Resolving More Specifically to Do More

Last year, I resolved to read more. It was a generic resolution. And one without the means to measure.

This year, I resolve to do better in a more specific way. The accumulation of a pile of books–some I began and set aside and one I’m plowing through–is the foundation of my measure.

I began one book a few days before New Years Day–Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler. Bowler, a Duke Divinity professor specializing in the prosperity Gospel, writes of her struggles as a thirty-something new mother struggling against terminal cancer. She writes in the present tense, and her writing is raw and real. More on this very worthy read ahead.

Another book I’d already begun is The Way of Abundance by Ann Voskamp–a 60-day devotional I set aside briefly to focus on Christmas preparation and Advent-type readings. So far, Voskamp maintains, as usual, a compelling voice of walking in the way of Christ even during difficulty.

The next book I plan to tackle is Dawn–the second book in Elie Wiesel’s Night trilogy. I read Night once, voluntarily, out of curiosity. I read it again, involuntarily to a degree, after accidentally enrolling in a graduate class in Holocaust Literature.

I thought I had signed up for the other lit class at the same time. After all, who would want to study Holocaust Literature for a whole semester? Once I realized my mistake, I decided it was probably too late to try to switch classes. It was my last semester of grad school. I’d just gut it out.

Perhaps my mistake was an accident, or perhaps it was the guidance of God because that class was fabulous. The teacher was the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor and the head of the university’s English department. Best. Class. I. Had. In. Grad. School.

I’ve been curious about Dawn–Wiesel’s first work of fiction–but never took the time–never put it in my pile and never made myself publicly accountable–until now.

Two historical bios inhabit the pile–A Pope and a President by Paul Kengor is about Pope Saint John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan–and Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas.

And there are two books by Greg Groeschel–Altar Ego and #Struggles. I found Groeschel viewing last summer’s Global Leadership Summit.

Jordan Peterson, George Weigel, and Russell Moore round out the enrichment side of the pile. Markus Zusak, the entertainment side, and Karen Wickre’s Taking the Work out of Networking, a professional enrichment pursuit.

So that’s the pile–my resolution to read with a specific measure. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. And please let me know what you’re reading!

Happy New Year!

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Darkening America, Illuminating Light

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.” Charles Dickens

When I was a radio news reporter, I wanted to do a special Christmas feature for the morning drive program.

I wrote a poem to record to music but wanted another voice along with my own on the piece. So I went to my kids’ elementary school and interviewed six first graders. I asked them, “What is Christmas?”

Three of them talked about Jesus. But the other three made no mention of Him. To them, Christmas was all about Santa and presents. Nothing more.

My sample was small and young. Hardly a statistical representation of first graders, let alone Americans in general.

But my results actually came close to how Americans view Christmas today. Pew has issued a study showing that only 55 percent of Americans celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. That’s down from 59 percent as recently as 2013.

Many of us bemoan such news. It’s the War on Christmas!

But our complaining about the de-sacralization of the holiday hasn’t changed the minds of those enjoying a holiday they deem secular. All our griping has not turned a tide toward keeping the day holy.

The Pew study investigates not only what bothers us–or doesn’t– about the growing secularization of Christmas. It also investigates belief (or disbelief) in the assertions of the Christmas story: Jesus’ virgin birth, the shepherds, and angels.

Belief in those details, of course, reflects faith in who Christ is. To deny the details of the Christmas story is to deny the deity of Christ. Those details hold great meaning.
He is sinless because He had no human father. God as His Father means He is perfect God as well.

When Christ was born, God the Father sent angels to the socially lowest of people–the disregarded, the outcasts–the shepherds.

The presence of shepherds within walking distance of Bethlehem indicates that Christ was not born in December. Shepherds typically did not keep their flocks near villages because of the odor they caused. They would be nowhere near Bethlehem except during a 30 period before Passover–a period of preparation for the yearly sacrifice.

The shepherds outside Bethlehem were Levitical shepherds. Ironically, they were ritualistically unclean. They walked through feces. They touched dead things.
The angel told them to find a baby lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothsTo shepherds raising sheep for Levitical sacrifice, swaddling cloths would be vastly significant. For a lamb to qualify for sacrifice it had to be perfect, without blemish.

