A Familiar Lament

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By the time we are adolescents (if not before), we start to hear or use the words: “No one understands me”.

Today’s teens, however, might be more apt to say: “No one gets me”. These statements follow us into adulthood and can often be heard in disagreements between husbands and wives. In each case it is used, it suggests feeling as if we are understood is quite important to us.

As I reflect on that, I am aware that it is most often said at a point of utter frustration. We believe we have communicated something that matters to us so well without a response, that it can only mean the person does not understand. The words we use along with the statement might also include: “No one’s listening to me”.

The results seem predictable. When we reach the point where the statement or statements get used, we or the other person give up on further communication and a shut down occurs so the relationship reaches an impasse. For many of us, not to feel understood means not to be cared for or loved.

Sometimes we use the words because we want to get something from someone that we believe has been denied. Sometimes we use the statement when we are too lazy or too wounded to even try to communicate what is going on inside of us or what we want.

As a result, we use the words to lash out at the other person and erect a wall of self-protection. Of course, the wall doesn’t help us achieve what we desire and adds a greater sense of isolation than before we built it.

We are a paradox.

We want someone to understand us, actually understand us completely, and yet, we keep parts of ourselves hidden on purpose out of fear and a desire to self-protect. There are also parts of us that we don’t even recognize that stand out clearly to those who are closest to us.

Relationships are costly.

They require us to set aside our selfishness, our demandingness, our poor listening habits, and learn the hard lesson of what godly loving requires. To want understanding is common, but to pay the price by being real and working to know others and ourselves better is not so common.

Perhaps some of this originates from who we were in the beginning, in Eden. In that place, we once had a sense of what it felt like to be fully known, fully understood, and fully loved before we fell. Perhaps the words we throw out in our frustration represent a longing for Eden.

At issue is that we expect and desire to receive from others what we cannot give to them. We want to be loved in spite of being known completely with all our flaws, our failures, our bad habits, and idios. We forget this kind of acceptance, understanding, and love does not reside in our hearts unless or until our spirit has been infused with the Lord’s spirit and He rules our hearts, our words, and our choices.

John Piper says it well:

“God understands you better than anyone else. He knows how people get to be the way they are and how they are affected by their surroundings. God understands society perfectly. God knows all the facts about how the world works.”

And He is the only One who can meet the high bar we set to be understood.

He is the only one who loves us, warts and all, but if He dwells within us, He also can empower us to be more effective at listening to and sharing with other flawed humans such as we are.


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What is Your Passion?



What is your passion?


I confess that I love this question, but what saddens me is how often I hear people answer it by saying they really don’t know, or they aren’t sure they have any. I am puzzled by that because I cannot fathom how life is enjoyed deeply or pursued with focus if there is no passion.


Passion isn’t about extroversion or introversion because both can have passion. It is a strong emotion or intense desire or enthusiasm for something and it guides our choices and behavior. Too often we confine it to intense sexual love. Even though passion is clearly at the core of that part of us, we are selling it short if our view limits us to that perspective.


If my husband were chiming in here, he would say that I am passionate about nearly IMG_1837everything. I would likely chuckle, but also admit that I have strong feelings about more than one or two things and I most enjoy spending time with others who are passionate. The passion the other person has may not be my own but hearing them share about it and watching how it informs their choices and paths intrigues me.


You see I am persuaded that it is our passion that often defines us and tends to also define us as we are observed by others.


Sometimes the passion of a person is crystal clear. You see it in the person who is a fan of a particular sports team. That person has all the gear with the team logos and NEVER misses a game (often traveling miles to see one in person). That person can tell you statistics that can blow your mind.


I saw it in a long-time friend where playing the piano was concerned. She had begun playing in childhood and mastered the keyboard by hours of practice each day that continued well into her senior years. She taught other students, played in a women’s symphony and a small string trio. One of my favorite memories was seeing her sit at her baby grand piano and play whatever work she was perfecting. Late in life she was still practicing several hours a day.


Those would only be two small examples of what might be an endless list.


