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Dec 18 18

The Lord our justice

by davesandel

The Lord our justice

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Behold the days are coming when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David. This is the name they give him: “The Lord our justice.” The days will come, says, the Lord, when they shall again live on their own land. – From Jeremiah 23

Our grandkids are moving mountains. Among a thousand other things, Miles is pronouncing the letters of his name with great joy.

Jack will be the youngest participant at an all-school geography bee tomorrow. Years ago he annihilated his high school competition in a state capital naming contest. Now he’s nine. Here we go!

And Aly is making sentences, having all kinds of fun as her first grade reading improves daily. On the way to Chris’ birthday party she sat in the back seat of our car and made sentences up for us. Sentences are everywhere, right? But we have to reach up and grab them. Write them down. And look and see what they might mean.

Jeremiah names God, “The Lord our justice.” Just as John said “God is love,” so Jeremiah says, “God is justice.” The Hebrews looked far and wide for justice, and Jeremiah looked farther than anyone. But in these future days, they will need to look no more. “They shall again live on their own land.”

The Old Testament is laced with sentences like this. The future holds great promise. We can bank on that. And then the next Testament pronounces the reign of Jesus in the kingdom of God. God “will raise up a righteous shoot to David,” and his name shall be called Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, Almighty God:

“You are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

More now than ever in the year, kids look toward what will be. Christmas hopes, Christmas dreams. Rushing around in pajamas with energy to burn. Curling up in bed to wait for Christmas morning. Singing under their breath, listening for reindeer on the roof and … in a flash … unintentionally … asleep.

Then suddenly, morning has broken.

And me, can I look at what will be? It’s easier to see what IS with my lazy eyes. But there are consequences to my tired tunnel vision. I lose track of God. In his Advent sermon, Karl Barth cries out: “We must once and for all give up trying to be self-made.”

God wants to do all, yes through us and with us and never without us, but always out of his power and not ours.

Pastor Barth cuts to the chase: “Will I place myself next to the truth or in the truth?” If I I choose to live in the truth, then Advent is a good time to begin.

Lord, make me like a child, ready for the morning, looking through the dark to what you have for me tomorrow. And show me again and again how to let you lead me, and how to follow.

 Karl Barth, “Lukas 1:5-23,” from Predigten (Sermons), 1917, pp. 423-431, translated by Robert J. Sherman. Included as entry for December 13, in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, 2001, Plough Publishing House

http://www.davesandel.net/category/advent-and-christmas-devotions-2018/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archive.php?year=2018

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Dec 17 18

Assemble and listen

by davesandel

Assemble and listen

Monday, December 17, 2018

Jacob called his sons and said to them, “Assemble and listen.” – From Genesis 49

“We need to talk.” When those words scar the silence between us, we haven’t been talking. Not about the right things. Not in the right way. When Jacob called his sons for this final meeting, they came, and sat, and listened.

The rules have changed, I think. Good family meetings are frequent and not intimidating. Family therapist Virginia Satir wants them guided with three freedoms: we all have 1) the freedom to think what we think and say it, 2) to feel what we feel and say it, and 3) to want what we want and say it.

Everyone feels safe to speak. On the best of days, everyone speaks for themselves and not others, with intention but without judgment. Then our language is full of “I-statements.” No one feels accused, we all feel equal.

This gets easier in the Garden of Eden, I hope. It’s not always the way of all our flesh. Jacob “blessed” all his twelve sons in this meeting before he died. They became the twelve tribes of Israel. In twenty-five very expressive verses, Jacob pulls no punches and vividly describes their strengths and weaknesses, their success and failure.

Perhaps they know each other better after this meeting. And they might know what to expect from each other in the future. But their pride and resentment also quiets them again. So much goes on inside you and I that we mostly cannot speak.

Karl Barth remembered Zechariah, and how his lips were sealed after his moment with the Lord in his sanctuary. “I have so often climbed up into the pulpit. I once thought it so easy to preach, but now it strikes me as harder and harder to say what needs to be said.” And he is not alone. None of us can quite say what God puts within us. “O, our closed lips! Who can finally open them for us!”

This current of silence flows through Advent. The candles are lit, the songs are sung. But the days get shorter, the nights are darker, and the words … well, the words grow few. Like falling leaves, they grow brown, they wither. We cannot say what we want to say. No, not yet.

