Going Without — A Reprise


FamilyWhen I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money which meant that sometimes we had to go without. For me, that meant I mostly got hand-me-downs to wear, and I rarely (ever?) got the latest, greatest toy that TV was advertising on the Saturday morning cartoon shows.

Doing without didn’t mean we were hungry, though I guess there were a few times we came close to having no money for food. I seem to remember a time someone left a bag of groceries on our front porch. During that time my dad, a college professor, took a second job as a door-to-door salesman.

We had days when our evening meal—normally dinner—consisted of spam sandwiches and cornmeal mush. I know it may not sound appetizing, but I personally liked it a lot. Only as an adult did I realize this was a meal we had because we couldn’t afford much else.

There were lunches when Mom fed the five of us from one can of Campbell’s condensed soup. Admittedly, the cans were bigger in those days, but still, that wasn’t a lot of soup for each of us. Some years ago I asked Mom how she managed it, and she said she just added more water. I do remember one time sort of whining when I realized she was going to open only one can: “Aw, Mom, can’t we please have two cans?”

But the bottom line is, I didn’t really realize most of the time that we were going without.

We didn’t have a TV for years, and when we did finally buy one (I was in 3rd grade), it was black and white (yes, they used to make those). We had that TV for years—maybe until I was a senior in high school, and we moved out of the country.

Despite going without as a kid (and not realizing it), I lived an adventurous life. And a secure one. We moved with some frequency, but we had a home base in Colorado where we owned some mountain property. My dad and brother, with help from Mom and us girls and anyone who wanted to visit and help, built a real log cabin. We sort of camped out at first, then Dad put up a one room building we fondly called the shack, which we lived in until the cabin was ready. Neither place had electricity or running water or indoor “facilities.” We had a mountain stream where we got our water and an outhouse where we did our business. 😉

But none of this was part of going without. This was all a part of being so blessed we enjoyed adventurous living. I could tell stories about hiking to a fire tower a few miles above us, to the beaver dams below us, or to rocks we named (Alan’s Rock, Armchair Rock, Bed Rock). Then there were the cook outs we had at the Peak or pine cone fights between us children. I could tell you about the bear that visited and the evenings spent reading stories as a family.

Yeah, none of that had anything to do with going without.

Going without was picking up furniture second hand and driving old cars. But really, that’s not going without.

The point of all this reminiscing is that I think going without taught me the value of stuff—none of it is worth as much as we think. I was happy growing up with less. Not because of what we had or didn’t have but because stuff didn’t rule our lives. We had an old couch, so never thought about putting plastic covers over it like my uncle did with his new, matching living room furniture, or keeping the kids our of the living room because the furniture was too nice, like our neighbors did.

On top of that, God provided (see above the paragraphs about adventurous living).

Who else has this whole forest to play in? Part of the play involved hauling water and helping to bring in firewood. We got to unpack the barrels where we kept the cabin stuff and to wash clothes by hand. There was a sense of family pulling together to survive—everybody chipping in, everybody bringing something important to the table.

There we were, no telephone, no car—we had to hike in because the road was too rough and at that time we were too poor for a jeep. Only a kerosene lamp, a lantern, and flashlights. We heated water to wash, used the cold mountain stream as our refrigerator. And there was only a sense of adventure, a joy in the everyday tasks.

Sure, this was short term. We didn’t live in the cabin year-round. But the value of going without is priceless, and lasting. Because it was abundantly clear that we didn’t need a TV to be happy or entertained. We didn’t need a lot. We needed each other, and that was probably the most important take-away for me.

This post is an edited version of the one that appeared her in July, 2015.

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Published in: on June 1, 2018 at 4:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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My Most Unforgettable Christmas – A Reprise


California Sagebrush

California Sagebrush


Speaking of the trappings of Christmas as I did yesterday, I thought it might be fitting to do a look back to what I wrote in other years about the things that surround Christmas.

– – – – –

When I was seventeen, I lived with my family in Tanzania for a year. I’d never traveled much and really had no desire to live outside the US. But I didn’t feel particularly ready to launch out on my own, so I spent that last year “at home” in a country that gave no pretense to being a Christian nation.

