A Peg in a Hole

A Peg in a Hole.  I continue to try to get my wife’s writings out there to be read; so, I pass this one along for your enjoyment and encouragement.

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Good Moms and Bad Days

Good Moms and Bad Days.  Since I haven’t had time to write recently, I thought I’d post this for Mother’s Day, written by my wife.

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Dishes and Doilies

The latest blog from my wife. Enjoy.

Ponderings from the Parsonage

I recently enjoyed a relaxing evening with friends watching the newly-released movie, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”    While there were many scenes and sayings in the movie that caught my attention, one dialogue in particular has stayed with me since that time.   The conversation takes place in Bilbo Baggins’ hobbit hole as Gandalf challenges him with the opportunity to go on an adventure.

In this scene, following a dwarf invasion of his home, Bilbo states to Gandalf, I’ll be alright. Just let me sit quietly for a moment.”  Gandalf dryly replies, You’ve been sitting quietly for far too long. Tell me, when did doilies and your mother’s dishes become so important to you? I remember a young hobbit who was always running off in search of Elves, in the woods. He’d stay out late, come home, after dark, trailing mud and twigs and fireflies.  A young hobbit who…

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Driven to Be Post-Modern

Without getting all philosophical and all, this post-modern age (this era that has emerged from the modern age that gave us the affluent, technological, media-driven, high-production, successful lifestyles we enjoy) is rooted in all kinds of things, a major one of which is personal disconnectedness. We are alone, un-rooted, migrants, cut off from traditions and families with no sense of belonging. We’re pretty much on our own. In the words of David Wells, its the age of homelessness (not literally for most but figuratively for nearly all). It is the age of the autonomous self. It’s all about the individual and it plays out in virtually all arenas of life. But where did this autonomous self come from?

1327383_64930133My personal answer is that is came from trying to get some service for my phone and internet. My land-line phone wasn’t working today and neither was my internet for a while. I found that out when I tried to log on to our provider’s site and update some information. I couldn’t log in. Then I tried to call, but my call got cut off. So I pulled out my cell phone and dialed my way through the menu but never talked with anyone personally. Just when I was getting close to being able to talk to an actual person I was told that I would incur a service charge if I did talk with a real, live person. I hung up because that sounded ridiculous. Determined that I had to figure out what was wrong, I called again and forged my way through the labyrinth of menu options and finally got a live, human voice who told me it was not a billing problem because my bill was current.  She transferred me to technical support and I once again got a live voice, not from around here, but from somewhere out there. They knew me only by my account number and name on their computer screen. Their personal touch was to call me “Mr. Mark” in a dialect I had difficulty understanding. This person wasn’t able to fix my problem but gave me a phone number to call since my problem seemed to be a local connection issue. I called that number and got the same recorded voice and menu I had gone to previously. I was back at the beginning. So, I tried again to trace my way through the menu maze pushing button after button and option after option, running upstairs in between button-pushing to check on our other phone as instructed by the impersonal voice, and dutifully entering each number I was asked for. I am pretty sure that when everything was said and done I ended up making an appointment for a service technician later today. I think I know what time. I have no idea if I’m going to be charged for a service call. A service ticket has been produced somewhere out there for a nameless technician, and now I guess I’ll wait and see if anyone shows up. I think they are but I never actually talked with anyone to confirm it.  Talk about frustrating. Talk about feeling powerless.  Talk about wanting to drop this provider and go look for another one. I made the passing comment to my wife, “It’s stuff like this that makes post-moderns.”

Sometimes it seems there is no one to stand up for you, no one ready and willing to help you. You’re left on your own, alone, until you’ve had enough, and you rise up for yourself to fend for yourself, to assert yourself, to not be treated this way any more, to refuse to be a nameless number, to get some attention. It’s time to assert self.

Welcome to the world of post-modernism.

