2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,900 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.




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JESUS Open ArmsGod is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. Psalm 54:4


What a joy this year has been! What a nightmare! Recently, I sat bolt upright in bed at 4:30 a.m. asking myself, “Where are You, God, and what have You done with my life????” But the ideas for these devotions just kept coming! Countless people wrote from around the world, called, stopped me at church, to tell me I was doing a wonderful thing. Wonderful? I just wrote four hundred words every day for the past year. What’s so wonderful about that? At her peak, Thornbirds author Colleen McCullough wrote 15,000 to 30,000 words a day on an electric typewriter! And I thought I had no life apart from writing!


But that’s just the point! I was writing for God and He is Life! (I’m even writing this entry when I should be sleeping!) God held the carrot in front of my nose, and I never tired of going after it. Minnesota’s award winning nature photographer Jim Brandenburg traveled the world for 25 years with National Geographic. He often took up to 300 rolls of film to render a few choices for publishing. It’s impossible to believe Brandenburg ever felt “increasingly dissatisfied” with his art, but in 1994 he began a personal project, limiting himself to taking only one shot per day between September and December. I heard him speak about this project, and sometimes he swore he’d go home without that one quintessential photograph to represent that particular day. But the “shot” always showed up, and the results made up his beautiful book, Chased by the Light (Northwood Press, 1998).


And so it has been for me. My ideas for devotional posts have burgeoned to where I had several dozen on my list, but often I would begin one and it seemed to go nowhere. God was faithful, however, and where one “literary window” seemed to close, a door would be flung wide and I’d be off writing again. That’s not to say each entry is perfect; far from it. But with a daily blog project, I never had much time to ruminate and revise, pontificate and purge. I just had to get it out there. And God delivered!


Thank You, Father, for being my partner in this project. Thank You too for my wonderful, faithful readers. Amen






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He gave a command to the skies above and opened the doors of the heavens. Psalm 78:23


I have only seen the Northern Lights, or the Aurora Borealis, once in my life, but living in the northern part of the United States it is often possible to see this phenomenon on clear, cold winter nights. According to the Northern Lights Centre’s website, “The bright dancing lights…are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as ‘Aurora Borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora Australis’ in the south…Auroral displays appear in many colors although pale green and pink are the most common. Shades of red, yellow, green, blue, and violet have been reported. The lights appear in many forms from patches or scattered clouds of light to streamers, arcs, rippling curtains or shooting rays that light up the sky with an eerie glow.” The night that I saw this amazing light display, massive swaths of iridescent lime green shimmered across the sky as I drove home on dark country roads. The show continued for about forty-five minutes and then faded, eventually disappearing altogether.


The people of Medieval Europe believed the Auroras were signs from God. The Cree Indians called them “Dancing Spirits,” and some indigenous Australian tribes believed they were spirits of the dead. Perhaps the most noteworthy sighting of the Northern Lights was after the Battle of Fredericksburg during the America Civil War. The lights could be seen from the battlefield that night, a rare occurrence as far south as Virginia. The Confederate Army took it as a sign that God was on their side, and a famous painting, “Aurora Borealis,” by Frederic Edwin Church is said to represent that conflict.


Much mythological, scientific and religious attributes have been assigned to the Auroras. I prefer to accept the notion that these stunning light displays are a surprise gift from God during our long and arduous winters. To see the entire sky light up with glistening hues makes me think of God at work with His mighty paintbrush, giving us a glimpse of heaven and one more reason to be in awe of Him.


Great Spirit, You entertain us with Your majesty and cause us to fall down in worship. Amen


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TLight in the Darknesshe light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not understood it. John 1:5


Why doesn’t the Gospel of John begin with the traditional story of Jesus’ birth? John opens with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.  In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). On second glance, this is just another version of Christ coming to live in this world. Mary isn’t mentioned, nor are Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men, or any of the other church Christmas play actors. But it is clear in John’s Gospel that Jesus is the Word, He is One with God, He came from God. It is obvious that even though Jesus came down into this world to shed light—His marvelous Light—not everybody “got” this. Many versions of the Bible say “the darkness has not overcome it” (italics mine), which is another way of saying people missed the whole point of Jesus coming.


To non-believers, it must be unclear what we are celebrating. Oh, most adults know what Christianity is: we believe Jesus Christ was and is the Son of God Who came to earth to live among us, He was hung on a tree and murdered, He came back to life and promises believers eternal life. But when they see the blaring secular images that are all around us from Halloween until the New Year, do they think we are a fraud? That the legend we have told all those years contained in a Book we swear is true is just that, a legend? How can they know what it means to believe if they have not been shown? What do our words and actions tell them about this faith to which we cling so ferociously? Let us seek counsel from our God to go forth from this day until our last, speaking, acting, showing the Love that we know is real, until there can be no doubt among all humankind.