God does not allow us to wither and die. Like Zechariah waiting, Barth says, “every one of us is secretly in close connection with the eternal truth and love, even if we ourselves are not aware of it. And from this hidden side of our being resounds a voice that is actually speaking to us constantly.”

At our family meetings, some is said, much is left unsaid. Both resound within us, and afterward we know ourselves a little better than we did before. It’s up to me, though, to decide how to hear what I hear. Barth says, “What we listen to, we can listen to as God’s speech. What causes me worry, that is God’s worry, what gives me joy is God’s joy, what I hope for is God’s hope.

“It is not I but rather God, who is important.”

While we wait, God acts. “God does not stand still when we come to a standstill, but precedes us with his deeds and only waits so that we can follow.”

In the short sunshine stillness of today, Father, in these days rising up toward Jesus, we can listen and know that it’s you who is speaking. You are teaching us how to hear, and how to be with you, and then be with each other. Thank you.

 Karl Barth, “Lukas 1:5-23,” from Predigten (Sermons), 1917, pp. 423-431, translated by Robert J. Sherman. Included as entry for December 13, in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, 2001, Plough Publishing House

 http://www.davesandel.net/category/advent-and-christmas-devotions-2018/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archive.php?year=2018

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Dec 16 18

Sing joyfully because of you

by davesandel

Sing joyfully because of you

Third Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2018

He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals. – From Zephaniah 3

God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. With joy you will draw water at the fountain of salvation. – From Isaiah 12

Chris has been a youth minister since he was a student at Urbana Middle School. Hank Sanford, his mentor, helped him put together a group of young men who played basketball in our driveway and read the Bible together. Once a week. Every week.

Now his administrative and people skills enable him to lead the Family Ministry team at West Side Christian Church in Springfield. But every Sunday you still find him preaching to the junior high kids. By going first, he still enables them to play ridiculous and physically embarrassing games. His birthday is tomorrow. He’s older than he looks.

But this devotion is about joy. Boldly, a few days before his birthday Chris posted, or re-posted, a video on Facebook and Youtube. Four or so years ago he bribed three other ministry crazies to come with him to share their joy in mostly empty stores at White Oaks Mall.

Joy is not the same as happy. En-joy mostly means allowing joy to enter you. Re-joy means do it again. That’s the video in a nutshell. They smiled, mostly, but their “happy” wasn’t the point. It was the singing and dancing and stretching up escalators that brought me joy. And I’m sure, them too.

Why do so many people watch Elf Every Single Year at Christmas? Our kids Andi and Aki make sure they have reserved seats at one of Austin’s Alamo Dinner Theaters so they can go to the Sing-a-long. They go because they want to be re-infected with Will Ferrell’s joy.

And I don’t care if much of it is laced with sarcasm. This is joy anyway. (Chris, by the way, looks a lot like Will Ferrell when he’s dressed in a green short-pants-suit.) I am en-joyed when I watch Elf (or its later kind-of-look-a-like Christmas Chronicles, I re-joice, and I am filled. Often, because I’m me, my eyes overflow because the joy inside gets a little too big.

There’s an inside-outside thing with joy. It’s about joy when Beatle George Harrison writes, “And the time will come when you see we’re all one and life flows on within you and without you.”

Along the Christ-following highway, joy is a big deal. Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium, begins: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” This is what draws us to Jesus, and this is what keeps us there.

John Piper’s definition draws alongside: “A good feeling in the soul produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.”

All these ways of describing joy transcend happiness or optimism, and also suffering, anger and despair. They suggest deep interrelations between my spirit and God’s Spirit. Joy is the birthplace of faith and hope, and creates an equanimity that allows me to live here and now, and die then and later, and accept them both with … joy.

Happy birthday, Chris. Thanks for sharing!

Lord, you are right here while I’m writing this. Your spirit pushes through me, and thank you for the pushing. Bless us all today with more joy than we expect. It’s right there for us. Open up our hands.

http://www.davesandel.net/category/advent-and-christmas-devotions-2018/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archive.php?year=2018

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Dec 15 18

Like a fire

by davesandel

Like a fire

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah whose words were as a flaming furnace. How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds! You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot with fiery horses. Blessed is he who shall have seen you, Elijah, and who falls asleep in your friendship. – From Sirach 48

The stories of Elijah unveil a bipolar whirlwind of wild words and deep silence, loving sacrifice and righteous murder. He is hated, he is loved. And within his breast his heart beats for God even as his mind doubts it all. His capacity for self-pity is unmatched, but God called him and God carried him and God took him home. Riding on a fiery chariot no less.

