The Fuel of Fearless Love

While today is two days after Christmas, the event that special time marks deserves continued reflection.  The writer of the first gospel aids us in that. 
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
Matthew 1:18-24 (NIV)

We find a familiar story as we read these words.  Every birth story is important for it tells of life.  This birth story is beyond important; it is fundamental to our faith.  This is the unique story of God choosing a young man named Joseph and a woman younger still named Mary.  Mary was to give birth to a son even before she and Joseph consummated their marriage; “she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” 

This is a powerful story.  Perhaps this story has lost some of its mystery and shock for you, especially if you have heard it countless times.  If that is the case for you, accept my invitation to look with fresh eyes and to hear with clear ears.  Delight in the mystery of this unique story.

For me, one key phrase that the angel speaks to Joseph notifies us that extra, even heavenly, assurance is needed.  What is that phrase? –
“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid . . .”
Of what are you afraid?  What causes you to fear?
     The Dark
     Public Speaking
     Things that go bump in the night
     Death . . .

Whatever your fear or fears may be, take heart from Joseph.  God is there.  God knows you and knows your fears and He gives you the strength to face them.

What was Joseph’s fear?  His fear was in following through with their engagement and marrying Mary who he thought had been unfaithful to him.  As a righteous man, he felt stuck; he did not want to disgrace Mary and parade her supposed-adulterous behavior, nor could he marry her and call it justified.

In those days, an engagement was legally binding and had to be ended in divorce.  Joseph decided to divorce her quietly.  That plan made sense to Joseph and no one would have blamed him.  God, however, had other plans.  So He sent one of His angels to visit Joseph during a dream to explain the nature of Mary’s pregnancy and to tell him to fear not!

     Fear not this vision.
     Fear not your doubt.
     Fear not the doubt of others.
     Fear not the ridicule of others.
     Fear not learning to be a husband.
     Fear not learning to be a father. 
     Fear not raising the baby from the Holy Spirit.
     Fear not giving guidance to the one who will save from sins.
     Fear not your role as earthly father to “God with us.”

We know that Joseph listened and did well for, as the last words we read testify, he “woke up . . . and took Mary home as his wife.”  Wow!  How did Joseph deal with his real fear?  What did he do?

He relied on Love.  He trusted in the love of God and he demonstrated his love to his wife and his “son.”

The Love of God
The role God called Joseph to fill was a heavy one.  It tested his faith.  Why else would an angelic visitation be required if not to make the unbelievable story believable, especially to the man who would marry and care for the woman who everyone, including him up until the dream, thought was an unfaithful woman?

Enter the love of God.  And what better way to enter than with one not-so-subtle reminder . . . “Joseph, son of David . . .”

These words reminded Joseph of his family tree and of the promise contained within it.  Indeed, Matthew began his gospel with these words: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David . . .”

Joseph heard the angel and knew that he was hearing the message of the God who keeps His promises throughout all history.

Joseph’s Love for Family
In the face of all the doubts, Joseph woke up and took Mary home.  To keep the message of Jesus’ origin clear, the newlywed patiently and lovingly waited until after Jesus’ birth to consummate the marriage.  At the birth, he loved the boy and named him Jesus, “Yahweh is salvation.”

Joseph feared; yet his trust in the love of God and his devotion to loving his wife and the Christ-child provide the fuel to overcome his fear. 

Do you know that fearless love?

After his name, Joseph heard the words, “son of David, do not be afraid.”

After your name, as I say, “child of God, do not be afraid,” how do you respond?

Do you know that fearless love?  Can you go and do as the Lord leads you?  What is He calling you to do?  What holds you back?

“Child of God, do not be afraid.”

Traditions - Part Two

While hot glue replaced melted sugar as the adhesive of choice some thirty years ago (to the delight of our fingertips), most every other element and characteristic of our gingerbread house remains the same as when my family started our version of that holiday construction sixty-four years ago.  A few years ago, my wife did add her own touch with the creation and placement of five gingerbread versions of the five of us in our family as well as a friendly tree-munching moose. 
Align with six-decade-old pattern. 
So the tradition goes. 
Our children (and I, I must confess) continue another less-official, yet equally long-standing tradition between Thanksgiving and the destruction of our artistic creation some time in January.  They (we) slyly reduce the number of Red Hots on the path and "snow" on the roof and yard.  They (we) extend the so-called "five second rule" by say about 100,800 seconds.  I promise two-month-old Twizzlers, while difficult to chew, taste rather good. 

In addition to taste, the house provides other delights.  When I see our handiwork,
I think of how my father, as a teenager, must have sneaked candy; how my grandparents certainly burned their fingers annually with unforgiving melted sugar; and how my father and aunt must have disagreed on the placement of candy.  (I'll have to ask Aunt Judy.) 

