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Archive for the ‘uniqueness’ Category

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12b)

The video, which has gone viral this week, shows a young woman verbally abusing a tall man in a winter hat on a subway. She mocks his hat, his shoes and other things as her friends and other onlookers look on and smile.

The young man does nothing for a while except stand there and take it. Having apparently had enough, he finally responds by calling her a not-so-nice name commonly used to verbally abuse females.

The woman then rolls her tongue outside of her mouth and smacks him in the head with the end of a stiletto. Reacting, he hits her with a forceful slap to her face. This action sets off a brawl on the train.

My first reaction to this episode was quite judgmental, especially toward the woman. Then I walked through a McDonald’s parking lot the other morning to grab a quick breakfast on the way to work.

This parking lot is not particularly large and is usually crowded with cars and pedestrians. Apparently some young man in a black coupe took offense at me walking in front of his car after he left the drive thru window. I knew he wasn’t happy because he let loose with some curses at me.

Of course, I responded with Christian humility. Uhhh…I wish I could say so, but the fact is I responded in kind. In fact, I was so mad that if he had come out of his car I would have been willing to duke it out with him right then and there, come what may.

Ironically, my next stop was to pick up my antidepressant. As I walked toward the pharmacy, I attributed my behavior to being off my meds for a few days. That’s probably true, but I also know there was something else at work. I just wasn’t sure what.

I have spent a good part of today reflecting on this.  My musings began with the life of Josiah in the Old Testament. He was the Israelite king who created personal and national reforms after a priest discovered the long lost Scriptures (to that time) in the temple in Jerusalem. (See I Chronicles 34).

Here is what the Life Recovery Bible says about him:

When the Scriptures were discovered, Josiah initiated a recovery program for himself and his people immediately.

It is fair to say that Josiah grew up in a dysfunctional and destructive situation. Idolatry and other forms of sinful behavior were an established norm. Josiah had to begin by discovering what God’s ideals for living were.

In time, he was able to break the cycle of sin that had ensnared Israel. He had faith, commitment to God and the courage to pursue both personal and national recovery.

Josiah began his recovery program when he delved into the  Scriptures. As a result, he is considered by Christians to be one of the more godly kings of Israel.

Another godly king, whose story comes a few pages in the Bible before Josiah,  was Hezekiah.  As was typical of ancient Israel, they were threatened by a powerful invader during his reign. Hezekiah began a large defense project he hoped would fend off the enemy. The Life Recovery Bible compares this work to that of building defenses of our own in order to live the Christian life:

Recovery involves repairing or building healthy boundaries that have become weak, defective, or torn down through abuse.

For some of us our boundaries have grown weak as we have let people walk all over us or we have let down our guard against our destructive behaviors.

Part of the recovery process involves repairing our boundaries. We can also construct a second wall of defense by developing a strong support network around us.

…..There is someone on our side who is far greater.

The lessons I learned from the Life Recovery Bible’s commentary are twofold. First, I was right to have set boundaries with that fellow in the McDonald’s parking lot. In fact, I was kind of backed up by this when my landlord told me later,”I’m proud of you.” Now, I think he was proud of my being willing to stand up for myself and fight the guy if necessary.

However, I believe that my response could have been something like this: ‘Why, my good man. Why are we upset. Don’t you see this is quite a full lot and we all have to show some common courtesy.”

The second lesson I learned from the Life Recovery Bible was that the reason I did not respond in a godly manner, other than my lack of a prescription, was due to my lack of boundaries against destructive personal behaviors. I suppose my meds are one form of boundary against them. But I lack the support network and the sort of relationship with God that would build a  further line of defense against self destruction. (And yes, I could have ended up in jail–or worse.)

Saul of Tarsus was no stranger to destructive behaviors. Unfortunately for Christians, his havoc was directed at them. The Bible says he uttered threats against them (although I am sure he didn’t do it on a subway or McDonalds since those didn’t exist at the time.)

Saul had his comeuppance, however. Acts 9 describes his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus that left him blind and totally dependent on others. The Life Recovery Bible once more gives us some insight on this Scripture:

Saul was suddenly confronted with the fact that his life wasn’t as perfect as he had thought. Self righteousness had been his trademark. By letting go of his illusions of power, however, he became one of the most powerful men ever-the apostle Paul.