What’s it like for a man who lived like that … to die? To settle into a heavenly rocking chair and finally have time to take a deep breath? Grandpa Brummer had a big rocking chair, made for the big man he was. I sat in his lap and he read me stories. Mom loved how he read Lambs’ Tales of Shakespeare to his daughters. She still has the precious, dog-eared copy he read from. I feel happy too when she holds it to her chest.

I don’t know what Grandpa read to me, or how he smelled, so close up like that. I must have noticed, but I don’t remember. I do remember how much I loved him. He pulled me to and fro in a red wagon just my size. He had to stoop down a little to pull it, because he was very tall.

If the story’s true, his dad drowned drunk face down in a ditch not far from home, a farm north of Lincoln. This tragedy did not derail the hopes and dreams of the Brummer kids. One of them, my aunt Dena, never married but traveled around the world. She opened her home near Washington DC first to my mother and aunt, and then to John, Mary Kay and I. Once she took me to see The Merry Wives of Windsor, performed in the outdoor Shakespeare theater on the Washington Monument lawn.

My grandpa would have been a pharmacist; that’s what he loved. School cost too much, so instead he farmed, and he farmed during the depression, the worst time of all to be a farmer. But he never stopped reading, and his daughters never stopped reading either. And neither have I. There’s a blessing.

So when I think of Elijah, I don’t think of fire and brimstone. I think of the rocking chair. “Blessed is he who has seen you, and who falls asleep in your friendship.” Rock-a-bye-Davie, in the tree top. When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.” That sweet lullaby ends a little crazy, with baby crashing to the ground.

Turn that story off. I’ll just sit in Grandpa Elijah’s arms, feel him rock my soul, and fall asleep.

Friends are friends forever.

Thank you for the story of the Garden of Eden, Lord. I need to know that the place you made for us is fresh and whole and beautiful and clean. Because the place we’ve made for ourselves is not. Harsh things happen. People hate each other and refuse to heal. So Elijah’s life, like all our lives, piles high with contradiction. Let him rock his way to the bosom of Abraham, let us rock there too. Know where we came from, imagine where we’re going and fall asleep in your friendship.

 http://www.davesandel.net/category/advent-and-christmas-devotions-2018/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archive.php?year=2018

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Dec 14 18

The Lord watches over

by davesandel

The Lord watches over

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Lord watches over the way of the just but the way of the wicked vanishes. – From Psalm 1

Vanishes! Lost! You can’t get there from here! This road’s closed. You will have to turn around and go back. In many of my dreams, I’m lost somewhere in a suddenly claustrophic building or a chaotic city I thought I knew, but then … don’t. The way of the wicked vanishes.

Some of us are legalists, and think “wicked” is defined somehow by actions either committed or omitted. I don’t think that’s me, but when I wake up from one of these dreams I’m not so sure. Just what is wicked, anyway?

There are days I don’t pray. My mind finds other things to do. There are days when my prayers are forced and bounce off the ceiling. But prayer is a little like golf; when you hit a good one, you can’t wait to go again. It just feels so good, the ball and the club and your hands and your whole body. Prayer just feels so good too sometimes, the flow between my thoughts and my words and God.

My friend prays best when he’s alone driving. His hands and feet are busy, and he can talk out loud as long as he wants. Invariably he feels like he’s talking to his dad, or his mom. He hides much less than when he’s with others. Much less.

Isn’t that true for me too? I sit on the side of my bed and just start talking. I like talking to Jesus; it firms up my sense of God’s presence here on earth, now, with me. Jesus reminds me to breathe deeply, slowly in and out. If I ask Jesus to respond to what I’m saying, he will. But he will also listen, quietly, and in a bit I’ll be quiet too.

Oh, yes, I am wicked. My thoughts are wicked, my choices too. I am selfish and secretive. I need forgiveness and don’t even know it, or refuse to accept it. There’s no end to the maze I run looking for my cheese, wrong track, wrong track, wrong track! I am a wicked boy.

But those ways vanish. And having been required to turn around, my whole perspective changes. The “way of the just” appears out of the fog. I have another chance on another day to walk a “watched-over” path. I can head without hesitation to the running water that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves never fade. God calls, and he waits for my answer, listening for me.

And to think, I say to myself as I close my Bible, this is only Psalm One!

