For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 RSV
I’m a great fan of “The Chosen;” you know that. This series’ wonderful depiction of Jesus as a real person—someone who laughs and cries and jokes and is weary and, above all, gets us—has captured my heart and lifted my faith as no other depiction ever has. So when I found out they were doing a Christmas show, I ran to the computer to buy a ticket.
It did not disappoint. But there was a moment that took my breath away.
Mary and Joseph walk into the famous stable—he with his arms loaded with blankets and cloths, she waddling slowly, bent in pain. He sets his burden down and begins to make ready a space. No bed, not even a pile of straw. He picks up a shovel and begins to clean manure off the stable floor.
I shuddered—as, I would guess, every mother watching did. I was born a city girl, but I’ve lived here forty years. I’ve owned horses. I’ve shoveled my share of stalls, as you no doubt have, too. We know how impossible it is to get a barn hospital-clean, how the stench and the dirt remain in the walls and the floor. To lie down in such a filthy place and give birth–! We recoil in horror. Yet that is how it happened, how God chose to come to this world.
“…though he was God,” writes Paul, “(he) did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men.” (Philippians 2:6,7)
King of kings, Lord of lords. Creator of a universe so vast and mysterious we can’t wrap our human minds around it. But He wanted no barriers between us and Him. He wanted to understand us so completely that he became one of us. Completely.
Why? Out of love so pure we can hardly believe it.
“The wonder of Christmas,” says one of the actors, “is not that I believe in God but that He believes in me.”
Selah. Pause and think about that.
God believes in us so much He was willing to accept human life in all its ugliness, limitations and pain—to lead us from darkness to light, to rescue us from our captivity to evil, to give us glorious life with Him. Forever.
Christmas is our celebration of His unconditional, incredible love. How can we be any less than joyful?
FATHER GOD: Your love is amazing. We bow in wonder. Amen.
To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” December 12, 2021.
Be still and know I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. Psalms 46:10 RSV
Want some peace in this world of chaos, warfare and panic? So do I! This ancient verse, written in a time that sounds all too familiar, shows us the way.
Be still. Let’s begin by taking a breath. Calming down. One translation says: “Cease striving.” Ahhh….
Know (remember) He is God. (…and its corollary: I am not!)
Ask yourself: how much of my stress comes from trying to keep myself and everyone around me free from risk, danger, trouble? How much do I try to control others to turn into what I think they should be? How much pressure am I putting on myself to be perfect? How much do I think “it’s all on me?”
I used to live that way. Growing up in a family ruled by addiction and fear, I decided the only way to have the peace and security I longed for was control. I trusted no one else. So I tried. Oh, how I tried! I pushed and nagged and ordered and screamed–making everyone miserable. Including myself.
Finally, I had surrender to the One who really was God, to trust that His plan for me and mine was much better than my own. When I could understand God loved and accepted me as I was, I could accept others as they were, knowing it was His job (not mine) to change what needs changing.
I gave control to One Who is, as Saint Augustine put it, “…Most high, most good, most powerful, most omnipotent, most merciful and most just, most secret and most present; most beautiful and most strong; most stable and incomprehensible; unchangeable (yet) changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new, and bringing the proud to the (collapse of) old age; ever acting, ever at rest; gathering not needing; carrying and filling and protecting (all things); creating and nourishing and perfecting; seeking, though you lack nothing.” (Quoted in “You Were Made for This Moment,” by Max Lucado.)
We are not even close.
No wonder will He be exalted in the nations (the political world); He will be exalted in the earth (the natural world). The victory over the Enemy and his schemes, over all wickedness and injustice, over warfare itself, is His. He has promised that we will see it (Psalms 37:34) and He does not lie.
Now what was it, exactly, that we were all so worried about?
FATHER GOD: Forgive us for making You too small, too familiar, for exalting ourselves in Your place.
You are God. We bow before You. Amen.
To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” October 31, 2021.
Peter said to him (Jesus), “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” John 13:8 RSV
It’s been a difficult summer.
