and body, freedom from the penalty of sin (Romans 5:9-10) and from the dominion of sin in this life (Romans 6:14). It’s being “born again” as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17)!

“In [God’s] great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Because of the unfathomable love of God, the grave could not hold the crucified Christ. Death has been defeated and the grave will be forced to likewise ultimately release all those who believe in Him (Romans 8:11).

What better time than now to make a decision, to be certain that whatever this life presents, whether it be the distress of a plague or the blessings of peace and prosperity, your eternal heavenly destiny beyond this mortal life can be secured by simple, childlike faith in the Risen Christ! I pray you choose rightly today.

Sometimes the answer is right in front of you.

It was four degrees below zero Monday morning, with a brisk wind, making it “feel like” minus 18. To the folks who choose to dwell on the frozen tundra to the north of the Great Plains, like my readers in the Dakotas and Canada, I suppose that’s just another typical frigid Winter’s daybreak temperature. But in Nebraska, it’s relatively unusual and, for people like me who prefer a comfortable ambient climate above 70° inside or outside, it’s rather unpleasant. Shoveling the remnants of Sunday night’s icy snowfall from our sidewalks, I fondly recalled how nice it was last summer wearing just a T-shirt, shorts and flip flops. My bleak, arctic-like experience also brought to mind some thoughts I had put to verse back then about a much warmer day. Enjoy!

Dust blows down the long lane from a
farm house on a blistering August afternoon.
The scent of freshly mowed grass triggers
memories of Summertimes long ago.
I can hear Gershwin’s soft and mellow
“an’ the livin’ is easy” drifting around
inside my head. Forgotten dreams awaken.

Tan proofed children covered with SPF 50
revel in the neighbor’s pool, sparkling
with rippled waves of reflected sunlight.
Their giggly shouts ascend upward
into a cloudless sky on a trajectory
forever outward into our galaxy and beyond.
To the east, within an ancient cloister
solemn monks chant sacred Gregorian.
Heavenly refrains echoed by angelic hosts
wreathe an incense-bathed altar
illuminated by sunbeams from a
stained glass gospel scene above.
Miles away, eighteen-wheelers stream
down concrete ribbons back and forth,
full of something for everyone.
High overhead, hundreds of invisible
travelers sip sodas and snooze, en route
to destinations that seem important.
Somewhere else, rain falls on the just
and unjust.

Why are we so obsessed to find meaning in all this,
the daily ebb and flow of the tides of life?
Is not the unseen hand of God flavoring our
deep evolutionary soup to His own
particular taste and pleasure nonetheless?

And yet professor and peasant alike
anxiously ponder the riddles of the Universe,
standing gravely perplexed in front of their
personal chalkboards of life, yearning to
solve life’s ultimate mysteries,
looking for the same elusive truth
that puzzled even Pilate, who dared to
question its meaning, ironically while
gazing on the answer, the very face of Truth,
the omniscient Christ.

Fact and Fiction Collide at Christmas

This month I found myself along with my wife watching more than a few Hallmark Channel Christmas Movies, and some on the Lifetime Channel, the latter advertising their series as “It’s a Wonderful Lifetime.” The story lines are all very similar, and it’s wholesome TV entertainment for the most part, a welcomed alternative to the grit and gore of the evening news and most other cable shows. Actually, for some folks, this is not The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Statistics report that depression, anxiety and overall sadness are ironically more prevalent during the joy filled Christmas holiday weeks than at any other time.

Not so for the lucky movie cast. There are only about seven or eight plot variations, each featuring quaint cookie cutter, holiday draped little towns bustling with shoppers, and main characters who, although at the outset are at odds, eventually fall in love. By the conclusion of every two-hour episode, the factory/ranch avoids being sold, the at-risk vineyard produces an award winning vintage, the book store/community center stays open, the big city condo developer backs off from tearing down the historic building, the nerdy fiancé goes back to New York allowing the widower and his children to reunite with the never forgotten high school sweetheart, giving up the big corporate promotion to stay and help save the family business. Snow begins to gently fall on a man and woman kissing under the mistletoe. Fade out, cue the jingle bells and roll the credits.

