Their Lonely Hours

It had been hours since he died.  The Apostles were still stunned.  They were at a loss of what they should do.

During their years with Jesus he had, on occasion, spoken of his death.  He described it as a sacrifice.

At the time they thought he might be talking about his passing in the distant future.  Since he spoke so often in parables, using analogies and metaphors to make a point, some felt he wasn’t being literal.  Although they had not bought into the rumor that he was a great military leader that many believed, they were convinced he was on the brink of something that would usher in a new day.

But they never considered it would come to this.  They had pledged to be by his side, but fled for safety just as he predicted.  He was betrayed by one of his own, one of them.  They hauled him away like a dangerous criminal.

Insulted, tortured, flogged, forced to carry his own cross to The Place of the Skull where he was murdered among common thieves.  They didn’t just tie him to a cross like most who were crucified.  They used iron spikes and nailed him into place.  His bleeding back, torn open and raw from the flogging, rubbed against the splintered blood stain used cross.

During the hours he hung there he said a few things, but nothing that would help them answer the question “Why?”  Why did this have to happen?  Why didn’t he resist?  Why, if he was the Christ, was this even possible?

Now, hours later, they hid, uncertain if the authorities would be after them.  They also needed to be alone together, consoling each other, trying to comprehend what had happened.

As they talked, they thought about what he had said over the years.  He spoke of the realm of God as something above and beyond.  He had food to eat that they knew nothing about [John 4:32].  One could only see the Kingdom of God if they were born again [John 3:3].  He told them, the night before his arrest when they shared the Passover, that he would go and the Spirit of God would come to them to help them take their next steps [John 16:5-11].

Unable to sleep, they talked about these and other comments that he had made.  During the Passover meal he had said that he wouldn’t leave them as orphans, but would come to them.  Only them? [John 14:18-19].  It was all too confusing.

For most of the time they sat, silent, deep in their own thoughts, reluctant to voice their fears, their uncertainties, their feelings that they have been abandoned.  Then there was the danger of being known associates of a man executed by the Roman Empire for treason, even though the charges were flimsy.

They sat.  They thought.  They felt.  The hours passed.  It was the morning of the third day.

Right after dawn there was a knock at the door.  Had they been discovered?  Had the authorities found them?

No.  The knock was too discreet, soft, even feminine.  Someone quietly checked, and opened the door.

Mary Magdalene walked in.

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Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis

Copyright © 2021 by Dave Soucie.  All rights reserved [but permission is granted for non-commercial use only, with proper citation].

I’m Not The Same Person

An author attended his 10th high school reunion.  He was writing a book on what happened to his classmates over the years since they graduated.  At this point in his career, he had already become an established writer, and perhaps those at the reunion knew he was doing his research for his next book.

During the evening a guy came up to him, and began to apologize for the way he had treated the author back in high school.  Had he matured enough to realize his mistakes?  Was he worried how he might be portrayed in the new book?  Had he been plagued with guilt?

The author listened to the heart-wrenching apology.  Then he asked the man “I’m sorry, who are you?”

The author had no memory of his encounters with a man asking for forgiveness.  But it appears it had haunted the apologizer.

I have had very little contact with the vast majority of the approximately 625 classmates with whom I graduated from high school.  Nothing personal.  I moved away for college and seminary, and didn’t return to my hometown for 30 years.  I didn’t bump into them at some local store during those decades, and if I did today, we wouldn’t recognize each other.  I never attended any class reunions.  They could be living on my street and I wouldn’t even know.

All in all, I wasn’t a fan of high school.  Not popular.  Not athletic.  Not scholarly.  Definitely not cool.  Height challenged until I was 16, when I was thrilled to reach an average height.  I had a few close friends.  But basically, like most, I was a nobody.  I’ve mostly deleted from memory most of high school.

Yet sometimes something may remind me of some event or person or feeling that happened long ago.  I’m approaching nearly 50 years since graduation, so those memories are rare.  When they so surface, I think about who I was and what I did.  I think about the actions of others.  Sometimes those memories are uncomfortable.