By the way, asserting self, in the long run, won’t work unless you’ve got a big mouth, a lot of money or a big army (the need for which will depend on the size of the problem)! I have none of the above. Honestly, I don’t need any of the above because I know that there is a God who is real, who is bigger than me, smarter than any bureaucracy, more powerful than any army, and who, for reasons known only to him, actually cares about me!

Him or me? As I see it, He is probably all that keeps me from plunging into the lostness of myself in this post-modern age!

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The Resurrection of Jesus: the Greatest Moment in History

empty-tombI have been challenged to spend the next 40 days writing reflectively on the resurrection of Jesus.  That’s how many days there were between his resurrection and his ascension (Acts 1:3).  It won’t be daily, but I am going to accept the challenge and continue to contemplate the meaning of what we celebrated yesterday on Easter Sunday, something deserving far more than one day or even one week of careful attention.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest moment in history. Out of curiosity I did an unscientific survey using Google to see what others deemed to be the most important events in history. As you might expect the answers were all over the place including world-wars, inventions, and revolutions.  Several mentioned Jesus’ birth and death.  I didn’t find any that specified His resurrection.  Many believe that the life of Jesus Christ was world-impacting. But the life of Jesus alone isn’t the most important moment in history. His resurrection is.

By his resurrection Jesus proved that he was who he claimed to be – God.  If He didn’t rise from the dead, then he isn’t God because if he didn’t rise from the dead he either had an over-inflated view of himself and his ability or he outright lied about what he could do. God doesn’t overstate his case and he certainly does not lie. If Jesus said he would rise from the dead but didn’t then he is morally inferior to God and thus not God.

If he didn’t rise from the dead then Death was greater than Jesus.  Nothing and no one is greater than God.  If Death is stronger than Jesus, then Jesus isn’t God.

If Jesus isn’t God, then he isn’t the world’s Messiah-Redeemer. He may have been a good man who brought hope to his people and set an example for the world. But death is universal and if it got him and held him, then it still reigns as our ultimate finality.  If Jesus isn’t the world’s Messiah-Redeemer, then we’re still waiting for him or her or it to come.  We’re still looking.  We’re still trying to figure out how this messed-up world can be fixed, perhaps even wondering if it can be fixed.

But Jesus did rise from the dead.  The world’s Redeemer-Messiah has come.

For three days his beaten, bloodied, pierced corpse lay in a cold, dark tomb.  No signs of life.  No breath.  No heartbeat. No movement.  Just an icy-cold body lying in icy-cold silence.

But suddenly the closed eyes of Jesus opened.  His body that was one moment a lifeless icy-cold corpse got up, pulsating with life.  Leaving the grave clothes behind he came out of the tomb.  He presented himself to those who knew him best (hundreds of eyewitness according to 1 Corinthians 15:5-8).  Jesus was alive.  Having gone head-to-head with Death he came out on top.  He swallowed up Death in victory.

Since the resurrection of Jesus has made possible man’s reconciliation to his Creator now and forever, and since his resurrection brought the guarantee of everlasting life, and since his resurrection opened the way on the other side of the grave to heaven, there can be nothing more important in history. The resurrection of Jesus means the hope of Christians does not rest in the legacy of a dead man’s teachings but in their spiritual participation in his actual resurrection.

When the eyes of Jesus that were closed in death awakened in life, that was the greatest moment in history.

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It’s Time for “New” Again

222139_10151224985749055_1714936635_nIt’s the time of year for new beginnings and new starts.  The need for such newness is highlighted by the glut of advertisements that are targeted at overweight, balding, skin-blemished, and in-debt people.  It’s the promise of something better dangled in front of the discontentedly needy; a seemingly win-win combination.  New beginnings 2013.  Of course this is a follow-up to new beginnings 2012 and new beginnings 2011, and, new beginnings 2010, and, well, you get the point.  I heard a news report today that said 40% of Americans make resolutions each year, and one-third of those resolutions are broken before the end of January.

