Because it’s you

Image source: see notes

What do you look for in a greeting card?  A message that closely expresses your sentiments best? Or do you key on the cover picture or image?  Perhaps you prefer sparse text or even blank inside that allows you to write your own thoughts?

Most likely, a combination of elements in involved in your greeting card selection that also depends on the occasion or situation and, most of all, your relationship with the card recipient.

All those factors came into play last week when I was picking out an anniversary card for my wife.  Expressing what’s in my heart regarding her is difficult to put into words.  Sometimes I simply want to say, “Honey, because it’s you” and know she’ll understand what I mere words fail to say.

But “Just Because” isn’t very romantic, right?  Still, does not the completeness of being truly loved have everything to do with the integrity of the person offering love?

That’s what I see in God with the people he chooses.  Take the story in Genesis 21 of God comforting Abraham who is distraught about having to send his first-born son Ishmael away.

Let’s review. Recall God selecting Abraham to father a nation to be known as the people of God, promising that Abraham’s offspring would populate this nation.  But when Abraham’s wife Sarah didn’t conceive soon enough, she urged Abraham to impregnate her servant Hagar.  Thus came Ishmael who was 15 when Sarah finally conceived, giving birth to Isaac.  Now Sarah resents Abraham’s sentiments toward Hagar and Ishmael, insisting they must go.

Enter God to who counsels Abraham to comply with Sarah’s demand.  Meanwhile he (God) would take care of Hagar and Ishmael this way:

“I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” (Genesis 21:13, NIV)

Key on: “Because he is YOUR offspring… “  Also note that the nation Ishmael would “make” isn’t just any nation but the Arab nation.

Recall God’s prophecy regarding Ishmael:

“He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” (Genesis 16:12).

When God made this promise to Abraham, did he know how that prophecy would play out down through history?  How the ferocity of Arab nations would keep the Mid-East region of the world in constant conflict?  Did he foresee terrorism by Arab extremists?  Continuous animosity towards Israel?  That the homeland of Arabs and Israel could become ground zero for the next worldwide conflict? Was all that known when God promised Abraham regarding Ishmael.

Amazingly, the answer is yes, absolutely yes.  All of the above was known to God and he gave his word to Abraham ANYWAY!  And the only reason he offered was, “…because he is your offspring.”

Perhaps my takeaway is overly simple, that God’s RELATIONSHIP with Abraham, his chosen man to have a huge role in his redemptive plan for all humankind and creation was MORE IMPORTANT than how the implications of the promises he made to Abraham would to be viewed in the minds of people down through the ages.

Likewise with God’s relationship with you and me.  Our relationship with him is of UTMOST IMPORTANCE to him no matter how much we mess up along the way.  We may break trust with him but he never breaks trust with us.

Note in the Bible that God initiates relationships with people – Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, every prophet, the Apostles and Paul are just a few examples.   We claim to choose God when in fact he chooses us, even before we were born. (see Ephesians 1:4 and Jeremiah 1:5)

I offer that compared to relationship with us, orchestrating the implications of the choices we make to achieve his purposes is easy for God.

“For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 14:27)

However, God chose not to control our choices, especially regarding our choice to accept his invitation to be in relationship with him, even though he knows how we will choose. (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 1:5).

Relationship with you and me really, really matters to God.  Because it’s you, because it’s me is reason enough for God to allow or support even the most ill-advised choices we make because he is able to work everything out for our good and his glory.

Just because….


Notes:

Image source site: http://iteachstamping.com/2013/03/sending-a-hand-made-greeting-card-just-because/

 

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To have and to hold

First married walk on February 16, 1979

February 16 marks the 38th anniversary of my marriage to the former Cindy Alfonso. While we considered writing our own vows, I worried that nerves would render me tongue-tied so we went the traditional route, repeating after Fr. Cronin who performed our ceremony at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Farmington Hills, MI.

“I Glenn take thee Cindy…”

I’m pretty sure I used “Cindy” vs. her proper name, “Cynthia.”  She has always been “Cindy” to me, or occasionally “Cin,” (pronounced sin).  Never thought much about calling her Cin until our pastor questioned me about it when he first met us.

“Do you really call her Sin,” he queried?

“Not S-i-n but C-i-n,” was my amused answer. “Same pronunciation, different spelling.”

I also hold fondly that word “take” due its first use by Cindy’s dad as he blessed our plans to marry.