Sounds like a Christmas miracle to me. It would have to be. The “sow’s ear” actually “turning into a silk purse” genre is all fiction, creating an unrealistically comfortable life, full of rainbows and unicorns, with happily ever after storybook endings. But more often than not, most of us won’t find ourselves in a Hallmark Movie snow globe, isolated from unexpected events that turn our lives upside down in an instant, popping the idealistic balloons of our hopes and dreams. Real life is rarely all candy canes and fluffy puppies on Christmas morning, or any morning.

Unlike in the movies, sometimes circumstances don’t seem to work out for the better, at least from our rather limited, temporal human perspective. Sometimes things actually get even worse. The Bible is full of examples. Multitudes of Jesus’ contemporaries missed embracing His mission of redemption altogether and were instead dismayed that the self-proclaimed Messiah came and went without delivering Israel from the iron rod of Roman oppression. The long-awaited Son of David was supposed to ascend to the throne and crush His enemies. But the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed just a few decades after Christ by Emperor-to-be Titus and his army, the very enemy Jewish zealots hoped He would destroy.

The Apostle Paul is another example of circumstances taking a 180 degree turn from normalcy and a predictable outcome. Prior to his dramatic conversion, Paul describes himself proudly as a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the Mosaic Law, a passionate Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the blaspheming disciples of the impostor Jesus; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. (Philippians 3:4-6) By the end of his life, he’s boasting instead about the strife he has endured for the sake of the Gospel: beaten, flogged, stoned, abandoned and maligned, shipwrecked and at the very end, in chains. That’s a radical shift, you must admit. “Give thanks in all circumstances,” he instructs the church in Thessalonica, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes. 5:18)

I recently found myself in a hospital bed, the result of an acute infection. It was an unexpected, unwanted turn of events, and it certainly interrupted my routine and an orderly, normal life. But that’s what life tends to do. The key it seems is to press on through the difficulties and to not let pain steal away our joy. Is that even possible? Christian philosopher and author G. K. Chesterton believes that “Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances that we know to be desperate.”

Often quoted during this time and heard musically as probably the best known chorus of Handel’s Messiah, the prophet Isaiah wrote about the coming Prince of Peace who would change the world. He also wrote that, when peace seems to abandon us, we have a God who will not leave us alone in those dark, challenging times, and that we need not be overcome by dire situations. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

It is my sincerest hope that my family, friends and all my readers around the world enjoy this holiday season with “comfort and joy,” regardless of and maybe even in spite of your circumstances. As the classic 18th Century hymn proclaims: “Let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior, Was born on Christmas Day, To save us all from Satan’s pow’r, When we were gone astray. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy!

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

Fifty years ago today.

Fifty years ago today, when Richard Nixon was President, gas was going for $0.31 a gallon and a pack of Marlboros was just thirty-five cents, I made the best decision of my life and got married. My wife and I exchanged vows at the altar at St. Richard’s, where the amazing young woman who 13 months before said “I will” actually said “I do.” That rainy Saturday morning standing in front of my cousin who officiated the Nuptial Mass, the Catholic Church and the State of Nebraska officially pronounced us as husband and wife. We turned around to face the romance and reality of our new world, two people joined into one, and took our first steps together into the future, hand in hand, one day at a time.

It has been a journey of triumphs and tragedies, just because life is that way. Our experiences have run the range of just about every card in the Hallmark store, from births to deaths and every occasion in between. Many of the family members and friends who were with us that morning have gone on ahead of us, while the decades that followed gradually added new names and faces to the family tree – three children and nine grandchildren – two generations I sincerely hope will reap a rich legacy of spiritual fruit.

