Reflections by the Pond

#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

#576: Something Old, Something New

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November 5, 2012

God's holy word, penned by the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, records the fundamentals of this faith—its beginnings, its history, its doctrine. It is all there: not broken or worn out, but still perfectly intact and vital. Yet too many today are all too eager to discard it for something "new," something fresh and shiny, something more modern.

We dally and tinker with faddish belief systems, inventive and charismatic religions that entice with vain promises. We reinvent the Trinity, we mold and shape God into our own likeness, then wonder why this new, more-fashionable "God" does not deliver as we expect.

We have discarded rock maple and aged oak in favor of thin plastic...

#575: Brotherly Love

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October 29, 2012

Just about every family has its inconvenient members. Maybe it's crazy old Uncle Max, who takes his teeth out in public. Maybe it's Cousin Sylvia, who loudly slurps her soup in restaurants. Or maybe it's Granddad, who had little formal schooling and betrays his lack of book-learning every time he opens his mouth. Maybe it's brother Jim, the black sheep of the family, the lazy one perpetually on the dole who has never taken responsibility for his life.

And whenever these kinfolk behave in the way they too often do, we cringe, we blush, we suddenly remember a pressing engagement elsewhere. They embarrass us, they shame us, and whenever possible we avoid them like the plague.

We are ashamed to be seen with them...

#574: Reflecting on the Boss

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October 22, 2012

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
1 Peter 2:11-12

The Christian walk does not consist of isolated moments disengaged from real life. It does not take place in the rarefied atmosphere of the mountaintop cloister. The Christian walk is played out on the broken sidewalks of the inner city and the neighborhood playground, at the Interstate truck stop and the grocery store, at the laundromat and in the aisles of Wal-Mart, in the high school gymnasium and study hall, from either side of the counter at Burger King.

Everywhere we are, we are being observed. And when it is known that we are followers of Jesus, for good or bad our actions reflect on Him...

#573: Agreement

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October 15, 2012

I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord";
And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.
Psalms 32:5

Confession, for the believer, is a refreshment of grace, for it reacquaints us with the forgiveness of the One who never left us, but who waits patiently for our return.

Man is, at heart, a forgetful soul. He too easily forgets the joy of communion, and abandons it in favor of a cheap, tawdry substitute. The flesh is constantly tugging him in a wrong direction, off the path of righteousness and light, down a dark and dismal path that leads only to despair. The flesh is patient; it will happily settle for small victories as it waits for larger ones to come. It rejoices in every stolen moment, every small step down the darker road.

For the believer, confession is an act of admission—admitting to God that he, the believer, has been wrong and that He, God, remains right. There is no negotiation. There is no bargaining...

#572: His Persistent Glory

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October 8, 2012

Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
Psalms 96:6

In spite of this year's severe heat and drought—or perhaps because of those intemperate conditions—our small corner of the world is now resplendent with autumn colors.

Nothing is quite so remarkable as the change that takes place in the autumn. Where not so long ago we were surrounded by bushes and trees in their monotonous summer greens, we are now living in a world of jumbled hues of orange and gold and rust. Where just days ago the lawn around the house was a well-vacuumed carpet of desiccated grass, it is now virtually covered over with fallen dried leaves...