When we are confronted with the knowledge that our life isn’t under control, we have a choice. We can continue on in self denial and self righteousness or we can face the fact that we have been blind to some important issues. If we become willing to be led into recovery, and into a whole new way of life, we will find true power.

For me, the key word from the good people at the LRB is “willing”.

Obedience to Christ has always been an issue with me. When I was in college I went to a conference and learned that Christ wanted to be my Lord, not just my Savior. I drove home angry, feeling I had been “had”. “No one told me about this,” I thought.  My concept at the time I think was that I only needed “fire insurance” and I didn’t think much about Jesus’s desire to change me.

I have had problems with obedience to Christ ever since. I have never learned to obey Him. More importantly, this comes I believe from not knowing why I should obey, other than that I am told to by Christian leaders. This hasn’t been enough of a motivation for me.

This morning during my reflections I came new a new understanding from the words of a  praise song I listened to. It told me  why Jesus is worthy of my obedience. It opens with these lines:

“Worthy is the,
Lamb who was slain
Holy, Holy, is He
Sing a new song, to Him who sits on
Heaven’s Mercy Seat” (words by Kari Jobe)

The bottom line is that Jesus, by nature of who He is and His work on the Cross for me is worthy of my obedience.  How Jesus must tire of my recalcitrance. I’m even proud of my stubbornness, irascibility and curmudgeonly ways, thinking of them as an eccentric family trait.

Like Josiah, I see the importance of obeying the Word of God.  To me they are a road map for living. However, Jesus points out in the Scriptures an error of the Bible believers in His day that can be just as true of me and I suppose other believers.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” (John 5:39-40).

RC Sproul makes this point in a sermon on John 5, noting how we modern day believers still try to maintain some sense of self importance and control over their own lives. He decries the use of a bumper sticker with this message.

God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

“How arrogant is that,” says Sproul. “I want them to write a new bumper sticker: ‘God says it. That settles it.’ It doesn’t matter whether I believe it. It was settled long before my assent and long before I concur with the message. If God Almighty opens His holy mouth and says something, we don’t need another witness. It’s over. It’s settled.”

Sproul further explains the primacy of Jesus Christ and obedience to Him by referring to Paul’s statements to a group of Athenian philosophers:

“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.  For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”(Acts 17:30-31).

This message is in contrast, says Sproul, to the current evangelistic techniques  of today which emphasize our “receiving” of an “invitation” from God.

What is needed is for me is  to “sing a new song” to Him that sits at the mercy seat at the Father’s right hand.  This should be a song of willful, happy obedience to Jesus.

Why? Because He is worthy of my obedience, and it is not an option.  Oh, and did I say “He is worthy?”

“With all creation I will sing praise to the King of Kings and I WILL  adore You.”(Kari Jobe)

I have some ideas how this obedience will translate into my daily life, but more importantly, I now have a reason for this submission to the authority of Jesus.

Filled with wonder,
Awestruck wonder
At the mention of Your Name
Jesus, Your Name is Power
Breath, and Living Water
Such a marvelous mystery (Kari Jobe)

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What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun?  All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God,  for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-25)

I was recently in the store of a major book seller and noticed these titles prominently displayed:

  • I Can Make You Confident
  • I Can Make You Sleep
  • I Can Make You Rich
  • I Can Make You Thin

I looked above the shelf holding these volumes and noticed this sign:

50% OFF

Obviously the man didn’t deliver!

Most of us in the USA these days are in dire need of what this author is promising.  We Americans seem to be allowing our world to spin out of control.

It’s “do, do,do” all the time.  This aspect of our culture is my main bugaboo about the way we live.

I have really struggled with that tug since I returned from living in Europe last summer. The folks over there seem to have a different mindset.

Yeah, they work hard. However, they also know when it’s time to leave the workplace and enjoy life.

It’s clear that we think that it all depends on us. We’re afraid to give up control.

Yet, we also see at times what abject failures we can be. If we weren’t overweight, financially strapped, insecure and wide-awake in the middle of the night, why would there be book titles like the ones I saw for sale at all. We obviously are lost a lot.