But I know I’m not the same person I was back then.  I really don’t want my former high school classmates to assume I’m the same person.  I’ve grown.  And honestly, there is an extremely high probability they have forgotten all about me.

If I don’t want them to judge who I am today based on who I was then, shouldn’t I extend the same courtesy to them?  I was a kid.  They were kids.  But that was long long ago.

If I do encounter them and by some miracle I actually remember them and what they were like, I shouldn’t assume they are the same person today.  They have also grown and matured.  Unless I have a reason to see they act as they did before, we’re going to start fresh.

In the Christian community this is an example of grace.

If I see they haven’t changed, or they’ve developed some other problem, then it gets more complicated.  Sometimes we need to be cautious.  Sometimes we need to shake the dust off our feet and walk away [Matt. 10:14].

I’ve always struggled between sorting out when to be cautious and when to walk away.

I still want the best for someone, regardless of how they’ve acted.  But if after I have tried to reach out, tried to help, tried to get them to understand how they have wronged God or myself or others, and they remain obstinate, I’m at a loss of what else I can do for them.

When I walk away, they probably won’t care.  But maybe, on some occasions, they might realize their behavior has cost them a relationship.  They may not feel regret at that loss.  But I pray that someday they will.

I can also pray that someone else will have more of an effect on them, helping them in ways I could not.

And I wait.  Wanting to forgive.  Ready to forgive.  Eager to forgive.  Following, in my own imperfect way, the example of a loving forgiving God who has always wanted the best for us.

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Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis

Copyright © 2021 by Dave Soucie.  All rights reserved [but permission is granted for non-commercial use only, with proper citation].

The Unfellowship Of The Damned

They come from all walks of life.

There are the usual suspects, people that are known for their despicable acts.  Perpetrators of an assortment of abuse, exploitation of the vulnerable, the greedy, the violent, and those who intentionally ruin the lives of others.  Rulers of totalitarian regimes, and the cruel thugs who eagerly do their dirty work.

We know them either through history, media coverage, or because we’ve personally encountered them.

In the 1990s an animated TV series hit the air named “Beavis and Butt-Head.”  It featured two adolescents who reveled in the worst stereotypes of teenage immaturity.  They were complete idiots.  I watched a couple times just to see what they were like.  Two episodes were enough.

What I found more interesting was how the show was used by psychologists to describe its popularity.  Many viewers, mostly young males, watched the show to feel better about themselves.  Regardless of their life circumstances, their behavior, and their prospects, they felt reassured that at least they weren’t as bad as Beavis and Butt-Head.  They may have felt like they were losers, but took comfort knowing that Beavis and Butt-Head were far far worse.  This was labeled the “Beavis and Butt-Head Syndrome.”

We can see how this syndrome might even explain the popularity, in some limited circles, of the Jerry Springer type disasters.  It might also apply to some viewers of many other TV shows.

When compared to those who act despicable, most feel a sign of relief.  We know we’re not perfect but at least we’re not as bad as the worst of humanity.

Fair enough.  Let’s acknowledge that we’ve all experienced a bit of the Beavis and Butt-Head syndrome ourselves.

Yet if we’re going to be honest, let’s back up to our admission that we’re not perfect.

The dearest sweetest grandma you’ve ever had, or met, or heard about will admit that they’ve made mistakes.  It might never be the lead story on the news, but there’s something that they aren’t proud of or wish they had done differently.  Even if it’s something we think of as small, she may know the avalanche she started that caused devastation in someone else’s life.  If she doesn’t know the details, she knows the potential.

If that’s true for her, it’s definitely true for me.  And…don’t be mad at me…it’s true for you.

Everyone messes up.  Everyone.  Romans 3:23 says as much how we all fall short of the glory of God.

Now things get tricky.  God has standards.  He will only allow the pure into his presence.  But if we’re not perfect, we’re impure and not allowed to come before him.  There is a place for those who are not allowed in the presence of God.  This place is not called Heaven.

Which makes us all members of The Unfellowship of the Damned.

