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He was baptized by his cousin John and his father was so pleased.

I love this story. I love that Jesus asked John to baptize him, and I love that John didn’t want to but did anyway. I love the after-glory of the Spirit coming down as a dove and the Father’s voice echoing through the land. It’s a holy family scene like no other in scripture. The ancient heavenly equivalent of high fives and whoop whoops.

The next part of the story has always been perplexing, though. In the midst of the celebrating, Jesus leaves. He heads out into the wilderness, led there by the Spirit it says, to be alone. To fast for forty days and nights? To be tempted? What?

I’ve never been to a baptism that ended this way.

I can relate to the being-proud-of-the-son part. I remember the baptisms of each of my three boys, and I was so proud. I was happy and pleased and joy-filled because of their decisions and what those decisions represented. High five. Whoop whoop.

But not once did I think, let’s get these boys out to the wilderness right now. Let’s leave them on their own and stress them and deny their bodies nourishment and let’s let the devil have his tempting way with them, and we’ll just see what happens.

Here’s the thing. It happened anyway.

There’s the celebration of a decision, and then there’s life, and that’s where the rubber meets the road. And the boys, each of them, has the road rash to prove it. So do I. So does anyone who not only makes the commitment but lives the journey.

I don’t know why Jesus did it the way he did, but I’m glad he did. I need the example. I need the reminder. Because the temptations are real.

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I read this over at Seth Haines’s blog this morning, how a friend of his was at the hospital bed of his dying daughter and a woman offered the solace of the admonishment, if you just had faith like a mustard seed, all this trouble would go away. And it’s true, scripture has been used this way. It’s been hacked up and thrown about, well-intentioned sound byte offerings of impotency or judgement.

But that’s not scripture’s fault, said Seth, and I like his conclusion. Scripture doesn’t always mean what people says it means, and that’s the sad and happy truth of it.

Yesterday our dear, faithful Servant of Scripture preached on Romans 13, and his thoughts have been mingling with my thoughts since.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)

And this is beautiful and makes me smile, because it means all the rules we like to emphasize and hammer on are made fulfilled if we love each other. Because if I’m loving you, how can I harm you or steal from you or gossip about you?

Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10)

Let’s go about our days paying our debts of love. Lets love each other as best we can, in Jesus’ name amen, and I bet those mustard seeds of faith will grow like crazy.

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I read it this morning in Luke. The thing that happened in those days, and how the shepherds heard about it. The angel showing up in the middle of the night in the middle of the field in the middle of all those sheep and the glory of the Lord shining around them, and the multitude of angels appearing with their praise and glorifying, and the shepherds were afraid. No kidding.

Not too afraid, though.

Not too afraid to pack up and go see the thing that had happened.

Not too afraid to make haste, or to share with the stable dwellers the message of the angels, or to return to their real lives, glorifying and praising.

I’m afraid, often, of the glory things.

I don’t want to be too afraid, though. Advent is a new baby, a new hope, and the ushering in of a new year. A year to go and to see and to praise and to glorify.

Amen.

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Shirley and I meet with three or four other couples on Monday evenings to look at Scripture.  We don’t all attend the same church and we are not meeting to see how we should interpret scripture, but to see how it can help us to be better Jesus followers.

When we read 1 Peter 4:8, Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins, I was intrigued and have continued to think about what it says to me. I did peek at what the scholars say about this verse but to me it is quite simple.

If I love people whole heartedly we will both become different.

Perhaps some of my insensitivities (sins) will be covered and I will become different. If I see the person, not their short comings (sins), and love that person unconditionally, they too will become different.

A while ago Janelle wrote a blog about loving bad kids and I thought about the passage.

Janelle’s post from yesterday showed a picture of Carter sitting patiently in the pasture with a pail of oats trying to win the attention of the young donkey he got for his birthday. I wonder if the same principle doesn’t apply.

Recently I have thought about people who have few friends, folks who may be struggling with same-sex attraction and older people who can no longer be in their own homes. And I am challenged by these words from The Message,

Love each other as if your life depended on it.  Love makes up for practically anything.

Sadly, I don't have a picture of the Holy Spirit, so here is a picture of my farm, instead.

Sadly, I don’t have a picture of the Holy Spirit, so here is a picture of my farm, instead.

I’ve read about Him Her It … okay, I’ll go with Him. I mean, I’ve read The Shack, and some other books with names I can’t remember right now. Probably by Yancey or Lucado. Heck, I’ve even read the Bible. Still haven’t really got a clue.

The Father and the Son, these two I can grab onto, at least a bit. I have a father. I have a son. I have reference points for them.

But the Holy Spirit? Try to grab that and I come away with a handful of … what? Even the name is hard to relate to. Holy Spirit? Or worse, Holy Ghost?

Hey, I’d like you to meet my friend, Holy Spirit. It just doesn’t work like it does with God or Jesus. Maybe I’ll just start calling him Dove. Since out of all the forms he could have taken on the day Jesus was baptized, that’s the one he chose. Dove. I kinda like it.

I’d like to know him better, I really would. I’d like to understand him. Or maybe what I’d like is to know I’m being understood by him. You know? Since he’s supposed to be a mediator of sorts between God and me. And he’s been sent here to live in me and help me and all.

I googled him. There’s lots written about triune this and blah blah blah that. It really didn’t help me know him much at all.