One of the ways we stressed-filled US Americans try to relax is by watching NFL games on TV. Every week they’re rated as some of the most viewed programs.

They’re definitely popular now as the NFL is in the middle of the playoffs.  I confess to being glued to particular contests.

One of most famous of these games took place right before Christmas in 1972. The Pittsburgh Steelers were facing their archrivals, the Oakland Raiders, for the right to advance forward towards the Super Bowl.

What is legendary about this game is one particular play.  It came with 22 seconds left in the match, with the Steelers behind 7-6.

Quarterback Terry Bradshaw took the snap and went back to pass. He faced a heavy rush.  Running to his right, Bradshaw almost slipped to the turf, but he recovered, ran to his right and threw the ball down the field toward halfback John “Frenchy” Fuqua.

Just as the ball reached him, Fugua was smacked by Raiders cornerback Jack Tatum, infamous for his brutal hits. The ball caromed off of Tatum.

What happened next has gone down in football lore. Just as the ball was about to hit the ground, Steelers running back Franco Harris scooped the ball out of the air, ran to his left, stiff armed a pursuing Raider defender, danced along the sideline and ran into the end zone for the game winning touchdown.

As one would expect, the fans went nuts.  They rushed onto the field and mobbed the celebrating Steelers players.

Fuqua told reporters this after the game:

“I can tell you this: I did not take my eyes off the ball, as you can tell from the way that my body was. What happens from that point on was truly Immaculate.”

The event has evermore been known as the Immaculate Reception.

I have been pondering of late why I seem to have little victory in my Christian life. The Immaculate Reception is a fine object lesson for me in my thinking.

You see, the Pittsburgh Steelers were going about their business trying to win the game. Frankly, things did not look good. It appeared that they were about to go down to defeat.

Yet, something extraordinary happened.  When Bradshaw threw that ball, a normal action for him, everyone thought the ordinary would occur. The ball would either be caught by a Steeler, fall incomplete, or perhaps even be intercepted by a Raiders player.

No one expected the ball to take a funny bounce and miraculously fall into the hands of Franco Harris, who was in the right place at the right time. Harris didn’t hesitate, though. He took advantage of the situation and ran the ball in for a score.

Now what did the Pittsburgh Steelers have to do with their victory. Pretty much they were just available to receive the gift handed to them. I figure this must what my role is to getting victory in my Christian experience.

Recently I have been listening to the sermons a preacher from the mid 2oth century at the recommendation of my pastor. Major Ian Thomas was a man who understood what it took for a Christian to live victoriously. Thomas said,”Jesus Himself is the very dynamic to meet all his demands.”

The idea from Thomas is that Jesus doesn’t give us strength, for example. He IS our strength.

Likewise, Jesus doesn’t give us victory. He IS or victory. Thomas likes to say,”We’re just the suit of clothes Jesus wears.”

This is surely biblical. Jesus Himself said,”I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:5).”

Why, what Jesus said is anti-American! Aren’t we supposed to lift ourselves up by our bootstraps?

Even the American hero Benjamin Franklin said that “God helps those who help themselves.” With all due respect to the otherwise admirable Mr. Franklin, this popular sentiment is hogwash and not scriptural.

The other morning I awoke and I believe God spoke to me. Oh, not audibly.  It was just the still small voice we Christians we hear from His Spirit at times.

What  came to me was this: “Cease striving.”  This message has returned to me several times since this week.

When I get anxious, I hear “cease striving”. My only response has had to be obedience. I just tell the Lord,”Ok.”

This may be Un-American, but I don’t care. I am as big a patriot as the next guy, but I have a higher citizenship.

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” ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 11:28-30).”

I was talking to an acquaintance the other day, complaining about a personal injustice. This conversation got me steamed.

The more I thought about it, the worse I felt. I was more ashamed of my feelings over the matter than the humiliation I encountered when it happened.

So, I took a l-o-o-n-g walk to cool off.  Then I settled down with my books at home.  (This is one of the benefits of having no electronic entertainment, save a boom box. I read a lot.)

After that night of reading, I felt even more ashamed of my complaining.

