(with gratitude for the inspiration and in the spirit of C.S. Lewis)

June 25, 2018

Dearest Dark One,

We bring good news to you today, master of malice.  It appears that the world is as dark as it’s ever been and getting darker by the passing moments.

A quick glance at the headlines shall confirm our representations to you, sir.  On all fronts, in all levels, love is most definitely in decline and nearly at rock bottom.  One might suggest that love has reached the depths of our own domicile – a perfectly charming though somewhat heated location.

There is bitterness, wrath, hate, resentment, selfishness, quarreling, vengeance and much eye-rolling and shaming at every turn.

The people up here are quite divided into tribes, camps, corners and orders.  They hate for the usual reasons, but this is a most inventive generation and they have in fact discovered new formats and functions to spread their loathing and dislike.

Whilst once hate could only be communicated face to face, these creative fools now are able to telegraph their anger and disgust through brief missives called “tweets,” often sent in the middle of the night in ALL CAPS so as to demonstrate the totality and assurance of one’s negativity and rejection of fellow man.

Sir, you must take great comfort in their destruction of one another as it truly requires so little of our time and energy as they engage in endless virtual attacks and insults.  They have indeed found a new war to wage, apparently called a “Twitter War” in which potentially millions of these weak and prideful humans attack, insult, retweet and weigh in, choosing a side and creating great chaos and dissension among themselves.

I and my fellow demons have taken advantage of our increased downtime by indulging in some much-needed rest and relaxation in distant locales.  I dare say we deserve it given our millennia-long efforts on your behalf and we trust that you won’t begrudge us what resulted in a surprisingly productive and intel-gathering working vacation.

You see, sir, in the course of our travels, we discovered that hate is found in the most remote corners of the globe.  Hate is on school campuses, in homes, on the highways and byways, in state and national capitals, in idyllic settings and in the midst of poverty and suffering, at the borders of nations, in the workplace, in neighborhoods, and even in recreational areas.

We wring our hands with glee and are delighted to report that there is even an abundance of hate in the churches!  Can you imagine, dear master, that they have dared to foment hate, resentment and anger in the very place that gave birth to love?  We could hardly believe it ourselves, but our extensive series of road trips confirms that love is most definitely dying in this land and may in fact be nearer to extinction than ever!

Now, our Enemy warned them that these days would come throughout His days on earth, and His Father did so through prophecy throughout that most fearsome Book that some of them occasionally look through.  We are pleased to report that many of them have discarded the Book given by our Enemy to these people and they rarely refer to it. When they do so, it is often taken out of context to hurt and insult one another!  Can you imagine, master, using the Enemy’s Words of love to bring about such hate and disunity?   They hate each other for their nationality, their race, faith, gender, beliefs, the color of their skin, their political parties – I do believe that they find new things to hate about one another with the dawning of each new day!

The sheer joy of such behavior brings tears (happy tears, of course) to my eyes, and I do hope to yours as well.

Rather than coming to one another’s aid in time of need, these pitiful people gang up on one another, often blaming the victim for their suffering and sorrow.  They mock one another and make tremendous fun of each other, wielding words as weapons as they bash and torture each other mentally and emotionally.

Recently, we have learned of one nation’s devious and cruel activities of separating little children from their parents at border crossings.  Imagine, master, the pain and suffering that shall result from such a callous and cruel plan – all because of a desperate people longing for asylum and safety from relentless violence.

Clearly we are turning a corner and winning a war against our Enemy, as evidenced by this most cruel and heartless behavior they are exhibiting against the least of their brethren.  You must certainly recall when our Enemy left His throne, came down to this land and talked of the first being last and that it is better to serve than to be served.  He spoke of caring for the needy, the hungry, the thirsty – and most certainly caring for the little children.

It does appear that even the church-going humans are coming to our dark side, dear master, and they are gleefully advocating that these people who are not of their nation be treated ruthlessly and cruelly.  It certainly does the hearts of demons good to see that the humans are becoming more like us than like our Enemy, that great lover of all people.  Just writing those words makes me quite ill – as do the images of caring and concerned people protesting and standing up for the downtrodden and the children wailing for their parents.  We exuberantly report that the officials of the land in question appear to be in full support of our policies and we find that they may even be emissaries or ambassadors of our own province.  I was practically giddy when I heard their own representatives cite the Enemy’s Book out of context and demand that there be total and complete obedience to whatever laws or edicts are passed by the humans in control of government.

To think that these so-called lovers of the Enemy do not know – or perhaps do not care – what His Word says is so delicious to our demon minds that we lack sufficient words to express our delight.

Imagine.  They recall not the stories taught them on Sunday mornings and at Vacation Bible School!  It is so very encouraging that they did not retain the stories of Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Daniel, Jeremiah, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Esther, Joseph, Mary, their own Savior Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, Stephen – and on and on through eternity.

They don’t even remember their own nation’s history and the stories of their Founding Fathers.  Apparently, their hatred has blinded them to their own story of standing up for truth, justice, equality and liberty.

It is nearly safe to say that brotherly love is a relic of the past, tossed in the trash heap of this world.  While we cannot yet declare victory of hate over love, we demons are indeed doing our part – and the humans we walk among are contributing mightily to your cause, master.

Indeed, given the state of things up here on earth, we worry that we may not have prolonged and dependable job security if situations continue in this manner and the people lose their humanity at ever-quickening rates.

Assuredly, it is a most excellent problem to have, Sir, but still, it has robbed us demons of the soul stealing delight we workers of evil treasure — that of turning people to your side, particularly when they are so willingly and easily going to the dark side with little to no involvement of the demons.

I beg you, dear master, to inform us if certain offices and agencies have been infiltrated by some of our associates working covertly within certain areas and whether they may be the cause of the marvelous mayhem and maleficence.  It seems nearly unworldly for this type of uncivil and inhumane treatment to have been the brainchild of a human being, given the sheer horror of separating a parent and child, but we trust that you are hard at work in your efforts to divide and conquer this land north of our own.

Dear master, we have reports that young people are quite unhappy and angry, which may be the result of society’s incessant comparing of themselves to one another and all humans using their rectangular glowing devices which constantly demonstrate their perceived inadequacy and insignificance.  Adults and children use their pocket-sized weapons to sully one another’s reputations, to insult and attack their peers, to share what is designed to be personal and private in a misguided effort to impress and to find all manner of objects that would bring them satisfaction, if only they might acquire them.  Our travels to communities across the globe demonstrated a growing sense of depression and dissatisfaction among young people who have been raised in this toxic climate of greed, rage, revenge, violence and pettiness.

Many of the Enemy’s followers are initiating outreach efforts in the schools and communities and they are earnestly seeking to love and help the young people of the world.  Some of the young people are even uniting and forming coalitions and lobbying groups to make the world better, safer and kinder for all.  We do worry about their strength and power, particularly when they exhibit such love and kindness in their rallies and demonstrations.  These young people are spreading a message of hope, possibility and change which should cause you and all of us demons great consternation.  Some of your adult followers are making you proud, however, and they simply mock and ridicule the young people even as they selflessly serve and help their peers and all of society.

Indeed, it is the young people that we ought to worry a great deal about since many of them are rallying and uniting around the causes of love, compassion and peace.  We can only hope that they will become disillusioned and join in our plan of despair and despondency, however I fear that they are a formidable force and we may be overwhelmed by the optimism and irrepressible joy that these young people are spreading in their world.

With regard to lawlessness, we bring excellent reports of tensions among law enforcement and the populace.  You see, sir, it only takes a pinch of evil to poison the stew, and you will be quite pleased with the effects of a few wicked and corrupt police officers who are single-handedly destroying the trust and bond between law enforcement and the communities they serve.  There are frequent reports of abuse of power, racial profiling, sexual assault, brutality and discrimination committed by members of the law enforcement community, which only heightens the mistrust and effectively destroys the fabric of their civilization.  Oftentimes, the ones that the populace should be able to call on in times of trouble have become the purveyors of trouble, creating conflict, tension and stress between the people and the law enforcement community.  Indeed, most police officers and law enforcement officers are honorable, hard-working and upstanding members of their communities.  Yet just a few of the bad ones undo all the work and legacy of the innumerable good and virtuous, ruining their reputations and planting seeds of mistrust and fear in communities all over the world.

If all of this were not enough good news, sir, we revel in this people’s destruction of their own planet!  You would think that they would care for the land that the Enemy has given to them and they would be good stewards, as He calls them to be in His Book.  Yet much to our delight, we find that they are on a fast-track of dismantling their own lands, waters and air – and even are polluting these very things that they and all living things up here desperately require for survival.  News arrived recently that there shall be further drilling in their precious arctic lands and upon their coasts and that there shall be minimal protection of lands or migrating birds, which is sweet music to our demon ears!

I dare say we quite enjoy the warming climate as it reminds us fondly of our home with you, dear master.  The tragedies that their myopic behaviors are creating – flooding, droughts, melting of ice sheets in their planet, the extinction of animal, flora and fauna – are quite spectacular and something we demons never could have accomplished without their intentional destruction and disregard for their own home.  Oftentimes I abruptly ask another demon to pinch me, for I fear these tragedies and atrocities are but a dream.  I am delighted to report to you, master, that they are not a dream but rather they are the nightmares the Enemy warned these people would come before He returned.   They are so content to be discontented and so loving of hatred that they pay His Word no mind and they concern themselves instead with opposition, fighting, advantage gaining, insults and the like.  Indeed, some even deny that they are affecting the climate and destroying their world – as though they refuse to believe the reality in front of their eyes.

The servants of the Enemy try in vain to focus the peoples’ attention on love, being a good neighbor, kindness, generosity and the “Fruits of the Spirit,” but we are ever-grateful to report that these are summarily rejected by so many here – and hatred spreads like a virulent disease, seeking and finding willing hosts of hate, bigotry, anger, violence and shame.

Indeed, they busy themselves throughout each day with disputes over all manner of issues, and given their divisiveness, they have frequent squabbles and confrontations both in-person and online.   With their access to technology, they quickly escalate the disagreements which results in a cacophony of everyone hating everyone else, which I must admit we demons absolutely love!  We add our voices to this chorus of hate and I dare say we are getting close to being able to drown out those wretched songs of love and peace the Enemy has given to them.