Some don’t care, because they think he’s just a childish fantasy anyway, and none of this is real.  Some believe they are good enough, because they just don’t know any better.  Some realize they need help to get past who they are and become who they want to be.

The New Testament describes the internal battle felt by this third group.  This is the tug of war between our natural side and our spiritual side [1 Cor. 2].

Since we are incapable of solving this problem on our own, God put a plan into place that will allow any of us to be free of what holds us back.

In Old Testament times animals were sacrificed to pay for the sins of the people.  There is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood [Heb. 9:22].   Why blood?  There is no greater gift than to sacrifice a life [John 15:13].  Those sacrifices were a symbolic rite which set the stage for something much better.

The sacrifices never fully paid the debt of sin; they only covered the interest.  The principle remained untouched, and over the centuries grew and grew.  Humanity would never be able to pay off this debt.

Enter Jesus, whose sacrifice on the cross was so valuable it could pay for all the sins of all people throughout all the ages.  The debt has been settled once and for all.  We call this Atonement.  It’s God’s willingness and plan to grant full pardon for all sin.

As already mentioned, God has his standards.  The pardon is available to anyone who will claim it.  It’s not automatic.  It’s not inherited.  It’s not imposed.  It’s for those who make the effort to be right with God.

Because this is a fallen world, we’ve all been exposed to all sorts of bad influences.  We can’t help but be affected by it.  Even before we’re capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, we’re seduced by the wrong.  There are no noble savages.  There is just us imperfect humans.

Yet God never meant for us to remain members of The Unfellowship of the Damned.  That’s why he created a process whereby we can voluntarily allow him to put the worst parts of our personality behind us, to cleanse us, purify us, save us from ourselves.  Otherwise, we remain lonely exiles from his grace, even unconnected to others who have also chosen to ignore his generosity. 

Could he have created us perfect?  Sure.  But that would have robbed us of our opportunity to grow a grateful relationship with him.  Too much would have been missed, and we would be the poorer for it.

I love Chinese buffets.  A little of this, a dab of that, some of this, and a whole lot of crab rangoon.  I do not like sweet and sour.  When at a buffet I can pick and choose, and skip the sweet and sour.

When it comes to truth, we cannot pick and choose, and skip the sweet and sour.

I hope readers of this blog [thank you] have found many articles that are encouraging.  That’s the sweet.  Yet we dare not ignore that which is uncomfortable.  The good news is that this helping of sour has the potential of being changed into something very sweet for those who are drawn to God’s grace.

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Dave Soucie lives, serves, and writes in Indianapolis.

Copyright © 2021 by Dave Soucie.  All rights reserved [but permission is granted for non-commercial use only, with proper citation].

Why Did God Pick The First Century?

A key belief within Christianity is the Incarnation, that time when God chose to take human form to live and walk and work among us.

By spending time with us, he showed that we were well worth his time [John 1:14].  By walking in our shoes, he showed he does understand our challenges [Heb. 4:15].  By accepting the limitations of the flesh he could prove he knows the pain of suffering, even to the point of death [Phil. 2:6-8].

But why did this happen in what we call the First Century?  There are several reasons why God may have picked that era.

1.  Throughout the ancient world there was a growing dissatisfaction with all religions.  People found them hollow and unsatisfying.  Some only paid lip service to their nation’s religion out of political expediency, social conformity, or for economic benefit.  If you think that sounds familiar to what you might see in the 21st century, you are right.

Even in Israel many felt the emphasis on the letter of the Law robbed them of the joy they should have felt with their faith.

People, all over the Roman Empire and beyond, were hungry for something more satisfying.

2.  In many religions around the world there was an expectation that a new king would soon be born, a leader head and shoulders above the corrupt royalty that had repressed and abused them for so long.  It’s what compelled the Magi to travel for many months from what we call northern Iraq all the way to Bethlehem to honor the newborn king.

All over, people knew that there had to be something better.  They were eager for something new, just, honorable, kind.  They were ripe for a message that would offer them hope.