“Here, you ‘take’ her,” he urged conspiratorially.  “I can’t do anything with her.”

To this day I am deeply moved to recall dad’s jesting blessing due in part to my fondness for him and to having indeed been blessed to do life with his beloved second daughter as my wife.

“to be my lawful wife…”

“Lawful” as in Cindy agreeing to take on becoming “Mrs. Trevisan.” Hearing her addressed as such still sends of a shiver through me, marveling that this stunning lady agreed to set aside her own family name for mine. Also “lawful” that she so readily accepted that “wife” role that sources from humanity’s beginnings when God recounted fashioning woman from the man’s rib, thus “completing” a grand design began when he announced,

“Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’” … so God created man in His own image…male and female He created them.”  (See Genesis 1: 26-27, NASB)

“to have and to hold…”

Layers and nuances of having and holding marks every good marriage, including ours.  Perhaps the words were inspired by the man’s excited response when God brought “HER” to first name and then to also have and hold.

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2:23, NIV)

Not hard to imagine the man thinking God saved the best for last while also wondering how God timed her arrival to complete man’s odd naming assignment during which he realized that unlike other creatures, he lacked a suitable helpmate. (see Genesis 2:20, NIV.)

Given their nudity, having and holding probably flowed spontaneously at first especially with God managing the introductions and then staying near to delight in how their loving parts fit together just so.

The leading word “to” in this phrase launched our life as a married couple, formalizing the blending that formed during our 16 months of dating and courting as we two become one.

“in sickness and in health, for richer or poor…”

These phrases that sound so romantic during the ceremony are less endearing when encountered in actual life. Nevertheless, weathering life’s highs and the lows together is how our romance formed into a priceless gem.

A game-changing paradigm was discovering that the highs require as much if not more tending as the lows.  Success, prosperity and well-being can grow layers of entitlement that lusts for more while gradually replacing humility, gratitude, and serving that undergirds relational maturity.

That I’m hard-working but not particularly endowed toward tapping the money spigot has kept us in a near-constant “make do” mode most of the way.  But here we are a team with God timely opening doors that we gratefully stepped through.  Along the way, we were credited with distinctions that allowed us to eek out and frugally fashion a modest but comfortable life.

“to love and cherish from this day forward…”

To be drawn into a redemptive relationship with the Lord Jesus was a huge highlight in our first few years of marriage that grounded and grew us individually and as a couple. A minor setback occurred when we turned to the children part of our plan until we were inspired by the nature of God’s relationship with us to also adopt.  (see Ephesians 1:5, ESV).  Having formed our family that way, we enjoy the uniqueness of being a 100 percent “chosen” family.

“until death do us part.”

Uttering these words, we naively thought of death as distantly future and as the only power that could part us. When we and are marriage were adopted into Christ, we were folded into a reality where death was mercifully settled and behind us.  Considerable biblical teaching on this is includes Galatians 2:20:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (NIV)

This plays out practically as we confess our stumbles to each other and God whose “amazing grace” assures forgiveness so complete as to literally separate our failings from us as far as east is from west. (see Psalm 103:12, NIV).

A dear friend just lost his wife after illness that dulled the last 20 or so years of their marriage.  Walking alongside him in the aftermath of her “homegoing,” we marvel at how God has seemingly dissipated the fog of those sickness years to bring to light the sometimes overwhelmed but nevertheless steady pulse of love and joy running through their now completed married life.

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”This mystery is profound, but I am speaking about Christ and the church. “(Ephesians 5: 31-32, NIV)

Here Paul cites a profound mystery as the reason why a man leaves home to unite to his wife. Marriage alludes dimly to Christ “taking” the Church as his bride that in turn draws from the covenant Yahweh extended to Israel.

“With this ring I thee wed.”

The significance of our rings were in no way diminished by purchasing them at Murray’s Hardware. Same with Cindy’s first diamond, so small because I waited until after diamond prices skyrocketed.  By the time we upgraded both the bands and her diamond, their merit to us was due more to the richness of our love than to any value they have as precious metals or gems.

While  I cherish and support Cindy’s individualism that allows me to also grow as a person apart from her, I most appreciate that we share many elements of life, building deeper layers as we mark more years together.  One of those is music and song, such as the chorus of Warren Barfield’s “Love is not a fight.”

