Thursday, December 31, 2009

On The Way Home

Strange things happen when Santa's all done and headin' home.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Avatar & Another Gospel


My family and I strapped on the eye gear and saw the film, “Avatar” in IMAX 3D night before last. It was quite a spectacle, unlike anything I have seen before . . . unlike anything anyone has seen before.

There was a lot that was new, and there was a lot that was not. What was new was terrific, what was not was not.

Visually, it is mind-boggling. And audio? Incredible. Rocked my world. A+ on both counts.

Storyline? Nothing really new. It is essentially innocent natives threatened by a swarm of greedy bad people. This time ‘round the bad people are American capitalists (Oh, no!), arm in arm with equally bad American military types. And you know what they’re like—shoot anything that moves 481 times, ask questions later. “Hoo, rah!” I was distracted by derision of the Iraq War, as well as the Bush administrations’ war on terror. Fortunately, I’ve grown accustomed to having my economic, moral and political beliefs derided by Hollywood, and I don’t live by or for the standards of this world. So I’m used to quickly looking past a sour smorgasbord at the theater. It gets tiring though.

And because I have been collecting knowledge and wisdom and opinion for more than fifty years now, lots of things jab at my collection that might miss others not so encumbered. It might be more difficult for me to “get lost” in a film because I am distracted by the jabs.

But by far the biggest distraction (and jab) in “Avatar” was the re-packaging of God. The good creatures made every noble effort to convince the unknowing that God (“Eywa”), a mother goddess, was the unifying and life-giving force that could connect every life and bring harmony. Connecting to her allowed for connecting with everything else. Ultimately convinced, the lead character bowed in prayer to God, represented as a tree of life—no kidding. Late in the film, all the good creatures were drawn together in eager and highly animated worship (with uplifted hands) around the tree, and were led by a priestess, who undulated and beseeched Eywa. It was one of the most visually striking and emotionally driven moments of the movie.

I was uncomfortable. I had to work to stay involved with the film, something I really didn’t want to have to do. One moment I was enjoying a magnificent adventure, the next I was refusing to go forward at a meeting of pantheists.

I should say that I don’t normally get all worked-up by films or stories that weakly or wrongly portray God. After all, there aren’t many that accurately portray Him. But most films or stories that include a contrary reference to God do it only slightly and sparingly; the sting of the delivered slap on the face of the Christian doesn’t last long. That’s not the case with Avatar. While there were lesser lessons, like love of nature and the evil of greed, the theme of the film was God and uniting with her. If I had my way, I would have added a subtitle to the film: “Avatar: Goddess Of The Blue Beings”, or, “Avatar: Goddess of Pandora’s Box,” referring to the name of the planet.

In sum, I liked the movie overall, and I had a great evening with my girls. Sarah and I were mostly quiet on the drive home, while Ellen and Emma talked all about the wonder they had just seen. Neither of us believed we should rain on that parade, but wait to talk about it later—which we have. Our point was not, “Those lousy pagans in Hollywood!” but how people might be deluded from knowing the perfect love and stunning grace of God by a false portrayal of something else; another gospel. It’s the something else that dilutes the majesty of the gospel of Christ. And that’s what Avatar is—a visual delight carrying another gospel. The collision left me bothered.

Would I recommend it? Yes. And I bet you’ll have plenty to talk about after.

Twisted Christmas

Yes, I like twisted humor. Well, okay—I have twisted humor. When a funny offers a twisted take on a tradition or on some sort of notable classic, I think it’s particularly clever. And I enjoy inflicting it upon you. Is that wrong of me?

Like this—

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In The Week Between

It's the week between Christmas and New Years, so that's my excuse to post silly, twisted things. Time to goof around a bit. My thanks to those who send me these funny comics.

I hope you're enjoying the week between.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Dazzled At Christmas

May you know the stunning measure of God's grace to you in Christ, the power of His love, and the delight of His life this Christmas.

Now and every day, what is it that teaches and enables us?

"For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good." (Titus 2:11-14)

Our hope for you is that you remain dazzled by His grace! What is it that we work for? Both to keep ourselves in the knowledge of His love and grace (dazzled), and to assist you toward the same—dazzled.