Lord, you have made me for yourself. All of us, Lord, you have made for yourself. When I go toward another without going through you, I get lost so quickly. I listen too closely to words not true. We both think we know more than we do, or less. Let my way toward others always go through you. Lead me in that way everlasting.

 http://www.davesandel.net/category/advent-and-christmas-devotions-2018/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archive.php?year=2018

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Dec 13 18

I will open up rivers

by davesandel

I will open up rivers

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain, their tongues are parched with thirst. I, the Lord, will not forsake them. I will open up rivers on the bare heights, that all may see and know that the hand of the Lord has done this. – From Isaiah 41

In this conversation God has with Isaiah, God does not say, “What’s it worth to you?” But quite often when rivers are opened up, bad things happen too.

On Saturday we shopped at the annual UIUC Japan House bazaar. On this beautiful sunny day a large extended family took photos across the reflecting lake with their new baby. Hundreds of other shoppers in love with Japan filled the narrow aisles and small rooms of Japan House. No one seemed to mind the crush. But a friendly volunteer took our quilt and kimono and stored them for us until we were finished. She began offering her help after we heard several crashes in the close quarters.

I found a DVD about the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in east Japan on March 1, 2011. This was the fourth strongest earthquake in recorded history, accompanied by an ocean surge three to twelve stories high. More than a million buildings were partially or completely destroyed. 16,000 people were killed, most of them drowned. 100,000 children were separated from family. 340,000 people were displaced from their homes. Nuclear accidents affected all of northeastern Japan, as far south as Tokyo. The cost, $235 billion, made this earthquake the most expensive natural disaster in history.

No doubt this earthquake opened up rivers. In fact, parts of northeastern Japan shifted by as much as 8 feet closer to North America. The earth’s axis shifted between 4 and 10 inches, which shortened the length of a day by 1.8 microseconds and altered GPS readings by as much as 13 feet. In Antarctica, the Whillans Ice Stream slipped by 20 inches.

To our way of thinking, these measurable, predictable catastrophes are an unwelcome but unavoidable part of life on earth. To Isaiah, moments like these are invitations to fix our eyes on heaven. Just watch, and see the hand of the Lord. “I, the Lord will not forsake you.”

Within a year, more than 520 billion yen were donated for Japan’s recovery. 930,000 people helped in relief efforts. The Afghan city of Kandahar donated $50,000. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il donated $500,000 to Korean residents in Japan. South Korean private donations totaled $37 million. The list of countries, companies and citizens who helped Japan goes on and on.

Out of the suffering comes the rescue. Japan’s gracious hospitality and the quiet considerate perseverance of its people collapsed under crushing earth and wave. When the sun reappeared in the sky, many came to lift them up again. As Isaiah said in chapter 45, “Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a Savior.”

Lord, there can be so much strength in numbers. When we are all one people, it’s clear that you have given us to each other. Forgive my carelessness with other people, Lord, and open my eyes and heart to whoever it is I meet. We need one another, and we need you together. Our lives are knit together, and you are in it all with us, bringing us water and food and rest and energy. “We who wait upon you, Lord, will renew our strength.”

http://www.davesandel.net/category/advent-and-christmas-devotions-2018/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archive.php?year=2018

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Dec 12 18

The dragon stood before the woman

by davesandel

The dragon stood before the woman

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God. – From Revelation 11

For those of us inclined, this is a feast day to celebrate Mary in Guadalupe, Mexico. The endless and amazing stories about Mary call me to rise up and rejoice in mystery and things unseen. Even by the time St. John in his 90’s was writing Revelation, stories about Mary, factually or mythically true, rolled off the tongues of Christ-followers gathered to pray and praise the Lord.

This one in chapter 11 knocks our socks off. I want to see the movie, right? Bright black-and-blue sky is ripped in two. A mother, clothed with the sun, stands above the moon. She wears a crown of twelve stars. She is heavily pregnant and laboring to give birth. Her screams fill the sky.

But she is not alone.

A huge red dragon waits, eager to eat the baby as it appears. Covered with green eyes, marked with a hideous yellow gash of a mouth, its ten horns and seven heads crowned with sovereign jewels, the dragon’s tail sweeps away a third of the stars in the sky. And sweeps again. It sweeps and sweeps, waiting to eat.

Night? Day? Above the sea, above the land? The fear here transcends geography and time. The whole world below holds its breath. Everything hangs in balance, every hope and all our dreams. Life given, life removed? What now, death? Rebirth? Come, Lord Jesus.

