Cairns

cairnsWhen I was hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and other places like it, I noticed stones stacked up into little towers along the way. I now know that those collections of rocks are called cairns and they are placed there by hikers to guide future hikers along the path to show them where to go. Over the centuries, cairns have also been used as landmarks and memorials.

I got to thinking that cairns of sorts were used in the Bible by Abraham, Moses and Jacob as altars. Check out these verses:

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. —Genesis 22:9

Abraham built this altar to acknowledge that God is God on his journey through his life, and he was saying through this cairn that he would obey God’s will. Of course, God would send an angel to stop Abraham from sacrificing his son. But later, God would sacrifice his own Son, Jesus, on the altar, the cairn, if you will, of the cross, which was erected on a rock hill called Golgotha.

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Manger Scene

manger sceneWhen I was a kid, during the season of Advent we would always have a little manger scene out with the figures of Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, a shepherd and three wise men. It was a child-friendly set, with almost like a Lincoln Log stable and Fisher Price style figures (I know I am dating myself with these references).

I just recently learned that this manger scene was a wedding gift for my parents, who were married 50 years ago on December 27, 1967. What a wonderful wedding gift to give: the story of the birth of Jesus in tangible form to share with future children as part of a family tradition.

My parents still have those figures and they still put them out. And I am again reminded when I see them of the marvelous story of how Christ came to earth to save us.

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Happiness is …

fireflyA few Christmases ago, there was a special on TV celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. As part of the program, Kristin Chenoweth sang the song “Happiness” from the You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown musical.

That particular clip is no longer available on YouTube, but here is another older, shortened (much slower, sorry) version for you to listen to:

My favorite line from that song is “Happiness is catching a firefly, setting him free.” I can feel the joy in that, and it makes be nostalgic for childhood. The song eventually concludes, “Happiness is anyone and anything that’s loved by you.” Though I love this song, that’s a pretty broad brush!

That got me to thinking about what happiness is to the Christian. St. Paul helps us in this regard when he says, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11-12).

For us as Christians, the circumstances of our lives are not what bring us ultimate happiness. For the Christian, happiness is knowing we have a gracious and forgiving God who will never abandon us.

Therefore, happiness for the Christian is not centered on what we love, but on the fact that we are loved by Christ. And that love is revealed to us in flesh and blood through the Babe of Bethlehem who came to live with us and love us in person all the way to the cross, that we might be saved and live with him forever. That is the true and lasting happiness that brings joy to the world this Christmas and always.

If I had to write a new verse to the “Happiness” song, then I would add: “Happiness is Jesus who loves me, knowing he cares so. He died for me!” May that be your song this season, too, and may it bring happiness to your heart.

 

House of Bread

breadAs Christmas approaches, it is good for us to remember that the name Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Why is that significant? Because bread plays a important role in the life of Christ and in the Bible in general.

An article in the September 2017 Living Lutheran magazine points out that “bread is perhaps the easiest metaphor in the Bible. Almost all possible ingredients have a scriptural spotlight” (Kari Alice Olsen, Living Lutheran, September 2017, p. 20). Let’s take a look:

Water: Water symbolizes baptism that now saves you. —1 Peter 3:21

Yeast: What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. —Luke 13:20-21

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Soul On Fire

fireplaceOne of my favorite songs on Christian radio these days is “Soul on Fire” by Third Day. Take a listen:

What I like most about this song is the strong beat and the positive uplifting tone. There is excitement and movement in being a Christian in the world that is sometimes lost in our often ordered and mannered worship.

The reality is that there is the fire of the Holy Spirit burning within our souls. And that Spirit’s fire needs to get out and spread to the people and circumstances around us.

And what helps us to release that Spirit’s fire from within us? As the song says, it is our desire through the Holy Spirit to be “running for (God’s) heart” and “longing for (God’s) ways.”

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Even If

fiery furnaceA new song by MercyMe is getting a lot of air play on Christian radio lately. The song is “Even If” and it is based on this passage from Scripture from the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” —Daniel 3:16-18

The faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was so strong that they knew that even if God did not save them from the fiery furnace, God was still their God and loved them.

So often we think of God as some sort of genie who dispenses wishes. It is like we are saying to God sometimes, “Our wish is your command.” But that, of course, is not how prayer works and how God works. God knows what is best for us and he knows what we need more than we do and he knows what will impact the world in the most profound way. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is yes. Sometimes it is no. Sometimes it is not now, but later. And sometimes it is yes, but in a way you will not expect.

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Saying No to Naturalism

fearfully madeNaturalism is a system of thought and action which denies the existence of God and instead believes everything happens according to scientifically explainable laws of nature. In this construct, then, human life exists only because of a process of evolution and its value is only determined by its usefulness.

We as Christians must reject naturalism because we know from Scripture that human life is designed by God and that humanity is very valuable to him. This is not to say we reject science; it is simply to say that God has ordained the laws of nature and they are under his purview.

Consider these verses from Scripture:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26).

This verse reminds us that humans are different from animals and have a special place in God’s creation.

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Elephants

elephantWe all know the saying “An elephant never forget.” Christ Lutheran Church in Shreveport, Louisiana, used this saying to their advantage to start a program of sending elephant stuffed animals to sick children in the hospital. Each elephant can be colored and written on by friends and family of the hospitalized child. Each elephant also comes with a book with the message that “an elephant never forgets, and God never forgets you.” In the cold and sterile and often chaotic environment of the hospital, the elephant stuffed animal provides  comfort and  encouragement and a feeling of home. Approximately 800 children have received Forget-Me-Not Elephants through the program (“Forget Me Not,” Lutheran Woman’s Quarterly, Summer 2017, p. 28).

This story touched my heart because one of my sister’s favorite stuffed animals was a hand-made elephant named Ellie that she received as a baby from my mom’s best friend from high school. As the years went by, Ellie’s ears frayed at the edges, her nose was torn and stuffing pooched out from the sides. She even went through the wash a few times (sometimes by accident), which cleaned her up a bit. But nothing would stop my sister from keeping Ellie by her side when she went to bed at night—even into high school. Now Ellie has a special place in my sister’s daughter’s room.

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A Lightning Rod

lightning rodAt a conference at Concordia Seminary last February, professor Chuck Arand compared the cross to a lightning rod, something that takes on all the destructive force of nature and dissipates it.

I rather like that image because it captures so clearly the power that the cross has over the ferociousness of this world. We still jump when we see a flash of lightning. And we still are shaken up when we see the presence of evil in front of us in various forms. But we as Christians do not need to stay unsettled.

I think it is significant, therefore, to remember that at the time of the crucifixion, the sky turned dark, the earth shook and rocks were split apart. This sinful world itself was raging against Christ and the cross, but the cross and Christ himself withstood the terrible tumult. Nothing that the world tried to throw at him could stop the mission of Christ.

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A Ritual of Thanks

thanks ritual

One of our our most pervasive rituals of thanks is gathering for a feast with family and friends.

When we were little and someone gave us something or complimented us, our parents prompted us with, “Now what do you say?” We would dutifully say thank you (perhaps rather meekly and/or begrudgingly) and run away.

As adults, we often continue to need prompting from our heavenly Father to say thank you. As the Bible says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Scripture itself is encouraging us to develop a ritual of thanks in our lives. We are called to make thanksgiving a regular part of our every activity.

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