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 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

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A Word in the silence

Light in the darkness

One single ember scatters a blaze — millions of sparks,

Each a sun, a planet — glowing into light-years of space.

A Word births galaxies, spins orbits, sets morning stars singing,

Light giving life.

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Somewhere a small blue-green ball sees its first sunrise.

Time as He counts it — all times are now — streams by,

shimmering light and encroaching dark

until

a Star slips to earth,

shines from the misty eyes of a newborn.

Stars spin, galaxies dance,

the Light flashes to the corners of our soul-darkness.

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Eons, moments, till the Light extinguishes the darkness

with a Word cried from a cross,

splits the borders of death with Light

deafens the silence with the Word.

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Planets spiral, stars rise and set,

Light blasts through clinging blue-green shadows

with the voice of the Angel,

the trumpet-Word of God.

Morning rays of a million nebulae flash

A forever-day, never night again.

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The Word made flesh, God from the beginning;

before stars dawned in Orion’s belt,

before the singing of planets,

before any shadow fell,

before we — less than sparks

in the eons-long conflagration of space —

before we saw the Light of His glory,

God, first, last, and forever,

Is.

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For the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

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Starlight shines, the night is still
Shepherds watching from a hill
I close my eyes to see the night
When love was born

A perfect child gently waits
A mother bends to kiss God’s face
I close my eyes to see the night
When love was born

Angels fill the midnight sky and they sing
Hallelujah, He is Christ, our King

Emmanuel, Prince of peace
Love come down for you and me
Heaven’s gift, the holy spark
To light the way inside our hearts

Bethlehem, through your small door
Came the hope we’ve waited for
The world was changed forevermore
When love was born

I close my eyes to see the night
When love was born

— Mark Schultz

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wrap them in peace and shroud them in snow

let pine boughs and windsong whisper of rest

blinding tears freeze on twenty small mounds

so leave them in quiet in a black silent night

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grief is the darkness fallen at Christmas

our season of joy is heartsick and pain

where is the light of Bethlehem’s star?

where is the song of the angels this night?

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wrap Him in cloths and lay Him in hay

angels and shepherds whisper of glory

Light of all heaven to shine in our darkness

death touched the Child on that silent night

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darkness and grief have fallen at Christmas

a Babe took our sorrows and carries our hearts

a cross is the light shining into our darkness

we cling to His peace for our dark, silent night

 

for the children, teachers, and parents of Sandy Hook Elementary

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war on Christmas

The above was posted on Facebook on Friday.  I have to admit, I didn’t read it carefully the first time, and saw “no war on Christians”.  I thought about it more as I went through the day.  When I checked back to reply, I realized it was “no war on Christmas”.  I actually agree with the sentiments there, for the most part.  I don’t actually agree that wishing someone a “merry Christmas” is a bad thing — to me, “happy holidays” is fairly meaningless to the point of being vapid.  Sort of like the phrase “best wishes” — what does that even mean?  But I do realize that many people don’t celebrate Christmas but some other holiday at this time (some do both!), and people may not have the same expectations of the Christmas season that I do, since they aren’t Christian.  I don’t have a problem with that, and if anyone wants to wish me a Happy Hanukkah, fine!  All we’re saying is, “I’m happy right now because it’s a holiday season and I want you to be happy too!”  Everyone can stop having a fit — now!

But what I was thinking about as a result of misreading the post is actually a valid point.  Christianity (as a major religion in America) is becoming the minor majority.  Let me explain how Christianity is in danger.   There are a lot of other religions and cultures in the world, and in this country, each with their own customs, standards, expectations, and — yes — holidays.  In this age of global awareness and ethnic diversity, I agree with the idea that we need to be cognizant of, and respectful to, other cultures.  This same respect needs to be extended to Christians.  It is not.