It was an unusual feeling as the holiday season rolled around. No one was decorating for Christmas or playing carols. Not even Santa made an appearance.

We did our best to uphold our traditions. We conjured up a plant we called a Christmas tree–more like a large bit of sagebrush. We had no lights or ornaments or tinsel, so we imitated pioneers of old and made things to hang for decorations.

We started with strings of popcorn. This is not as homey and romantic as it first seemed. For one thing, the popcorn liked to break apart as much as it liked to have a string passed through it. For another, it was tedious work. But at last that poor, sad, drooping sorry excuse for a Christmas tree had something on it we could pretend to be decorations.

The best part truly was shopping. We had to travel the two hundred miles south from our town to the capital city of Dar es Salaam. We spent a day, maybe two prowling the stores to find gifts for each other–things that would be useful and memorable and beautiful. We wrapped our gifts in some paper I’m sure my mom found which came the closest to Christmas wrapping, then we piled them under the Sorriest Christmas Tree ever. I mean, ours made Charlie Brown’s tree look ritzy.

I don’t remember the details of that day. What I do remember is the love and laughter and joy we shared. The gifts weren’t about getting what we wanted. That was already out the window–we weren’t getting the latest or greatest or newest or most stylish. Rather, the gifts were an expression of the love and thoughtfulness each of us put into them. Like the tree, they were more on the sorry side–not ultimate treasures, not even diamonds in the rough. But getting stuff wasn’t the point. Exchanging expressions of love and being together was what we cared about.

I’m pretty sure we read the Christmas story—it was a bit of family tradition, and we probably opened up one present Christmas Eve. We may have awakened to the strains of Handel’s Messiah, too. There may have even been a church service that day. These things would be part of the norm, so I don’t remember them particularly.

But that tree was one of a kind, and I’ll never forget it. Nor will I forget living in a country that considered Christmas little more than another day of the year. For the first time, I got a glimpse of how a Christian heritage leaves an imprint on a culture.

Just like footprints, though, which wind or waves or time can erase, the impact of Christianity can fade unless one generation passes along to the next what Christianity is all about. Not hanging lights or singing carols at a certain time each year, mind you. In fact, the real impact of Christianity has much more to do with what happens before and after December 25 than it does on that particular day.

But it doesn’t hurt to create a memorable Christmas Day. Traditions are great, but what sets apart one Christmas from another is the unusual or different. Like a sad looking imitation of a Christmas tree. 😀

Published in: on December 13, 2017 at 4:54 pm  Comments (1)  
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For Me . . . What’s My Focus?



We live in such a “me” era, which started with the “Me Generation” back in the 1970s and has only escalated with the Generation Me of the following decade. So I hesitated to feature the words “For Me” in the title of this post. On one hand the phrase seems quite contemporary, but does it fit with what God’s word has to say?

Actually “For me” is the beginning of one of the Apostle Paul’s most well-known statements recorded in the Bible: “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21 – Most translations say, “For to me . . .” but the difference doesn’t seem to affect the meaning). In other words, the concept of focusing on the individual has a place in Scripture. Essentially Paul was making a declaration about his life—what he valued, what was of utmost importance to him, and the short version that encapsulated the focus and direction of who he was, could be summarized in one word: Christ.

Recently I heard a sermon that turned that question back onto the hearer, or onto those reading Paul’s statement. If I were writing the line, when I came to, “For me, to live is ___,” how would I fill in the blank?

Would a truthful answer be something like, For me, to live is being a writer? Or since I’m such a sports fan and am so excited for the beginning of the new NFL season, would the truthful statement be, For me, to live is football. There are lots of options. For me, to live is my family. For me, to live is fiction. For me, to live is reading.

Obviously there are many good things that can fit into the blank, but none more significant than Paul’s original statement. Nothing is better than Christ. Not good story telling. Not art. Not speculative fiction. Not any of the things we so often make our focus, the things we write about and value.

Paul’s statement, instead of encouraging us to fit Christ in with our passion (I can fit Christ into my passion for football by praying for the players, for example), challenges us to live in such a way that Christ becomes our main focus.

