Wednesday, April 4, 2018

My "Receivings"

Psalm 103:1-2 (NIV)  1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2  Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits--

In 1896 Johnson Oatman wrote a hymn that many new hymnals still contain: Count Your Blessings. Each of the verses of this hymn describes tough times or difficult situations that a believer may go through: discouragement, heavy-heartedness, doubt, the (undeserved?) prosperity of others, burdens, and conflict. The chorus then tells the singer what to do in response to these hardships:
“Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done,
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.”

At face value the song and its “solution” seems pretty simplistic – almost like wishing your troubles away. But if you have ever literally done an exercise of making a list of the blessings you have received… that surround you at every level of life – physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, financially, spiritually, etc., then you probably have a higher view of the value of counting blessings. Several months ago I had the occasion to make such a list. It did not take a whole lot of imagination. All around me were (material) things that have been a blessing to me. All around me were people who had been a blessing. And all around me – and within me – were spiritual realities that reflected the presence and love of God in my life. All it took was a little time to start writing a list and it wasn’t long before the page(s) filled up. More important than the size of the list was what the process itself did to me – how it impacted how I thought and felt. A simple exercise like this can have a major positive impact on one’s attitude.

I was reading in The Valley of Vision: a Compilation of Puritan Prayers and Devotions the other day. Here is an excerpt from one of the prayers:
“O Lord, I am astonished at the difference
      between my receivings and my deservings,
      between the state I am now in and my past gracelessness,
      between the heaven I am bound for and the hell I merit.
Who made me to differ, but Thee?
      for I was no more ready to receive Christ than were others;
I could not have begun to love Thee hadst not Thou first loved me,
      or been willing unless Thou hadst first made me so.
O that such a crown should fit the head of such a sinner!
      such high advancement be for an unfruitful person!
      such joys for so vile a rebel!”…

Even a few moments of serious thought about these matters always puts things into perspective for me. Just in His death alone, Jesus did more for me than everything I could possibly gain in this world. A more modern expression of gratitude in response to God came from the heart and hand of Andrae Crouch:
“How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me
Things so underserved, yet You gave to prove Your love for me
The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude
All that I am, and ever hope to be, I owe it all to Thee
To God be the glory, to God be the glory, to God be the glory, for the things He has done
With His blood He has saved me, with His power He has raised me
To God be the glory for the things He has done...”

I invite you and encourage you to take some time very soon to analyze your “receivings” – to count your blessings. See what happens when you think about what God has done.

Romans 8:32 (NIV)  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Psalm 144:13-15 (NIV) 13  Our barns will be filled with every kind of provision. Our sheep will increase by thousands, by tens of thousands in our fields; 14  our oxen will draw heavy loads. There will be no breaching of walls, no going into captivity, no cry of distress in our streets. 15  Blessed are the people of whom this is true; blessed are the people whose God is the LORD.

Mark 6:42 (NIV)  They all ate and were satisfied,

PRAYER:  Lord God, you have filled my life with blessing. Give me eyes to see it and a heart to give thanks for it. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Jesus Christ is Lord!   

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Let It Shine

Psalm 119:130 (KJV)  The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.

Last week a crew came to the parsonage to remove four large maple trees from the property. Three were on the perimeter and one was on the lot not far from the house. It was not a healthy tree. Two of the trees were leaning over the roof of the house. And one of them was near to the corner of the church building. Since their removal I have noticed how much more light there is in the yard. Over the years all the trees around the parsonage have grown large, and because they virtually surround the yard, it has become darker. While that’s nice on a hot summer day, at other times it can feel a bit closed in and a bit gloomy. The grass has not done well as light to it has been reduced.

When I saw how opened-up it looked – just from four trees being removed – I thought of Psalm 113:130, which speaks of the power of God’s words to give light, or understanding, to those who read or hear them. There are several ways we might think of darkness. One way could be to think of spiritual darkness, or living without God or without the knowledge of God. In one Old Testament prophecy about Christ we learn that His coming brings light to those walking in darkness (Isaiah 9:2). Those living in the world without God were in a state of spiritual darkness – a darkness they could not get out of or escape from on their own. So God was taking the initiative in Jesus. In the Gospel of John we learn that Jesus is the Light of the world (1:4-9, 3:19-21, 8:12, 9:5, 12:35-36,46)

Another way of thinking about darkness is as a metaphor for uncertainty and indecision: not knowing what to do. The way forward may be difficult to discern and one can feel hesitant to act unless more light is shed on the situation. The person might need more information or need more support when facing a difficult decision.