We joke that New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken.  I guess we joke about it because the only other alternative is to  feel guilty about resolutions not kept and who needs that?  I’m sure that many of these resolutions are sincerely made.  The beginning of a new year seems a natural time to make these new-beginnings resolutions, as if the movement of the second-hand from 11:59:59 PM, December 31 to 12:00:00 AM, January 1 resets life for the next twelve months.  It’s a chance to try again with fingers crossed, hoping that this time it will all work out.

Why do we keep doing it – making resolutions we don’t keep?  Why do we act as if January 1 is a reset button?  I think part of it is that we have a keen sense that we haven’t become everything we want to be or are meant to be.  We know there are still areas of our lives that need improvement physically, relationally, financially, vocationally, and spiritually.  We know we can do better and be better and at the beginning of a new year we seem to want it enough to make resolutions to do something about it.  Additionally, I think we sense there is something more to be experienced in or accomplished through our lives.  We know it’s not time to retire from life.

I wonder what God thinks of it all.  I don’t know and won’t claim I do.  But since God is timeless existing in an eternal present, I’m inclined to believe that the annual transition from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day is irrelevant to Him. I can’t help but think that with God our annual resolution-making must be sort of like a 6-year old promising every morning to be a better boy or girl that day but to no avail by bedtime.

Do we just give up then?  Of course not.  It is true that there is more for us to know, to experience, and to become; we haven’t arrived.  It’s also true that we have some personal responsibility for our progress in the journey of life that requires our resolve.  But the answer isn’t a new beginning every January 1 that proves to be another false start.  Changed lives do not come through man-made resolutions but by divine regeneration.  I’m not saying people don’t experience change apart from God.  I am saying that the change that most needs to happen won’t happen apart from the regenerating power of God.  And that change is unleashed through the cross of Jesus Christ.  Real change comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  If you want to see change in your life this year, perhaps you should revisit again the wonder of what Jesus has already done through the sacrificial death of his own Son and his resurrection to new life.

In his book The Cross-Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel the Main Thing, C.J. Mahaney writes:

If there’s anything in life that we should be passionate about, it’s the gospel. And I don’t mean passionate only about sharing it with others. I mean passionate in thinking about it, dwelling on it, rejoicing in it, allowing it to color the way we look at the world. Only one thing can be of first importance to each of us. And only the gospel ought to be.

That’s how change happens.  It’s not so much through new resolutions as it is a return to what’s 471235_69107547already been done.  The truth is there is only one time in a person’s life when a reset button is pushed and that is the day a person trusts in Christ for salvation for when that happens, that person becomes a new creation in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 15:57).  That is a real new beginning, a real new start in a real new life.  More than making wishes that we conceal as New Year’s resolutions, what we need is the life-giving and life-changing power of Jesus flowing through us by His grace.  More of that is what I need.  More of that is what I want.  To that end and for that purpose and in that power let the resolutions begin!

I invite your feedback on making resolutions for the New Year.

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Riding through the Woods on a Snowy Afternoon

I was out for a ride in the woods earlier today with my daughter and father-in-law.  We circled around my in-law’s property: down a hill to the lower field with its cut cornstalks still protruding from the ground, along the banks of a full and unusually serene Black River which borders the back of their land, past our old dog Sparky’s grave marked with a boulder, and then skirted the upper field before returning home.  The snow was falling quietly but heavily.  As we drove through the gray woods that were gradually being flocked with the new snow, we spied white-tailed deer keeping a close eye on us along with a flock of wild turkeys.  The picturesque settings brought to my mind the words of Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.”  The last stanza especially echoed in my thoughts with seemingly appropriate sentiments as another year draws to a close and a new one prepares for launch.