Dazzled works!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa HO-HO's And NO-NO's


I enjoyed this and thought you would, too. It's by Peter Chianca, and you can go to his blog here. It's a good one.

To: Mall Santas
From: Management

Welcome aboard in your new role as one of "Santa's Helpers." Please review the following guidelines carefully, so that the mall and its patrons can have a happy, healthy and non-litigious holiday season.

1.) As you've no doubt heard, "Ho Ho Ho" is no longer considered an acceptable holiday greeting, having been deemed potentially offensive to women and gardeners. The substitute "Ha Ha Ha" has also been banned, as it is possibly damaging to a child's self-esteem. Also, Santas overheard saying "Merry Christmas" will be summarily removed from the premises. Instead, we recommend you listen attentively to the children, nod, and affect a blank stare devoid of any emotion, particularly fear. They can sense fear.

2.) Please keep in mind that not all children believe in Santa Claus or celebrate Christmas. However, please make no attempt to determine this based on physical cues, such as yarmulkes or "Proud Jehovah's Witness" T-shirts, as this would be considered profiling. If you have any questions, please consult the mall's attorney, who will be standing behind the fake snowman.

3.) Plump Santas are no longer considered "jolly." Instead, they serve as a bleak reminder of our nation's struggle with obesity and are a poor role model to our increasingly overweight and inactive children. Please make every effort to appear slim and fit, and to encourage children to leave you celery and soy products rather than cookies and hot chocolate on Christmas Eve.

4.) Please do not promise children that Santa will bring them anything in particular, as promising a gift that the parents cannot afford or do not approve of could result in a lengthy and expensive lawsuit. Be pleasant but non-committal. If the child is persistent, try to distract him with one of the celery sticks we now give out in lieu of candy canes; if that doesn't work, send him behind the snowman to speak to the attorney.

5.) It has been deemed inappropriate, and a serious legal risk, to have children sitting on a strange bearded man's lap. This year the children will sit on a stool, separated from you by a sheet of soundproof Plexiglas. This also serves the purpose of keeping you from being able to hear their gift requests (see No. 4).

6.) The concept of elves has been determined to be offensive to a host of protected groups, including little people, pointy-eared people and people with high squeaky voices. However, so as to give you the support you need, we are looking at several possible replacements. Right now we're leaning toward attorneys.

We're sure that if you follow these simple guidelines you will succeed in making the children's visits with Santa as unremarkable and non-offensive as possible. Welcome aboard the team here at the mall, and have a merry ... a happy ... Oh, whatever.

Monday, December 21, 2009

24/7 Righteousness


The Spirit's ongoing ministry is the gift and production of righteousness in us and through us. While the ministry of the law, which rightly condemned me brought out my failures, the ministry of the Spirit brings out His success. Offering myself to Him throughout the day releases His activity in me, and that’s the best of life.

"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." (Galatians 5:16, NAS)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Heart Revealed

I like this video. It's clever and has a good point, so it makes it into my weekend collection.

With all the chaos and clatter that goes on in our minds and flesh and which demands our attention, I think many of us would be wonderfully surprised to hear what a tremendous change God has made to our heart nevertheless. He alone authors that place, yet the cacophony of other noises often drowns out what He has already done.

Those "other noises" might lead even a Christian to believe that God has not made the change that He said He would when we receive Christ. But He is perfectly capable and perfectly faithful, and the crazy fumblings and stumblings you endure cannot cancel that out.

Has it been awhile since you put your faith and trust in Him who authors the heart? Have a look to Him and His ability, and you'll be refreshed.

video

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Are You A Modification Or A New Creation?


You cannot know how you work if you do not know who you are. Like an airplane coughing and struggling for fuel because it’s doing a maneuver for which it’s not made, you’ll stall out.

If God has made you a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)—not an upgrade, but a new original—then what have you become? After new birth, who are you?

You're an actual son or an authentic daughter of God. You didn't just get the title, "Christian," you received a new DNA—you got the guts. Never again will you be only human. Yes, you've got humanity, but in a similar way that Jesus had humanity; something else most-truly defines who you are and where you're from.

Every son and daughter of God receives the genetic of their Father, becoming an actual son of His, with desires and attitudes in keeping with their new nature. Knowing Him and living with Him is now the way to life—real life.