I also delight in the memories of joining my parents and two sisters in the yearly adventure of guessing if the uncooked gingerbread would prove to be enough for all the parts and if the walls would remain standing.  Thanks to extra hot glue and discretely placed wood craft sticks, the 2016 house stands!

Sometime next month we will lay the house to rest in our trash can that will empty into the Waste Management truck early on a Thursday morning from which the house will be transferred to a landfill where various birds, rodents, and parasites will digest the sweet tastes. 

Morbid?  Perhaps; yet true. 

Nevertheless, eleven months from now, my family and I will once again mix, roll, glue, etc.  Why?  Because it's our tradition.  Because it's fun.  Because our actual house would somehow seem less full without the crafted little one in it during the latter months of each year. 

At this point in my writing, I, as a preacher and writer, feel obligated to somehow turn this gingerbread story into a parable with a lesson or a clearly stated "So here's the point".  However, I am ignoring that feeling.  I will leave the "Here's the point" to you.  I would love to hear from you about what you conclude. 

Thanks for reading.  Merry Christmas!

And . . . be careful with melted sugar and hot glue guns.

Traditions - Part One

According to my calendar, Winter begins on December 21st.  I'm not one who enjoys arguments, so I must politely state my disagreement.  While surely not arbitrary or random, the dating system of the beginning of Winter appears faulty.  Winter arrived long before and we're still a week away from the "start" of it.  While our snowfall for this season so far is less than most Alaskans (including this one) hope for, it remains snowy white outside.  Only a few diehard leaves cling to branches and the geese flew south long ago.  Winter is here.

While Winter brings some things I don't enjoy such as cold fingers, slick intersections, road-gravel cracked windshields, and falls (I have yet, in all of my sixteen Alaskan winters, made it through without a slip on the ice!), it also brings wonderful things such as snow to play in, ice to skate on, starry nights, neighborhood house light displays, sledding hills, and eggnog.  

Winter also brings out traditions.  Two of my favorite family traditions occur in late November or early December every year.  Each year, along with several traditions and newly-discovered activities, we engage in our tradition of setting up our Christmas tree and building our gingerbread house.  Next week I'll tell you about the latter.  Today I invite you into our Tree Tradition.  

As far back as I can remember, in my more than forty years, I have settled only once for a "fake" tree.  I believe in the real deal - smell, sap, needles, and all.  While everything else for our decorating for Christmas rests in boxes and tubs most months of the year, our tree is new each and every year -- sometimes from Home Depot; sometimes from Lowe's; and, occasionally, self-felled.  I remember years where string and wires held our tree in place when a stand alone would not do.  Yet, every year a tree stands in our home.  Once it does, traditions within the tradition begin.  First, we unpack our ornament boxes and search for and sort our treasures.  I do so nearly religiously.  My wife will vouch for me on that.  Displacing bubble wrap, tissue paper, and protective boxes, I lay my collection out, reassuring myself that each ornament is accounted for from my fist ornament (a baby boy in blue footies) to my Beagle Scout Snoopy; from my white bear to my tennis-playing Santa; all the way through.  I cherish those tiny possessions.  I resist the temptation to hang all of my ornaments front and center on the tree.  I'm still learning to share!  Plus, it would really look bad for me to relegate my children's treasures to the rear.  I'm getting better; I promise!

Along with those tree decisions, we face another.  What goes on the top?  No, not an angel.  Hear me out on this.  I dig the Bible's accounts of Gabriel meeting Zechariah, archangel Michael fighting with the devil over Moses' body (see Jude), and the studly two who escorted Lot and his bunch out of Sodom.  But I just cannot get into the images of exceptionally beautiful (and, for some reason, blond) or "Precious Moments"-delightful, or star-shiny angels.  So we've tried several tree-toppers.  Lately we have granted our kids permission to pick a stuffed friend to rest atop.  The orange-antlered moose often wins.

This year we took a different approach.  Several years ago we received a "Christmas Nail" as a gift.  A poem accompanied the nail.

This is The Christmas Nail.
It is to be hung on a sturdy branch,
a branch near the trunk,
a branch that will hold such a spike without being noticed by well-wishers
dropping by to admire one's tinseled tree.
The nail is known only to the home that hangs it.
Understood only by the heart that knows its significance.
It is hung with the thought...that the Christmas tree but foreshadows the Christ-tree which only He could decorate for us,
ornamented with nails as this.
I like the Nail.  I strongly dislike the poem.  "Hold such a spike without being noticed."  Really?  Christ decorating the "Christ-tree."  Seriously?  

So I kept the nail and threw away the poem.  (I had to Google it in order to share it with you.)

This year the moose finds another home and the Nail hangs from the pinnacle.  To be noticed.  To "tell" of Jesus' birth as the arrival of the One who would die on a tree.

Within our Tree Tradition, we broke from tradition - first by giving a moose the angel's place and then offering that place to the Nail.  Who knows?  Will that become a tradition?  We don't know.  As long as we don't surrender the top to a cute angel again, I'll be OK.

