Of Broken Femurs, Hearts, and Toilets

The past two weeks have been just a bit chaotic for our families. My mother fell and broke her femur, near her hip–not the hip she broke over a year ago, but the other one! Less than twenty-four hours later, my mother-in-law fell–and broke her femur. Each mom ended up in a different hospital for surgery, and in a different rehabilitation facility, located nearly fifty miles apart. Last week, two members of our extended family died on the same day in the same city; their funerals were a day apart in two different parts of the city, but handled by the same funeral home. On the day of the first funeral, we found out that another member of the family died. That same night, our toilet broke. Water poured into our upstairs bathroom, soaking the floor, running into the next room, and dripping down to the floor below. In the middle of all this, I slipped on the ice, fell hard, and bruised my ribs.

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Where was God in all this? He was right there in every situation. God doesn’t disappear when the going gets tough– He is steady, sure, and faithful.

  • Neither of our moms suffered a concussion or any other major damage from their falls. They were able to get treatment and surgery, and they are receiving care and therapy. And, while this is something we might have taken for granted at one time, it is something for which we praise God, because it could have been much more tragic in both cases.
  • We live close enough to both moms that we have been able to help and visit (where we can because of continuing COVID restrictions). Though the facilities are fifty miles from each other, neither is fifty miles from our home. Also, both moms are able to receive phone calls, and we are able to receive updates from the staff at each place.
  • We have close families, and wonderful neighbors and friends– we are not alone in caring for our moms or grieving our loved ones, and there is a network of prayer, support and concern that staggers my imagination! I cannot imagine trying to navigate this without help– again, this is something we might take for granted, but God has been in the details long before any of this happened. Our families, friends, and neighbors represent dozens of church bodies from around the country and the world, as well as a significant group close to home– how marvelous that God allows us to work together as a body in every situation.
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  • Though we have lost three family members in rapid succession, all three were believers! All three left a legacy of faith, love, and hope. We mourn their loss, but we also celebrate their lives with joy and not regret.
  • David HATES plumbing, but he knew what to do to fix the toilet. The damage from the flooding was minimal, all of our towels are freshly laundered, and the toilet works again!
  • My fall could have resulted in ANOTHER broken femur– or a broken arm, concussion, etc.. While it hurts to sneeze or yawn or blow my nose, at least it doesn’t hurt to breathe, and I can move and go about my day, cautiously, but normally.

God allows difficult things to come into our lives– and I don’t have any definitive answer for WHY we have been experiencing so many trials all at once. But I can say this:

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  • Trials make us stop and look and question– and that can be a good thing. God is big enough, wise enough, and sovereign “enough” to handle our tears, our fears, our weakness, and our momentary doubts. In fact, it is in recognizing our limitations that we can focus more on God’s limitless grace and boundless love!
  • Trials bring us closer to each other. Our chaotic couple of weeks are just a drop in the bucket among all the other problems of the world, but so many wonderful people have called or sent messages of hope and encouragement over the past two weeks, my heart is bursting– not with the pain, but with joy and gratitude.
  • Trials teach us patience (see my post on “Be Careful What You Pray For.”) The toilet breaking was my low point this past week– even though it did not directly touch on our health or a loved one. But God sent friends and angels to remind me that this was a very minor problem– even among all the others– and that God was “flushing” away some unnecessary angst if I would just let it go!

There is nothing that takes God by surprise– nothing that causes Him to pause and wonder, “what happens next.” I can praise God in the hospital as I watch my mom cry in pain. I can praise God when my husband finds his mother “alive” (when he couldn’t be sure). I can praise God when I’m flat on my face on the ice, winded and sore. I can praise God when toilet water is soaking my socks. I can praise God when I hug cousins who have lost their parents to cancer or dementia, or age, knowing that God is with us every moment, in every tear, every hug, every shared memory, and every hope that our loved ones now experience what we will also know someday.

