Response Required

1833-1834 oil painting by American artist Thomas Cole

This past summer I added a new title: Father-in-law.

While 2020 lacked the typical amusement of social gatherings, we created our own excitement through the planning, re-planning, and re-planning of re-planned plans for two outdoor weddings. In short, the brides were beautiful, the grooms handsome, the food terrific, the company lovely, and the tears joy-filled. 

Significant events like a graduation or marriage typically cause parents to reflect on the lives of their children. All the laughable, notable, adorable, and memorable moments. For me, the two weddings of summer brought to mind not just the lives of my boys but the evolution of my parenting. I don’t parent now like I did 20 years ago. While I still tip toward being more rules than grace, I believe I’ve relaxed quite a bit. I’m not as quick to launch a “dad speech” or get miffed about minor misbehavior or inconvenience. Perhaps holes in drywall, wrecked cars, trips to the emergency room, and missed curfews have appropriately tempered my responses.

Beyond parenting, our days have many moments that require our response. It might start with the alarm clock. Then a dog that needs letting out. A diaper that needs changing and children that need feeding. A project summary for the boss, a bill that needs paying, and even a tired body that needs a nap. All theseand morerequire our attention. So I wonder: how attentive to God am I? What activates my engagement with Him throughout the day, and why?

While we might be distracted by the steady stream of issues needing our attention, Scripture assures us that God is here. That before we ever loved Him, He loved us with an everlasting love. He’s promised to never abandon us as He brings all things toward a perfect conclusion. And before we even realized our deepest need, God made sure there would be a way for us to enjoy Him forever. Such wonderful news demands our attention, does it not?

Paul David Tripp in his book, Awe, said: “I am convinced that rest in this chaotic world, submission to authority, and a willingness to give and share power all arise from a certain knowledge that every single detail of our lives is under the careful administration of One of awesome glory. We will rest in the middle of unrest not because we have it figured out but because of who he is. When you are in awe of God’s glory, you just don’t have to be in control of everything and everyone in your life.” (p.142) As I reflect on my propensity to be an anxious parent or fret over planning weddings during a pandemic, knowing that the God of Heaven is with me should be my first point of engagement. He is always in control and completely trustworthy. These truths should affect my response not only to the everyday issues of life, but also to God himself. 

This is the fourth week of Advent. In this season of waiting and contemplation, I’ve been challenged to reorient, to notice, and to spend time alone with God. To attune myself to the love of our Savior. In this week of Christmas, how should you and I respond to God? How do we engage with the One who came to chase death’s dark shadow? Whose law is love and gospel peace? Who can bid all sad division cease and truly be our King of Peace?

We can shout “Glory to God in the Highest!” and “Joy to the world!” We can whisper in our souls, “Thank you, Jesus” and “Lord, you are good.” And perhaps our simplest, most profound response comes from Christina Rossetti: “Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” 

God has done a great thingChrist has come! In our celebrations this week, let’s respond to Him with grateful praise and reaffirm our whole-hearted commitment to love Him and love all people.

Merry Christmas!

A Prayer of Response to Jesus
Dayspring of Heaven and Bright Morning Star,
Laudable Babe and Ruler of Nations
You ransomed us from the darkness of death,
broken our chains and freed us to love.
Enthroned on our hearts in wondering love,
we worship you with anthems praise! 

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
(Ephesians 3:17b-19, NIV)

Complaining at Christmas?

The Wise Men Journeying to Bethlehem – James Jacques Joseph Tissot

It’s Christmas week. The fourth week of Advent. The time when all the scurrying and baking and frenetic wrapping reach their zenith. This can also be a season ripe for complaint.

Complaint about the weather. Complaint about traffic jams, visiting relatives, toddler fits, and shopping trips. In the midst of candy canes and popcorn cake, we prop-up idyllic Christmas celebrations, which can be unexpected setups for disappointment. Even in this season of comfort and joy, grumbling can rise like steam from the wassail.

I’m certainly not immune to complaining. Even if I don’t voice my dissatisfaction, my mind is all too eager to write a negative script. Why? M. Craig Barnes suggests, “Complaining is usually a veiled lament about deeper issues of the soul.” (Pastor as Minor Poet, 16) Barnes goes on to add, “The primary symptom of a soul that has become sick is that it becomes blind to the poetry of life.” (38) When we complain, the presenting issue may not be the issue.

Complaint may seem off-topic for an Advent meditation, but the ubiquity of societal (and personal) grumbling is evidence of our longing. If we’re wrapped too tightly in wish dreams, our senses dull to the grand story unfolding before us. How enthralling, explosive, and poetic was the Incarnation! The shattering of time with the advent of the Christ-child was a longing fulfilled. A promise kept. The genesis of hope and assurance of renewal that affects this very moment.