Or maybe the darkness could describe the emotional state of one’s soul. Discouragement, depression, or despair could all be ways to describe a strong feeling of being in the darkness. Hope or strength may be waning and one might be suffering or succumbing to fear. The results of these kinds of things can keep us from the joy of the Lord and from the blessing of His peace. We may wonder how we can move ahead or get out of these kinds of dark valleys.

However we may think about darkness in our lives, I love the idea of applying Psalm 111:130. God’s words bring so much to us and to the circumstances of our lives. Just like the trees in my yard, there are obstacles in our lives to God’s Word: things like our busyness, disinterest, or distractions. These things need to be removed in order to “make room” for the light of God’s words. The light of God’s Word cannot be extinguished – it overcomes darkness wherever it shines.

Do you remember the children’s song, “This Little Light of Mine”? Whether at home or in the church building when Sunday school or worship begins, you can think of it this way: a Bible is waiting to be opened, read, and applied. Shall we “let it shine”? Shall we go to it every day and trust it to give light to us? May the answer be yes. May our longing and our felt need for the light of God’s Word be strong, and may nothing in our lives put it out. And may our eyes be opened and made to see all that God has in His Word to draw us to Jesus, to guide our lives from day to day, and to give us hope for now and for eternity.

Isaiah 9:2 (NIV)  The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Psalm 119:105 (NIV) Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my      path.

Matthew 5:15 (NIV)  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

PRAYER:  Lord God, Thank you for the power of your words to address every circumstance of life, to bring hope and help in time of need, and to save my soul. Thank you that your words are contained for us in your Word, the Bible. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Jesus Christ is Lord!   

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

An Engraved Invitation

Romans 10:14 (NIV)  How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

In 2005 Hollywood released a movie titled Wedding Crashers. I have never seen it, but I think the gist of it is as follows: A couple of guys make it their regular practice to “attend” wedding receptions (not sure if they go to the wedding ceremony) even though they were not invited, or even known by the bride and groom and their families. They capably “melt in” and, because the guest list is large, few people (or no one) question their “right” to be there. Their motives are probably along the lines of obtaining great food, free alcohol, and women with whom they can have sex (this is, after all, Hollywood). Since the movie is a comedy, they probably get in trouble at some point and it’s all played for laughs.

My guesses may be right on or a bit off, but I want to reference this movie plot as an illustration about the idea of being invited (versus not being invited). Perhaps you have been in the situation of being asked why you weren’t at a particular event and your answer was simply, “I wasn’t invited.” If you are not on a guest list or do not receive an invitation, it is possible then that you would not even know about it, or unlikely that you – a normal person – would attempt to “crash” the event/party. You may feel bad or glad that you weren’t invited, but you would not likely try to force your way in. In the parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22 Jesus describes a father of a groom (a king) coming across a “guest” who didn’t have proper wedding garments – something he would have received as part of a proper invitation. The king has his servants tie the guy up and throw him out. Jesus concludes the parable with the words, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” Any person who thinks he will get to heaven apart from being clothed with the righteousness of Christ (wearing his own garments - trusting in his own works/righteousness) will be in for a sad awakening, for it is only by Christ’s perfect righteousness that we have any hope of heaven. The invitation of God is an invitation of grace – of trusting in Christ alone for the forgiveness of our sins and for being made right with God. It is not an invitation to those who have become good enough in their own eyes or worthy because of something they have done. It’s an invitation to sinners. It has been referred to by some as an “engraved” invitation, having the idea that God’s invitation is engraved in the hands and feet of Jesus as He dies as our substitute on the cross, the ultimate expression of God’s love,… or also that the invitation is engraved with His own blood.

Heaven cannot be “crashed”. No one would be clever enough, strong enough, or good enough. Heaven is available on God’s terms, not ours. And His “terms” are grace… by faith in His Son Jesus. The Church is in the inviting business. We are called to pass on God’s invitation to men and women and children so that they might understand His grace and respond. God knows who will respond, and His grace makes that response possible. Ultimately, it is not even our invitation. It is God’s. But God uses us in the delivery. Inviting people into our lives and building relationships can lead at some point to the opportunity to invite them to consider Christ. It could include an invitation to church or to a small group or to church related events. Almost all people who are Christians are Christians because at some point they were invited by a Christian to one or more places or occasions at which they were exposed to the Gospel. Many people have never been invited to a church worship service or church-related event/activity. And not all will respond “yes” to an invitation. But some will. And God may use that to draw them to Himself. This is why we invite.