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Whose woods are these I think I know.
His house is in the village though.
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

It’s been a good year.  It’s been a challenging year.  There is so much yet to be done in my family, friendships, and church, not to mention the people and the opportunities lying ahead of me that I know nothing of at this point in time.  One of the many things I enjoy about the holiday season is the opportunity to eventually slow down and reflect on what is and what has been.  But I don’t pause for long because a new year awaits.  As I look ahead I do so with anticipation, and with the keen realization that I have “promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

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Code Red Christmas

Earth-Alert-iconAlert systems are put in place to give warnings.  In the wake of 9/11 the newly formed Department of Homeland Security instituted a five-level terror advisory scale: low, guarded, elevated, high, and severe.  Because that system proved to not be helpful, the scale was modified to just two levels: elevated, which warns of a credible terrorist threat, and imminent, which warns of a credible, specific, and impending terrorist threat.  The alert system is the government’s effort to inform the public so they can be prepared mentally, and if in close enough proximity to a particularly at-risk location, take protective measures.  If the security barrier has been penetrated by an outside threat the authorities and citizens want to know so they can take appropriate action.

Christmas is an imminent threat, a a code red alert.  The secured perimeter of this old world has been penetrated by an outsider who has entered with the intent of overthrowing the existing powers.

No wonder Herod did what he did in Matthew 2:1-18.  When he heard about the presence of this intruder (Mt. 2:1-2) he set a plan in motion (Mt. 2: 3-8) with the intent of eliminating the threat altogether (Mt. 2:13).  When the wise men didn’t come through on their end of the deal (Mt. 2:12), Herod modified his plan accordingly (Mt. 2:16), resulting in the “Slaughter of the Innocents.”  In defiance of the fact that this was the Child to be born upon whose shoulders the never-ending government would rest, Herod proceeded to move against what the zeal of the Lord was performing, and he failed, leaving behind nothing but futile mayhem, murder, and mourning.

As awful as that was, frankly, Herod did what the natural instinct of any of us is when we feel threatened: protect what is ours.  A newborn “King of the Jews” was most certainly a threat to the existing king of the Jews.  Of course, the twist to this story is that the existing power, namely Herod, was evil, and the intruder, the newborn Jesus Christ, was good.  Christmas is a threat to evil.

Herod’s emotions, thoughts, and actions graphically illustrate Psalm 2, along with the response of the Lord God of heaven (from The Message):

Why the big noise, nations?
Why the mean plots, peoples?
Earth-leaders push for position,
Demagogues and delegates meet for summit talks,
The God-deniers, the Messiah-defiers:
“Let’s get free of God!
Cast loose from Messiah!”

The response of God to these defiant worldly, all-mighty, all-important, self-glorifying, God-rejecting authorities is laughter; not the laughter of mere amusement, but that of mockery.  Here’s what the psalmist declares:

Heaven-throned God breaks out laughing.
At first he’s amused at their presumption;
Then he gets good and angry.
Furiously, he shuts them up:
“Don’t you know there’s a King in Zion? A coronation banquet
Is spread for him on the holy summit.”

Incredulous laughter.  The thought of any mere human authority challenging God is absurd.  Can you hear the laughter?  It doesn’t sound like the earth-shaking thunder at Mt. Sinai.  No, this time it sounds like the gurgles and cries of a baby.

Let me tell you what God said next.
He said, “You’re my son,
And today is your birthday.
What do you want? Name it:
Nations as a present? continents as a prize?
You can command them all to dance for you,
Or throw them out with tomorrow’s trash.”

What might seem like the humiliation of God was actually a taunt to the superpowers of this world.  They shake their money-filled, sword-wielding, army-commanding, middle-finger-extending fists at God, and He answers with a baby, and in doing so shows that “the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25).  Look at that baby in the manger who can’t even talk.  Look at the shrouded, lifeless corpse lying in a tomb.  That’s the Savior of the world!  That’s the Sovereign of the universe.

While Herod didn’t know the name of this newborn baby whose birth in Bethlehem had been foretold, he was smart enough to realize that this “king of the Jews” was a threat to his power, his kingdom, and his glory.  This Child had intruded into his domain, breached his security and must be eliminated.  No outsider was going to take away his throne.

