Tuesday, December 30, 2014

 The story never grows old.
Its Truth can go unchanged to every nation,
no racial divide, good news to all people...

"Unless you are 'turned' and become like children,
you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 18:3

 "See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us,
that we should be called the children of God;
and such we are..." 
I John 3:1

 We should never lose the wonder...

"For this reason the world does not know us,
because it did not know Him."
(the rest of I John 3:1)
There have always been those who reject the Word
"because they did not know Him."
Many religious leaders are lost in the place they should be found.
How can we say that the Word is not inerrant
when the Word is God.
"...And darkness was over the surface of the deep;
And the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters,
Then God said, 'Let there be light;' And there was light."
Genesis 1:2-3

Because  of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us,
Luke 1:79
That same Holy Spirit who was with God at Creation, was
there to separate light from darkness in the forming the Word of God...

"...the Helper, the Holy Spirit
whom the Father will send in My name,
He will teach you all things
and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you,
bringing remembrance of all the things I have told you."
John 14:25-26
 "In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God."
John 1:1-2
 C.S. Lewis
And the best...
"Christ in you, the hope of glory."
Colossians 1:27

"...And we beheld His glory,
glory as of the only begotten from the Father,
full of grace and truth."
John 1:14
I give you Truth for 2015.
Happy New Year!

It was a hankie-waver-worthy sermon Sunday if there ever was one.  My preacher man brought the glory down with a Word from Isaiah 11.  I will attempt to offer a few insights I gained.

"Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit."
Isaiah 11:1

The root word here is similar to the word for Nazareth.  It could hint of the Nazarite vow as well as a foretelling of where the Christ would be from, the Nazarene.  This also leads back to Isaiah 6:13...
"Like a terebinth or an oak
Whose stump remains when it is felled.
The holy seed is its stump."

Living in Oregon timber country we knew what a clear cut looked like.  Yet, the timber company would go back and place tender shoots and replant the forest, a renewable source.  Even more, in the Jedediah Smith Campground in the redwoods, if an ancient tree fell, shoots would often spring up from the stump, from the root, with a new shoot.
When John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, he warned, "The ax is already laid at the foot of the tree; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
Luke 3:9
How many times had God allowed His people to suffer the consequences of their rebellion only to be cut down?  Yet, Isaiah foretold of a Coming One, the holy seed. 

"And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And He will delight in the fear of the Lord..."
Isaiah 1:2-3 
"Rest on Him..." 

 "(John) he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'  ... And John bore witness saying, 'I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained (rested) upon Him."
John 1:29, 32
Another fulfillment will be when as Isaiah prophecies,
"And His resting place will be glorious."
Isaiah 11:10

No wonder the angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest..." over the manger where the little shoot of Jesse was laid.  Where Jesus is, there is glory.  The old timers used to call their church, their tabernacles, "the glory barn."  We felt a little of this glory Sunday as the Spirit bore witness with our spirit in the hearing of His Word. 
"The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord."
This is the spirit of wisdom that enables us to know Truth from error, right from wrong, and the ability to carry it out.  The spirit of knowledge refers to the most intimate of terms also used to describe the intimacy between husband and wife.  Thus, unveiled it is to really know, to see, which produces awe, fear of knowing who we are to who He is .  But He delights in this fear, in this total intimacy of relationship.  "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (Matthew 5:8)  To be pure with nothing to contaminate, to come between is to be sanctified, cleansed, given a pure heart.  That is His delight and glorious gift.


the clean up must begin...
to be put away in boxes...
but you can't put a baby away in a box...
pretty soon Jesus could climb out of the manger,
God on the loose, imagine that!
He grew 

"And the Child continued to grow,
and become strong,
increasing in wisdom;
and the grace of God was upon Him.
Luke 2:38
How do you put away a Christ like that?
They tried to put him away in a tomb,
but that did not work either.
Watch out.  He's on the loose.
But He's given us a RSVP invitation.


Monday, December 29, 2014

The year is slipping away even though I am holding on by my fingernails and drigging in my heels.  They are screeching like chalk across a chalkboard.  Shiver me timbers!  I. Must. Let. Go.  But I'm not ready to let the Christmas season go.  How about you?  The needles aren't falling off my artificial tree quite yet, so here's an eyeful of Christmas pictures from Pinterest and the beautiful words of a seldom sung hymn .  There's still room in my heart...

Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
"He came to that which was His own,
but His own did not receive Him."
John 1:11 

"Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem's home there was found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus;
There is room in my heart for Thee.
Heaven's arches rang when the angels sang
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But in lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.

The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.

Thou camest O Lord, with the living Word
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn, and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.
When the heavens shall ring and her choir shall sing
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home, saying, 'Yet there is room;
There is room at My side for thee!'


My heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus,
When Thou comest and callest for me."
Emily E.S. Elliott, 1864

Sunday, December 28, 2014


Celia Jolley
I grew up at five.  That was when I learned the truth about Santa Claus in the red suit, and Lani Groves had been the baby in the play.  Baby Jesus had really been just a girl.  What a jolt!