One of the books I read was called “The End of Poverty”. In it the economist Jeffrey Sachs discussed the condition of the world economically.

One-sixth of the world’s population, says Sachs, is still in extreme poverty. This means that they are not even on the ladder to economic survival.

Sachs cites the female garment workers in Bangaladesh as women who are climbing out of extreme poverty and onto the ladder of opportunity. Of course, they have a long way to go.

They walk several hours a day to and from their homes outside of Dhaka to get to work and back. At their jobs they work on clothes for the Europeans and Americans, 12 hours a day for minimal wages.

On the job and in their travels they are subject to sexual harassment. The life is unimaginable to those of us living at least a minimal good life in a developed country and if we have any heart, it makes us sad, or even angry.

In fact, the media and celebrities regularly decry the treatment of women like those in Bangladesh and shame the companies that employ them. Yet, Sachs thinks this outrage is the wrong approach.

He says that these women are actually on the first rung of economic success. Over time and exponentially, they will improve their lot and those around them.

Still, their plight is unjust. So is the situations of countless other people around the globe in worse conditions.

I wish I had more concern for the injustice done to people like the women of South Asia. Instead, I get caught up in my own petty concerns.

As I read the other night, I continued my progress through aother book, a  Charles Dickens’ classic called  “The Tale of Two Cities”.  Somehow I managed to skip a lot of English lit in school, so I guess it’s never too late.

“The Tale of Two Cities” surprised and moved me. It too is about injustice.

Set in Paris and London during the days of the French Revolution, it details the horrors done to people who were not aristocrats. Indeed, Sachs notes that only in the last 200 years has the world begun to develop economically, with the average worker in Europe earning about 90% of what your average African worker does today.

These peasants were fair game for the richer nobility. Indeed, the plot of Dickens’ novel centers around the consequences stemming from the shocking ill treatment of a serf woman and her family by the boys of a French aristocratic  family.

However, the revolutionaries that took power during the French Revolution are portrayed by Dickens as equal to their “noble” predecessors in terms of their brutality. They took vengeance on anyone who stood in their way, especially if they were associated with aristocrats.

It didn’t matter if they were guilty of a criminal act or not. It was “off with their heads!”

One of the key figures in “The Tale of Two Cities” is a child of one of  the perpetrators of the aforementioned outrage concerning the peasant woman. He grew into a man named Charles Evremonde, called Darnay.

Darnay had rejected his aristocratic upbtinging and moved to England, where he married the daughter of a French doctor who had been imprisoned in the Bastille.  However, to save a former servant of his family imprisoned unjustly by the revolutionaries, he returns to France.

There he is through a series of events sentenced by a revolutionary tribunal to be guillotined. Darnay is a good man with a kind wife and a child and has done nothing to deserve execution, except to have been born into the wrong family.

It appears all is lost for Darnay until an old friend comes along and saves the day. Sidney Carton from England, almost a part of the prisoner’s family and formerly entranced with Mrs. Darnay when she was single, manages to substitute himself through trickery for Darnay at the guillotine.

Carton has led a wasted life and he knows it. He is a man with a lot of bad habits. Yet, he sees in this act the possibility for redemption.

Indeed, as he contemplates what he is about to do, Carton walks late at night along the Seine quoting a statement from Jesus:

 “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die (John 11:25, 26 Kings James Version).

As I read this passage, I thought that the term ‘dead’ could be construed in a couple of ways. One is the common biblical idea of being spíritually separated from God. The other is another common usage, which is that of “death to self’ (Luke 9:23.

Carton was ‘dead’ in both ways. He had left a profligate life away from God. However, now he had also chosen to die to himself and sacrifice himself for his friend.

As Carton contemplated this action, he must have felt very lonely. The words of a current pop hit tell of what must have been in his heart:

 I don’t wanna be left
In this war tonight
Am I alone in this fight?
Is anybody out there?

Don’t wanna be left left in this world behind
Say you’ll run to my side (Artist: K’NAAN featuring Nelly Furtado)

The complete song describes “losers” in this life´. “Mary” isn’t pretty or popular, and she’s insecure.  She  can “point a finger, but there’s three pointing back.”

