Saturday, December 20, 2014

LOVE CAME DOWN AT CHRISTMASTIME


Christmas Eve Silent Night, Jamestown, NC

Jesus had already spent a tiring day preaching to the people and he had sailed across the Sea of Galilee with his disciples to rest. But a large crowd hungered for more and it became necessary to also feed them late in the day. William Barkley in his book, Insights: Miracles, posits three explanations for how Jesus was able to feed the multitude of five thousand with five barley loaves and two sardine-size fishes. This poor man’s bread and the small preserved pickled fish of Galilee were known throughout the Roman Empire. The story is one of seven miracles that the apostle John relates in his Gospel to show that Jesus is the Messiah. Barkley notes that we’ll never know exactly what happened on that grassy plain near the Sea of Galilee, but it was miraculous. One possible explanation is that Jesus simply multiplies the loaves and fishes. Or, it may have literally been a sacramental meal and it was just a morsel that the people received which nourished their hearts and souls like our communion does today.

Or, there may actually be a very inspiring third explanation. Many people in the great crowd wanting to hear Jesus may have been pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. Jewish people carried their own food in bottle-shaped baskets so they could observe their rules of cleanness and uncleanness. They had probably packed just enough food for the journey without consideration for sharing it. But they listened to Jesus’ message and witnessed the young boy’s gift to him. God is constantly using ordinary people like you, me and the boy to accomplish extraordinary things! “Little is much when God is in it!” Philip didn’t think they could feed the multitude, but Andrew brought the boy with his small lunch to Jesus. If you don’t think God can handle a large problem, your God isn’t big enough!

Then Jesus turned, blessed the loaves and fishes as the father of a family and gave them to his disciples to distribute. In this way they had to trust that the peoples’ needs would be fulfilled and they could only share what they had received. That’s still how it works today. This modeled behavior in the presence of the Son of God must have assuredly moved the crowd to willingly share with others around them and it became a spontaneous, miraculous lovefeast in the spirit of goodwill and love for God and others. The resurrected Jesus later appeared to his disciples on these same shores of the Sea of Galilee where he assured them of an abundant life everlasting and challenged them to feed his sheep and make a difference in their lives, while he prepared a breakfast of bread and fish.

The “lessons learned” from this “miracle of the sharing of five loaves and two fish” were that Andrew trusted that Jesus could make something happen if he just made the effort to help by bringing the small boy to him. And although the boy didn’t have a lot to offer, it was enough to complete a miracle. Barkley notes that “it may well be that the world is denied miracle after miracle and triumph after triumph because we will not bring to Jesus what we have and what we are. If we would lay ourselves on the altar of his service, there is no saying what he could do with us and through us.” It may just be that it was not the loaves and fish that were miraculously changed that day on the Shores of Galilee, but the hearts and souls of all who gathered there that received the Bread of Life! Love changes everything. And the greatest gift of love known to mankind came down at Christmastime, shared the love, fed his flock and changed the world, which may also explain why this miracle left such an impression that it is the only one that appears in all four Gospels.

P.S.
I'll be standing there next year!

Friday, December 19, 2014

A DAMAGED-GOODS WORLD


Fallen, Jamestown, NC

We’ve become very good these days at skirting the grim reality of the world around us by using creative words to describe it. Those words increasingly turn up in the news. Some words are simply satiric if we don’t take them too seriously, like the recent peaceful protests that devolved into rioting and looting in cities around the country that were described as “undocumented shopping”. But innocent civilians caught up in the never ending wars around the world are referred to as “collateral damage”. And then there’s the growing issue of mental illness and those individuals that are living among us on the streets that don’t quite qualify for institutionalization until they snap and commit a horrendous crime against society. The examples are legion.

Australia generally just languishes down under and minds its own business. But within the past week it was the center of a hostage crisis where two innocent hostages were ultimately killed. And then a mother of eight innocent children was found with stab wounds while all of her children were discovered with fatal knife wounds. The police are not actively looking for a suspect.

A lawyer of the gunman who seized the hostages described him as a man of “ideology …so strong and so powerful that it clouds his vision for common sense and objectiveness”. He went on to state that the lone-wolf radical who considered himself persecuted by the government for his political views was “a damaged-goods individual” who had numerous issues.

That first Christmas Eve was anything but a “silent night” and a multitude of people around the world still do not experience one. At this hopeful time of the year, it’s time to pause and unite in action and prayer for a peace on earth and goodwill towards all mankind here and now, as we individually work to make a difference into the New Year in a broken “damaged-goods world”.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

WE CALL IT CHRISTMAS


Star of Bethlehem, Internet Domain

When man reaches for God we call it religion.

When God reaches for man we call it Christmas.


