Monday, December 24, 2012

Top Five Christmas Picks


Two of my favorite bloggers often do posts where they simply share links to other interesting sites or useful information they've run across.  I thought I'd do that on this quiet Christmas Eve, before I tackle one last bout of Christmas baking to get the shortbread in the oven.

So here are my top five "Picks" for Christmas:

1. About.com. A great resource for information on just about everything, and Matt Rosenberg's geography newsletter is full of interesting little known facts about the world.  Today he gives us a history of Christmas, covering the Christian story accurately and explaining how it merged with, and eventually displaced, certain pagan practices in Europe.  Check it out at:


2.  Breakpoint.  Chuck Colson is in heaven this Christmas, celebrating the glorious event firsthand, but, thanks to technology, we can still read what he wrote and there's some great stuff.  This article explains the process of overcoming evil in a very well-worded nutshell, and includes a powerful testimony of Christian love in action.  A Baby vs. the World


3.  Ignitia Media.  A lighter version of the Christmas story, respectfully presented.  It moved me to both laughter and tears tonight in our Christmas Eve service.  Thanks, Trevor Chong, for your simple but powerful presentation of the good Christmas news.


4.  Samaritan's Purse.  For several years now we've practiced a family Christmas tradition of choosing gifts from Samaritan's Purse catalog to give to people with fewer resources than we have.  Each of the grandkids is allowed to choose a gift from the catalog and Grandpa and Grandma pay for it.  If you're looking for a meaningful way to say "Happy Birthday" to Jesus, or to teach your children how to put Christ's love into action, look through one of these Christmas catalogs:



5.  Mary Did You Know?  Finally, my current favorite Christmas song, beautifully sung by Clay Aiken, and visually produced on Youtube by Chris P.  Thank you, Chris, whoever you are.


May your evening be filled with an expectant hush, as we prepare to celebrate the first advent of Jesus into our world, and as we anticipate His second. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

The End of the World As We Knew It


December 21, 2012.  

A significant day for me.  If he were still alive, my father would be 100 years old today.  And tomorrow marks the 59th anniversary of his death.

From the beginning I planned to dedicate Zinovy’s Journey to my father, if only as a way to preserve his name. 

Walter Fred Saumert. 

The only son of the only Saumert living in the western hemisphere.  My father had only daughters.  When we married, and our mother died, the name died as well, so I preserved it on the dedication page of my book. 

The name is worth preserving.

I have only a few memories of my father, but they are vivid.  They’ve grown more vivid over the years, the details being absorbed, and gloriously transformed, I’m sure, from the jumble of vague impressions left in my childish heart the day he died.

I remember that day well.  I remember sitting with my sister and a babysitting neighbor in the car outside the field hospital at the army depot where he worked, watching the door my mother had walked through, waiting for her to come back to us, wondering what news she would bring.  Even at the age of seven, I knew it would not be good.

It seemed like hours before the door finally opened and my mother stepped out.  She turned back to speak to someone in the entryway and I saw what she carried in her arms.  I can still see it.  A brown bundle in the crook of one elbow, and my father’s work boots in her hand.

“Daddy’s dead,” I said to my sister. 

She wailed, flailing out at the harshness of the statement.  But I knew.  He would never walk away from that hospital.  The boots in my mother’s hands were proof.

Many times I heard the story of what happened in the hospital that day.  They'd taken her to the room where his crushed body lay.  She'd leaned over him, overcome with her shock and grief.  

Then she heard a voice say, "Why are you standing here crying?  The angels are singing."

The question was so powerful it stopped her tears.  She straightened and turned to tell the doctor standing behind her what she'd just heard.  When she turned she discovered that the doctor was gone, but she wasn't alone.  She said the room behind her was flooded with the brightest light she'd ever seen.

Skeptics will say what she really saw was the play of the hospital lights on her tear-filled eyes, but my mother insisted it was something more.  And I believe she was right.

That vision comforted us all.  It lifted our eyes from the cold darkness of that snowy December day to the eternally bright realm where my father had gone.  The place where the angels sing. 

Yet it was still hard, for all of us. The many re-tellings of the story by my grief-stricken mother burned the details into my memory, the immediate, tragic history all but erasing what few recollections I had of the seven happy years of my life before that day.  Gradually, over the years, I’ve remembered some things, fleeting moments or impressions. 