We have something to offer. Are we an inviting people, or are we spiritual hoarders? God’s invitation is generous, so let us be generous in heart to open our homes, our lives, and our church to people as well, so that we may also invite them out of a sincere love to know Christ.

John 1:40-41, 45-46 (NIV) 40  Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41  The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). 45  Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." 46  "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip.

Luke 14:21-23 (NIV) 21  "The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, 'Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.' 22  "'Sir,' the servant said, 'what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.' 23  "Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.

Isaiah 55:1-3 (NIV) 1  "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3  Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

PRAYER:  Lord God, thank you for your great generosity to me in Christ. Thank you for the person(s) you used to invite me to know you and to receive your grace. Lead me to be an inviter as well. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Jesus Christ is Lord!   

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Last Storm

Revelation 21:3-4 (NIV) 3  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

This time of year it is difficult to know when the last snow of the season is going to fall. Weathermen are not perfect. Almanacs are not always right. Punxsatawney Phil isn’t reliable (not to burst anybody’s bubble). My shovels are still on the deck, but I find this time of year tempts me to put them away. A storm – a nor’easter – is being forecast for this week even, so I definitely won’t put the shovels away just yet. But the “feeling” of Spring is in the air, as they say. Temperatures just aren’t as cold as they were. People want to get outside more – especially on sunny days. I know what’s coming and I’m eager for summer and getting out in shorts and a t-shirt: no more layer bundles of clothing to stay warm. But it’s not here yet.

I sometimes wonder when the last “storm” of my life will come and go. I expect to encounter a few more storms before the Lord takes me or returns, but I live day by day in His hands – not knowing what a day will bring, but confident of His kingdom control. Though my mind and my spirit look forward to being with Jesus forever, I am living in a current season of expectancy that also is characterized by the reality of times of physical, mental, and emotional weariness and challenge. As each one comes I do not literally wonder if it will be the “last” storm, but I do know the time will come – as it will for all of us – when we could say, “That was the last storm.”

As we wonder about potential storms to come, isn’t it wonderful to have assurance that winter actually will end, and that summer actually will arrive? Our assurance of heaven is similar. There may be times when that hope is all that keeps us going, but it does give us strength and confidence and reassurance. An eternal season awaits us, in which all hurts will be healed, all pain forgotten, and all sin will be nothing but history. The last storm of our life will be behind us. God will be with us through it, as He always is, and then we will be with Him, as He has promised us in Christ. May the Lord keep you in perfect peace, as your heart and mind is stayed upon Him (Isaiah 26:3).

John 14:1-4 (NIV) 1  "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2  In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4  You know the way to the place where I am going."

2 Corinthians 5:1-5 (NIV) 1  Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2  Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3  because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4  For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5  Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Revelation 22:3-5 (NIV) 3  No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5  There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

PRAYER:  Lord God, I am looking forward to what is awaiting me in heaven. Above all I look forward to being with Jesus. The timing of the last storm of my life is in your hands. I trust you for both now and for the future. My hope is in you. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Jesus Christ is Lord!   

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Time is Precious

Psalm 90:12 (NIV)  Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

As part of a group study I am doing, I engaged in a 48-hour media fast this past week. The purpose was to eliminate all TV watching, radio listening, internet time, emailing, podcast listening, and pretty much most things electronic or digital. I did keep my phone on for calls. I did not look at emails, check on or hear weather forecasts (or any news), or look at Facebook, etc.

You would think that 48 hours of this is not very long. But one thing I found is that I seemed to have a lot more time on my hands: time that I used to start a book that has been sitting in my briefcase for at least a month. I also had a lot of time just to think. I had time when I was not doing work-related activity that I was not used to having. I had more time to pray. I had more time for undistracted conversation with Joanne. I even had time to take a nap both days, something I rarely do. My “new-found” time enabled me to do a little more (work) around the house than I usually do.

All of this made me realize that I actually have more time available to me than I often think I have. It challenged me to be more aware of time wasters that do not serve as the optimal or best use of my hours. I am not sure if I will continue to do such “fasts”. I think if I don’t, then it will be easy to slip back into a less guarded use of my time.

