Focus on Faith

“Happy 39th Anniversary!” 

My wife and I recently celebrated our 39th anniversary, and I’m thankful. Granted, both the original event and this most recent occurrence came almost on top of Easter Sunday (as have several of those occasions). As well it should, Resurrection Sunday pretty well eclipses any other anniversaries. 

Someone who knows us well, and is even a little proficient with simple arithmetic, might be thinking, “Okay, I don’t mean to be a busybody, but aren’t three of your four sons already older than 39? I don’t wish to meddle, but I’m a little surprised that it took the births of three-quarters of your kids for you to get around to tying the knot.”

Well, that gets into some other subjects, a few of which are rather knotty themselves, but I ask you, Did I say that I was talking about our wedding anniversary? No, I did not.

I’m talking about the anniversary of our first Sunday at the little church we’ve been serving for, yes, 39 years. Seriously comparing our “beginning Sunday” here with Christ’s Resurrection Sunday would make about as much sense as confusing a candle on a cupcake with a nuclear reaction. But, nonetheless, I’ve always been glad that our first Sunday here was Easter Sunday. That is not even close to being a “nuclear” truth, but it does warm my heart.

Since I brought it up, I will mention that my wife and I are, matrimonially speaking, moving speedily toward Anniversary #49. That additional math fact means that for 39 years of our almost 49 years of marriage, this little church has been a huge part of our lives.

As I was just beginning life in “professional” Christian ministry, an older friend, a wise mentor, told me, “Of course, you need to seriously consider and pray about where you will serve. Try to choose well, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that any choice will be without problems. You’re just deciding where you choose to have them.”

Since the only members available are of the human variety, even the best churches face some occasional glitches. Our “adversary,” as the Lord calls Satan, is more than able to use someone’s fit of pious “piffery,” pseudo-spirituality, or a temporary fixation on some molehill “issue” to get God’s people off-track. Such wrecks are a matter for tears, not least because of the many people they’ve sent running away from local churches scarred and bleeding. But…

But it’s never fair to judge any group or endeavor by its worst examples, or wise to rob ourselves of beauty by focusing on ugliness. Pettiness, contention, and division seem so ugly in a church precisely because, when a church is honoring its Lord, what happens is so very beautiful. Strife in a church is as out of place as a cow patty flopped on top of a cheesecake (forgive me).

We often fall short, but when the members of a Christ-honoring church work together in unity to love their Lord, love each other, and love those around them, what happens is priceless and precious.

Jesus once promised that anyone who must sacrifice family relationships to follow him would receive a hundred times more “fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters” and “eternal life.”

I suspect the Lord is talking about the very large “family” of Christ, his church. And for most of us, loving Christ best means loving our families more than we do, not less. 

I’ve not had to sacrifice family to follow Christ. But I have indeed found it sweetly true that even loving this little part of the Body of Christ and walking through life with them has greatly enlarged my family and given me blessing upon blessing.

Sinkholes, Justice, and Mercy 

A sinkhole. That’s what I was told our little community recently acquired on the east side of our town. 

Full disclosure: I have not seen this new-to-us geological feature with my own eyes. I’ve not even seen pictures yet. I’ve mostly heard second- or third-hand reports that may or may not be accurate, and, though I try not to spread lies and gossip in this column, I warn you that the words I’m stringing together here today are not in the same universe as serious journalism. I’ve done very little fact-checking (which may make this more like modern journalism than I care to think).

I do know that something unusual and disruptive has taken place. Highway 84 is a rather surprisingly busy thoroughfare, and the section here is now shut down and unavoidably annoying detours are in place. Skilled workers who deal with this kind of thing, I’m told, are hard at it, and, as they work long hours, the problem might be fixed in a couple of weeks. And, yes, this is mostly hearsay.

What I have heard is that the problem stretches across the highway. What I have seen are highway cones and barriers blocking the road and many vehicles taking a scenic tour through neighborhoods that would rather not welcome them.