There is little charity amongst this generation and they are quite consumed by acquisition of gadgets and gizmos.  I am pleased to report that there is a great disparity of wealth and that policies are regularly enacted to further this chasm, which certainly serves to strengthen the hate and resentment among the classes.  Those who do seek to be philanthropic are oft-ridiculed and mocked, particularly when there is a partisan leaning to one way or the other.

I do warn you, dear sir, that we have found ourselves in a scrap or two while navigating the roads here.  It seems that nearly everyone is glued to those glowing rectangle devices, which prevents them from properly operating their motor vehicles.  We have learned to detect those sorts who use their devices behind the wheel and are now able to circumnavigate them a bit more adeptly.  You see, it is against the law for many of them to use their glowing devices while driving down the lane.

Yet many of them adhere to a buzzword of “hacking” in which they find ways around following the rules or otherwise following conventional behavior.  These little life hacks often result in them gaining an illicit or untoward advantage over their peers and pridefully gloating over their victory.  A quick glance in the rear view will allow you to determine if you have a device user behind you, which should allow you to take preemptive measures to avoid a rear-end collision, as often occurs with these sorts.  I dare say you will likely have a car and driver on your next visit north, but I offer this wisdom as a voice of experience as I and my fellow demons have been the victims of several such crashes recently.

All in all, the present days are quite productive and I trust that we are serving you well in our efforts to bring about hate and discord on earth.  There is little love among the people we have encountered and the tension and animosity seems to grow by the day.  We have found many humans who are selfish, though I am sorry to report that we have also observed displays of grace and mercy between the people groups here.

We continue to work actively to sow seeds of hostility, resentment and anger and I dare say we are enjoying a good deal of success.  There are some workers of the Enemy who seek to spread a message of love and peace, but we have found novel methods to discourage and defeat these Pollyannas and will continue to do so in the days ahead.

I do believe that we can confidently and unequivocally report that the State of the Disunion is as strong as ever, and that our unit will continue to work for the destruction and dissolution of all that is good, hopeful and profitable for these people as we continue our often fruitless effort to destroy the Enemy.  We continue to be unsuccessful in totality, but we remain optimistic that this generation will allow us to work through it to wage war and ultimately emerge from this battle victorious, regardless of what the Enemy’s Book tells will happen in the End Days.

Whilst there is much good news to report to you, Sir, I also must offer the prospect that the hate and anger will lead to a rebound of love, mercy and grace amongst the people here, which perhaps may require a doubling down of resources and agents up here.  In the latest episode of ruthlessness at this nation’s border crossings, it seems that there has been an uprising of good and kind people who are seeking to counter the hate and harm we demons have worked so diligently and faithfully to manifest throughout humanity.

They are gathering in little corners and outside shelters, speaking up in their virtual and real worlds and this is giving us demons a bit of angst and discomfort.  We were quite enjoying the evil that was being perpetrated against the innocent families and thought that perhaps it might continue without abatement, destroying the fabric and foundation of people and ultimately causing a dearth of compassion and empathy amongst the people.

However, it appears that the Enemy is working among them and causing them to feel strong obligations to feed the hungry, give drinks to the thirsty, welcome the strangers, visit the prisoners and even care for the children and least among them.  This surge of love and empathy is most concerning to the demons and we beseech and respectfully request that you send reinforcements to counter these acts of mercy and compassion.

Some of the Enemy’s followers are even praying to Him, seeking His wisdom and guidance and lifting up their fellow men, women and children in prayer and asking for God’s blessings and protections for them.  They are gathering in circles and in churches, online and in neighborhoods, uniting together and quoting the Enemy, claiming that when two or more are gathered, that He is there with them.

I dare say that this is most unacceptable and that we must infiltrate further their churches, communities and homes with messages of hopelessness, hate and intolerance.  We must besiege them with fear, loathing and a spirit of bigotry and prejudice.  We cannot allow the Enemy to prevail here and we must not permit His people to unite in strength and solidarity for others – we must press on with messages of greed, selfishness, scarcity and isolationism.  We must seek to discourage their prayers, discredit the Enemy and show disdain for their love for their fellow man.  We must not allow the Enemy to gain even a foothold here, Sir, but we must defend and indeed go on the offensive in this war.

With all due respect, Master, we must protect our position and will require assistance at the battle lines of this border conflict if we are to defeat the Enemy’s efforts of love and salvation.  We humbly request reinforcements of additional troops as well as any supplies and fortifications you might be able to send up to us.  We assure you that we will work tirelessly and unceasingly for your mission and believe that we can certainly prevail against the Enemy if we can muster enough anger, animosity and fear among the humans with whom we are in close and regular contact on earth.

We shall report back to you post-haste with updates and briefings as time allows.  Until then, I remain your faithless servant working tirelessly on your unjust, evil and immoral causes.

Loyally,

Odium et Invidia

“For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”

Luke 14:28-30

Hope. In Spanish, hope is “esparanza.”

It is perhaps not a coincidence that the verb for wait looks like a close relative of hope, “esperar.”

Waiting and hope seem to go hand in hand, don’t they?

We wait on the Lord and we hope in the Lord.

This week the president said that he will keep the government shut down for weeks, months and possibly even years unless Congress appropriates $5.6 billion to construct a wall at our southern border. More than 800,000 federal employees have been affected by the shutdown, in addition to federal contractors – and their loss of a paycheck affects untold businesses where they would otherwise spend their income buying goods and services.

The president has also implied that he may use some type of executive power in order to build the wall at our southern border, in spite of opposition and objection to the wall’s construction by a majority of Americans. Polls show that anywhere from 54 to 66 percent of Americans do not support the wall and/or do not consider it a priority at this time.

The environmental and human impact of this wall is yet unknown – there have been reports that birds and animals would be adversely affected – possibly irreparably and irreversibly – and that property owners would lose their land and their ability to fully use and enjoy their property. In days of yore (actually, just a few years ago), it would be anathema for a Republican president to advocate for the government using eminent domain to usurp the property rights of individuals in this way. There also was a time when Republicans treasured the natural beauty of our nation and many considered it to be a gift from God to be cared for and the party believed in stewardship and conservation.

We have watched draconian policies enacted over the last six months that have resulted in the deaths of at least two small children who fell ill and died while in US custody after receiving what is alleged to be inappropriate and insufficient medical care. We know that there are thousands of children living in what are called “tent cities,” separated from their parents and possibly permanently affected by the trauma from the separations and callous policies and practices set forth by this administration. There have been reports that some of these children may never be reunited with their parents after the parents were deported, effectively rendering these children orphans and wards of the state.

“Without consultation, plans are frustrated,
But with many counselors they succeed.”

Proverbs 15:22

In the two weeks since the shutdown began, at least three people have died at national parks, their causes of death believed to be at least partially related to the government shutdown. Many are calling for the parks to be closed while the government is shut down to ensure the safety and welfare of the public. Those with firsthand knowledge of the dangers and risks inherent in some of these parks have suggested that with a lack of staff, they will not be able to respond to emergencies and may not be made aware of life and death situations for an extended period of time.

The most concerning aspect of all of this government shutdown and border wall conflict is that it doesn’t have to be like this. We are not facing a crisis on our southern border. Nothing has radically changed at the border that imperils our national security or the health and well being of the American people.

While there may be immigration issues to address, these should be considered and responded to thoughtfully, deliberately and wisely.

Then-candidate Donald Trump declared when he was running for president that he would build a wall and that Mexico would pay for it. That was his campaign promise.

At the time, there were many opponents to the wall – and opposition has continued to grow against the building of a wall at our southern border. The National Parks Conservation Association is opposed to the building of the wall and it has expressed concern about the short and long term impacts of such a wall. Mexico has quite clearly communicated that it will not be footing the bill for Trump’s wall.

This may be one of the most blatant examples of a broken campaign promise in the history of modern campaigns and elections. As a candidate, Donald Trump whipped crowds into a frenzy with a chant about Build the Wall and a call and response asking who would pay for it, with the crowd responding “Mexico!”

Trump: “Who’s Going to Pay For the Wall?”

Crowd: “Mexico!”

Trump: “Who?”

Crowd: “Mexico!”

Three words.

Read his lips.

Three more.

Mexico Will Pay.

Donald Trump has stated that he is a Christian. As a fellow Christian, I can’t help but wonder if Donald Trump has counted the cost of his proposed wall. Has he really thought this plan out – or is this just an unreasonable demand from an unreasonable individual? Why is he so insistent on the immediate building of this wall in this manner – and why is so unwilling to work with others and so willing to cause harm to federal employees, all for the sake of his border wall?

Has President Trump spent time in prayer seeking God’s wisdom as he serves as America’s president – with regard to the border wall, child separation policies – or any of the other issues our nation is facing?

“Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved 
even in his sleep.”

Psalm 127:1-2

God’s Word teaches us that we should wisely consider our actions before we take them. God’s Word also teaches us that we should seek wise counsel in our deliberations. While many Republicans support common sense immigration policies, the party is not unified in its support of a border wall and not under the terms and conditions set forth by President Trump at this time and in this manner, essentially holding the federal government hostage to pay for a wall that he had previously claimed would be paid for by Mexico. It does not appear that President Trump has sought counsel from a diverse group of experts and authorities. Instead, it appears that he only seeks counsel from those who will tell him what he wants to hear. As evidenced by the recent firings and resignations, it appears that the president may not be interested in the opinions and counsel of those who contradict his plans. This is not wise leadership – it is megalomania.

Some estimates place the final cost of the wall at nearly $22 billion, with a three year timeline for construction. The Department of Homeland Security memo from which that estimate was obtained also indicates that the government sought environmental impact waivers that would allow it to avoid study and consideration of the impact to the environment and surrounding land areas. Some estimates have the final price tag at closer to $25 billion, and that would not include ongoing costs for maintenance and repairs.

Here is a Fox News article written by a statistician that analyzes the actual cost to build and maintain the wall, as well as the intangible costs to our nation if we build a wall like the one proposed by President Trump at our southern border.

If these internal figures from the Department of Homeland Security are correct, then the $5.6 billion is about 1/4 the actual total cost of the wall’s construction over the next three years. Which means that there may be additional appropriations requests of about $16 billion in the months ahead.