You may be thinking that a passionate person isn’t one you would like to spend much time with. Sometimes it might be because you have difficulty relating to someone whose passion is not your own. I know someone like that. Her world is all about golf and tennis and she is bored to tears if someone’s passion is reading or music. Sometimes if we don’t enjoy a passionate person it can be because we don’t have a clear sense of a passion of our own.


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I love passionate people and in truth find passionless people somewhat boring as they rarely have much to bring to a conversation.


Perhaps one of the reasons I so much love Peter (despite his bad rap as one of the Lord’s disciples) is because of the depth of his passion for the Lord. Yes, he was impulsive, could speak out of turn, and messed up in the courtyard when Jesus was being tried, BUT he was also passionate about the Lord.


Ever consider that Peter was the only disciple who followed Jesus after He was taken from the Garden of Gethsemane? He ignored the risk of those who seized the Lord and followed. It’s important to remember that when you recall his denial a bit later in that scene.


There is additional evidence that Peter wanted to be near Jesus.


Matthew 14: 27-33 tells the story of the storm that was terrifying the disciples when they were alone on the sea and Jesus was off on the mountain praying and gaining refreshing from his Father.


Jesus sees their fear and struggle and comes to them walking on the water. He calls out to them not to be afraid and announces He is the one speaking to them. When I read that I often wonder if the fear subsided right away or if they were still struggling as the waves crashed about them and the wind howled.


Here we see Peter’s response and some will say it is impulse and some will say it is faith that causes him to ask the Lord to confirm it is he by telling him to come to Jesus on the water. Sounds crazy, right? But look at that more closely. He already knew in his heart what Jesus could do. He had seen the miracles and walked closely with Him.


Here Peter’s passion defines him. He doesn’t try to sort it all out or consider the risk if Jesus tells him to come to Him, he just believes and wants to be near Jesus.


Eric and Kristin Hill describe this scene in The First Breakfast:


Despite his own fear and confusion, Peter decides that being near Jesus is the safest place to be. And although the other disciples surround him, Peter is the only one in the boat to have the response. There is an unmistakable humility in the way that Peter is drawn to Jesus, and even more so, in the way, he says, ‘Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.’


Peter instinctively understands that it must be Jesus that calls him out. He recognizes that the power of stepping out on to the water has to be a response to the invitation of Jesus.”










But also passion!





What the Polar Express Can Show Us



One of our Christmas traditions each year is to take time to watch our favorite Christmas movies. We never tire of them even though we know some of the lines so well we can quote them easily. Each one seems to connect with a family memory of some sort whether from our own childhood or time with our own children. Not all of them focus on the story of the Christ Child’s birth and yet many of them pick up the themes that are the center of Christmas whether they intend to do so or not.


One of our favorites is Polar Express that lit up the screens of movie theaters cbc73331596d464f74de344f97b8116eeverywhere in 2004. The animation is magical and the musical score a delight. At first glance what you discover is how the movie tells the story of one little boy in particular who has stopped believing in Santa Claus. Then one Christmas Eve a magical train appears outside his bedroom window and the conductor invites him to come aboard to travel to the North Pole with a group of other children.


The boy is skeptical about getting on the train because he doesn’t believe Santa Claus exists, but reluctantly decides to do so. Most of you know the story from seeing the movie. Among the many things that happen on the trip and after they arrive at the North Pole, the most poignant is when Santa appears just at midnight heralded by trumpets and cheering elves. Reindeer adorned with beautiful sleigh bells are prancing excitedly, but the boy cannot hear the sound of the bells because of his unbelief. He is so struck by how everyone else can hear them that he makes the decision to believe and once he does, he can hear the bell.


As we watched the movie a few weeks ago, some of the images and themes really stood out as a metaphor for the true Christmas story of the birth of Jesus. You may consider what I am about to share as a bit of a stretch, but bear with me as I try to pull back the view of the story to allow you to see what I began to sense.


Many are like the boy in Polar Express who didn’t believe in Santa Claus. We haven’t seen God so how do we really know He exists. Many at the time of Jesus even saw the child who grew into manhood and still did not believe this was the Son of God.


The boy couldn’t envision how Santa Claus could know every child on the earth and manage to be everywhere on Christmas Eve. We can struggle to wrap our minds around an all knowing and all loving God who is at once everywhere and yet knows each of us intimately and calls us by name.


