Other Worlds

I watched my friend pouring cream and sugar into his coffee.

“You want some coffee with that?”

He chuckled.  “You wake up your way.  I’ll wake up mine.”

We sat there listening to the hustle of a new day.  The clatter of plates and silverware.  The ding of a bell and the cry of ‘order up’ as another breakfast came out of the kitchen.  Busy place.  We had a long wait for our bacon and eggs.

“You ever think about what we will do after we get to heaven?”

He laid down his spoon and took a sip from his cup.  “No.  But I’m sure you have.  We’re in for another round of aimless speculation, aren’t we?”

I waved at our friend behind the counter and pointed at my cup.  She brought the carafe over and warmed up my coffee.  She arched her eyebrows at my friend.  He shrugged.  I saw it.

“What if there are other worlds out there with fallen souls like us?  What if we are sent to redeem them, like Jesus?  You know.  Born of a virgin, preach the good news, die as a sacrifice for their sins.”

He turned to face me.  “That’s the most ridiculous thing I ever heard you say.  And that’s saying something.  You’ve outdone yourself.”

I shrugged and smiled.  “Thank you.”

“That violates scripture on so many levels.  I couldn’t even begin to spell them out.”

“I’m not saying it’s true.  I’m just speculating.  Call it a thought experiment.  Putting us in Jesus’ place.”

We sat quietly, me studying the donuts display, him shaking his head in disgust.

“You missed one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Live a sinless life.  Jesus lived a sinless life.”

“So?”

“To be the perfect sacrifice you would have to live a sinless life.  I can’t do that.  I don’t think any of us can do that.”

“Jesus did.”

“Yeah, but He was, He is, God.  I’m not God.  And you’re not either.”

“He was man too.  The Bible says that He was in all points tempted as we are.  He was tempted but He didn’t sin.”

My friend started to speak but I didn’t let him.

“What about the temptation in the wilderness?  If He could not fail, if He was impervious to temptation then that was nothing but play acting.  And what about the garden of Gethsemane?  He asked if He could take a pass on the Crucifixion.  No, my friend.  He was tempted just as we are and probably much more.  Lust, hate, fear, pride, gluttony.  He had to face all of it.”

“Lust?  He was tempted to lust?”

“I expect He was.”

“And you think we can live a sinless life.”

“Yes.  In theory anyway.”

“Aha.  In theory.  I’ll go along with you that far.  But in practice…”

I shrugged.  “I know we fail.  I fail.  We all do.  I’m just saying we throw in the towel way too easily.”

We were so caught up in our musings that we were not aware that our friend behind the counter was standing there with two large platters.

“So you want me to take these back?”

We looked at each other, not sure how to respond.

“Four eggs.  Bacon and sausage.  Biscuits and gravy on the way.”

Still no answer from us.

“I’m just sayin’.”

 

 

 

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Humble Beginnings

This time of year we think of the baby in the manger.  Tiny helpless baby.  Babies are innocent.  Babies are beautiful, especially to parents and grandparents.  We think of the Christ child, Messiah, Emmanuel, creator of the universe, coming in the form of a tiny helpless baby.

Then He grew up.  He grew up and the image we have of Him changes.  We have an idea of Him from art and movies.  He is tall.  He is handsome, James Caviezel handsome.  He has shampoo commercial hair.  He is charismatic.  He has an orator’s voice, a Charlton Heston voice.  It takes all our imagination to think of Him any other way.

And yet I try to think of Him another way.  He is short, maybe 5′-5″ or 5′-6″.  In those days even that was probably tall for a Jew.  He was not particularly good looking.  He looked, well, Jewish.  I’m not trying to be insensitive here.  I’m just saying He was probably not classically Anglo-Saxon handsome.

I don’t think He was a great orator.  Think about this.  When you want metaphor and imagery and symbolism you go to the Psalms or Isaiah.  You don’t find that stuff in the words of Jesus.  He told stories, stories the common people could relate to.

I don’t think Jesus had much of anything that would get people’s attention.  Except the miracles.  The healings.  That got a lot of attention.  But when I read the gospels I don’t linger at the healings.  Think about that crowd that followed Him.  They followed because they didn’t want to miss the the next healing, the next miracle.  They followed because they were expecting Him to defeat the Romans and restore the kingdom of David.  They looked for the spectacular miracle and missed the real miracle.