I’m ready for 2022 to calm down a little bit. But if it doesn’t, I’m also ready to be broken again– whether through broken legs, broken toilets, or broken hearts. God is in the business of repairing and restoring broken things and broken people. And no one does it better!

The Privilege of Prayer

Pursing prayer sometimes leads to taking prayer for granted. Prayer becomes a habit; a daily activity; even a task to check off the list. But prayer is so much more. Prayer is a lifeline; a divine mystery. I can’t explain how prayer “works.” But I know from experience that it transcends the words I speak and the emotions I feel as I pray. I’m not praying to “a higher power” or an abstract “spiritual being.” I pray to the One who created me, and the One who loves me more than I can even comprehend.

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More than that, I am praying to the One who oversees the universe, and all the inhabitants thereof. There is something powerful and mysterious about prayer. I was reminded of that just recently, when I asked for prayer for my mother, who fell and injured herself. She is 88 years old, and very frail. She is also beloved by many in her family and community. Within minutes of posting a very general request for prayer, several dozen people had responded– some with a simple message of “praying” or “sending prayers.” The next day, I was more specific, and again, dozens of people responded within minutes– “praying for your mother,” “prayers for healing,” etc.. Suddenly my prayers became more confident and hopeful. And I was reminded of all the prayers I lift up each day–those “daily prayers” that sometimes seem like little tasks. They are unique, personal, and important– not just to me, but to many others.

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I shared recently about praying for others’ requests. This is also a privilege. In a mysterious and divine way, when we pray for others we join in God’s work of bringing hope, healing, and love to others. I can pray for others (and they can pray for me) regardless of where I am, or what my situation may be. I cannot always DO something, or BE somewhere. I can always pray. And where I can act, prayer often sharpens and directs my actions to be more effective.

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If you’ve ever tried to help in the aftermath of a disaster (as a member of the general public and not an emergency worker or someone deployed to help), you know it can be frustrating. If you’ve ever been caught in a disaster zone, you know it can be frightening AND frustrating. People do their best to help and offer hope, but in times of chaos and lack of communication, people can be left behind and resources can be misdirected or spoiled before they can get to those who need them most. Prayer never gets misdirected. It never goes unanswered or forgotten; it is never a wasted effort. God is faithful. His ways may be difficult for us to understand, but they are not warped, doomed, or limited in any way.

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There is great comfort in that reality. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of how powerful and necessary our prayers are. God loves to hear them. He loves to answer them. He loves to use them for His glory and our wholeness. What a privilege to carry EVERYTHING to God in prayer!

Peace on Earth?

I’ve been exploring some of the themes related to the Advent. But what happened afterwards? There is a curious and violent story related to the visit of the Wise Men– before they found Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus, they visited the palace of the ruling King of the Jews, Herod. Herod was intensely curious about the baby– when and where the prophets said Messiah should be born. But unlike the worshipful wise men, Herod wanted to destroy this heaven-sent King; one who could pose a threat to his own power and rule.

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Jesus escaped Herod’s plot. Joseph had been warned in a dream, and had taken Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety. The Wise Men, also warned in a dream, had failed to report back to Herod the information he wanted. In his anger and fear, Herod ordered the slaughter of all the baby boys in the region, up to two years old. This “Slaughter of the Innocents,” as the event is known, seems to come in direct repudiation of the message of the angels at Christ’s birth. There was no peace in Bethlehem as soldiers dragged innocent babies from their mothers’ arms and killed them. There was wailing and anguish, instead.

How could a loving and wise God allow this to happen? It was no unforeseen accident, either. This event had been predicted by the prophets hundreds of years before it happened, just the same as the prophecies about Jesus’ birth. God could have sent angels to protect Jesus from this slaughter; He could have confounded Herod’s plans and stopped the soldiers from reaching Bethlehem; He could have struck Herod dead before the plot could be carried out…so why did He let it all happen?