We must ask ourselves as a nation if this is a cost we are willing and able to pay at this time – and if this endeavor is in the best interest of our nation or if it is merely a president determined to satisfy his base and right wing radio and television personalities who questioned his actions.

While many Americans support sound and common sense immigration policies, it is a minority that stands with the president in the building of a border wall with an unknown – but exorbitant cost – and who support taking the federal government hostage in a shutdown until the appropriations are made.

At this time, it appears that President Trump is playing a massive game of “chicken” with the Democrats and he is waiting to see which side will blink first. The Democrats have essentially said that they will not negotiate with someone who appears to be holding the federal government hostage through a governmental shutdown that he said he would be proud to shut down during a televised meeting with Democratic House and Senate leaders in December.

The problem with negotiating with people like this is that once they manage to intimidate and threaten cooperation on one issue, they are empowered to continue to make unreasonable demands and issue dangerous ultimatums that could cause grievous harm to innocent victims. The rhetoric and the risk escalate and the individual making demands is emboldened to demand more and is seemingly never satisfied and ever more dangerous. Today, it is $5.6 billion for the wall. What might it be tomorrow? Which one of his campaign promises might he demand Congress fulfill – or face another government shutdown?

A majority of the American people do not support the building of a wall in this manner and under these conditions. Many Americans do not support the current iteration of the border wall and have expressed concern about the long term impact of such a wall on the environment and land owners. This is irreversible and permanent – it will forever alter the landscape of our nation. Indeed, what if we cannot fund the full $25 billion the wall may cost – or if the maintenance costs become prohibitive and excessive?

As Christians, we are to count the cost of our actions and to do so with an abundance of counselors who we seek for wise advice, impartial guidance and direction. It does not appear that President Trump has done either of these and it appears that he is acting capriciously, causing unnecessary harm to our nation, the federal government and the nearly one million people who serve the American people in public service as federal employees and contractors.

It is time to end the brinkmanship and it is time to allow for honest and reasonable debate on the issue of the border wall, while concurrently reopening the federal government and putting federal employees back to work.

Let’s engage in honest and realistic dialogue about our nation’s immigration policies. Let’s hold town halls where constituents, property owners, environmental experts, immigration experts, policy makers and residents can ask serious questions.

We need facts and figures on this wall. How much will it realistically cost to build and maintain the wall? What are the potential consequences of building this wall to animal habitats, the environment, property owners, migratory patterns of mammals, birds, reptiles and insects and waterways? What are the pros and what are the cons of the border wall?

America needs to count the cost and really consider whether building this nearly 1,200 mile wall is in the best interest of our nation. Our nation’s leaders must think before they act – they must look further down the road than ten minutes from now.

We need to hear from experts on border security and immigration. We need to discuss the child separation policy of this administration. We must talk about the best approaches and practices for immigration reform. We need to see both candor and conscience as we tackle this challenging but critical issue.

What America needs right now is for the president to act, well, presidential.

Acting like a spoiled petulant child who is pitching a fit because he didn’t get the Christmas gift he wanted is not helping anyone – and it’s hurting all of us. Holding press conferences and opening up cabinet meetings to the press so he can hold court while holding the federal government and nearly a million federal employees hostage is not making America great again. This kind of chaos, conflict and controversy may have worked during the 2016 presidential campaign and it may be a style that President Trump favors, but it is not in the best interest of the American people or our great nation.

This is no way to negotiate, it is no way to govern and it is no way to live.

And it is most certainly not the hallmark of a Christian, a group with which Donald Trump repeatedly identified, apparently in an effort to win their support in the election.

We have nothing to lose by waiting to build Trump’s wall.

We have everything to lose when elected officials act impulsively, foolishly and recklessly.

Trump already broke his campaign promise about the wall when he said that Mexico would pay for the wall and Mexico clearly stated their nation would not absorb the cost of this wall.

Today, nearly a million Americans face not receiving a paycheck because of the government shutdown initiated by President Trump and specifically and exclusively related to the border wall. The entire federal government is affected by this shutdown, including national parks, tax refunds, assistance programs and much more. The entire nation is waiting to hear what will happen next, watching the tennis ball travel back and forth across the court dividing Republicans supporting the wall and the rest of the nation.

Tonight, we wait. Tonight, we hope.

Estamos unidos en la esparanza.

We are united in hope.

In the words of President Reagan, it is time to tear down this wall.

Question

What do you think should be done about the proposed wall at our southern border?

Do you support a border wall?

How does your faith influence your beliefs on a border wall?

Challenge

Do a concordance or word search in your Bible or Bible App for sojourner and/or neighbor. Look up a few verses that you find in your search.

How does God call us to treat the sojourner? How does he command us to treat our neighbors?

Who are our neighbors?

How does the idea of a border wall reconcile with how God calls us to treat sojourners?

Do you think that our nation’s leaders have fully calculated the cost of a southern border wall? If not, do you think that they should calculate the cost before building the wall?

Do you support the government shutdown? Why or why not?

Prayer

Heavenly Father, we pray for our nation and our leaders. Please give them the wisdom they need to make decisions as they serve our country and community. Please bring unity to our nation again. Help us to listen to one another, to treat each other the way we want to be treated, to show dignity and respect to others, including those with whom we disagree.

Lord, help us to be the people you call us to be and help us to seek Your truth and Your will and to act with grace, love and great mercy, things that each of us need. We pray for the employees affected by this shutdown – for their families their finances and their individual needs and concerns.

We pray for safety for the people who are affected by the shutdown – tourists, recipients of federal assistance, those in need of help from their government and all Americans.

And we pray for all those already affected by these immigration issues, particularly the children and people at our southern border and the families who have lost children in ICE custody to death or separation. God, please help our nation at this most difficult time and give people who have great power great wisdom to guide their steps and to benefit and bless our nation. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.

“Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”

” “Do not call to mind the former things,
Or ponder things of the past.
“Behold, I will do something new,
Now it will spring forth;
Will you not be aware of it?
I will even make a roadway in the wilderness,
Rivers in the desert.”

Isaiah 43:18-19

Most of us (all of us?) really love new stuff. There’s something about what is fresh, unopened, unused, brand new.

No stains, no spots, no troubles, nothing missing.

Kids love new toys, new stuffed animals, new games and new crayons.

As we get older, we want new clothes, new shoes and bigger and cooler new toys and games.

As adults, it might be new love, new tech, new cars, new homes – maybe you’ve even asked for a life makeover after the one you have seems to have lost its shine.

At the end of the year, we even draw up lists – some hastily on the back of a receipt, others deliberately in a journal or notebook purchased specifically for planning and recording the year ahead.

Lose weight. Exercise more. Save money. Find love. Be kinder. Look at phone less. Laugh more. Eat more vegetables. Give up a bad habit. More time with friends and family. A new job. Go back to school. Less sweets. Find a hobby. Go to church more regularly. Pray more. Read the Bible regularly. Volunteer. Learn a new language. Invest. Live healthier. Read more often. Less tech. Start family traditions. Reconnect with loved ones.

Chances are, if you made a list for 2019, some of your resolutions are listed above.

Resolutions can be a good thing. They challenge us to contemplate and reflect. We look back at the past, look around in the present and look ahead to the future.

If you made a list of resolutions or if you’re still considering doing so, please also consider spending a few minutes with God, asking Him what His will is for your year as you plan your resolutions. Prayerfully seek His will this year, seek His ways and seek to know Him better by studying His Word.

It may be that the resolutions the world is calling you to make are not the priorities the Lord is calling you to live.

While there are some really good resolutions we can make regarding our earthly lives (financial and physical health, education, hobbies and interests), it may be that God is calling you to invest in some Kingdom resolutions – possibly intangible (growing in His Word, walking closer with Him, a more peaceful spirit), tangible (volunteering in your community, becoming a member of a church, participating in a small group or tithing time, talent and treasure) – or a combination.

Today, ask God what His plans are for you in 2019. Spend some time in the next few days in quiet time and ask Him where He wants to lead you in the year ahead.

Ask Him to show you some areas He wants you to grow – both in your earthly life as well as your spiritual life. God wants us to live our best lives – and He has the best plans for our lives – if we will only seek Him and spend time with Him, and then obey Him as He guides us.

We are all on an amazing journey with God – one that began even before our first breath on earth and which will continue throughout all eternity when we place our faith and trust in Jesus.

Only God and you know your life. There are lots of good things for you to consider resolving to do in 2019. But only God knows what is best for you to do in the year ahead.

God is making all things new. Every day.

Today, He has given you – and all of us – a new year and a new opportunity to begin again.

And if you’re looking at this after January 1, 2019 – then know that it is not too late to begin again. Every day, God gives us a new day full of new possibilities, new opportunities, new hope and new life.

Consider the words of the weeping prophet Jeremiah, wearied and worried about Judah’s future after exile in Babylon and afflicted by his own people, people angry that he tried to warn them about God’s wrath and judgment and angry also that his prophecies turned out to be true.

Even after all Jeremiah had seen and endured, he still had faith and hope in God and he knew that God is loving, merciful and compassionate – and that each day God blesses us all over again with new mercies, new love and new compassion to sustain us through whatever we may face.

” The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.”

Lamentations 3:22-23

God is making all things new – and He is willing and able to make all things new for you and in you.

Praise God for the lovingkindness and compassion He shows you today – and rest assured that tomorrow He will bring new mercy and compassion to you again, all the days of your life.

May this be a year of blessing and growth for you and may you find yourself walking ever closer with our Lord, seeking and following Him through the valleys and to the tops of mountains, finding God’s deepest calling for your life as you fulfill mankind’s chief aim, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

A thought…

God loves you just as you are. You don’t have to earn His love and you can’t work to keep His love. He will continue to love you, no matter what you do in response to His love for you. God is love and His nature is love. He created you, He knows you, He loves you and He has great plans for you.

And because He loves you so much, He wants His best for your life, which means He wants to sanctify you – He wants to make you and me and all of us more like His Son, Jesus Christ. After we accept Christ as our Savior, it is our privilege and blessing to live our lives seeking to become more like Christ in all aspects of our lives.