What gets my attention is not the healings.  It’s the changed lives.  Jesus walked up to Matthew at the tax collector’s table and said, “Follow me.”  And Matthew did.  An abruptly changed life.  Peter and James and John and all the disciples.  Mary Magdalene.  Zacchaeus.  The woman taken in adultery.  The woman at the well.  No healings.  No miracles except the greatest of miracles, changed lives.

It’s been that way for over two thousand years.  We chase after the right gifts, the right words, the right education, the right hair products.  We look for miracles and miss the real miracle, a changed life.

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Listen

Listen

A Children’s Story for Grownups

By Angus Lewis

 

            The Man picked an ornament from the cardboard box and held it up to the light.  It was a round silver ball but it was not bright and sparkly like the newer ornaments.  It was dull from rubbing against tree limbs, from bouncing around in cardboard boxes, from years of repeated handling.

He worked his way carefully between the couch and the tree to the back, the side of the tree that faced the wall.  He slid a hook through the loop at the top of the Ornament and looked up, searching for the right place to hang it.  There, a likely looking space near the top.  He reached as high as he could and hung the Ornament in its place.  Then he gently edged his way out from behind the tree to get another ornament.

The Ornament swung gently from its hook as the tree shivered from the Man’s contact.

 

The Ornament looked around to get his bearings.  He was at the back again.  That’s the way it had been the last few years.  The newer, brighter ornaments got the best spots, up high and at the front.  He didn’t mind.  At least he was not down close to the floor.

There was nothing to see back here.  He liked the front because you could see things.  You could see people walking by, people with children, people with their dogs, people enjoying the crisp weather, enjoying each other, enjoying the Season.  Sometimes it snowed.  That was the best, the white flakes drifting silently down, covering everything in a soft, pure blanket of white.  But there was nothing like that to see from the back of the tree.

Still, it was peaceful back here.  He could hear the constant buzz of conversation from the other side of the tree.  He had never been like that.  He enjoyed the peace and quiet.

The Ornament was stirred from his silent meditation by a sudden shaking of the tree.  It wasn’t just a shiver or a shudder.  The tree was shaking from fright.  What could it be?  The Ornament looked around.  Nothing.  He looked up at the tree topper.  No problem there.  He looked down.  There it was.  He should have known.  The Cat was climbing the tree.  Every year the Man and the Woman decided the Cat had learned her lesson and could be trusted around the tree.  Every year she got caught climbing the tree and got pitched into the garage for the rest of the Season.

The Cat was at eye level now, looking straight at him.  There was no telling what this animal would do.  She started toward the Ornament, evil intentions in her eyes.  The Ornament tried to make himself smaller.  It was no use.  The Cat was coming for him.

But the Cat slipped by without as much as a glance.  The Ornament looked over his shoulder.  There it was, a bright red ornament, flashing with glitter and sequins, chattering away with his friends.  The Cat had picked her target.

She was almost past him now.  The Ornament was almost out of danger.  Then the tail got him.  Flicking this way and that, alive with the excitement of the hunt, the very tip of the tail caught the Ornament’s hook and lifted it clear of his limb.  The Ornament began to tumble down through the tree, bouncing from limb to limb.  The Ornament could see the hard floor rapidly approaching.  This was the end of him, he was sure.

The Ornament bounced off the last limb.  He closed his eyes, waiting for the crash.  It never came.  He opened his eyes.  He had snagged in a collection of electrical cords not six inches from the floor.  He was safe.

 

“What’s this?”  It was the Man.  He had discovered the remains of an ornament under the tree.

The Woman looked where he was pointing.  “Oh.  That’s one of the new ones.  So bright and sparkly.  What a shame.”

“How do you think it happened?”

“I know good and well how it happened.  It was the Cat.”

“You think so?  I was hoping she would have learned her lesson.”

“It was the Cat alright.  Looks like it’s the garage for her again this year.  Once I get my hands on her.”

“Here’s another one.  Not broken, though.  It got caught in the wires down here.”  The Man pulled the ornament out from under the tree and showed it to the Woman.  She took it and turned it over in her hands, looking at it from all directions.

“That’s one of the older balls.”  She looked up at the tree.  “Where are the rest of them?”

“They’re around in back, facing the wall.”

“Why is that?”

“I put the older decorations in the back where nobody could see them.  You don’t want these dull old things in the front.”

