Sunday, December 30, 2012


Yesterday our son Matthew became married to a wonderful young woman named Sarah. They gave me the privilege of officiating at their ceremony. The following is a short excerpt from the wedding message.

 …I called this ceremony important, because it is. It is here today, that you are soon to make a commitment that will change your lives in many significant ways. Many people in our society are afraid of commitment. I am not only talking about commitment in marriage, but commitment of any kind. They are afraid that if they should make a commitment, they will limit their freedom.
This attitude is ultimately a very selfish one, of course, because in it, the individual is focusing only upon himself or herself, wanting to bring fulfillment only to themselves. But not only is this selfish; it is also very short-sighted and stems from an uninformed perspective on what truly brings fulfillment.
Contrary to what one might at first think, to find fulfillment in living, a person will never find it by focusing on himself or herself. Even when one thinks he is avoiding commitment and maintaining his “freedom” (as he defines it), he really still is committed. However, the focus of this commitment is only upon himself. He is thinking about what can make him happy, and no one else. This also is commitment, but it is a kind of selfish commitment and one that can never bring fulfillment. This is the kind of self-centered commitment that inhabits so many people of the world.
But the culture of Jesus is not the culture of the world. Jesus taught us that true fulfillment, true happiness, comes not from focusing on one’s own needs, but on the needs of others. He illustrated this principle by giving us an impactful example. At the time of the last meal that He was to share with His disciples, Jesus bent down and washed each of the disciple’s feet – a custom and a necessity that was common in that area of dusty roads and sandaled feet.
Then He told them this: “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (John 13:12-15, 17 NAS).
Jesus told His disciples that they would be blessed if they would serve one another. The application is much wider than only footwashing. Jesus was teaching us the principle of focusing not on one’s own needs, but on the needs of others. He told us that we would be blessed if we did this.
That word blessed is one of those words that, if asked, many people would have a difficult time to define or even describe. We sometimes get the picture of a holy man of some kind placing his hand on our heads and telling us that we are “blessed.” But really, the root meaning of this word is simply, to be happy. Jesus tells us that we will be happy if we focus on the needs of others instead of our own needs and our own sense of importance. Happiness can never come from selfishness.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


One of the aspects of the Christmas story that has captivated me this year has been the message that the angel and a host of heavenly beings brought to the shepherds on the night that Jesus was born. The passage reads like this:

Angels Appearing to the Shepherds - Rembrandt
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14 ESV)

As we can see, first a single angel appeared to the shepherds, and then a “multitude of the heavenly host” joined this angel, praising God. This must have been astounding beyond comprehension for these simple and unpretentious men who lived the quiet lives of watchers of sheep and who were accustomed to long hours of stillness in the night hours.

We really have no idea how those shepherds must have felt on that night. We have seen so many nativity scenes of the shepherds with their staffs and long clean robes (white robes with powder blue accents seems to be the favored colors) that it is difficult for us to imagine what these men really were like. I called them unpretentious, and so I think they were, but these were also rough and probably ill-mannered men. They were of the lowest class of the local society, and their demeanor no doubt made that obvious. Anyone who has worked with livestock of any kind knows that clean chore clothes do not stay that way very long; and if working with livestock is really a person’s only life, he often does not bother to clean up very much.

 These shepherds were also men who were not accustomed to unusual events coming into their lives. “Today is pretty much the same as was yesterday, and tomorrow will be a repeat of today.” It is no wonder that they were “sore afraid” (as it is put in the King James’ English) when they saw the angel and the “glory of the Lord,” (whatever that actually was). When one thinks of these staggering events of the evening as compared to their normally quiet life, it is almost surprising that these shepherds were able to grasp the information that the angel told them about how to find the Christ child.

But the part of the message of the angels that I have thought about is regarding what the news of the birth of Jesus means to us as people. First of all, the angel said that he brought to us “good tidings of great joy.” After that, the heavenly host, in their praise to God announced “peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

As I try to imagine what the shepherds must have felt that night; the news that God brought them good tidings of great joy was probably the type of news that they did not hear very much in their daily lives. Another thing that they probably did not hear was that God was “pleased” with them (at least this was the inference). People in the lower rungs of society usually are not accustomed to someone telling them that they are pleased with them. Usually they are made to feel like they are a nuisance or that they are in the way.

Yet God sent His message to these unpretentious men. It was a message of peace. Despite what the powerful and influential people of our world would have us believe, peace in our world is not negotiated in the U.N. building, nor is found in treaties made in the highest ranks of government between rival and competing nations. Peace is found one person at a time. It is not found in the pride of men, but in the lowly. It is found in the simple things of life. Peace is not found in the movers and the shakers of the world, but in the humble and the merciful.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Thursday, December 20, 2012


The snow came in like a torrent.
Covering every tree limb and beast.
And the wind, as if by warrant,
Searched out every crevice and crease.

But the birds continued to feed,
They’re small, but not in the least frail.
And the cows, a strong highland breed,
Stood contently – backs to the gale.

Our dog Tilly sees her main task
As annoying the cats in the mow.
But sometimes, and without being asked,
She runs out to pester the cows.

I did not see the hens about;
They preferred the warmth of their coop.
Perhaps tomorrow they’ll come out,
(They tend to do things as a group).

And as for my day in the snow –
I busied myself on the farm.
I moved not too fast – not too slow,
Enjoying all this bucolic charm.

