Monday, December 31, 2012

A Last Minute Gift

I stayed up until 4:20 this morning, praying and waiting to hear good news.
The news came five minutes after I went to bed, worried.
My little brother, the first one I remember the gestation of,
has had his first child.
His wife labored long, and my breath was short in sympathy.
Last night, while I waited, I thought about him when he was so fat,
and when my sister thought he was her two-day-late birthday present.
When he sat in his highchair,
and Mom let the new puppies play on his high chair tray.
Supervised, of course.
He was delighted, and is married to a woman who loves dogs,
and they love their dogs together.
I have been waiting for him to be a daddy for years.

Years ago, when we would urge him to fatherhood, he would brush us off,
and say things like, "I don't know if I want children."
We stopped urging, but we didn't stop hoping.
We knew the value of the gift ourselves,
although for years he hadn't recognized it yet.
But his heart changed.
He started talking about the future differently.
Our hopes were raised.
And when he called me to tell me they were expecting,
and he sounded so happy about it, it was a precious expectation.

I think our Father has beautiful gifts in store for us,
gifts we would treasure above everything we owned --
if we could just get our hearts in line to want them and allow them first.
How many good gifts He has, and we are saying "I don't know if I want that."
I think if we would trust His good will toward us,
we would see the value in what He has,
and accept it with joy and hearts that overflow.
Thank You, Father, for the sweet gift.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gleaning Grace

From the time I was a child, the end of December held dread for me.
There was Christmas to look forward to,
but the end of Christmas was such sadness.
There was no more fun to be had for the year.
Nothing to expect, but a return from vacation to that long stretch of school.
New Year's is my most hated holiday.
It has always felt like a dismal foreboding approaching.
And it made me sad even about Christmas itself.

Over the years, I have noticed that the news itself
conspires against hope particularly at this season:
The end of the world is approaching.
The wicked have come out in force to assert their evil wills over the innocent.
Only in worse ways than you imagined.
The bottom is about to fall out of the economy.
The only solution to these perplexing problems
is to surrender the freedom of law-abiding citizens
(and the tools of self defense),
to pay higher taxes,
and to live in the eternal dark.

But this year, although the darkness of the season
and of the world does oppress me,
I feel a hopeful flutter in my heart.
I am looking forward, though the new year promises no improvement.

One of my Christmas gifts is a book which I anticipate comfort from.
Comfort from one who was comforted in so much grief.
Two children lost within months of each other,
after bouts of miserable sickness which he also suffered.
And while that sounds like a terrible beginning,
he gleaned grace in it,
and offers it up for our edification.
And I intend to eat it.

The book is called Diary of an Old Soul by George MacDonald.
It is a book of poetry he wrote, seven lines every day,
while he wept over his children's deaths.
It is arranged as a devotional.
It is one long poem-prayer
broken into a short seven lines a day.

It is reverent, honest, grieving, and hopeful.
It looks in faith toward Him who conquered death.
And He is the only hope we have in the face of death and sin.

Although it is not January first yet, I cheated and read the first three poems.
And what I read made me, for the first time in my life,
look forward to the new year.

The very first one:

Lord, what I once had done with youthful might,
Had I been from the first true to the truth,
Grant me, now old, to do-- with better sight,
And humbler heart, if not the brain of youth;
So wilt thou, in thy gentleness and ruth,
Lead back thy old soul, by the path of pain,
Round to his best-- young eyes and heart and brain.

Is that not beautiful?
Does it not urge you to get out your dictionary and look up ruth?
I ought to have looked it up long ago -- it is my mother's name.
Compassion for the misery of another.
And yet, all that remains of this sweet word's usage in our culture
is the word ruthless.
Let's change that.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

All That Glory

Although the message we so often receive
is to despair and lose heart,
God's heart toward you and your families is a heart of peace,
and of good will.
His love extends so far as to offer His Son, His beloved Son.

Every time I think of Him
submitting to a human birth in bodily fluids
I am in awe all over again.
All that glory concentrated in a squalling infant.
Carried in human arms by night
to escape the murderous rage of a power hungry tyrant
who turned his wrath on the innocents who remained.

Hands that touched the sick and lame and blind,
and broke the bread and fish to give to the hungry,
and held the children whose mothers begged a blessing of Him
nailed through with a spike.

Feet that grew tired on earth-dirt roads,
ignored by those who ought to have washed them,
wept over by sinners and wiped off with hair.
They pierced His feet, too.

His head, anointed with costly oil,
and crowned with painful thorns.

The body His mother wrapped at His birth
was beaten and bloodied and hung on display.

The voice which He used to speak life to the dead,
to call out Lazarus from his grave,
to remind the weeping women:
"I am the Resurrection and the Life,"
to say to the dead girl, "Little girl, get up,"
is the same voice that said while He died,
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,"
and, "It is finished."

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Love Materialized

The complaints at this season about the 'materialization of Christmas'
have some merit.
But my husband and I were talking the other day,
and he expressed that he thinks it's right
to give to those we love in celebration of Him.
God loved the world so much He sent His own Son --
the most lavish gift ever given.
He gave Him freely to us,
His beloved son,
His peace on earth,
His goodwill toward men.
Love materialized.