When the honeymoon ends, sooner or later you come to realize that the marriage certificate is just an official piece of paper. The heart and soul of the union, however, is basically one word: selflessness. My wife is an expert at it. She more than any preacher or theology book in my entire Christian experience has shown me on a consistent basis the character qualities of God: patience, kindness, longsuffering, generosity, mercy and that uniquely divine expression of unconditional love, both on the mountaintops and in the trenches. I’ve told her that. She is too humble to see it, but I am blessed to enjoy her silent sacrificial mindset every day. It goes way beyond the thousands of meals cooked and tons of laundry. It transcends her mere mundane role as wife and mother and grandmother into actually practicing what Jesus told His disciples: you’ve seen Me serve, now you do likewise. (John Chapter 13)

I’m fully aware that I have been the beneficiary of the better half of our relationship, often giving her a cross of iron to bear while she blessed me with a lavish heart of gold. Now as the calendar pages continue to fly by, as we do our best to age gracefully I can’t imagine one day without her. I couldn’t be happier to see her gentle, smiling face every morning and to feel her presence next to me at night. I can’t help but wonder why she still cares for tired, old, difficult me.

With our mutual love of literature in mind, let me defer to a quote from Shakespeare to affirm my sentiments: “To me, fair friend, you never can be old, For as you were when first your eye I ey’d, Such seems your beauty still.” You are my best friend, the love of my life, and you’ll always be my beautiful bride. You’re the best, Judith Ann, and I love you very much so. Happy Anniversary!

Remembering The Titanic’s First and Last Voyage

A local TV news and weather channel’s app on my phone includes other features of interest, one being “This Day In History.” After scanning the headlines about last night’s shootings, car wrecks and warnings about yet another oncoming winter storm to hit the Great Plains, I scrolled down to read that on April 10, 1912, “The Titanic set sail from Southampton, England, on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean headed for New York City.”

Billed as the ship that “not even God could sink,” after the starboard side of the RMS Titanic struck the iceberg it took only two hours and 40 minutes for her to disappear under the eerily placid waters of the Atlantic about 375 miles south of Newfoundland. The White Star Line’s much acclaimed 46,300-ton truly titanic luxury vessel sank, along with more than 1,500 passengers, 1,200 pudding dishes, 1,000 oyster forks, 400 asparagus tongs and countless other miscellaneous comfort items to the bottom of the sea.

The winter of 1911-1912 had been unusually mild. Higher-than-normal temperatures in the North Atlantic had caused more icebergs to drift away from the west coast of Greenland than at any time in the previous 50 years. If not for that one unseasonably warm winter, perhaps the Titanic might never have had an iceberg to hit.

It has been noted that wireless operators aboard had received warnings from other vessels in the area about large concentrations of icebergs in the area. The fact that the fateful, fatal collision might have been avoided makes the disaster even more tragic.

Billy Graham is quoted as remarking that “The greatest surprise in life to me is the brevity of life.” Surprised would be an understatement in the minds of passengers swallowed up in the frigid waters and those fortunate few clinging to lifeboats that night, never imagining that tomorrow might not come.

Perhaps the adage “Today is the first day of the rest of your life” is a notion we should realize every day, like the Roman poet Horace exclaims, “Carpe diem!” or “seize the day.” The New Testament writer James says, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Life can be portrayed as brief, no matter how many or how few birthdays we have experienced on this planet. The way we choose to interpret that precious span of days or years makes the biggest difference, especially when trying to understand senseless tragedies, like the sinking of the Titanic.

It seems that we can go either of two ways. We can numb ourselves in guiltless hedonism, if like Shakespeare’s Macbeth, we perceive life as not much more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” I prefer instead to believe that I have a purpose, that God values my existence as expressed in the well-known verse of John 3:16, and that both joy and suffering are elemental aspects of my allotted time here on earth. I side then with noted 19th Century Baptist preacher and evangelist Charles Spurgeon who wrote, “Time is short. Eternity is long. It is only reasonable that this short life be lived in the light of eternity.” Well-read in scripture undoubtedly he was familiar with Psalm 90 which says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Let us then be wise. Eternity is a long time to be foolish about anything.

The Great War’s Amazing Christmas Truce

‘Twas the night before Christmas, 1914 — the first Christmas of what was to become known as the First World War.