The boy learned lessons about friendship, sharing, and giving while on the trip even with others who are not like him. Our life in Christ is about that too. It means joining in relationship with others who may not be at all like us in any number of ways and learning lessons about what it means to be selfless, sacrificing, and sharing.


One of the powerful lessons the movie depicts comes at the end of the movie where the sleigh_bell (1)voice of the boy (now a man) shares about how so many others stopped being able to hear the bells after they were older, but he had determined to believe and had never given up so the bells still rang for him.


The metaphor?


I need to decide to believe in the Babe in the manger despite all the things about it that may not make sense. Once I make that decision and He lives within my heart, I can hear Him speaking to my heart, mind, and spirit, even as the boy could hear the bells once he decided to believe in Santa Claus. But I must continue to nurture that belief throughout my lifetime in order to continue to hear His voice whether through His Word, through creation, through a message or a piece of beautiful music. If I allow everything else in my life to crowd out my belief in Him, I will not be able to hear Him because I am not even listening any more.


The conductor of the train portrayed by Tom Hanks speaks one of the most memorable lines in the movie. Look at what he says:


“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”


 The line reminds me of the words of Jesus in John 20:19 (MSG):


Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”


The boy had never really seen Santa Claus so he didn’t believe. For many, they have not seen Christ in the flesh so they cannot believe. For those who make that decision, the verse in John speaks of the blessings that will follow.


The other scene in the movie that made me smile and think of the time ahead is the scene at the North Pole. Just at midnight Santa appears to the sounds of trumpets, bells, and cheering.

Polar Express trumperers

We who believe are inching ever closer to midnight while we anticipate the Second Advent.


Will we hear the trumpets and bells and be cheering in joy?


Will WE believe?


S is For…Ordinary!



Today I come to the end of this nine part Christmas series using as a structure the letters of the word Christmas and the lyrics from the song C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S made famous by country music legend, Jim Reeves some years ago. I hope a closer look at the meanings beyond the words of the lyrics have resulted in deeper reflections about the characters, places, and events of the story we know so well.


This letter “S” has many words associated with the Christmas season. I wonder how many and which ones you might list. Here is my list: Savior, salvation, snowflakes, sleigh, sled, skating, shopping, scarf, season’s greetings, sleigh bells, Saint Nicholas, Santa’s elves, Scrooge, shepherd, stocking, and Santa Claus.


The lyric in the song for the second S in the song’s title is “means shepherds came”.


I am struck each time I read Luke’s account of the birth of Christ of the significance that the announcement of the angels of the birth of Jesus came first to the shepherds, the ordinary folks. In Luke 2, the seemingly ‘least likely’ are chosen. They are chosen to be the first noted visitors of Jesus after His birth.


Even though sheep might be a livelihood for some, those left to actually tend the sheep were often the youngest and weakest family members (Recall how David who would become King was the youngest of his brothers.) who had few skills for anything else. This might mean that children, older men no longer in their prime, or even perhaps older women would compose the group.


It seems odd to me that the youngest and weakest were given such a difficult and dangerous job. Shepherds were exposed to extremes of heat and cold. Supplies for their own welfare were few and needed to be stewarded and protected. Shepherds also needed to be very watchful and on guard at all times to protect the sheep from robbers, predators, and the terrain itself, which was often rocky.


They also needed to seek out any sheep that were lost after wandering away and find 002-shepherds-sheep (1)food for the flock later in the fall and winter when none was available. A shepherd provided for what the sheep needed right now, whatever that was.


The fields where the shepherds heard the angelic host adjoined Bethlehem. Many of the shepherds may have cared for the very lambs that would be offered as a sacrifice in the temple. Now they would kneel at the manger of the Good Shepherd who would be sacrificed.


I envision the shepherds outside Bethlehem as a group that is both older and younger than images of the scene might depict. Possibly an older woman would have been in the mix as well. I see them with eyes open and on the alert to watch over the sheep and lambs in their charge. What a heart they had for their charges.