God may be nudging you to make some changes right now to draw closer to Him. It may be that as you are considering new year’s resolutions, God is calling you to live a life more like Christ. He may even be calling you to Him and calling you to accept Christ as your Savior. It may be that God is calling you to make changes in your life – difficult changes that will challenge you but which will bring you great blessing and which will be in obedience to His will. It may be that God wants to add blessing to your life in the year ahead with new opportunities, new relationships and new skills.

Whatever He is doing in you this year, you can be sure that God is faithful to complete His work in your life (Phil. 1:6) and that He has wonderful plans for you, to give you a future and a hope! (Jer. 29:11)

A question…

Did you make resolutions last year? If so, how did you do?

What is one thing you would like to change in the year ahead in your “earthly” life – e.g., healthier, career, relationships, finances, education, etc.

What is one thing you would like to change in the year ahead in your spiritual life – e.g., church attendance, small group involvement, volunteering, tithing, prayer life, Bible reading, etc.

A challenge…

Spend about 15-30 minutes with God in the next few days and ask Him what He would have you resolve to change and work on in the year ahead. You may spend time in His Word and then spend some time in prayer, really seeking His will and His purposes. Try and set aside some time when you won’t be interrupted and when you can concentrate and meditate on His Word and really meet with God in prayer.

Think about the things in your life that you want to address and ask God to show you what He wants you to work on in the year ahead. Each of our lives is so unique and different – but you can be sure that God has plans for you in 2019 and He wants to bless and grow you in the year ahead!

Consider writing these down in a notebook or on a piece of paper and check back in with God and with your resolutions over the year ahead. Ask God if there are other resolutions He is calling you to, other habits to break or make and continue to seek Him and His will as you live life in 2019 – and throughout your life!

A prayer…

Heavenly Father, thank You for this new day and new year. Please bless us and help us as we seek to become more like Your Son and our Savior Jesus. Please open our eyes to see the changes You want for us – and change our hearts to be willing to work on realizing these changes. Lord, help us to see this world through Your eyes, wanting Your will and purpose more than our own. Guide our steps and teach us Your ways that we can make an impact that is eternal and positive. Lord, help us to be peacemakers in this often angry world and help us to share Your love in big and small ways, gently pointing people to You and living a life that is worthy of the calling You have for us. We love You, God. You are so good to us and You bless us over and over again. May we bless You and bless others with the abundance of love and mercy You show to us. God, we dedicate today and the days ahead in 2019 to You and Your purposes. Please be with us and walk with us and encourage us, especially when the paths of this year become uncertain and frightening, when life feels overwhelming, when temptations try to distract us and when we face doubt or disillusionment. Help us to be faithful and to persevere, trusting You each day. Thank You for all the possibility and potential You have given us in this brand new day and brand new year. May we be faithful to do Your will and live each day fully for Your glory. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.

“Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”

” Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

2 Cor. 4:16-18

Chances are that sometime in the last week or so you talked with someone who is struggling to get through Christmas. There’s even a chance that this person is you or someone you love.

They just want to see December 26 on the calendar – and it’s not because they’re eager for the post-Christmas sales.

This time of year is really hard, even if everything is going right in your life.

And if nothing is going right in your life, it is perhaps the loneliest time of the year.

Everyone else seems to be happy, festive, decorated and celebrating.  The ads are full of peppy songs, perfect lives and piles of presents.

And then there’s reality.  The reality not based on Madison Avenue, holiday movies or social media humble brags.  

The challenging reality of life in this broken world, the one we all try to hide when we smile and say “fine” when people ask how we are – knowing that inside we are breaking, lonely, hurting and praying for strength.

Maybe it’s a broken relationship, a financial crisis, a health challenge, a year of struggles or an awful combination platter of everything.

Instead of dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh, many are dealing with dashed hopes and painful memories of faded dreams while slipping on snow that froze into dangerous ice overnight.

If this is your life, I just want to encourage you to hold on and hang in there. While it may be darkest before the dawn, when you are the one walking through a dark forest of fear, pain and sorrow, the light still seems hours, if not days, away.

There is a website that shows an osprey nest in Maine. The ospreys have migrated to South America now, but during the summer, the nest is full of life, with little osprey chicks hatching and being nurtured and loved by their parents, learning to fly and ultimately, if all goes well, fledging the nest and then migrating to their winter homes in South America.

A couple years ago, there was a great horned owl who attacked the nest in the middle of the night, trying to take the chicks. Sadly, the owl was able to take two of the chicks over the course of several nights. Many of us viewers across the world stayed up watching, hoping, praying and waiting for daylight, when the last remaining chick would be safe from the owl’s nocturnal attacks.

After several nights of safety, many of us began to hope that we were in the clear and that the owl would stop coming by the nest. I found myself awake one night, watching the nest in the wee small hours. All of a sudden, the owl came into focus in the tree behind the nest. The mother osprey, Rachel, couldn’t see the owl. It was literally a real-life horror movie. I was hoping Rachel would turn and see the owl so she could protect her sweet chick from the owl. Like many other viewers, I even found myself talking to Rachel, warning her, though she could not hear me. In what felt like slow motion as I watched, the owl flew to the nest and without a sound the owl surprised Rachel and her nestling.

What came next is something I will never forget. Rachel, less than half the size of the owl and struggling to see in the midnight sky to fight against her attacker, somehow found the will and strength to fight off that owl and protect her precious chick. For several minutes, they tussled. At one point, Rachel chased the owl off the nest and then returned to her chick, only to have the owl make another attempt to take her. With seemingly all of her strength, Rachel fought that owl off, defending her chick and her nest.

The owl left that night – and did not return for the rest of the season. Her sweet chick Bailey was not able to fledge due to injuries, but she was rescued and rehabilitated by an Audubon facility in Florida, where she will live out her days with other rescued birds. You can see them here.

I remember thinking of this song as I watched the nest in the middle of the night that summer, willing and praying and hoping for morning to break and shed light on the nest, bringing safety and peace to Rachel, Steve and Bailey, the precious osprey family on Hog Island.

Rachel and Steve returned to their nest this past spring, and from beautiful speckled eggs hatched osprey chicks. While there was again sadness and loss in their nest this past season, there was also hope and life – and a beautiful osprey chick named Emmie (she was named by the nest watchers for the letters on her metal tracking band, EM) survived to fly, fledge and ultimately migrate, hopefully and prayerfully to return to Maine several years hence to brood her own nest of osprey chicks, choosing to believe in the possibilities rather than the pessimism of life.

It’s been a really hard year for our nation, our world and for towns, villages and cities everywhere and there are many people hurting, often in plain sight, visible to all of us, and yet their pain and anguish somehow invisible to nearly everyone. There appears to be a lot more pessimism in our world than possibilities.

From natural disasters to gun violence, financial uncertainties to layoffs, political and personal conflicts, people screaming at each other on television, online and in-person, nearly every one of us has been touched by some type of pain, challenge and even trauma in the last year.

“we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” 2 Cor. 4:8-10

Like the ospreys on the nest that summer morning in Maine, many of us are waiting for morning to break, for the darkness to be overwhelmed by the light, for the pain to stop and for the peace of dawn to return.

Even if we did not personally suffer tragedy in the last year, we have vicariously suffered as we followed along through the news, social media and word of mouth when we heard about children who were abruptly separated from their families at the border, as fires destroyed entire communities in California, hurricanes devastated the Carolinas, a package bomber brought chaos and fear to Texas, war and famine worsened in Yemen, reports were filed about climate change and irreversible damage done to ecosystems, as conflict raged between political parties that led to violence between citizens, a beloved and brave journalist murdered in Turkey – his assassination denied and those in power failing to address the murder, a contentious Supreme Court nomination, women begging to be believed when they confided that they too had been victims of assault and intimidation, continued reports about Russian collusion, data hacking, allegations of wrongdoing, lies and perjury at the highest levels, an ongoing independent counsel investigation, bizarre tweet wars, devastating shootings in Parkland, Florida, Santa Fe, Texas and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, multiple bombs mailed before the election, racial and religious intolerance, reports of resurgences of Nazism and the KKK, offensive and racist campaign ads in Georgia and Florida, anger bubbling up to the surface, hate, intimidation, threats, violence and depression.

In the words of Queen Elizabeth II, it’s been an annus horribilis. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by life in 2018, you’re not alone. And if you’re not feeling very “Fa-La-La,” that’s OK too.

The thing is, while there is great joy in Christmas and we have much to celebrate, the reality is that we’re still living in a dark world with all of the accompanying struggles and sorrows. And while Jesus came down to rescue us from sin and hell, we still do battle each day with the consequences of sin and face challenges and hardships – often some which seem unbearable and interminable.

Here’s the other thing, though. While we will still face anger, selfishness and ugliness in our days on this earth, we can choose how to respond and we can choose to respond the way God calls us to respond – the way that He responds.

Because while the opposite of love may be hate and indifference, the antidote to hate is love. That is literally the only thing that will neutralize hate. We cannot respond to hate with hate and we cannot respond to hate with indifference – these do not counter the effects of hate, they only multiply and exacerbate the consequences.

No, the only antidotes to evil, anger and selfishness are kindness, grace and generosity.

None of us can change the world by ourselves or in our own strength. But together, we can make many small differences in our own communities, at our jobs and in our own families. And those little differences will ripple out, over and over again, touching more lives, showing kindness to more people, reaching the world with God’s love and kindness.

God wants us to be His hands and feet here on earth and He has made us His ambassadors to this world. And God’s Word teaches us that when we are kind to others, we are being kind to God – which is pretty amazing to think that we can bless Almighty God simply by blessing others. (See Matt. 25:40)

And then there’s this verse, one of my favorites.

” Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” Heb. 13:2

Imagine being kind to someone, thinking you were just being kind to a stranger at the market or on the street, when in fact, you were showing kindness to one of God’s angels!

As much as I understand theologically why there is suffering in the world, my heart and my head continue to struggle with why there is so much pain and heartache. While suffering can draw us closer to God when we choose to allow it do so, it can also bring great grief, struggle and challenge to life.

