Saturday, November 23, 2013
The Christmas story as told in the gospels has the birth of the Son of God and humanity’s savior as the focal point. Scholars have long disputed the exact time of this birth as they attempt to piece together clues of the year of Herod’s death after a lunar eclipse and the execution of all boys two years of age and younger. So the birth date of Jesus has been estimated to be between 6 and 4 BC. The Star of Bethlehem is only found in the gospel of Matthew and scientists have also strived for centuries to retrace the paths of the stars back to this period to attempt an understanding of this phenomenon which led the wise men from the east to Christ’s birthplace. The book of Numbers contains the Star Prophecy which the Magi may have studied that foretells of a star that shall arise out of Jacob and a man shall rise up out of Israel.
Astronomers have speculated that a nova, a comet or possible planetary conjunctions might explain the star that arose in the east which captured their interest. One of the primary scientific theories concerns the planet Jupiter. In 7 BC, Jupiter and Saturn moved past each other three times in the constellation Pisces. This only happens every 900 years. Jupiter symbolized royalty and Saturn represented a deity who protected Israel. Ancient astrologers also associated Pisces with the Jewish people. In 5 BC. Jupiter was traveling eastward that year when it appeared to reverse course and then move westward in what is defined as a retrograde motion. This phenomenon was due to the fact that our Earth has a faster orbital period than Jupiter. Somewhat like observing a faster car overtake another, Jupiter appeared to be standing still for about a week and then receding. The astrologers may have considered this to be a momentous sign. The ancients believed that astronomical phenomena were connected to worldly events concerning important people. Perhaps that is part of a divine plan of the Creator who has set the universe in motion.
The Magi quite probably interpreted the starry heavens to be revealing some very significant imminent birth. It’s interesting to note, however, that when the Magi found their way to Jerusalem they had to stop and ask for directions to worship the King of the Jews. The priests quoted Micah 5:2 that prophesied seven centuries earlier that he would be born in Bethlehem. But what of the account in Matthew that they were then led by a star in the east directly to the house where the child and his mother Mary resided? There are numerous accounts in the Bible of what appears to be “uncreated energy” that emanates from the divine presence and is manifested in supernatural acts. This divine brightness was in the non-consuming burning bush that appeared to Moses, the bright pillar of fire that led the freed Israelites through the desert at night, the uncreated energy that later appeared to be a consuming fire on top of Mount Sinai, the tongues of fire that hovered over the apostles’ heads at Pentecost, the blinding light that struck the apostle Paul as he was converted and the radiant transformation of Christ on a high mountain.
It’s interesting to consider that the astrological events involving Jupiter did indeed alert the Magi that a momentous event was at hand. But perhaps it may well have been supernatural “uncreated light” emanating from God in the flesh that precisely guided those first worshipers to acknowledge His coming as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. As a child and even today, I’ve always considered the Star of Bethlehem to be a miracle of God without a scientific explanation. The appearance of the star was like a heavenly laser beam of pure Light announcing the long awaited arrival of a savior whose mission was the redemption of all mankind! John later quotes Jesus in 12:46; “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
Sunday, November 17, 2013
Covenant Reminder, Chicago, IL
There are accounts scattered throughout ancient cultures of a great cleansing flood which destroyed most of mankind that had devolved into an unredemptive state of depravity. The great flood in the Old Testament Genesis account is one of these significant accounts of divine retribution where God had become so aggrieved that he set out to destroy all creation. Fortunately, Noah and his family found favor in the eyes of our Creator and the future destiny of mankind was secured—but not until all others were lost. God subsequently established a covenant with Noah and his family to never again flood the entire earth and the rainbow was designated as an eternal reminder. Later He established a covenant with Israel to be the means of salvation for all nations.
We then fast forward to the good doctor Luke’s New Testament account of a new covenant for all people through the birth of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. Every birth is a miracle of life, but this birth was God in the flesh. One of my favorite contemporary Christmas songs asks, “Mary did you know when you’ve kissed your little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God”? After all, Messiah means “God with us”. Thankfully, it would seem that God took on a radically different mission this time. Instead of destroying His creation, He chose to personally provide for its redemption, while still leaving us in a broken world that tests our free will choices every waking day of our lives. The divine presence within human flesh that entered the world in Israel over two thousand years ago not only taught us mortals how to live with unconditional love, but willingly went to the cross as a blood sacrifice to save our spiritual souls. And the cross has remained as an eternal reminder since that very Black Friday.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Healing Light, Jamestown, NC
My favorite definition of God’s grace is that there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and nothing we can do to make Him love us less. We are forgiven and saved by the gift of grace alone or “sola gratia”. This concept of unmerited favor cannot be earned by good works, but doing good becomes a free will response to saving grace.
And there are a legion of worthy mediators who become the vessels God uses to seamlessly dispense His grace to others at all times. The lamp of grace is always burning and giving off its healing light, but we do have to acknowledge our need for it and exercise our free will to accept it.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Vintage Barn Wood, Summerfield, NC
A Facebook friend recently posted the sentiment that a scar shows that the hurt is past, the wound is closed, you have endured the pain and God has healed you. I can certainly relate after open heart surgery, two knee replacements and various small scars scattered about my exterior surfaces. And of course, the sun and years slowly erode the plasticity of your outer shell resulting in random wrinkles forming here and there.