Triune God, ignite in us the power to show, not just tell, our faith. Amen




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Tiny Christmas TreeTherefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4


Ramona is one of my best friends, a member of the Bible study I lead, a prayer warrior and the most patient of us all. She went in for a routine outpatient test but something wasn’t right. She landed in the hospital having emergency surgery, and she was alone. A widow, she lived with her son, and he was out of town. She called and I went to the hospital to see her. Following her surgery, she was transferred to a rehab facility. It was right before Christmas, and she was told she had to achieve a certain level of independence before she could to return home. As Christmas Eve grew closer, she feared she would be stuck in rehab for this most sacred of holidays.


As I was leaving to go visit Ramona, I thought, “What can I bring her to cheer her up?” I spotted the miniature Christmas tree that I had made for my mother before she passed away. I had started with a small craft tree, about a foot high. Miniature lights were strung all around it, along with a garland of tiny gum drops and a couple dozen petite ornaments. The tree was topped off with a shiny gold star. I picked up the tree and wrapped it carefully in tissue paper, with a tag bearing Ramona’s name.


Ramona was thrilled with her little tree. She absolutely beamed when I brought it in and set it up in her room. She told me later that every person who came in to her room remarked how sweet that tiny tree was. She did make it home by Christmas Eve, although she was too weak to come to candlelight services. But she said the gift of that little tree brightened her Christmas like no other.


Lord, help us remember how much a simple gift from the heart can lift someone else’s spirits. Amen


Video Game Heroes

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Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 1 Timothy 1:15


I don’t play video games, but I understand they can be a real adrenalin rush. On the website 2knowthyself.com, a list of reasons people play video games begins with the rush they get from saving the world. They actually feel the emotions of the hero they are controlling. Other reasons given for the popularity of electronic gaming include problem solving, self-esteem boost, stress relief, and increase in dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is the chemical which causes excitement. The player may have to do all sorts of pseudo-frightening things to score in the game, and many of the games are about conquering evil foe and savings damsels in distress. Just like in the old time fairy tales. And, like the fairy tales in a book, the video game player can stop playing the game at any time and return to the real although perhaps no less dangerous world.


In a sense, when Jesus came into this world as a tiny Baby, He was entering into a sort of video game. There were many evil foes to fight and He had quite a few damsels in distress to save, along with many men in distress too. In fact, Jesus came to find and save all of us from ourselves, from our sin nature (John 3:16-17). The only thing was, Jesus couldn’t just turn off the video game and leave the scene. He was here for the long haul, which only lasted about thirty-three years, in one sense. But in another sense, it’s lasting longer than that because Jesus is with us all until the end of this age (Matthew 28:20). Jesus is not playing games; He truly is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). He is a better teacher than a video game at problem solving, stress relief, and boosting self-esteem. Being in a relationship with Jesus is a rush in itself. He is the Super Hero, and He is in control all the time, throughout eternity. No, Jesus never puts down the joy stick. He is with us always.


We thank You, Lord, that You have vanquished all the foes in this world and the next. Amen


Plastic Baby Jesus

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The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23


A little boy observed his mother taking the Christmas storage boxes out of the closet on December 26th. “Is it time to put Jesus away?” he asked innocently. What can we say to a child who thinks Jesus is just a plastic doll we place in a toy manger once a year? Maybe we could leave that display out year round. Or at least attempt to have other displays of what we believe visible for children to see at times other than Christmas.


The best display we have of Christ on any given day is ourselves. If others, especially children, see us acting out Christ’s love, they are seeing Christ Himself. Do we deliberately try to be a caring person to others? That’s love (Romans 12:9). Can we maintain a pleasant attitude no matter what is going on in our lives? That’s joy (Psalm 100). Do we preserve tranquility when the sky appears to be falling down around us? That’s peace (Proverbs 16:7). Patience is the ability to deal with life’s trying moments and people without wanting to lambaste others (Psalm 37:1). Kindness is that quality about us that sees ways to help or encourage others if there isn’t much we can practically do for them. We don’t want to aim to be a “goody-two-shoes,” pleasing everyone. The spiritual fruit of goodness instead reflects the goodness of our Lord (2 Peter 1:3). It may mean doing what’s right even if it initially hurts someone. (Think of Jesus and the money changers, Matthew 21:13). It takes integrity to practice faithfulness, like God keeping His promises to us (Joshua 21:45). Gentleness means living within God’s peace (Philippians 4:7). Self-control is actually letting go of things that set us off track, and giving those things to God for safe-keeping (John 5:14).


God will produce His fruit in and from us if we follow His lead. And He’s also the one who convicts us if we miss the mark, asking only that we turn our hearts back towards Him and ask for forgiveness. Let’s don’t put the Baby Jesus away this year. Let’s carry Him around with us, on our faces and in our hearts and minds.