Christianity is in danger when people who usually preach open-mindedness feel free to say and spread mocking things about Christians and their beliefs.  I usually see this as Facebook posts (such as the above), with a comment about how silly, or stupid, or backward, or ________ (fill in the blank) Christians are to be thinking or saying XYZ (usually to do with something political).  If statements in the same vein (mocking Christians’ belief in literal creation rather than the theory of evolution, for a recent example) were made about the Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu religion, there would be an uproar against that person.  See what happened when the Danish cartoonist lampooned Muslims!  If a Christian mocked Muslims for wearing hijab, Hindus for drinking Ganges water, or Buddhists for looking within themselves to gain enlightenment, there might be a few who agreed, but mostly that person would have unleashed a storm upon his head.  But many people, whether they style themselves, pagans, atheists, agnostics, or just plain nothing, feel free to mock, satirize, and ridicule Christian beliefs that may seem just as odd to outsiders as the non-Christian beliefs I listed.  It has become popular to ridicule Christians.  And no one raises a fuss.    That is why many Christians feel their religion is in danger — the ‘minor majority’, if you will.

That isn’t the real reason, however, why I feel Christianity is in danger.  Christianity is in danger right now partly because it is being attacked from within.

  • Christianity is in danger when those who call themselves Christians use their religion as a front for bigotry, hatred, and power playing
  • Christianity is in danger when people use Christian beliefs as a stick to beat others with (who may not believe the same way)
  • Christianity is in danger when people who call themselves Christians (part of that 243,186,000, actually) refuse to adhere to basic principles of integrity, mercy, justice, humility, and service.
  • Christianity is in danger when Christians blindly accept the unbiblical teachings of leaders who counsel them to follow tradition and an easier, more acceptable path, rather than pointing them to truth as clearly stated in the Bible (no matter how personally inconvenient it might be).
  • Christianity is in danger when Christians look for a “feel-good” religion rather than conviction of their sins and their personal, constant need of a Savior.
  • Christianity is in danger when Christians focus on the trappings of food, decorations, rituals, and gifts that surround the holidays (Easter too!) and lose the real point of the holidays we celebrate in memory of the work God can do in our lives.
  • Christianity is in danger when we would rather give money, or even time, to people in need and neglect to tell them about God and His saving grace. “These things you ought to have done, and not left the other undone” (Luke 11:42).
  • Christianity is in danger when we are more worried about offending people by sharing our faith than offending God, who has commanded us to “go into all the world”.  Think about it.  In a world of nearly 7 billion, just over 2 billion (2.18) are Christian.  That’s a drop in the bucket of what God has asked of us!

My Facebook friend is right.  No one is making war on Christmas.  Not overtly.  Our greed does that just fine.  No one is deliberately making war on Christians, not really.  Not in the physical sense.  Not in America.  We are allowing our natural, unsanctified human tendencies to take charge — as if we had no Savior to help us deal with our sinful nature — and showing the world what an un-surrendered heart really looks like. No one is hindering the spread of Christianity.  Not really.  We are allowing our fears of embarrassment and social criticism to dissuade us from sharing what should be an unpopular message to most, if it is truly spread.  Truth is always unpopular, and no more so than truth that requires the person receiving it to change.  And the best example of that is every single Christian (including me!) who has not opened their heart and asked God to sweep it clean and dwell in it.

So as we begin December — let’s begin the Christmas season not with greed, aggression, busy-ness, or desire for control.  Let’s surrender that stubborn self to God.  Ask Him to save Christianity, not from others, but from you.  And start Christmas with a peace treaty — with the Prince of Peace.

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doorway to heaven…

From my reading for today – with apologies to the author:

I give you hope — hope that the best part of your life is not behind you.  Rather, it stretches out before you gloriously: into an eternity of experiences that will get better and better and better.  For now, though, you inhabit a world of death, sorrow, crying, and pain.  Let the hope of heaven empower you to live well in this broken world that is passing away.  In heaven I will wipe away every tear from your eyes — permanently!

If this world were all there is, it would be tragic beyond description.  When the day of the Lord comes, I will destroy the entire universe as you know it.  And I will replace it with a new universe where My followers will live forever in ceaseless ecstasy.  Let this hope give you courage to keep holding your head up high as you endure suffering and sorrow.

The best part of your life lies ahead — stored up for you in heaven, awaiting your arrival.  This is true for all Christians, both young and old.  As you grow older and deal with infirmities, you may feel as if your life is closing in on you.  Physically, your limitations do increase with age and illness.  However, your spiritual life can open up ever wider as your soul grows strong in the nourishing Light of My Presence.  When you “graduate” to heaven, your soul-Joy will instantly expand — exponentially!  Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.