“Adam” is  a child totally ignored by his father. He “grew up mad and antisocial” and spent his days playing video games. Drugs were the only way out.

“With one last hope he puts his arms up higher
I can see him crying out, yeah
Is anybody out there?”

Sidney Carton in “The Tale of Two Cities” discovers that there is someone out there.  He chooses to believe in His new friend Jesus, who is the Resurrection and the Life.

Carton gains strength and hope from this verse, taught to him by his father. It carries him through to complete the rescue of Charles Darnay. 

Carton had spent a lifetime not trusting and hurting, a victim of his own injustices in life.  Then he met Jesus Christ. In effect, Jesus says to him the same words of another recent pop song:

Don’t wanna break your heart
I wanna give your heart a break
I know you’re scared it’s wrong
Like you might make a mistake
There’s just one life to live
And there’s no time to waste, to waste

Give your heart a break
Let me give your heart a break
Your heart a break
There’s just so much you can take
Give your heart a break
Let me give your heart a break
Your heart a break (Artist: Demi Lovato)
Sidney Carton believes Jesus. He believes Jesus can and will give his heart a break. He turns his broken heart over to Jesus.
 
In doing so, he finds a way to right the wrongs he sees in his own life and in those around him. He gives his life, his dead life,  for his old earthly friend,  and to his newfound heavenly One.
 
I can learn from  Sidney Carton. I see myself in him.
 
Like him, I am dead in many ways. I am powerless. I know I can’t solve  all the injustices in my ownl life or the multitudinous ones out there in the world.   
 
Yet, like Sidney I can start to solve some of the wrongs in this world by believing my friend Jesus and giving up my life to Him. I may not have trusted many people, if any, before but now I can trust Him.
 
When Jesus says it He means  it. When He says He is the Resurrection and the Life, then I can know it’s the truth. His word is as good as gold.
 
After I believe Jesus and give my life to Him, every day, then I can follow behind Him and give up my life for  those He so chooses.  This may not take care of more than a drip of the injustice drowning me and the world today, but it’s a beginning.
 
 

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“Light shines in the darkness for the godly (Psalm 112a).”

“I’m here as a doctor, not a mother”, says Elizabeth Lawson. She says this in reply to Dr. Robert Chase, who connects the last names of their six-year-patient and the doctor when they are introduced.

The doctors on the diagnostic team in the TV drama House look at their boss, Dr. Eric Foreman, with incredulity. However, Foreman insists that they use the woman’s expertise even though she is the mother.

Gregory House, the team head, is not on the case, but with his best friend Dr. James Wílson, whom he discovered in the last episode has cancer. Although Wilson has been trying to hide from him because he doesn’t want his friend involved in his care, House tracks him down.

When Wilson tells House that he doesn’t want him around, House replies,”I’m not here as a doctor, I’m here as a towering pillar of strength.” Wilson doesn’t believe that one of the world’s great diagnosticians can keep out of his case.

Two doctors. Two sick loved ones. Two people struggling with their roles in the relationships.

Dr. Lawson obviously loves her daughter Emily. However, Emily has a genetic illness which gives her a life expectancy of 20 years. Her mother can’t seem to come to grips with that and has spent much of Emily’s life apparently being more of her doctor than her Mom. For example, Dr. Lawson has been treating her daughter with an unapproved drug at home as a test.

The doctors don’t know what to think of Dr. Lawson’s duality. As they are observing Emily in an MRI machine, Dr. Jessica  Adams looks at her colleague Dr. Chris Taub and says,”What do you think of her mother?  She called her daughter ‘the patient’. Taub answers,”If my kids were born with an expiration date, I don’t…”. (He is interrupted by Emily’s cry from the MRI machine.)   

Even though Dr. House and Dr. Lawson claim to be dealing with the medical troubles of  their loved ones in chosen predefined roles (i.e., ” “best friend” and “doctor”), it is of course impossible to prevent leakage from the other realm of their relationship. For example,  in one instance Lawson overrules the medical team, saying,”I don’t mean to pull rank here, but I’m her mother.” Chase comments rather sarcastically that he thought she was her doctor.