The Woman folded her arms and looked thoughtfully at the tree.  “You know, I’ve been thinking there’s something I don’t like about the way the tree looks but I couldn’t put my finger on it.”

“I don’t see anything wrong with it.  What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s too noisy.”

“I don’t hear anything.”

“All of these bright sparkly ornaments shouting for attention.  It’s too much.  We need some of those older, quieter ones around front to give balance, to quiet things down.  See that red ball in the center near the top?  Take it down and put that one in its place.”

He reached for the ornament the Woman had indicated.  “I guess this means another round of decorating.”

“You’re so perceptive.”

The Man reached up high with the salvaged decoration and hung it where the red one had been.

 

The Ornament settled his weight onto the support of his hook and looked around.  It was a bright sunny day outside.  People were out walking their dogs, pushing baby carriages, shouting greetings to one another.  The Ornament smiled contentedly.

The Ornament was happy.  The volume of the conversations around him had been reduced to a more tolerable level once some of the more vocal ornaments had been moved to the back of the tree.  And he got to enjoy the excitement of the Season, the decorations on the mantle, the clutter of brightly wrapped gifts under the tree, the comings and goings of visitors.  One couple brought a baby.  They held her up to get a good look at the tree.  The Ornament could see the joy in her eyes as she waved her arms and kicked her legs with excitement.

 

It was Christmas Eve, near midnight.  The Man and the Woman had been in bed for a long time.  It had started to snow around sundown.  The wind was blowing, piling the snow up into big drifts and making a frigid howling sound as it wrapped itself around the corners of the house.  The Ornament hung on his hook, listening.  Even at this late hour the hum of conversation continued around him.  But there was something.  He heard something else, something besides the conversation, something besides the wind.

“Shhh. Listen.”  It came out loud, louder than he had expected.  The conversation stopped.

A bright green ornament next to him spoke.  “I don’t hear anything but the wind.”

The statement was repeated from various parts of the tree.

“It’s nothing.”

“Just the wind.”

“Nothing but the wind.”  The volume of conversation began to climb again.

“Hush.” This time it was a command and the other quiet ornaments echoed it.

“Shhh.”

“Hush.”

“Quiet.”

“Listen.  I hear something, something besides the wind.  Can you hear it?  It’s singing.”

The tree fell silent, listening.  And, one by one, they all tuned in to the whisper that the Ornament had first heard.

Glory to God

Glory to God

Glory to God in the Highest

Peace on earth

And good will to men

And if you will be still and listen, you can hear it too.  There, just under the wind.  There. Can you hear it?  Down through the centuries from that hillside in Israel you can hear the angels sing.

Glory to God

Glory to God

Glory to God in the Highest

Peace on earth

And good will to men

Copyright © 2013 by Angus B. Lewis
All rights reserved

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Dance

What follows came to me a week or so ago.  I guess it was something I needed to hear at that time and place.

There is a wide spectrum of personalities in the Christian world.  Sitting in the middle (or trying to sit in the middle) I see the two extremes.

There are the extreme holiness people.  Stern judges, determined to expose and punish sin wherever they find it.

Then there are the touchy feely ones.  Searching for the next big goosebump service.  Living by their emotions and allowing their emotions to lead them astray.

I fear that we see the Trinity that way.  Jesus is touchy feely.  Love, joy, peace, forgiveness.  Freedom.

The Holy Spirit is wisdom and guidance and conviction but He is also encouragement and peace and joy.

God the Father is stern judge.  Determined to expose and punish sin.  Always a frown on His face.

We know that’s not true.  They are all the same.  They are one.  Jesus said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”

So what happens the first moment I set foot into heaven?  Jesus will greet me joyfully.  The Holy Spirit will celebrate.  And God the Father?  Creator of all things, majesty on high, righteous judge?  What will God the Father do?

The first moment I set foot in heaven…

God will dance.

 

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The True Meaning of Christmas

I’ve posted very little in the past few years.  I used to do better in December but even that has been sparse the last two or three years.  I write but I don’t post.  Afraid I will offend somebody.  So here I go again.  Who knows if this will see the light of day?

That title is attention getting, isn’t it?  If you are not a Christian you may say Christmas is family and friends, parties, entertainment, good food.  Some vague feelings of warmth and joy and friendship.  If you are a Christian you are sure of the true meaning of Christmas and you will quote Linus from A Charley Brown Christmas.  “And there were in the same country…”  You will state emphatically that Jesus is the reason for the season.