–from 40 Days with Jesus by Sarah Young

The best is yet to come.  No matter how sad, or happy, I am here, heaven will be so good it will wipe everything else away.  That’s hard to think about.  Sometimes I’m very happy!  But when I think about all those happy times, they are a little poignant, because I know they are short-lived, or there’s something physical or mental that is keeping me from fully enjoying the time.

Like when we backpacked in Banff — the scenery was glorious, and the weather (for the most part) was great, but the packs were heavy (especially at 7500-8000 feet!), my friend was petrified of bears, we got sore and mosquito-bitten, we didn’t see any animals really, and we got cold or sweaty by turns, depending on the time of day and the altitude.  We got caught in the thunderstorm, and when we made it to Mt. Assiniboine, we couldn’t really even see the mountain because of the weather!  We had to leave without seeing what we came to see.  When I think of all that, it sounds terrible, but it wasn’t; it was a wonderful trip!  I think the scenery made up for everything, even the bad knot in my calf so I had to turn around and walk backwards down every hill.  I remember all those things, but I would go back again in a second.  And stay longer!

Mt. Assiniboine

Heaven will be that glorious, with the things that bothered us (pain, fear, discomfort, hunger, physical weakness) gone and the things we wished for (animals, view of the mountain, more of our friends there, good weather) all there, and perfectly too!  And the back-of-the-mind worries Kent and I had, like worry about money, whether our car was safe where we’d parked it, and whether I would get a job for the upcoming school year when we got back from playing around in Banff (I did), will all be gone too — we can enjoy heaven with our whole hearts, with no reservations or niggling worries. I’ll be in perfect shape — no muscle soreness, extreme fatigue, or little injuries — pain-free and able to do anything with ease and joy!  All of my family and friends will be there and doing wonderful things with me too, and everyone I meet will be a potential friend.  There’s no ‘kindred spirit’ here on earth like the kinship all of us who make it to heaven will feel — a soul-deep connection because of our love for God, who will have changed our hearts to be like His.

And over all that wonderfulness will be that feeling I get only sometimes; the overwhelming, irrepressible presence of God.  So full that I can’t contain it in this human form, but must cry for excess of space to feel such a thing in my humanity.  In heaven it will be more, immediate and always there.  Now on earth I must exercise my soul — like drinking the light in C.S. Lewis’ Dawn Treader — so I can get more and more accustomed to glory in my heart…and then, then He will make me immortal.  And the inexpressible love of God will fill me to overflowing, and life will truly begin!

The King took the bucket [of water] in both hands, raised it to his lips, sipped, then drank deeply and raised his head.  His face was changed.  Not only his eyes but everything about him seemed to be brighter.

“Yes,” he said, “it is sweet.  That’s real water, that.  I’m not sure that it isn’t going to kill me.  But it is the death I would have chosen — if I’d known about it till now.”

“What do you mean?” asked Edmund.

“It — it’s like light more than anything else,” said Caspian.

“That is what it is,” said Reepicheep.  “Drinkable light.  We must be very near the end of the world now.”

There was a moment’s silence and then Lucy knelt down on the deck and drank from the bucket.

“It’s the loveliest thing I have ever tasted,” she said with a kind of gasp.  “But oh — it’s strong.  We shan’t need to eat anything now.”

And one by one everybody on board drank.  And for a long time they were all silent.  They felt almost too well and strong to bear it; and presently they began to notice another result.  As I have said before, there had been too much light ever since they left the island of Ramandu — the sun too large (though not too hot), the sea too bright, the air too shining.  Now, the light grew no less — if anything, it increased — but they could bear it.  They could see more light than they had ever seen before.  And the deck and the sail and their own faces and bodies became brighter and brighter and every rope shone.  And next morning, when the sun rose, now five or six times its old size, they stared hard into it and could see the very feathers of the birds that came flying from it.

— from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

–2 Peter 1:5-11, 19 (italics added)

Then Aslan turned to them and said: “You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.”

Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan.  And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”

“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”

Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.

“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly.  “Your father and mother and all of you are — as you used to call it in the Shadowlands — dead.  The term is over: the holidays have begun.  The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.  And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.  But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth had read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

— from The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis (italics added)

However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
the things God has prepared for those who love him—

–1 Corinthians 2:9

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.