--Washington Fellowship

Saturday, December 13, 2014

SILENT SENTINAL OF CHRISTMAS PAST


Silent Sentinal, Blue Ridge Mountains, VA

I enjoy photographing old weathered barns with their distinctive character lines exposing the inner wood grains. And I seldom photograph an old deserted house because they just generally seem to lack the interest through the camera lens. But this deserted and weathered house nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains definitely caught my attention. The natural stone foundation and the outside stone fireplace dated the structure. I had to trek off the highway to capture the angle exposing the stripped roof and of course, the brightly painted flag with the text petitioning God to bless America was eye-catching.

At this holiday time of the year, it’s thought provoking to wonder how many Christmas’s were celebrated within the warmth of that old house around the brick fireplace. The house was quite probably erected by the homesteaders with help from neighbors, although I didn’t see any other structures standing in the vicinity. There may have been a small Christmas tree near the fireplace rendering a soft pine scent throughout the rooms as the woman of the house prepared a simple dinner. The tree would not have been purchased from an asphalt tree lot, but harvested by the family from the nearby hillside. Any packages under the tree for the children were very possibly hand made by the parents. Perhaps there were small hand carved “action figures” for the boys and matching hand sewn dresses for the girls and their dolls. There may have even been a small paper sack full of fruit and nuts under the tree for Christmas morning.

More than one successive family could have lived under the now crumbling roof. The home protected them from many storms and cold winter winds as they spent their life hours in this harsh country. Many new babies were probably delivered in the home by a visiting doctor or the family. Undoubtedly, family members breathed their last in the bedrooms as well. And now the house sits alone in decay as nature reclaims the land. But the Christmas memories surely live on in the telling of a Christmas past by the progeny of those who were born and raised in this silent sentinel of the mountains.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

CHRISTMAS HOPE


Larry and Rosemary, Chicago, IL

One of the many highlights of this year was the two weeks I stayed with my granddog Rosemary in Chicago while my daughter and son-in-law traveled Italy. We shared many hours exploring the urban neighborhood on our daily June walks which I summarized in one of my more popular postings titled “Walking with Rosemary”. I concluded the adventure by writing that “Our wanderings are full of curiosity. A large black ant abandons caution and aimlessly wanders across our path along the shaded sidewalk. Rosemary investigates and unceremoniously eats it.”

I fully expected a warm, belly rubbing welcome from Rosemary when I returned to Chicago for Thanksgiving. But after I rang in with the loud buzzer, she barked and nipped at my ankle. Reflecting back, I think she initially didn’t recognize me and certainly wasn’t aware that I was arriving that day. She may have even been a bit irritated that I had left for so long. I understand that at this stage of life we begin to miss a lot of those friends and loved ones who have gone before us. But that’s the beauty of celebrating the birth of the Christ child that the young teenager bore. We all now have the Christmas hope of being reunited once again after we’ve been separated for a while.

And Rosemary and I were able to enjoy another walk together!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

UNSEEN BREATH OF HEAVEN


Mary and Child, Old Saint Patrick's, Chicago, IL

The lyrics from Mary’s Song, Breath of Heaven, give us a sense of what the anxious teenager was feeling as she carried the Son of God inside her womb:

I have traveled many moonless nights
Cold and weary with a babe inside
And I wonder what I've done
Holy Father you have come
And chosen me now
To carry your son

I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone
Be with me now
Be with me now

Breath of heaven
Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan
Help me be strong

Mary was a young, poor female in a backwater town far removed from the influential and powerful, but she found favor with God. When God’s messenger Gabriel announced to her that she would be a single pregnant teenager she submitted to God’s will. Countless generations have now praised her for willingly delivering a child that delivered both her and all mankind and clearing the way for an eternal spiritual life after we finish this mortal one. Mary is considered to be the blessed one, full of grace.

God has communicated to humankind over the centuries verbally, with angels, in dreams, and through His Son. Today He is more to be felt than seen, and His grace is mostly poured out to others by way of you and me. And once grace is received, it is expected that it will be shared.

It’s interesting to note that both the Hebrew and Greek words for wind, breath and spirit are the same. God breathed life into the first human beings. I’ve sensed our creator’s presence in the winds and soothing summer breezes that is His healing breath. The air around us has been described as the kingdom of the heavens. We certainly can’t survive without it. Is it merely composed of natural elements like oxygen and carbon dioxide, or is there something more transparent and spiritual at work in this rarefied air?

Friday, December 5, 2014

CONFIDENCE


Moores Creek Egret, Yorktown, VA

There are many things in life over which we have no control—with the one exception of our response to them. I believe part of our response should include trusting in our Heavenly Father to see us through to the other side of any circumstance. If we have been nurturing a relationship with our creator, we know that there are two sets of footprints in the sand along the beach of life. But there may be times when only one set of footprints can be seen. That could be when He is carrying us or it may just be those times when He has the confidence in watching from a distance and letting us walk strong on our own to gain self-confidence.

Birds have the confidence to light upon an untested branch because they have successfully tested their wings. We too have tested our wings in so many ways such as all the battles we have won, fears we have overcome and the knowledge and experiences we’ve acquired. We have the wings to soar with eagles if only we remind ourselves that we have prepared for this moment and we are not alone!