Tuesday, December 23, 2008


About ten years ago Carol and I visited London for a few days, including Royal Albert Hall, the great round theater built in memory of Queen Victoria's husband. The tour included walking past the royal box where the queen and her family would sit during a performance.

Visiting such places that acknowledge royalty, one has a feeling that great rulers would not quite understand how common people feel. They are surrounded by opulence, privilege, servants, bodyguards and fanfare as they live the same 24 hour day as you and I do. But they almost live in another world.

When Queen Elizabeth II recently visited the United States, she brought four thousand pounds of luggage, including two outfits for every occasion, a mourning outfit in case someone died, forty pints of plasma, and white kid-leather toilet seat covers. She brought along her own hairdresser, two valets, at least one physician and a host of other attendants. Her brief visit to America cost five million dollars!

In meek contrast, the Almighty God's visit to earth took place in an animal shelter with only two attendants and nowhere to lay the newborn child but a feed trough. The birth of the King of kings, the event that divided history and even our calendar into two parts, had more animal than human witnesses. He had so little security that a mule could have stepped on him.

We humans, even the most poor, are so privileged. Most astronomers believe there is no other planet anywhere among the millions of solar systems that would support life as we have it. Almighty God our Creator has so arranged the atoms of our bodies that we think, love, feel gratitude and believe, activities that no other creatures are capable of. And in this blessed season, we give thanks that we are so privileged as to be loved by our Creator. 

The birth of Jesus is love come down from heaven. May you find extra joy in these days, the joy the surpasses any hint of sadness the world may bring you.

A Merry and Blessed Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008


This time of year for me is frustrating, because I don't know what Christmas gifts to get certain people in my life. Family members often ask, “What would you like for Christmas?” But I think a gift should be something we choose, a surprise to the recipient, something that shows we put thought into it.

Gifts need not be expensive. Cost should not determine whether it's good or right. Years ago I recall an old gent saying he told his family, “If I can't eat it, drink it or spend it, I don't want it.” That's a bit harsh and limiting, but at least he was honest.

There was a time when most Christmas gifts were made by the givers. Today, few people make their Christmas gifts, but some still do. Certain holiday foods, crafts, or framed photos are always welcome. And if we get something we don't particularly like, we still need to be grateful, and show it.

If you're having trouble with your gift list, here are some “home-made” gifts that only you can give. One of these might be just the thing for a certain person in your life.

++ Mend a quarrel - apologize if you were wrong.
++ Dismiss suspicion and be friendly.
++ Tell someone you love them.
++ Give something valuable anonymously.
++ Forgive someone who has treated you wrongly, and tell them.
++ Thank someone who has made a big difference in your life.
++ Turn away anger with a soft answer.
++ Thank all the store clerks who serve you.
++ Visit someone in a nursing home.
++ Tell a child the story of the first Christmas.
++ Be especially kind to someone with whom you work.
++ Give Christmas cookies, especially ones you've made.

Gift-giving at Christmas began when God gave us His Son Jesus to be our Savior from the curse of sin. Jesus is the perfect gift - we all need Him, and we need never return him for another size. So whatever you give, do it as God has given to you in Christ, without obligation, or reservation, or hypocrisy.

And give it with love!

Monday, December 8, 2008


During a typical lunch hour at the University of California at Berkeley, spokesmen for or against a dozen different causes can be found on the plaza, most of them trying to "out-shout" one another. One day a lone figure sat down in the middle of the noisy crowd and held up a sign that said, "SILENT PROTEST." Someone asked him, "What are you protesting?" The young man held up another sign which said, "NOISE."

This time of year there is a lot of noise about Christmas, also for or against. In an eastern city a Salvation Army woman was informed by a policeman that a local ordinance prevented her from ringing her bells to invite contributions. But a new law did not stop this inventive woman. The next day she did a more brisk business than ever as she stood by her red kettle and waved one sign and then another in the air. The signs said, "DING!" and "DONG!"

There is much noise in our world, especially in these days that lead up to Christmas. Whether it's music blaring out of stores or impatient customers raising their voices; whether it's the honking of horns in overcrowded parking lots or small children crying in the toy section; whether it's athiests griping or Christians complaining, there is a lot of noise to contend with in this season. And the sad truth is that if you really want to be heard right now, you are probably going to have to shout.

Noise during Advent is nothing new. John the Baptizer shouted his message in the desert, "Prepare the way of the Lord!" (Mark 1:3) John may have shouted just to get people's attention. People of his day were distracted by worldly things just as we are. Spokesmen for diverse causes always need an audience, but John's "cause" was eternal. He was preparing a decaying world for the eternal Savior. His message would lead people to follow a man who was born amid the singing of angels and the bleating of sheep. The Prince of Peace was born into a land which has known little peace.

My prayer for each one reading this message is that during this noisy Advent/Christmas season you will find some time for peace and quiet. May it be in bedside prayer at night, or with your Bible in the morning. May you find peace in your room or inside your car on the freeway. Peace doesn't depend on what is outside your ears; it depends on what is inside your heart.

May the Prince of Peace calm your troubled heart.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Last week a friend wrote, "Where do you come up with all these stories?" Sometimes they're hard to come up with, so I have to repeat something. Not this week. It will be just some ramblings. Sometimes rambling is the most profound thing we do all day.

By the way, it's Advent - time to get ready for Christ's coming. He came the first Advent in the event we call Christmas, and He will come again in the second Advent on the Day of Judgment. Life between the advents seems to be getting more and more complex, although it's really not. We live, we love, we work, we trust (or not) and we hope we can be part of something good in this crazy, wonderful life God gives us to live.

Years ago there was a TV game show, "Truth or Consequences," and that title has always intrigued me. Today we tend not to face either. Truth is what we try to make it, and consequences we think we can avoid. But the truth is beyond us. Truth is not the opinion with the most votes; it comes from God. Truth is what we don't want to face - the consequences are too difficult, too scarey. Truth is that Christ will one day come in judgment, and that makes us very uncomfortable. The way we live, it should.

The other day Carol gave me a box with an amaryllis bulb in it, or what was left of one. She got it as a gift last year and it got lost on a shelf. It was dry, like a hollow onion, ready for the trash, but something made me keep it. I found a container, followed the instructions, added soil and poured on water. Two weeks later it is sprouting leaves at an alarming rate. This thing that was hollow and dead will be two feet tall by Christmas and may give us a flower. It looked like nothing but now it is something, and it will probably be quite nice.

Can we be renewed and restored, like that bulb? Have we gone past the point of no return? Are we ready for the trash? I don't think so. God doesn't give up on us so easily. He's not done with us yet.

Six centuries ago we were in the "Dark Ages," a time when thinking was suppressed and the future was bleak. It was a time when a few controlled the many, when there was poverty of both body and soul. A man named Martin Luther helped usher us out of that age. He brought the Water of Life to the shell of the church, and with God's grace and mercy the Gospel bloomed forth once again.

Christmas is about Christ coming to earth to take consequences of our sin on Himself. We may be entering a new "Dark Age." If we are, I hope it won't be a long time, and I pray there will be someone else to rescue the dying bulb of Truth, to water it, and to help make God's Truth bloom freely once again.

They thought He was dead, too!