When I step out of the bath I remember that he’s the one who taught me how to sling the towel across my back and pull it back and forth to dry the places I can't reach. 

I remember the 50-gallon barrel of water that sat above our shower shed in the front yard, warmed by the sun in summer, so we could bathe in relative comfort, two of us at a time, one parent and one child, to conserve water. 

I can still feel the trickle of tepid water falling on my hair and running down my back, and how we turned the spigot off while we soaped, then on again to rinse, because our water had to be hauled from a spring down the road. 

I remember being tossed up in the air, laughing, carefree in the intuitive knowledge that daddy would always catch me when I came back down. 

But I also remember the dreams I had soon after his death.  The one of him clambering over the low roof of the back room he had just added onto the cabin that had been our rural family home for the last five years.  A bear clawed the eaves, reaching up for him.  He moved everywhere, trying to escape, but the bear followed.

The dream ended before the claws came close, but I knew the bear would win in the end.  My childhood ended as well, with this newly dawning realization that fathers are not invincible.

In the days that followed I dreamed of walking along the highway at night, digging up graves in the ditch, one by one, looking for him.  Finally seeing him in our local town, from a distance, crossing the street, going away from me, deaf to my calling as I ran after him.

It was years later I had the last dream, the one that finally allowed me to put the vestiges of my grief away.  The vision was a simple one, another grave, open at my feet, with dust motes floating up into the sunlight.  They seemed to glisten with the reflection of the glory that had filled the room where my father's body lay that day.  The day when the world, as we knew it, came to an end.

"Precious [of great value; highly esteemed or cherished]
in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."   
Psalm 116:15



Monday, November 12, 2012

Frightful Possibilities


Frightful possibilities loom on our horizon these days. 

Politics is scary.  International terrorism is scary.  Morality is scary.  Economics is scary.  The pressure to be afraid is on, now as never before, because our technological advances allow evil to happen on an increasingly global scale, and, also because of technology, we cannot ignore what's going on around us anymore.  

There is no place to hide.

Wait.  There is One place.  One secure place.  One only.  And because of that, for the Christian, fear is a wrong reaction, now more than ever. 

God has been so faithful for so many millennia.  He will not change.  In this world of ever-increasing threats and challenges, He is still in control.  He knows the end from the beginning, and He is not worried.  He has already established the outcome, and, as His creation was good in the beginning, so will his outcome be in the end.  

He rides in triumph over the tumultuous seas of our world, and of our lives.

But lately, in spite of these truths,  I have managed to live on top of the fear only by breathing the commands of Joshua 1:9 to myself constantly. 

God says to Joshua, and to us,

"Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

As Christians, we are the only ones who need not fear, no matter what comes.  Because of Jesus, our souls are firmly anchored in a glorious, eternal future.  As we stand tall in that security, we are a testimony to God's goodness and faithfulness.  We are beacons that God will use to draw others to Himself.

What Bible verses do you rely on to give you strength and courage as you face today's challenges?  There are so many good ones.  Let's collect them.  If you comment with your favorites, I'll re-post.  We need to remind each other and ourselves of the great goodness and wisdom and power of our God, more and more as we see the day approaching.

In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul says: 
I don’t think, friends, that I need to deal with the question of when all this is going to happen. You know as well as I that the day of the Master’s coming can’t be posted on our calendars. He won’t call ahead and make an appointment any more than a burglar would. About the time everybody’s walking around complacently, congratulating each other—“We’ve sure got it made! Now we can take it easy!”—suddenly everything will fall apart. It’s going to come as suddenly and inescapably as birth pangs to a pregnant woman.
But friends, you’re not in the dark, so how could you be taken off guard by any of this? You’re sons of Light, daughters of Day. We live under wide open skies and know where we stand. So let’s not sleepwalk through life like those others. Let’s keep our eyes open and be smart. People sleep at night and get drunk at night. But not us! Since we’re creatures of Day, let’s act like it. Walk out into the daylight sober, dressed up in faith, love, and the hope of salvation.
God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, from The Message (MSG), via Bible Gateway:



Monday, September 17, 2012

3 Reasons To Be Acts-Age Christians In a New-Age World


I've been reading in Acts lately and discovering things I never noticed before.

Such fun!