Monday, December 17, 2012


 There is one part of the Christmas story that is usually ignored, since it does not fit well with the idyllic image that we like to portray in this season. Nevertheless, this year it may have a special significance.

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

This little part of the Christmas story is called Herod’s slaughter of the innocents or his massacre of the innocents. Herod had learned from magi (the wise men) about the birth of what they called “The king of the Jews.” It was Herod’s plan to allow the wise men to find this newly born baby, and when he knew of the location of this potential rival to his throne, to kill the child.
The wise men, however, were warned in a dream not to tell Herod, so they did not return to the king to tell him where the baby Christ child was to be found. When Herod understood that he had been tricked by the wise men, he carried out the despicable and hideous act of sending his henchmen to murder all of the male children of the region who were two years old or younger.

This year, we have had the agony of witnessing our own slaughter of the innocents. I know that what we have experienced has no relation to the Christmas story and it is not my wish to draw any parallels, except one. This I will do in a moment.
However, first I need to say that I have been a little dismayed that even before these little ones of Connecticut have been allowed their funerals, and before their families have had time even to begin to process their grief, we have occupied ourselves in serving our own interests. Our blogs, our facebook postings, and our editorial comments in the newspapers and on the television news have largely been occupied with the pros and cons of gun control and what we should or should not do in relation to private ownership and registration of firearms.
Not surprisingly, there seems to be little change in opinions one way or the other. What has happened is that both extremes on this issue have come up with their own statistics, analyses, facts and figures to corroborate their already predetermined opinions. Ammunition for arguments have been amassed on both sides.
I am not saying that this is not a worthwhile discussion, but somehow it seems to me that this is not quite the time. I know that many disagree with me and say that this is exactly the time, because we suddenly have been confronted with this issue. However, there is something more important we must do first – something that we cannot do if we occupy ourselves with finding backing for our arguments.
What we must first do is the single parallel I would like to make with Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. Here is how the story continues after telling of Herod’s horrific act:

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”
I do not presume to know what any of the families involved with this dreadful incident prefer at this time, but I think I know that if it were me who was directly affected, I would not want to talk about gun control at this time. Certainly I know that I would not want to have the life of my child made ammunition for an argument on either side of the issue.
Rather than any of this, I would just prefer to be allowed the freedom to grieve the loss of my innocent one, and to look for others who would help me in my grief.
It is time to raise our voices, but not in argument.  Rather, as a nation, we need to weep and lament the lives of these little ones.

Monday, December 10, 2012


I have really nothing of great significance to write this evening, but thanks to Facebook (or no thanks), many people from several countries know that today was my birthday. So, I thought that I would chronicle my day. I thought of this beforehand so I even took some photos.
It was a wonderful day. I woke up to our first snowfall of any real significance, about four or five inches. It was sunny early in the morning and then clouded over, and the new snow did what new snow does – it transformed the landscape into something entirely magical.
The snow also gave me a chance to try out my new (new to me) little skidsteer for plowing the yard and driveway. It worked great! Zip-zip, and I was done.
For part of the day I made some shelves for the shop of my nephew (at least, my nephew in a round-about shirttail-relation kind of way), but a highlight of my day was going over to my folk’s house, sitting on the deck and having a cup of coffee. Both my dad and my mom died some years ago, but quite a number of years ago, when we were once home for the winter, it was a very mild 10th of December. I went over to visit mom and dad. Mom and I sat out on the deck for a nice visit and a cup of coffee. After that, every year when Vivian and I and the boys lived overseas, mom would sit on the swing on my birthday and have a cup of coffee, remembering our time together.
That’s what I did today. It was not quite the balmy day that it was those many years ago, but the coffee tasted very good and I recalled many pleasant memories of growing up on that farm, and especially the memories of my mom.
Now, this evening I have with my Vivian. What could be better?  For my birthday, she made me a lemon meringue pie from scratch and using real lemons. I hope each of you also have a 61st birthday as nice!

Monday, December 3, 2012


It is December and we are entering into the Christmas season. The choir at our church sang a song yesterday that reminded me of a poem that I wrote on Christmas Day several years ago.

The first part of the poem (From Mary to me) is loosely based on the song that Mary sang (the Magnificat) after she learned that she was to give birth to Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

The second part (To Mary from me), is my response 

(from Luke 1: 46-55)   
From Mary to me:
There are no words that I can speak
In any language of man,
That can express my thoughts unique
And say what no tongue can.

It is only my soul that can give voice –
My spirit must express my mind.
It is through these I will rejoice
And sing my song to all mankind.

God has remembered me – me His maid,
Though in humility I dwell.
To God I looked, I saw, I prayed,
And now His majesty I tell.

Great and holy is His name.
His arm does mighty deeds.
To our fathers He also came,
And the hungry ones He feeds.

And those, like me, the lowly ones,
He has chosen to exalt.
All human rule becomes undone,
Stuck down by prideful faults.

Generations will call me blessed,
For truly blessed I am.
But it is God’s works that I confess
With the faith of Abraham.

To Mary from me:
Sweet virgin mother Mary,
This one of whom you sing,
That little one you carry,
He is my Lord and King!

He may seem small and meek,
His tired little head will nod.
But when you kiss that chubby cheek,
You kiss the face of God!

He is the stalwart Lion.
He is the Paschal Lamb.
The mighty God of Zion,
He is the great I AM!