Peter writes, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter1:3-4, italics mine).

That beautiful italicized phrase means that you and I have become actual partakers or sharers of the divine genetic. After your new birth in Christ, what delighted you was different, and what grieved you was unlike what saddened you before. You discovered new desires (I want to read the Bible!), new delights (I enjoy worshiping God!), and new sorrows (I so dislike sin!) because you had received a new nature with desires, delights, and sorrows to match.

You’ve been re-germinated! Participating with Him is the way to live—it’s the new normal.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Humble Warrior


Recently I endured one of those days when the differences between men and women were front and center. I mean, look at this picture. (Click on it for an even better view.) There I am, regal in manliness with my new leaf blower/sucker/mulcher, the epitome of a man protecting and championing his family, and do you think the women in my home grasped the moment? Do you suppose the confirmed reality of being in the presence of a warrior brought respectful appreciation or applause?

Nay.

Even though I instructed my family and Sarah’s mother (visiting for Thanksgiving) on all that could have happened if I hadn’t offered up $60 for a new leaf hog so I could rid the yard of plague inducing debris (leaf rot = creepy critters and microscopic menaces = sick pets and sick people = doctor bills = depression = global warming), the ladies’ Appreciate-O-Meters were on, like, 3 out of 10. One of them even asked straight-faced, “Why don’t you just leave the leaves where they are?”

Wow.

So, I gently and carefully re-visited the threatened horror sequence above (rampaging leaves = the end of the world), thinking repetitive instruction might do the trick. But although she seemed to grasp that the leaves needed to be gone before winter, there was no dawning of how valiant I was in banishing them to a dark, imprisoned, trash bag existence. Even though she knew what awaited those purgatory leaves—the ever-burning fires of the local dump—still there was no gratefulness, no applause, no awe at how those dangerous leaves had been captured.

Covered in the dirt and stench of backyard battle, I steeled myself in the knowledge that while sometimes noble warriors go unnoticed and unappreciated, the pleasure of a clean conscience is it’s own reward.

Right, men?

Amen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gift Wrapping Tips For Men

(If you're gift wrapping impaired--truly a crippling ailment--then here's a little something to make your Christmas a little bit brighter. And if anyone knows how to get insurance to cover this disease, please tell me.)

This is the time of year we think back to the very first Christmas, when the Three Wise Men; Gaspar, Balthazar and Herb, went to see the baby Jesus and, according to the Book of Matthew, "... presented unto Him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

These are simple words, but if we analyze them carefully, we discover an important, yet often overlooked, theological fact: There is no mention of wrapping paper. If there had been wrapping paper, Matthew would have said so: "And lo, the gifts were insideth 600 square cubits of paper. And the paper was festooned with pictures of Frosty the Snowman. And Joseph was going to throweth it away, but Mary saideth unto him... she saideth, 'Holdeth it! That is nice paper! Saveth it for next year!' And Joseph did rolleth his eyeballs. And the baby Jesus was more interested in the paper than the frankincense."

But these words do not appear in the Bible, which means that the very first Christmas gifts were NOT wrapped. This is because the people giving those gifts had two important characteristics:
1. They were wise.
2. They were men.

Men are not big gift wrappers. Men do not understand the point of putting paper on a gift just so somebody else can tear it off. This is not just my opinion. This is a scientific fact based on a statistical survey of two guys I know. One is Rob, who said the only time he ever wraps a gift is "if it's such a poor gift that I don't want to be there when the person opens it." The other is Gene, who told me he does wrap gifts, but as a matter of principle never takes more than 15 seconds per gift. "No one ever had to wonder which presents daddy wrapped at Christmas," Gene said. "They were the ones that looked like enormous spitballs."

I also wrap gifts, but because of some defect in my motor skills, I can never completely wrap them. I can take a gift the size of a deck of cards and put it the exact center of a piece of wrapping paper the size of a regulation volleyball court, but when I am done folding and taping, you can still see a sector of the gift peeking out. (Sometimes I camouflage this sector with a marking pen.)

If I had been an ancient Egyptian in the field of mummies, the lower half of the Pharaoh's body would be covered only by Scotch tape. On the other hand, if you give my wife a 12-inch square of wrapping paper, she can wrap a C-130 cargo plane. My wife, like many women, actually likes wrapping things. If she gives you a gift that requires batteries, she wraps the batteries separately, which to me is very close to being a symptom of mental illness. If it were possible, my wife would wrap each individual volt.