You see, when I was five, I was the shepherd boy in the church play: "What shall I give him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I'd give him my lamb."*

Creeping forward to lay my stuffed toy lamb beside the bale of hay, I had to shade my eyes from the spotlights taped to the first pew.  I couldn't see anyone in the sanctuary, only the manger.  Wiping my smarting eyes, I saw the baby for the first time.  It was wrapped in a tiny cotton tee shirt and terry towel lying in the manger.  Always before in practice, there had been a stupid rubber doll with one eye rolled up.   Like the apostle Paul in the blinding light, I was converted.  I just knew, here was the real thing.  It was Jesus.
The tiny King had brown eyes capturing mine.  The little lips were in a perfect "O" until the chine began to quiver into a pucker.  Chubby hands reached up to me.  I looked at Jennifer Arnold, the more mature six year old with the key role as Mary, but she just shrugged in her sheeting.
Suddenly, the baby's eyes squeezed shut, and the mouth opened to suck in the silence before the wail.  But the song said, "The little Lord Jesus, no crying He made."  Quickly laying aside my stuffed lamb and wooden staff, I, Joshua McGraw, picked up baby Jesus.  The audience gasped, but the baby smiled.  In my confusion amidst the thunder of applause, I couldn't grasp why Mrs. Groves came to take the baby away.  I didn't want to let her take it.  Jesus had smiled at me!  Finally, stepping back empty-handed, I glared at the stupid rubber doll which now lay stiff in the manger.  As the wise men came to adore on bended knee, I scorned them.  They were too late.  I had held the real thing.
"What was from the beginning, what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we behold and our hands handled,
concerning the Word of Life...
what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also,
that our joy may be made complete."
I John 1:2,3,4 NASB 

The next Christmas I graduated to a wise man while toddling Lani was a cherub with tinsel halo and cotton balls glued on cardboard for wings.  She liked the fake jewels on my robe and kept wandering over to me.  But the manger was empty.  It seemed no one would trust their newborn to the hay where an errant shepherd boy might grab the precious thing.  Somehow, the wonder of the pageant was tarnished.

The next year, I was Joseph.  The next, the innkeeper.   The next, I had the chicken pox.  Finally, I got the really important part of working the spotlights.  My ten year old chest filled with all the pride of Thomas Edison.  Lani was Mary that year.  She looked so sweet smiling down at the imaginary baby Jesus that it reminded me of when she had been that baby.  I forgot to move the spotlight off her so that Randy Blum had to say half his lines in the dark as he tripped over the microphone cord.

At least  I  remembered to switch the light to Rev. Groves as he made his closing remarks.  He cleared his throat.  "We regret to announce, we've been called elsewhere.  We'll be
moving after the first of the year."

Mary was crying.  I was so upset that I accidently turned off all the house lights.  It was really dark surrounded by sniffles.   At the reception afterwards, little Lani kept following me around saying things like, "I can tie my shoes.  Wanna see?"

I was sorry to see her move, but I was embarrassed to have such a short shadow.  I went across the room to sit with the other guys eating cookies and tried to ignore little Lani on the floor at my feet.  It wasn't until I stood up that I found out what she had been doing.

"See, I can tie shoes!"

"Whoa!"  I fell across three folding chairs sending my paper plate flying like a Frisbee.   The little rug rat had tied my shoelaces together in a knot.

There was that pucker again.  She was going to cry.

"That's okay, Lani.  It's a gnarly knot."  I looked at her costume.  "Or is it Mary?"

"Mary, me?"

The next pastor didn't do nativities.  Instead, we ran a Christmas soup kitchen out of the basement.   My job was always to serve mashed potato volcanos erupting with gravy. Before we fed them, Pastor would read the Christmas story, "Emmanuel, God with us."  That held special meaning as my mind would escape to fond memories of Christmas past, to the baby face of Lani Groves.

"Behold, the virgin shall be with child,
and shall bear a Son,
and they shall call His name Emmanuel."
Luke 1:23 NASB
I'll never forget the year I was fifteen with my learner's permit.  We had decided to drive to the city where Christmas pageants were done up royally.  I got to drive, at least until the rain turned to slush.  Then Dad took over.  Mom still fretted, said we'd have to get a motel.  It was a real winter storm.  But I called it adventure!  The snowflakes were like magic in the air as the world turned into wonderland.
The civic center was filled with Christmas spirit and people.  A huge tree rose floor to ceiling, only slightly crooked.  As I imagined the chaos if it fell, the spotlight centered on Mary who sang a lullaby in a sweet child voice, pretty good for a kid.  Mom poked me in the ribs and passed the program.
"That's Lani Groves!"