Time is a precious commodity in our lives. Exercises like this one can help us evaluate if we are serving God with our time. The time God provides to us is a gift from Him that can be used for His purposes and glory, or for our own selfish ends. I am reminded of an old rhyme I learned as a child – “Only one life, ’twill soon be past: only what’s done for Christ will last.” Another way to think of this is that time is worship… or not. Another old saying is that “Time is money.” That is one way to look at it. But as a disciple of Jesus saved by God’s grace, I think that understanding time as worship (or not) is a much more powerful – and spiritually healthy – way to think about time.

Here is the question: How does my use of time (even small bits of time) glorify God? I honestly believe that there are times in our lives when taking a nap (or just sleeping more) is the most spiritual thing we can do – so that our bodies are renewed and our service to the Lord is enhanced. Then there are times that too much sleeping is just an expression of laziness, or poor time management (staying up too late, for example). I would never dictate to anyone how to use their hours. But I do know that God knows the difference between hours in my life that honor Him, and hours (or even minutes) that do not.

I am the last person to be a lecturer on this subject. In reality I am just a learner. May we together be intentional about guarding our time and continuing to learn how we may best glorify our Lord in how we use our days. I have noticed as I have grown older that my days seem to pass more quickly. But every day is the same (timewise) and is a great opportunity to experience the abundant life that Jesus gives.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 (NIV) 29  What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30  those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31  those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV) 15  Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, 16  making the most of every opportunity (redeeming the time), because the days are evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:1 (NIV)  Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, "I find no pleasure in them"--

PRAYER:  Lord God, let me look at time as your gift. Let me enjoy it and lovingly – not legalistically – use it with you and for your glory, and thus bring honor to your name. Thank you. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Jesus Christ is Lord!   

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

God Is Always Faithful

Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)  Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."

I watched part of (including the end of) the Minnesota Vikings-New Orleans Saints playoff game last Sunday. The sports commentators and pundits have probably said all that needs to be said about that “miracle” ending, but I was struck with quickness and depth of emotional change on the part of both teams and their fans. The Vikings had taken the lead and things looked great for them. Then the Saints kicked a field goal with less than a minute left and took the lead. It then looked hopeless for the Vikings. With 10 seconds left Case Keenum, the quarterback of the Vikings threw a pass that – caught or dropped – should have virtually ended the game. But the defender failed to stop the pass and then to stop the receiver who caught the pass… and then Stefon Diggs ran all the way to the end zone – untouched – for a touchdown as time ran out and the win. The stadium full of Vikings fans roared and rejoiced, while Saints fans everywhere were stunned into disappointed sadness and the team could barely be mustered for the required extra point play.

Things like this happen often in sports. The drama of it all is one of the things that attracts fans. While we enjoy being on the winning end of things, fans also suffer through the losing end of some hard losses. Sports is not the only arena in life where such dramatic changes can happen. I worked with a pastor many years ago who often reminded the congregation – when they would become a little too confident in the church’s bank accounts or when people rested spiritually on their own laurels – “God can take it all away in a moment.” His purpose was not to be negative or depressing, but to be sober-minded and to call us to be careful to avoid being presumptuous upon God and His blessings: to enjoy them for sure, and to glorify God in/for them for sure, but to avoid any and all self-assurance in favor of God-assurance.

Any of our lives can change in the briefest moment of time – for good or for bad. The loss of a loved one, an injury in an accident, a diagnosis of disease, the loss of a job, a natural disaster… or an unexpected gift in the mail, the positive result of a pregnancy test, the news you got the job or made the team or passed the test… these are but a few examples of things that can send your emotions soaring or diving very quickly.

It is a comfort to know the Lord in the midst of the rollercoaster of life. The Lord does not change in our lowest lows and our highest highs. He’s there, always the same. But He does not remove us from them, either. He “rides along”, if you will, without change in His plan for us and His love and care for us. One of the favorite hymns in the lives of many, and certainly in my life is Thomas Chisholm’s Great Is Thy Faithfulness…

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
      Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
       “Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Psalm 23:1-6 (NIV) 1  The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3  he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6  Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Lamentations 3:21-26 (NIV) 21  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22  Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24  I say to myself, "The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." 25  The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 26  it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.

Malachi 3:6 (NIV)  "I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.