I wish he wasn’t such a quiet, unobtrusive, low profile deity. If he’d spoken up a bit more in scripture, you know. But it seems he doesn’t like the lime light. He’s the introvert, maybe, of the trinity. The quiet one, going about his work without a lot of fanfare or fuss.

I don’t know much about him, but I think I like him a lot. Mystery is not always a bad thing.

It’s weird, but it’s kind of wonderful too.

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I’ve heard a bunch of sermons and read a bunch of blogs and seen a bunch of tweets on this passage recently. From Matthew 19:16-22; you know the story. Or if you don’t, this is it:

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour you father and mother, and love your neighbour as yourself.”

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

I’ve heard this explained in many ways. Mostly what I’ve been taught is that this is not really about money or about selling your stuff. It’s about finding the thing that is keeping you from really committing your life to Jesus. Or, it’s not really about money or selling your stuff, it’s about living in a posture of being willing to let go of anything at any time if it’s the will of God. Or, it’s not really about money or selling your stuff, it’s about giving of yourself, whatever that looks like, to help others. And then there’s the warning that if we all sold everything we had we wouldn’t be good stewards because then we’d be the poor and we couldn’t help them any longer.

Never, not once, have I ever heard the teaching that this verse might actually be about, you know, selling your stuff and giving it to the poor.

I asked my older kids what they thought the story was meant to teach us. One said it was about how hard real change is. The other said it was about how hard it is for us to let go of our possessions.

Yes, and yes. And maybe some other stuff. But could these two things possibly be at the crux of this teaching story?

Real change is hard, sometimes too hard, and we care too much about our stuff.

I’ve sold stuff so I could buy different stuff. I’ve sold stuff with the goal of getting rid of clutter. I’ve sold stuff to pay the bills. All good reasons to sell stuff.

I’ve never sold anything I own with the specific purpose of giving that money to people who need it.

I was in Mexico once, in a poor village where I’d taken my family and some friends to help build a school, and I listened on a Sunday morning to a poor preacher in a poor place speaking to poor people. And what he said, via an interpreter, was along the lines of, Hey guys, come on. We might be poor. We might not have much, but we are still called by Jesus to give to those who need it more than we do. No matter how poor we are or how little we have, we’re supposed to share that with others.

Ouch.

Maybe this story doesn’t mean I should sell everything I have. But I can sell something. Maybe experiencing that is an important thing, not for the poor, but for me. Maybe that is part of following Him.

The world outside my window is a frozen, still place.

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Quiet. Close. Heavy.

Sometimes, a prison is a sanctuary.

We begin the day, familiar in the tasks of the morning… coffee and toast and eggs, sandwich-making for his lunch, starting the frozen vehicle. At the breakfast table he reports the temperature, minus twenty-two. But there’s no wind, I say. Bright side, silver lining, and all that.

He leaves trailing a list of things for the boys to do. Chores and shovelling, mainly. So much snow. So much winter.

I sit to the coffee, warm the cup with a drop more, and a boy’s door opens. He’s cradling a basket of laundry.

Morning, he says as he passes through the kitchen. I’m starting a load. I’m out of clean clothes.

I smile and sip and I check Facebook on my phone, thinking of all those battling winter today as they head to work or to school. All those status updates about bad roads and stuck vehicles. Busses not running. A small prayer whispered for safety. A moment’s thought about it all. Mom’s taking kids to school or daycare. Friends travelling to their jobs. Everyone clearing away the storm, helping or being helped by neighbours, trying to get to where they need to be. The effort it takes.

He’s back, shaking water from the shower out of his hair and asking for breakfast. I’m slow today, and I ask what he wants.

Pancakes?

I make a deal with him. If he mixes them, I’ll cook them. So we do, and the kitchen soon warms with the smell of pumpkin and cinnamon and hot butter. The other boys make their way to the table and we sit and eat and I read from Exodus, that story of Moses holding high his staff, the fate of the raging battle in his raised arms.

Carter tries to hold his arms up for a while.

It’s hard, he says.

We read of the friends who come to help Moses when he tires. They bring him a seat and they hold his arms for him, and we giggle a little at the picture it brings to mind.

Aren’t they kind of using a loop-hole? says Tyson. I mean, shouldn’t he have had to do it by himself?

I don’t know, I say. I think God is always okay with us needing help. Life is hard, and we all need help sometimes.

We all need help sometimes. In the storm. When we’re stuck. When we’re sick. When it’s hard.

Thankful, so thankful, for a friend who will bring a rock to sit down on when weariness threatens to overwhelm.

Thankful, so thankful, for a friend who will help support the weight when it gets too heavy to bear alone.

Thankful so thankful, for a God who doesn’t make us do it all by ourselves, all the time. Who is there. Who provides. Who cares.

So Joshua and his men went out to fight the army of Amalek. Meanwhile Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. And as long as Moses held up the rod in his hands, Israel was winning; but whenever he rested his arms at his sides, the soldiers of Amalek were winning. Moses’ arms finally became too tired to hold up the rod any longer; so Aaron and Hur rolled a stone for him to sit on, and they stood on each side, holding up his hands until sunset. As a result, Joshua and his troops crushed the army of Amalek, putting them to the sword.

Exodus 17: 10-13 (Living Bible)