The Circle of Life in One Hour

Goals. Resolutions. Fresh Starts. Success.

These are all the topics covered in my past New Year's posts. Every year, in late December, I take time to think ahead and design a plan for the next year.

But this year the Lord burdened me with the shortness of the hour. Oh, not the "hour" of earth or our time left before the Lord returns, but rather the "hour" of my own life.

When my grandmother died on December 15th, my sister in Florida needed some photos right away for a memorial service. I had to get them out in an hour's time. I can't tell you the emotions I went through that day as I shuffled through five large boxes of photos (not yet into scrapbooks). In trying to find photos of Grandma Parks, I also saw photos of my Dad who died a few years ago, photos of my children and grandchildren, and photos of myself ~ infancy through today.

It was as if I traveled the entire "circle of life" in one hour! I sensed the shortness of one's life. Of my life. And each new stage I saw in the box of photos brought tears. I couldn't stop crying.

The Bible says our lives are short. David summarized his thoughts about the brevity of life in a prayer: "Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am. Indeed, the number of my days is small like the size of a hand. And my age is as nothing before You. Certainly, every man at his best state is but vapor" (Psalm 39:4-6).

In another word picture, our lives are like a flower that grows and then quickly withers and fades away (Job 14:2; Psalm 103:15).

Psalm 90:12 reminds us to "number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Our days are numbered. Limited. Life races by and before we know it, we are the ones that people gather to talk about at a memorial service! So the psalmist teaches us to live wisely with all the time that we have! I am glad for the wisdom that has come to see life from a more godly perspective, to make better decisions and handle struggles biblically. There is something to be said for experience, especially experience learned in the presence of the Lord.

Realizing life is short has also helped me make better choices in my relationships and priorities, understanding that people have more value than things.

I've also come to understand the importance of vision and making goals in light of eternity ~ what really counts.

When I was younger, time seemed to stand still. I couldn't wait for high school graduation and college. I couldn't wait to be married and have children. Now ~ though I can't wait to see Jesus ~ I am looking for the brakes to stop my mad rush into old age.

As I approach this New Year's Day, I am not yet at the midnight hour of my life, but I know ~ perhaps as never before ~ that my life is but a whisper. Eternal values take on new meaning. And the bonus message is this: Jesus is coming soon; the day is "at hand" (Romans 13:12).


Confused about Christmas

Last Christmas, Kerby Anderson wrote a post for Worldview Times about the confusion surrounding Christmas.

Anderson wrote, "How many people really understand the meaning of Christmas? School administrators do not when they prohibit teachers from using red and green napkins at the school party in December because of the so-called 'separation of church and state.' Well-meaning Christians do not when they mistakenly believe that the Bible teaches that Christ was born on December 25th."

Anderson got it right. It's not just secularists who misunderstand the origins and implications of this holiday. "Critics of Christmas rightly point out that much of what we associate with Christmas is not even tied to the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ," he said. "Unlike many other festivals or celebrations in Christianity, there is no corresponding festival in the Old Testament (such as Easter and Passover)."

He went on to describe the pagan festivals that were eventually transformed into celebrations by the church.

Though I am concerned that we don't elevate pagan celebrations to the level of the truth surrounding the birth of the Savior, I am even more concerned about the confusion surrounding who Jesus is. In the past few weeks, I have talked to or read about people who call themselves Christians who have some cockeyed ideas about Jesus Christ.

One said, "Jesus became God on the cross so he could die for our sins. Before that, he was just a human." Another said, "Jesus was really God before he became a man, but then he had to give up his God-ness, and God gave it back to him after he rose from the dead."

How did we get so confused? Doesn't anyone teach Christology in churches anymore?

My friend, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, has been studying The Incomparable Christ by missionary statesman J. Oswald Sanders in preparation for a radio series in 2011 about Jesus. I've been studying along with her, and want to quote just a few statements about this One who came to Bethlehem so long ago.

"It is just as heretical to affirm the deity of our Lord while omitting the reality of His humanity, as it is to affirm the humanity while omitting the deity," Oswald wrote. The scriptures speak of this great mystery, that God was "manifest in the flesh" (1 Timothy 3:16).

The scriptures testify to the attributes of Jesus' deity (Matthew 28:18; 8:27; Luke 4:36; Matthew 26:53; Luke 4:40; Mark 5:41-42). His omnipresence (Matthew 28:20), self-existence (John 5:26), and work in creation (Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:10) and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-8) also point to His deity.

Yet the details of His humanity are also clear ~ His human appearance and heritage are obvious. But He also hungered (Mark 11:12) , grieved and wept (John 11:35), and was weary (John 4:6). And can we doubt the pain and physical distress he bore in the whippings, or on the cross? The nails of Calvary tore real flesh, and real blood streamed down his forehead from the crown of thorns.

Whatever we believe about Christmas, we have to be careful to understand the dual nature of Jesus, this One who was born to die for the sins of man.

The British pastor and author W. Graham Scroggie wrote, "Had He (Jesus) not been man, He could not have sympathized with us; and had He not been God, He could not have saved us." I am thankful that the Jesus of Bethlehem is the God-man ~ God in the Manger, as John MacArthur described Him ~ and this same Jesus is my Savior.