I don’t have any definitive answers. But I can share some opinions, based on what I’ve learned of God’s character. I don’t think God was in any way indifferent to the suffering and injustice of this tragedy. But I think there are a few lessons we can take from this strange and disturbing incident:

  • First, Jesus came to share a very human fate. Jesus was not spared the indignity of being born in a cattle shed and laid in a manger. His life was not supernaturally easy or safe or comfortable. It was God’s perfect will that Jesus was vulnerable to attack, and in need of protection– even when it meant fleeing His home.
  • At the same time, He WAS fully God, and as such, posed a danger to men like Herod. Jesus, even from birth, had an authority greater than any king or emperor who ever lived. But He did not come to earth to exercise that power over other people. Instead, He came to serve and to pour out His life for others. It was not His mission to overthrow the existing government, or to challenge rulers like Herod. It was His mission to fulfill the Law, set an example of obedience, preach the Gospel, and offer Himself as atonement for Sin.
  • Herod had the earthly power to do good or evil as a ruler. He had the unique opportunity to join the Wise Men in worshiping the arrival of God’s chosen one– an event that had been anticipated for hundreds of years. Yes, God could have forced Herod to bow before the Newborn King, but Herod could also have chosen wisdom over fear. We have the same opportunity to welcome Jesus as our Savior– or to wage war against Him. Jesus invites us to follow Him, but He doesn’t stop us from making the same destructive choices that Herod made.
  • Jesus did not come to bring a worldly peace, but an eternal “Peace that passes understanding.” Even now, after His death and resurrection, there is still war and slaughter, crime and injustice in our world. But, because of all Jesus did, and is doing in and through those who follow Him, we see that tragedies can be redeemed; hope can survive where there seems to be no hope; and death is not the final victor. I don’t understand why these particular families had to face the tragic consequences of Herod’s rage and fear and ambition. But I understand that God is bigger than Herod; and more powerful than all the chaos and pain that he caused.
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The world is not at peace today. Innocent people– even babies–are hurt and killed in our world. God knows. He aches for our grief and pain. But He also knows His plans. He knows how the story ends– He knows all that has happened, and all that is happening, and all that will happen. Even in the glory of Christmas, He wants us to know that reality. Someday, Jesus will return in all of His authority and power. He won’t just end the reign of evil rulers like Herod– He will render their legacies useless. He will redeem injustices– even genocide and slaughter–and wipe out even the memory of their grief and terror.

Hallelujah!

Christmas Eve–people around the world will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Some will meet for evening and midnight candlelight services tonight. Others will begin celebrating tomorrow morning. Some will celebrate with great solemnity; others with great festivity; some, like the monks chorus above, with laughter and frivolity. Even amid continuing pandemic travel and gathering restrictions, families and individuals will celebrate with music, gift-giving, phone calls, small gatherings, reading Bible passages about Jesus’ birth, feasting, sharing memories, and praying.
There are only a few occasions throughout the year that can be said to be nearly universal, but Christmas comes close. Even where it is not celebrated as a cultural phenomenon, complete with tinsel and trees, lights and decorations, it is celebrated by the faithful who thrill with joy at the reminder that God Himself chose to come live with people He created– that He came to share in their day-to-day triumphs and struggles; so much so that He chose to share in our fate: Death. GOD cried out in hunger. GOD shivered with cold, and felt exhaustion. GOD suffered shame and misunderstanding and abandonment. GOD felt agony and struggled to breathe as blood and sweat ran down His brow and into His eyes. And by His coming, and suffering, and dying, HE brought us life and hope, eternal joy and peace! It is the very greatest reason to celebrate– bigger than national holidays or seasonal festivals; bigger than cultural differences and vast distances; bigger than mere tradition or historical remembrance.

Hallelujah!

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For many, this Christmas will be bittersweet– we have suffered greatly; some of us are still reeling from loss and grief. Others are living with fear and confusion about the future. In many ways, our situation is not so different from that first Christmas in Bethlehem. We feel “taxed” by events and circumstances. The world seems dark and dreary and cold. More than ever, we need to listen for the song of the Angels– for “good news of great joy, which shall be to all people.”