Even so, we wait. Our souls lament as we cry, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

And yet there’s a song in the air! Can you hear the Creator singing His melody of grace harmonized with justice, mercy, and kindness? Release yourself into the mystery, wonder, and beauty of Salvation’s song that satisfies our soul’s longing and extinguishes complaint.

As we celebrate Christmas this week, let’s remember the One who had justification to complain, yet never did. Who with incomparable humility carried the Song of Love to the Cross and sung redemption into eternity. Thanks be to God for the gift of our Savior — Jesus!

Merry Christmas!

A Prayer against Complaint

Holy Song-Singer and Word of Life,
Jesus, our Savior, strong and good;
Forgive my complaint and steep me in joy —
Have mercy on me, a sinner.

 

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
(Philippians 2:5–8, NIV)

What an Entry!

large_the-problem-of-palm-sundayWhen it comes to early April in Michigan, today is a perfect springtime Saturday. Sixty degrees with clear skies is a gift to be relished. Such days beckon many to scour garages and sheds seeking gloves, rakes, yard bags, and pruning shears.

As buds and bulbs re-activate, tomorrow begins a week of death. A time of remembering when Hope was pierced by thorns, hung with iron, and sealed with stone. But before we thumb to week’s end, let’s dwell in chapter one. Let’s celebrate a King in royal procession on branches of palm.

In preparation for Palm Sunday, I return to an excerpt from my March 26, 2015 post titled “Colt Rider.”

—————

[It was] the arrival of a King, marked indelibly on history’s pages with hoof-crushed palm fronds. Wobbling with the jagged tempo of his bare-backed donkey, fanatic accolades bombarded Him: “Hosanna! Messiah! Deliver us! Lead us into freedom’s peace! Usher in your prosperous reign!”

Immersed in His passion, the Rider acknowledged their good and right desire, well aware that days later these same mouths would erupt with rage-filled screams of “Crucify!”

Like them, we can be fickle rebels. Hapless self-seekers, unsatisfied in our quest to satiate our longings. Toiling in a barren sin-winter we are worn, feeble, sick, and lame. We long for the rejuvenation of springtime. A fresh breath for our soul.

Mark Buchanan writes, “Springtime brings the consolation of hope.” (Spiritual Rhythm, p.84) A hope not for new blooms and warm breezes, but the surety of an ever-fresh springtime of heart. A glorious hope embodied by the colt-riding man from Nazareth. The Lord of spring, King Jesus.

And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Mark 11:7–10, ESV

 

Sappy and Green

I enjoy making new from old. dripping_tree_sap

Last summer in an unplanned flash of creativity, I crafted an outdoor iPod music station. I had a riot pairing my imagination with a stack of wood from weathered apple crates. Today, that music box stands erect, like a soldier at Buckingham Palace, ready to deliver play-listed tunes into the springtime green of our backyard.

Last week, as I unpacked my musical re-creation from it’s winter storage, my mind recalled a recent conversation with a friend. He and his wife are battling cancer — again. The situation is fragile. Emotions are volatile. The future uncertain. Questions ooze from every conversation. Predominant among them is: “Why is this happening, again?”

Life is seasonal. In my friend’s case, cyclical. The chapters of our living stack side-by-side and layer a story. Some of the chapters read with discouragement and despair in our pursuit of happiness. Others have plot lines wrapped around self-affirmation and high-minded morality. And some are penned while walking the slender path that’s illumined step-by-step with a sanctified glow.

We all wander and weave a journey that brings us to lung-burning climbs and leg-aching descents. None are immune from life’s frustrations and setbacks. Each of us cycle through joy and sorrow, breaking and building, closed doors and open.

Hindsight is the gift of reflection. A glimpse backward helps us piece together personal themes, the development of relationships, and circumstances that are more purpose driven than random. In our looking back, we see the progression of being torn down and built up. We see Someone at work.

For those who follow Jesus, our life is a steady plodding toward restoration. In every circumstance, our hope is immovably anchored in the surety of God’s plan of renewal. Deep within, we’re “ever full of sap and green.” * We’re alive and growing by the Spirit of grace.

As you page through your story today, be it joyous, painful, or commonplace, remember that every moment is an opportunity to worship. Believe that your life is not a fate-driven tragedy. A hopeless endeavor. A cycle of needless pain. We are all being broken down and built up. We are green, sappy, deeply loved people being transformed from the old and broken into fruit-bearing newness. In all things, may we be vibrant ambassadors who step with trust into the wonderful mystery of the story God is writing.

