Reflections by the Pond

#586: The Pile

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January 14, 2013

Sin has a habit of beginning small, just a little here, a little there. Too small even to notice, really. No big deal, and if a problem arises, well, I'll deal with it later. But it continues to grow and expand until, finally, we realize that something must be done. The encrustation of sin must be expunged.

But then, to our chagrin, we discover that the sin has been with us so long that it has taken root—it has woven itself so tightly into our life that its removal will inevitably be painful surgery indeed. So we put it off again.

And it continues to grow.

In time the old sin attracts new sin, and the combination becomes a vast cancerous tumor that threatens to overwhelm our life. We wish it all to go away by itself, but it has made too much of an investment, and refuses. We try to pray it away, but still, back in the far reaches of our mind, we hold back. We wonder if that's really the answer; surely the sin has become so familiar, so comfortable—would we survive its extraction?

#585: Thawing

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January 7, 2013

The human heart is not unaccustomed to the frozen, hardened condition. For it is its natural state.

We enter this world with a heart cold and hardened to the things of God, and every day lived beyond the womb only reinforces the heart's bulwark against Him. We may be born with the capacity for good, but we are born with evil built in.

Even after salvation, with the Holy Spirit in residence, the heart yearns to return to its previous condition—its old habits and manners, its self-centered perspective, its companionship with the world. Like a lodestone drawn to iron, the heart of flesh never quite loses its attraction to the things of this world.

How, then, does the human heart soften? How does it begin to thaw?

#584: And I in Him

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December 31, 2012

Wherever we are, Jesus and the Father (and, of course, the Holy Spirit) are with us. No matter our situation, we have all of Them alongside, listening, seeing, counseling, helping.

"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

This is no philosophical exercise dreamed up by Isaiah, not just some metaphysical word-picture to shame the errant King Ahaz. This prophesied the very real birth of God on earth in the form of the baby Jesus. But beyond that, it also pictured the kind of relationship God would have with those who believed in His Son. Jesus Himself explained it to His disciples shortly before His arrest and crucifixion...

#583: The Beginning of Forever: Epilogue

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December 24, 2012

So what do you think? What do you see lying there in the manger, in the dim light and fetid atmosphere of the stable? Do you see the impotence and unformed inabilities of a baby, and wonder what all the fuss is about? Do you see a charming fairy tale and little more?

Do you see, perhaps, the ponderous bulk of the Church, the high and the low, the vast and torturous hierarchy of Christendom? Do you see layer after layer of man-created obstacles keeping the commoner a safe, but insulating distance from God? Do you see the darker elements that have become, by rank traditionalism, barriers to simple intimacy with a Savior?

Do you see the face of child-like innocence, of little boys and girls perched awkwardly on risers, struggling through their memorized Christmas ditties? Do you see the candlelighted fantasies of church vespers, glowing visions beheld through tears of appreciative joy?

Do you see, instead, injustice that sneers at a child meant to bring "peace and goodwill"? Do you see the inequities of pain and poverty, and consider that maybe Bethlehem was just a cruel lie—a joke played out by a cynical God...

#582: The Beginning of Forever: Everlasting Life

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December 17, 2012

It has now been forty-three years since I stood forlornly staring out a barracks window, longing for a Christmas Eve beyond my reach— forty-three years since my Christmas "cheer" was found in an alien, burning sip from a communal whiskey bottle, rather than in the warmth and fellowship found around my family's table. And now, once again, I catch myself wishing for some external to brighten my outlook for this holiday.

But my relationship with God is a spiritual one. It has nothing to do with the externals of either my person or the world in which I dwell. It is my spirit communing with His that establishes and determines the quality of my relationship with Christ.

My God is spirit, and it is my spirit that communicates with Him. The true joy of Christmas is a spiritual joy that transcends any human laughter, smiles or happiness. The true joy of Christmas is to be found in a dank, smelly stable where I kneel before a tiny child, swaddled and lying in a feeding trough. There, worshipping the eternal Son of God, just come down to dwell for a while in human form—this is where I will find Christmas...

#581: The Beginning of Forever: The Gift of Life

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December 10, 2012

The narrative by Matthew is a curious inversion, a rotated glance into reality—as if the story were being played out behind Alice's looking glass. It would be, that is, were we to remove the supernatural element.