Narrowing our focus in that way can be hard. We love our family. We love our pet. We love our job. We love our community of people who think as we do and have a passion similar to our own. In short we love our speculative world.

I love storytelling. I love competition. I love to discuss and debate. I love pizza. I love fantasy. I love the Dodgers. I love the Denver Broncos. I love my friends and family.

The question is, do any of the things I love become the thing I live for? For me, to live is ___. Where does my love for my favorite things fit into the eternal scheme of things? Would I rather have Christ than football? Than fantasy?

I don’t believe for one minute that imagination is evil or that speculative stories, by nature of their inventiveness, are evil. Otherwise, we’d have to believe that Adam and Eve, who were part of the world that God called “very good” had no imagination, and there’s nothing in Scripture to tie the fall of humankind to acquiring an imagination. So I have to conclude that our imagination is God-given.

On the other hand, we know from any number of passages, that sin changed the color of our life. We don’t simply have a dirty spot that needs to be erased. Instead we are scarlet, and it colors our will and our intentions and our preferences and, yes, our imagination. But ditching our imagination does not deal with the problem. Only Christ’s blood shed on the cross can wash us so that what was scarlet becomes white as snow (Is 1:18).

He didn’t wash only our will. Or only our preferences. He washed even our imagination. But just as our will must be brought under subjection to Him, so our imagination must be brought under subjection to Him.

In fact, if we can say with Paul, For me, to live is Christ, than there’s nothing that we ought not bring under His rule and sway. In other words, for me, I’d rather obey Christ than read fantasy, than watch football, than spend time with friends. Or at least that’s where I should be.

This article is a revised version of my post this week at Speculative Faith.

Published in: on September 21, 2017 at 5:08 pm  Comments (1)  
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Going Without


FamilyWhen I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money which meant that sometimes we had to go without. For me, that meant I mostly got hand-me-downs to wear, and I rarely got the latest, greatest toy that TV was advertising on cartoon shows.

Doing without didn’t mean we were hungry, though I guess there were a few times we came close to having no money for food. I seem to remember a time someone left a bag of groceries on our front porch, and my dad, a college teacher, took a second job as a door-to-door salesman.

We had days when our evening meal—normally dinner—consisted of spam sandwiches and cornmeal mush. I know it may not sound appetizing, but I personally liked it a lot. Only as an adult did I realize this was a meal we had because we couldn’t afford much else.

There were lunches when Mom fed the five of us from one can of Campbell’s condensed soup. Admittedly, the cans were bigger in those days, but still, that wasn’t a lot of soup. Some years ago I asked Mom how she managed it, and she said she just added more water. I do remember one time sort of whining when I realized she was going to open only one can: “Aw, Mom, can’t we please have two cans?”

But the bottom line is that I didn’t really realize most of the time that we were going without.

We didn’t have a TV for years, and when we did finally buy one, it was black and white (yes, they used to make those). We had that TV for years—maybe until I was a senior in high school, and we moved out of the country.

Despite going without as a kid (and not realizing it), I lived an adventurous life. And a secure one. We moved with some frequency, but we had a home base in Colorado where we owned some mountain property. My dad and brother, with help from Mom and us girls and anyone who wanted to visit and help, built a real log cabin. We sort of camped out at first, then Dad put up a one room building we fondly called the shack, which we lived in until the cabin was ready. Neither place had electricity or running water or indoor “facilities.” We had a mountain stream where we got our water and an outhouse where we did our business. 😉

But none of this was part of going without. This was all a part of being so blessed we enjoyed adventurous living. I could tell stories about hiking to a fire tower a few miles above us, to the beaver dams below us, or to rocks we named (Alan’s Rock, Armchair Rock, Bed Rock). Then there were the cook outs we had at the Peak or pine cone fights with my brother. I could tell you about the bear that visited and the evenings spent reading stories as a family.

Yeah, none of that had anything to do with going without.

Going without was picking up furniture second hand and driving old cars. But really, that’s not going without.