The shepherds swaddled lambs intended for sacrifice–they wrapped them in cloths to protect them. The angel saying that they would find the infant wrapped in swaddling cloths indicated that the baby would be a sacrifice. That baby was the Messiah they had long awaited.

Many would have expected a Jewish king to be born in Jerusalem–the city of the king–not Bethlehem. But Bethlehem was the City of David–a keeper of sheep.

God’s choice of a birthplace for his son wasn’t just a fulfillment of prophecy–which it was. It was also a symbol that Christ the King would be the fulfillment of sacrifice on our behalf.

Christ was the sinless Son of God, the perfect Lamb to be sacrificed for the shepherd’s sins–for our sins.

Most of the world isn’t interested in investigating the Christmas story. The trinkets, toys, and glitzy lights of Christmas are enough for them.

They try to fill the empty spaces of life with the clutter and noise of a secular Christmas. When we complain about society’s treatment of Christmas, we merely add to the noise. We can’t fill the empty places of their hearts. Only Christ can do that.

So aside from complaining, what else can we do? We can keep the true Christmas in our hearts. We can heed the angels’ message of “Fear not.”

“Don’t take this sobering news [of the study] as a reason to rend your garments and wail. Use it as reason to make your family’s celebration of Advent and Christmas more religious.” Rod Dreher.

As we do, we recognize that, on that first Christmas, God invited the unclean to see His Son. Those who reject Him today are yet among the invited.

People seek purpose and meaning today. But they cannot find it without Christ. One of those children I interviewed understood what so many fail to see today.

“What is Christmas?”

“It’s Jesuseseses’ birthday.”

He brings peace on earth–within our hearts. He is the perfect sacrifice for us.

When we celebrate Him, our silence can overwhelm the noise and darkness.
Embrace His peace. Celebrate Him. Shine the true light.

Revised from 2017

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The Unexpected Expected Baby King

“Our God who breathes stars in the dark–He breathes Bethlehem’s Star, then takes on lungs and breathes in stable air. We are saved from hopelessness because God came with infant fists and opened wide His hand to take the iron-sharp edge of our sins.” Ann Voskamp (138).

First there was the oppression of Egypt, then the captivity of Babylon, then the occupation of Rome.

For quite some time, Israel had been imagining a conquering Messiah. Perhaps on that silent night before the angels’ announcement, the shepherds were dreaming of the day when they would be free from Roman rule.

The magi–-scholars debate where they came from-–were religious. They came to worship. But they may have also had a political motive. They came seeking the new King. They brought gifts befitting a king who may someday want to conquer.
They did find the One to worship. They gave their gifts. Returned home. And we never heard from them again.

I wonder. Did they expect to meet a humble king in a humble home?
How could they know what to expect of His Kingdom?

The song asks “Mary, Did You Know?” Were there moments when she wondered when she would wake up from this strange dream? But it wasn’t a dream.

He would turn water into wine at her request.  He would, as the song says, walk on water, give sight to the blind, still a storm, and raise the dead.

How could she know what to expect from His life?

Reverberating in the back of her mind through His growing up years rang the prophecy of Simeon the priest: “[A]nd a sword will pierce even your own soul.”

Simeon had a glimpse at least of what was ahead. But perhaps even he did not understand that Christ’s incarnation was not to be political.

From Voskamp: “The Light never comes how you expect it. It comes as the unlikely and unexpected” (139).

Ace Collins writes, “Christ was the king who came not to take, but to give” (101). In the ancient world, that concept may have been the most unexpected of all. A King who would utterly give Himself rather than extracting tribute. A King who would suffer on behalf of His servants. He takes us beyond expectation.

We bring our expectations to our daily lives. We bring them to our churches every week. Reaching beyond expectation to ministry with other Christ followers opens doors of fellowship. Reaching beyond the expectation of the manger takes us to the love of the cross.

Wrong expectations limit ministry. The love of the cross has no such bounds.

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The Cross of Waiting

“It’s the waiting, the not knowing, that’s driving me crazy.”