And, maybe more than ever in our lifetime, we need to be like the shepherds–eager to seek out the gift of the newborn Savior; Eager to embrace the wonder of Emmanuel; eager to share the hope we find at the manger. Hallelujah! Unto US a child is given; unto US a son is born! (Isaiah 9:6)

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I’ve been writing a lot about Advent and Christmas lately, rather than focusing on Pursuing Prayer. But they are part of the same whole. I pursue a life of prayer precisely because Jesus came in the flesh and lived and died and rose again. I believe in the power of prayer because Jesus modeled how to pray– even as He faced betrayal and death. I believe in the gift of prayer because Jesus prayed for me long before I was ever born (see John 17). I pursue prayer with confidence because Jesus keeps His promises.

Hallelujah!

In the Bleak Midwinter

It’s not actually midwinter just now. In fact, “winter” won’t officially begin for another few days. But it has been bleak around here.

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I suffer from seasonal depression. In spite of the joy I know I should feel during this season; in spite of all the reasons I have to BE joyful, I have been in a funk. I’ve been physically ill, but even more, I’ve been mentally drained and emotionally overwhelmed for over a week. I’ve missed posting a couple of days recently, because I feel hypocritical writing about Christmas.

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But I choose to write tonight about the enduring power of prayer. There are people praying for me, not because I’ve said anything about my condition, but because they are faithful in praying for people, and I happen to be one of them. The clouds are beginning to lift and I’m finding it easier to feel what I already know– that God is in control; that He cares; that He has a purpose beyond the sadness. It’s why I’m so passionate about praying and keeping a prayer log or prayer journal. I am one of those who pray for others, and I am one of those who are being prayed for–we lift each other up, even when–especially when–we don’t fully understand why.

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Some may ask, “How can you say that prayer works if you are depressed? Doesn’t that just prove that prayer isn’t working?” Some people mock the power of prayer in the face of “bad” circumstances. The recent school shooting in my home state of Michigan, or the recent spate of tornadoes in Kentucky and other states are prime examples. Sincere people of faith are being mocked for saying that their “thoughts and prayers” are with the people who are suffering. Mockers say that thoughts and prayers are meaningless–otherwise, prayers should have prevented the events in question from ever happening. In the aftermath, only actions are of value.

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In the face of disaster, distress, or depression, prayers may seem small and even meaningless. Most prayers don’t pack the power of a tornado, nor elicit such an immediate and dramatic response. My depression didn’t suddenly disappear the moment someone began praying for me; those whose homes and lives have been turned upside-down in the past days and weeks didn’t wake up this morning to find that it was just a bad dream. And prayer should be accompanied by thoughtful and compassionate action. But prayer heals– and healing takes time. God chooses to use the prayers of others to seep into our lives; to fortify us and draw us together. Actions may change the circumstances, but prayer changes the person. Prayer reaches beyond the circumstances and the limitations of our human nature.

So today, I will pray. Through the “funk,” through the pain, through the confusion and chaos of a troubled world, I will choose to pray. For those individuals listed in my journal; for those whose needs are posted online or made known to me some other way; for those whose names and faces come to mind throughout the day. Because it is God’s way. Because others are faithfully doing the same. Because, in the end, it brings joy and peace. Even when–especially when– things seem so bleak.

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years..

My paternal grandmother was born in Shanghai. But not the Shanghai most people think of. Not a great Eastern city of importance, but a tiny settlement called Shanghai (or Shanghai Corners) in southwestern Michigan. It doesn’t have a post office; it’s not even listed on most maps. And it wasn’t named directly after the great Chinese city– it was named after a breed of chicken (most likely the breed now known as Cochin)!

