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Misty morning – Tlacolula Valley – Mexico

2022 is coming ’round the bend, and you can be sure it is loaded with affliction, anguish, battles, calamity, catastrophe, confusion, difficulties, financial setbacks, family issues, misfortune, obstacles, pandemic, sorrow, spiritual attacks, stress, trials, tribulation, work drama, unexpected loss, vexations and a ton of zabernism (the misuse or abuse of military authority) around the world.

What should we do when we encounter nastiness and unpleasantness? What mindset can help us through frustration and disappointment? How can we remain happy and content amid the turmoil and trouble that we will inevitably encounter in 2022?

Our modern world is full of books, articles, essays, blogs, podcasts, youtubers, conferences and retreats that aim to answer those questions in a myriad of ways. But for me, I found a nugget of truth I plan on hanging onto in 2022, from Thomas Haemmerlein, also known as Thomas a Kempis, that dates back to the 14th century. He wrote in his book The Imitation of Christ, in a chapter called That all troubles are to be endured for the sake of eternal life:

An hour shall come when all labour and confusion shall cease. Little and short is all that passeth away with time….Peace shall come in one day which is known to the Lord; which shall be neither day nor night, but light eternal, infinite clearness, steadfast peace, and undisturbed rest….death will be utterly destroyed, and there shall be salvation which can never fail, no more anxiety, happy delight, sweet and noble society.

Thomas a Kempis is giving us all words to live by and to thrive by when we are going through times of difficulties. He is reminding us to always have in mind a larger perspective and bigger picture than we normally have, especially when events and circumstances are not going our way; are not fitting into our plan. He is telling us to look at life from the vantage point of Eternity. The picture doesn’t get any bigger than that. With that view, everything changes.

With eternity in mind (or our eternal home and heavenly country, as Kempis writes in a later chapter) we can think better and overcome the challenges that sometimes surround us. All pain and suffering eventually become “little and short” and soon pass away, even if they last a lifetime, because a lifetime on earth is but a drop of water in the ocean of eternity.

Compare present turmoil to “steadfast peace, undisturbed rest, no more anxiety, and happy delight” that will endure forever and ever.

We don’t know what 2022 holds for us, but we do know Who holds 2022 – Our loving Heavenly Father! We are his dearly loved children, and he will tenderly care for us, in the coming year and for eternity.

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14

This has been A Christmas Carol Christmas season for me. I didn’t go looking for it, but it seems at every turn I have been bumping into it.

It started a couple weeks ago when I was reading an article in Mockingbird by Alison Kjergaard, titled A Christmas Carol and Grace in Practice, which I highly recommend. I was inspired and challenged by it and thought it would be a good jumping off point for a blog post. She focused on the quote above.

Shortly after reading that article I was listening to a Christian podcast about A Christmas Carol (sorry, don’t remember which one). But I do remember listening to the In Our Time podcast with Melvin Brag and his guests who spent 45 minutes talking about Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic. Also the podcast The American Story touched on it. Finally, I read an essay from the Imaginative Conservative by Chuck Chalberg called Christmas Dinner with G.K. Chesterton where he referenced an essay by Chesterton. Chesterton mentioned the “soul of Scrooge and the body of Cratchit”.

After all that, I decided I should gather the family around and watch the movie since I have not seen it for years, and my children never. I forgot how mean and humbuggety Scrooge was throughout the movie and how transformed his life was at the end-a man who ended up keeping Christmas as well as any man alive. I must admit I shed a few tears. Some because of the wonderful change in Ebeneezer Scrooge, and some because of the scroogieness that still dwells within me. I don’t know if it is my culture, nurture or bent nature that occasionally brings out the humbug in me, but I know I don’t like it. I’m still a man in need of a Savior.

The Christmas Carol thing that really got my attention through the Scrooge deluge was the quote above from Jacob Marley which comes toward the beginning of the book and the movie, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Isn’t that a great line? Especially hard hitting for a lot of us who are more task oriented than people or relationship oriented. Even though I grew up in a Christian home, it seems to me that the task is what was usually front and center in my developing years. My family lived on a farm and there was always pigs to feed, fields to seed and a garden to weed! That was beside regular household chores and schoolwork. Certainly there was love expressed in various ways between the family members, and the message of the love of God was never far off, but what primarily stuck for me was to accomplish the task. Do the business and do it good. Even after Bible college and 16 years of giving of my time, talents and treasure here at the home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico, I sometimes forget the reason I am here – charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, and I end up more focused on planting gardens, watering plants, killing bugs and pulling weeds, since I am the gardener.

So, just as Jacob Marley had to give Scrooge the business about what is the true business of life, I have to remind myself that people are more important than projects, relationships are more important than responsibilities, and the well being of my neighbor is more important than the well being of my garden. Loving and helping humanity is my business because it is God’s business.

I think we should all try to be more devoted to making others lives beautiful rather than our own; living the love of God rather than loving the “good life”; tending to souls rather than careers. If we have these attitudes and actions we will enjoy God more and truly glorify him in our lives, families, churches and world.

Truly he taught us to love one another

His law is love and His gospel is peace

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother

And in His name all oppression shall cease

From O Holy Night

Recently I was reading the first chapter of first Peter when a phrase in verse 18 hit me – Empty Way of Life. Peter is telling his readers that now that you are believers you should be holy in all that you do (15) and live in reverent fear of God (17). In verse 18 he reminds them that before they were redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, they were living an empty way of life. Those four words – empty way of life – prompted me to begin thinking of our culture and all the people who think their lives are full, but are really empty. Here are a few thoughts for all of us to consider:

If your checking account, savings account and wallet are full of money, but you don’t know the riches of God’s love, your life is empty.