These were men of standing, of reputation. Why would they have displayed such reverence toward a peasant girl's child? While it was not uncommon for visitors in the orient to proffer gifts, these would normally have been for someone considered a superior. Why would the magi have considered Jesus a superior?

There is an almost cinematic feeling to this episode in which three strangers travel from a distant land to kneel before a new and foreign king. It is as if Jesus, while still in His mother's womb, exerted some powerful force that drew the wise men to where He would be. Traveling possibly hundreds of miles, across desert and alien terrain, they came in search of someone of whom only the stars and prophetic texts spoke.

What was their purpose? Beyond simply confirming their quest, what was their purpose in coming to the child Jesus?

#580: The Beginning of Forever: Too Much

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December 3, 2012

The real meaning of Christmas, like so many other things in this age of insipid relativism, has been left up to the individual. In a world in which there are few absolutes, Christmas is up for grabs.

Hollywood would have us believe that the meaning of Christmas is a roster of block-buster movies intended to wow and entertain theatre-goers. Wall Street and the giants of commerce would have us believe that Christmas is the opportunity to make all the money that will cover their losses during the rest of the year; therefore, to them, Christmas is when the hoi polloi are reminded of all those things without which they cannot live even one more day.

Local news programs and charities want us to think that the real meaning of Christmas is brotherly love, charity, giving, and caring about each other. For them, Christmas is when the people who have, give to those who do not have.

On a certain level, they all are correct. There is nothing inherently wrong about entertainment, making money or, of course, giving things to the needy.

Sadly, however, Christmas has become something more than what it really is. Like a squalling, demanding brat whose body has too-soon outgrown his little playsuit, the Christmas of our time has outgrown its original intent. The holiday has become something bursting at the seams, an annual occurrence in which every hope, every expectation, every escape from disappointment is invested...

#579: Stuff

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November 26, 2012

Very often, after I have panned around a room in our house, noting with embarrassed awe the bulk of our personal holdings, my next thought is that were all of it to vanish—if a huge Midwest twister were to track across our land and utterly pulverize everything in its path—I would still count myself wealthy beyond measure if I still had my good wife. For, you see, of everything in this house, she is my one, irreplaceable treasure. Everything else (except for our family, of course) is just "stuff."

And as we enter the church house and scan the bulletin board for service opportunities, and the list of committee and board meetings, and the map showing the locations of our missionaries, we marvel at all that is being done in the Lord's name. It is good. It is biblical. It is essential.

But too often the expression of our gifts in service becomes the stumbling block to the one, truly essential thing. If that same twister entered the church parking lot and continued on through the building, destroying the sanctuary, the pastor's office, the nursery, and every Sunday School room down every hallway; if it tore out the phone lines we use for the Prayer Chain, the closet containing all the toys and Bibles to be sent to the mission field; if everything we use for "ministry" had been destroyed, what would we have left?

#578: Believing Lies

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November 19, 2012

Why is it so hard at times to be a follower of Christ Jesus? Why is it such a struggle? There are times in our faith when we feel we are swimming upstream through a river of molasses. It can feel like for every inch we progress forward into righteousness, holiness, we are pushed back two feet, back into doubt, worry, and sin.

The believer swims in a bilious swamp of deceit, cynicism, corruption, and anger. Because our regenerated spirit dwells still in flesh, and because our flesh cannot forget the mud from which it was drawn, we remain susceptible to the siren song of the Vanities. It is still in our nature to listen to the lies that issue forth from the ruler of this world. He has blinded the unbelieving, but believers in Christ are also not free from his influence...

#577: The Shadows

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November 12, 2012

From out of the deep-green mysteries of the woods the deer emerge. They could just as easily, without noticeable effort, leap the fence. But often they amble through, nice as you please, the old sagging gate that hangs from one hinge at the back of the pond.

I sit in the ill-tempered grass that covers the gentle slope leading down to our equally ill-tempered pond. A soft breeze moves past, cooling my skin. Chickadees and woodpeckers flutter and peck at the birdfeeder overhead. All is quiet, serene. Even so, the old gate stares at me from across the water, its odd, drunken angle a sarcastic leer toward how a more civilized gate would behave.

What is in there? What lies beyond the moldering back gate, deep in the shadowy gloom beneath the wooded canopy? Here in the sunlight all is peaceful and calm, normal. But what transpires back in the shadows? What lies in those places I cannot