Jesus wasn’t born in Jerusalem. He wasn’t born in Rome or Athens, or New York City or London or Johannesburg or Tokyo. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It wasn’t as small as Shanghai Corners, Michigan, but it wasn’t a city of great importance, wealth, or industry. And yet, it was the place where history would be reshaped. Our modern calendar divides into what happened before that night in Bethlehem and what came after. More than two thousand years later, no event has been able to displace it as the pivotal event of recorded history.

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And this division wasn’t caused by a revolution, or a series of wars. It wasn’t shaped by disaster or plague, victory or catastrophe. It came silently with the birth of a single baby, wrapped in strips of cloth and placed into a makeshift bed. But all the years revolve around that single birth. All the great triumphs of history– the moon landing, the invention of the printing press, the conquests of Alexander the Great, the building of the Sphinx–all are placed in the context of the arrival of God in human form. God stepped into the limits of human history, and the timeline was permanently altered. Before His appearance, prophets and seers looked forward. After His arrival, history looks back. But His birth is the focal point; the period. The end of the Beginning and the beginning of the End.

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The hopes of all the ancients–shrouded in mists and wonder– were given flesh and bones. The fears– dark and amorphous– were blinded by the light of His Presence.

What hopes and fears are we carrying today? Our hopes have a name– Jesus; Emmanuel! Our fears have nowhere to hide from His power. And this wondrous gift, while it first arrived in the little town of Bethlehem, reaches around the entire Earth– to Shanghai, and Shanghai Corners; New Delhi, and St. Petersburg; Dallas and Buenos Aires; Cairo and Caraballo; Los Angeles and Lagos; and thousands of small towns in between.

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“Oh Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in:
Be born in us today.”

Peace on Earth

Christmas is a joyful season– for most people. And it is a giving season; a busy season; a bright and noisy season. But for most of us, it is NOT a peaceful season. Our small city had a lighted parade the other night. It was festive and bright; there were a lot of happy people cheering on marching bands, floats, dancers, decorated fire engines and tractors, horse-drawn carriages, and other entries. People were eating, drinking hot cocoa, enjoying the entertainment, and even singing carols. The whole downtown was decorated with brilliant lights and banners and festive plants. But before the parade started, and after it ended, there were angry drivers trying to find (or leave) parking spots, bawling toddlers, rowdy people who had more to drink than just the cocoa, and several others who were just tired, and cold, and overstimulated.

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While parades and festivities, parties and pageants have become part of the seasonal celebrations in many parts of the world, they are not what Christmas is really about. Jesus did not come to the world to bring “fun.” He did not come to bring toys or games, parties or feasts. He did not come to bring cheerful songs and fragrant holiday decorations, or hot cocoa and cookies. The angels who announced His arrival did not bring good tidings of candy canes, flying reindeer, or twinkle lights.

We sing about “Peace on Earth.” We talk about it, send greeting cards about it, and pray for it. But what do we MEAN when we talk about Peace on Earth, Good will to Men (Humankind)? For many, it is a wish or a prayer that wars would end, or that the petty differences between rival political factions or even rival churches would end. We speak of global peace or universal peace– peace between men (and women). And it is good that we should want such peace. But is that really the kind of peace Jesus brought with Him? He didn’t put an end to wars and disagreements during His ministry here. He didn’t “settle the score” for those who experienced oppression– the Roman Empire remained; the tax collectors still took more than their fair share; there was still slavery and abuse; greed and adultery and murder did not cease. And the world has been noisy, and messy, and angry and depressed in the two millennia since. And yet…

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There IS peace on earth–it is the profound peace that comes with “Good will to Men.” God’s good will found its ultimate expression in the gift of the Savior. There may still be wars and pestilence, angry drivers, bad hair days, injustice, confusion, grief, and pain among people. But there is power to be at peace in the midst of it all– the power of a Peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7); the power of Peace with God (Romans 5:1).