3.  For the first time in that part of the world, there was a nearly universal language.

Thanks to the aggressive efforts of Alexander the Great several centuries prior, Koine [common] Greek was spoken throughout the region.  Most people in those times knew several languages, and no matter where you went there were plenty of people who could understand both spoken and written Greek. This made it much easier to spread the Good News, both through conversations and the dissemination of the documents that would become the New Testament.

4.  The oppressive nature of the Roman Empire did impose some useful benefits.  The Pax Romana [Peace of Rome] imposed a truce between nations that had long-standing rivalries.  For the most part, the heavy hand of Rome prevented violent squabbles which would have destabilized that part of the empire, disrupted commerce, and perhaps most importantly derailed the steady stream of tax revenues sent to the imperial capital.

As far as the Empire was concerned “it’s all about the money.”

Since there was relative peace, those that took to the road to share the Gospel were able to travel rather freely without fear of dangerous conflicts.  Bandits were still a problem, but the threat of violence was much lower.

5.  The Romans could be vicious and evil.  But they had great engineers.  The highway system they developed and maintained enabled travelers to more easily travel from city to city.

6.  Papyrus, an early form of paper developed in Egypt, had become more plentiful and was available to transcribe the New Testament documents as copies were made for all the congregations.

All these factors came together and what we call the first century.  It provided the early Church an opportunity to reach out across the Empire to plant the seeds of the growing Christian community.

Although Jesus began his earthly ministry in Israel it was always his intend to offer grace and peace to all humanity [Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:15-16, Acts 1:8].  To encourage that international outreach to all nations and races, the developments described above helped spread the word of God’s generosity.

God, packaged as the son Jesus for our benefit, could have come a century earlier or a century later.  What matters most is that he cared enough to come.

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Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis.

Copyright © 2021 by Dave Soucie.  All rights reserved [but permission is granted for non-commercial use only, with proper citation].

Why Did God Take My Husband?

Sierra had been thinking about her sister all day.  It had been many years since Shelby’s husband had been killed in action.  This day each year, the anniversary of his death, was the darkest of times for Shelby.

During the day she relived their best moments, so grateful for how much he had cared for her.  The long nights were quiet, hollow, lonely, empty.  The despair was crushing.

Not having experienced it herself, Sierra could barely imagine her sister’s anguish.  Making it worse, Shelby had chosen to blame God.

It’s common for people to believe that God decides the dates of our birth and death, and initiates all sorts of trails and heartaches in our lives.  That would make sense if God micromanaged life on earth.

God knowing the date of our death is not the same as God causing our death.  But it would be incredibly insensitive for Sierra to lecture her sister on something that had been so traumatic.

All she felt she could do was offer her love, a listening presence, and a back door alternative that Shelby may or may not connect with her own pain.

Sierra breathed deep and lifted up the same prayer as in the past.  “Give me the words.”

She texted Shelby.  “Thinking of u.  Love u.”  It wasn’t long before Shelby called.  “Hey” she said, “you busy?”

Sierra took that as a good sign.  Some years Shelby wouldn’t respond at all.

“Never too busy to talk with you.”  For a few minutes they just compared trivia about their lives, the status of their to-do lists, and the latest antics of their pets.

There was a pause.  Gently, hesitantly, Sierra said “I’m always thinking of you, especially on this date.”  Another pause.  “I know” answered Shelby, “and I appreciate it.”  Pause.  “Last year I didn’t want to talk because of what you said the year before that.  But I’ve had more time to think it through.  I understand what you’re saying.  Well, I think I get it.”

Sierra felt a glimmer of hope.  Two years ago, she had tried that backdoor comment.  A friend of hers had been diagnosed with breast cancer, a Christian friend who told Sierra that she didn’t blame God for what was happening to her.  Sierra had not brought up Shelby’s husband’s death, but had prayed that Shelby would make the connection.

“Growing up in the church” Shelby went on “we were always told that God loves us, and wants the best for us.  It’s hard to imagine how Todd’s death could be in my best interest.  Help me with that.”