On the renowned annual Eve when many civilians everywhere in warmth and comfort usually celebrate “Peace on earth, good will to men,” it was just another bitterly cold night along the Front around Ypres, in West Flanders, Belgium. But as the evening grew darker and colder, a miracle took place. After raging on for five months straight, the gunfire stopped. Soldiers on both sides of the armed conflict set aside their weapons, crawled out of the frozen muck of their trenches, if only temporarily, and met face to face in No Man’s Land, the area between the two enemy-held lines which neither side wished to cross or seize fearing the certainty of being blown to pieces in the process.

Allied soldiers actually exchanged Yuletide greetings, “gifts” of rations, and cigarettes with their German counterparts. They drank schnapps in dented tin cups and sang “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (“Silent Night, Holy Night”), caroling together in alternating languages. Some accounts of the event even say that a soccer game or two were played in the bloodstained mud, sidestepping shell holes and debris, until the ball deflated when it hit a barbed wire entanglement.

A certain Corporal John Ferguson recorded that “We shook hands, wished each other a Merry Xmas and were soon conversing as if we had known each other for years. [The rest] of our company, hearing that I and some others had gone out, followed us . . . What a sight — little groups of Germans and British extending almost the length of our front! Out of the darkness we could hear laughter and see lighted matches, a German lighting a Scotchman’s cigarette and vice versa, exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs. Everyone seemed to be getting on nicely. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill!”

With guns gone silent and soldiers risking courts-martial, this unusual and unofficial truce endured for a night and a day, much to the dismay of their commanding officers, who were after all, there to get on with the destruction of nations. Eventually the spirit of Christmas, the fraternity, the hope all evaporated and the madness of war again took hold of the Western Front, where quiet would not return until November 11, 1918. The cost of peace that day involved far more than a few packs of cigarettes and a flask of brandy. More than eight million lives had been lost and many more wounded for the sake of a political realignment of Europe’s national geography.

Although it lasted but for a few hours on the ever-unfolding calendar of human history, the Trêve de Noël or Christmas Truce of 1914 brought precious moments of peace to the world on a narrow stretch of land ripped apart by savagery. Somehow, Christmas broke through. Now 100 years after the so-called War to End All Wars failed to do so, another Christmas is about to be observed across a globe still desperate for a reprieve from everything that deprives us of truly lasting inner peace.

It is possible, however, for nations, for families and individual hearts to receive the seemingly elusive “Tidings of comfort and joy” of Christmastime if we would but believe the lyrics of Charles Wesley’s classic hymn, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. Declaring “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled,” his renowned carol tells us the simple “what and how” of Christmas peace: redemption through Jesus Christ, born the Prince of Peace, God’s loving gift of peace to us, clothed in human form.

This year, don’t let the wonderful miracle of Christmas Day be forgotten on December 26. The angelic message about a Savior told to shepherds and the whole world long ago is an ongoing reality, just as true today as it was then, continuing to transform lives and calm troubled hearts. Let’s sing it together.
Hail the heav’n born prince of peace!
Hail the Son of righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris’n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

End of (My) Days

During the winter months,
the afternoon daylight hours
are just never long enough.
When I watch the sun slip down
behind the neighborhood rooftops
I sometimes feel a bit somber.

The onset of dusk shows my eyes
what the clock says to my mind ––
time is running through my fingers
like sand through the popular
daytime TV soap opera hourglass.
And “so are the days of our lives.”

Old age has a subtle way of steadily
creeping up on me, like nightfall.
Streaks of cirrus clouds become a
canvas of bright orange and purple
watercolors running together in the
western sky, gradually fading into
ghostly shadows of gray. Finally,
a smothering blanket of darkness
unfolds from the east, dousing
the last hint of daylight.

I think it may be God’s way of daily
reminding me that sooner or later,
the final curtain of my life will
eventually drop at the end of
the last act. I can only hope for
at least a few moments of applause
and a somewhat favorable review
of my performance.

Mars

Last week on July 31, the planet Mars arrived at a place circling the sun referred to by astronomers as “opposition.” Due to different orbital speeds, every two years or so the earth passes between Mars and the sun. This means that Mars and the sun are on directly opposite sides of the earth. And being directly opposite of the sun during opposition, Mars rises as the sun sets. As a result, the Red Planet shines extraordinarily bright. And it certainly did not disappoint.