House attempts to talk Wilson out of a risky procedure he prefers over the counsel of several oncologists, knowing it could kill his friend. However, when Wilson still insists upon doing it, and away from the hospital, House agrees to supervise the treatment medically at his place.

As House begins administering the high dosage of medicine which could just as easily kill Wilson as push him toward a cure, he outlines for his friend what to expect in terms of side effects.

Wilson let’s House know he is wasting his time, saying,”I know, I’m an oncologist.”

House tells him,”If you did you wouldn’t be sitting here”, and proceeds with a list of other side effects.  He has crossed over from the land of friendship to the world of being a medical doctor. Still, Wilson is determined to have the treatment.

Although it is a journey, by show’s end the doctors have assumed the roles they were meant to have. Dr. Lawson removes herself from the medical debates of the House team and becomes the girls mother. When Emily is cured, Lawson talks of going to the aquarium with her estranged husband and  her daughter.

House, having gotten Wilson through the ordeal of his chemical treatment, reverts to form. He leaves silly pictures of Wilson during the procedure on the latte’rs laptop in his office,accompanied by equally ridiculous music. Wilson bursts out laughing hysterically.  His best friend has come through.

Understanding our identity and our role is a crucial thing in life. It is abolutely essential to live a life in God.

Today I listened to a talk by Christian pastor and speaker Jonathan Welton, who talks of how getting an understanding of who he is in Christ delivered him from a 10-year battle with lust.  Welton notes how grasping the power of God’s grace to give him self control and reign in life delivered him (Titus 2:11-14; Romand 5:17).

More importantly Welton also notes how Christ showed him his identity in relation to the beauty of women. Instead of being a predator, a role regularly assigned to men these days according to Welton, he understood God had called him to be a protector of women and their loveliness.

A few months ago I put on my prayer list a request that God would tell me how He sees me. Gradually, He has done that as I read the Scriptures. Here is what He has said so far:
 
1) )I am His child (He is my Father). He bends down to listen to me (Psalm 116:1,2) 2) I am His sheep whom He guides, protects and comforts (He is my shepherd)-Psalm 23 3) I am His marvelous creation (He is my Creator).Psalm 139:13,14  4) I am the main character in a book He is writing (Psalm 139:16).

Gaining an understanding of how God sees me, and my role and His role, has made me grasp how valuable I am to him: I am immensely so.  Welton today enhanced my comprehension of this when he said that that the message of the Gospel is that we are worth dying for.

As we struggle through life we learn about ourselves. The fictional Dr. Wilson learned something in his struggle to get through the administration of potentially lethal medicine with horrible side effects. He learned that he was not particularly empathetic beforehand.

His friend House has pain from a leg injury that is always there. He constantly takes pain pills to alleviate it.  After his chemical treatment, he tells House,”So the way I felt, you feel that, what, most of the time? It really does suck being you, doesn’t it?”

Wilson also comprehended how weak his attempts had been in attempting to comfort his own cancer patients in the past. He now understands, having wrestled in House’s apartment with the thought of dying of a disease he treats for other. He now gets  how pathetic his comments  to patients were. He always told them to avoid trying to figure out what their cancer meant.

Wilson’s journey and ours are of the same kind. It’s painful to get to the truth of who we truly are. There are times we have to face up to and set aside old judgments about our identity which we have developed over time, sometimes decades.

I recently told my pastor that I can’t figure out why it has taken me a lifetime to understand the things I know now about God. I believe I said something specifically about the length of time spent learning who I am in His eyes.

Somehow  I think this long process might have something to do with God’s desire for me to grasp who He is. Jesus Himself went through the same struggles I have had to and will continue to face my whole life (Hebrews 4:15).

 I am called to follow in His footsteps, experiencing the same kinds of things He did. As I do, I get an an understanding of Jesus’s heart, and that although He is God, He is also truly human.

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 Who will come from Mount Zion to rescue Israel? When the Lord restores his people,  Jacob will shout with joy, and Israel will rejoice (Psalm 14:7 New Living Translation).

Personal crisis is the engine that makes a story go.  What “sells” a viewer or reader is the dysfunction of their fellow human beings.