The point of all this reminiscing is that I think going without taught me the value of stuff—none of it is worth as much as we think. I was happy growing up with less. Not because of what we had or didn’t have but because stuff didn’t rule our lives. We had an old couch, so never thought about putting plastic covers over it like my uncle did with his new, matching living room furniture.

On top of that, God provided (see above the paragraphs about adventurous living).

Who else has this whole forest to play in? Part of the play involved hauling water and helping to bring in firewood. We got to unpack the barrels where we kept the cabin stuff and to wash clothes by hand. There was a sense of family pulling together to survive—everybody chipping in, everybody bringing something important to the table.

There we were, no telephone, no car—we had to hike in because the road was too rough and at that time we were too poor for a jeep. Only a kerosene lamp, a lantern, and flashlights. We heated water to wash, used the cold mountain stream as our refrigerator to keep food cold. And there was only a sense of adventure, a joy in the everyday tasks.

Sure, this was short term. We didn’t live in the cabin year-round. But the value of going without is priceless, and lasting. Because it was abundantly clear that we didn’t need a TV to be happy or entertained. We didn’t need a lot. We needed each other, and that was probably the most important take-away for me.

Published in: on July 21, 2015 at 6:04 pm  Comments (5)  
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Shame And Trusting God


RockClimbingA growing concern connected to Internet communication is shame. I read a post yesterday that cited several instances in which shame campaigns grew up around something a person posted—either a picture or comments. In the end, more than one person lost their job.

I’m not linking to the article because I disagree with the solution—and that’s not really my topic. The problem of shame is.

I have a friend who recounts ways a particular family member shamed others. The baggage from that cares over to adulthood.

I’d never thought about shame before. I came from a family with parents who loved me. It wasn’t perfect. My siblings and I were quite competitive and always struggled with the idea that one or the other (but never me—and we all thought this) was favored. Still, though I suspected I wasn’t the favorite, I still knew I was loved.

As a teen, of course, I was sometimes embarrassed about my family and even about my faith, but I didn’t feel shame in the way my friend describes it.

I wonder now if freedom from shame was connected to my being a Christian. What I’m discovering in Scripture, though, are verses addressing shame.

I suppose it would help if I gave a picture of what I perceive shame to be. Let’s say a person is expected to be the top of his class, but in the last semester, he forgets to write down the due date of a major paper, turns it in late, and gets a B. Someone else claims top honors. He had his chance and blew it. He bears the shame of his failure.

Shame is also something a person feels when a person you hold in high esteem says they’re disappointed in you. Or they tell others things like, he probably won’t have the grades to get into med school. It’s a public declaration of inadequacy.

So here are the verses about shame that have caught my attention. There are four. First, in Philippians:

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.(1:18b-20)

Paul was essentially saying he knew he’d be delivered (he was imprisoned at the time), and that he would not be put to shame for believing so, whether he lived or died because Christ would be exalted either way.

1 Peter 4:16 is the next passage:

but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.

At first this verse seems to address the kind of embarrassment I felt when I was a kid having to tell people I belonged to the Mennonite denomination—which most people in my SoCal public high school had never heard of. But the context would seem to indicate there’s much more to this. Peter was addressing believers who were being persecuted because they believed in Jesus. Writing to the churches in Asia Minor, the Apostle Peter wanted to assure them that their suffering was not a sign of defeat. He encouraged them by reminding them that it was temporary, that it was expected, that it gave glory to God, that they were blessed that God had chosen them to suffer for His name’s sake.

In other words, suffering as a Christian was not a mark of failure but of accomplishment. Therefore, they had nothing to be ashamed about.

The thing is, when someone trusts God and then continues to suffer and even to die, the world can point the finger as they did at Jesus Himself and say, See, if your God was real, He could get you out of this mess. He’s failed you because He doesn’t care or isn’t strong enough or because you didn’t believe enough or He plain isn’t there.

Peter was assuring these early Christians that none of those accusations was true. In fact, in chapter five, he specifically mentions the devil, who, among other things, is the Accuser of the brethren. It’s easy to miss the connection between what Peter says about the devil and what he says right afterward about suffering, but I think it’s the issue of shame. Here’s that passage:

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. (5:8-9)

Suffering, Peter says, is an experience Christians all over the world are going through. It’s not a sign of failure. It’s not something to be ashamed about.

