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Archive for December, 2018

Post Christmas Praise

Many of you already know that 2018 became a year of challenge as Steve received the diagnosis of liver cancer in March.  In May, July, and August he underwent three procedural surgeries to eradicate two lesions, and in September was declared cancer free.

However, the development of tumors was likely to continue.  The only long-term solution was a liver transplant.  Steve qualified for the list in June, and was told that surgery was likely to occur mid-January 2019.

We did not have to wait that long.  On December 19, early in the morning we received the call to head to the hospital.  The rest of the story is told (and will continue to unfold) on https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/steveruegg/journal.

In a nutshell, we’ve been moved to tears numerous times the last eight days as God ministered to us, and blessed us profoundly through the kind and attentive care he received at University of Cincinnati Hospital, and the love, prayers, and practical help proffered by family and friends.

God has also included delights we never would have thought to ask for, like Christmas at home with our older son, daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters.  No hugs or kisses for Papa, but at least we could be together.  Our younger son and his wife arrived yesterday, our daughter and older granddaughter arrive tonight.  (Yes, the Lysol wipes are kept handy!)

 

 

(From the Inside Out will be on hiatus for at least a couple of weeks so I can focus on caring for Steve.)

 

 

 

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This weekend, my daughter-in-love, five year-old granddaughter, and I will attend The Nutcracker. It will be little Elena’s first performance, and I’m looking forward to watching her reactions, even as the overture begins.

Maestro Tchaikovsky chose only the strings and woodwinds of the higher registers for the opening, bringing to mind a music box. And by so doing, he created a fanciful foreshadowing of what’s to come: the Nutcracker’s kingdom called the Land of Sweets.

Another overture, much more sublime even than Tchaikovsky’s, is actually found in scripture. It’s not an overture of violins and flutes; it’s an overture of words—words that entice us for what’s to come: the glorious truth about God’s kingdom and its Lord of lords, Jesus Christ.

That overture opens the New Testament gospel-book of John.

 

 

“In the beginning was the Word,

And the Word was with God,

And the Word was God.”

–John 1:1

 

If set to music, this powerful introduction would surely require heralding trumpets, French horns, and kettledrums. Listen as the majestic music unfolds.

“Jesus is the Word—God’s means of communication to humankind—the very expression of God’s thought” (William Barclay).

 

 

As a follower and intimate friend of Jesus, John was in position to see and hear those numerous expressions of God’s thought over a period of three years. Later, the Holy Spirit inspired him to record those expressions, so we would understand:

Jesus’ life did not begin with his human birth. He always was and always will be (John 1:1).

John recognized that even though his Master was fully human (he ate, he slept, and even cried), he was also the eternal God. John and others caught a glimpse of his eternal glory when Jesus glowed as bright as the sun. I wonder if the disciples had to shade their eyes?

On the same occasion, Moses and Elijah—men who had died many centuries before–appeared with Jesus.  They, too, glowed with the same dazzling light (Matthew 17).

Only Jesus:  fully man, fully God.

 

(The Transfiguration by Giovanni Ricca, 1641)

 

Jesus brought light to everyone (v. 4)—and still does.

The One who created light became the Light of the world.

And just as natural light contains the full spectrum of color, so the light of Jesus contains a full spectrum of attributes: love, grace, wisdom, peace, joy, comfort, and more. All of which he radiates upon those desirous of his Light.

 

 

And, as if that wasn’t enough,

Jesus longs to bring every person into his family, to make us his children (v. 9).

His sons and daughters enjoy incredible benefits:

  • No one can snatch us out of God’s protective hands (John 10:28).
  • He is our perfect Abba, our tender and attentive Daddy (Romans 8:15).
  • We are heirs of God’s promise (Galatians 3:29) for a future so grand and glorious, we cannot begin to imagine its splendor (Romans 8:18).

 

 

John’s introduction to his gospel-book does not conjure up visions of angel-messengers or a guiding star in the East. He left that to Matthew and Luke. Instead he has given us an overture of cosmic proportions, presenting the radiant glory, grace, and truth of Jesus (v. 14).

With lyrical, transcendent words, John entices us to consider what has already come to us—to those who have received the Savior of the world (v. 12).

As December 25 draws near, may all these Christmas overture themes gloriously resound in your heart!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.picryl.com; http://www.www.flickr.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.dailyverses.net.)

 

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Years ago Steve’s Aunt Louise gave us a little ceramic church music box.  With its drab gray walls, greenish-gray roof, and standard steeple, the church did not grab attention. But the arched windows on each side were filled with tiny chips of colored glass, and when lit from within the little church sparkled with glorious light.

Sometime when our three children were young, the church was broken by “Not Me.” Fortunately, the pieces were large and Steve was able to glue them back together.   When the light was turned on, the cracks didn’t even show.

But as the years passed, the glue began to discolor and turn dark. The poor little music box became a sad sight, and I was about to throw it away when our youngest son–probably in high school by this time–said, “Oh, Mom! You can’t get rid of the church! That’s been my favorite Christmas decoration since I was a little kid!”

So Jeremy saved the music box from destruction.