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Jesus came to a world that knew only the rumor of such peace. Even King David– a “man after God’s own heart,” a man who wrote songs about peace and safety and joy in God’s presence–knew this kind of peace as something that had been promised. David could know the immediate peace of God’s forgiveness; he could know the blessings of obedience and the restoration of the joy of salvation (Psalm 51:12). But the everlasting Peace that has been accomplished by the Advent of the Christ– David, Moses, Abraham, and all the prophets had longed to know it; to experience it from within.

And THIS Peace we can experience– not just during the Advent and Christmas Season, but throughout our lives. Chaos, loneliness, grief, separation, injustice– it HAS BEEN defeated. It has no power to separate us from God’s Good Will or from His Loving embrace! The noise and anger and clutter and abuse is still real. We should not ignore it, and we certainly must not contribute to it or sanction it. But we no longer have to live without hope; we no longer have to fret and live in constant fear or defeat.

There is no parade tonight as I write this– there are still lights and occasional noises downtown– a door closing, a dog barking, a car passing. But there is Peace within– no matter how loud or bright, how festive or even forlorn things seem.

The Right Time

But when the right time finally came, God sent his own Son. He came as the son of a human mother and lived under the Jewish Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might become God’s children

Galatians 4:4-5 (Good News Translation– emphasis added)

At just the right time Christ died for ungodly people. He died for us when we had no power of our own.

Romans 5:6 (New International Reader’s Version–emphasis added)

Do you ever wonder at God’s timing throughout the Bible? Why did He take the Israelites up to the edge of the Red Sea and THEN send the entire Egyptian army after them? Why did He allow Haman to trick the king into signing an edict that would wipe out the Jews and THEN send Esther to try to save them? Why did Jesus wait until Lazarus was dead to visit His sick friend? Or God’s timing in our own lives? Why didn’t He make it possible to get the job I wanted when I first applied, instead of nearly a year later? Why is life so stressful all at once? Why does God seem to give me wisdom AFTER I’ve messed up? And yet, God’s timing is perfect. Not that it seems that way–in fact, it often seems like God is not paying attention to timing at all.

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Even in Christ’s birth, it seems like the timing couldn’t have been worse–Joseph and Mary forced to travel far from home, only to find that there was no room anywhere for them to rest. And then– THEN–the labor pains began! It was cold, dark, filthy, lonely, and frightening. And not just that evening: the Romans ruled a significant portion of the world with an iron fist. Jews were not forbidden from worshipping God, but they were heavily taxed, regulated, and watched over by their invaders. This newest census was just another part of the bureaucracy and endless government red tape. It seems like it would be the worst timing ever for Emmanuel to appear.

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And yet, Scripture says it was “just the right time” for Christ to come. So what can we discover about this “right time?”