I got out of bed at three a.m. to see it. At 35.8 million miles away, the closest it’s been since 2003, this ever-intriguing ball of desolate rock and dust was brilliant in the southern sky. From my back yard, it looked less red and more like an orange lantern set against the vast black curtain of a warm and humid midsummer’s night.

My interest in all of the planets and other objects celestial started when I was twelve. With my first refractor telescope mounted to a flimsy tripod I managed to get a good look at our moon with her gray seas and craggy craters. I squinted to identify Jupiter’s moons, too – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto – four pinpoints of light just like Galileo discovered way back in 1610. I studied every book related to astronomy I could get my hands on from the library down the street. Eventually I became an expert at identifying ancient mythical heroes and creatures traversing the heavens nightly in an endless seasonal progression of sparkling constellations. I felt as though I had reached a level of sophistication almost beyond the reach of most seventh graders. Other boys were shooting hoops in the driveway while I was inside reading about Messier’s catalog of nebulae and star clusters and the Air Force’s Project Blue Book reports of UFO sightings. So much for my involvement in neighborhood comradery.

I was also fascinated with stories by H.G. Wells and Orson Welles frightening the world with their science-fiction account of a hostile Martian invasion. I wonder what they’d think of Spielberg’s 2005 sensational movie portrayal of unstoppable alien creatures intent on destroying mankind.

I’d seen drawings of what astronomer Percival Lowell in the 1890s supposed were canals on the face of the planet. Scholars explained away the canals as the product of a human tendency to see patterns where there really are none. Today, thanks to better optics and NASA’s Rovers roving, we know the canals do not and never did exist, neither as a result of natural nor intelligent extraterrestrial activity.

In a musical sense, I am always moved by Holst’s angry and ominous interpretation of the planet as “The Bringer of War,” but to be honest, I admit it competes pretty evenly with my high regard for the mystical Neptune.

I really enjoyed the History Channel’s recent docudrama Mars, chronicling the adventures of a crew of six astronauts and their journey to be the first humans to set foot there in 2033. That’s quite a twist to The War of the Worlds, unless there’s an ironic turn of events down the road we never planned on writing into the script.

I find it interesting that often in its pursuit of making us more comfortable in the universe, science has a tendency to rob us of both the enchanting mystery and innate angst surrounding it for eons. I guess that means we can all sleep somewhat better tonight in the dark security of our bedrooms and yet still dream on with some sense of wonder about the unknown. Regardless, my curiosity and amazement with the cosmos always begins and ends with the realization that “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the skies proclaim the work of His hands,” said so simply in Psalm 19:1. I think that statement puts the grandeur of creation and the greatness of the Creator in a perspective that anyone can understand, in a way better than any schoolbook or preacher’s sermon could. It definitely brings me to my knees.

 

Apparently, I am mentally ill.

For some reason, off-the-chart far left liberals like Stephen Colbert, Al Sharpton, Michael Moore, the Clintons and the infamous Louis Farrakhan can make whatever contemptible comments they want to regarding Jews, Christians and the white man, usually without consequence or backlash. Occasionally though, it boomerangs.

Joy Behar, a co-host of ABC’s “celebrity” chatfest “The View,” publicly apologized recently for mocking Vice President Pence’s Christian faith and suggesting that his religious views made him mentally ill. After weeks of protests by viewers who were outraged by her remarks, she offered an on-air apology.

Bashing conservative or religious Americans seems to have intensified with the onset of the Trump candidacy, thanks to a sympathetic, complicit, liberally prone media, blind to objective journalism. The Who, What, When Rule of reporting went out the window. Instead, we saw the networks witch-hunting conservatives and championing the Chuck Schumer-Nancy Pelosi agenda to squelch the rich and generously reward the entitled poor. Hillary dumped me personally into the “deplorables” basket, along with millions of my fellow citizens whom she so erroneously perceived as barefoot, toothless, Bible thumping, rifle toting illiterates. The election is over. She lost. But her doting entourage-in-mourning on the nightly Talk Show circuit and CNN continues a campaign of mudslinging against over fifty percent of the country’s traditional, faith-based citizenry who don’t want to see the America they love devoured by big government, broken by fascist radicals, or perverted by pseudo-philosophical educators who think free speech applies only when you agree with their prejudicial interpretation of the law.