Early in June, while the skies were still clear and cool, when the mountains gleamed in green invitation, I suffered a bout of my old nemesis: pneumonia. As I struggled to recover, I lost my balance and fell—three times. The worst fall was the second one when I was trying to pull weeds in my garden and fell over backwards, ending up with a bloody lump on my head and a swollen, injured knee.
One of my sons said, only half in jest, “Mom, your goal this weekend is not to end up in the emergency room.”
Gone were my happy plans for trips and camping. And gone, too, was another chunk of my independence.
I, who spent nearly 40 years hiking and skiing, now have to walk with a cane and be very careful about where and how I put my feet. I, who once spent summers maintaining a big vegetable garden, now have to stop myself from pulling pesky thistles from the lawn edge. I, who helped others, now have to ask for and accept help, myself. I’m learning to say the hardest words, “Yes, thank you.” Yes, I need help weeding my garden. Yes, I’ll lean on your strength when I go down stairs or step off a curb. Yes, I’ll let the folks in the store help me carry out packages.
I confess that, in my heart of hearts, I thought somehow I would waltz off into eternity without dealing with the problems and limitations of old age, that they would happen to everyone else but me!
Admitting those limitations, receiving the service of others, I find, is downright humbling. I have new understanding of Peter’s response to Jesus’ foot washing at the Last Supper. The one he called Lord and Teacher was about to kneel at his stinky feet with a basin and a towel. It was more humility than Peter could bear.
But it was necessary for him, as it is for us all. Jesus knew that.
Humbling teaches us we’re not in control, we’re not the center of the universe, we need other people and the help God provides through them. Humbling softens our hearts, gives us compassion. We learn what every child of God does, sooner or later:
God does His best work when we come to the end of ourselves.
LORD JESUS: I bow before You. Help me to humble myself, to accept my limitations, to realize “…apart from (you), (I) can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Amen.
First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” August 8, 2021.
Be careful—watch out for attacks from Satan, your great enemy. He prowls around like a hungry, roaring lion, looking for some victim to tear apart. Stand firm when he attacks. Trust the Lord…1 Peter 5:8, 9 The Living Bible
Where were you twenty years ago? Like my parents’ generation and Pearl Harbor, everyone above the age of babyhood can say exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the attacks of 9/11.
Me—I was lacing up my hiking boots, preparing for the best day of the week. Tuesday was my hiking/skiing day; that September morning was sweet as fresh-pressed cider. I flipped on the radio to get the weather forecast, gasped in horror, but somehow continued to pack my backpack, meet my friend in the usual parking lot.
We climbed into the Bridgers with the aspens fluttering gold around us, the sun warm on our faces, but our feet felt as leaden as our hearts. When a solitary jet zoomed over our heads (on the way to West Yellowstone to pick up FEMA officials), we headed back to the trailhead.
I spent the rest of the day as we all did: glued to the television. But the repeated picture of that plane flying into the North Tower, raining death and chaos on the city of my birth, the city where a branch of my father’s family has lived since 1657, became too much for me. I’d been a long time gone from there but it broke my heart.
Now it’s happened again. The same evil forces have taken over Afghanistan. People innocuous as the folks going to work or climbing on airplanes that fateful Tuesday morning are suffering. American allies, women, children, Christians—members of one of the fastest-growing churches in the world. Reports tell of women rounded up and sold into slavery, Christians hiding in cellars and caves, people shot for having a Bible app on their phones.
Again it breaks my heart.
Evil may change location, methods, victims, but it is still evil. The roaring lion Simon Peter saw still prowls, bringing death and chaos to innocent lives.
Peter called the persecuted church of his day to be aware of evil, to stand with God’s people against the enemy of our souls. I hear his call echo across the centuries.
I must speak up for the oppressed people of Afghanistan—people far away but close in spirit. I must pray for them, help them however I can.
As Luther said, I can do no other.
FATHER GOD: Please help, protect, guide Your people in Afghanistan. Give them the strength and wisdom. I am trusting You. Show me how to help. Amen.