Jesus said, "If you being evil
love to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your Heavenly Father
give the Holy Spirit to him who asks?"
Our children ought to have demonstrated to them
that we love to give them good gifts.
Though they fail us,
and turn cartwheels in the dining room,
and spill water all over the bathroom,
and cry over nothing.
I want them to know that their parents
(who are not the equal of God in goodness, or in love)
love to give to them.
Because I want them to recognize that their Heavenly Father
loves to give to them, too.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Gold, a Treasure From the Heavens

Because of the financially unstable base of fiat currency,
many people invest in gold.
It does not oxidize in air or water.
One of the least reactive chemical elements,
it is solid under stable conditions.
From the beginning of recorded history, men have sought it.

It conducts electricity: energy moves through it.
It can be pounded so thin that light passes through it.
It resists corrosion.
It makes a good heat shield.
The vast majority of gold discovered by men
is thought to be deposited by meteorites.
Not of this world.
Very little of it has remained near enough
to the surface of the earth to be retrieved by men.
Its density has caused it to sink to the core,
hidden out of the sight and reach of men.

Its chemical symbol Au, comes from the Latin word aurum:
shining dawn, or perhaps glowing dawn.
A fitting gift for our Dayspring from on high.
For our Light come into the darkness.

Strangely, gold also has also been used medicinally from ancient times.
It is anti-inflammatory, and used in nuclear medicine in some cancer treatments.

Wars have been fought over it.
Discoveries of new lands inspired by it.
Much of the gold mined throughout history is still in circulation;
perhaps as much as 85%.
I wonder how many hands my wedding band has passed through.

The town I grew up in was a Gold Rush town.
We drove past mines that my mother used to play in regularly.
It shaped my state, and built my town.
It brought the groups of people whose grandchildren grew up with me.
My uncle used to gold pan, and show me his vial of gold dust.
There were still old timers in the hills trying to strike it rich.

We crown our kings with it.
Accompanied by sacred oil,
it is supposed to represent the shining light of heaven.
We face our temples with it.
Make it into thread and embroider beauty into royal gowns.
The mercy seat on the ark of the covenant was covered in it.

To a rich church, Jesus wrote a letter in Revelation:
I counsel you to buy gold from Me.
It probably brought to mind something else He had said to them once:
Consider the lilies how they grow: 
They toil not, they spin not; 
and yet I say to you, that Solomon in all his glory 
was not arrayed like one of these.
If then God so clothe the grass, which is to-day in the field, 

and to-morrow is cast into the oven; 
how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?
And seek ye not what ye shall eat, 

or what ye shall drink, 
neither be ye of doubtful mind.
For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: 

and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.
But rather seek ye the kingdom of God, 

and all these things shall be added to you.
Fear not, little flock; 

for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Sell what ye have, and give alms: 

provide yourselves bags which become not old, 
a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, 
where no thief approacheth, 
neither moth corrupteth.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Frankincense: Perfume of the Sanctuary

Slashing the bark of the frankincense tree is called 'striping'.
It, too, results in a resin bled out.
Tears form.
The hardiest species is the Boswellia sacra.
It is unusual in that it grows in unforgiving environments,
sometimes directly from solid rock.

'The means of initial attachment to the stone is not known
but is accomplished by a bulbous disk-like swelling of the trunk.
This disk-like growth at the base of the tree
prevents it from being torn away from the rock
during the violent storms that frequent the region they grow in.
This feature is slight or absent in trees grown in rocky soil or gravel.
The tears from these hardy survivors are considered superior
for their more fragrant aroma.' (Wikipedia)

Used to treat arthritis, to heal wounds,
and to drive germs from the environment,
it has been valued for many centuries.
It suppresses cancer cells.
The incense relieves depression and anxiety, healing the mind.

It accompanied the meat offering.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
It was presented with the showbread.
It was given with thanksgiving.

Herodotus claimed it was dangerous to harvest
because of the venomous snakes which resided in the trees.

Perfume of the sanctuary,
emblem of prayer,
symbolic of the Divine Name,
its Hebrew name means 'white'.
Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord, 
though your sins be as red as scarlet, 
they will be white as snow.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Weight of Myrrh

Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Among His gifts, the aromatic resin of a repeatedly wounded tree,
cut to bleed.
Medicine for bruises, for injuries and sprains.
All My bones are out of joint.

It means bitter.
Like Mara, who ate bitterness,
and cried her heart out, and had nothing.
The tree that is cut to bleed out its healing is full of thorns.
Thorns that cursed our existence.
By His stripes we are healed.

It looks like the one I stepped on when I was eleven,
that pierced my shoe, and entered my foot,
and threw me to the ground in tears and howls so loud
that a nearby construction worker came looking to see what was wrong,
and pulled it out, and carried me to his car,
and drove me to my house, and got my mother.

I wonder if His crown was myrrh.
The thorns that pierced Him,
were they healing thorns?
Was its scent familiar to Him?
Had it perfumed His childhood?