This is why over the last 7 plus seasons the TV show “House” has been so popular. It features a gifted, yet deeply flawed diagnostic physician by the name of Gregory House. At the end of last season we were left with the good doctor having crashed his car into his girlfriend’s house (she also was his boss) and fleeing the country to some remote tropical location.

As season 8 opens, House is in jail. He has been there for 8 months.

House is a middle-aged man with a cane who doesn’t have the physical skills to deal with the potential harm he faces in prison. As he did on the outside, he survives by his wits.

With 5 days left before parole, he is told to stay out of trouble. For House, as all fans of the show know, this is well nigh impossible.

Indeed, he gets to the final day and messes up. Seeing the prison doctor making a stupid decision that is endangering  a patient’s life, House breaks prison rules, causes a scene and ends up with 8 more months in jail

In the next epidode of the new season, House is told that he has a visitor, his former hospital’s dean of medicine. This would be in House’s mind Lisa Cuddy, the aforementioned boss and girlfriend.

However, it turns out to be Dr. Eric Foreman, an African American physician who has been at odds with House for the entire series and now has replaced Cuddy. He is there to “rescue” House.

In exchange for working as a diagnostician again at the hospital, Foreman offers House a “get out of jail free” card. At first reluctant, House finally accepts.

House’s return to the hospital isn’t joyful. His former team has moved on. Furthermore his best friend, Dr. James Wilson, who House injured in the car incident at Cuddy’s home, has no intention of renewing their old ties.

In additon, House is getting paid minimum wage, has a broom closet for an office, and is told by Foreman that if he slips up once, he will go back to jail.  Despite the temptation to go back to his usual contrary ways, House manages to toe the line and do what he does best: he solves the case Foreman yanked him out of jail for.

Along the way, he also inspires courage in his old friend Wilson. The patient House is dealing with is his, and Wilson lacks the fortitude to get the patient to make a decision that could save their life. 

House convinces Wilson of what he has to do. Wilson does what House tells him to do and the patient makes a painful, but correct, choice and is saved.

During their professional interactions, House tries to be his old playful self with Wilson, overtures which his friend rejects. House tells him,”Look, I like you. We have fun together. Do whatever you have to do to get over this.”

At shows end, with his old friend having proved his professional and personal mettle, Wilson walks into House’s new office (actually, part of the old one which Foreman has returned to him) and punches him in the nose. Wilson then looks at House and asks,”Dinner later?”

House’s recovery has begun. He has regained his job and his best friend. The smile on his face is also the first sign of the possibility of some semblance joy coming back into House’s life.

Over two thousand years ago, God’s people were in a prison of their own making. Despite having a special role in God’s plan, the Jewish people had regularly rejected Him and were currently under a harsh Roman occupation.

In the midst of this mess Jesus Christ was born. God’s purpose in the birth was told to his mother Mary beforehand (Luke 1:26-38).

Mark Lowry asks the question about how much Mary really understood of just who her son was in these lyrics:

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

 
I don’t think Mary really grasped the significance of who Jesus was, at least not until later. But who did? And who does today?
 
It has taken me a lifetime to see. Lowry’s lyrics accompanied by Buddy Greene’s music summarizes in my heart and my emotions something I have known mostly in my intellect up until now.
 
This Jesus has rescued me. He has me on the road to recovery in my life.  I know Him more today than I ever have before, but that’s because I have had to cling to Him for dear life.
 
It has taken time in my own personal jail. It has taken metaphorical punches in the nose. But I think I finally get it.
 
Why did it take so long? 
 
Kathy Mattea says in an introduction to “Mary, Did You Know”:
 
“The first time I heard this song, it instantly became my favorite Christmas song of all time. And to me, this song is exactly what Christmas is all about.”
 
This weekend “Mary, Did You Know”  has instantly become my favorite Christmas song as well. In one fell swoop it has shown me my need for forgiveness for not grasping just who this Jesus man is and put into words what my heart now comprehends.
 
Before, I gave lip service to believing in Him. Today, I understand that this man, this Jesus, is the living God who has rescued me, helped me on the path to restoration and given me the hope of rejoicing with Him now and forever.
 
He isn’t to be trifled with. Who knew?