ACTS-AGE CHRISTIANS

The book of Acts has much to say to those of us in the 21st century who want to influence our culture for good and for God.  Some things haven't changed in 2000 years, and we can learn from Paul's experiences as he introduces the pagan world of his time to God's truth.

Acts 17:1-4 gives an account of Paul's presentation of the Gospel in Thessalonica, where "a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women" became believers, and verses 5-9 describe the opposition to Paul's preaching.

It's interesting to note the parallels between the two sections of the story. Both involve actions by people designed to change other people.  Both succeed in bringing about change.  But the contrasts between the two halves of the story are even more striking.

The choice of verbs in both passages casts the two events into stark relief.

In the first part of the story, Paul, preaching in the synagogue, reasons, explains, proves, and proclaims his message.  As a result, people are persuaded.  Changes in the hearts of Paul's converts come about voluntarily as a result of Paul's approach--his thoughtful, rational arguments.

In the second part of the story, "other Jews," in the marketplace, "rounded up some bad characters. . ., formed a mob, and started a riot in the city." They rushed to the house where Paul was staying, they dragged the homeowner to the civil authorities, they shouted their accusations, and "the city officials were thrown into turmoil."  They made the men post bond and then let them go.

The first approach is rational and thoughtful.  It gently and reasonably persuades. The second is irrational, passionate and violent.  It brings about change by force.

OUR NEW-AGE WORLD

This kind of violent and unreasoned response to the Gospel is rampant in our age.  It flourishes on the internet, where random and thoughtless rants are so easy to spread "in the marketplace."  

The mob that is firmly attached to the world wide web is so huge, so uncontrollable, and so easy to stir up, that I believe Christians proclaiming the Gospel today are going to suffer more vicious attacks in the next few years than they did in Nero's time.

Scary?  Yes.  But just as human nature has not changed in the last 2000 years, so has God's character not changed.  His promises still stand.  The encouragement he gave to Joshua as the Israelites were moving into the Promised Land is ours to claim as well.  God said to Joshua, "Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9) 

We do not need to be afraid.  We just need to trust and obey.

THREE REASONS

If we're looking for specific things to take away from the story in Acts 17,  here are three:

1. First, we need to be aware of this reality so we aren't surprised when the persecution comes to us. 

2. Second, we should cultivate in our hearts the same desire Paul had under the circumstances: "that I should never be in any way ashamed, but that now, as always, I should honor Christ with the utmost boldness by the way I live, whether that means I am to face death or to go on living." (Philippians 1:20)

3. And third, we need to be careful that we don't become a part of the raving, maniacal, internet mob.  The other day I, wise, careful, critical thinker that I am, sent out a warning to my Facebook friends that turned out to be a hoax.  And that's not the first time I've done something like that.

So much for the intellectual and spiritual pride, full of disdain for the foolish mob, that has crept into my heart since I've become internet savvy.  I may have escaped some of the wrong-headed thinking out there, but I have absorbed more than I'd like to believe of the critical, cynical attitude that pervades the secular worldview "proclaimed" on the internet.  

We, as believers in this unbelieving age, need to be "as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves" as we move in and out of the synagogues and marketplaces of our world.  We need to "speak the truth in love." 

We need to become Acts-age Christians in our New-age world, for Jesus' sake and for the sake of people around us who belong to Him but don't yet know it.  

P.S.  Here's an interesting news item that illustrates how mob mentality might be being used by violent, angry people to throw our present day world into turmoil.

Monday, August 27, 2012

New York Times:
U.S. Arms Sales Make Up Most of Global Market
Published: August 26, 2012
           
WASHINGTON — Weapons sales by the United States tripled in 2011 to a record high, driven by major arms sales to Persian Gulf allies concerned about Iran’s regional ambitions, according to a new study for Congress.

Overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion last year, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals.
  

 Psalm 76:

God is renowned in Judah; in Israel his name is great.  His tent is in Salem (peace) his dwelling place in Zion (with His people).  

There he broke the flashing arrows, the shields and the swords, the weapons of war.
  

There's a great day coming. . .



Thursday, August 16, 2012

No Footrpints in the Sand


My heart is heavy.  Summer weather has finally come.  I should be enjoying the August sun and the season of rest before school starts.  Instead I'm struggling to hang onto joy.  What a waste of beautiful weather!