There’s another one in Psalm 37, but I’m going to cut to the last one since I sneaked in a second passage from 1 Peter. This last one is the one that has helped me tie my thoughts together about this. It’s a short verse: Psalm 71:1.

In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge;
Let me never be ashamed.

The unidentified psalmist is putting his life, his destiny, his soul in God’s hands, and if that decision turned out to be foolish—if God failed Him—he’d be ashamed before those who didn’t think God could take care of him.

I view this as sort of his “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” moment. He’s tying himself to God. There is no one else to which he could go—just as Peter said about Jesus. But he knows how this must look to those who haven’t made God their refuge. It looks dangerous, foolish.

You know the old joke, about the guy who falls from a cliff but is able to grab hold of a safety rope. He starts yelling for help: “Is anybody up there! I need help!” Suddenly a voice from heaven says, I’m here. What do you need. “I can’t hold on much longer,” the guy says. “Can you help me get back to the top?” No problem, the voice from heaven answers. Let go of the rope, and I’ll catch you. The man hesitated a moment, then yells, “Is anybody else up there?”

Dangerous. Sometimes the things God asks of us feel dangerous. Or foolish.

We aren’t risk takers. We’ve been taught to be good stewards of our resources, so we want to know we have enough money stashed away for retirement, for example, to cover our expenses should we live to be 143. We cringe when we read about Abraham going, not knowing where, just because God told him to pull up stakes and head in the direction of the Great Sea. Most likely Abraham didn’t even know there was a Great Sea. He was simply going until God told him to stop.

He wasn’t ashamed to be a friend of God, even when it meant marching to the top of a mountain with his son as the intended sacrifice. He did what others may have thought risky, foolish. But he had confidence in God. Ah, one more passage:

yet, with respect to the promise of God, he [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. (Romans 4:20-21)

Fully assured—not in himself, but in God and His promise! I’m pretty sure that’s what keeps a person from being ashamed.

Published in: on June 2, 2015 at 6:05 pm  Comments (8)  
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Laughter Is The Best Medicine


woman laughingPeople don’t often think about it, but God has a sense of humor. He has to since He made Humankind in His image, complete with a sense of humor. As an aside, a sense of humor is one of the things that sets humans apart from animals. I’ve never seen a dog pull off a good practical joke and they don’t really get knock-knock jokes, which I suppose could be blamed on the fact that they can’t make a fist. But that’s neither here nor there.

I’ve been thinking about winter, largely because the news has been carrying stories about the far-reaching cold blanketing (but not in a warming way) the US of late. A number of people have a hard time with winter, not simply because they don’t like the cold, but because they get depressed.

My Aunt Doris was one who had difficulties with winter—something about the reduced exposure to the sun’s rays, I believe.

More and more people, on either their blogs or Facebook have remarked about how they can’t wait for spring and they’re glad the days are once again getting longer. One blogger I follow, InsanityBytes, mentioned the winter issue in a recent post about hyperbole. Here’s the pertinent paragraph:

A headline this morning declared “80 million Americans Threatened.” That sounds rather ominous, so I decided to read the article. What threatens us this morning is “winter.” Well, when did that start happening?? There ought to be a law! This is a great offense indeed. I’m quite annoyed by this winter thing and liable to join some social justice campaign against it, perhaps engage in a bit of anti-winter advocacy. Winter definitely needs to be stopped. 80 million Americans threatened, ban it!

laughter-1-58874-mWell, I don’t know about you, but I got a good chuckle from that as I generally do when I read InsanityBites’s posts. Maybe I share her sense of humor, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people did. It’s not dirty, crass, mean-spirited, or ugly, though she does often make a point which might make a person take a hard look inside or smart a little if they’re not willing to.

So, where am I going with all this. I think God gave us humor, but it’s hard to engage in laughter during winter time. People tend to bundle up with scarves in front of their mouths, so others can’t see them smiling and may even think that little chuckle they emitted was just them clearing their throat.