It is antiseptic.
Washes out infectious material.
It relieves the pain of the wounds so treated.
You can drink it in wine.
This is My blood which is poured out for you.

It is good for the heart.
A related species is considered one of the best substances
for the treatment of circulatory problems,
nervous system disorders
and rheumatic complaints.

The Egyptians embalmed the dead with it.
The Jews burned it as incense in the temple.

At times historically more valuable than gold by weight.
More valuable than gold?
The wounded-tree medicine?
The incense of worship?
The annointing for the dead?
The wound-cleansing, heart-healing, pain-relieving,
prayer-rising perfume of death?
How do I value it?
How do I value Him?

All thy garments smell of myrrh, 
and aloes, and cassia, 
out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad. 
~ Psalm 45:8 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Earth

The question screams: if God is good, how...?!

But Jesus told us to pray,
"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name. 
Your kingdom come. 
Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven... 
And do not lead us into temptation, 
but deliver us from the evil one. 
For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. 

So much evil.
So many tears here.
Our Father is holy.
His will is done in heaven.
And He wants us to pray His kingdom comes here, to the earth.
That His will would be accomplished here, on earth.
Which makes it very clear that other things than His will
are being accomplished here on earth.

Deliver us.
We need His deliverance from the evil one.
We need Him to assert His kingdom, His power, and His glory forever.
So let it be.

"We know that we are of God, 
and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one." (1 John 5)
If we are of God, we ought to be engaged in acts of civil disobedience
while we live here in this world,
which is under the sway of the evil one.
Love is the weapon to revolt with.
The law of His kingdom is love.
Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.
And love your neighbor as yourself.
"A new commandment I give to you, 
that you love one another; 
as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 
By this all will know that you are My disciples, 
if you have love for one another." (John 13)

Father, please pour Your love into our hearts,
that we may do Your will here on earth,
where all the world is in slavery to the will of the evil one.
Deliver us from him and his kingdom of darkness.
Deliver our neighbors from the darkness of his wickedness,
and into the Kingdom of Your Son, our Light.
In the name of Jesus, who displays Your love and Your light to us,
we who were born in darkness.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What Did They Not Understand?

Two stories about Him are closely connected in three gospels.
I was only reading the second, a story that has always puzzled me.
Mark gives us the briefest account of most things it relates about Him.
A mere sixteen chapters to summarize Immanuel; God with us.
What a remarkable thrift of words.

He made them get in a boat and go without Him.
He saw them straining to obey, because the wind was against them.
He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by.
They thought He was a ghost, were troubled, and screamed.
To which He replied, "Be of good cheer! It is I: do not be afraid."
He got into the boat: the wind ceased.
They were were stunned, shocked, amazed --
because they hadn't understood the loaves,
because their hearts were hardened.

Apparently I hadn't understood the loaves, either,
because I sat there not understanding as I read it.
I mean, I know about the loaves.
I know He fed those five thousand people with a pittance of food,
and that His disciples passed it out to everyone,
and then they gathered up the leftovers in baskets and were sent off in a boat.
But how are the two related?
How does bread have anything to do
with this odd miracle that seems to have no purpose?
Why is it recorded so many times
like there's something He wants me to know from it?
What, Lord? How come I don't get it either?

I turned to the passage in Matthew 14:22-33 and read it there.
I read about the bread before it, and made note of a few additional details.
In the margin of my Bible, it says that He said literally, "I am."
Not that strangely awkward, "It is I."
Hmm. A clue.
Matthew tells me this is when Peter walked on the water, in that wild wind.
And that when He got into the boat and the wind ceased,
they came and worshiped Him.
"Truly You are the Son of God!" they noticed.

The John passage tells me another notable fact:
the response to the multiplied bread was,
"This is truly the Prophet."

Their hardened hearts had hidden His divinity from them,
even in the multiplication of the bread.
There is no record of their worship or marveling at Him
when He fed the five thousand.
It seems they just passed out the bread, gathered up the leftovers,
and got into the boat to leave.

They handled the bread He had multiplied;
they served Him in passing it out;
and they failed to worship, even as they gathered up the excess.

As my children's teacher,
I sometimes leave them with longer exposure to a problem
to let their minds work it over, in hope of their understanding.
One of these passages says He told them to gather up the leftovers,
so that none of it would be lost.
Why would Someone who could do this miracle
care about saving every scrap?
What good is a leftover miracle?
I think He had hoped that in handling it again, they might notice Him.
The indicator of their hardened hearts
was that they did not recognize Him, and they did not worship Him.

So He sent them into a wild wind,
where their God-blind eyes terrified them at the sight of Him.
Where the presence of their salvation prompted screaming.
And where their fear pushed Him to communicate to them.
Take courage! I am. Don't be afraid.
When He joined them and the wind ceased, they saw Him.

Truly, You are the Son of God: Immanuel: God with us.
And we do not recognize it.
We do not understand with our hardened hearts.
We handle Your work with dull hearts and stupid hands,
passing out manna, and gathering back miracles without any worship.
Please forgive me for my silent tongue.
For the fear that panics and does not praise.