There are some things that I do know for sure, though. I know that God is with us and He will not let go of us. I know that He sees our sadness and He knows our sorrow. I know that He loves you and He loves me – and He loves all of us. I know that Jesus came down to earth to be our Savior but also to show us that He knew our trials and tribulations – that He was not a Savior who could not understand His creation, but One who wept when His followers wept. (John 11:35)

And while the tragedies and heartaches of 2018 have left many of us reeling, God has known since before time began that these things would happen. While we are surprised by both tragedy and triumph, God already knows what each day will bring and He is never surprised or caught off guard.

Today, if you’re feeling alone and you feel like the world is celebrating Christmas with trees that are perfectly trimmed, gorgeously wrapped gifts, flawless family photos on the covers of annual “Aren’t we Ah-mazing?!” Christmas cards and newsletters, platters of Instagram-worthy Christmas cookies and new cars with big bows while you are struggling with getting through the Christmas countdown, know that you are not alone.

Do something small that is kind for yourself. It doesn’t have to cost any money even – watch a show, listen to a song, admire God’s creation, draw a picture, read a book that you’ve always wanted to read, spend time talking with God, read His Word, find online animal cameras and watch animals enjoy winter (or summer in the southern hemisphere), treat yourself to a special Christmas treat or a hot mug of cocoa, tea or coffee.

And then, this will sound counter-intuitive, but try it.

Do something kind for someone else. Again – it doesn’t have to cost much or even anything at all. Compliment someone. Say hello to a stranger in line at the market or at work. Send a Christmas card to someone from your past or present. Donate – even if it’s just a handful of coins into a red kettle. Give to a cause important to you. Encourage someone else. Use your time, talents and treasure to bless another – find a cause or group to volunteer with today and in the year ahead.

Remind yourself what love feels like, what love looks like, what love sounds like.

Go to church. Sing Christmas carols. Light a candle at a Christmas Eve service.

If you are sad, if you have suffered loss this year, allow yourself to cry and even weep.

If you are lonely, acknowledge your solitude and endeavor to know another better before this time next year.

If you have suffered setbacks, give yourself the precious gifts of mercy and grace, honoring your human frailty and purposing to press on.

If someone has hurt you, seek to forgive the person, accepting the reality that they caused you pain while still protecting yourself – refusing to harbor a grudge that might separate you from God and man.

Like the ospreys in Maine, cling to the hope and the promise of brighter and better tomorrows. You will get through this, even if you literally have to take it one breath and one heartbeat at a time.

Because God came down to save you, so very many years ago. And He is walking with you through this trial, even today. He is walking right beside you, and He knows your thoughts, fears, wishes and worries. And when you stumble (and we all will stumble sometimes), know that He will catch you and help you back up, leading you in the way that you should go.

Today, let us each choose to be the love and the light of Christmas in our world.

And like candles passed one to another in a quiet darkened sanctuary, we will share God’s love with the world, one simple act of kindness at a time, bringing the beautiful light of hope and love to this world.

Let us take courage. Our Savior has overcome the world and He will help us through all of our days in this world as well, thanks be to God!

” These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”

 “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.  And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 

Matthew 1:18-21

“Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 

Matthew 1:23-24

 

This week, I heard an ad on the radio for a cosmetic surgery spa.  The woman speaking said that a provider at the spa was her “savior” and she went on to describe the treatments and improvements in her life since meeting this “savior.”

I thought it was a bit unusual to view someone working at a cosmetic medical spa as a “savior.”  Whatever the provider was saving was merely transient and temporary – lifting sagging skin, plumping up under eye circles, erasing wrinkles or boosting the skin’s texture and appearance. 

While the treatment may improve things in the short-term, the reality is that these treatments generally aren’t permanent and things quickly return to that charming look of having lived on this planet for a few decades or more.

But maybe that’s really what everyone is looking for, whether they know it or not – to be saved.

God’s Word certainly teaches us that He has written on our hearts His laws, His presence, His glory and His love.

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Romans 1:20

God knew we would need saving.  He knew we would need a Savior – not someone to preserve our flesh from aging but One to preserve our soul, protect our spirit and ransom our lives from the consequences of sin – eternity in hell.

And so, before He ever created the earth or man, His Son and His Holy Spirit were with Him, part of His plan for eternity.  His Son to save our lives and be our Friend and His Spirit to guide us in our lives and be our Helper.

Oh, how we need a Savior.  Now as much as ever.

Imagine Israel, in the fading years of the first century before Christ’s birth. They had rebelled, they no longer had a king to call their own but lived under the harsh and fierce rule of other nations.

While they had survived exile and diaspora and even returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt walls, the days of yesterday’s glory and strength were but a faded memory for the Israelites.

Their glorious traditions and history had been attacked, their temple desecrated by the Seleucids, their worship mocked and lives upended.

And then – between the time that the prophet Malachi uttered his last words and the voice of John the Baptist called out in the wilderness, beseeching the people to repent and return to God – there were more than four hundred years of silence from God.

The people of Israel waited.  They listened.  Some rebelled, though many walked with God.

And still, silence.

They knew they had been promised a Savior, a Messiah.  They knew the Christ would come.  They didn’t know exactly how or precisely when, but they knew that God had promised and they knew God keeps His promises.

The prophet Isaiah had told the people of Israel some 700 years prior that God would come to them in the form of a child and that His name would be Immanuel, God With Us.

 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”

Isaiah 7:14

 

They waited on God, but still He was silent.  Their world was small, their prospects dim and discouraging.  As they had fallen, others had risen – cruel, violent and calculating empires.

Perhaps some of them looked to the skies, seeking God’s plan and purpose in all of this silence.  Maybe in prayer, on holy days, on the Sabbath, on the way to Jerusalem as they uttered the Psalms of Ascent at festivals.  While they offered sacrifices, as they wed, when they saw their newborn babes and as they mourned at the graveside of loved ones who had gone to be with the Lord.

Were they looking for a King?  It does seem that was the case – that they wanted a heavenly Ruler to rescue them from the brutal hands of their oppressors.

And yet, the Messiah arrived discreetly and quietly, the sweet infant’s gentle cry echoing across the Bethlehem sky that holy night when the inns were full and the Israelites had returned to their hometowns for the census of Caesar Augustus.

Only a handful of people knew that God had come down from heaven to rescue them – to be their Savior.  Mary, Joseph, Martha and Zacharias.  Some shepherds watching their flocks.  Later, a group of wise men in the east, noticing a promised star shining brilliantly in the night sky.

The news would spread, as news often does.  This being the Good News of the first century of our Lord, it traveled slower than today – but still, people began to talk about the possibility of a coming Savior and the hope of being rescued, particularly after a quirky and reclusive prophet came to town, wearing camel’s hair and dining on locusts and wild honey, calling people to repentance while offering to baptize them in the Jordan, the same river that had been crossed by hopeful Israelites en route to the Promised Land.

And now, more than two thousand years later, we too consider the notion of a Savior, especially this time of year.  We ponder the possibility that we might have been ransomed, rescued and redeemed by a baby – a baby Who was literally Emmanuel, God With Us.  Our brains try to wrap around the idea of God the Son leaving His throne to come save a sinful lot like us.  Of why the Creator of heaven and earth would even want to save us, if He only knew who we really are.

But, praise God, He does know who we really are and He loves us in spite of all our sins and weaknesses and flaws. 

He knew Eve would eat that fruit and that she and Adam would seek to hide from Him in shame, that virtually everyone would refuse to board Noah’s ark and would perish in their foolishness, that Esau would trade his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew, that Joseph’s brothers would sell him and lie about their actions to their grieving and distraught father Jacob, that they would eventually be reunited and relocate to Egypt where Joseph was serving as second-in-command to Pharaoh, that they would remain in Egypt 400 years and grow exponentially as they served the Egyptians under harsh and cruel conditions, including the threat of infanticide at the hands of the Egyptians.

That a baby would be born to a Jewish family, found in the river amongst reeds and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter to be raised as royalty, that this baby Moses would grow into a man who felt sympathy for his people and would later strike an Egyptian who was a brutal taskmaster and that Moses would then flee to Midian where God would speak to him in a burning bush and call him to return to Egypt to free his people, that the Israelites would grumble their way through the wilderness for 40 years, that Moses would get frustrated with them and disobey God’s instructions in his anger and forfeit leading them into the Promised Land.

That the Israelites would go through the sin cycle over and over again through judge after judge until they demanded a king like the other nations, that their first king, King Saul, would prove to be a great disappointment and would repeatedly defy and disobey God, that Saul would try to kill David, the young shepherd boy who had defeated the Philistine giant Goliath with a sling and five smooth stones.

That David – a man after God’s own heart – would sin against God and man but would repent and return to God, that the kingdom of Israel would be divided after Solomon’s death, that there would be years of good kings and bad kings, that prophets would be ignored, mocked and killed, that Israel and Judah would suffer for their sins, defiance and disobedience and experience invasion, dispersion and exile by foreign enemies – and ultimately that no king would sit on the throne of David and there would come an Intertestemental period of silence and submission to foreign powers.

Oh, but He also knew that His Son would come down and take His rightful place as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  That the promise of a Savior that was prophesied in Genesis 3 would be realized in God’s majestic and mysterious way to redeem His people from hell and the curse and control of Satan.

 “The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.””

Genesis 3:14-15

Maybe today you need a Redeemer.  Perhaps you are longing to be saved from sin’s suffering, from the pain of your circumstances.  

It may be that you already know Christ but have wandered from Him. 

Or that you have not even considered your need for the Messiah, preoccupied with the never-ending demands of your time in this life that you haven’t spent much time reflecting on the next.

Maybe you are looking for a Savior, not to erase your wrinkles and under-eye circles but to wash away your sins and cleanse you from the mistakes and hurts of so many painful years.  Perhaps Satan has whispered his lies into your ear, as he has to so many before you, that you have sinned too much, made too many mistakes, blown it too many times, gone too far – that God could never and would never forgive you after all you’ve messed up. 

Please know – Satan is a liar and he always has been.  These are lies from the pit of hell.  You are not too far gone.  God is with you and He always will be.  He has not left your side and He never will.  He is holding you in the palm of His hand.  Remember that and cling to that promise through the darkest of nights.  God will forgive you and He will redeem and cleanse you.  He is just waiting for you to ask Him to come into your life – and you will find that He has always been with you.

It may be that you know Christ and have walked with Him for years – but you have found yourself longing for a return to simpler, more peaceful times of greater joy, kindness, hope and gentleness.