* “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”
Psalm 92:12–15, ESV

The Good of Friday

lonely-man-app

I felt trapped. Separated from home by a landmark bridge and 500 miles, my studies at college were the loneliest of my life.

Buried in snow and differential equations, I had tapered. My existence seemed shunted, bound by the limit to which the frigid atmosphere of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula could carry my warbled pleas. I was singular, distanced from the familiar, the enjoyable, the comfortable. I felt unprotected and undefended. Monsters of despair bullied my self-talk and clawed at the empty space of me.

Still, in the dim of self pity I desperately tended a flickering hope. My spirit stretched toward Spirit as neediness found readiness in another. In a Man who knows rejection and isolation, for there was a time that He was lonely, too.

Lonely because of me. I’ve said ‘no’ to Him. Deserted Him. Ignored Him — over and over. You have, too. Even His Father distanced himself in this Man’s most desperate moment. Together, we have turned our collective back and willingly cast this Man aside.

Today we remember our rejection of Him. In my remembering, I want those college days near me. To feel fresh the pain and longing. To sit again in the desperation and frustration of wanting to be wanted. To be connected, known, and loved.

We are not trapped on a celestial orb, abandoned and alone, traversing in elliptical nothingness. We have been rescued from isolation. We need no longer be lonely. That is the “good” of this Friday.

Because of the Man, Jesus.

“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Isaiah 53:3, ESV

New Day

An epilogue to Cock Crows, New Day reflects
on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Resurrection Morning by James R.C. Martin

New Day

The dust of yesterday settles
while the weary repose.

Morning and evening;
rising and setting;
incessantly desperate we trudge.

Another day in a monotonous strand?
Heaven says no.

A morbid cavern relents;
The Revelation wakes.
His all-seeing eyes flutter with acclimation.
Stark is the light after suffocating darkness —

Our darkness.

In the amber still of dawn
a benevolent breeze blows
bending tawny stalks
in happy syncopation.

O soul, breathe deep —
respire the air of redemption!

The Merciful One stands
to Creation’s applause.
He steps forth triumphant,
ears fully delighted —

with a cock’s exultant crow!

Copyright © 2015 Chris De Man. All rights reserved.

Cock Crows

A poem of reflection on Luke 22:54-62
and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Peter’s Denial — Carl Heinrich Bloch, 1873

Cock Crows

Again,
and again,
then again.

A cock crows with mocking validation —

Traitor.

Fear clubs the faithful
scattering them to disillusionment.

Demagogues posture and pose
seeking fault in the presence of Truth.
Their justice is blind to the Just.

End this!

Showers of spit and vociferous rage;
yesterday’s hero now naked spectacle;
shamed, abhorred —

Abandoned.

Brutes count their rhythmic flagellations
and tire their fists in His flesh.

Humanity’s whipping boy.

His spike-dangled frame,
striped with blood rills of mercy
and broad cuts of grace,
jolts with atonement’s tremors.

And there we stand,
crowing like self-loving cocks —
once, twice, three times and more.

Traitors.
God-killers, we are.

Against our rebellious schemes
redemption’s momentum builds
tilting history on the fulcrum of His Cross.

From death’s grim hollow
this story crescendos to
a revelatory dawn —

when the cock will crow
in exaltation!

Copyright © 2015 Chris De Man. All rights reserved.

Colt Rider

I finally caught the fever.

I did well avoiding it most of the winter season. February is a month of particular weakness, but I resisted. Then early in March, my immunity cracked. I was infected, almost to the point of delirium. In fact, one night I dreamt that despite the cold reality of a four-inch snow pack my underground sprinklers had sprung into action. Yep, that’s the fever for sure.

Spring fever.

My kids caught it, too. Their behavior tipped me off. The trickle of melting snow and the first 40-degree day triggered a fever-induced donning of shorts and running in flip-flops through slush. Or maybe that’s just typical of Michiganders in March?

Even so, the return of migratory birds and clumps of budding Crocus – signals of spring – we welcome you!

During this season we reflect upon another ancient welcome. The arrival of a King, marked indelibly on history’s pages with hoof-crushed palm fronds. Wobbling with the jagged tempo of his bare-backed donkey, fanatic accolades bombarded Him: “Hosanna! Messiah! Deliver us! Lead us into freedom’s peace! Usher in your prosperous reign!”

Immersed in His passion, the Rider acknowledged their good and right desire, well aware that days later these same mouths would erupt with rage-filled screams of “Crucify!”

Like them, we can be fickle rebels. Hapless self-seekers, unsatisfied in our quest to satiate our longings. Toiling in a barren sin-winter we are worn, feeble, sick, and lame. We long for the rejuvenation of springtime. A fresh breath for our soul.