As far as I know, the first of many intergalactic landing crafts from Mars may have set down out there, and authorities thought this event worthy of highway closure and detours. But “sinkhole” is what I’ve heard, and it seems more likely.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a sinkhole is “a depression in the ground that has no natural surface drainage.” Water from above (rain, which is rare here) seeps down, collects under the ground, dissolves some types of rocks, and “creates underground spaces and caverns.” Land above the underground holes gives up and crashes down if those voids become too large.

According to the U.S.G.S. website, sinkholes in the U.S. “over the last fifteen years” have cost “on average at least $300 million per year” and probably more. And they report that the largest sinkhole in the nation is the “Golly Hole” in central Alabama (325 feet long, 300 feet wide, and 120 feet deep). Well, golly!

Our sinkhole can’t compete. It is large enough to be quite disruptive, but, having read that website article, I’m wondering if, geologically speaking, calling it a sinkhole might be a stretch. But it’s way too big to be a pothole, so as far as I’m concerned, a sinkhole it is. Update: I might opt for the term “sewer sinkhole” since what I’ve now heard is that it has resulted from a major sewer line collapse. Stinky sinkhole?

In the Bible, Numbers 16, you can read about a God-created sinkhole the Almighty used to deal effectively and permanently with rebels and grumblers against his chosen leader Moses, and thus against God himself. Fire from heaven and a plague also figure in. God’s justice was swift and deserved.

It’s good that we humans can’t call up sinkholes at will. God’s justice is perfect; mine, not even close. My job is not to summon sinkholes and deal out retribution. My task is to love even my enemies and seek God’s help in learning to forgive them lest hatred and bitterness turn my soul into a sinkhole of the stinkiest sort.

God wants to build something in me that will last and not collapse. My job is to trust him and let him. 

A Good News-Bad News Scenario 

I have a good news-bad news scenario for you, and it comes complete with a few layers of each. 

It’s good news that the scenario I’ll mention is mostly hypothetical. But even better news is that what it illustrates is, I believe, deeply true.

It’s bad news, and it pains me to tell you this, that you’re on death row, convicted for murder. I hope you think it’s good news that I was quite surprised to hear it and have always thought very highly of you.

It’s good news, even though our friendship makes me reluctant to admit it, that the trial was fair, and the verdict was just. It’s bad news that, yes, you committed the crime. It’s also bad news, from your point of view, that your death sentence is scheduled to be carried out at 11:59 p.m., Thursday next.

I should give you a minute to process this news, good and bad, bad and good. It really is a lot to take in.

But don’t despair! I now have incredibly good news for you. (Note that this is not a deep dive into psychology. We’ll just assume that you would prefer to stay alive.) An amazingly selfless individual has appealed to the governor on your behalf and asked (and this really is incredible) to take your place on death row and be executed on your behalf. More incredible still, the governor has agreed. You’ll soon be free.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine that this would ever actually happen. The scenario is indeed hypothetical, but I thank you for indulging me in order for us to get to this question: If this could really happen and the innocent man was indeed executed in your stead, would his taking your punishment alter your actual guilt in the least? Surely, the answer is No.

Such an act, even if it was not committed by a crazy person (aided by an unhinged governor), and even if it was a completely unselfish act of sacrificial love… Such an act would not, could not, render the guilty truly innocent and the innocent truly guilty. Unless…

 Unless the man making the sacrifice was the fully human, fully divine Son of God. Fully human, he could actually die, executed on, say, a cross. Fully divine, he could literally take on himself and away from those he richly loves all of their sin and guilt. Yes, it would be a completely unselfish act of sacrificial love, but, as opposed to the former scenario, this one would be genuinely efficacious.

Wonder of wonders, the guilty would be completely free, no longer guilty, and alive because, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “God made him [Jesus Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

Why would someone so completely, mysteriously, and genuinely forgiven choose to live as a guilty person? Why would such a person not choose to live with genuine hope, joy, and gratitude?