“The waiting is the cross,” [Mother] answered.” Colleen Carroll Campbell from My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir~

Sometimes it feels like we’ve been waiting for something all our lives. I remember as a teen waiting for my father to pick me up from school and wondering how many hours I’d spent waiting for him in my life. But he always came. I always knew he would, and he did.

Having to wait through the unknown is its own cross–sometimes the heaviest. The test or surgery results, the diagnosis. We dwell on the outcome. The thing that will determine how the rest of our lives plays out.

Colleen Carroll Campbell waited for God to send her a child. She endured the agony of the wait, medical treatments and the monthly realization of yet another failure to conceive.

What weighed most heavily on her was not knowing whether she would ever be a mother.

She and her husband asked God again and again to send them a baby. Yet years of striving and never achieving had convinced her that her dream would never materialize. And in one way it never did. (Spoiler ahead!)

(Spoiler ahead!)

He didn’t send them a baby. He sent them two.

But they had to wait. And in the time of waiting, they grew closer to God and closer to each other.

God says, rest. Wait. Trust me.

We sense we are standing still in that time. But we are not. And God is not still either. He works through our times of waiting. He works in us. 

Rest. Wait. Trust. And watch for the outcome. 

It will be worth the wait.

Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14 NASB~

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Christ’s Prayer for Us

In the garden before his trial and crucifixion, Christ asked for his followers to “be one.” He prayed for those who followed him then and for all who would believe later on—the universal church throughout history.

Many times Jesus prayed to the Father and we have no idea what he said. We’re simply told such things as “Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”[i] Christ and the Father had many moments of communion that the Word does not disclose to us. So every time God’s Word lets us eavesdrop on Christ’s side of those conversations, we should pay close attention.

Jesus taught us how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer. And through his own prayers, he illustrated his connection and communion with the Father. We hear him blessing the fishes and loaves before crowds and the bread at the Last Supper in the upper room, speaking to the Father before raising Lazarus, before choosing the twelve apostles, and before his transfiguration. We also know he prayed in the garden before his betrayal and arrest. And we hear his prayerful cry from the cross.[ii]

Jesus’ prayer found in John 17 is the supreme biblical call for accord among his followers. And unlike Paul’s letters to singular, local churches, Christ’s petition encompasses the worldwide church, for all “those also who believe in Me” through all time.[iii] Jesus directs us to love him, each other, and those outside our churches’ doors.

Through a series of that/sostatements, he tells us what should be (that) and what will result from it (so).

  • That we would “all be one” as the Father and Son are “so that the world may believe” that the Father sent the Son.
  • That we “may be perfected” in that oneness “so that the world may know” that the Father sent the Son and that He “loved [us], even as the Father loves the Son.”
  • That we would be with Christ where he is so that we would see his glory, “which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”[iv]

As Jesus makes clear, the world’s ability to know God’s love relies upon we who are Christians loving one another in unity.

But it’s crucial that we consider what accord is and is not. Christian unity does not mean we dilute our doctrines and abandon our traditions. It does not mean we dissolve our church constitutions and form one gigantic doctrinally devoid church. It means we embrace a visible cooperation with one another—yet without compromise.

“Some suggest [that in his prayer] Jesus is only referring to a nebulous spiritual unity; however, Jesus emphasizes a form of unity that is visible to the watching world, and thus must be referring to a relational unity that can be observed. This does not mean we have to agree on every point of doctrine—we don’t! Nor does it mean we are to adopt some sort of fuzzy ecumenism in which we compromise the truth of the gospel or overlook sin within the church.”[v]

Journalist and cultural commentator Rod Dreher in his book The Benedict Option encourages interdenominational relationships—what he calls “an ecumenism of the trenches.” “To be sure, the different churches should not compromise their distinct doctrines, but they should nevertheless seize every opportunity to form friendships and strategic alliances in defense of the faith and the faithful.”[vi]

Accord means we form friendships and alliances, and we respect each other’s differences. It means, as C. S. Lewis wrote, we may “go on disagreeing, but don’t let us judge.”[vii] It means that, at the end of our weekly church services, we join hands to meet real needs and help hurting hearts find healing in Christ—that we be the visible church.

But we can only increase our ministry by learning how to meet people in their need.