My point is that gift-wrapping is one of those skills like having babies that come more naturally to women than to men. That is why today I am presenting...

Gift-Wrapping Tip For Men:

* Whenever possible, buy gifts that are already wrapped. If, when the recipient opens the gift, neither one of you recognizes it, you can claim that it's myrrh.

* The editors of Woman's Day magazine recently ran an item on how to make your own wrapping paper by printing a design on it with an apple sliced in half horizontally and dipped in a mixture of food coloring and liquid starch. They must be smoking crack.

* If you're giving a hard-to-wrap gift, skip the wrapping paper! Just put it inside a bag and stick one of those little adhesive bows on it. This creates a festive visual effect that is sure to delight the lucky recipient on Christmas morning.

YOUR WIFE MAY ASK: "Why is there a Hefty trash bag under the tree?"

YOU: "It's a gift! See? It has a bow!"

YOUR WIFE (peering into the trash bag): "It's a leaf blower."

YOU: "Gas-powered! Five horsepower!"

YOUR WIFE: "I'm leaving you."

YOU: "I also got you some myrrh."

In conclusion, remember that the important thing is not what you give, or how you wrap it. The important thing, during this very special time of year, is that you save the receipt.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Before You Go Anywhere

(Written about a year ago, this post begins with Paul's letter to the Christians at Ephesus—Ephesians 1.)


Before we go any further, before we get into anything else, you’ve got to know this – “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Thank God. That’s indispensable for my day, the one just before me, the race I’m about to run. It is for you, too.

Every letter to the church that the Spirit inspired Paul to write essentially begins with this same sentence. To all those at Rome and Corinth, Galatia and Ephesus, to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonicans, and to his dear sons in Christ, Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Paul offers the same truth—you’ve got everything! No more worries with God.

I have a lot to do today. I’ve got to promote and market my book; sign, package and mail those just ordered; write a blog and send an articulate email to hundreds; make calls on a cell phone that doesn’t work very well (“What, Ralph? I can’t understand you—you’re breaking up…”), replace a light fixture, walk the dog, tend the tomatoes, reorganize my office, work out, and be good to my visiting mother-in-law.

Sheesh! It’s all about me. Better get going.

Wait a minute. What would God say to me, first thing? “Grace and peace to you, Ralph, from God your Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

You really think so, God? Because of Jesus, I’ve got everything with you for nothing? Righteousness? Holiness? Love? Hope? Future? And you live in me? All of that? “Yes.” And because Jesus took upon Himself all of my sins as though He committed them, I have not a worry with you? “Yes.”

Wow. Hooray.

“Ready now, Ralph?” Yes, Father.

"Go."

Ephesus (now Turkey) was one of the most important cities of its day. It was like New York or Hong Kong…maybe on steroids. Everybody was busy, everybody was working at a frenetic pace because, well, you just had to. If you didn’t work hard and fast, somebody else would get the deal, close the sale, move the merchandise.

Paul founded the church at Ephesus and spent some three years there, so he knew what the city was like. . .and he loved those people. But Paul, father figure that he was, doesn’t first tell them how to live. He tells them how well off they are with God. Why? Paul knew that a revived heart and an energized spirit comes from the truth and is by faith. So, instead of giving them a motivational speech—“Get going for the glory of God!”—he gave them revival by telling them of the glory of God in them.

“Head’s up, Ephesians! In case you’ve forgotten, you’re really well off with God!”

Can you imagine what that might have meant to the Ephesians? In all their work, in all their trials, through their failures, weaknesses and frustrations, comes God’s word to them: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I so often need to hear that! You too?

You and I were made to have that as our starting point.

Ready now?

Go.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hey There Khalila

It's the weekend, so, well, that's my excuse for posting this. And it's really my eldest daughter's fault since she insisted I watch it. That I laughed was not my fault. After all, I spent 8 months in Saudi Arabia in '79/'80 on a grad program via USC, so this little song and video seemed almost like a walk down memory lane. Sort of. See what you think by clicking on the link.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Don't Mess With The Elderly

A young executive and an elderly man are sitting next to each other on a long flight. The executive thinks that old people are dumb and that he could get easily fool this one.