Love is a shelter in a raging storm

Love is peace in the middle of a war

If we try to leave, may God send angels to guard the door

No love is not a fight but it’s something worth fighting for.

 

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Dual Citizenship Dilemma?

see notes for image source

Despite that I devote little attention to news and political matters, I’ve ventured into a few social media exchanges during the just-concluded presidential campaign and since President Trump took office. I’ve also deleted or edited some comments here and there that didn’t feel right later on.

Immigration is one of those issues on everyone’s radar.  For all the problems in America, plenty of people desire to live in the freedom that United States citizenship affords.

Freedom of speech may be one of the most valued freedom American citizens enjoy.  While America allows expression with minimal risk of repercussion, freedom of speech can easily get us into serious trouble with anyone in the range of our voice especially when our speaking platform is social media.

As someone who writes into this media, I know firsthand that some of the views expressed here have riled up a few people.  My intention with Road Report is draw from personal experiences to share what I hear God is saying in and through me.

I am grateful to be able to share my perspective this way thanks to the freedom afforded me as a citizen of the United States of America. However, by drawing God into the center of these messages, my citizenship in his kingdom is also very much in play.  Lately I notice more contention between these kingdoms of my dual citizenship.

Perhaps the dilemma is due to that the manner and conduct of the kingdom of God is often not in concert with the manner and conduct of the kingdom of America that is part of the greater kingdom of the world. Read Jesus’ beatitudes to see how people of God’s kingdom are.

Besides the beatitudes, the Bible has much to say about this dual citizenship believers in God and Christ.  Here’s how St. Peter frames this dilemma believers face:

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.  (1 Peter 2: 11, NLT)

Jesus claimed to be king of a kingdom not of this world. (see John 18:36, NIV).  People gain citizenship in the kingdom of God when they are “born again” – adopted into a new family and citizenship that is ruled by God.

It sounds simple enough but unlike towns and neighborhoods where we live out our mortal lives, God’s kingdom is invisible and we Christians have no visual features or language that readily identifies us as “temporary residents and foreigners.” So how should Christians approach this dual citizenship?

Peter continues with some practical guidance: Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. (1 Peter 2: 11b-12, NLT)

1)      keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very soul (v11b)

2)      live properly among unbelieving neighbors (v12a)

3)      behavior honorably (v12b)

4)      don’t judge (v12c)

The big question regards whether our citizenship in God’s kingdom is as noticeable as (say) an immigrant’s native accent reflects his/her Spanish-ness or Middle Eastern-ness or Asian-ness? What should an accent resonating the kingdom of God sound like?

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Notes

1) Image source: http://preachersstudyblog.com/2013/05/dual-citizenship/

2)  Referring to believers as “temporary residents” is noted elsewhere in Scripture (such as Genesis 23:4, Leviticus 25:23, Philippians 3:20 and Hebrews 11:13).  (Biblegateway link in NIV)

3) What does ‘Born Again Christian’ mean?

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When All the Saying is Said – Cling

jesus holding up a man

God clinging more firmly to us as we draw near to him.

(Reviewing Road Reports archives, I came across this post of 8/13/2013. Three-plus years later, it still hits the spot so share it again along with a few tweaks learned since then…)


We were in our 30’s when some of the guys in our family started an annual  “Boys” winter weekend in northern Michigan. Now the oldest of us are in our 60’s.  

During those weekends when we were younger, we imagined what the years we are now living might look like, something like:

  • careers on cruise control

  • accumulating money for retirement

  • children grown and on their way

  • plans for our senior years nearly complete

Things didn’t play out like that for me. As I was turning in my mid-50’s toward a last push of accumulating for retirement, my life ship hit an iceberg.  I didn’t sink but a lot of our cargo jettisoned into the cold, dark waters called “Detour! Change of plans.”  As I tread water to keep my face on the air side, my faith in Christ became a lifesaver.  A Bible story that resonated with me was Job.

The premise of the story is disturbing – a debate between Satan and God that turns into a bet, like roulette.  After God singles Job out as a righteous man, Satan protests that Job’s faithfulness is all due to the favor God has bestowed on him – prosperity, health, family, and status.

Retorted Satan, ”But (if you) reach out and take away everything he has, he will surely curse you to your face!” (Job 1:11, NLT)

So God permits Satan to stack the deck against Job by devastating his livelihood, family and health.  Then God puts all his chips on Job and spins the wheel.