 

 

He finished college, married a sweet girl from our church, and moved twice more while attending seminary. Somewhere along the way the music box disappeared.

Each year as he and his wife Nancy decorated for Christmas, he’d remember fondly that little ceramic church and wonder what happened to it.

Seminary graduation came and went, four years at his first church appointment also passed. While settling into their second parsonage, Jeremy finally unpacked a carton labeled “Memorabilia” that had been sealed up since he left our home.

Buried at the bottom was a sealed shoebox. Jeremy sliced through the tape with his pocketknife, lifted the lid, and brought into the light a lumpy, tissue-wrapped object.

 

 

Within moments Jeremy held in his hands that precious, long-missing ceramic church. And joyful tears stung his eyes.

He quickly found a new bulb and plugged the cord into a nearby socket. The windows instantly filled with glorious rainbow light. Jeremy didn’t even notice the fissures or dark, crusty glue.

Isn’t it amazing to consider that, just as Jeremy loves that damaged music box, God loves us—scarred, and imperfect as we are? We too were just as lost as that little church—sealed up in a box of our own prideful independence.

 

 

But Jesus came looking for us. He brought us into his glorious Light, and filled us with the Light of his inviting, benevolent grace.*

Now, we have the privilege to shine with gleaming Light just like that little church—in spite of our scars.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

God of all grace, I thank you for rescuing me from mere existence in my self-made box, and bringing me into a rich, full life with you. Even though cracks and blemishes remain in my being, what you see is not what I have been but what I am becoming—holy and blameless and filled with Light—for that day when I see you as you are!

 

(John 10:10; Ephesians 1:4; John 8:12; 1 John 3:2)

 

 

 

*Often defined by using an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense

 

Scripture references: Luke 15:8-10; John 8:12; Colossians 1:27; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 3:24; Matthew 5:14.

 

(Photo credits:  Jeremy Ruegg (2); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.heartlight.org (Ben Steed); http://www.verseaday.com.)

 

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No doubt about it.  Our senses are bombarded with stimuli during the Christmas season.

Decorated trees, wreaths, and garlands; figures, swags, and fairy lights festoon building after building, home after home.

 

 

Carols and holiday songs accompany every errand run and shopping excursion.

The scent of cinnamon, pine, and gingerbread; peppermint, vanilla, and clove urge us to breathe deep—frequently.

 

 

Velvet dresses, satin bows, and cloud-soft batting; feathery bird-ornaments, and fuzzy teddy bears beg to be touched.

Grandma’s stuffing, Butterball turkey, and squash casserole; Wassail, snowball cookies, and cranberry coffee cake all tantalize the tongue.

 

 

Some days, however, we practically drown from total immersion in everything Christmas. What is a worn out sensory system supposed to do?

If you Google “strategies for stress relief” you’ll be presented numerous options from the experts.  Some suggestions require more time than many of us can sacrifice during December. Examples include working on hobbies, getting a massage, or taking a vacation.

 

 

I can hear you through my computer screen: “NOT gonna happen this month!”

But there are other strategies we can weave into our days no matter what the to-do list requires. And SURPRISE! The experts often echo what scripture has taught all along.

We can calm ourselves through:

 

 

Meditation

Not mind-numbing exercises that supposedly elevate us to euphoria, but meditation on scripture, God’s works and mighty deeds (Psalm 119:97; 77:12). For me, that includes starting each morning with him and his Word, to set the tone for the day.

And as we fix our thoughts upon him, God has promised to keep us in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). He is our source of equilibrium and tranquility, prosperity and contentment of soul. Daily he supplies what we need to accomplish what is necessary (2 Corinthians 9:8).

The rest we can let go.

 

 

Music

“How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him” (Psalm 147:1, emphasis added).

Sometimes that means a loud and majestic “Hallelujah Chorus.”

But when nerves are frazzled, the experts recommend slow, quiet music. And many of our favorite carols offer just such repose.

So, when tension rises, be ready to select “Silent Night” or “What Child Is This.”  Save “Ring Christmas Bells” and “Sleigh Ride!” until the stress subsides!

 

Prayer

We can allow all the sensory input to turn our minds toward Jesus “by praying continually–simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment” (Romans 12:12 and Sarah Young, Jesus Calling).

Sentence prayers such as these:

 

 

Thank you, Jesus, for the laughter of children that opens my heart to your joy.

Thank you for the power of delectable aromas—like clove-studded ham, vanilla sugar cookies, and cinnamon rolls–that conjure up sweet memories of Christmases long ago.

Thank you for the family and friends represented in this stack of Christmas cards, who’ve left their love stamped upon our hearts.

 

 

Thank you for the familiar carols, reminding me of that wonder-filled first Christmas.

And thank you, Jesus, for lights that glimmer and candles that glow, celebrating you, the Light of the world, our Emmanuel.

 

 

They say it takes just three weeks to learn a new habit. With all the sensory reminders around us, this may be the most opportune time to become continual pray-ers.

And as we seek to turn everything Christmas into gratitude and praise, the joy of the Lord will surely follow.

 

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.goodfreephotos.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.doncio.navy.mil (photographer:  Diana Quinlan); Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.heartlight.org.

 

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