Sierra started to freeze.  She hadn’t expected the conversation to go that deep that fast.  She prayed, again, that God would give her the words.

“I believe he does want things to go well for us.  But we live in a fallen world.  Things are messed up.  He allows that for a bunch of reasons.  We can guess some of them, but probably not all.”

“Like what?”  Shelby seemed willing to hear more.

“He wants us to have a loving relationship with him.  But if life were perfect and easy, few would bother to look for him for help, support, a connection, that relationship.  By feeling pain, physical and emotional, we appreciate him more once we experience his grace and peace.  Pain can help us focus on what matters most, and not be distracted by the petty things around us.  Suffering encourages us to trust him more, and to look for others who can stand with us to support us.  When we struggle, most people get stronger, like with jogging or lifting weights.

Sierra stopped for a moment and waited to let Shelby start to process what she had said.  “And there are probably other reasons we can’t understand.  We didn’t know why mom allowed us to be vaccinated as little kids.  We just knew she was holding us tight as we got jabbed by a long scary needle.  We now know she wanted the best for us, even though at the time we couldn’t possibly know what was really going on.  I can’t presume to understand all of what God does or why.  But we can know he loves us.”

“So,” Shelby said “no simple answer.”

“Not really” Sierra admitted.  “And none of these reasons on their own will satisfy the problem.  It’s like when you have a cold.  You need to do a bunch of things to get better.  Rest, time, chicken soup, some meds, and binge watching something while you’re spread out on the couch with a diet Dr. Pepper.  You need a combination of all of those things to get over your cold.  We need different ways to see why God allows us to suffer to start to get past the pain.”

Another pause.  “Things to think about” said Shelby as she took a deep breath.

“God doesn’t cause deaths.” Sierra went on.  “He allows nature to take its course.  Usually that means heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, COPD or something else.  And, unfortunately, living in a fallen messed up world means there is plenty of violence that robs us of people we love.”

A long uncomfortable silence followed.

“Yeah” Shelby said.  “You’re right about that.”

Sierra wasn’t sure whether this had helped, but she was grateful for the chance to try to help her hurting sister.  Shelby hadn’t debated her, which was another promising sign.

“I’ll call you next week.  Okay?”  Shelby asked.

“Day or night Sierra” answered.  “Love you, always.”

“Love you too” Shelby shared as she hung up.

Sierra felt drained yet relieved.  She thanked God for being beside her throughout the call, his encouragement, his wisdom, his love for her sister Shelby.

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Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis

Copyright © 2021 by Dave Soucie.  All rights reserved [but permission is granted for non-commercial use only, with proper citation].

Unfinished Dreams

You wake up.  You’ve been dreaming.

Many of my dreams are a series of only marginally connected scenes, full of improbable situations.  But frequently I’m doing something that isn’t completed.  The story hasn’t ended.

For the first few moments I’m awake, I’m still thinking about the dream.  I know I need to finish whatever was going on.  Maybe I need to get somewhere or finish a conversation or solve some problem.

After perhaps 5 seconds, I realize it was only a dream.  My real day begins.  I don’t have to, or get to, finish the dream.

Throughout our lives we all imagine we’ll do this or accomplish that.  In high school I wanted to get a Triumph Spitfire.  Never happened.  Back in college when I hiked portions of the Appalachian Trail, I dreamed of hiking the whole length, from Maine to Georgia.  Nope.  Since then, I’ve imagined some ministry and mission projects that were always out of reach.

Now what?  I could dwell and what never was and let myself be haunted by regrets.  That is of no help to me, or my wife and family, or anyone else.  It would only be an anchor that would weigh upon my soul.

Previously I’ve written about how although I may not be able to do this or this or this, I can always do that and that and that.  We do what we can, celebrate the small successes, and be grateful.

Let’s reimagine our dreams.  We’re not bound by the dreams of the past.  In time our priorities change, our perspective deepens, we refine our understanding of what is important.  We also have a better grasp on our own limitations and become more honest about what is realistic.

If there is some long-held dream that is still important to you, and you have a reasonable chance of pulling it off, great.  Give it your best so that even if you don’t make it, you’ll always know that you tried.