  • God had been silent for 400 years before this– almost exactly the same amount of time the Israelites had been in captivity in Egypt before God sent Moses to lead them out. Coincidence? I’m not so sure…God uses patterns to illustrate concepts. Just as the Israelites had been slaves to the Egyptians, so all of us were slaves to Sin and Death. “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” John 3:14 (New American Standard Bible)
  • The prophets made hundreds of statements about where and how Emmanuel would be born– some seemed completely contradictory; yet they were all fulfilled exactly. Again, this wasn’t a coincidence– God orchestrated events over centuries until it was “the right time” for them to all come to pass. Only God could have coordinated it all–the census, the genealogy of Jesus, Joseph’s hometown, Mary’s contractions coming THAT night in THAT cattle shed, instead of on the road somewhere, or in a private room where the shepherds couldn’t visit…
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  • The Jewish people had been in exile off and on throughout the centuries; under Rome, even though they were conquered, most of the Jews who had returned to their homeland were still living there, much as they had centuries before. That wasn’t the case four or five hundred years before– it isn’t even the case today– more Jewish people live outside of Israel than in it!
  • Rome had established its rule over most of the Western World– and with it, they had established a system of roads, common currency, and a complex legal system. All of this played vital roles in the advent of the Savior– from His birth, through His ministry, and even in His trial, death, and the spreading of the Gospel. Before them, the Greeks had established cities and trading centers that would form the basis of the first missionary trips of the Apostle Paul. And they had created a “common” language in which this Good News was first written and spread. Just a few hundred years earlier, the spread of Christianity through letters and traveling ministers would have been much slower, less efficient, and more dangerous. Just a few hundred years later, the Roman Empire would be in shambles; travel would require going through regions separated by differing languages and governments.
  • To me, one of the most fascinating things to imagine is what it might be like if Christ had not come until our own time. First, there would be no Christianity, and none of the work of Christians over the centuries would have been done. But even if we imagine that all of history had unfolded and the present was much as it is, Christ’s birth would not have happened in the same way. Bethlehem would not be under the rule of Rome. In fact, Israel might not even exist; as it is, it exists in hot contention between the Jews, the Palestinians, and their close neighbors in the Middle East. There would be no census, and no need for Joseph and Mary to travel– and certainly not by donkey! There might be “no room at the inn,” but Joseph and Mary would be sent to a homeless shelter, filled with other hapless travelers. The shepherds, seeing angels, might still be filled with fright– mistaking them for missiles! Even so, it would only take minutes for a team of journalists to arrive with cameras, microphones, and commentary! The message of the angels would be dubbed “false” information or “fake news”, as would most of the prophecies about His arrival. “Fact checkers” would “kill” the story, and Mary, Joseph, and all the shepherds and wise men would be “cancelled” or receive threats.
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Or not–I can only speculate. But I can say with confidence that God’s timing, even when it seems odd or “wrong” by our limited perspective, is perfect and worthy of our praise. All that seems “odd” or “wrong” about Christ’s coming when, where, or how He did, is just our limited perspective, and our tendency to doubt whatever we don’t understand.

Emmanuel came! He came at “just the right time” to fulfill all the promises and complete His ministry on Earth. Everything happened just as God designed it. And over two thousand years later, we still “Rejoice!” We sing songs, celebrate, and worship. We breathe in Hope, we give gifts, and we cherish the story of Christmas in hundreds of different ways.

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This same God has a plan for us today. Throughout our lives, He sends blessings, allows struggles, and patiently stands by, offering help and hope to each of us. There is not a single detail of our lives that escapes His notice or is beyond His capacity or willingness to restore, transform, redeem, or renew.

Emmanuel– God WITH us–at “just the right time!”

Receiving Back the Dead

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. 26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 11:25-26 (CSB)
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Jesus knew Lazarus was already dead when He set out for Bethany. He knew of the illness in time to save His friend. Yet He delayed. By the time He arrived, Lazarus had been dead four days, and was already buried. What comfort could He offer the grieving sisters? What could He say to explain His delay and seeming unconcern?

This year, we lost a lot of friends, neighbors and family members. Many others were suffering. We prayed for them all– we prayed for healing; we prayed for miracles. And God performed some miracles– people who were on life support and people with “incurable” cancer were released from the hospital and pronounced “healed.” But others died, even with all our prayers. And even more died suddenly before we could even seek God’s favor and healing.

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We mourn the loss of these loved ones. We miss their presence at gatherings; we miss their laughter, their wisdom, their “life” in our midst. But we do not mourn like those without hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Death cannot separate us from God, nor can it separate us from any of His family.

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This is more than just “keeping” someone alive in our memory. There is a sure hope that we will be reunited– that we will “receive back” those who have passed on (and others will receive us after our own deaths). What does this mean? I don’t expect those who have died this past year to be resurrected in their old physical bodies or walk out of the grave as Lazarus did. But I have the assurance that they are “alive” in spirit, and that we are all part of God’s eternal plan to be together with Him forever.

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That’s an amazing promise for the future, but it also impacts the present as I face my current grief. I don’t just remember loved ones “as they were.” I can look forward to knowing them “as they will be.” The many wonderful memories I have of our time here will be eclipsed by the wonderful moments to come! And it gets even better–those who died when I was young; those who died before I was even born–we will be “reunited” as well.