If this latter scenario is not hypothetical at all but is wonderfully true, then it surely must be the best news of all.

Mother’s Day and Love’s Growing Season 

Mother’s Day is only a few days away, but my memories of my mother don’t need any calendar or greeting card company’s prompting.

This morning, I was looking at some Mother’s Day-related columns I’ve written in the past, and what follows is mostly one of those with a bit of updating. Multiple sweet memories drew me back in.

I wrote about doing something Mom would have dearly loved, something she taught me to do, with someone she never met but would love with incredible love, someone I believe she will indeed one day meet.

I was planting flowers with our little five-year-old granddaughter Brenley (who’ll soon be sixteen). I knew we were taking a chance. To plant anything in our area before Mother’s Day is to walk on the wild side and live dangerously. But plant we did. Out in the back yard, we dug down into the soil of two whiskey barrel planters, set in our plants, and watered them with water from our rain barrels. We were standing there, our hands covered with mud. Bren was holding the “loppers” as I showed her where to separate our cuttings. And we had time to talk.

That’s one of the best things about being together and planting plants. You’re working for a common goal, looking forward to what God will do to make the world and your little corner of it more beautiful, and you get to talk while you’re in the midst of the worthwhile labor. We dull grownups need to spend all the time we can talking with little people. They still know what’s really important.

And that was when it hit me: “Bren, your MawMaw Shelburne, my mom, would have loved this! She loved to plant things and watch them grow, and she’d really have loved doing this with you!”

Memories flooded in, countless times in my childhood when Mom would take my younger brother and me out to the back yard, and we’d dig, and plant, and water—and talk. Mom was Rembrandt and her yard was her canvas. I think the only things she loved more than her growing plants were her growing kids and grandkids. So, she just grew them all together.

A lot of what Mom knew about growing things, she learned from her parents. Grandmother Key was always on the lookout for rocks with hollows in them, perfect planters for her little cacti. For larger planting projects, the instrument of choice, both for Mom and Grandmother Key, was a grubbing hoe. I remember setting the plants out and then grubbing dams around them to hold the water in. I’d play with my little plastic soldiers around those dams, earthen barricades prone to frequent flooding. Drowning was a far worse danger to my troops than any enemy action.

Granddaddy Key was often drafted into Mom and Grandmother’s service. He raised more cattle and sheep than plants, but he certainly knew how to grow things. I’m not sure who loved those rare and precious collaborative gardening times more, the father or the daughter. One thing was clear: they loved the time together.

Mom knew that Paradise was a garden, a place to grow love. And love grows forever.

Spring’s Joy Is Stronger Than the Wind 

I would like to be more creative and less predictable, but both the calendar and the rut I’m in indicate that it’s time for my annual “grinch about spring” column.

I will start in a positive frame of mind and simply say that, on the whole, I like living in a place where we have discernible seasons. Many of us here have laughed about our often-crazy climate. The joke and the reality are not far off. If your goal is to sample from a smorgasbord of widely varying weather during the same 24-hour period, this is a great place to give it a try.

But, in general, where I live, winter and spring and summer and fall are mostly lined up with fairly recognizable features. I think the truth is that each of them brings its own sort of beauty, joy, and pleasure. And, yes, each one brings its own challenges.

In the Northern Hemisphere, we’re officially more than a month into spring. I like to try to major on its most winsome aspects, most of which I think of as its Easter qualities—new life, hope, resurrection. New life springing forth pairs quite well with hope. Green and lushly growing vegetation points again toward new life. And hope and new life rush my soul to the joy of Easter and the most amazing resurrection of all.

By the way, Easter Sunday is a moon-connected movable target, but it falls forever in spring as it “always occurs on the first Sunday that occurs after the vernal (spring) equinox.” So, I’d say that spring’s most wonderful characteristic is that it is inexorably and beautifully tied to Easter. 