As seen by many of our current legislative and judicial representatives, moral values and the basics guaranteed by the Constitution, like the right to life and to bear arms, are old-fashioned and subject to interpretation. Now add gender issues to the list. If you’re out of step with neo-progressivism, then you’re labeled a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, intolerant hater. Well, so much for diversity and the art of being inclusive.

I really don’t mind the Joy Behar-style criticism of my faith. It’s nothing compared to what believers have endured down through the last two thousand years. Burned at the stake — now that’s a tough one. I heard someone say that if you’re not maltreated for being a Christian, then apparently no one knows what you believe. Maybe you’re really not any different than they are. The Bible says “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2Tim. 3:12)

And about the “mentally ill” comment – I find myself in good company. Mark 3:21 records an incident when Jesus returned to his hometown. Already well-known for his provocative preaching and behavior, his family and neighbors — who saw him only as Joseph’s son, the carpenter — tried to take control of him. “He’s out of his mind,” they said.

So call me crazy. When I was in grade school, we’d all endure some sort of inevitable childish name-calling, which in turn invoked the sing-song response of “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” In other words, verbal abuse to anyone with a thick-skinned temperament is fairly harmless. I am prepared, however, if someday indeed the sticks and stones do come.

Christ is risen! Happy Easter everyone!

The Prince of Peace is a Warrior

Every Christmas season you can count on some variation of a nativity scene to make its annual appearance, pulled out of a storage box in the closet onto someone’s family room tabletop or a life-sized version all aglow welcoming church goers to holiday services.

Looking at “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay” one might not think about spiritual warfare as an aspect of an “all is calm, all is bright” Christmas. It seems incongruous — that is, until we look at the whole picture. Thirty-three years later, the long-awaited savior, “born of a virgin” (Isaiah 7:14) “in the city of Bethlehem” (Micah 5:2), had fulfilled hundreds of additional Messianic prophesies about his life, death and resurrection, the earliest being found in Genesis 3:15. God tells the serpent, who had just beguiled Adam and Eve into sin, that One is coming Who will “crush your head.” Thus the battle began. The alarm was sounded, echoing around heaven and earth and to all who revel in darkness: My Anointed is coming. Coming to rescue and reconcile, to renew what was lost and broken, and to defeat the enemy of our souls and even death itself. Isaiah’s prophesied Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) is just as much a warrior. (Isaiah 42:13)

“The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil,” 1 John 3:8 reports. In plain terms then, Christmas celebrates the much anticipated arrival of God’s own Son to ransom the captives, advance His kingdom and take back what the enemy stole away. (Isaiah 61:1-3) That sounds like warfare to me. Revelation 13:8 states the Lamb of God was “slain from the foundation of the world.” Long before Adam even fell, the rescue mission was ready to roll out, “in the fullness of time.” (Galatians 4:4)

So this season, in the midst of all the bright lights and candles, carols and shopping, all the baking and decorating and gift giving, maybe we should remember that from the day of His conception, Jesus was on a seek and save, search and destroy mission on our behalf so that we might declare “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57)

I wish all my readers the best Spirit-filled Christmas ever. May you recognize that a foreshadowing of the cross was cast upon the manger crib at that first nativity, and that the Christmas Story is fulfilled at Calvary. But it doesn’t end there. For those who believe, the story never ends. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) One of my favorite Christmas carols is Charles Wesley’s “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” It includes the lyrics “God and sinners reconciled.” That’s the gospel message in a nutshell, the “Good News.” May you find comfort and joy in that realization today. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

*The artwork featured is from a 6th Century mosaic in a chapel in Ravenna, Italy, titled Christ the Warrior.