The rest of the story is a series of monologues by Job reacting to his plight and by three of his friends who weighed in with their own views about Job’s situation.

Some friends, right?  They lead off well with comfort and empathy but soon get frustrated as Job’s situation drags on.  Their monologues bounce between offering hollow answers and blaming Job for bringing this plight upon himself.

In my early readings of Job, I used to camp on Job’s speeches more than of his friends. Knowing how God favored Job at the beginning of the story, I surmised that Job’s discourse would be the most right on. Also, I KNEW the other guys’ reasoning about what caused Job’s plight was off.  

Now I realize Job didn’t have the corner on wise speak. In each man’s reasoning is shades of truth, speculation and error.  In these discourses I was reminded that we all sin, all fall short and that none of us can make much sense of life sometimes.  

Although God attributed righteousness to Job, his friends also followed God even though their judgment about Job’s plight were completely off base.  In the end, they each admitted their error by dutifully paying the penance God demanded of them.  

I see my own story in Job’s.  A detour interrupted my plan and as I dealt with it, I groped for answers that don’t exist.  In Job’s story, we see a victim dealing with trial while he and his friends conjecture about what happened..

When all the saying is said, Job clings to God so God wins the wager but Job also recovers to a new normal. Best of all, Job’s relationship with and awe of God moves to a more enlightened and practical place.

Clearly Job’s “rightness” with God is more about God than Job.  Because God had Job, Job had God. Don’t you love the end of the story when Job realized he only needed God, not God’s answers?

I had only heard about you before,
    but now I have seen you with my own eyes.
 I take back everything I said,
    and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” (Job 42:5-6, NLT)

Trial has a way of helping us to really “see” the God we only heard about before, and to truly get that God is always for us and never against us.  When we respond by aligning with God, we win and the next detour is a little easier to navigate.

Job’s story illustrates this principle well.  I hope my story does that too.

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Notes:

Photo source: Held by God on Pintrest

Here’s a good book offering insights from the experiences of the prophet Elijah: “I didn’t sign up for this” by Aaron Sharp

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Violation Intended

Revised 1/25/2015. Somewhat in deference to comments received about this post, published 1/24/2017, I’ve made some revisions to clarify my intent. Red = additions


Taken at Our Lady of Sorrows in Farmington Hills, MI in 2015

The 44th “anniversary” just passed of the Supreme Court’s “Roe v Wade” decision to legalize abortion. Prior to the recent presidential election, a friend emailed me a link to a homily given on October 22, 2015 by Fr. John Lankiet, pastor of Saints Simon & Jude Catholic Cathedral in Phoenix, Arizona.  Fr. Lankiet had something to say about how American Catholics should approach their civic duty to vote in the upcoming election.

Acknowledging that no political party aligns with all Catholic teaching, he urged Catholics to discern which issues are closest to the heart of Catholic teaching to guide their voting decisions.

He referenced issues as diverse as racial justice, education, the economy, immigration, health care, affirmative action, capital punishment, military action and even child abuse by Catholic priests.  He offered several scenarios where innocent people could be unintentionally victimized or even killed when the justice intended by existing laws falters

Then Fr. Lankiet brought his main point home that, in the case of abortion, victimization and death is never accidental or unintended or resulting from a faltering of the laws pertaining to it.  Unlike all other issues debated by people and candidates, abortion’s intent, under authority of law, is to grant a mother life or death authority over the life of the baby boy or girl in her womb.

The carnage of nearly 60 million babies killed in their mother’s wombs since this monumental decision on January 23, 1973 is difficult to imagine.  Equally impossible to grasp is the level that our indifference to the sanctity of life has fallen since Roe v. Wade.  To think we allowed our courts to extend our government’s jurisdiction INTO a woman’s womb, where she is entrusted and uniquely endowed by God with the sacred privilege and responsibility to nurture until birth every human being who ever lived, including our Lord himself.

If Roe v. Wade has a “silver lining,” it is to again prove that we cannot be trusted to do right by God or ourselves or to steward each other or our planet without Jesus’ redeeming grace guiding, correcting and empowering us.  St. Paul bluntly charged that absent redemption, we are the walking dead, like those zombies and demons glutting our televisions and theaters today – obsessed with demons, death and violence.   (See Ephesians 2: 1-2)

The band Casting Crown band offers this perspective in their song “While You Were Sleeping:”

United States of America

Looks like another silent night

As we’re sung to sleep by philosophies

That save the trees and kill the children

We save trees but kill children.  Need I say more?