Now that I’ve made that case—not that a full-fledged, God-created season needs any help from me—I feel a tad guilty veering over into a lane I should probably stay out of.

I usually tell a friend who sprays yards each spring with green-dyed chemical that I find his sort of spring green depressing. It means that our Creator will soon be turning the vegetation truly green, and I’ll be a yard slave for hours each week for months.

But more depressing to me—and it’s been much worse since we’ve been in the clutches of a very long drought—is that spring here usually comes complete with a maddening characteristic. It’s a four-letter word spelled W-I-N-D. When someone here says that “spring is in the air,” the observer is not kidding. On a significant number of spring days here, all one has to do is look out the window to see tons of brown particulate matter flying by in the air along with rodents, chihuahuas, and small children. Want a taste of spring? Step outside on those days and just chew a bit of grit.

And now, as you can tell, I need to change lanes again and rustle up more grit of a positive sort. I would do well to plant some more plants. (I won’t whine at the moment about a mealybug pestilence I recently found in my greenhouse.) I need to smell some flowers and listen to some birdsong (not from goose-stepping grackles). I need to look forward to one of our truly beautiful spring days when being outside is a pure pleasure.

I’m sure the best way to thank our Creator for the changing seasons is to ask him to help us keep our eyes open for their varying colors and hues, smells, sounds, tastes, and textures, and be amazed again at the beauty of the deep joy he has woven into the fabric of each season.

Right now, my plan as this present season springs on is to duck if I see a rodent flying toward me in a high wind—and the wind is raging outside my window right now. But my real goal is to spend a lot more time basking in some genuine spring/Easter joy. It’s much stronger than the wind.

God Has No Unwanted Children 

Our parents were tired. That’s the most obvious explanation for, well, a lot.

I’m thankful that they had me, though a “planned” child, I obviously was not. If I’ve done the math correctly, Mom was 42 years old when I was born, and Dad was 44.

Since I am confident that I was no surprise to my Father, it’s never bothered me that I was completely unexpected by my parents—until the doctor confirmed that I was expected. I can only imagine how that news took their breath away. I wonder what they were thinking. My two-years-younger brother has a simple answer: “Oh, they weren’t thinking.”

Math again. If my former calculations are right, Mom was 44 and Dad was 46 when Jim came on the scene. Was he planned? Oh, I think so. I’ve told him many times that he was obviously brought on board to serve as a companion for little Curtis. It’s simple logic, I’ve assured him, and he should find a great deal of peace and satisfaction by facing reality and just accepting that a major part of his purpose in life has been to make my life better.

Our folks already had three children—two boys and a girl. My sister (my next oldest sibling) was 15 years older than me. My oldest brother and his wife could almost have been my parents. That fact, I’m told, added to the surprise and some confusion when the news of my impending arrival got out.

So, obviously, our folks already had one well-established family when Family Number Two took up residence. Mom would later do some math herself and report that she had at least one child in public school continuously for 40 years. Who does that on purpose?

Were they tired? Oh, yes. And that explains why, according to our older siblings, that our parents’ standards slipped a great deal with the second bunch, and pretty much all Jim and I had to do was to stay out of jail. I’m not saying that I completely admit the accuracy of that opinion, but neither would I say that they were utterly without evidence.

I give one example. I won’t go into the details, but Jim and I tried a brief flirtation with organized sports and soon discovered that we had a good deal more fun on our own. During our growing up years, fewer bad guys were blowing things up. Chemistry sets included a wider variety of useful chemicals, and we discovered that the neighborhood pharmacy could augment a toy chemistry set quite nicely.

A real breakthrough for us came when we learned in school how to make a paper mache volcano. The prescribed recipe would produce a little civilized “lava” rolling gently over the top and down the sides of the volcano. But using laudable initiative and employing some creative problem-solving skills, we found that a slightly altered mixture could produce a few seconds of real fire blowing out of the top. After the excitement, imagine a gratifying amount of ash settling gently down around the perimeter.