I couldn't believe it.  The last time I had seen Lani, she was a much smaller version of Mary.  My mental calculator whizzed.  If I was ten, she was five.  Now, she must be ten.  Pretty nervy kid to sing in front of such a packed crowd.
 I felt my chest swell with pride that a small town P.K. made it to the big stage, but it soon turned to embarrassment when the folks insisted on going backstage to congratulate her.  I'll admit, it was a happy reunion.  We sure had missed Pastor Groves and his family.  Next thing we knew, they insisted that we stay the night with them instead of a motel.
There was a lot of reminiscing and laughter over cocoa and popcorn.  I was still hungry for pizza, so we ordered that too.  Standing in the hallway paying the pizza man, I saw the picture.  It was a shepherd boy holding the baby.,  I didn't know anyone had caught that moment on film.  The delivery man shuffled impatiently so I counted out the rest of his tip.   The picture drew me closer.  The wonder was evident in my five year old eyes.  There was the dimpled smile where the terry towel slipped down.
Lani was beside me.  "Do you remember that?"
"Yeah, sure."
"I thought of you when I sang the lullaby tonight."
"Uh, how about some pizza."
That night Pastor Groves read out of the before we went to bed...
"And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields,
and keeping watch over their flocks by night.
And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them;
and they were terribly frightened. 
And the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid;
for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all the people'...
And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God
for all that they had heard and seen,
just as had been told them...
But Mary treasured up all these things,
pondering them in her heart."
Luke 1:
It was my parents' twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.  My grandmother planned a big December anniversary reception at the church, and I must admit, I wasn't much help.  At twenty, I thought I had much more important things to do.  Besides, I didn't feel very comfortable in church.  I seldom went anymore.  But Mom and Dad sure were happy seeing family and friends.  Some even came from a distance, like the Groves.

Looking nervously for someone safe to sit by who wouldn't say, "My, how you've grown," or Haven't seen much of you in church lately," I spied Lani looking as miserable as I felt.  She must be fifteen by now, not bad looking either, for a teenager.
She saw me, and her whole face lit up.  But just then I saw Virginia Turner behind her.  Wow, what a fox!  I hadn't seen Virginia since we broke up my senior year in high school.  Walking past Lani, I noticed that she was looking up expectantly at me as I realized that she had thought I was coming to talk with her.  But, one look at Virginia, and I forgot all about the disappointment on Lani's face.  Grow up, kid.

I could hardly talk to Virginia over the Pastor as he was reading what must have been a whole chapter of Scripture, something about an excellent wife, flax, distaffs, spindles, and selling belts...
"An excellent wife, who can find?
For her worth is far above jewels.
Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying..
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord,
 she shall be praised."
Proverbs 31:10, 28, 20

I had a good job teaching and coaching which gave me time off with my family over the holidays.  Mom and Dad had the house fixed up really nice.  Virginia was impressed.  She went for style.  I usually looked her up when I came home.  She was the kind of girl you could have around for excitement, but there wasn't enough there to sustain a lasting or deep relationship    Yet, it was better than being alone.  It was kinda getting old, the single life, especially when coming home.  My folks really had something great there.  I just didn't have much hope for finding someone like Mom, a younger version, that is.  They didn't seem to hang out in the crowd I knew.

Everything was perfect, except for company.  I had to give up my old room.  It really was a guest room now.  It seems Mrs. Groves wanted to come back to her family doctor here for surgery.  Of course, Mom insisted that they spend Christmas with us while she recuperated.  Even little Lani would come here from college for the holidays.  I sure hoped she wouldn't expect me to take her around to see the old sights.  I planned to be busy keeping Virginia company.
That night Virginia and I out-waited the older people till we had the living room to ourselves.  The tree was lit up, the fire crackling, the Christmas carols were playing, and the young woman was melting like a chocolate in the sweaty palm of my hand.  Just then, the front door bumped open, and Lani stood there in a white jacket looking a s pure as an angel held earthbound only by the suitcases in her hands.

My arm fell off Virginia's shoulder.  Lani blushed.  She was saying something about sorry to interrupt, but all I could think of was the difference five years could make.
Virginia evidently was uncomfortable around her for she was leaving.  For once, I did not walk her to
her car.  I knew I wouldn't be calling her any more.  After all, three is a crowd.

Lani and I talked late into the night.  I'd never met someone I could talk to so easily. From the puckery baby, to the pesky five year old, to the brave girl of ten, to the shy fifteen year old, her eyes had always looked up to me.  For the first time I was glad from the heart, but scared.  What did she see in me?
"Sounds like you've been busy, Josh.  Have you been active in the church too?"
The fire seemed to suddenly ignite my face.  I squirmed uncomfortably.  "Nah, I guess I've gotten out of the habit."
"Oh."  Her disappointment fell heavily all around me.  The whole evening suddenly seemed to hinge on that question.  I tried to laugh it off.
"I'm a bit too old to play the part of the shepherd boy in a Christmas play, anyway."
"But, have you lost the wonder?  I've prayed for you all these years."  She spoke so softly that I could hardly hear her.
In that moment looking at Lani's live earnestness made everything else seem false, as
fake as the old rubber doll that had lain in the manger.  The heat from my face fell till it burned in my heart.  I longed once again to adore the Christ of Christmas, to hold Him close just as I had done as a five year old shepherd boy.
"If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part,
But what can I give Him,
Give my heart."*
It's funny that after all these years, I remember my part.

"The people who walk in darkness will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.
For a child will be born to us,
a Son will be given to us...
And His name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God 
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9:2, 6
*Christina G. Rosetti