The Precious Death

My grandma, Dorothy Parks, died today ~ oddly enough, on her birthday! It seems fitting somehow, as if she was "born into heaven." I cannot help but remember special days in my past with Grandma, a dear woman of God.

Psalm 116:15 says, "Precious (important and no light matter) in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (His loving ones)." (Amplified Bible)

What seems like such hurt to me today is precious to God. He now has another of His children safe at home.

Knowing that Grandma had a personal relationship with God because of her trust in Jesus for her eternal salvation (John 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 10:27-29; 11:25; Romans 8:35-39;
1 John 4:14; 5:11) takes the sting out of her death
(1 Corinthians 15:55).

But also, knowing the strength of her walk with Him, I am comforted that she will receive the "Well done" of reward (Matthew 25:23a).

"Dawnie Babe," Grandma used to say, "the only thing that matters in life is loving and living for Jesus." She and Grandpa each had a quiet faith, but firm. Because of their (and our other set of grandparents') trust in the Lord, my sister Pam and I both grew up knowing that God exists and we can have a personal relationship with Him.

It is this heritage of faith that I celebrate today. With Grandma Parks' passing, I now have no living grandparents. But I have their living faith to comfort and encourage me; and I have a renewed determination that my children and grandchildren will receive the spiritual heritage and wisdom that flowed from my grandparents into my own heart.

It's said that God has no grandchildren. We must each become His children through our own personal trust in the work of Christ. I am thankful for that. I don't want a second-hand faith. And this is my prayer for my children and grandchildren and our generations to come ~ that they will individually know and walk with the God of the Bible, and learn the wisdom of the Word for their personal, daily choices.

Reunion in heaven will be sweet. Because Jesus rose from the grave ~ because He lives ~ so shall we live! Today, I celebrate my grandmother's life, not her death. She is now free from pain and sickness, experiencing the redemption of her body, not just her spirit. And I will see her soon, in God's good time.

(Other Scriptures that comfort and encourage me today ~ Romans 6:3-9; 8:14-23; 14:7-9; 1 Corinthians 15:20-23, 51-57; Philippians 3:20-21; John 11:25-27; Hebrews 7:25).


The "Stamped" Image

Every year, a few days before Thanksgiving, I prepare at least one large batch of Springerle. The cookie, traditional in Bavaria and Austria for centuries, is a white, anise-flavoried cookie made from a simple dough. Some people make them with specially-carved rolling pins. They can be quite elaborate (as are these, to the right). I used to make them with a square, carved mold; but in recent years, I've pressed balls of the dough against a round mold with a holly design. So much simpler!

The history of the cookie is controversial.

Some say Springerle cookies come from a pagan celebration (Julfest). During Julfest, animals were sacrificed to the gods, but poor people who couldn't afford to kill any of their animals gave "token" sacrifices in the form of animal-shaped cookies. Others say the source is less secular. Biblical scenes were supposedly portrayed on the cookies, used to educate those who couldn't read or write; and scenes were carved to celebrate births, weddings, and betrothals.

Another source says the oldest known springerle mold was found in Switzerland (14th century), a round shape molded with a carving of the Easter lamb (found at St. Katharine monastery and now in the Swiss national museum in Zurich). Others say the cookies originated in the German province of Swabia (15th century) to honor church Holy Days.

The name "springerle" is said to mean "little knight" or "leaping horse" in old German; but food historians suggest it comes because the cookies "spring up" while cooking. One of the most popular molds is a picture of a leaping (springing) horse.

As I said, I make a simple version of Springerle (like these, to the left). And no matter the shape, the most distinguishing feather of the cookie is that it is stamped with a mold.

As a Christian, every time I make these cookies, I find myself singing the old hymn, "Oh! To Be Like Thee." The lyrics read, in part, "Gladly I'll forfeit all of earth's treasures, Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear;" and many of the refrains end with these words: "Stamp Thine own image deep in my heart."

I think about the stamped image. It is not always perfect when I make cookies, because I shift the mold or don't fill in the dough correctly, or the dough sticks and mars the image.

How like my life. I am in Christ, and He is sanctifying me, but sometimes in my desire to live a holy, Christ-honoring life, I get in the way. I make foolish choices; I sin. And people don't see the true image of Christ in me. But God, the Master Craftsman, is not content until I look like His Son (Romans 8:29).

The truth is, someday those know Christ and have been transformed by the Spirit of God will "be like Him" (1 John 3:1-2). We who have "borne the image of the man of dust" during our sojourn on earth will someday bear the image of the "heavenly man," Jesus.

The final verse of the Christmas carol, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (written by Charles Wesley) says, "Adam's likeness now efface, Stamp Thine image in its place." This is the message of Christmas: "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail th' incarnate Deity!" Jesus came to give us life. He came to fix what we cannot fix ~ our separation from God. As the carol says, "God and sinners reconciled."

How glorious. We will be changed, (1 Cor. 15:47-52), and we will forever bear the stamped image of Christ!