But for now, each time my eyes rest on the Nail, I remember to say "Thank you" to the One . . .
6 Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:6-11

Early Thank Yous

Fifty-one blogs ago, I started posting The Ordinary Life.  I committed to celebrating the ordinary things of life.  One year later, my determination to do so remains.  It does so because reasons to celebrate still abound.  For example, after a relatively lengthy delay, snow finally covers the ground outside my windows.  Perfectly white flakes continue to fall from the sky, covering boring pavement and long-since dead grass.  Beauty returns.  

Very much related to that blanket of snow joy, I celebrate the fact that now my wife and I (and other enthusiasts) can clean the garage ("garage" as an adjective, not a noun.  Who wants to clean a garage?!) dust from our skis and head to the Kincaid Park trails and later, joined by our three children, strap on the downhill version and carve the slopes.  

Before I fail to mention another closely-related ordinary joy, I must cheer for the cookies joined by marshmallow-covered cocoa that we will consume.

I am compelled during these cold months to also give a "shout out" to the . . .
     - sheep whose wool warms my feet

     - geese whose down heats my core
     - people who design the fabrics that make 5-degree-weather skiing possible

In about three weeks, many "thank yous" will be mailed and handed to those who gave gifts in celebration of Christ's birth or at least in a spirit of holiday generosity.  Yet we need not wait for December 26th for pen to meet paper.  I offer an idea to you today.  How about writing that thank you note before you receive gifts?  How about telling through pen, text, or spoken word, reasons for which you are thankful for them?  Let's give it a try.  Buy a few cards, grab your tablet, push the Message App on your phone, and give expression to your gratitude.

It's never too early to say (or write) thank you.

Are You Hopeful or Hopeless?

In a song from Les Miserables, Fantine mourns her shattered dream.  Weeping, she sings:
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame

And later:
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
Everyone reading this has lost a dream to the strangling grasp of life.  What dream did you bury?  What dream do you continue to exhume? 

On a now-famous day in August of 1963, a man well-familiar with personal pain and shattered dreams stood before a crowd of thousands on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and declared his dream.  Later he still held to that dream as he evidenced in the words from 1967 that we now hear: 

If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all.  And so today I still have a dream.

This week marks the beginning of the Advent season, a time of expectant waiting.  We imagine what it was like for the Hebrew people awaiting the Messiah’s arrival and we experience our own wait for the Lord’s return.  Today we focus on the Hope of Advent. 

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so beautifully stated, hope is indeed “that courage to be.” 

I want to point you in the right direction in which you can choose to travel and to the journey along which you will discover the sources of Hope from which come strength as you tap into them.

Like the Oz-bound brainless Scarecrow pointing in all directions, shared opinions, spoken philosophies, and a plethora of spiritual teachers will steer you toward a hope found in self-actualization and/or the true fulfillment of your inner being.  For the follower of Christ, however, the only true guidance comes from Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  This Christ spoke all things into being, including the Word of God as found in the New and Old Testaments.  Let us, then, turn to the Old Testament to find the map for our journey toward Hope.

1 Hear my prayer, LORD;
   let my cry for help come to you.
2 Do not hide your face from me
   when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
   when I call, answer me quickly.
3 For my days vanish like smoke;
   my bones burn like glowing embers.
4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
   I forget to eat my food.
5 In my distress I groan aloud
   and am reduced to skin and bones.
6 I am like a desert owl,
   like an owl among the ruins.
7 I lie awake; I have become
   like a bird alone on a roof.

Psalm 102:1-7
(1984 NIV)

Withered heart, vanishing days, no appetite for food – the situation appears hopeless.  Yet (oh yes, yet), the afflicted man dares raise his eyes to take in the wider view of life.  There his eyes or, perhaps more so, his spirit found a profoundly delightful focus.  God came near.

25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
   and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you remain;
   they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
   and they will be discarded.
27 But you remain the same,
   and your years will never end.
28 The children of your servants will live in your presence;
   their descendants will be established before you.”

Psalm 102:25-28
(1984 NIV)

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, wrote:
“Hope is hope for infinite Hope.”

Notice the capitalization of the last “H” in the sentence.

To push “shift” as one types that last word’s first letter, is to recognize that hope, in order to last, must claim God as its source, motivation and destination. 

In 1626, from the pulpit of the immense and magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the English poet and pastor John Donne proclaimed the following words about death on Christmas Day, of all times.  I am glad he did. 

Others die as martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr.  He found Golgotha (where he was crucified) even in Bethlehem where he was born.  For to his tenderness then, even the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after, and the manger as uneasy at first as his cross at last.  His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and the morning of one and the same day.  (Hendrix 53)

While I am quite sure that Jesus the newborn child did not formulate thoughts of the cross while still in the manger, I do know that when the soldiers led Him up to Golgotha, it was no surprise to Him. 