At the time of Jesus birth, we see the least likely are chosen, a pattern that follows Him all the way to Calvary. His disciples were not well-educated men and some had dubious reputations. A tax collector was among them, one who was often most despised, along with poor fishermen.


The other message that breaks into my awareness is the shepherds are accorded the honor of first seeing the one that would also be called “the good shepherd”. The Good Shepherd would be as fierce and protective, as loving and as much of a provider as those who gazed upon the manger. He would also be described by John the Baptist in John 1:29 as “the Lamb of God”.


 As you edge closer to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, pause and consider Him as the One who shepherds you with the most tender, fierce love you can imagine. If you have invited Him into your heart and you are His, you can rest in peace when you lay down to sleep because He is always on watch caring for you. You can rest in confidence He will be there when you awaken and no matter where you are in your journey, He will never leave or forsake you. He even died for you.


John records the words of Jesus defining Himself in confirmation of those words in John 10:11 (ESV):


“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”


 In the Message translation of John 10:11, the sentence reads:


“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.”


 He simply loves us, the ordinary, that much.


 Of all the gifts you may open this Christmas, none can compare with Jesus.






A is For…Complete




As I come to the “A” in the word Christmas using the word structure from the song made famous by Jim Reeves (C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S), there are not so many Christmas related words. The short list I have includes angel, antlers, artificial tree, and advent. Perhaps there are more, but not on my radar screen.


In the song the “A” includes this line “A is all He stands for”. Each letter in the song has referred to some aspect of the Bethlehem story of the Christ child. With this line, the focus is the theme of who this baby in the manger really is. It may beg the question of what is it He stands for as well.


One of the ways to consider who He is and all He stands for is to consider the names used for Him. What a list it is! Let me list some of the words/terms used for Jesus: the Son, the Babe, the Son of God, I AM, the Alpha and Omega, eternal life, the Word, son of David, a man of sorrows, Savior, the Christ, Lord Jesus, the lamb of God, the Bridegroom, the Way, the Vine, the true Bread from heaven, the Light, the Morning Star, the Rock, the Redeemer, a sure foundation, the last Adam, the Holy One of Israel, and Prince of Peace. This partial list would be longer as well if we included all the names of God.


Our challenge is to acknowledge our vocabulary is inadequate to fully express who He is and what He is and represents. Finite humans have tried for thousands of years in words and songs to communicate this One who changed the world forever at the first Advent and continues to influence its course and the lives of those who believe.


His Second Advent will expand our sense of Him even more.


For so many reasons such as these, when I think of the line in the song that focuses on “A” I believe it stands for complete. Any careful reading of the gospels and epistles provide confirmation of that choice of word. When I tease out a few of the synonyms for the word, complete, it rounds out what I seek to convey. Synonyms like total, entire, full, greatest, maximum, the sum total of, and everything flesh out that word.


Paul’s words in Colossians 1:19 (ESV) speak to that:


“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”


Commentators note the word fullness (complete) was used by Paul to remind the Colossians that there was nothing lacking in Christ because the fullness of deity, power, and grace are His. It is clear that only One who was complete could accomplish the will of the Father to bring reconciliation, redemption, and salvation to the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve (you and me). They (we) were forever tainted with the stain of the forbidden fruit that cast them out of the Garden of Eden and into the darkness of their fallenness that was passed on to us all.


Nothing mankind could do could bring about what was needed, no sacrifice we could offer would pay the debt charged to us except One who was already complete, perfect in total. The staggering truth is that once we accept this Babe in the manger, this Jesus, and soon coming King, He makes us complete in Him, through Him, and by Him. Because of Him, His shed blood and perfect sacrifice, His triumph over death and hell, and return to life, our permanent debt (as Jerry Bridges would say) is now paid in full once and forever.


As my writer friend, Susan Chamberlain Shipe recently wrote looking at Luke’s description of Jesus, “Doctor Luke researched, learned, investigated. He found Jesus Christ to be full and complete…”


As we gather this Christmas and consider the story of the birth of Christ and all He stands for, let us never cease to be grateful that His love and grace offers to make us complete in Him. He is our “all in all.”


As Paul says in Ephesians 11:36 (ESV):


“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”


Cosmic archaeology