Christmas, the celebration of the first arrival of Jesus, is a shot across the bow of the ship piloted by this world’s authorities declaring, “Surrender or die!”  Jesus came the first time in mercy, offering forgiveness and everlasting life to all who will believe.  The days of this world’s empires, all of them including the American empire, are numbered.  When He returns, they’re done.  It won’t even be a contest.  All it will take is a word.

Christmas is a sober reminder that Jesus lays claim to this planet and everything in it – its land masses, its resources, and its people.  That includes every nation and every person in every nation.  Everything and everyone is His and He will take what is His.  The Father said it’s His.  He made it.  He redeemed it.  There is a second Advent and it is imminent.  What Jesus demands is repentance and faith.  A person can bow now in the trusting surrender of love and adoration or they’ll bow then in vanquished, doomed terror.

So, rebel-kings, use your heads;
Upstart-judges, learn your lesson:
Worship God in adoring embrace,
Celebrate in trembling awe. Kiss Messiah!
Your very lives are in danger, you know;
His anger is about to explode,
But if you make a run for God—you won’t regret it!

Christmas is a Code Red warning.  Think of that every time you see a blinking red light this season.  You’ve been warned.

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The Sound of Silence

713307_82954404[3]Almost everyone has something to say about nearly everything these days.  There appears to be little, if any, restraint in the stream of words flowing out of mouths and from fingers.  It seems to me that we have forsaken the value of silence.  We’ve become so preoccupied with our own lives that we have lost perspective and actually think people are interested in all the words we’re determined to speak and publish.  Our incessant verbiage is shutting the doors of our ears to what God has to say and closing the windows of our eyes to what God wants to show us.  We’re killing ourselves with endless drivel.

To speak or not to speak, that is the question, and social media is driving us in the wrong direction on this one.  I don’t blame social media.  Through it I’ve reconnected with friends from the past and found a great venue for communication with extended family.  It’s just that social media has made it a lot easier for more people to unleash a relentless barrage of meaningless trivia and deadly missiles for public consumption and subsequent indigestion.  We live in a time when, strangely, people feel they must not allow any thought to go unspoken or any opinion to remain unexpressed, both of which are often expressed with illogic and rudeness.

There is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak,” according to the preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:7.  I don’t believe it’s accidental that “silence” comes before “speak” especially in light of James’ admonition that everyone “be swift to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19).  A lot more silence would certainly increase the likelihood that when we say something it would actually be worth hearing.

One of the threads woven into the tapestry of the Advent season is silence.  Wonder will do that to you – silence you.  Preparation of the heart and mind requires it.  Not surprisingly, retailers refuse to cooperate with it because they want the ear of shoppers.  Christmas music might be sweet, but it’s not silence.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer helps us understand the need for silence with these words from one of his Advent meditations:

“In being quiet there is a miraculous power of clarification, of purification, of bringing together what is important.  This is a purely profane [i.e. nonreligious] fact.  Silence before the word, however, leads to the right hearing and thus also to the right speaking of the word of God at the right time.  A lot that is unnecessary remains unsaid.”

If you want to indulge yourself in a special treat this Christmas, open God’s Word and try some silence.  You won’t be the only one to enjoy it.

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Waiting

1171215_88248255 (2)My daughter desperately wants an iPod but doesn’t have enough money to buy one.  She’s been trying every angle with her parents and brothers to see if she can beg, borrow, or steal enough to purchase one.  She’s offered to do house jobs for pay and she even divided the price of an iPod by four to show us what we could each contribute to make her purchase possible.  So far she’s had no luck.

She’s waiting.

I was Christmas shopping in a local department store the other day.  I found the item I needed right away, but the line at the checkout was really long.

Waiting.

My wife recently entered some songs she wrote in a songwriting contest.

She’s waiting.

After a year of contemplating it, a few months ago I applied to a seminary for entrance into one of their degree programs.  It took a while before I heard back and when I did, they sent me a topic for an essay I was required to write and submit for their review as part of the application process.