Ultimately and immediately, you will discover Hope if you will look forward to the Lord’s return and will look backward to see His willingness to die. 

Works Cited
Hendrix, John. Celebrate Advent Worship and Learning Resources. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 1999.

At His Feet

While we should distribute the actions upon which we focus this Thanksgiving week throughout the year, we will benefit, if we so choose, from focused time in the next few days to declare our gratitude.  You may thank your spouse, your parents, your children, your friends, and a great assortment of others.  Vance Havner said, “what we take for granted we never take seriously.”  (p. 231, The Vance Havner Quote Book compiled by Dennis J. Hester)

The remedy to taking for granted is the giving of thanks.

I believe the place where we often find Mary provides the evidence of the condition of her heart.  Let us first look to the Gospel of John. 

1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8 You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”  John 12:1-8 (NIV)

One might argue that Mary went to the extreme.  You notice that others prepared a meal in Jesus’ honor.  They provided a hospitable occasion.  We also know from the presence of Judas, that the other Eleven joined the feast.  And yet, even with a well-planned and well-attended feast, Mary felt the need to do more.

Do we understand her actions?  According to John, she took a whole pint of some of the best perfume and anointed Jesus.  As she did this, she anointed His feet.  I mentioned a location where we find Mary often; this is the place!

Do you recall Luke 10?  There we find Jesus visiting the home of sisters Martha and Mary and we see, as described by Luke, Mary sitting “at the Lord’s feet listening to what He said.”  Jesus told her sister that Mary chose wisely. 

There is another occasion where we see Mary (perhaps the same one) at the feet of Jesus.  Look to the chapter before our text.

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  John 11:28-33 (NIV)

In John 11, Mary fell at Jesus’ feet as a grieving sister. 
In Luke, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as an eager student. 
In John 12, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as a devoted worshipper.

Each time she sat at Jesus’ feet, she displayed her trust in and love for Him. 

The John 12 text shows Mary not only as a worshipper but also as one filled with gratitude.  Why was Mary so thankful!?
1.    Jesus raised her brother from the dead! 
2.    Jesus willingly embraced her as a student (disciple). 

These reasons for gratitude opened her to a receptivity not known by all.  While rebuking the greed-driven Judas, Jesus tells him that Mary poured out the perfume in knowledge of His burial.  Mary recognized, better than most, the path upon which Jesus walked.  I believe, by the gift of the Spirit, she knew she was anointing the Savior of the world.

Whatever the extent of her knowledge of things to come, we know she knew enough to turn a hospitable meal into a worship service; and she spared no expense! She also refused letting her pride hinder her praise.

I imagine that there were others in the room, besides Judas, who looked askance as Mary anointed Jesus’ feet. 

I met a man in Anchorage who told me that when he felt led and felt that he needed to offer great thanks and worship to God, he would go to Flat Top, one of the mountains overlooking our town, and he would sing and dance before the Lord.  I think of David dancing before the ark!

Are we that thankful?  

You and I cannot anoint the feet of Jesus and we may choose not to dance on a mountain, but we can pour out our praise to The Teacher and Savior and Lord.  Will you bring your best and come to the feet of Jesus?  Learn from Mary, the woman of faith.  She will show you where to reside . . . At His Feet!

Dealing with Depression

The first to the moon (Buzz Aldrin)
The fairytale Princess of Wales (Princess Diana)    
The symbol of beauty (Brooke Shields)
The master of comedy (Jim Carrey)
The leader of laughs (Drew Carey)
The voice of the Rockies (John Denver)
The literary giant (C.S. Lewis)
Nanny McPhee herself (Emma Thompson)
The Protestant Reformer (Martin Luther)
The master impressionist (Vincent Van Gogh)
The world leader (Winston Churchill)
The football champ (Terry Bradshaw)


How do we deal with what those twelve individuals dealt with and what, perhaps, you deal with, too?  Depression. 

Perhaps particularly so among those whose Lord invites them to cast all their cares on Him, a stigma attaches itself to the topic of depression. 

The man who held the Vince Lombardi trophy in his hands four times experienced this stigma as he dealt with depression.  In Terry Bradshaw’s own words:

“Stigma is incredibly powerful,” says the two-time Super Bowl MVP.  “We’ll talk about cancer and every other disease, including alcohol and drug abuse, but people do not want to talk about depression.  There’s something about depression that seems to say, ‘I’m a tremendous failure’ or ‘I’m the biggest wuss there is’.” (Morgan)
Perhaps you experienced some freedom last week as you read my blog in which I contended that you are not alone and not evil for wrestling with doubt.  My prayer is that those wrestling with depression will experience that freedom as well. 

People experience depression for various reasons.  To name a few:

Perceived failure:
The Academy Award winning actress Emma Thompson said that she blamed herself for her infertility.  She experienced multiple failed in vitro fertilization attempts.  While she did not fail, she did feel pain. 