That led to further experimentation. I still maintain that it was not my idea at all to try the mixture on the top of a neighbor’s new fencepost. To any aspiring young chemists reading this, I simply say that I am in no way suggesting such “research.”

My parents were tired, for sure. I’m not sure if their second family kept them young in many ways or hastened their aging. But, seriously, though neither they nor any of their children were without human flaws, our parents trusted in God’s love and grace, and I will be forever thankful for that.

At best, life can be hard, and none of us gets it right—least of all, folks who think that they do. We are all broken in many ways, and we all do our share of breaking. But I believe this: We all have a Father whose love and grace is absolutely available, no matter how often we fall. Not one of God’s children need ever go to sleep wondering if he or she is wanted or loved.

As Time Flies by at the Key Place 

My three brothers and I are back down at our maternal grandparents’ old homeplace at Robert Lee, Texas, for a few days.

Since all of us are pastors (a couple are supposedly retired, though they don’t look much like it to me), getting as much as possible done early so we can get out of our respective towns and covey up together is always challenging. And since we all seem to be connected with non-prophet organizations (bad pun), much else often surprises us.

But for around 40 years, we’ve been gathering here at least twice a year, not counting the at-least-twice-a-year trips in our childhoods when Dad would guide the family chariot up the rock driveway outside this house and carry sleeping children in to the pallets prepared for them.

This place has been an incredible blessing, and the folks who’ve allowed us these times away are sweet to realize how much it means to us—and, truly, how much the “Coke County Ministry Conference” has thus blessed them.

The old house itself Granddaddy Key built in 1928. We’ve rebuilt and propped up a good chunk of it, but it’s certainly showing its years. If our calculations are correct, Granddaddy owned this house for 46 years. My brother Gene has now been the actual owner for 50 years. I know Granddaddy and Grandmother would love that we still treasure this slowly decaying old place and eat around their old table. You don’t have to point out the symmetry these days as four decaying old pastors (two in their sixties and two in their eighties) gather here. 

A couple of us this week spent a little time installing molding around the inside of a window we replaced last year. The old one was . . . decaying. And we even have managed the effort to fill up a couple of bird feeders to entice a few cardinals to come by. What’s a ministry conference without a Cardinal or two?

Other than that minor carpentry and bird feeding, we’ve worked hard drinking coffee, eating hot dogs (lunch) and steaks (dinner), harming few vegetables at all, and discussing, well, pretty much everything. We enjoy a fire in the fire pit when we can and/or burning coals in the little grill. The best “discussing” happens over a fire.

We don’t preach to each other much. It wouldn’t help. As you can tell, relaxation is the main order of “business.”

Call this a confession, I suppose, but some occasional real work does slip in. In an old house once equipped with a wooden fuse box and maybe two circuits, four laptop computers have been humming. One brother is working on another book. One brother is conducting video interviews with mission leaders who are in Malawi, Africa. One is writing a funeral message. And I’m writing this. (For my part, I think I’m working poorly enough that it may not count as real work. I’ll add that to my confession.)

My space for this column is slipping away, as is the time this week at the old Key Place. A Kenyan Christian once told one of my brothers, “You Americans have watches; we Kenyans have time.” It’s an idea worth pondering.

But today, as time (as usual) seems to be slipping by here far too quickly, I find myself immensely grateful again to the God of all our “times and seasons” for just this sort of time and just this sort of place.

Oh, hey! A cardinal just spotted the bird feeder. Some beautiful blessings are hard to miss!

When Idols Rot and Topple Over 

We can hardly be too careful when we’re choosing what we’ll worship.

Most folks don’t read the Old Testament prophets for comedy, but the prophet Isaiah made brutal fun of down-on-their-luck idol worshipers who couldn’t afford to commission a metalworker to cast a custom-made god and hire a goldsmith to overlay it. A high-quality idol can be pricey. Instead, the poorer folks were forced to go with cheaper gods by searching carefully for wood that wouldn’t rot and hiring a worker at least skilled enough to set up the cut-rate divinity so that it wouldn’t accidentally topple over. “You really think you can compare the God of the universe with those?” the prophet was asking (see Isaiah 40:18-20).  