I was waiting.

When my older sister arrived for our family Christmas get-together last year she had just been to the doctor to check out some “suspicious” spots and was scheduled for a follow-up appointment when she returned home.

She was waiting.

A few years ago I made a trip to Africa and found myself counting the days until I would be reunited with my family.  On my flight home I was counting down the hours.

We were waiting.

I know parents who have a son off serving in Afghanistan and are praying for his safe return.

They are waiting.

I know a mom and dad who are praying for a prodigal child to come home.

Waiting.

A recent college graduate just applied and interviewed for his first position.

Waiting.

A young couple is engaged to be married.

Waiting.

A husband and wife have been in the application process most of this past year to adopt a child.

Waiting.

A child counts down the days until Christmas.

A family gets ready for relatives to arrive for a Christmas reunion.

They are waiting.

Life is waiting.  I can either wait expectantly or impatiently, but I’m going to find myself waiting.

They stand shamefully clutching their fig-leaf coverings as God promises our first parents an Offspring who will rescue them from their fall.

The waiting begins.

Abraham hears God’s promise to him, telling him that he will be the father of nations and that through his Offspring all the world will be blessed, even though he is an old man and childless as God speaks to him.

The waiting builds.

The nation of Israel groans under the hardship of Egyptian bondage and cries out for rescue.

The waiting seems unbearable.

Isaiah says that a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son who will be the Prince of peace.

Micah says that this son, the Ruler for Israel, will come from Bethlehem.

The waiting continues.

The angel announces to the virgin Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

The waiting is almost over.

The angels announce to the shepherds, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The waiting is over.  The Promise has arrived!

But what is Jesus saying now?  “I am going to prepare a place for you, and I will come again and will take you to myself.”

Waiting again?

The beaten, pierced, lifeless body of Jesus lies in a cold, dark tomb.

Waiting.

The angels tell the followers of the resurrected Jesus as He ascends into heaven that, “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Yes, waiting again.

Advent, a season of waiting, begins today.  It’s a time to remember anew the centuries of Israel’s waiting for the arrival of her Messiah.  Simeon waited to see “the Consolation of Israel” whom he one day held in his arms.  Anna devoted her life to fasting and prayer as she waited, and one day joyfully announced to others who had been waiting that the Redeemer of Israel was here.  Neither of them wanted to miss what they had waited for their whole lives.

What’s sad is that when Jesus, the promised Consolation of Israel, arrived most of that generation missed Him.  Some because they doubted and others because they got distracted and lost interest. There were some who grew discouraged by the waiting and quit, giving up hope.  And then there were those whose expectations became so distorted that when their Messiah came they didn’t recognize Him.  Waiting can do that sometimes.

Dietrich Bonhoffer said, “Waiting is an art that our impatient age has forgotten.”  In the busyness of shopping for the best deals, putting up Christmas decorations, baking traditional favorites, planning family gatherings, preparing for special programs, or coping with the fact that things won’t be the same this year, I don’t want to miss the call of the Advent season.  In an impatient, got-to-have-it-now culture, I must make time to wait in silence before Him: to wonder, to fast, to repent, and to prepare, for only in such waiting will I enter more fully into the blessedness of His arrival.  Again, Bonhoffer said, “Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting – that is, of hopefully doing without – will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment.”

The waiting is not over yet.

Here is Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Peter’s closing words in his second letter.  They call us to this current season of waiting.  A second Advent is imminent.

With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.

But when the Day of God’s Judgment does come, it will be unannounced, like a thief. The sky will collapse with a thunderous bang, everything disintegrating in a huge conflagration, earth and all its works exposed to the scrutiny of Judgment.

Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival.

So, my dear friends, since this is what you have to look forward to, do your very best to be found living at your best, in purity and peace. Interpret our Master’s patient restraint for what it is: salvation.

We are waiting.  Come, Lord Jesus!

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