Perhaps you feel stuck, alone, discouraged – maybe you too hear nothing but the silence of God when you try to make sense of this world and its anger, violence, strife and animus.

Today, for the first time or for the infinite time, hear the Good News of God from the prophet Micah:

““But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.””

Micah 5:2

Together, let us journey to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

We’ll look through the pages of the beautiful baby book of our Savior, the people God used in amazing and marvelous ways, and we’ll enjoy the Advent season in quiet yet joyful reflection, anticipating anew the birth of Christ, proclaiming with the heavenly host as they praised God, 

““Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.””

Luke 2:14

 

Today’s Thought:

God came down to earth to rescue you.  He would have sent His Son Jesus to earth just to save your life – that is how great His love for you is.  Before He created this world, He knew you would be you with all your wonderful and unique ways.  And even before the beginning of time, He knew He would send His Son to save you for time eternal because He loves you so very much. 

You are loved by God and you always will be. 

No matter what you do, you can’t change His great love for you.  You can neither add to it nor take away from it.  He loves you completely, wholly and unconditionally.  Praise God!

Today’s Question:

Who is God to you and who is Jesus to you?

Today’s Challenge:

There are 24 chapters in the book of Luke. 

Luke, along with Matthew, includes exquisite details about the Nativity of Christ.  It will take you from the days of prophecy of Jesus through His birth, life, His teachings, His death and His resurrection.

There are 24 days until Christmas.  Consider reading one chapter from the book of Luke each day through Christmas Day.

Like Linus, you too may declare “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown!”

Today’s Prayer

Heavenly Father, Lord we thank you for this season of joy and wonder.  We pray you would refresh our spirits, encourage our hearts and calm our human tendencies to plan, organize and overdo this time of year. 

Lord, help us to see You in this Advent season.  When the world beckons us to purchase, decorate, indulge and be distracted, help us to enjoy the season wisely and in moderation as we celebrate our Savior’s birth gratefully.

Father, please help us to remember the lost, the suffering, the lonely, the hurting and the ill among us.  Help us not to become so focused on our own traditions and priorities that we forget those You have called us to love and care for in our midst.  We pray You would draw us close to You, that You would show us how to celebrate Your Son’s birth as the miracle and majesty that it is.

And Lord, when the world offers to solve our problems with temporary and superficial fixes, please give us the wisdom to seek You and Your perfect plans, knowing that these are merely earthly bodies – and that You have an eternal home waiting for us in heaven.  Lord, please set our eyes on heaven and eternity so that the choices we make today in how we live, speak and act would be with heaven in mind, that we might be Your hands and feet on earth, gently and lovingly guiding all those we encounter in our days here to You, our Redeemer, our Rock and to Your Son, Emmanuel, God With Us.

In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

“Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”

 

 

 

“A false witness will not go unpunished,
And he who tells lies will perish.”

Proverbs 19:9

 

There are only two witnesses in the Kavanaugh hearings today, which was apparently the decision of the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Grassley, in spite of the requests made by the Ranking Member, Senator Feinstein, that additional witnesses be called and a full investigation be conducted by the FBI.

 

Dr. Blasey Ford is about halfway through her testimony as of this writing. She has been compelling and honest and she has shared very personal and painful memories with the Judiciary Committee as the entire world watches.

 

Later this afternoon, Judge Brett Kavanaugh will be sworn in and he will give an opening statement and then be questioned by committee members for an estimated two hours.

 

Judge Kavanaugh will be asked to take an oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help him God.”

 

He will then be under oath.  Once a person is under oath, if they offer testimony which they know to be false or untrue, it would be considered perjury, which is a felony.

 

This cannot be lost on Judge Kavanaugh, a lawyer and judge.

 

There is no “my fingers were crossed” or other type of three second rule when testifying under oath.

 

It’s a big deal, no “kind of” about it.

 

In addition to being a judge and a lawyer, Brett Kavanaugh is also a self-proclaimed practicing and observant Catholic, active in his church since he was a child, supported by his calendar entries from 1982 as well as his recent televised statements from the interview he gave with his wife.

 

As a fellow Christian, I hope that Judge Kavanaugh understands that there is a Judge higher than himself and higher than the Supreme Court of the United States who will be listening to his testimony this afternoon.

 

““Am I a God who is near,” declares the Lord,
“And not a God far off?
 “Can a man hide himself in hiding places
So I do not see him?” declares the Lord.
“Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” declares the Lord.”

Jeremiah 23:23-24

 

God will be both a witness to the hearing as well as a Judge of the earthly jurist Kavanaugh.

 

God already knows the answers to the questions we are all asking today – questions which the Senate Judiciary Committee is seeking answers to in today’s hearing.

 

Is Brett Kavanaugh being honest with the American people and the United States Senate?

 

Has Brett Kavanaugh ever been “blacked out” drunk?

 

Was Brett Kavanaugh at the summer house party in question?

 

Does Brett Kavanaugh’s calendar provide an alibi for his whereabouts that night?

 

Did Brett Kavanaugh sexually assault Christine Blasey when they were in high school?

 

Did Brett Kavanaugh sexually assault or abuse other women in high school and college, as several women have alleged in recent days?

 

Dr. Blasey Ford has said there were at least four people at the sparsely furnished, two story suburban Maryland house that awful summer night.

She has testified today that there may have been more – that she may not have seen everyone there or that the trauma from the night’s events may have dimmed her memory of all the people who were there.

 

There was Someone else who was most definitely there that night.

 

God was there.

 

He was there and He was with a young Christine Blasey on a night that she would never be able to forget, a night that would haunt her and terrorize her and which tried to destroy her, but which by God’s grace and much determination and perseverance, she has persisted and pressed on, refusing to succumb to the consequences of evil and wickedness.

 

For those who would ask why God didn’t stop whomever sexually assaulted Christine Blasey that night, the answer is two words – free will.  God has given us free will to choose good or evil, right or wrong.  It is a choice we all must make every day, often many times during a day.  This is one of the mysteries and challenges of God’s ways – and we are reminded that His ways are not ours throughout His Word.

 

Perhaps God did intervene and prevented further atrocities when one person jumped on the bed, allowing Christine Blasey to escape and flee into the summer night.

 

As a side note, if you have ever been the victim of an acutely stressful or violent incident, you know quite personally that there are details that you cannot remember, even details like how you got home or what was the exact date and time of the incident.

 

Experts can speak to the brain’s role in this – some suggest that it is a coping mechanism, allowing the person to survive the ordeal and escape, and some offer that it is a way for the victim to manage the overwhelming amount of stress, fear and anxiety that are coursing through them in the moments after the event, blocking some peripheral details as the brain and body process what very well may have been a life and death experience.

 

Later this afternoon, when Judge Kavanaugh stands up and raises his right hand, sitting on the other side of the bench as it were, he will be testifying before not only the Senate Judiciary Committee, he will also be testifying before his God and his heavenly Judge.

 

While God is the Judge of our eternity, the Bible teaches us that He is also the Judge of today – the Judge of all things on earth.  He sees all things, He knows all things – and He cannot be lied to or deceived.

 

“And men will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; Surely there is a God who judges on earth!””

Psalm 58:11

 

Judge Kavanaugh has expressed that he is active in his church and that he is a follower of Jesus Christ.  We who have accepted Christ as our Savior know that while our sins are forgiven, we still must give an account before our God for everything we have done on this earth.  The Bible is very clear that we are all sinners, we have all sinned and we are all in desperate need of a Savior.

 

Even though we are covered in the redeeming and forgiving blood of our Savior who is the sacrifice for our sins and His righteousness is imputed to us as His followers, we will still stand before our God and give an account for the things we said and the things we did – and the things we failed to do and say when we ought to have spoken up and done something.

 

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” 2 Cor. 5:10

 

God’s Word teaches us that the grace of Christ is not cheap and that knowing that we are saved should never be used as a license to sin, expecting God’s grace to cover our evil actions.

 

The Apostle Paul wrote the following in his letter to the Romans:

 

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?  Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” Rom. 6:1-3

 

When Judge Kavanaugh takes the stand this afternoon, he must be committed to telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

 

When he rises, raises his right hand and utters those words “I do” or “I will” in response to the oath, he must also be mindful and faithful to the ninth commandment:

““You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16

 

When he offers testimony as to whether or not he sexually assaulted his neighbor and peer, Christine Blasey, on a summer night in a house just outside the Beltway, not far from the steps of One First Street and Capitol Hill, he will be under oath – to his country and to his King.

 

God’s Word is quite clear that we reap what we sow.  While the depravity of humanity may think that it can get away with sin and evil, praise God that His justice is at times poetic and always perfect.  Eventually, we all reap what we sow.

 

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” Gal. 6:7

 

“For they sow the wind
And they reap the whirlwind.” Hosea 8:7a

 

God’s Word teaches us that sin cannot be hidden.  It always is found out.  Maybe not at first.

 

But eventually, always, sin is found out.

 

And make no mistake.  Sin is always known by God and it is always seen by God.

 

As Adam and Eve quickly found out in the Garden of Eden – and so many have learned for themselves in the years since – we cannot hide from God.

 

“But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the Lord, and be sure your sin will find you out.” Num. 32:23

 

I trust that the members of the Judiciary Committee, as well as the entire United States Senate, will fulfill their responsibilities as elected representatives of the citizens of the United States and will carry out their duty to advise and consent with regard to the president’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh as an Associate Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States.

 

May they fulfill their duties to the best of their abilities.  And may they also remember that they too are under oath as United States senators.

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

 

May they not show partiality in their judgment of this matter.  And may they never call the wicked righteous in their service as United States senators.  May they be wise and may they be faithful in seeking the truth in their deliberations and make their decisions.

 

“These also are sayings of the wise.
To show partiality in judgment is not good.
He who says to the wicked, “You are righteous,”
Peoples will curse him, nations will abhor him;
But to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight,
And a good blessing will come upon them.”

Prov. 24:23-25

 

May we remind Judge Kavanaugh that he is under oath this afternoon.

 

To his King and to his country.

 

So help him God.

 

“Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”

 

After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will.’”

Acts 13:22

If there has been a David of our time, it seems it might have been Senator John McCain.  Some have laid claim to it recently, but Senator McCain truly lived and merits the comparison with his signature maverick style of service, honor and courage.