Otherwise, let’s imagine something else.  Let’s brainstorm on how we can go about creating new dreams.  Let’s imagine that when we determined our limitations, we were short-changing ourselves.  Maybe we just need to explore in a new direction.

Is there something you’ve seen others do that you’ve always admired, thinking how amazing it would be if you could do the same?

Does your family have an unmet need that you could fill?

Your faith family where you worship, and many community organizations, have volunteer roles that would give you a chance to find more meaning and satisfaction.  It could replace the emptiness you may have grown so accustomed to that you have forgotten that it was even there.  You will feel better about yourself.

What would stretch you?  Learn a second language?  Take up a musical instrument?  Rebuild a car or remodel a house or restore a community landmark?

Any of these and many more challenges can become new dreams.  They can reignite an excitement that was once felt with the abandoned dreams we’ve left behind.

God never meant for you to be bored.  He has given you one lifetime, long or short, to get a taste of what is right and good.

The Bible teaches us that all good things come from God. [1 Tim 4:4-5, James 1.17] Anything can be twisted out of shape of course.  I’ll let you find your own examples.  But God always wanted something more for us.

Our lives are an opportunity to thrive, becoming more than we were.  With that comes the satisfaction of accomplishment, the affirmation of worth, the knowledge that we pushed ourselves beyond what we thought possible.  The best experiences frequently begin with a dream.

Whether you want to hang on to an old dream, or let it retire, there are countless other ways we can enjoy the life that God has given us.  It’s our chance to be more.  We can imagine what is not, and do our best to make it so.

Dream on.

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Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis.

Copyright © 2021 by Dave Soucie.  All rights reserved [but permission is granted for non-commercial use only, with proper citation].

Fires, Earthquakes, Wars and Reimagining What’s “Normal”

A massive fire rages through a major city, leaving smoke and ash and remnants of a thriving culture.

A devastating earthquake levels a large metropolis, shaking the lives of all its citizens just as thoroughly as it shook the collapsed buildings where they centered their lives.

Intensive fighting rages across an urban landscape, making its dwellings uninhabitable and destroying the businesses where its people made a living.

After the dust settles, people rebuild.  The examples across the centuries are too numerous to detail, but the pattern is consistent.  Sometimes the city does not recover.  Usually, with determined effort, people reclaim their lives.

2020 is a year we’re all eager to forget.  We constantly hear people say they can’t wait for things to “get back to normal.”

Well … let’s pause for a moment and consider another possibility.  When people rebuild their cities after disaster, they don’t usually recreate what they had.  They reimagine how things could be better.

Can you think of some ways our society could be better?  I can.  I don’t want to go back to “normal.”

The problem is that it’s much easier to construct a building than it is to change human attitudes and behaviors.  It is for that reason that we all ought to make a commitment.  Not some useless New Year’s resolution, a commitment that we will be the change we want to see in the world.

This past year we’ve all gained a better appreciation for family bonds.  We’ve missed their presence and are eager for hugs.  2021 could be the year old riffs fade into the past as we’ve been given another chance.

As so many have perished, we ought to have a greater respect for life.  Death has been called the great equalizer.  We’ve seen the vulnerable and the vibrant slip away, the well-known and the obscure, those we’ve personally known and countless strangers.  All these lives mattered.  All those who remain should be valued.

We’ve seen amazing stories about people have sought to care for neighbors, ones they know and others they don’t.  We can continue that level of compassion if we are committed to caring for all.

There is now a better understanding of who is essential.  Instead of glamorizing Hollywood types, self-absorbed artists, and overpaid athletes we now better see the immense value of grocery store clerks, truckers, teachers and others who don’t get the recognition and support they deserve.  If we lost a boatload of celebrities, we’ll be fine.  If we lose a nurse, we’re in trouble.

This past year many now understand the value of the century old Boy Scout motto Be Prepared.  Unfortunately, the government had to step in to provide help for needs the average citizen couldn’t cover.  But the person most responsible to care for you is you.  We’d all be better off if everyone would plan on being at self-sufficient as possible, so as to not be a burden to family or neighbors or government.