Frank Peretti turned this cataclysm into This Present Darkness, a novel of the twentieth century. What century has not been turned and polished by this battle between the maiden and the beast? Which one of us has not been smoothed and shaped by the baby?

The baby who does, by the way, survive.

Like Charles Dickens said about Tiny Tim, “The baby did not die.” Mary’s child was caught up to God and his throne. And she herself … she fled into the desert (much like the land around Mexico City, around Guadalupe) “where she had a place prepared by God.”

Stories of Mary swirl around us in these days before the birthday of Jesus. Our Christ masses, our Advent services dedicated to praise and worship, are all grounded in Mary’s simple words, which we do well to repeat, “May it be done unto me according to your word.”

Devil be-gone. Serpent be surrounded and defanged.

The baby did not die.

By your word, O Lord, we are made your brothers and your sisters. We too are born like you, surrounded by spirits who need to eat us, or think they do. We clamor for your protection and we receive your spirit, which always keeps watch, holds evil at bay, lifts us and keeps us, and makes its face shine upon us. We too, do not die. We live.

 http://www.davesandel.net/category/advent-and-christmas-devotions-2018/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archive.php?year=2018

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Dec 11 18

Kentucky love affair

by davesandel

Kentucky love affair

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Her service is at an end. Her guilt is covered. Yes, from the hand of the Lord she has received double for all her sins. – From Isaiah 40

There are many ways to say, “I’ve got your back.” Probably the best of them are wordless, anchored by touch and service. I hold your hand, rub your feet, make you coffee in the morning, and you know I am not going anywhere. I am on your team.

God’s always got my back. This is more clear to me as I get older. He speaks tenderly and gently to me: “Your service is at an end. Your guilt is covered.” Perhaps I am not quite ready to hear these words, but I know they are there for me.

I think about Hannah Coulter’s words in Wendell Berry’s novel: “The room of love is the love that holds us all, and it is not ours. It goes back before we were born. It goes all the way back. It is Heaven’s.”

Hannah’s husband Nathan is sick. He refuses treatment. And Hannah is beside herself.

I was beating the hell out of a dozen egg whites in a bowl. My tears were falling into the bowl and then my nose dripped into it. I flung the whole frothy mess into the sink. I said, “Well, what are you planning to do? Just die? Or what?”

“Dear Hannah, I’m going to live right on. Dying is none of my business. Dying will have to take care of itself.” He came to me then. He held me a long time as if under a passing storm, and then the quiet came. I fixed some supper, and we ate. (p. 158-161)

Hannah went back with her daughters to the doctor. “Nathan doesn’t want to die of a cure,” she told him. And then the two of them, they lived right on. “Living right on called for nothing out of the ordinary. We made no changes. We only accepted the changes as they came.”

There is never a reason to shut off the singing. Sleigh bells ring. Am I listening? No appropriate description of life excludes the fact of death, and so we live right on. Grass withers, flowers wilt, the word of our Lord stands forever.

Hannah finishes the story of her life standing at the gate. Nathan “looks at me with a look I know. The shiver of the altogether given passes over me from head to foot.”

Remember us, Lord, when we fly from the flock and are lost at night. Do not let us go. Come after us, and bring us back. Your comfort makes me far more free than anything I can ever do alone. “Just stay,” you say. “Just be.” I will. This is all I need.

Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter, 2004, chapters 20 and 24

http://www.davesandel.net/category/advent-and-christmas-devotions-2018/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archive.php?year=2018

 

 

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Dec 10 18

Strengthen the hands, make firm the knees

by davesandel

Strengthen the hands, make firm the knees

Monday, December 10, 2018

See the glory of the Lord, behold the splendor of our God. Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, and say to those whose hearts are frightened: “Be strong, fear not. Here is your God!” – From Isaiah 35

We can’t wait to see Mary Poppins Returns. It’s out in a week, and Dick Van Dyke will, hopefully, be in the audience at the premiere. At age 92, he danced and pranced again, just like Bert in that first Mary Poppins decades ago (1964).

In a Parade magazine interview last week he remembered, “Everyone on the set was surprised I could do it. And nobody was more surprised than I was!”

I’ll bet Dick Van Dyke loves this text from Isaiah. It appeals to old people.

Older people.

People feeling their age. Like me.

Because although my body wears out, hope springs eternal that some tune-up or other will make me new again. New bearings, new spark plugs, new air filter. Fresh oil. Get out on the highway!