We Need Courage to Speak at Christmas

I love the story of the Wise men. They are part of our decorations (even though they didn't visit the Christ child until he was a toddler, and there's no reason to think there were three ~ except for the fact that three gifts are mentioned in Matt. 2:1-16). The Wise Men are part of historic Christianity, with their visit detailed in scripture.

The American Atheists (AA) paid $20,000 for a billboard sign designed (showing Wise Men) to spread a message of "reason" outside the New Jersey Lincoln Tunnel. "You KNOW it's a myth," the sign says, and the atheists urge us to "Celebrate Reason," rather than Jesus, the reason for the season.

It's the annual war on Christmas, but with greater impact.

In an appearance on Fox News, American Atheists' Dave Silverman said the billboard has two purposes: (1) to get atheists who are going through the motions to "come out of the closet"; and (2) "... to call Christians out on their own history."

The AA website ~ which I won't link to on purpose; why promote them? ~ says it's not a war on Christmas, but rather "a war on intolerance and ignorance."

Christian Examiner reports that, according to World Net Daily, the company that permitted the billboard (Lamar Advertising Company) tried to sell a nearby spot to Christian groups to counter the message, but no one stepped forward; however the Catholic League purchased a billboard on the New York side of the tunnel with an illustration of the Nativity that reads, "You Know It's Real: This Season Celebrate Jesus."

This is not the first anti-God sign promoted by atheists. In 2009, huge signs were plastered on the side of New York buses; and earlier this year, the United Coalition of Reason spent $100,000 on pro-atheist billboards nationwide.

Raven Clabough wrote, Nov. 29, in New American, "Perhaps what is most ironic is the American Atheists' assertion that the birth of Jesus Christ is a myth. Even among groups that do not accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah, such as Jews and Muslims, as well as among historians, Jesus Christ has been accepted as a living human being... As the existence of Jesus Christ is incontrovertible, atheists should at the very least view the celebration of His birth in the same vein as celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln."

Christians, we need to find our courage. Christmas isn't a simple little secular celebration. We may not agree on the date Jesus was born, but we know He was. And we know He came for a purpose, to fulfill the will of the Father in providing our salvation. We need to speak up. As the scriptures say, "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!" (Psalm 107:2a); "... proclaim his salvation day after day" (Psalm 96:2b).

The wise men came in search of the Christ Child, and wise people still seek Him. Don't be conned by the foolish claims of the atheists. Instead, rejoice in your Savior!


The Pieces of Our Puzzle

I have a puzzle hanging on my wall at Christmastime that brings back many memories of Thanksgivings at my husband's parents house in Palm Springs. Every year, we put together a puzzle. Everyone had to place at least one piece, and some of us were avowed puzzleholics!

One year ~ after completing the "A Christmas Legacy" Victorian puzzle (seen here) ~ Bob's parents framed the puzzle and gave it to me as a Christmas gift. Stored in the back of my clothes closet, I can't wait to hang it each December.

When I think about the hours we spent on that puzzle, I get tired all over again. It was tough work! I remember trying to jam pieces into one spot ~ and nothing fit until the very end. I was thankful for the patterned box top, so we could see how the finished product was supposed to look.

It's always so rewarding to see a puzzle come together.

How like life. It wears us out, trying to fit in all the pieces. Sometimes we try to jam in something that doesn't belong. If we'd just consult the "pattern," the Word of God, many of our puzzles would take shape the way God intends. Even our struggles fit the plan God has for our lives. God tells us not to think it strange that trials come (1 Peter 4:12). Though the pile of pieces that make up our lives may not make sense to us ~ all the shapes and sizes of circumstances we face ~ there are some "connections" that help.

We always put the border of the puzzle together first. The border is like the guidelines (you might even say, the boundaries) that frame the puzzle. I am so thankful for the guidelines and boundaries God has placed in my life. I am safe, but also, within them I have great freedom.

But once I move away from that border into the big "middle" of the puzzle, things get a little crazy. It's harder to see how specific pieces have a place. It's easy to get frustrated, or even want to give up. I admit that I have to "leave" a puzzle for a while sometimes, upset when nothing seemed to fit; but eventually, a new piece, or perhaps an old piece seen from a different perspective, finds a home in the puzzle. And new connections are made. I get excited, and move forward quickly until I hit another snag.

What a thrill when a puzzle is completed. (One year, my son hid the last piece! He finally "fessed up" after his mama nearly went crazy, looking for it.)

Sometimes in life, it feels like a piece is missing. But God has a way, even then, of helping us make sense of our puzzles, and working all things for our good (Romans 8:28). We know that someday He will supply the missing piece. God's goal is that we learn as we go, with each new piece of the puzzle making us more like the final picture: He wants to transform us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).

I read a post by someone named "Shelley" on this same topic. Shelley wrote, "Life, a Christian life, a sin-filled Christian life, is filled with emotions because we feel like the pieces don't fit. Yet ... as in Romans 8:28, after that time of frustration, of confusion ... it works."

Yes, life works because the Lord is the one who sustains us (Col. 1:15-17) and holds the pieces of our puzzle together. We are safe in His hands.

How about you? Is your life-puzzle driving you crazy? It might help to consult the "picture" God has for you in His Word.