Lastly, we can take this opportunity to relook at life priorities.  Which is more important: electronic gadgets or the enrichment of the next generation?  Indulging yourself or planning for a more secure future?  Mindless TV programs or the emotional wellness of our families?  Obsessing over politically correct pettiness or refusing to nitpick and cutting each other some slack?  Hostile politics or respectful disagreement?  Personal fulfillment or knowing you’ve made a genuine effort to create a lasting legacy that will leave the world better then when you arrived?

We live in a fallen messed up world.  One of the reasons God has allowed this is to give us a chance to see the stark contrast between what is of him and what is not.

It’s normal for people to assume that human brokenness is unavoidable and therefore not bother to try to move beyond.  That’s not our only choice.

We can turn to the time-tested truths of a Christian faith that are routinely watered down or taken for granted or ignored by those who would prefer to pretend that they know better.

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Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis

Copyright © 2021 by Dave Soucie.  All rights reserved [but permission is granted for non-commercial use only, with proper citation].

The View From Above

It was a marvel unlike any other.

The Heavenly Host watched in awe as their Lord made his move to fulfill a promise made long before.  He had plans for his people as he had gathered them, protected them, taught them, and guided them toward a special role.

And now the time had come.  The Host had been waiting for so long.  They knew the Lord cherished them.  But he had a special plan for the peoples of the earth, a destiny different from their own.

They welcomed this, because they knew that they were partners with the people, each called to fulfill what they had been created to accomplish.  Each had free will, giving them the opportunity to show the Lord that their devotion was genuine.

This was the time when God himself would take human form, born as a baby.

He would experience vulnerability as a child, the bonds of family, and the heartache of loss.  In some unfathomable way he would be fully God yet capable of growing through the stages of human maturity from being a baby to a full-grown man.

He would share the majestic truths of the divine, helping the people grow in their appreciation of the broadness of the heavenly Father’s love and guidance.

He could show the people that he understood their lives by walking with them, knowing their challenges, proving that he could empathize with their troubles.

He would, in time, allow himself to be the perfect sacrifice to pay the blood debt of sin.  There would be no greater proof of his love for the people than to give up his life for them.

But for now, the Heavenly Host felt the thrill of knowing that the best part of the plan had begun.  They had their own role to fill in the new era that was just beginning.  Yet they also knew what was coming for the people.

Now it was time to….

…celebrate the birth of the baby.

…admire the Lord’s commitment.

…watch Mary and Joseph as they began to more fully appreciate the miracle.

…anticipate the drama that would unfold as the Lord guided events toward the climax of human history.

…look forward to the era beyond, when Heaven would be filled with all the Lord’s servants, for all time.

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Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis

Copyright © 2020 by Dave Soucie.  All rights reserved [but permission is granted for non-commercial use only, with proper citation].

Craving An Early Christmas

We all agree.  At the least it’s been a crazy year.  At the most, for some families, it’s been devastating.  I’m confident that the word-of-the-year will be “unprecedented.”  2020 has become a four-letter word.

Now let’s combine that with a frequent complaint.  Every year you hear the frustrations of the public that stores have decorated for Christmas earlier and earlier.  Now it’s normal to see the displays before Halloween.  One year I even remember seeing some Christmas merchandise in late August.  

But, like with everything else in 2020, this time it was different. 

It appears there was a growing mood around the country that people wanted Christmas NOW.  Whether it’s Christmas music on the radio, festive decorations on lawns, or the pimping out of retail stores with a Christmas look, people didn’t seem to mind.  Many really liked it.  Some craved it.  Why?

I think it was caused by a combination of needs.  Christmas is nostalgic.  Right now we need comforting memories.

Christmas is a time of giving.  Generosity has taken many admirable forms this past year, but we remember a time when it wasn’t driven by a worldwide crisis.

We want to be with family, especially after having been deprived at Thanksgiving.  We long for tradition, a life not dominated by the unprecedented.  We need to feel normal, and we spent our whole lives looking forward to Christmas.