“Streams will burst forth in the desert. Burning sands will become pools. A highway will be there, called the holy way. It is for those with a journey to make, and on it the redeemed will walk, singing, crowned with everlasting joy.”

I hold Isaiah’s images in my mind and know how delicately they are balanced. Dick Van Dyke seemed to be so superbly awkward all his life, but still, every day even now he does a little dancing. If he goes tumbling down, he gets up again. “To sing like nobody can hear you, dance like nobody can see you and love like you’ve never been hurt,” he says. “That’s a good way to live.”

People around here know he grew up in Danville, Illinois. Just thirty miles away, he made that city famous. Several other entertainers, including van Dyke’s cousin Gene Hackman, Bobby Short, Donald O’Connor, and his brother Jerry, lived in Danville at the same time. There must have something in the water.

Mom is three years older than Dick Van Dyke. She smiles more and is more content now than perhaps ever before in her life. Her glimpses into the past and future are short, and she lives her life in each moment as it comes.

I love her so much for that, for showing me how to walk the highway. “Singing and crowned with everlasting joy.”

Lord let me live my life today with the breath I breathe. Claiming the life you have given me to live. Surrounded by your glory, free to stop seeking my own. Walking on the path you make straight for me.

http://www.davesandel.net/category/advent-and-christmas-devotions-2018/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archive.php?year=2018

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Dec 9 18

I always pray with joy

by davesandel

I always pray with joy

Second Sunday of Advent, December 9, 2018

I always pray with joy in every prayer for all of you. I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more, that you may discern more and more what is of value, that you will be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. – From Philippians 1

Of course Paul speaks intimately with his Philippians. He loves them. But Paul … he’s been down the road a piece, he’s started churches, visited synagogues, fallen into friendships, cultivated friendships. He loves so many people. He is thinking of them all. As author Wendell Berry has Jayber Crow say, “They said nothing, and I said nothing. I seemed to love them all with a love that was mine merely because it included me.”

I hope you have thoughts of churches in the vale of your past, and visions of some of the folks who lived there with you. I certainly do. In my life there have been churches all along, where I was baptized, married, where I buried my dad. Where our kids were baptized, where we’ve sung and preached prayed and heard a thousand thousand sermons and sung a million million songs.

We moved to Waynesville, a small Illinois town, where, as it turned out, we would love and be loved as well and as deeply as anywhere else in our lives. The small old school building became a brand spanking new home-built church. So many people pitched in on this Reconstruction. I helped raise one of the first walls, fifteen of us alongside each other lifting, lifting, and setting it in place so Bill Fineran, our master carpenter from Atlanta, Georgia, could sink the all-important joining nail. Right then I felt just a little Amish.

Bill and Hazel brought their kids from Atlanta and settled in Waynesville, drawn by the magnetic love of gracious people in the countryside. Like them, we watched our children grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Some of our kids’ friends then are friends forever.

We settled into a Sabbath routine that started with dinner Saturday night, begun with a blessing time for each kiddo, then food and games and sleep. In the morning we often walked to church, down Waynesville’s main street, by the library and the bar and grocery store. It was a seven minute walk, I suppose.

So many sweet stories from those three years.

“I always pray with joy in every prayer for all of you. I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Not only Waynesville, but those in all the churches of my life … Jayber Crow’s rundown of the folks fits my memories too:

I saw them in all the times past and to come: the cheerfully working and singing women, the men quiet or reluctant or shy, the weary, the troubled in spirit, the sick, the lame, the desperate, the dying, the little children tucked into the pews beside their elders, the young married couples full of visions, the old men with their dreams, the parents proud of their children, the grandparents with tears in their eyes, the pairs of young lovers attentive only to each other on the edge of the world, the grieving widows and widowers, the mothers and fathers of children newly dead, the proud, the humble, the attentive, the distracted. I saw them all.

In church and out, we are all God’s people. One by one, we have our stories. Every story is shaped in flesh and blood and bone, marked by smiles and frowns and tears, held together by anger and by joy, by betrayal and by trust, by our costly, chosen faith and the profound, always extravagant, gracious love of God.

Lord, each touch how precious, each smile how priceless, each word I can remember quiets my mind now, during the days when I too often feel alone and unsure of how to love. These memories of mine are just a taste of the storehouse of joy you have waiting. Let me give what I can where I can when I can, knowing how much you love me.

Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow, 2000, p. 165

http://www.davesandel.net/category/advent-and-christmas-devotions-2018/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archive.php?year=2018

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