This brings up another question– what about those who are not “saved?” We grieve now for them, but won’t we be missing them for eternity? I can’t give a definitive answer to that question, but I can say that there is a comfort that transcends all that we know in this life. God can redeem our memories and our emotions, including grief. Jesus came to defeat Death and Sin. His work of redemption continues, but the Victory is already won. If you are struggling with grief in this season, I pray that God will help you “receive back” your dead– that your heart would be at peace as you remember and give thanks for the moments you shared. Let God’s promises and His comfort flood your heart. And remember that God’s compassion is to share your grief as well as your joy. Jesus wept when He came to Bethany– even though He knew that Lazarus would live again! He comforted Martha and Mary in their grief BEFORE He raised Lazarus. He can do the same for each of us.

Of Spiders, Skeletons, and Saints

Just before writing this, I found a spider crawling on my shoulder. I’m not a big fan of spiders. This one wasn’t huge or furry or anything, but it startled me. I didn’t scream, but I did jump, and frantically brushed at my shoulder, and then stomped on the spider a couple of times for good measure as it tried to crawl away.

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Spiders are not uncommon. They eat other annoying insects, and many are not harmful to humans. But they are “creepy.” They have all those legs and eyes and they hide in corners and drop down from ceilings. Some of them jump and some bite. There are a lot of “creepy” creatures in this world– spiders and snakes, rats and lizards, worms, and bats, and scorpions, roaches and fleas, and more. “Creepy” critters startle us; they scare us in the ways that they move, in the noises they make, and in the threat of danger– diseases, poisons, filth…

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This time of year it is not unusual to see “creepy” creatures in movies and decorations and costumes for Halloween. Another type of “creepy” sighting involves things associated with death or near-death– ghosts, zombies, skeletons, ghouls, vampires…Their creepiness comes from the idea that Death has power over the living. The idea that Death stalks among us causes fear. Death is an enemy we cannot conquer. Everyone has to taste death and the unknown that follows. Everyone has a skeleton in life, but a skeleton walking without muscle or skin is terrifying to us. Everyone has a soul, but a soul without a body (or a body without a soul) makes us fearful–will that be our fate? What kind of existence would that be?

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I am not a big fan of “creepy” stories and horror flicks. I don’t like being frightened for entertainment, and I have never understood why such things appeal to others. Recently, though, I heard from someone an explanation that made me think. They said, “I enjoy watching horror films and reading scary books because I know, no matter how scary it gets, that Good will always win out in the end.” Well, all right. I still don’t want to watch spooky stuff, but I can agree with the sentiment of the speaker.

Not all frightening things in this world are “creepy.” Cancer, blindness, aging, loss of a loved one, job loss, homelessness, loss of reputation, betrayal, false arrest, slavery to addiction, abuse, starvation–all are scary realities that can leave us overwhelmed, afraid, and even feeling hopeless. Nothing we can do will eradicate the threat of hardship, suffering, and death that await us all. We can make plans to “cheat” death, or build walls against getting hurt or suffering loss. But we cannot banish the threat or the fear of “what if..”, nor can we slay Death.

The Good News is that Death doesn’t win in the end. Death seems like the final word, but we can endure even this, knowing that “Good will always win out in the end.” God has not destined us to be skeletons, but to be saints–awakened to new life, cleansed of all sin and disease, and eternally Alive in Him! I can be startled by the spider, “creeped-out” by a skeleton, and knocked down by a debilitating disease. But I can turn the page, open my eyes, look up, and keep going, knowing that God is on His Throne.

And there’s more good news–Life, Hope, and Love are always with us. No spider, skeleton, sickness, or other threat will ever find us alone; none will ever take God by surprise; nothing can separate us from God’s Loving Care.


18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (ESV)

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:7-11 (NIV)
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6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Deuteronomy 31:6

6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

Hebrews 13:6

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

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