Likeminded Christians of various denominations acting in accord will enhance ministry. We are the sand the Master turns into colored glass. He restores glass pieces cracked under the pressures of life. And he puts them together in a big picture that shows the world his great love.

We can shine the light of the Master on the hearts of the broken and lonely and invite them to become part of God’s big picture.

If you are broken, he can restore you. And once he restores you, he can use you to restore others.



Excerpted from Restoring the Shattered: Illustrating Christ’s Love Through the Church in One Accord. E-version available October 2. Paperback, January 22, 2018. 

[i] Luke 5:16.

[ii] Jesus teaching the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9–13), his prayer intimacy with the Father (11:25–26), his blessing of food (14:19; 15:37; 26:26), his prayer around raising Lazarus (John 11:41–42), and his prayers before choosing the apostles (Luke 6:12–13), before his transfiguration (9:29), during his time in the garden (Matthew 26:36–44; Luke 22:39–46), and from his position on the cross (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:34, 46).

[iii] John 17:20.

[iv] John 17:21–23.

[v] S. Michael Craven, “Practical Unity: Living Out the Words of Jesus to ‘Be One,’” Christianity Today, May 14, 2014.

[vi] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York: Sentinel, 2017), 136.

[vii] C. S. Lewis, Letters of C. S. Lewis, as quoted in an email from the C. S. Lewis Foundation, January 23, 2015.

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Echoes of 9-11

“Notwithstanding the beauty of this country of Faerie . . . there is much that is wrong in it. If there are great splendours, there are corresponding horrors; heights and depths, beautiful women and awful fiends; noble men and weaklings. All a man has to do is to better what he can.” 
George MacDonald, from Phantastes.

Horrors and splendor. That’s what we find in life. The horrors include bad things we do to each other and bad things that happen by chance. Yet, life also consists of splendors, God’s expression of beauty, His beauty within our hearts that sometimes comes out through our hands.

Splendor is often our response to horror.

On Tuesday, we mark 17 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives in Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, and New York City.

It happened in my third year of teaching when I was overseeing a class of seventh and eighth-graders. A plane hit the first tower in New York City. The moment marked us all.

Over the last several years, the number of students who can remember the day has trickled to a drip and nearly stopped. Few young people who recall that day sit before me.

September 11, 2001, brought Americans wall to wall coverage of debris and devastation. There was the relief of joy and the devastation of loss. This person was saved. That one was gone.

Today, it is the fading event that echoes in our days, no longer shaping our times. Yet, we are different–sometimes missing the beauty of that day. Often missing the beauty of each other.

Forgetting the horror of the day means forgetting that there was beauty even in the loss. The heroes of Flight 93 challenged horror when it looked them in the eye. They said no. We felt horror at their deaths but beauty in their heroism.

President George W. Bush reminded us that “One of the lessons of 9-11 is that evil is real and so is courage.”

Horror happens at the hands of people who choose to bring it. And, as I’ve mentioned, it comes by chance as well–a different form of fiend. We can’t know why this person didn’t come home at the end of an otherwise ordinary day and that one did.

But we can marvel at those who fight the fiends of evil and chance still today.

This week, we remember the horror and celebrate the beautiful heroes. We celebrate the heroes of today–soldiers, police officers, firefighters, and caregivers. We mark the beauty of those who strive to better what they can. 

May all of us find a way to count ourselves, somehow, among the beautiful. We can work to see the beautiful. And make better what we can.

To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3~


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Waiting for Harvest: Opening the Gifts Within Us

Those who walk the fields to sow, casting their seed in tears,
will one day tread those same long rows, amazed by what’s appeared.
Those who weep as they walk and plant with sighs
Will return singing with joy, when they bring home the harvest.
Psalm 126: 5-6.


“Will he play ball too?” my brother asks a woman cradling an infant at the youth baseball field.


“We’ll have to see what gifts are inside of him,” she smiles.


He’s a few years from sliding home at a ballfield. But his mama is open to other possibilities. Music perhaps, art or scholarship. Her tiny boy is a bundle of unwrapped gifts waiting to open themselves to the world.
Her joy in his possibilities glows from her eyes. And she knows the one who gave the gifts. She sees His reflection in the child–imago Dei, the image of God.