So the executive asks the elderly man if would like to play a fun game. The man is tired and just wants to take a nap, so he politely declines and tries to catch a few winks.

The young executive persists, saying that the game is a lot of fun. 'I ask you a question, and if you don't know the answer, you pay me only $5; you ask me one, and if I don't know the answer, I will pay you $500.'

This catches the elderly man's attention and to keep the young executive quiet, he agrees to play the game.

The executive asks the first question. 'What's the distance from the Earth to the moon?' The elderly man doesn't say a word, but reaches into his pocket, pulls out a five-dollar bill, and hands it to the young executive.

Now, it's the elderly man's turn. He asks the executive, 'What goes up a hill with three legs, and comes down with four?'

The executive uses his laptop to search all possible references, which is extensive, considering his profession. After an hour of searching he finally gives up. He wakes up the elderly man and hands him $500. The man pockets the $500 and goes right back to sleep.

The young executive is terribly frustrated because he still doesn’t know the answer. So he wakes the elderly man and asks, 'Well, so what goes up a hill with three legs and comes down with four?'

The elderly man reaches into his pocket, hands the lawyer $5 and goes back to sleep.

Don't mess with old folks.

Friday, December 11, 2009

In The Book Before

(I wrote this early last fall as my father neared his triumphant entrance into heaven. That it would be triumphant wasn't particularly obvious on this side of things. To the contrary. But my father was not counting on earning his own entrance or parade in heaven--my dad was relying on Jesus to take care of all that. So am I. How about you?)


Regarding my dad, I like what David wrote:

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16, italics mine.)

Over the years of my life in Christ, there have been several times when my awareness of God’s intimate knowledge of my life brought me to tears. He didn’t simply cross His fingers and hope I would do well with what I’ve got, He looked out over my life to come and knit into me all He purposed for all His glory—nothing less.

And would I have too much time or not enough? Too many days or too few? Neither. I would live and breathe the exact number necessary for God to say, “Yes, I got it right. . .naturally. I am satisfied.”

And so it is with my dad. It was all in the book before.

On this day when my father’s body is doing poorly and is leaning in the opposite direction of his spirit, I’m comforted knowing that God is fully aware of the days—my dad’s days. I imagine a heavenly crowd gathering together in anticipation of his arrival, with balloons and signs drawn up—“We’ve been expecting you!” and “Welcome home, John!” And maybe one of the more witty angels will hold up a sign that reads, “Surprise!”

I think my dad would love that.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Fog And Sunlight

(I wrote this a year ago last September on the last full day I was to spend with my dad before his passing. I didn't know how poignant this post would be--I will never forget that day. I post it now simply because I'm missing my dad . . . and I think you will benefit. -Ralph)


I took my father to one of his favorite places last Friday; Laguna Beach, CA.

Taking in the view when he first set up his command position overlooking the beach, my dad looked immediately alone and deep in thought. While I’ve never been in the military (my dad was in the Navy), it was as if my dad had returned to the scene of victorious battles waged and won decades ago. No bitterness, but strategies and memories and glory filling his mind.

He looked good.

After a lengthy pause, he assessed, “Boy, I’ve never seen it like this before.” Fog was fighting sunlight for position, confusion versus clarity. The struggle was waged all around us as the low-lying fog sent wispy arms advancing inland. Time and again it crept across tide pools and cliffs, breakers and beach, hiding them from view, only to retreat just a little. For a while it seemed that fog would win the day and altogether deny the beach to sunlight, but after an hour of wrestling, sunlight drove fog a couple of hundred yards out to sea. Unable to reach us, fog sulked and brooded for the rest of the day.

We felt immediately better.

What a picture of life, and we watched it all in a single afternoon.

My dad has been to this spot maybe a hundred times over the course of his life. He has great stories of swimming and sunning and fishing and partying galore. But I had to talk him into a return. It was as if the wonder of those escapades was from another life and not part of this one—as if revisiting them would be more painful than beneficial.

But he was revived. Revisiting the scene invigorated him because he discovered that what mattered was the breadth of his life, the whole film, not just the snapshots.

It helped me, too.