Of course, it’s always tempting for humans to prefer gods we can manipulate with magic or smoke or potions or in a thousand ways. Our “god” becomes the god we own and trot out when convenient. Handiest of all is simply to make a god of ourselves. But what if our mirror-idol begins to reflect some serious soul-rot? What if we realize that self-worship isn’t working, and that “toppling over” is more than a theoretical danger?

Author Dorothy Sayers once wrote that many folks “get along surprisingly well” for long periods of time “without ever discovering what [their] faith really is.” And she listed some strategies people have used to busily shove unwelcome and hard questions about their real faith away. (She didn’t even know about earbuds.)

But then, she wrote, came wartime. Blackouts. Bomb cellars. Gas masks. The “threat of imminent death.” Life eventually pushes us into some sort of corner, and the long-avoided questions show up loudly, intrusively. The “fear” stronger than “distractions” demands, “What . . . do you make of all this? What do you believe?”

Wartime. Or the oncologist’s office. Or the cemetery. Suffering is a solvent that strips away easy answers and defies diversion.

We’ve just celebrated Easter and, I hope, felt its real joy. But it is worthwhile to remember that for the three days right after Jesus of Nazareth died, the disciples didn’t know what to believe. Their hopes and dreams had bled out on the cross with their Lord. The tomb seemed to have swallowed—and won. Most of the disciples had scattered like frightened quail.
When they’d finally coveyed up again, it was without room for any ideas of victory. They were in survival mode, jumping at the slightest sound. Their thoughts were racing in endless confusion, their grief rolling over them in nauseating waves. They didn’t look much like the apostles who would later carry the good news to the ends of the earth, the apostles Jesus said would one day sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The mood behind those locked doors was as bleak as any the world has ever known.

And that’s exactly when, on “the evening of that first day of the week,” the Apostle John tells us that suddenly Jesus “came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19). Their Lord. Not a ghost. Not a dead man. More fully alive than anyone they had ever seen. And literally bringing peace.

Please, John, tell us more! In the moments between Christ’s appearance and his giving of peace, what looks flashed across the disciples’ faces? I wonder.

But that kind of power. That kind of peace. Oh, that kind of matchless Lord is worthy of all worship. 

What kind of God will we trust? A rotting god won’t do. A god who topples over when life tumbles in won’t do.

Those disciples put their faith in a living Lord: “Then the disciples were overjoyed . . .” (John 20:20).

I believe in him, too. And I rejoice.

What “Stuff” Is Worth Storing? 

Too much stuff. In our society, that seems to be the exact amount of stuff that most of us have. Not exactly a technical term, two words are nonetheless quite nicely descriptive: too much.

Stuff storage. It’s big business and growing all of the time because, well, see Paragraph One. People who have as much stuff as we do, and are continually adding more to their mounds of stuff, eventually run out of places to put it. Perhaps we don’t want to disappoint archaeologists who will come along mega-decades from now. They like to dig through mounds. So, we keep creating them. Mounds, that is. Of stuff.

But already, smart folks who are not archaeologists have taken wise action. They’ve seen their compadres covered up with stuff that they mostly don’t use and mostly don’t need, and these intelligent entrepreneurs can fill a real need. A need for storage space.

Notice some questions that ripple along the surface of this deep and turbulent subject of stuff.

At least theoretically, some of the stored stuff must be worth something. But my first question is, how much of it is truly of value? And my next is, to whom?

Whether the stuff being stacked in the rented space is worth storing is a question the stacker would have done well to ask earlier, but there seems to be a point where most of us stacking stuff have long ago left that question in the dust. Or there’s so much stuff stacked on top of it, that the question has simply vanished.