No matter how old we get we are each a bundle of gifts waiting to unwrap themselves to the world. Some gifts show themselves early. Some gifts get stunted and never open.


Some blossom late and surprise us with a shock of color, motion, words.
The pain of birth brings a new bundle of gifts. But it takes the hurts of life to pull open latent gifts, unimagined qualities that, without seeding tears, would not open.


Sometimes we see a bundle but do not recognize the gifts. We assume there is nothing to open, nothing to give. But these bundles have wonderful gifts. They show us meaning in simplicity. Imago Dei again.


If we can see these bundles as gift bearers, they will teach us to open more of ourselves. They bestow their gifts and increase the harvest of our own.
We are imago Dei. Each of us a bundle of gifts that spends a lifetime opening. Seed tears plant crops that bring joy as the gifts come to harvest.
Wise eyes see the beauty in a tiny bundle whose gifts do not yet show.


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Reposted from August 2016

On Writing a Second Book

It began as an assignment for my granddaughter when she was in third grade. She is now a seventh grader. 

Writing a book is a process.

She was supposed to write 100 words and grace her pages with artwork. From her hand-written pages, I typed. Then she drew.

A little girl collected buttons and had a favorite that she had misplaced. She searched and searched, and searched some more–and found it! That was her story.

She put her finished work in a binder decorated with buttons. She earned a very good grade.

And I said, “I think you have something here. Let’s keep going.”

So we worked to understand the girl. Why was the button important? What did the girl look like? What did she like? Who was her family? Who were her friends?

We switched from third person (she) to first person (I). We developed a reason the button was important. We added family, friends, dialogue, description, repeating symbolism, and motives.

I thought we had a picture book, so I shared it with an author/friend. She said, “It’s not a picture book. It’s a chapter book. Keep working.” 

So we did.

Writing a book is a process.

We shifted from the perspective of the little girl to the viewpoint of one of the previously peripheral characters–a boy–the new kid in town.

We drew in a team of helpers–her brother and some of their cousins. There were times that some of us met in a very professional manner discussing the story and deciding how to enhance it. 

There were times we talked about it less formally, in the car or at a family gathering.

Sometimes, I wrote alone. One day, I typed as a grandson and I developed a chapter. 

Now, we have more than 12,000 words. And so begins the process of cutting fat that may weigh it down and slow its journey to print and perhaps adding flesh and blood where the text is dry bone.

And then there will be the process of asking others to look at it. Will it float and fly? Or will our labors continue?

Wordcraft can be a process in which we grow along with our characters, a process that weaves bonds by telling stories real and imagined.

William Faulkner said writing is “agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before.”

We’ve made a piece of work that did not exist before. Something from our human spirits. And in that process, we’ve explored characters and human character and tightened the bonds between us. 

Writing a book is a wonderful process. 

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Of Mice and Men and Unborn Children

The US government is using tax dollars to purchase the remains of unborn children for experiments also involving mice according to Terence P. Jeffrey.

The body parts must be “fresh” so FDA experimenters can inject the parts into mice to give the rodents a human immune system.

The $15,900 contract runs until nearly the end of July 2019.

Jeffrey writes:

“Because it would not be able to create its ‘humanized mice’ without fresh tissue taken from aborted babies, the FDA also has an interest in the continuation of legalized abortions at a stage in fetal development when the tissue needed to create these mice can be retrieved from the aborted baby.”

It’s hard not to be cynical here. Continue reading “Of Mice and Men and Unborn Children”

Silent No More–Healing after Abortion

It’s not the unforgivable sin. And there is healing of spirit and soul.

That’s the message of Silent No More–a global ministry of women and men–parents and extended family–speaking up about the experience of having aborted their children–in order to discourage others from taking the same path.

Today, there is early chemical abortion (which can be reversed mid-process), surgical dismemberment of the unborn, late-term abortion, the euphemistic “reduction”–which is the selective killing of a twin, triplet, etc.

The reasons are plentiful ranging from inconvenience to financial distress to rape to fetal abnormality.

The regrets, however, are the same: I’m sorry I killed my child.

Healing comes, as it does with any sin or source of shame, with speaking up. Saying it out loud as one mother notes: Continue reading “Silent No More–Healing after Abortion”