If your Christmas tree of life has been filled with beautiful ornaments like cars, houses, fine furniture, new appliances and electronic gadgets, but you don’t know the Christ of Christmas, your life is empty.

If your time is full of political podcasts, right wing books or left wing propaganda, and you know powerful people in high places, but you haven’t experienced the power of the Holy Spirit, your life is empty.

If you identify as LGBTQ but aren’t the least bit concerned about WWJD, then your life is empty.

If you give lots of money to charity and spend lots of time promoting good causes, but have not received God’s gift of forgiveness, your life is empty.

If you love things, wealth and power, but don’t love God and people, deeply, from the heart (verse 22), then your life is empty.

As is attributed to Pascal, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” Or, perhaps more accurately, “this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”.

This Christmas season may we make a greater effort to read God’s Word, meditate on his promises, ponder the incredible significance of the baby in the manger, internalize the importance of Emmanuel and thus enjoy truly full lives.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 1 Peter 1:18-19

Second Chronicles 14 begins by reporting that Abijah, king of Judah, had died and that his son, Asa, succeeded him, and that the country was at peace for ten years. That was primarily because “Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD his God.”

Verse eight tells us that he had an army of 580,000 men, from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and that they were well equipped with various types of arms.

That is a nice place to be in life. Living at peace with everyone and secure. Confident. Well off. No worries. If only it could last.

We are informed in 2 Chronicles 14:9 that Zerah the Cushite marched out against them with an army of thousands upon thousands and three hundred chariots as well. The kingdom of Judah was clearly out numbered and in a tight spot.

What was King Asa’s strategy? PRAY! He called out to the LORD his God and said,”LORD, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. LORD, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you.”

Life in the kingdom wasn’t so peaceful anymore. King Asa and his subjects were in trouble. King Asa falls to his knees in prayer. Well, like the words in the song Higher, by Unspoken say, “That’s a pretty good place to be.” It can lead to treasure. It can lead to plunder.

Verse 12 – Good News! “The LORD struck down the Cushites before Asa and Judah. The Cushites fled, and Asa and his army pursued them as far as Gerar. Such a great number of Cushites fell that they could not recover; they were crushed before the LORD and his forces. The men of Judah carried off a large amount of plunder.”

So there you have it. King Asa and the kingdom of Judah were living in peace, not bothering anyone, just minding their own business. And then the bully Zerah the Cushite decides his own kingdom isn’t enough anymore. He wants King Asa’s kingdom, which isn’t really King Asa’s kingdom, but God Almighty’s kingdom. This time Zerah the Cushite picked on the wrong King and kingdom. Asa prayed and put his trust in the One, True God. God honored his prayer and his trust and not only was the Cushite army destroyed, but Judah ended up with a lot of plunder. That’s a pretty good place to be!

Now I’m not saying that (problems + prayer = plunder) all the time; or that (trials + trust = treasure) in every situation, but it does happen more frequently than you might imagine. Remember the story of Gideon and his 300 men going up against 120,000 Midianites? The Midianites were routed and plundered, with God doing most of the heavy lifting, if you know what I mean. (Judges 7-8) Or how about King Hezekiah and Jerusalem under siege by more than 200,000 soldiers under Sennacherib. Hezekiah prays that God would deliver his people, and “that night the angel of the LORD went out and put to death 185,000 in the Assyrian camp. Sennacherib retreated in haste and his camp was plundered.

It pays to pray and trust God!

I wish I could say that our friend King Asa lived happily ever after, but that is not the case. He stopped praying and trusting God. Toward the end of his life he started trusting in men, and not in God. Hanani, a prophet/seer, confronted Asa, and reminded him of the good ole days when he trusted God. He told Asa that the “eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those who hearts are fully committed to him.” But now that Asa’s heart was committing to foreign nations and looking to them for help; he was under the judgment of the LORD. Asa was angry with Hanani and put him in prison. He also began to brutally oppress some of his people. Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet, but still did not seek help from the LORD. He died two years later. (2 Chronicles 16)

We suffer needlessly when we reject God and rely solely on humans.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5,6

Art work by Elaine Croft

Proverbs 16 gives us some important insight into how our words can help other people. It talks about “gracious words”.

The wise in heart are called discerning and gracious words promote instruction. (21)

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. (24)

The definition of gracious is courteous, kind, and pleasant.

According to the author of Proverbs, gracious words do three things: promote instruction, are sweet to the soul and are healing to the bones.

What would be the opposite of gracious words? And what do they do?

The opposite would be cruel words; degrading words; sarcastic words; insulting words. Instead of promoting instruction, these words hinder growth. They are not sweet to the soul like honey, but bitter like gall. They do not promote physical well being, but invite sickness and poor health.

When I think of these two extremes, I think of the art work in the picture above. Gracious words are like roses. They are beautiful and sweet smelling and bring life and happiness to the soul. Harsh or demeaning words are like dry, lifeless, dead bones and benefit no one.

This Advent season I want to be more intentional about my words. I want to put kind, courteous and pleasant words into the spiritual and emotional Christmas stockings of those I come in contact with – my family, friends, co-workers and even complete strangers. I want my words to be sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Perhaps we can all take Mother Teresa’s advice and speak kind words into our world, and then step back and listen to the endless echoes.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their need, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

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