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Clear Directions

I’m not making this up.

The directions for proper use of the contents of a 3-pack of Chapstick actually say, in their entirety, and I am quoting now—

Apply as needed.

— That’s it.

Nothing overly complicated.

Sorta like we’re directed to be doers of the Word and not hearers only in James 1:22.

Again, that’s it.

Again, nothing overly complicated.

We already know what to do as followers of Christ Jesus.

Today, let’s follow both James 1:22 and the Chapstick directions.

“Apply as needed” and I’ll see you back here tomorrow.



Advent in Sandy Hook, part 2 of 2.

[QUICK REVIEW: for some context, jump to my humble blog from yesterday.]

Maybe we intentionally choose to focus on fun, happy things during Advent, when in fact we should be listening to the thundering voice of  this guy —

While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea.

His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”

John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy: Thunder in the desert! Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road smooth and straight!

People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.

When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin!

And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen.

What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire. “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life.

The real action comes next: The main character in this drama – compared to him I’m a mere stagehand – will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out.

He’s going to clean house – make a clean sweep of your lives.

He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.” (from Matthew 3)

— That, too, is part of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.



Advent in Sandy Hook

Sandy Richter has graciously given me her expressed permission to share this with you here.

As we move on through Advent towards Christmas, this is an excellent reminder of what we easily overlook with everything else going on. 

Fleming Rutledge shared these words with a community lost in grief. It was less than a week after the December 14, 2012 school shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut — 

In the church, this is the season of Advent.

It’s superficially understood as a time to get ready for Christmas, but in truth it’s the season for contemplating the judgment of God.

Advent is the season that, when properly understood, does not flinch from the darkness that stalks us all in this world.

Advent begins in the dark and moves toward the light—but the season should not move too quickly or too glibly, lest we fail to acknowledge the depth of the darkness.

As our Lord Jesus tells us, unless we see the light of God clearly, what we call light is actually darkness: “how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:23)

Advent bids us take a fearless inventory of the darkness without and the darkness within.

Hmmm. Maybe it’s not as simple as you and me just easily overlook ing this with everything else going on…maybe we turn away from this part of Advent intentionally. 

Let’s spend a little more time with this.

See you back here tomorrow.  


God’s Meanwhile

You and I know they mean well.

They say things like, “When one door closes, God opens another one.”

What I’ve found, and maybe you have as well, is that it can be rough out here in the hallway.

Their platitude is often not real helpful.

Those times between when “one door closes” and “another one” opens can leave us groping into the darkness.

Nevertheless, promises Isaiah 9:1, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.

One of the primary keys to understanding some of the prophecy in our Old Testament is the understanding that time can be elastic. Past, present, and future seem to meld together and disappear into one another.

Isaiah 9:1 speaks of the future (there will be no more gloom) and the past (those who were in distress), but we still live in this present time.

I’m thrilled to know there’s a day coming when there will be no more gloom.

But I know people who are currently living in distress.

Just as it’s all getting overwhelming and I’m ready to tap out,  I hear an echo of something from somewhere: I’m not afraid when you walk at my side.

Yup, that’s from Psalm 23.

It goes on: Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure.

Couple those two truths with Isaiah 9:1 and realize that in the midst of everything we get glimpses of part of the promise that There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.

God’s Meanwhile is better than their Mean Well.

Looking forward to seeing you back here tomorrow.

God’s Nevertheless

there will be no more gloom
for those who were in distress.
Isaiah 9:1

“There’s always a however in life,” says a coffee-drinking buddy from a town where I used to live.

Only later did I find out he was quoting an AM Radio character named Frank O. Pinion.

Smashing into one of life’s However’s can be frustrating. Sometimes it knocks the wind out of us. Sometimes it’s almost enough to leave us wanting to quit.

You have your examples; so do I.

However, (see, there it is again! only this time it’s a good thing), over these past several weeks I’ve been relishing one example in particular. It’s like The Grand However that outweighs all the other Howevers —

there will be no more gloom
for those who were in distress.
Isaiah 9:1

— Several times I’ve started to reach for the proverbial towel and throw it in to signal that I’m giving up. Right about then Isaiah 9’s vault door swings open. Inside are some of God’s greatest treasures.

And that door’s hinge is the word Nevertheless.

We’ll get back here tomorrow.

But for now, as we start a new week together, what situation in your life needs a liberal application God’s Nevertheless?

there will be no more gloom
for those who were in distress.
Isaiah 9:1

See Youself in This Picture?

Picture was taken by Major Clarence L. Benjamin at the instant a few of the train people saw the tanks and first realized they had been liberated.

“It’s Friday, the 13th of April, 1945. A few miles northwest of Magdeburg there was a railroad siding in wooded ravine not far from the Elbe River.

“A long string of grimy, ancient boxcars standing silent on the tracks. In the banks by the tracks, as if to get some pitiful comfort from the thin April sun, a multitude of people of all shades of misery spread themselves in a sorry, despairing tableaux. As the American uniforms were sighted, a great stir went through this strange camp. Many rushed toward the Major’s jeep and the two light tanks.

“This train which contained about 2,500 Jews, had a few days previously left the Bergen-Belsen death camp.”

Read the rest here:

I don’t want to take anything away from that situation. There is so much to be said about that reality.

But I do want to remind you that what those people experienced is, at another level, our story.

We were rescued.

We were given new life.

This Advent season, join me in celebrating God’s Greatest Gift that made our freedom in Christ possible.

See yourself in that picture?



“You Made Me” — part 2.

[Quick Review: yesterday we enjoyed “Art Appreciation.” It’s a poem by Joy Morgan Davis, which was shared with you and me by Patti. If that’s not sounding familiar, scroll on down to yesterday’s and scoot right on back up.]

A couple of people recognized that poem about being a “crazy-quilt” and its source, Women’s Devotional Bible 2. Again, I thank Patti for sharing it with me; that’s an edition of the Bible I don’t gravitate toward regularly.

And that image of God as Quilter…! Yes. Yes. A thousand times Yes.

I especially appreciate it after four decades pastoring churches and knowing a wide variety of quilters.

I have deep gratitude to, and for, all the quilters with whom I’ve shared coffee and conversation and well, yeah, with whom I’ve shared life.

God still uses family and friends and the quilters all around us. Some of those quilters put giant pieces of cloth into frames and take scraps and seemingly mis-matched shapes and colors and patterns, and do amazing things. They produce beauty.

Some quilters put our lives into fresh perspective and take the pieces we don’t understand or know what to do with, and do amazing things. They help us produce beauty.

Some of those quilters are men, some are women. Some of those quilters are older, some are younger.

Thanks be unto The Quilter for the quilters!