Mark Buchanan writes, “Springtime brings the consolation of hope.”* A hope not for new blooms and warm breezes, but the surety of an ever-fresh springtime of heart. A glorious hope embodied by the colt-riding man from Nazareth. The Lord of spring, King Jesus.

*(Spiritual Rhythm, p.84)

Act Two

A human life delivered
extraordinarily into the ordinary.
A curious entrance.

Like a single grain of silica on a sandy shore.
Familiar yet undistinguished.
Unremarkable but unmistakable.

God — we anticipated more, really.
A powerful show.
A victor’s parade.

You know we love celebrity.
We wanted to cheer and party and flaunt.
This is about us, isn’t it?

No doubt, we resist your directing this cosmic drama.
Right from the start we sabotaged the script.
Act one was a diabolical mess.

But this show must go on — You promised.

So You opened Act Two with your Son, wrapped in humility’s cloak.
Crowded out of comfort, He greeted his world with wordless screams.
An omnipotent, infant voice at which beast and brush shiver with joyful resonance.

Parental eyes, innocent and expectant, lock upon divinity’s gaze.
So ordinary, normal, loud, and messy — like them.
Another grain of sand on the beach of humanity?

No.
Read the script.

This child is living, breathing prophecy.
The Word who word fulfilled.
Our story’s Hero.

Scandalous.
Mysterious.
Miraculous.

Jesus.

Copyright © 2014 Chris De Man. All rights reserved.

Food Fight

I was so brave. So confident. So altruistic.

So naive.

Thirty days? I can do anything for a month. Determination is my middle name. I’m the poster child for the strong willed.

Out of deep affection for my wife I agreed to a 30-day restriction in our diet. We forewent all dairy, sugar, grains, and certain cooking oils. I bid adieu to my familiar fare and boldly embraced a new menu. Good bye, bread and pasta. So long cream in my coffee. See ya in a month, Mr. Big Bowl of buttery popcorn. With eager anticipation I began a month-long tune-up of my digestive engine. Vroom-vroom!

Cough…sputter….stall.

Riding the smells of ‘normal people food,’ the first whisper of resignation wafted temptingly into my thoughts day three. I squashed those thoughts with some…squash. (gag)

The onslaught of new, fiber-laden offerings made my colon angry. Our relationship is still unstable.

I began counting days like a child counts-down to Christmas. I obsessed over my all-too-far-away reentry into food freedom: sharp cheddar cheese, bacon, Greek yogurt, and a big slab of heavily frosted cake. Such indulgent fantasies accentuated the unsatisfied yearning within my bloated gastronomy. In a frustrated moment I blurted to my wife, “I’m so hungry I could eat dandruff!”

I didn’t. Instead, I sidled-up to plate after plate of earth-grown offerings, salt and hot sauce at the ready.

Well, my 30-days are over. I’ve left my mealtime time-out chair and am again on speaking terms with my tastebuds. Yet the effects of my journey into dietary barrenness linger. Effects more broad than the physical.

I’m reflecting upon the collision of desire and denial. I’m thinking about submission, choice, abundance, and pleasure. I’m considering how I react to being thwarted, hindered, restrained, or delayed. I’m contemplating how my strong will and disciplined life might find expression in virtuous ways. How love should be more often my motive instead of compulsion or duty. And could there be other areas (beside food) that need restriction to bring forth a greater good?

Am I making too much of my dietary experiment? I don’t think so. Everything we do is inherently spiritual because we are spiritual beings. Each moment is an opportunity to worship something or Someone. So while snacking on dried dates instead of Moose Tracks, the expression of my soul can be either gratitude or resentment. Peace or anxiety. Joy or bitterness.

Consider this thought from Thomas Watson: “If Jesus Christ should have said to us, ‘I love you well, you are dear to me, but I cannot suffer, I cannot lay down my life for you’ we should have questioned His love very much; and may not Christ suspect us, when we pretend to love Him, and yet will endure nothing for Him?” (All Things for Good, p.85-86)

I willingly (and imperfectly) endured a time of restriction to encourage and support my wife. And now that I’ve backed-up my pre-diet bragging, she knows an expanded sense of my commitment and care for her. Those thirty days were as much about wrestling and redirecting my desires as they were the resetting of my internal food processor.

My thoughts, words, actions, and attitudes are in continual need of tuning and re-tuning toward a fuller expression of my commitment to Jesus. I need to grow in wisdom with using my “yes” as well as my “no.” Love requires that I give-up, to gain.

Just like He did.


“Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ” (Philippians 3:8, The Message)