Help me walk Your way every day, Lord. Amen


church with stat

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I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:19-20


Why would we want to be reminded of Christ’s crucifixion on Christmas Day? Why, when we’re in the middle of the glow of our Lord’s birth, surrounded by images of joy and glad tidings, would thinking about that awful thing that happened to Him be important? Because Christ’s birth reminds us that God keeps His promises, all of His promises, including the one to send a Savior to save the world. No one knew, before that first Christmas Eve, that God’s promise would come in the form of the Baby Jesus. Only a few knew what this Baby’s birth meant that night: His earthly parents, a few unsuspecting shepherds, some “wise men from the east” (Matthew 2:1). Even the inn keeper who turned the expectant parents away didn’t realize he was refusing lodging to the King of the universe. Bethlehem was full of people who didn’t know Who Jesus was, and it would be three decades before the word really started to get around.


But as we gaze on the little Baby in the manger and eat our turkey and dressing, we must remember that this Child was born to die. He was sent here to bring us the Good News of God’s abundant love and unquenchable grace. But He knew from the beginning that He would die a horrible death to prove to all of us that He could—and did—conquer death, rose from the grave, and went back to sit at the right hand of the Father. That was His mission, and He carried it out willingly. Jesus means “God saves,” and Immanuel means “God is with us.” He was and is both Savior to the world and living among us still.


Your love, O Lord, is everlasting. Am


Christmas Tree with Star

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An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. Luke 2:9


Around the corner and down the hall. Knock and enter in one smooth motion. It is my mother’s room at the senior center. She is sitting in her usual, dented spot on the love seat, her accoutrements—tissues, lip balm, manicure scissors, water—around her like sentinels. She is playing solitaire and she has forgotten it is Christmas Eve, that we are going to candlelight services. That information is locked away, behind the little slot in her head where she puts the things I tell her these days. No matter. We change her stained blouse, fluff her hair, and we are off on a snow globe drive with my husband Patrick at the wheel.


How frail she looks, as we enter church. She peers out at me from under her hooded coat with the same chiseled features I saw the day before: the same watery eyes and the same pointed nose and the same tight little frown. I say a silent prayer that she won’t be crabby… We have come early to herd her into the chapel without incident. “Merry Christmas!” says the custodian. She pulls down her hood and flashes a brilliant smile. “Merry Christmas to you too!” What’s this? In the short drive from the care center, my normally impossible mother has been transformed. She is friendly to all, does not complain once during the lengthy service, smiles at children, even sings the songs as best she is able.


It was a magic night, and I can only call it a Christmas miracle. When the angels came to the shepherds on that Holy night so long ago, they sang, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Luke 2:13-14).  God’s favor seemed to be resting on my ninety-six year old mother that Christmas Eve, this woman whose entire adult life was scarred with pain, sorrow, depression and addiction. It was the first time in my life I saw her filled with natural joy. Maybe it was the dementia, but I prefer to believe that the Holy Spirit touched my mother that night and briefly gave her the “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).


Jesus, thank You for the miracle of Your birth. Amen


Christmas Presents

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Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the Word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown. Mark 4:20


Oh, it’s so easy to love Christmas, isn’t it? We wait all year and then the magic begins to weave its way into our minds and hearts. We shop for just the right gift for all the people on our list, and we rejoice when we find that perfect item. And we gleefully anticipate what others will choose for us. Maybe we still even make a list so we won’t get stuck with something we don’t care for or won’t use. And the food at Christmas is like no other time of the year. We make special dishes and baked goods and candies, nibbling as we go. The music carries us to a vision of happy families and joyous reunions. The sights, sounds, and smells of the season captivate our senses and leave us almost speechless.


Do they really? Or have we become so accustomed to Christmas being a “big deal” that we just accept what the world says and go along with it? Sometimes all the world can offer us is a false idea of what will make us happy. We say we love to give and get gifts, but are we ready to accept the best Gift of all into our hearts and our lives? The gift of Christ’s love, grace and redemption is not like a fancy sweater that will eventually wear out or go out of style. It’s not a food gift that we eat and then it’s gone. And it’s not a monetary gift that we spend on some frivolous item. Christ’s gift to us is alive and it lives within us for the rest of this life and throughout eternity. He gives us living water so that we will never thirst again (John 7:38). Through Him we receive bread unlike any we can bake, the bread of His own body given freely so that we might live forgiven (John 6:35). He asks us to be “good soil” that His Word might take root in us and grow and produce more love and grace and forgiveness (Mark 4:20). Let’s rejoice this Christmas over the most wonderful gift of all-time: Christ Himself.


Praise You, Lord! You are our Christmas gift. Amen