Fading Success:
Forty-seven years ago, another great success came up short as he tried to cash in emotionally on his victory.  His name is Buzz – not Lightyear, the friend of Woody; but rather Aldrin, the giant of NASA discovery. 

“What now?” I said aloud to myself as I chewed on the tip of the pipe I rarely smoked—the same pipe I had taken with me on my Gemini 12 mission.  What’s next?  I sat on a chaise lounge out by our family swimming pool, supposedly relaxing on a waning Saturday afternoon in the hot Houston August sunshine of 1969, my eyes scanning the low horizon above the flat land around me, but mostly pondering the speeches I knew I would be making within a few days.  What’s left?  I wondered.  What’s a person do when his or her greatest dreams and challenges have been achieved?  I reached over to the small table next to the chaise and reached for my drink, Scotch poured generously over some ice cubes.  I sipped the whiskey and swished it around in my mouth, savoring the taste.  I let it slide slowly down my throat as I leaned my head back and looked up at the sky.  The sun was already beginning to decline on the horizon.  I felt much the same way. (Aldrin 59-60)

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I had started drinking more.  Life seemed to have lost its luster.  (Aldrin 80)

Truth be told, secret dethroned, the thrill of success – even if it lasts more than the famed 15 minutes – fades with time.

Disillusionment (particularly “religious” disillusionment):

1 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”
1 Kings 19:1-5 (NIV)
Sleep – the oft-found companion of depression.  Elijah’s fear-based depression robbed him of energy and motivation.  If you read on, you would find that it literally took a shove of an angel to get Elijah out of bed.  The depression was a physical presence.

C.S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, experienced grief so deeply upon the death of his wife Joy that he grew so disillusioned (thankfully, not permanently) that he wrote in his grief-recording journey:

Don’t talk to me about the consolations of religion, or I shall suspect that you do not understand.  (xv)
Many more reasons for depression could be added.  Yet, no matter the origin of the depression, it can be overcome.

But, how?

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’."
Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)

All areas of our lives find their meaning and purpose in those words.  Depression is no exception.  Those same three directives help focus our approach to dealing with depression.

Deal with depression by . . .
(1)    Loving God

If you love God, you will be honest with Him.  Therefore, when you experience depression, talk to Him about it.  Converse with God.  Tell Him your joys, your hurts, your doubts – your all.

We call this prayer.  Deal with depression by praying.

Whether it is a “just because” card or note or a letter I receive sealed and stamped, if the handwriting belongs to my wife, I can’t wait to read her words.  I love her and I enjoy reading her words.  Likewise, I love God and I enjoy reading His words. 

Deal with depression by reading God’s words, the Bible.

(2)    Love Your Neighbor
Stated another way, love community.  Loneliness is depression’s friend.  Invite your friends to break up that dangerous friendship.

(3)    As You Love Yourself
As you deal with depression, you will need to trust God and welcome the help of others.  In addition, you must engage your will to live a life worth living and say good-bye to self-hatred.

(a)    Taking the outstretched hand
While some may turn their backs, there remain a number (whether many or few) who stand by ready to help.  Receive it, welcome it – a listening friend, a well-spoken word of encouragement, a promise of prayer.

(b)    Go to the “experts”
Depression is real.  Whether it is a passing phase or a full assault, depression hurts.  There are men and women who are ready to help by offering professional care when that is necessary.  God heals.  Sometimes He heals in ways we cannot understand.  The lame walk; the blind see.  God also heals through men and women trained to help through medical and other professional care.  Some people of faith who do not hesitate to drive to the local hospital so a physician can set their broken arm ridicule others who rely on humans rather than God to heal their depression.  That is inconsistent and unfair.  Too often depression is blamed on a lack of trust in God.  It is not that easy, especially for those who love Him and others, yet still struggle to love themselves.

In A Grief Observed, his memoir of his struggle with his wife’s death, C.S. Lewis records his terrible yet necessary journey through grief and sorrow.  Listen to some of his words:

In so far as this record was a defence [sic] against total collapse, a safety-valve, it has done some good.  The other end I had in view turns out to have been based on a misunderstanding.  I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow.  Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.  It needs not a map but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop.  There is something new to be chronicled every day.  Grief is like a long valley . . .  (59-60)

Grief is a long valley.  Lewis wrote through his valley and on the other side came out with more strength.  He learned again how to love his God, his friends, and his life.

Works Cited
Aldrin, Buzz. Magnificent Desolation. New York: Random House, 2009.
Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed. New York: HarperOne, 1961.
Morgan, John. “Terry Bradshaw’s Winning Drive Against Depression.” USA Today. (Jan. 30 2004.) 10 Nov. 2010 <>

Dealing With Doubts

The classic Westerns of earlier days portrayed conflict between Cowboys and Indians, not Cowboys and Native Americans.  Why?  Because, as former President of Harvard University A. Lawrence Lowell stated, “When Christopher Columbus started sailing west he did not know where he was going, when he arrived he did not know where he was, and when he returned he did not know where he had been” (qtd in Brister 50).