Plus, so many more people are staying home because of the cold, so there’s not the happy camaraderie and accompanying humor we experience the other three seasons. Too bad, I think. We’re left with the news and bad TV sitcoms, neither of which provides genuine laughter (just the mocking, snickering kind).

Oh, sure, there’s the occasional funny pet photo posted on Facebook, and thank goodness for YouTube!

But seriously, we’re missing out if we don’t get a chance to laugh uproariously every now and then. This principle is actually Biblical:

A joyful heart [laughter in the King James Version] is good medicine,
But a broken spirit dries up the bones. (Prov. 17:22)

Not surprisingly, science has now proven that laughter is actually, physically good medicine because when we laugh our brain releases endorphins—a natural analgesic. But according to the Mayo Clinic, it also “enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles . . .” In addition, laughter “fires up and then cools down your stress response and increases your heart rate and blood pressure.”

Medicine.

Maybe we’ve grown too distant from each other—not like families of yesteryear who regularly sat down together for meals or played games once in a while or talked to each other. Talked and laughed.

dancing-girls-63133-mSome of the greatest belly laughs I can remember were with my family when I was growing up. My dad had a way of keeping us laughing once we got started. Of course there were a few times when laughter wasn’t really appropriate, but trying to hold it in only made the situation funnier and made us laugh harder.

As a family we tickled and teased and joked. We enjoyed comedy, too, from Shakespeare’s plays to classic I Love Lucy. (I saw a slice of one of those old shows recently, and it still made me laugh).

So maybe the best way to get through winter is to laugh our way through it. I imagine if we laugh hard enough, another benefit will be to raise our body temperature! 😆

Published in: on January 9, 2015 at 6:13 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Peace That Is Up To You


mall-at-christmas-699243-mMuch of the time, when we talk about peace, we’re referring to the absence of conflict. Most of us don’t relish conflict in our lives. Oh, we love it in the novels we read, the movies we watch, and in our favorite TV programs. When it comes to stories, conflict makes them tense and puts us on the edge of our seats.

Some people might even like conflict in an intellectual way, so they encourage debate and get involved in controversial Internet discussions.

But few of us like conflict with our family or friends or boss or co-workers. We don’t have that fictitious expectation that the conflict will work its way out for the good and the protagonist (ME) will reach a new state of happy equilibrium. In real conflict, we get thrust into uncertainty. What if this problem is so great it leads to divorce? What if my son defies me? What if my friend pulls away? What if I get fired? What if my co-worker takes his complaint over my head? What if . . .

Conflict is so uncomfortable, some people just wish it away. If we wait long enough, the thinking goes, emotions will simmer down and we won’t have to confront these ugly conflict issues because the other party won’t care so much. Honestly, that tactic can work. Except there’s an unspoken list of grievances that gets started. At some point, that list gets so long, the person keeping it simply has had enough and out comes every fragment of unresolved conflict that’s been added from the start.

The explosions of temper can be hard to handle. One party may have no clue where this sudden and seemingly unreasoned flare up has come from, and the other, armed to the teeth, lets loose with every vindictive accusation imaginable. It’s not a pretty scene and one that will be much harder to dig out of than the original conflict.

But we don’t like conflict. So are we destined to face either huge blow-ups from time to time or a steady diet of smaller conflicts we have to resolve?

Certainly some conflicts are inevitable. You can’t both have the last piece of pie. You can’t both drive. You can’t both pick the movie you’re going to see. These are small things, but they illustrate the point that some conflict will come our way and must be resolved.

In the resolution we have some guidance from Scripture. 1 Thessalonians 5:13b says, “live in peace with one another.” But clearly this is not an admonition to avoid conflict because the next verse goes on to say, “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.”

Hebrews adds another layer to these commands: “Pursue peace with all men . . . See to it that . . . no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble and by it many be defiled” (12:14-15).

The command nature of these passages suggests this peace is dependent upon what we do. We can live in peace or not. We can pursue peace or not. In Romans Paul gives instruction how we’re to do this:

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:9-21, emphases added)

So much wisdom there. In a nutshell, we aren’t going to achieve peace in every circumstance because it isn’t entirely up to us, but we should take care of what we can take care of.