Along with these reasons we might crave Christmas, deep within there may also be something else.

When we are stressed we need a comforting presence.  In times of crisis we need a helping hand.  When overwhelmed with the disruption of routines and unique challenges and the relentless pressure to adapt, adapt, adapt we need someone who understands and empathizes, who has pledged to always walk with us and never leave us.

Even among those who might deny it, we need the Christ child.

How is a baby going to help?  The baby is yet another way God proved he’ll always keep his promises.  The baby is a glimpse of a better future.  That baby is a reminder of how much God is willing to do for us.

Christmas is not the most important day of the year for Christians.  That would be Easter, when we celebrate new life, a fresh start, the conquering of death.  If it wasn’t for Easter, no one would care when Jesus was born.  Next spring’s Easter might be the most memorable of our lives.

For now, it will be wonderful to enjoy what we can of this very different Christmas.  The one part of this year’s Christmas that will not be different is the invitation to remember and celebrate that time when God chose to walk the earth beside us.

Emmanuel.

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Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis

Copyright © 2020 by Dave Soucie.  All rights reserved [but permission is granted for non-commercial use only, with proper citation].

What Use Is A Clarinet?

Calm down.  I’m not here to insult the clarinet.  My niece and nephew played the clarinet in band.  Jazz greats have done amazing things on clarinet.  If you played the clarinet, that’s wonderful.

But let’s be honest.  The clarinet is not the most glamorous of musical instruments.  I need not elaborate.

Yet the clarinet [I didn’t say “lowly clarinet”] is just as much a part of the orchestra or band as any other instrument.

Consider the following:

Now if the clarinet should say, “Because I am not a violin, I do not belong to the orchestra,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the orchestra.  And if the trombone should say, “Because I am not a French horn, I do not belong to the orchestra,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the orchestra.  If the whole orchestra were a violin, how could we hear the deep beat of the kettle drum? If the whole orchestra were a French horn, who would provide the mellow sound of the cello?  But in fact, the conductor has arranged the parts of the orchestra, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all the same instrument, how could there be a full orchestra?” [with apologies to 1 Cor 12:15-19]

The conductor needs the presence, talent and energy of each player, regardless of their instrument.  Some musicians might be more noticeable than others, but all are needed and valued.

That sounds a lot like another group effort I know; the Church, with Christ as the conductor.  You can apply that 1 Corinthians 12 passage to the Church on a couple of levels.

In each congregation, you’ll have people with a wide range of talents.  Serving in the nursery is not one of my areas of giftedness.  Neither is singing on a praise team.  Trust me on this.

But there are other ways I can make a contribution, helping out with other types of service.

The Church needs a wide range of different people with different talents.  We’re not all supposed to be the same.  The Body of Christ can’t be made up of exclusively of elbows.   We need variety.  One makes up for what someone else cannot do.  Everybody makes their own contribution and everything gets done.

You can also think of the range of churches within a community.  Each church tradition has its own unique history and perspective.  Many are able to make their own specialized contribution to the Christian community as a whole.  Our denomination’s best contribution is correct doctrine of course, but I’ll let that go for now.

Some say there are too many churches.  Yet the wide variety allows each of them to serve in different ways, and reach different types of people.  That’s a good thing.

Most Christians believe their flavor of Christianity is the best and that’s understandable.  We seem to be okay when people of some other city prefer their own pro sports team over our local favorites.  We act like it’s a real rivalry, but it’s not.  While matters of faith have more serious consequences, the overwhelming majority of Christians have a gracious attitude toward believers of other Christian traditions.

Whether we’re talking about individuals within a local congregation, or comparing differences between denominations, the same analogy applies.  We need variety.  We live and work best when each part of the body is allowed to flourish in what they do best.

We need each other, so that the orchestra can continue to play.

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Dave Soucie lives, serves and writes in Indianapolis

Copyright © 2020 by Dave Soucie.  All rights reserved [but permission is granted for non-commercial use only, with proper citation].