Perhaps in your life journey, you relate to the famed voyage of 1492 across the oceans blue.  Where am I going?  Where am I?  Where have I been?  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”  Canadian musician Tom Cochrane declared, “Life is a highway.” 

Along your life highway, bi-way, or path, you experience doubt.  Jesus told us that we will (not might) experience grief.  Likewise, you will (not might) experience doubt.  Thankfully, He informed us in advance; therefore, we do well to heed His alert and prepare for dealing with doubt.  Once we prepare, we prove equipped, ready to: 

1) Voice doubt rather than hide it. 
My father, my sons, and I share the same middle name; it was also my grandfather’s first name, as it was his grandfather’s.  That name also belonged to one of the Twelve.  Thomas.  I love his honesty.  Right to the faces of those who saw Jesus – post-resurrection, in the flesh – Thomas declared, “I will not believe it.”  He felt no compulsion to fake faith, even among the faithful.  Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that when Jesus answered Thomas’ doubt, the disciple did not scramble for excuse-laden words but rather spoke a declaration of convinced faith, “My Lord and my God!”  Those were words of surrender and they were words of joy-filled thankfulness to Christ for answering his doubt.  One of the most harmful things you can do with doubt is hide it.

William Shakespeare spoke well on the topic of life, including the doubts in life.  He wrote, “Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise” (Hector, Act 2, Scene II, “Troilus and Cressida”).

2) Share doubt rather than cover it up.
A variety of difficult life experiences open the door to hopelessness.  When you face those experiences you can relate to the words of Morrie Schwartz as stated in the book and production, Tuesdays with Morrie. Mitch Albom questions Morrie, one struggling with ALS, about his view of the biblical account of Job and his immense struggles.  He responded, “I think God over did it!”

The great Baptist minister of last century, George W. Truett described the human condition as ones “bound together in the bundle of life” (qtd in Brister, 92). 

When we share our doubts with others in honest fashion, we gain two benefits.  First, we gain the “off my chest” release.  We relieve the pressure of hidden doubt.  Second, we gain community.  In a vulnerable expression of doubt, we show others that they, too, can experience the “off my chest” release.

How often have you been sidelined by the thought,
     “Am I the only one who struggled to believe that?”
     “Am I evil to question God on this?”
Love one another in such a way that those doubting will come to know the answer to both of those questions is, “No.”

Works Cited
     Brister, C.W. Dealing with Doubt. Nashville: Broadman, 1970.
     Shakespeare, William. “Troilus and Cressida.” The Literature Network. 3 Nov. 2010


With Pentel P205 in my right hand, a mug of licorice spice tea in my left, and Kristene DiMarco singing "It is Well" in my ear (thanks to YouTube), I smile in joy over the simple things in life.  Pencils, tea (nothing added), music - and the ability to write, taste, swallow, hear, emotionally respond. 

Last night as my wife and I prayed with our children at bedtime, among other things, I praised God for the gifts of a warm house on a cold night.  Today I rejoiced in the knowledge that when the plumber fixed
the water valve connectors in both our toilet and our washing machine,  we were able to afford the bill. 

Today I also thank God for sweaters.

As I write, I'm wearing a beige (off white, light brown, I don't know!) cardigan.  It provides, inexplicably, a comfort within - a security. 

As I wrote those words, I questioned myself.  Do I risk losing your "I get it!" to "What?  That's strange!"?  Like I mentioned, the fact that knitted wool comforts proves unexplainable, at least to me.  If only sheep could speak!  (I digress.)

Pencils, tea (nothing added, remember), music, warm homes, financial security . . . and sweaters.  Ordinary things.  Simple things.  Meaningful things. 

What will you add to the list?  As you do, please feel free to drop one or more of mine, add cream to your tea, or laugh about sweaters.

Take a few moments to think.  I'll wait.

. . .
. . .
. . .

Was that enough time?  If not, pause from reading once more and resume thinking.  Think so that you can thank.

8 Let [us] give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
9 for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.

Psalm 107:8-9 (NIV)

Start Here

Four score and . . .
I have a dream . . .
Ask not what your country . . .
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind . . .
Frankly, my dear . . .
You can't handle . . .
Two roads diverged in a yellow . . .

Undoubtedly you know several, if not all, of those phrases and you can pick up where the ". . ." leaves off. 

You and I are wired for words.  Words not only communicate, they insist on our attention. 

Three words (in English, at least) begin the first book of the inspired Text as well as the fourth record of the gospel of Jesus.