James 1:17 (NIV)  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

PRAYER:  Lord God, I look to you in the depths of my lowest lows, and I look to you in the heights of my highest highs. Most of my life is lived in between them, and I look to you then and there as well. Thank you that you never leave nor forsake me. You are my Hope in all things. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Jesus Christ is Lord!   


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Get the Picture?

Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

            There are two trails that pass through Great Meadow, a small section of Acadia just outside of the town of Bar Harbor. It’s so close that they are easily accessible for people like me to walk to and through. I try to walk daily, though I probably average more like 4-5 times a week. Both trails make their way to Sieur de Monts Springs, which is at the base of Dorr Mountain. The Jesup Trail, after cutting about halfway through Great Meadow, becomes a long, narrow boardwalk through a marshy and wooded part of the meadow. The other trail is called the Hemlock Road. From Sieurs de Mont it has a feel of a carriage path, and the term “road” fits somewhat. It leads to the Hemlock Trail, which is an access route to the North Ridge Trail up Dorr Mountain. It crosses the Jesup Path about where the boardwalk ends and continues on toward the loop road.

            It would be wrong to say that Acadia is beautiful just in the summer or fall. I walked these trails a couple of times last week. On Saturday I noticed a beautiful grove of trees with rough, gray bark in front of a background of brown grass and a gray sky that seemed to be saying, “Guess what… I have the first snowfall of winter on the way in me.” Joanne and I have snow-shoed these trails in winter. They are always beautiful. A good-sized portion of the Hemlock Road is lined with white birches. It is a fine-looking stretch. There have been times over the years that I have tried to photograph the path there, but have found it difficult. The reason is that a number of the birch trees have been defaced at some point in the past when someone (probably different people at different times) peeled a section of bark off them – in some cases up to a couple of feet long. These comparatively unsightly trees cannot be avoided in the viewfinder of your camera. As a teenager I was taught never to remove bark from a birch tree because it will never grow back. Doing so leaves a permanent scar on the tree. In a grove of birches, even one tree with such a scar stands out. As much as the photographer wishes it were different, the unsightly blemish will inevitably show up in his photo – if he takes it.

            As I walked on the path through these trees I began to think about the scars of Jesus. We learn in reading the Gospels that after His resurrection Jesus still bore the scars of the crucifixion in His body. They were not removed. They did not magically disappear. In fact, they are a permanent reminder of God’s love and grace, which extended far enough to cover our sin. A human being scarred those birch trees. And human beings (including us all) were responsible for the scars on Christ’s body. Many people love Christmas, and rightly so: the birth of Jesus, angels singing, obedient Joseph and Mary, shepherds hearing and seeing. On the surface this is a picture of a “nice” baby Jesus and a “pure and innocent” group of people. The story has had staying power for twenty centuries. Those who like to think of a “nice” baby Jesus growing up to be a “nice” man who did “nice” things for a lot of people,… but then aren’t willing to go any further with Jesus are merely pretending not to see the scars, or are unwilling to look at them. The Incarnation of Jesus only begins with the Nativity scene. Christ came with purpose and intent… with a plan to go to the cross. You cannot get Good Friday out of the same picture in which you find the Nativity, just like you cannot get the whole picture without the empty tomb. Photo shopping is the digital alteration of photos with image-editing software. It’s amazing how easy it is to tell a lie with a photo if you can edit it. I could make myself look thin. I could remove my wrinkles, bumps, moles, blemishes, crooked smile, hairlessness… anything I want. But when this is done, the image no longer depicts reality. It has been altered artificially. It is important spiritually to avoid at all costs a “photo shopped” view of Jesus.

            In the upper room Jesus held out His hands to Thomas with an invitation to touch the scars. This was after His resurrection. You cannot get those scars out of the picture. The image of a birch tree with a permanent scar is a sad one. But the image of the Savior – Jesus the Christ – with a permanent scar is actually glad one – for us. Don’t try to photo shop it or “airbrush” it out of the picture… out of the whole story of Jesus. Rather, rejoice, for those scars are the most beautiful thing you will ever look upon. The manger is empty. Jesus fully experienced humanness. The cross is empty. Christ is no longer on it. And just as important, the tomb is empty. Christ is no longer in it. Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus.

John 20:24-29 (NIV) 24  Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25  So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." 26  A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" 27  Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." 28  Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" 29  Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

PRAYER:  Lord God, thank you for the beauty of Christ’s scars, and for the greatness of the love they remind me of. All glory, honor, and praise to you. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Jesus Christ is Lord!