My compliments to Fr. Lankiet courageously for thoughtfully declared that linking what abortion always intends to terminate life, is to some of the a horror not generally intended with all other issues could become, issues many of us offer as being more important than abortion in our voting decision. Regarding abortion, is seems we each decide (1) if and to what degree we agree with this premise; and, (2) the extent our premise influences our choices.

The premise of the “pro-life” position is not so much Personally, I’ve moved from a basis of when life begins to but that the  “inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” guaranteed by our constitution comes from God alone, not by a court or government or any human being. Remove God from the equation and the sanctity of life is severely in jeopardy.

Human life is sacred and protected because we are “fearfully and wonderfully made … in the secret place … woven together in the depths of the earth…set apart before birth … in the image of God… male and female.” (See Genesis 1:27; Psalm 139: 13-16; and Jeremiah 1: 4-5).

Go read the simple yet beautiful account in Genesis 2:18-25 of what may be the first lovemaking between man and woman, a magical moment created, approved and initiated by God that moved Adam to excitedly exclaim, “At last!” … This one is bone from my bone, and flesh from my flesh! She will be called ‘woman,’ because she was taken from ‘man.'”

The Bible reserves two sacred purposes for this lovely union – to seal, cement and enrich each couple’s bond and to bring forth new life under the celebration of shared intimacy.  How much further can we get from this awesome and uniquely human gift than abortion?

While I admit to often using a candidate’s abortion stance as my initial  first line litmus test for my support of them, I also confess to feeling embarrassed when my approach is depicted as overly simplistic, uninformed, irrational or even imbecilic. But I’m O.K. with that now. Sign me up as an “imbecile for Christ.”  A tipping point for me has become St. Paul’s assertion that the “message of the cross” is foolishness to the world and that God “will destroy the wisdom of the wise” and frustrate the “intelligence of the intelligent.” (per Corinthians 3: 18-20 in NIV). 

As I continue to submit to Christ’s shaping of me, I increasingly find myself at odds with my preferences for comfort and acceptance in order to draw nearer to God. This is the ultimate dilemma Christ followers face.

Contrasting God’s rule with the thief-like influence that otherwise rules our lives, Jesus summed up both our situation and our opportunity when he said, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10, NIV)

Prior to launching into his abortion indictment, Fr. Lankiet stood with his Savior to offer mercy and complete forgiveness to any person involved with aborting a child, noting that no wrong or sin can stand against redemption in Christ, no matter how great.


Links:

  1. Text of Fr. Lankiet’s Oct. 2, 2015 Homily
  2. Fr. Lankiet’s Homily on YouTube (19:49 minutes)
  3. While You Were Sleeping by Casting Crowns

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Path gone postal

Shoveled foot road leading to broomed foot trail

Woke up last Tuesday to 5-6 inches of heavy snow.  Was grateful to have a snowblower to clear our driveway and the sidewalks running in front of our property.  For the “postal” foot trail in front of our house, I used a large push broom.

I started “snow brooming” a few years ago when I noticed that our postal carrier uses a straight-line approach with her route – the shortest distance between two points. Her “points” are the houses on our block she delivers mail to, including ours.  She traipses straight across our lawns, avoiding the sidewalks. My brooming merely follows the path of her footprints.

During this most recent brooming, author Wendell Berry’s popular paths vs roads remark from his book, “The Art of the Commonplace” came to mind.

“The difference between a path and a road is not only the obvious one. A path is little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place. It is a sort of ritual of familiarity. As a form, it is a form of contact with a known landscape. It is not destructive. It is the perfect adaptation, through experience and familiarity, of movement to place; it obeys the natural contours; such obstacles as it meets it goes around.

A road, on the other hand, even the most primitive road, embodies a resistance against the landscape. Its reason is not simply the necessity for movement, but haste. Its wish is to avoid contact with the landscape; it seeks so far as possible to go over the country, rather than through it; its aspirations, as we see clearly in the example of our modern freeways, is to be a bridge; its tendency is to translate place into space in order to traverse it with the least effort. It is destructive, seeking to remove or destroy all obstacles in its way. The primitive road advanced by the destruction of the forest; modern roads advance by the destruction of topography”

Characterizing that “A path is little more than a habit…a sort of ritual of familiarity” vaguely

Incoming foot trail

describes our postal carrier’s path. On the other hand, our sidewalks, driveway and street fits more with his “road” description, as “a resistance against the landscape” motivated by haste to “avoid contact with the landscape.”