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“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:15-17).”

This afternoon I was riding down the interstate with my oldest daughter. Suddenly I noticed a flock of birds in the distance, moving in a synchronized fashion, making what looked to me like a funnel.

I was intrigued for a couple of reasons.  One reason was  that it is currently late December.  If these birds were migrating, it seemed awfully late to me.

Secondly, I was amazed at how they flew with such unison. I was also extremely interested in their formation and the patterns they were making together  in the sky.

Having done a little research, I have found that there is a purpose to this flocking behavior.  Birds have reasons for functioning in groups the way they do.

Primarily, birds operate out of self interest. They know that working in a flock will provide them with more opportunities to find food and less chance of being the victim of a predator.

According to Audobon Magazine author Peter Friederici, this latter purpose is due to a phenomenon called the “selfish herd”. When attacked, birds move to the safest place: the middle of the group. This action is motivated by the self interest of not being captured by an attacker.

The movements such as the ones I witnessed this afternoon can be initiated by an individual bird.  Flock behavior is a democratic activity.

A bird who spots a predator can begin a move which other birds follow. It is similar to the effect caused by “The Wave” cheer at a sports stadium.  It is thought that birds’ actions are cued by the other birds closest to them, a concept known as the “chorus line theory”.  Incredibly, birds operating according to this principle can fly up to 40 miles per hour and make hairpin turns while doing so.

Friederici uses an analogy to describe the behavior of birds in flocks which I could relate to as a driver this afternoon. He writes,”Imagine doing unrehearsed evasive maneuvers in concert with all the other fast-moving drivers around you on an expressway, and you get an idea of the difficulty involved.”

Friederici says that animals which operate in well connected groups conduct themselves in a certain way. “It turns out that only three simple rules suffice to form tightly cohesive groups,” he notes. “Each animal needs to avoid colliding with its immediate neighbors, to be generally attracted to others of its kind, and to move in the same direction as the rest of the group.”

The ancient Romans, according to the Audobon writer, believed that the gods communicated through the way birds flew. As a student of the Bible, which I deem to be God’s Word,  I was curious as to what it says about birds, so I thought “when in Rome…”.

Thus, I did a quick word study which showed me that most of what the Scriptures says about birds has to with their feeding. Indeed, it says God cares enough for birds to make sure they are fed.

In teaching his disciples not to worry, Jesus said that we should look at how God takes care of them by feeding them.  He added,  “Are you not much more valuable than they?”

What is even more fascinating than Jesus’s comparison of His Father’s care for birds with that of his nurture of man is His description of Himself in relation to our fellow feathered creatures:“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20).”

Jesus lived in this world like other men, but He differed from them in one important aspect. He was one of a kind. Thus, he acted differently than the rest of his species. 

He came into this world to save people from their sin, which He himself did not possess. The fact is that many of his own kind did not want His salvation. However, He pressed on and did not avoid colliding with His fellow men.

Jesus loved men, but he was unique in that He did not possess our sinful selfishness. He was  one of us, but did not carry our disease. He also refused to participate in its effects, and in fact opposed them.

Finally, Jesus marched to a different drummer. He didn’t follow the crowd, but sought to lead it in the direction He wanted it to go.

Jesus came into the world as a vulnerable baby and put Himself at risk until the end. Indeed, He was put to death because of it. He didn’t try to flee His main predator, Satan.

Friederici quotes an ornithologist who notes that,in the bird world, “being single is always more risky.” Jesus found this to be the same among his fellow humans.

But He refused to be part of the “selfish herd”.  He did the unthinkable among men, who engage in groupthink. He stood alone for  His people and in the process saved them.

The Romans had it right about God ine one respect. He does seek to communicate to us, but not through bird behavior. 

As He sees people as more valuable than fowl, He chose to become one of us and show us through His own actions what He is like and how to really fly as humans.

There’s never been anyone like Jesus, and there never will be. His willingness to endanger Himself  through His birth, life, death and resurrection resulted in us being brought back to God’s flock, away  from our straying ways.

That’s reason enough to not celebrate with turkeys this Christmas, but to instead soar  together like eagles and honor Him for His coming.

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