Shelter

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If anything in this world bugs me it’s people who don’t care. Cold-heartedness.

The problem is I succumb to compassion-fatigue too. It takes a certain amount of denial to be able to function and not to feel overwhelmed by the amount of pain in this world. I find myself fleeing not only from cold-heartedness in others, but cold-heartedness in myself. It’s not only threats against our person that make us run to the Lord for refuge. It’s also when the things we judge others for show up in ourselves.

Here’s the thing: you can’t give what you have never received. Without the shelter and warmth and love Jesus provides when we run to him, we have nothing to share. So many sensitive people who do care find their love growing cold and become bitter and hopeless when they don’t leave the frigid environment out there and spend time regularly soaking up God’s love for them in the shelter he provides. It’s not selfish. It’s essential. It’s where our hope lies.

So God has given us two unchanging things: His promise and His oath. These prove that it is impossible for God to lie. As a result, we who come to God for refuge might be encouraged to seize that hope that is set before us. (Hebrews 6:18)

Evergreen

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Those who are devoted to God will flourish like budding date-palm trees;
they will grow strong and tall like cedars in Lebanon.

Those planted in the house of the Eternal
will thrive in the courts of our God.

They will bear fruit into old age;
even in winter, they will be green and full of sap
To display that the Eternal is righteous.

He is my rock, and there is no shadow of evil in Him.

(Psalm 92:12-15)

Merry Strawberry Season! Wait…. what?

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Someone sent me a wish for a happy Hanukkah this week and mentioned that it is officially strawberry season (in the Middle East). We are singing songs like “See amid the winter snow, born for us so long ago,” and “In the Bleak mid-winter,” and “Let it Snow” and “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” Strawberry season couldn’t be farther away.

I keep running into slogans on social media: “It’s Merry Christmas, not Season’s Greetings or Happy Holiday!” I don’t know if the intent is to come across as being rigid and somewhat less than gracious about this, but it doesn’t exactly exude warm wishes. I’m particularly concerned that it is aimed at poor harried store clerks who are just following store policy. It is a Christian’s job to bless people who don’t know about the love of God, not theirs to give us “the proper greeting.” When I talked about it some people told me that the issue is that they feel an attack by governments and lobby groups to deny their traditions and they’ve had about enough of this political correctness stuff that denies folk the right to express themselves freely.

Ah. That’s the reason for the defensiveness — defending tradition. One simply does not mess with someone’s traditions. Someone told me that saying Merry Christmas was standing up for Jesus. Hmmm. I have found that putting myself in charge of God’s public relations by using my own disgruntled methods seldom puts him in a good light. He’s more likely to say, “Thanks, but I’ve got this,” and then he just pours out his goodness on those who speak ill of him.

There is a difference between “standing up for Jesus” and “standing up for our traditions.” I don’t see any instructions to say “Merry Christmas” anywhere in the Bible. In fact I don’t see any command to celebrate Jesus’ birth on an arbitrary date chosen to give an alternative to winter solstice rituals. (A good case can be made for Jesus’ birth being around the time of Sukkot, or the Jewish Festival of Booths, by the way), but I consider every day a good day to celebrate Jesus, so why not Christmas Day as well? I’m good with that.

To me “standing up for Jesus” is about standing up for what Jesus taught and acknowledging that he is who he said he is. I have a hard time seeing him scold someone for not upholding the traditions of man according to some unwritten rules. In fact, the only people he scolded were the ones who burdened people with the traditions of man to the point where they no longer accurately communicated the nature of God.

Our tradition in northern Europe and northern America is that Jesus was born amid the winter snow. It’s a rather self-absorbed man-made tradition that does not take into consideration that in other places in the world, it’s strawberry season. Whether it’s winter or summer where you live, whether Jesus’ birthday was on December 25 or September 25, his law is love and his gospel is peace. Putting Christ back into Christmas means being Christ-centered in all our choices and extending his love and peace.

May the love and peace of Christ be with you this day and every day. He absolutely adores you, you know.

Into the Gaps

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There is always an enormous temptation in all of life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for itsy-bitsy years on end. It is so self-conscious, so apparently moral, simply to step aside from the gaps where the creeks and winds pour down, saying, I never merited this grace, quite rightly, and then to sulk along the rest of your days on the edge of rage.

I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous and bitter, more extravagant and bright. We are making hay when we should be making whoopee; we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.

Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock-more than a maple- a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”

― Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Captured by Surprise

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“The earth is art, the photographer is only a witness ”

― Yann Arthus-Bertrand, Earth from Above

The change of seasons is a vertical event in the mountains. We can watch the snow-line descend from the peaks, to the hills, to the valley. We can see it coming, yet we are somehow caught by surprise when ice and snow cover our own doorstep. The first snow that stays brings forth Facebook chatter like the queen has suddenly arrived unannounced. Skiers are thrilled, shovellers -not so much. (In these parts some folks complain bitterly about the cold and hazards of walking on ice. Others are giddy at the gleeful possibilities of ice fishing or skiing and being surrounded by pristine blue-white beauty.)

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It amuses me that every year is the same; we can see it coming, but we are always caught off guard and need to dig boots and mitts and shovels out of their summer hiding places.

There are spiritual seasons too. We know there are changes in the air; we know there will be times for planting, and harvest, and times for rest. We can see cycles of learning and testing and play, and cycles of birth, growth and death ascending and descending the mountains around us. We need not be surprised, but we do need to be prepared.  The day adversity arrives, piled up like blizzard snow against the front door, is not the day to think about buying snow tires, or a shovel.

We need to seek the Lord in the good seasons of our lives as well as the tough times -because knowing that He loves us and holds our future in His hands is the main tool we have to have in an accessible place in our hearts to survive more difficult seasons. (He gives many others as well.) Those who understand that change is a constant can rejoice with every new thing, and when adversity descends like winter, they may even be able to strap on their skiis or grab their sleds and find the joy.

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