I wonder if meticulous lawn tenders think dimly of postal carriers choosing “contact with (their) landscape” when sidewalks built for foot traffic could be used?

Until I became acquainted with some of Berry’s philosophy, characterizing land developers or even grass tenders as imposing the will of their designs over the manner of nature to exist according to its own intrinsic manner never occurred to me. While sidewalks and lawns seem a rather innocent imposition of a developer or homeowner’s for a given place, moving from a sidewalk vs. path comparison to larger scope debates pitting industrialists against environmentalists isn’t that great of a leap.

While the natural community is a delicately balanced ecosystem dependent on the harmonious coexistence of elements, vegetation and creatures, human communities require coalitions of like-minded tamers to impose a certain will or resolve on a place and its occupants.  I suppose me brooming a path for our postal carrier along with my neighbors quietly allowing her foot trail across their lawns is a quiet compromise that is way better than rallying to insist on sidewalk use intended to guard the privacy of our respective sanctuaries.

When I read the psalmist David’s grand pronouncement that “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” (Psalm 24:1), I wonder how our neighborhoods and other impositions of our will upon the land fits with God’s hope for us as his image-bearing stewards of creation?

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Notes

Another “Road Report” reflection about Berry’s path/road remark (January 2015): Well worn paths

Another blogger’s view (November 2010) : The Difference Taking a Path Versus a Road Makes in Spiritual Growth

 

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We wept

Mourning a friend’s passing

A church friend died last week. Part of pastor Doug’s message at her memorial service touched on Jesus’ response when confronted with the death of his friend Lazarus.

“Jesus wept,” (John 11:35, NIV).

Weeping over a friend’s death is natural for us mere humans but Jesus weeping?  Apostle John recounted how observers of Jesus’ weeping waded in.

“Then the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’

But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:36-37, NIV)

That second comment seemed particularly pointed given what Jesus did next – raise Lazarus from the dead.  Furthermore, we revisit this story knowing what Jesus accomplished by his own death and resurrection, restoring God’s original plan for humanity – relationship and eternity with the Father.

Eternity with the Father means no death, right?  So, why do we still die?

“There are only two things certain in life – death and taxes” is an expression generally attributed to Ben Franklin.  Death has been with humanity for so long that if not for God’s word claiming otherwise, we would assume death is indeed a certainty.

Apparently, God’s original blueprint for humanity didn’t include death.  The word  “die” surfaces first in the Bible as a penalty for Adam or Eve eating from the forbidden tree in the garden of Eden. (Genesis 2: 16-17] Perhaps because they were naively clueless about this death penalty of God’s is why they so easily went along with the serpent deceitfully questioning whether God really meant “die” when he said they would “die” if they sampled the fruit.

We all know the rest of the story – sample, sin, then blame as all hell broke loose, including death. (Genesis 3:6, 12-23)

Paradise was lost but God had an elaborate rescue strategy all ready to go just in case, as if he knew they would falter. Fast forward six thousand (or million) years to Jesus, the linchpin of God’s strategy that no one saw coming, despite all kinds of clues and signs.  Everything is lined up exactly according to plan and ……Jesus WEPT?

So again, why did Jesus weep? Why weep over someone he was about to raise from the dead?  Why weep when he knew his self-sacrifice and resurrection would soon overcome death and reconnect people with God?

“He wept over sin,” Doug offered.

“Dah,” I thought immediately. Shame on me for being even a little surprised that Doug would repeat what he’s been saying ever since arriving at Grace Chapel twelve years ago – that sin is the underlying cause behind everything that is wrong with the world and people and life.

Sin, the culprit behind our friend’s death, is also why  is why God sent Jesus to rescue humanity. In our friend’s case, not her sin in particular but sin in general.

Self reliance vs. God reliance is at the heart of sin. Jesus restored to all hearers of his gospel the decision Adam and Eve made on behalf of all of us, to choose between the rule of God or the rule of sin. Until God is satisfied that all people have sufficient opportunity to also choose, death is permitted. (Matthew 24:14)

So we still weep about death but that’s not where everything ends.  The other half of Doug’s message that sin is behind all that’s wrong is that the gospel is behind all that’s right.  The gospel changes everything.