Pat Boone was one of the teenage heart throbs growing up in the fifties who represented the antithesis of Elvis Presley. Pat’s image was that of the straight “A” college fraternity guy while Elvis carried the banner of rambunctious “rock ‘n roll” rebels. Pat crooned Love Letters in the Sand while Elvis rocked You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog!
Pat’s daughter Debby recorded a Grammy and Oscar award winning song in 1971 titled You Light up my Life which was a huge unrivaled success at the time. Debby, bless her heart, is now fifty seven and the official spokesperson for Lifestyle Lift, an organization that promotes facial surgeries that attempt to counter sagging skin and wrinkles. She hosts a 30 minute infomercial promoting the benefits of face lifts while her biggest hit song pervasively echoes in the elevator’s background. She never mentions that she has actually used the services she promotes. Some people light up a room by entering; some by leaving. I’m not sure that a face lift would make any difference.
I personally have absolutely no intention of ever using Debby’s paid for advice. I have always and always will maintain that each of the scars and wrinkles that I’ve acquired over time were individually hard earned. Life happened and I paid for each and every one of them through blood, sweat and tears. I’ve never considered them in any negative way, but as the vestiges of a life well lived and the character lines that they truly represent—like uniquely aged vintage barn wood!
Love, High Point, NC
When we read in Genesis that human beings were created in God’s image, it doesn’t mean that we look like our Creator but that we are able to relate like our Creator. Our God is a relational God. I believe it also implies that since one of the greatest attributes of God is love, we were endowed with the free will or freedom to either share in that relationship or to turn our backs on God. It’s been said that God can do everything except compel us to love him—by design. Paul writes in the love chapter of First Corinthians that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails”. We now vaguely understand our relationship with our creator, as if seeing through a dark glass or a blurry reflection in an ancient mirrored surface, but we will see more clearly when we’re restored to our original perfection.
We cannot enter into a relationship with God without the freedom of choice. We Americans living in the land of the brave and home of the free have learned that freedom is not free. Freedom carries with it certain responsibilities, dedication and sacrifices. And human history continues to move toward freedom because it is written on the human heart. However, nations of men have lived under severe persecution and denial of basic unalienable rights endowed by their Creator. Individuals have become wrapped in the chains of severe addictions that have robbed them of their ability to freely live life. Sin is not just a violation of a moral code, but it’s also a consequence of not developing a relationship with our Creator. Instead, we immerse ourselves in self-idolatry and deny our reliance on others. When we set out to be our own God and not to seek the grace and will of God, the destructive consequences known as sin easily corrupt the peace, hope and security of our existence.
Physics teaches us that nature abhors a vacuum. So when the human heart does not nurture love, rent free space is available for sin to move in and fill the void. Thankfully we have a forgiving Creator, since no human being is without sin.
Saturday, November 9, 2013
Serendipity, Summerfield, NC
Today’s rappers consider freestyling the art of taking a subject and then just rolling with the flow to activate a conscious stream of verbiage that rhymes as you go along. Writing a blog sort of works that way too--generally without the rhyming. If you’ve ever watched the popular American Picker television show, the guys will take off freestyling through the countryside until they spot a likely homestead that has lots of interesting looking old and rusting objects scattered about the premises. I realized that’s sort of how I go about discovering interesting images to photograph on a retirement day that suddenly presents itself with enough time to just set off in no particular direction in search of anything that catches my eye.
Today I was riding the ridges of the Carolina countryside on a rather overcast fall day with a Starbucks in hand and a chill in the air and not seeing much of interest. As I approached one of the very few stop lights in the small community of Summerfield, I decided to turn right instead of staying the course I was travelling at the time. And there right in front of me was the very definition of serendipity. I came into full view of an eclectic old barn that was weathered and worn with those old character lines etched in every piece of exposed wood. But some creative soul had inserted two very colorful panels in a broken window and door that made my day. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece of Americana that could be appreciated by someone with a camera that’s freestyling down a lonesome road on a gloomy late fall afternoon in the middle of nowhere to go and nowhere to be.
And so I took the road less traveled and it made all the difference.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Anyway, Mother Teresa
The time was 1897, not all that long removed from the devastating War Between the States. It was a time when hope and faith were waning in this country as a minister’s son, Francis Church, was still reassembling his life as a war correspondent at the New York Sun newspaper. With the Christmas season on the horizon, his editor handed Francis a letter from a young eight year old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon questioning if there is a Santa Claus. His reply remains the most memorable in editorial history as Francis drew deep into the depths of his faith to find a suitable reply that resonates with people even today. He wrote that he exists “as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy…Ah Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding”.
We too can find the lasting joy in giving to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s a relative bargain compared to the money people spend on pursuing the fleeting happiness found in material things. And that’s the true power of giving—when the gift is given with love, generosity and devotion it is returned tenfold in the form of blessings of lasting joy and an enriched life. Jesus taught us in John 8:12 that He is the Light of the World and if we follow Him, we won’t have to walk in darkness, because we will have the ultimate gift of light that leads to life!