"In the beginning . . ."
Whether "God created" or "was the Word" follows the ". . ." those combinations of three insist on the reader giving attention that all things started for, in, and through one Being - namely,God.  The Triune God spoke, formed, and loved all things into existence.  From that mark, we calibrate our life compasses. 

When we do so, we discover, in the words of the anonymous poet, that

Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not.
Those words do more than play a song in my head worthy of Rocky Balboa's famous run up the stairs of the Philadelphia museum, they remind me to check my compass. 
When gray skies block out blue, do I remember the One before "In the beginning"? 
When bird song drowns out sad songs, do I remember to thank the One who set all things in motion?
Long before my beginning, the One from the beginning knew my steps, foresaw my pain, smiled at my joys that would become my experience, saw who would stand by my side, and set His plan in motion.  So, if my path fails to line up with "In the beginning" - I fail to walk the right direction.

You and I, like all before us, live in a time that is a mix of joy and jealousy, crime and celebration, destruction and determination, certainty and confusion, smiles and sin. 

We, longing for a Garden world, live in a Genesis 3 world.  We, therefore, face a weighty decision.  Will we calibrate off of --

"In the beginning"
If we will, we will find more ease in seeing raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens and, perhaps, even silver white winters that melt into springs for, indeed, these are a few of our favorite things.

Red, Blue?

How will you vote on November 8th? If you are reading this and you are not a U.S. citizen, you might count yourself lucky.  "Contentious" doesn't even begin to describe the political world as we know it today.  Each of my everyday, ordinary days for the past several weeks (maybe months) holds progressively more doses of information regarding the merits and/or ills of candidates, parties, and voters. 

These days remind me of a lunch table conversation from my elementary school days.  My friend, Derek, and I, merely echoing our fathers' opinions, debated whether a "peanut farmer" or a "Hollywood actor" should preside over our nation.  I could not vote then, obviously.  Several years later, now a college student, I argued, merely echoing one side of popular opinion, with others about whether a White House veteran or a rookie candidate should take the oath. 

By my count, in all the elections in which I have voted for the Presidential office, I have "lost" and "won" just about an equal number of times.  In less than a month I will walk into a booth and shade an oval.  Perhaps you will, too. 

A few days ago, the political rants of the day found themselves as topics of conversations at our family meal.  Our oldest child will be able to vote in four years.  Our other two are much farther away from voting age.  They each are interested in the topics of the day.  They often, to my enjoyment, echo my views or (sometimes to less of my enjoyment) echo the views of some other adult influences. 

During the early morning meal a few days ago, I led a devotion from the Bible and prayed. In preparation (to which I devoted the time between pouring waffle batter and sitting down).  I Googled "pray" and "submit" and "government authorities."  I eventually landed on Romans 13.

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Romans 13:1-7 (NIV)

Those are straight-forward and, at times, hard-to-swallow commands.  They are some of the most fitting words for our November 2016 days.  

If you or I vote Red, Blue, Neutral, Conservative, Liberal, eenie meenie miney mo, or not at all, Romans 13 applies to each of us.  Join me in remembering that on November 9th.  And, regardless of the outcome of the election, if you are a follower of Christ, you can, in the old words of Jim Reeves sing, "This World Is Not My Home."

Well Spent!

"That takes commitment!"

I heard those words directed to me last Wednesday morning.  The time was 6:03 AM.  The place was a coffee shop.  The purpose was a morning meeting with a group of friends.  The temperature outside was between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  The man who voiced the words did so when he saw me sitting inside holding gear that gave away my means of transportation - my motorcycle.  He was impressed that I would brave the chill  

His words were correct.  I am committed to riding.  I bought my Shadow in the summer of 2015, having wanted one since the 80s.  So some of my commitment arises from a still-alive-and-well "I can't believe I finally get to do this" syndrome.  My commitment also arises from the fact that I really don't like buying something only to park it.  (I have to do that all winter-long anyway.)  Yet there is another and far more motivating reason for my commitment.  I love it!  I love to ride.  

You, too, might love to ride.  You do love to do something.  
Play tennis?  Ski?  Eat?  Sleep?  Play with your kids?  Sing?  Spend time with your spouse?  Write?  Read?  Teach?  Run?  Color?  Dance?  Preach?  Pray?  Spend money?  Save money?  Garden?  
(My apologies if I failed to list your "love.")
Call those passions, interests, favorites.  Call those what you will.  Whatever you call them, you love them.  You know you love them because you commit to them.

You also commit time to . . .

Laundry?  Dishes?  Snow plowing?  Cleaning?  Plunging the toilet?  Pulling hair from the drain?  Changing diapers?  Taking your meds?  Changing the bandages?  Serving your time?  Apologizing? 
("You're welcome" if I didn't bring up that thing you really don't enjoy.)
Call those chores, burdens, have-tos, honey-dos, pains in the neck, hastles.  Call those what you will.  Whatever you call them, you despise (or, at least, don't enjoy) them.  You know you despise them because you commit time to them.  Wait!  That doesn't sound right!