We can be devoted not to ourselves but others, give preference to the other guy, hang in there when it’s hard, share what we have with people in need, speak kindly to those harassing us, empathize with people whether they’re in good circumstances or hard ones, keep from being proud, realize we aren’t all that, refuse to pay back those who hurt us, defeat bad behavior with good.

Peace at Christmas seems to be a tad harder than at any other time. We have more to do, for one thing, but we may also have more people in our lives than usual. We have the annoying aunt spending the week with us or the guy from the mail room we usually avoid who we end up sitting next to at the office party. We have the kids’ Christmas program to go to and all that shopping in the overly crowded malls.

Even looking for a parking place can send peace flying from our minds. Preference to others? No way! That was my parking place. I saw it first and I’ve been circling this lot for the last ten minutes!

Here’s the key. Imagine we’re servants (think Downton Abbey and the downstairs servants). We are at the beck and call of the upstairs people we serve. We eat and sleep according to their schedules. We go to them when they ring, no matter what they might be interrupting. Our focus is simply on their needs, not ours.

That, I believe, is the way of peace this passage sets out—so far as it depends on us.

Published in: on December 11, 2014 at 5:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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My Most Unforgettable Christmas


California Sagebrush

California Sagebrush


When I was seventeen, I lived with my family in Tanzania for a year. I’d never traveled much and really had no desire to live outside the US. But I didn’t feel particularly ready to launch out on my own, so I spent that last year “at home” in a country that gave no pretense to being a Christian nation.

It was an unusual feeling as the holiday season rolled around. No one was decorating for Christmas or playing carols. Not even Santa made an appearance.

We did our best to uphold our traditions. We conjured up a plant we called a Christmas tree–more like a large bit of sagebrush. We had no lights or ornaments or tinsel, so we imitated pioneers of old and made things to hang for decorations.

We started with strings of popcorn. This is not as homey and romantic as it first seemed. For one thing, the popcorn liked to break apart as much as it liked to have a string passed through it. For another, it was tedious work. But at last that poor, sad, drooping sorry excuse for a Christmas tree had something on it we could pretend to be decorations.

The best part truly was shopping. We had to travel the two hundred miles south from our town to the capital city of Dar es Salaam. We spent a day, maybe two prowling the stores to find gifts for each other–things that would be useful and memorable and beautiful. We wrapped our gifts in some paper I’m sure my mom found which came the closest to Christmas wrapping, then we piled them under the Sorriest Christmas Tree ever. I mean, ours made Charlie Brown’s tree look ritzy.

I don’t remember the details of that day. What I do remember is the love and laughter and joy we shared. The gifts weren’t about getting what we wanted. That was already out the window–we weren’t getting the latest or greatest or newest or most stylish. Rather, the gifts were an expression of the love and thoughtfulness each of us put into them. Like the tree, they were more on the sorry side–not ultimate treasures, not even diamonds in the rough. But getting stuff wasn’t the point. Exchanging expressions of love and being together was what we cared about.

I’m pretty sure we read the Christmas story–it was a bit of family tradition, and we probably opened up one present Christmas Eve. We may have awakened to the strains of Handel’s Messiah, too. There may have even been a church service that day. These things would be part of the norm, so I don’t remember them particularly.

But that tree was one of a kind, and I’ll never forget it. Nor will I forget living in a country that considered Christmas little more than another day of the year. For the first time, I got a glimpse of how a Christian heritage leaves an imprint on a culture.

Just like footprints, though, which wind or waves or time can erase, the impact of Christianity can fade unless one generation passes along to the next what Christianity is all about. Not hanging lights or singing carols at a certain time each year, mind you. In fact, the real impact of Christianity has much more to do with what happens before and after December 25 than it does on that particular day.

But it doesn’t hurt to create a memorable Christmas Day. Traditions are great, but what sets apart one Christmas from another is the unusual or different. Like a sad looking imitation of a Christmas tree. 😀

Published in: on December 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm  Comments (2)  
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