What’s the difference between high quality stuff and low quality junk? If you pronounce “garbage” in questionable French with the accent sweetly lifted up from the last syllable, is that vastly different from the one-syllable word “trash”?

We don’t seem to need much temptation to keep adding stuff to the stuff we already have, but isn’t “tempting folks to buy more stuff, a vast majority of which they probably won’t use for long and likely don’t really need anyway” part and parcel of something called advertising? Talk about a big industry!

And so, yes, we have too much stuff. We have vast industries to help us store stuff and to convince us that to be happy we really need more stuff. And, as the whole cycle spins on, we get pulled even farther in by a proliferation of experts who sell “systems,” conduct seminars, do on-site “interventions,” and write books about how to unclutter our lives.

You know where those books end up, don’t you? I’ll bet I have three of them stacked among other stacks in my closet right now as I’m sitting six feet away from its door and writing about not stacking up stuff. That closet is the one I’ve been meaning to unstack and clean up. Way too much stuff.

Jesus got right to the heart of the matter long ago as he pointed to our hearts and warned us (my very loose paraphrase, Matthew 6:19-20) that stacking up too much stuff here is fool’s work. We stack up “treasures” here, and what happens? Moths eat it. Rust corrodes it. Thieves steal it.

Christ’s answer? Well, it’s not “climate-controlled storage” or some sort of stuff-cellar installed under your casket vault. It’s to make sure that the “stuff” is truly treasure, the kind that will last past a grave and still be of priceless value—real treasures of love, mercy, grace, and hope that can only be stored in heaven.

Easter, Joy, and the North Pole 

It’s almost Easter, and here I am thinking about an almost-Christmas ride to the North Pole. I wrote one of these columns about that ride fourteen years ago. I just reread what I wrote, and, if you don’t mind, I’ll write some of it again.

I started by saying that the North Pole was surprisingly warm on that ride, but it was less surprising when you realize that my wife and I and our sweet little two-and-a-half-year-old giggling granddaughter were riding from Lubbock, Texas, to Brownfield, Texas, on the “Polar Express” train then in service and available. We were enjoying hot chocolate and elves and Santa himself, but, most of all, we were enjoying two big brown eyes wide with delight (even if they did get very sleepy before the journey was over). We made some delightful memories.

And I’m thinking again about this Yuletide tale just before Easter because I’m remembering getting home and then remembering some fine words from C.S. Lewis.

Lewis said he’d been told about a young boy who was heard “murmuring to himself” on Easter morning a poem he’d made up on his own about “chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.” Lewis commented, “This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety.”

He went on to observe that the time would surely come when the boy would learn the difference between the “ritual” aspect of Easter and its “festal” aspect, and then “chocolate eggs will no longer seem sacramental.”

Then, Lewis wrote, will come a decision as the poem-maker has to “put one or the other first.” And here’s the important point: “If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.”

I went on to write that if we discard or ignore the deepest truths of faith, it’s pretty hard to find much deep or lasting joy in Easter eggs and “Jingle Bells.” But for those whose faith is in the Christ of Christmas and Easter, who believe that God did indeed enter our world incarnate at Bethlehem and that death itself was no match for our risen Lord, then we live all year long in the wonderful glow of those deep truths. And those holidays become joyful holy days.

Ah, and we get a very nice added bonus. Focusing on the central truths of those holy seasons, we can add in as many fine Easter and Christmas traditions as we wish. We can hunt the eggs (chocolate eggs are still my favorite), dye real eggs any colors we wish, light the lights, dance around the tree, and squeeze all of the joy out of every moment.

You see, those who know the Source of real joy—not conned by this world’s many counterfeits—need have no fear of experiencing too much of the genuine thing. Joy is a gift our God delights in giving, and his supply is unending.

Easter joy. Christmas joy. All of the genuine joy-glow. (I include grandchild giggle joy, of course.) Joy’s sweet little glimmers. Heaven’s utterly magnificent tsunami of joy. All in God’s time. Let’s thank our Father for all of it. 

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