Believers also weep but we weep with a sure hope that those who do not believe lack. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, 1 Peter 3:15).

In God’s due time, sin’s grip will finally fail and death will be no more.  (Revelations 21:4) Meanwhile, the nearer we draw to the heart of our Lord, the more our weeping will be like his – more about sin than death.

“As he (Jesus) approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42)

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Messianic Merchandiser

Section 4 of 16 at Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, MI.

Even though we generally take Christmas down on New Year’s day, I am often reluctant to leave the  Christmas mode.  This year, we decided to extend Christmas with an outing to Bronner’s Christmas store in Frankenmuth, Michigan during the week between Christmas and New Years.

Established by Wally Bronner in 1945, Bronner’s is a year-round Christmas store.  An American success story, Bronner started modestly than steadily grew to a mega-successful enterprise touted as the world’s largest Christmas store, drawing over 2 million visitors annually to the Frankenmuth area.

Bronner’s opened its current 320,000 square foot store in 1977.

Our primary intent was to enjoy a Christmas outing together but I was also on the lookout for an angel figurine for our outside Christmas decorations.  My inspiration is two grapevine angel figures that are part of our church’s Christmas display.  My idea is to buy or make a similar angel and wrap it with lights to herald the Savior both day and night.

Angels like this (Grace Chapel Church)

Not only does Bronner’s offer an extensive array of Christmas merchandise, it also designs and manufactures Christmas materials, displays and ornaments. As a Christmas ornament-hobbyist, I am particularly drawn to Christmas ornaments in general and gospel-themed ornaments in particular.

Notably, Wally Bronner, a devout believer in Christ, pulled off a merchandising miracle to achieve mega commercial success with Bronner’s while also keeping Christ front and center in his prolific advertising and throughout the store itself.  Look no further than the Bronner’s brand and motto. Greeting visitors near each store entrance is a huge wall sign picturing Santa kneeling at Jesus’ manger captioned with the “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow” Philippians 2:10.

Wall sign near Bronner’s entrance, Philippians 2:10

While Bronner’s commitment to the Lord inspires, his commercial success is more likely due to keying on customer’s desires for celebrating Christmas.  Christmas today is most about what each celebrating family decides to make Christmas most about.  

Credit Bronner for zeroing so effectively to all those “most abouts” of his vast customer base. Shoppers with no interest whatsoever in the messianic “back story” of Christmas can find everything they need at Bronner’s.  Truly, the business of Christmas can flourish apart from the greater mission its namesake came to planet earth to share and do.

While for Wally Bronner, Christmas is most about his Savior, he fashioned a Christmas business that also catered to people preferring a Christmas without Christ.  Not only did he seem O.K. with doing that but he achieved significant commercial success with that strategy.  While Bronner’s both/and approach may seem like a watering down of his faith, I would tend to tout him as an exemplary “Messianic merchandiser.”

Bronner’s brand and motto since 1977.

I never met the man but I would bet he viewed Christmas and Christ as inseparable.  To promote Christmas in any way is to also promote Christ.  Note the company’s signage and motto since 1977, “BRONNER’S CHRISTmas WONDERLAND.”

All he did was capitalize on “Christ” comprising the first six letters of the word, “Christmas.” A coincidence or something else?

After 63 years at the helm during which he became fondly known as “Mr. Christmas,” Wally Bronner handed the company reigns to his son Wayne in 1998.  He remained chairman of the company’s board of directors until his death in 2008 at age 81.

I found a few angel candidates at Bronner’s but the ones I liked most were a bit over my budget. I was only mildly surprised to also not find much merchandise with what I would call a “gospel-theme” regarding Jesus’ underlying mission to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).  While my own ornaments reflect that angle, “religious-themed” decorations at Bronner’s were generally creche scenes, angels, some bulbs with Bible verses, and a sprinkling of crosses and country church figures.

I did however find something valuable at Bronner’s – inspiration for living out the gospel in any manner that can draw unbelieving people near to me and other believers.  While we, like Christmas itself, may not always act or seem Christlike, we and our Savior are in fact inseparable (See Romans 8:38-39).  By virtue of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, others in our vicinity are susceptible to being exposed to Christ and the gospel.

I am no Wally Bronner but his Christlikeness can be an example for me in this new year as I give myself over to the Spirit at work in me in the hope that someone near me may “catch” some of God’s goodness from me.