I agree with you but I wonder if in our enthusiastic defense of Christmas we have forgotten why He came.  He came so we could have new life, so we could be changed.  He came so we would not be controlled by anger and hate and fear.  So we would be different and we would stand out in our difference.

I wonder if we have made anger and hate our friends.  And we will not turn our backs on our friends.

I wonder if we have become comfortable with our fears.  Have we come to the point where we are afraid to let go of our fears?  Are we afraid to trust?

So what is the true meaning of Christmas?  It’s that Jesus came so that we could have love and not hate, so that we trade our fear for faith.

Maybe this is the year, this Christmas more than all the others, that we turn our backs on our old friend ‘hate’.  That we decide to let go of fear and decide to trust.

 

 

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An Engraved Invitation

I’m reading through the New Testament and the last few days I’ve been reading in the gospel of Luke.  And of course that brought me up against Luke Chapter Two, the birth of Jesus.

Several years ago I wrote something called And There Were in the Same Country, A Redneck Christmas.  I guess it’s still out there somewhere.  It’s about two good old boys smoking dope and drinking beer and working on their pickup truck when the angels appear and tell them about the birth of the Son of God and about how they could find Him in a barn on route 21 just west of the intersection with route 23.

I’ve always had this idea in the back of my mind of how this came about.  The angels are about to bust wanting to announce the good news, wanting to celebrate.  God doesn’t want them to shout to the whole world so He says, “See that remote hillside down there, the one with the sheep and shepherds?  Go down there and tell them.”

Lately I’ve had occasion to rethink that.

Think about the wise men.  They studied ancient texts.  They studied the scriptures.  They studied the heavens.  And they journeyed to where their studies took them, to Bethlehem and the manger and the baby Jesus.

So basically they invited themselves.

Ah, but the shepherds.  God said to the angels, “See those shepherds down there?  See those dregs of society, those people that nobody wants at the next table, that nobody wants to live next to, those people that nobody wants to have anything to do with.  Go tell them.  Go give them… an engraved invitation.”

And they did.  They presented an engraved invitation.  You know those cards you get that have a chip and a speaker in them?  It was like that except when they opened it, it wasn’t the Beatles singing the birthday song.  When they opened it a whole mountaintop opened up, like in the Sound of Music.  But there was no Julie Andrews spinning around.  No Trapp Family singers.  There was a multitude of angels singing ‘Glory to God in the Highest’.  With fireworks.  You think Pops on the River has great fireworks.  You haven’t seen fireworks till you’ve seen angels do fireworks.

So there you have it.  The wise men showed up.  That’s great.  God wants everybody to come.

But the shepherds? The dirty, smelly, shepherds?  Those people who nobody wants to be around?  Those people who are supposed to stay away in the hills with the sheep, away from civilized people?  The shepherds got an engraved invitation.

God wants everybody to come.  But there are some…

Alcoholics and drug addicts.  People on welfare.  Illegal immigrants. People who sleep under bridges and overpasses.  Those people who hold up cardboard signs on street corners.  He wants those people to get an invitation.

The thing is He doesn’t use angels anymore.  He wants us to deliver the engraved invitation.

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The Extravagant Gift

Wise advise this time of year would be to not give extravagantly.  Don’t break the bank or go deep into debt to show love that you should be showing all year.  That is wise advise in respect to giving of Christmas gifts.

There is another aspect to giving, extravagant giving that says otherwise.  We should be giving extravagantly continually, every day of the year.  Abraham did.  Moses did.  David and Isaiah and Elijah and Jeremiah did.  Peter and James and John and all the disciples did.  And Paul did.

They did and millions of others have as well through the centuries.  They gave themselves to Christ.  They surrendered their lives to Him.  And here’s the thing.  When they, when we surrender our lives to Him, we exchange a life of no value to gain a life of infinite worth.

There is One other who gave extravagantly.  Jesus Christ surrendered all.  He exchanged a life of infinite value for a life of no value ( or so it seemed).  The exchange, the sacrifice had already been made the night He was born.  He gave extravagantly.

So what should we give this Christmas?  Should we give extravagantly?  Give our all, our everything, our lives?   Not just on Christmas but all year, from this day forward, forever.

After all, what have we got to lose?

 

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