Sometimes it’s a good idea to revisit the joys and successes of your days, particularly the ones you’ve had with Jesus. The fog of this world will wrestle with the light in order to make you lose your memory and your bearings. That can make the right-now picture of your life carry far too much weight or importance, or so you’re induced to believe. After all, it’s foggy. But because God has made you in union with Him, you’ve nothing in common with darkness (Ephesians 5:8). And that’s why you’ll feel it when it creeps in upon you—you’ll feel miserable or hopeless or like the biggest failure in the world. It feels so wrong because it is!

Look to Jesus and remember what He has done for you: He bore all of God’s punishment for your sins as though they were His own; He forgave you completely; He gave you His righteousness and holiness; He gave you God the Holy Spirit; He made you part of His own family; He has given you everything you’ll ever need for life and godliness. And I’ll bet you can think of a few other things Jesus has done for you.

Look to Jesus and remember what He has done to you: He crucified your old self upon the cross and gave you a new self through the resurrection; He put you into Himself; He secured you and seated you in heaven; He made you recognizable throughout the heavens as a spot-on perfect son of God.

Feel better? Lighter? There’s more, but you get the idea.

Revisiting the big-deal things God has done for you and to you will drive the fog out and away from you because light always conquers dark.

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor 4:6)

Oh, yeah. We had a great time, and we caught some fish, too. Really. Just below and to the left is a picture of the 43lb salmon I caught.

Ahem.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

NASA Explains Out-Houses & Shooting Stars

Have you ever wondered how out-houses and shooting stars might be linked? Well, here's a NASA astronaut to explain it for you.

(Warning: it's the weekend, and it can get a little loopy around here.)

video

Friday, December 04, 2009

Compassion In Disappointment

(Written a while back, I hope you find it helpful. My wife has just had surgery on her fractured shoulder, and I have willingly become her personal slave. Would you pray for her?)

We’ve just returned from a brief weekend camping trip, which proved to be a lesson in at least two things:

1) Don’t go camping on the weekend. Insensitive dolts were playing rock ‘n roll and whooping it up at 3:00 a.m., just like they did when I was growing up and camping in Southern California. When I approached to ask them to knock it off, they seem startled that I was bothered. I felt old.

2) God is more compassionate than I thought.

Surprise.

Fishing in a nearby stream and fully enjoying myself, I heard a different sort of question from the Spirit, one I’d never heard before: “Son, if in the next moment you were to join me in heaven, what would you expect?”

Because I didn’t want to be interrupted during such a focus-demanding time—fly fishing—I quickly shuffled the thought to the back of my mind, and got back to the more important business of fooling trout. However, the same thought returned two more times to my inner monitor before I finally dignified it.

Thinking about what I would truly expect upon my arrival in heaven, a curious realization crept across my mind. On the faces of those gathered to welcome me, I would expect to see a hint of disappointment.

Yes, I know about the rich welcome awaiting the faithful upon arrival home—“Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Come and share your master’s happiness.” But I was startled to realize that I didn’t think I’d be getting that rousing reception. Or, at least, not that rousing.

I don’t always do so well in this life. I regularly get stuff wrong, needlessly offend people, or fail to be the man I am in Christ. Whether I know it immediately or find out about it later, failure weighs me down. You too? And then I begin thinking about all the work I have to do to make things better or make me better. I’ve proven, however, that I’m not very good at saving myself.

Anyway, in my mind I heard something like this, “I know how difficult it is in the world, I know how very awful it can be. Do you think I have no compassion for you, my righteous son? Do you think I don’t know of your anguish and valiant struggle between flesh and spirit? I am so pleased in your triumphs and rejoice in your success! I love how you are and how you do. Fear not your homecoming—it will be triumphant.”

There on the stream I choked up and laughed a laugh of relief and renewed hope. “He’s really compassionate!” I thought, “He really understands and delights in the smallest success, valuing it far more than the ugliest defeat. He looks upon me with joy and delight. He really loves me in the mess…”

I had a great afternoon. Throughout it I was overwhelmed by the compassion He has for me (and for you) right now in this life, in every trial, in every struggle, in every failure.

And, yes, I caught a bunch of trout. You can ask my wife and girls if you don’t believe me. Really.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,…” (2 Cor 1:3 NIV)