Notes

  1. History of Bronner’s
  2. Bronner’s store directory

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Permission to speak

Christmas lights remind me of a God who speaks into my life

During Christmastime, we and our neighbors decorate our homes with Christmas lights. Christmas lights give me a sense of peace and well-being vaguely rooted in the idea that the society I live in is sharing in the celebration of Christmas.

Try this thought on that I’ve been mulling over – Christmas as a both a unifying and a dividing force for life on earth 2000-plus years after Jesus’ birth. By celebrating Christmas in any way, we permit the God behind Christmas to speak into our lives; even if just a tiny, little bit.

I followed an Advent study this year introduced by our pastor.  Produced by a ministry called “He Reads Truth,” day 4 regarded how biblical prophets before Christ spoke God’s Word to people who would be lost without it. A main theme of those messages pointed to a coming Messiah.

The study notes that all through our lives, people like these prophets are speaking their truths to us. When we are young, the speakers are our parents, teachers, bus drivers, crossing guards. But as we get older, fewer people have such a voice in our lives unless we grant permission.

Like most adults, the number of people I allow to speak into my life is pretty small; only people I respect and trust. The study topic got me thinking about who I allow to speak into my life. I would say, the lists separate into two classifications: One regarding general living matters and the other that focuses on my spiritual well-being.

The longer list regards matters like family, work, relationships and to understand or do certain things. That list includes several proven people but also non-personal resources like books, internet sites, etc.

The list of those I grant permission to speak into my spiritual list is shorter. I only allow a few people I personally know whose lives I can observe and whose spiritual acuity jives with such an austere resource as the Bible to speak into my life and call me out about how I am living out my relationship with the Lord.

I realize I formed a conviction a while ago about having lists like this and giving people on it permission to speak into me, to advise and guide me. Like prophets spoke God’s word authoritatively to people who permitted them to do so, we need to invite people who know and respect God’s Word to speak to us.

Do you have people like that in your life?

Our 2016 Christmas Letter

Some Blessings we Celebrate this Christmas

  • FOR Christ — with and for whom we begin, end, and live the moments of each day. We love Jesus and marvel that he made us the reason for this season.*
  • FOR Daily Bread –- God’s love and nurture never ceases to surprise, support and inspire us. Lord God, you sustain us.
  • FOR People who love and support us – our Grace Chapel family, our children, extended family, and friends. To a person, each of you is so very special.
    • Honorable mentions to (1) Grace Chapel small group, still together and vibrant for 18 fabulous years; (2) Mike, Ron and Jeff who I (Glenn) meet to pray with each Saturday; and, (3) Todd Waller who continues to host this Road Report blog on his server.
  • FOR Songs that inspire and anchor so many of our moments. Kudos to Christian singer/songwriters for your wonderful musical messaging; To the Grace Chapel Praise Band lead by Heather Yanke, with Cindy as a frequent participant, for ushering our little church into God’s throne room every Sunday.
    • Listed in “Notes” below are some of our favorite Christmas CDs by these superb Christian artists
  • FOR Getaways – such as trips this year to Frenchburg, Kentucky with Appalachia Impact; a vacation in Hocking Hills, Ohio; a getaway at KBN in Central Lake, MI , and visits with Laura and Michael in Zeeland, MI. Also for impromptu walks, drives and outings –  in our neighborhood, nearby parks, or out on rural, “blacktopped” roads – just us or, now and then, Glenn and “The Alfonso women” (Cindy, Norma and Judy)

Merry Christmas from Glenn and Cindy Trevisan (2016)

Our Christmas wish for you this year: Believe and Be Known. “to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6)

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Notes

∗ To receive via email my weekly observations about God showing up to let us know we matter to him, subscribe above – top right of this page.  (Warning – my perspective is pretty common man ordinary so if you are looking for qualified and scholarly insight, look elsewhere.)

Favorite Christmas Albums by Christian Artists:

  1. The Christmas Sessions by Mercy Me (2005)
  2. Peace on Earth by Casting Crowns (2008)
  3. O Holy Night by Sara Groves (2008)
  4. Glory in the Highest by Chris Tomlin (2009)
  5. A Christmas Album by Amy Grant (1983)
  6. Michael W. Smith Christmas (1989)
  7. All I Really Want for Christmas by Steven Curtis Chapman (2005)

 

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