But sun in the heart doesn't always follow sun in the sky.  That's life.

Maybe I've been reading too much world news.  

No.  The problem is closer than that.  I'm seeing the spiritual apathy and emptiness in my own little world.  And, too often, in my own little heart. 

I'm comparing the fruitful way God used to work, in both my world and my heart, with the spiritual barrenness that seems to surround me.  I wonder, sometimes, if God is even able to reach any of us in our current culture of self-satisfaction and apathy. 

A TIME FOR DOUBTS

It's somewhat comforting to know I'm not the first to feel this angst.  This morning I opened my Bible to Psalm 77.  In verses 1 and 2, David says,

"I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me.  When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would (could?) not be comforted."

David expressed his despair.  Then he did all the right things.  He "remembered" God.  He "meditated."  

But the spiritual exercise didn't help.  When he remembered, he groaned.  When he meditated, his heart grew faint.  The right things didn't lift his spirits.

I love that David never hesitates to plunge into the depths of despair and swim around in there.  The center of the Psalm is full of outrageously negative, ridiculously impossible suggestions:

"Will the Lord reject forever?" 

Of course not. 

"Will He never show his favor again?" 

Doesn't sound like David's God to me.

"Has His unfailing love vanished forever?" 

How can "unfailing" vanish forever?

"Has His promise failed for all time?  
Has God forgotten to be merciful?  
Has He in anger withheld his compassion?"

David knows God doesn't fail to keep His word.  
God doesn't forget.  
And His anger will never supersede his love.

Then the Psalmist thinks about the past, "the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand."  This kind of remembering, of focusing on who God is and what He has done in the past, brings David around.

There is a time to focus on our doubts and fears.  It's just before the time we focus on God.

A TIME FOR REMEMBERING

I think it's interesting that in this Psalm David calls God's people the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.  Why not the usual Abraham and Isaac? 

Jacob wasn't the most upright patriarch.  He did stupid things that resulted in great pain and despair for himself and others.  And Joseph wasn't even in the mainstream of Jewish ancestry.  He was a minor sideshoot, an eddy along the edge of the stream of God's purposes for Israel and the world.

But Jacob and Joseph did have two relevant things in common.  

1.  They both experienced years of wondering where God was. 

Jacob's long years of grieving for his favorite son, Joseph, must have often led him to wonder if God had rejected him forever. 

And Joseph, sold into slavery and languishing in prison for crimes he didn't commit, must have wondered, often, if God had forgotten to be merciful, if He would never show His favor again.

But. . .

2.  Both were delivered into great joy and peace in the end. They found fulfillment and purpose in their suffering, after they'd been refined and God's glory had been displayed through their circumstances.

In verse 19, David remembers that, "though [God's] footsteps were not seen," His path "led (safely) through the sea, through the mighty waters."

And even in the middle of this Psalm full of groans David can still praise God:
"Your ways, God, are holy." 

He can ask one more outrageously obvious question:
"What god is as great as our God?"

Even when there are no footprints in the sand.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Joy of Rightness


The rightness of God is what makes him worthy of praise and worship.  

Yes, he is powerful, wise and inconceivably great.  Those are all awesome attributes.  But it's his rightness, his righteousness, that makes him worthy.

We love rightness.  And we know, instinctively, what foundational rightness is.  We may be confused about the specifics.  The influence of our godless culture has marred our perception of righteousness in many of the details of ethics and morality.  But we still understand the essential rightness of love, not hate; of peace, not war; of charity, not greed; of humility, not hubris.  

We know what makes the good guy good, and the bad guy bad.

Rightness is good, and God is the essence of rightness.  He is always, completely, amazingly, wonderfully right and good in every way.

And worship of God solely for his rightness is pure, unadulterated joy.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Too Much


Lord, there's just too much.

Too much insecurity. 
Too much evil.
Too much pain.

Too many people to care about and pray for.
Too many distractions.
Too many voices leading away from you.

Too many tweets and twitters.
Too much information. 

"When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I."
Psalm 61:2

The Rock is secure.
The Rock is right and true.
The Rock is peace.

The Rock is a refuge for all who will come.
The Rock is a focus on reality that matters.
The Rock is a still, small voice.

The voice is confident, full of reassurance.  
Full of quiet, strong, sure, eternal promise of peace and joy.