Fine Print

The calloused, rough-hewn workers heaved
And threw another rough-hewn cross
Upon the growing pile of wood
Flecked with human dross

The timbers all had served their turn
And splintered over time
As one by one they’d pinioned those
Paying for their crime

And when they could no longer hold
A nail to pin the gruesome load
That pillar of the damned, the spurned
Was piled up with the rest and burned

They tossed the last one on the pile
Paused… shuddered at the Reaper’s Tally
Then fired the wooden bones just like
Those bones in Hinnom’s Valley

A worker standing near for warmth
Eyes gazing at the glowing pyre
Caught something strange upon the wood
In the growing flickering fire

Moving close, he grabbed the end
Of one old, rugged stake
Pulled it out, saw the words
And then began to shake…

          …Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews

“Pilate made a sign and put it on the cross.                                                                       It read: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”

— John 19:19


REFLECTIONS

This is a fictitious piece, attempting to imagine the reaction of one who might have been a believer, or at least a curious one, who came across the sign Pilate had nailed to the cross of Jesus. Especially in view of what so many were saying about Him and the resurrection.


Joy

Rejoice!
The man (imprisoned!) wrote
And though enchained the joy-full note
Transcended dungeon, guard, and fetter
Enthused the Spirit’s lovely letter
And bid us grace and peace

Rejoice!
In every prayer of mine!
For fellow branches in The Vine
The gospel spreads! And this is true
The One who began this work in you
Will bring it to completion

Rejoice!
For Christ has more acclaim
When servants suffer for The Name
Though one may live or one may die
There’s joy when Christ is lifted high
Who grants eternal life

Rejoice!
And strive to be as one
Like the Father and His Son
Like Jesus drawing humbly near
Regard the more our brother dear
More dearer than ourselves

Rejoice!
Again I say, “Rejoice!”
With calm secure contented voice
For we have cast on Him our care
Knowing that He hears our prayer
And guards our hearts

Rejoice!
I want you all to hear it!
Your prayers… the gracious Holy Spirit
Shall deliver me yet once again
No matter what may come… amen
For to die is gain!

–Paul’s letter to the Philippians


REFLECTIONS

David Edwin Harrell, an American Historian and Religious Scholar, said something at a lectureship in southern California many years ago that I have never forgotten. He said that anyone who could write such a joy-filled letter, filled with as much gratitude and encouragement for others as this one is (while in prison), is a fellow who is either a complete lunatic, or a fellow who really has his head set on straight! A faith that can deliver a letter like this from a place like that is a faith worth looking into. Another friend of mine, Mike Mendez (missionary and minister of the Gospel), once told me something equally memorable, that true JOY is to be found in the ability to put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. Something Paul illustrates very powerfully in this amazing letter. May the God of true joy be with and bless you all; and, may He sustain you with a profound and deep-seated joy that will be with you and persist even in times of great sadness and trial.


T H O R N

Grievous & Gracious Gift!
Given to
One who saw celestial view
To thwart all pride
All wayward boast
And point Paul to
What mattered most
The grace of Christ…

Sorrowful Souvenir!
Much, much more
Than the grief or scars themselves he bore
That trial that one
Must constant bear
And carry with him
Everywhere
The cross of Christ…

Alm of Affliction!
Given when
The unutterable by mortal men
Was heard by Paul
Who, despite torment
Grew satisfied
And well-content
With the power of Christ…

Angel of Satan!
Messenger of
An apostle’s affliction allowed by love
Constant Companion
Divine Distress
That produces
The trust and nobleness
We see in the character of Christ…

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“I know a man in Christ who, fourteen years ago, was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise… and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

— 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
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R E S P E C T

Wrinkled and weathery
Worn and leathery
Hair so white, so thin
A dismissive glance and looks askance
Will miss the dance within

Physique so frailing
Health so failing
Shoulder’s bowed and bent
Tools worn out while building
A life well lived… well spent

But withered size
And age belies
Vitality that once was
Upon a time a vigor prime
That shaped the world… and still does!

A teacher formed
A pilot stormed
Through the skies in war
An explorer-fearless-set the sail
For an unknown, distant shore

A doctor tended
A surgeon mended
Nurses fended for the ill
Soldiers who, for hearth and home
Charged gallant up the hill

A leader led
A martyr bled
A mother raised her child
A social worker helped some soul
That poverty defiled

A fireman saved
A policeman braved
the lawless, riot crowd
A farmer wiped his sweaty brow
And surveyed a field he’d plowed

A musician played
A dancer swayed
A poet penned a poem
A writer wrote a whirlwind tale
A builder built a home

Next time you meet
At church or street
A weaker, aged one
Gratefully respect them for
Their life… a job well-done.

Extend your hand
Bestow a smile
And nod a friendly nod
Not only would you warm their heart
You’d warm the heart of God!

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“Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD.”

— Leviticus 19:32
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B R A N C H

The love of Ruth
Kind and gracious
Eternal truth!
Relentless
The commitment of
The maiden
And the God above

Naomi’s name
Pleasant they said
Drubbed by the world
And left for dead
Ruth refused
To let her fall
Loved her heart… soul…
Mind… strength… all!

Bethlehem
The ‘house of bread’
A love-starved world
That would not be fed
There, the mother
Of David’s mothers went
What a humble, loving Gentile
Heaven sent!

A Moabite!
How can this be?
A sturdy branch
For Messiah’s tree?
Mother of David
And David’s son
From Bethlehem
Would go The One

Love of God
From days eternal
Commitment of
A love supernal
“There…
…because of grace go I!”
For sinful sons
One Son will die

To the House of Bread
The Bread of Life
Came to us
Amid the strife
Going
Where we go
Lodging where
We lodge below

“Your people…
mine!” said He
“Your God too…
Shall mine be…
Where you die
I will too
And I’ll be buried
Next to you

Entreat me not
To leave, forsake
My own, for whom
My heart does ache
Through my church
I will remain
Through hearts like Ruth
I’ll surely reign…
…and make all things new!”

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“Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.’ And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem.”

— Ruth 1:16-19

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.
Therefore He will give them up until the time
When she who is in labor has borne a child.
Then the remainder of His brethren
Will return to the sons of Israel.
And He will arise and shepherd His flock
In the strength of the LORD,
In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God.
And they will remain,
Because at that time He will be great
To the ends of the earth.
This One will be our peace.”

— Micah 5:2-5

“…Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king…”

— Matthew 1:5-6
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