–Revelation 21:4

“The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

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It seems like someone is conspiring to make me realize how selfish I am.  A blog I subscribe to, Becoming Minimalist, recently had a post I wanted to reblog, called The Antidote to Selfishness is You.  I’m including it below, with my comments.

“Selfishness is that detestable vice which no one will forgive in others, and no one is without himself.” – Henry Ward Beecher

We live in a world of unquenchable greed and selfishness. We see it all around us. And often lament its existence:

  • We lash out against the greed of politicians.
  • We despise the self-serving culture of corporate greed.
  • We argue against those who spend massive resources pushing their agenda.
  • We protest the selfish motives of many wars and ruling parties.
  • We cry out against the injustice of unnecessary poverty and hunger.

With little or no effort, we recognize the ugly effects of greed and selfishness on our society, culture, and nations. The greed of others makes this world a less pleasurable place to live for all of us. We wish they would change for the sake of everyone. In some cases, we even unify and protest to pressure them to change.

All the while, our personal greed rarely goes challenged. Recognizing the negative effects of corporate selfishness is easy. But identifying our own selfish motivation is more difficult to accomplish. It is, after all, far more painful to discover and admit.

As a result, we rarely recognize how selfishness within us is…

  • contributing to the feelings of jealousy we experience.
  • causing strife in our relationships with others.
  • negatively impacting our relationship with our spouse.
  • motivating so many of the unhealthy decisions we make with our money.
  • preventing us from meeting the apparent needs of others.
  • keeping us from experiencing love, joy, hope, gratitude, generosity.
  • hindering us from finding true contentment.

It is healthy and wise to recognize the greed of our society in which we live. We need voices speaking out against it… loudly. And history will continue to recognize and praise the heroes who took a stand against it. May each of us be bold as we champion society’s selfless pursuits.

But as we do, may we begin in our own hearts. May we never neglect the pursuit of removing selfishness from our own affections. May we strive to consider not only our own interests, but also the interests of others. May we routinely place ourselves in the plight of others. And may we seek to meet their needs with the same effort we seek to meet our own.

The antidote for selfishness is you. And the battle has to begin there.

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It’s very easy to condemn selfishness in others, and very hard to battle it in oneself.  As if that post weren’t enough (it probably wasn’t, obviously), last night my chapter in the book I’m reading, Daughters of God, was about self-centeredness.  Here are some of the quotes I found especially striking:

You must have things your own way, and unless you do, you are perfectly miserable…you have…but little self-control and do not exercise the strong will you possess to hold in control your own thoughts and your own feelings…you cannot enjoy wholeness of character, which is true sanctification, unless you steadily and earnestly discipline yourself…Get your mind off yourself; be uncomplaining; be cheerful…I entreat of you to hide in Jesus, to be His own true child, walking in love and and obedience to all His requirements, exemplifying in your life the character of Jesus — tender and thoughtful of others, considering them just as good and just as deserving as yourself of conveniences and comforts and happiness…You will never perfect Christian character until you think less of self and have a better opinion of others…Religion ever imparts power to its possessor to restrain, control, and balance the character and intellect and emotions…Every act of ours has its influence on others, therefore every thought and every motive is to be under the control of the Spirit of God…Self is to be crucified, not now and then, but daily, and the physical, mental, and spiritual must be subordinate to the will of God…All the peculiarities given us as an inheritance or acquired by indulgence or through erroneous education must be thoroughly overcome, decidedly resisted…The religion of Christ will bind and restrain every unholy pasison, will stimulate to energy, to self-discipline and industry even in the matters of homely, everyday life…Jesus wants you to be happy, but you cannot be happy in having your own way and following the impulse of your own heart. 

–Ellen G.  White, Daughters of God, pp.165-170

And to bring it home, I had just read the above selection for my daily devotions and then got angry at something and took it out on Kent.  It in no way was his fault, and I was petty and mean, and he called me on it.  I spent the day feeling really bad about myself and asking him to forgive me every time I thought of it (which was often).  You would think I would have been able to think of the reading and do better — the worst part was that I did think of it, and thought that I shouldn’t take it out on Kent, and then I did anyway.  I feel like a really horrible person.  I suppose deep down, we all are — the “rats in the cellar” thing from C.S. Lewis — but I guess I usually feel pretty good about myself.  I will have to spend a lot of time praying for help to control my temper and my habit of lashing out verbally.

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