Both were descendants of powerful men of their communities — David was the great grandson of Boaz, while John McCain was the son and grandson of Navy admirals.

Military leaders, brave in the face of giants.

Statesmen both.

Principled, even in their humanity and flaws.

Mavericks and mortals.

Both of them husbands, fathers and both men after God’s own heart.

John McCain left this world on Saturday, and already it feels a bit emptier, less feisty and sadly silent.  Though we knew his departure was imminent and his years on earth many, it does not make our loss any less.

Whether or not one agreed with Senator McCain on the issues, nearly everyone respected him for his military service, admired him for his courage and tenacity and was grateful for his commitment to his country.  He was a hero, a patriot and an advocate.

McCain inspired us, at times even without words, incited us when necessary and inflicted his straight talk oration on hypocrites and poseurs.

When God chose David to be king of Israel, He did so after the first king that Israel had so forcefully demanded proved to be unworthy of the title.  That first king, Saul, reminds me an awful lot of a certain man today who seems to want to be a king but appears not worthy of the honor.

Interesting, perhaps, that the White House initially did not issue a formal statement or eulogy regarding Senator McCain’s death but merely a sparse tweet of hearts and prayers, as though 140 or 280 characters could honor this son of a sailor who gave his life in service to his country.

The flags were quickly raised again from a brief stay at half staff, begging the question of whether the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue couldn’t stand to see his rival honored with a lowered American flag – the very flag that John McCain fought for and suffered for while in the military and in great service to our nation in the decades that followed. As of this writing, the flags have been lowered again after much outrage and consternation from loved ones and veterans’ groups across the country and a lengthier statement issued.

Do you wonder if John McCain is chuckling over all this up in heaven, perhaps laughing at the irony?

Because while this administration spends so much time talking about how athletes need to stand for the national anthem in order to properly honor the military and our nation, when given the opportunity to honor a man of the military – a scion of service that spanned decades – this administration did so begrudgingly and half-heartedly.

John McCain spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, bearing scars both visible and unseen upon his release and return to the United States and he truly lived out the sacrifice and service to which some politicians just pay lip service.  Yet simply honoring him in an intentional and sustained way was just too hard for some folks in Washington.

Time and again throughout his life, Senator McCain refused to pay back or retaliate against those who denigrated and demeaned him — even when given the chance to do so.  His conduct bears a striking resemblance to the instances we read of in the Bible with David hiding in a cave, suddenly in the presence of King Saul – the very man from whom he was on the run.  When David could have retaliated, he refused to do so and submitted himself to God’s will and purposes even as he pointed out to Saul that he chose not to seek vengeance against the king.

Whether people were spreading false rumors about his children, mocking his military service, ridiculing him for having been taken as a prisoner of war or questioning his competency, Senator McCain showed us – just as David did – how to take the high road and how to live a life of integrity and honor.

After lies had been told about Senator McCain during the 2000 presidential primaries, he memorably said, “I will not take the low road to the highest office in this land.”

He did not get even, he did not seek revenge and he refused to wrestle with pigs.

When presented with the opportunity to insult, attack and besmirch the reputation of his opponent in the 2008 presidential election, John McCain instead strongly defended and praised his then fellow senator, Barack Obama.  This is who John McCain was.  This was his nature, his integrity, his honor and character.

Perhaps it is because John McCain cheated death that he was able to live such a full life when he was finally free again.  He had already faced death and he knew some of the worst that life could bring after living as a prisoner of war and suffering unspeakable torture and terror for five and a half years.  He did not forget the pain he endured and he had great compassion for others who were suffering.   When he returned from war, he brought with him a burden to fight for others, a commitment to bring about change and a resolution to make our world better, stronger and more just.

John McCain lived out the prayer of Moses:

“So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” 

Psalm 90:12

 

Like David, John McCain was flawed and imperfect, which is to say, he was a human being, the same as you and me, though I can hardly claim to be even half the person that John McCain was.  Yes, he made mistakes – but like David, he owned them and took responsibility for them.  Where some might blame others, McCain shouldered them and took full accountability.

Perhaps if ever there was a man who should have been president at some point in his life, that person might be John McCain.

In the first book of Samuel, we are given a glimpse into what people saw when they looked at young David, after he was anointed but before he was appointed king.

Saul was still king, though God had removed His Spirit from Saul and he was being tormented by an evil spirit.  Saul’s attendants had suggested that perhaps some soothing music played by a skilled harpist might comfort Saul and chase away the evil spirits.  Saul agreed to the arrangement and his attendants recalled such a man, David the son of Jesse.

“Then one of the young men said, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite who is a skillful musician, a mighty man of valor, a warrior, one prudent in speech, and a handsome man; and the Lord is with him.”” 1 Sam. 16:18

The same might have been said of John McCain – a man of valor, a warrior, wise in his speech, and the Lord was with him through unimaginable trials and tribulations.

And like David, John McCain knew days of solitude and imprisonment.  While David was hiding in a cave on the run from a violent and irrational King Saul, John McCain had been captured and was being held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

While some flippantly say they like their heroes not to be captured, McCain is an American hero, full stop.

McCain had the opportunity to leave Vietnam and return home to America.  He chose to stay as a prisoner in Vietnam.

Contrast McCain’s service with that of others.

Some had the opportunity to go to Vietnam to serve their country.  And yet they chose to stay in America rather than serve in a dangerous war in a foreign land.

John McCain served and John McCain stayed and John McCain endured.  He is a lesson in courage, dedication and service.

And just as David knew what it was to be betrayed, so did John McCain.  Betrayed by members of his own party in the past and even recently, many were envious of him and sought to disparage and discredit him.  It is telling that a recent poll shows about 40% of Republicans support John McCain, while more than 60% of registered Democrats indicated they support John McCain.  There is perhaps no greater compliment than that your opponent stands in solidarity with you on the issues and principles.

Indeed, some of John McCain’s greatest legislative and professional accomplishments are the result of his willingness to cross the aisle and work with Democrats.  Senator McCain knew intrinsically that the common good was a much greater cause to fight for than the vanity of self.  He worked with Russ Feingold to bring about their eponymous campaign finance reform legislation and regularly worked with other Democratic senators, among them Ted Kennedy and John Kerry.  McCain was aware of our interdependent nature and understood that we truly are better when we work together, compromise and are able to look at life through each other’s eyes.  John McCain chose to be a patriot over a partisan over and over again.

In the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama and John McCain made Top Ten lists of their favorite songs.

President Obama had the late Aretha Franklin’s amazing song “Think” on his list, a challenging and, pun-intended, thought-provoking song so fitting for our time.

John McCain chose as one of his favorites a song that marveled at God’s goodness and the simple joys of this world, “What a Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstrong, a song that in many ways evokes some of David’s psalms as he wrote of God’s majesty and glory.

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”

Psalm 19:1

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.”

Psalm 24:1-2

John McCain chose a song that extols the beauties and joys of this world in spite of the tragedies and sorrows he had experienced and endured in it.

His friends have spoken in recent days about how much fun John McCain was to be around.  They have said that as serious as he could be on the Senate floor, he was jovial and joyful whether he was grilling on his patio, at a black tie event or hanging out with family and friends.

I’d like to think that up in heaven, John McCain, Aretha Franklin, Louis Armstrong and David are singing amazing songs of thanksgiving and glory as they worship at the throne of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  I hope that doesn’t sound sacrilegious or irreverent, as it’s not meant to be.  I just treasure the idea that even in our loss and grief, there is rejoicing in heaven that a saint has come home.

We can imagine the words John McCain heard as he was welcomed into heaven by his Heavenly Father and Savior, surrounded by familiar faces of family and friends, fellow sailors and senators.

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Though he is not with us on earth, John McCain will forever be an American hero.  His legacy will live on and his service and sacrifice will be remembered and cherished for generations to follow.

We are a better nation and a better people because of John McCain.  He left this world better than he found it and he never ceased striving to champion the underdog, lift up the needy, fight for the hurting, protect the weak and serve his nation.

In the end, he gave so much more than he received.  He was selfless, even in his final days.

He laid his life down for his brethren time and again throughout his journeys across this earth.

And, in dying, he reminded us how we ought to live.

Selflessly, courageously, bravely and for others.

The entire McCain family and Senator McCain’s many friends are in my thoughts and prayers.  May God comfort you as you grieve and may He bless you as you remember and celebrate the life of your husband, father, grandfather, son and friend.

“Eternal Father, strong to save,Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep Its own appointed limits keep; Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!”

From “Eternal Father, Strong to Save”

May John McCain rest in peace and may his memory inspire us always.

 

“Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”

 

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive,disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

(2 Tim. 3:1-5)

Do you ever look at the news and just shake your head, wondering what went so wrong and if we can ever find our way back?

I do.

I’m a follower of Christ and I have full confidence and faith in God and His control over this world.

But when I read the headlines, I admit that I am saddened and disturbed by the hate, suffering, lying, injustice and violence in our world.

And then I remember.

Our Father told us there’d be days like this.

Which makes me think of this song.

If you have a moment, watch the video above.  The juxtaposition of the lyrics with the images of racism, violence and rage are disturbing and a call to action for all of us, particularly in light of each day’s news cycle.

God told us there would be days like this – and it certainly appears that those days have arrived.

Just before His betrayal in the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus delivered His final sermon to His disciples on the Mount of Olives in what is known as the Olivet Discourse.  In this final teaching, Jesus answered the disciples’ questions about His return and offered them instruction in how to live, serve and love God and each other.

“As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”

And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

“Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt. 24:3-14)

Take a closer look at Matthew 24:12:

” Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.”

If we could measure the temperature of love like we measure water and air, solids, liquids and gases, what might we find?

If the love in our hearts could be measured for God and others, what would the thermometer reveal?

Would we beam over the reading – or would we recoil in shame and embarrassment, wondering how the fire had gone out in us, followers of Christ full of memorized Bible verses about God’s love, we who sing songs proclaiming God’s love, so many of us students with full access to hundreds of examples of love and charity woven throughout the pages of our family Bibles?