To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” September 12, 2021.
I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. …God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone. … Look! I am making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.” Revelations 21:3-5 The Message
I’ve been to many weddings over the years—big ones, small ones, fancy and simple, casual and formal. The best ones are those which radiate a spirit of love, promise and hope, moments of joy so rich and pure you want to gather them in your heart like a treasure and hold them forever.
I saw such a moment on “The Chosen” in Season 1’s episode called “The Wedding Gift” about the wedding at Cana. Here is the familiar tale: running out of wine, Mother Mary’s plea, Jesus’ turning the jars of water into the best wine of all. The show embroiders the bare bones of John’s story (John 2) with fanciful but delightful background. The mother of the groom is Mother Mary’s best friend; the bride’s family is a little snobby and hard to please; the caterers in the middle of the drama become Jesus’ followers.
I loved it first because we see Jesus having fun—something rarely shown elsewhere. He jokes; he laughs; he drinks wine; he plays with the children. Then at the end of the wedding, everyone breaks into a joyous dance, whirling around and around, arms on each other’s shoulders, shouting and laughing in sheer joy. My eyes filled with tears; I’ve known a precious wedding moment like that.
But when I saw the dance again, I realized I was seeing a glimpse of the joy that awaits us in the Kingdom, when we gather with Jesus and everyone we love in the celebration of His final victory over death and evil. The wedding feast of the Lamb! I wept with longing.
“…not only death (will be swept away),” writes John Eldredge in All Things New, “but every other form of sorrow, assault, illness and harm we’ve ever known. You will be completely renewed—body, soul and spirit.” We will live at our best in the earth at her best, in the Eden God intended before the fall.
The joy of that Wedding Feast will be ours forever. That’s our precious promise.
You are invited. Me, too.
All we have to say is, “Yes.”
DEAR JESUS: How can I thank You for Your glorious gift? I bow in awe. Amen.
To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” June 27, 2021.
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree…” John 1:48 NIV
I love “The Chosen,” the television series about the ministry of Jesus and the calling of His first disciples. Not only does it put flesh and bones on those familiar Bible characters but it gives me wonderful moments where their stories intersect my own.
When we meet him, he is a young Jewish architect whose building collapses, taking with it his dream of building beautiful synagogues for God. Broken-hearted, in despair, he sits under the fig tree, all alone, sobbing, “Do not turn Your face from me in the day of my distress! Where are You, God? I did this for You! Do You see me?”
So when Jesus tells Nathanael He saw him under the fig tree, it has deep significance.
“When you were at your lowest moment and you were alone,” Jesus says. “I did not turn away my face from you.”
No wonder Nathanael gasps, “You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!” He knows God saw him, after all. God had a reason…and a Plan.
Then I heard that Whisper in my heart: “Your lowest moment–remember Las Vegas?”
I should never have gone to that convention. I was sick when we got on the plane but I’d prayed and I thought I’d heard the “Go ahead” from God. It was only a cold; I’d get over it.
It wasn’t and I didn’t.
I got sicker and sicker until I ended up in the uncaring emergency room of a strange hospital far from home. After eight hours in shivering cold, I was diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted. I sent my husband back to the convention, thinking they would take care of me.
They didn’t. I was fed an uneatable dinner, ignored all evening. I crawled out, tubes dangling, to remake my own bed when no one made rounds at bedtime.
The night which followed was the longest of my life. Sleepless in snarled sheets, I cried, like Nathanael, “Why, God? I trusted You! I thought You said, ‘Go.’ Where are You?” I never felt so alone.
I got home and recovered. The hospital administrator even called me to apologize. But the experience lay festering like an unhealed scar in my heart. And God knew it.
“Like Nathanael, you weren’t alone,” whispered the Spirit. “I want you to know you are NEVER alone, child…not then, not now. Whatever is happening and however you feel–
I am the God Who sees you.”
He saw Nathanael. He saw me. And He sees you, too.
FATHER GOD: How awesome You are. Amen.
To be published Sunday, May 23, 2021 in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle.”