And so it goes.  Life as we know it entails highway cruises and hallway spills.  "Clean up on aisle 7!"  

Your commitments and your "musts" fill your time.  While most of your musts are non-negotiable, you can choose your commitments.  

A wise scholar (or a person claiming to quote a wise scholar) said something to the effect that one can tell the most about a person by simply taking a look in his/her checkbook and calendar.  How you choose to spend your "non-must" money and "non-must" time reveal your priorities.  

I know it's not yet Spring, but the cleaning that we must do can't wait that long.  Will you join me in some "spring cleaning" in October?  (Why not?  Easter baskets will be on sale at your nearest box store in just a few weeks.)

What can you remove from your "choose-tos?"  Trust me, you can do this.

Now, one last thing.  When you finish reading this sentence, go do a "just because" thing before you move on to your next "must do."

The "Not Much" to the "How"

The two men share the same first name and a similarly-spelled last name.  One makes me laugh on a daily basis while the other feeds my appetite for hearing a beautifully-played piano.  The latter, Brian Crain, a gifted musician on the ivories fills my study with sounds that promote a soothing stream of calm.  I'm glad (selfishly, perhaps) that his dreams of hitting, running, and catching in MLB didn't come true.  You'll have to ask him if he agrees.

The other aforementioned Brian, the Brian with an "e" and no "i" in his surname, illustrates and gives voice to Earl and Opal Pickles, the charming elderly protagonists of the comic bearing their name.  Along with Baby Blues, Zits, and Peanuts, Pickles makes me smile multiple times a week. 

The other day I smiled and laughed as Crane invited me (and all his readers) to eavesdrop on a conversation between Earl and his park bench friend, Clyde. 

Earl notices Clyde's demeanor and asks,
"You look a little down, Clyde.  Are you okay?"

After his aged friend lists a number of reasons for is downcast composure, Earl, in "sincere" reply, confesses, "Actually, I meant that as a yes or no question."  (9/29/16)

You know the routine.  One asks, "How are you?"
The other replies, "Not much."

Or a waiter encourages his guests to "Enjoy your dinner" and the diners reply, "You, too!"

Unlike Earl, most people actually care.  Misspoken responses are often accompanied with sincere smiles.  So the epitome of nonsense replies does not necessarily indicate some sort of societal breakdown.  It does, however, quite certainly, provide a statistical measuring tool for discovering the effect of rush, hurry - whatever you choose to deem it - on our sense of hearing.  Or better yet, its effect on our ability to focus on what that sense takes in. 

At this point in your reading of my post you might guess that I am about to launch into a biblically-based apologetic on the value of Sabbath.  Maybe some other day.  For now, I'd rather focus on our everyday, ordinary lives. 

Rest on one out of seven days proves beneficial (imagine that!).  However how well do we do at slowing the rush and restraining the hurry every day? 

I offer the following four-question test:
1. Yesterday, did you multi-task while eating lunch?
2. Did you even take lunch?
3. When you called your spouse (child, friend, parent, etc.), did you play Angry Birds or compose an email at the same time?
4. Are you currently pretending to listen to someone?

I leave it to you to provide the correct answers. 
(Hints:  No, Yes, No, No)

How are you doing?

Earl doesn't care.  I'd expect that from a man who shares a name with a vinegar-soaked cucumber.


The September 26th edition of TIME magazine contained an interesting essay written by journalist and editor, Susanna Schrobsdorff.  In her “The Pursuit of Happy-ish” piece, she proves forthcoming in acknowledging . . .
“I’m agnostic about God, and there’s just a smallish space where faith might fit into my life.”  (p. 63)

I appreciate her vulnerability and honesty and I know that she is not alone in her views.  In fact, she provides statistics that support the claim that the number of agnostics grows daily.  As I re-read her words, I noticed her “ish” words, more specifically, their connection as I see it.  In an article dedicated to Happy-ishness, she mentions a smallish space.

As an agnostic, clearly not an atheist, Schrobsdorff leaves the door (in her case, a “space”) open to a possibility.

As a follower (most of the time) and believer (all the time) of Christ Jesus, I believe that happy-ishness is discovered when one fills the small-ish space with Jesus.
  That stated, I must make a clarification – using once again Susanna’s helpful words.  She ends her sentence with “faith might fit into my life.”  From an agnostic, that is great!  However, too often, Christians live out that phrase.

What do I mean?

In order to live the Ordinary life, one must take his or her “everyday, ordinary life” and devote it to God.  Fitting God into our lives falls short of such devotion.  God is not content, thankfully, with possessing a part of you.  He wants all of you.

God deserves more than a smallish space.  “Ordinary” people choose to fill themselves with God.  Then we can move forward with filling the spaces of our life with the things with which God is pleased.

Settle not for devoted-ishness
Choose faithfulishness, but drop the ish!