There’s an irony that as we endure unending days of triple digit temperatures across the globe this summer, love has grown quite cold in our world.  Cynicism, sarcasm and selfishness abound.  People feel more alone perhaps than at any other time in history.  We are all seemingly connected to one other on world wide webs and social networks, but the safety nets of family, friendship, community and humanity are tattered and threaten to let any one of us fall through at our most vulnerable and critical moments.

Feel like giving up?

Don’t.

That’s precisely what the enemy is hoping for.

His tactics?

The tension, the yelling, hate, vitriol, anger, the ugliness, bullying, the insults, the abuse, attacks, harassment, endless comparing of one another, the condescension and put-downs.

But there’s good news.

And it’s literally the Good News – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

On another mountain top, Jesus taught us how to live in a sermon He delivered at the beginning of His ministry, what’s known as both The Beatitudes and The Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are…” is how each line begins in Matthew 5:3-11.

In each line, Jesus commends us to live a good life that glorifies God.  A life we can be proud of at the end of our lives.

A life well-lived and well-loved.

These aren’t the lessons of this world.

These are the lessons of eternity.

These are lessons that we can learn from, apply and embody.

Jesus taught in Matthew 5:3-11 that we are blessed when we…

are poor in spirit

mourn

are gentle

hunger and thirst for righteousness

are merciful

are pure in heart

are peacemakers

are persecuted for the sake of righteousness

are insulted and persecuted and people say false things about us because of Jesus

and then in verse 12, Jesus teaches us to rejoice and be glad when these things happen to us.

That’s right.  We are to rejoice and even be glad in our suffering for Christ.  Because we are not to look around us, but we are to look above us – we are to look to our ultimate destination, heaven, and remember that God has given us a destiny to serve Him and others until we reach that final destination.

“Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matt. 5:12

It’s counter-intuitive and it’s counter-cultural.

And while at first glance it might seem counter-productive, it’s anything but.

When we choose to live meekly, gently, righteously, peacefully, purely and mercifully, we receive a double blessing.

The first blessing is that we are blessed in how we choose to live.  We have the satisfaction of knowing that we didn’t offend, attack, insult, hurt, cheat, steal or harm others in our words and deeds.  When you lay your head down on your pillow at night, you can rest well knowing that you lived well.  You can have peace knowing that you brought peace to others.  You don’t have regrets of “I wish I hadn’t said/done that today.”

That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect life you live — just a life of purpose, planning and progress.  Each day, better than the one before.  Some days challenging.  Some days even holding struggle and conflict – but choosing to resolve them like Christ would.

The second blessing we receive is that others are blessed in how we choose to live and in the love we choose to give.  Our lives are an offering – to God and to others.  We can live our lives pouring ourselves out for others – being kind, helpful, serving people, encouraging others, turning the other cheek, refusing to respond with hate but choosing to respond with love and grace, living our best lives of love and kindness so that we might point people to Jesus and be His hands, feet, voice and heart on this earth.

When those around us are screaming and yelling, we can bring quietness and peace.  Instead of getting caught up in the chaos, we can usher in order and tranquility as we stay calm and help others calm down as well.  When people are being unkind, we can choose to respond with grace and mercy and point them to our gracious and merciful Savior, refusing to lash out or respond with hate or hurt.

We can be the balm in Gilead as we live as Jesus’s emissaries on earth.

Things are bad in our world – and they seem to be getting worse every day.  In each endless 24 hour news cycle, updated every few minutes with breaking news banners, there are constant stories of violent crimes, hurtful words, multiple investigations of wrongdoing by the people who are supposed to be leading our nation, global crises, conflicts, human rights violations – even in our own country, brutality, crimes and chaos.

In the words of Saw Gerrera in Rogue One, “the world is coming undone.”

But, our Heavenly Father and our Savior told us that there would be days like this.  Jesus warned us these days would come – that when lawlessness increases, peoples’ love would grow cold.

As followers of Christ, we can and must be the antidote.  We must cry out for righteousness and holiness and obey and honor God in our lives – and at the same time, we must live lives of love, mercy, peace, purity and gentleness.

It may seem daunting, but we can start small.  Here are some little ways to share love this week.  Choose one to do this week, and then keep adding to them – and ask God to show you ways that are unique to your gifts, talents and personality in which you can show love to bless those around you and be a bright shining light in a sometimes dark, sad and lonely world.

  • Smile.  Say hello.  Look at people and be present in your world.
  • Say “Pardon me” if you bump into someone or are doing that awkward “shall we dance?” thing when you’re crossing paths.
  • Don’t honk unless it’s an emergency.  Perhaps the person is waiting because they see something you don’t.  Be patient and be kind.
  • Put down your phone when driving.  Put down your phone when walking.  Put down your phone when you’re talking  with your family and friends.  Put down your phone when you’re eating.  Seriously.  Just put down your phone.
  • Talk with cashiers, sales people and customer service representatives.  Ask them about their day.  Make small talk.  Talk about the weather.  Sports.  Their kids.  Your kids.  Something funny about your day.  Share your faith in a gentle but bold way.  “Praise God for the sunshine – isn’t it a beautiful day?!”   Treat them like you’d want to be treated if shoes were switched.
  • If you can afford it, tip generously the next time you go out to eat at a sit-down restaurant.  Be friendly to your server.  Be genuine and be kind.  Their days are hard and they will appreciate your kindness and your generosity.
  • Do you see a harried mom or dad with fussy or cranky kiddos?  Don’t judge them.  Smile and say something encouraging.  Engage with them and let them know they’re doing a great job and that we’ve all had days like that.  If you’re good with kids, engage the kids and distract them – maybe ask them a question or just smile at them and say hi.  The worst thing to do?  Stare.  The most worst thing to do?  Stare and condemn, shaking your head, sighing, judging them.  The best thing to do?  Love them like you’d want to be loved at that moment.
  • Compliment one person every single day.  It could be a stranger, a family member, a colleague or a friend.  One compliment every day.  It will bless them – and it will bless you to be a blessing.  Mark Twain said that he could live for two months on a good compliment.  We all could.  And we all need compliments of encouragement and blessing.
  • Banish the snark and cynicism.  We’ve all gotten a little snarkier it seems in the last few years.  Perhaps it’s nonstop social media, the proliferation of angry and hyper-competitive reality television, all the nasty online comments that bully and badger, a response to the craziness of the world today or some combination of everything.  There’s so much for us to critique and weigh-in on 24/7.  But. Don’t.  Just refuse to snark or criticize or be cynical or jaded.  Try it for one day.  Then, try it for another.  If you slip up and find yourself sending a snarky tweet, joining the chorus of criticism or relapsing into a cynical attitude of despair and disgust, just begin again.  And if you snark in the presence of another, own it and tell them that you’re trying not to be so snarky/critical/judgmental and apologize for saying it – and then begin again.
  • Let people go ahead of you, in front of you, before you.  Be gracious and patient.  If someone has a cartload of groceries or it’s taking too long to check out, say something kind and friendly to the cashier, your fellow shoppers or whoever’s in line with you.  Say something kind to yourself while you’re at it.  Remind yourself it’s going to be OK and to stay calm.  Pray for the people you’re around.  Ask God to bless them.  Remember that every single person has a story every single day.  You don’t know their story, just like they don’t know yours.  We have no idea the challenges and struggles another is facing, but we can be certain that we will interact with people who are hurting and just hanging on.  Just be kind to everyone, because everyone needs kindness.
  • Eyes and ears.  What are you watching/looking at each day?  Listening to?  Screaming pundits?  Scheming reality tv shows?  Judgmental gossiping?  Ugly online comments?  Consider going on a media diet and/or a screen diet.  Perhaps even consider a media fast for a brief time.  As they say, Garbage in, garbage out.
  • As God teaches us in the book of Proverbs, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23

  • If you feel upset about something, before you respond or react, try counting to 20, saying the ABCs, saying The Lord’s Prayer or saying/singing something else to yourself.  You probably want to do it silently – but it could definitely be a distraction and bring some levity if you started to sing Happy Birthday or you counted backwards from 50 in a crowded store, at work or on the bus!

There are so many more ways that we can show and give love to others each day.  We can choose to respond with grace, love, mercy and kindness.  We can live our loves seeking to bless and encourage others.  We can refuse to become depressed, discouraged and hopeless.  We can choose what we watch, listen to and engage in.  We can seek to serve rather than seeking to be served.

The antidote is love.

That doesn’t mean we tolerate unrighteous, illegal or evil actions.  In fact, it’s the opposite.  We don’t accept hate, bigotry, racism, prejudice or cruelty.  We don’t ignore wrongdoing.  We don’t accept hate.  We don’t tolerate ugliness.

But we don’t exacerbate the problems of this world, the hate of this world, the lawlessness of this world and the lovelessness of this world.  And hate, anger, snarkiness, rudeness, ugliness and jealousy only make things worse.  Retaliation and revenge ruin lives.  Tit for tat never made things better for anyone.

 

“And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

 

Questions

  1. What is your biggest pet peeve or challenge right now?  Do you like how you respond to this pet peeve/challenge?   It might be something you’re dealing with personally – or it may be something that is more general and larger-scale, like the state of our country and world, how people treat each other, current events, health and well-being issues, etc.
  2. If you can’t change the way others act (and we can’t, much as we’d like to), how can we change the way we act in response to others?
  3. If you could improve one thing about how you behave, what would you change?  How could you begin to change?
  4. How can God use you to be a balm where you live?  What gifts has He given you that He wants you to use to bless and encourage others?
  5. Do you find that you are more cynical, jaded, snarky, gossipy or judgmental than you’d like to be?  If so, spend time in prayer asking God to help you examine your heart and mind and consider what you’re allowing in your thoughts and emotions.  Ask Him to help you do some Heart Cleaning and change the things you read, watch and listen to.  This week, try to spend some time in His Word each day, perhaps with your morning coffee or at the end of the day.
  6. Look up one or more of these passages in the Bible when you have a moment this week.  Meditate on them and ask God to help you live these out daily.  If you’d like, choose a verse to memorize over the next couple weeks.  Ephesians 4:29 and Philippians 4:8-9 are both great memory verses that challenge us to think about what we think and say!
    1. Ephesians 4:29-32.
    2. Philippians 4:8-9.
    3. Matthew 7:1-5.

 

“Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.”