Today is Pentecost 2023, 50 days after Passover and the 7th Sunday after Easter — the day the Holy Spirit came in power to the Chruch. You might say to found the Chruch, the Bride of Christ — forever changing history and beginning the Last Days according the prophet Joel (2:28).
WOW! I just looked in my iPhone calendar, and they don’t include Pentecost on their calendar. Look at Western Civilization and the civilized world of the last 2000 years — and note if you have eyes to see and mental facilities to look at historical facts unbiased — to see all the advances in science, medicine, education, art, government, and religion where Christ is acknowledged as King and His Father God as Sovereign over all.
On Pentecost 33 AD, the same Sovereign sent His Spirit into His house — His disciples, His church, and all future disciples who would become holy ones — normal mortals made holy by Christ’s sacrifice and then the indwelling of His Spirit. These have caused His Kingdom to come forth on the earth in some measure, ebbing and flowing, with the resultant “righteous, peace, and joy” (Romans 14:17) described in Scripture during the ensuing 2000 years.
Pause with me and ponder, “Where are we today in America and the Chruch with these realities?” — realities that began on 33 AD in Jerusalem, and the most recent outflow of that Grace for us in 1620 and 1776 in the USA.
From my latest book Puzzling 2020: “Without being born of the Spirit, we cannot see the things of God or know God Himself. If Nicodemus, the Bible scholar, and teacher of Israel, couldn’t apprehend God with just his mind, why do we think we can? Or that it’s our job to make the issue more clear for others than Jesus made it and left it. It is God’s job by His Holy Spirit. Thankfully to those who believe Jesus’ testimony, ‘He gives the Holy Spirit without measure'” (John 3:34b).
“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7).
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:26-27).
It’s what you don’t see that usually gets you! That was the case when I landed my airplane January 26 in six inches of wet snow on our mountain top strip. We walked away unscathed, but it didn’t end well for the airplane.
I researched snow-depth-landing recommendations on the web and in flying publications. My research indicated half way up on the main wheels or six inches should be fine. The snow depth at the time of the accident was well below half way up the tires, and exactly six inches. I’ve flown eight years and a thousand hours in this airplane, landing on many types of surfaces, and couldn’t imagine this would be a problem. It’s what you don’t know or see that gets you!
Evidently there are different densities of wet snow. That was never mentioned in my research. This snow uprooted many trees in the area and broke off many branches. Local farmers reported that they had trouble getting around on their tractors and four wheelers to feed livestock.
As a result of this mishap, I’ve become friends with a Maule pilot in Alaska, who’s interested in buying and rebuilding the airplane. Mainly for my flying friends and backcountry pilots, I’ll record parts of our conversation about landing in wet snow to add to our collective knowledge base. Then, I’ll add a couple of spiritual lessons this may teach us.
PEOPLE WHO KNOW
Question: “What’s the deepest wet snow you’ve landed in? And what size were your tires? How would you say pilots in Alaska would typically answer the question: ‘How deep is the deepest wet snow in which one should attempt a landing?'”
Answer: “Six inches of wet snow and 31’s [big tundra tires] inflated to 5 psi. If you have tires like 850s [which is what I have], then maybe 4 inches of snow with full back yoke and some rpms to keep the tail down. I powered up to half throttle after I touched down.” He then added: “Honestly I wouldn’t recommend any snow — too risky.”
My immediate thought was, “Where have you been? Or where were you when I was researching this? This is exactly the kind of information that could have saved the day — and my airplane! Someone knew it, but I didn’t, and it didn’t turn up in my research.
Well, “Live and learn,” as the old saying goes. Or as a quote attributed to Mark Twain goes: “Good judgement is the result of experience and experience the result of bad judgement.” I think the first applies, but not totally the second in this instance. It wasn’t bad judgment as much as misinformation or insufficient information after a diligent search that got me into trouble. But the results are the same. It’s what you don’t know or see that gets you!
THE WAY IT’S ALWAYS BEEN
Also, a kind of latent pride, or feeling of invincibility can get you too, or be a contributing factor. I mentioned I flew this airplane eight years, for one thousand hours, and in many challenging conditions. I felt like I knew it very well and trusted its capabilities, as well as my own. Two related memories now flood my mind.
In the middle of my fighter career, I was walking back from lunch to the squadron ready room with a close, fighter-pilot friend. He mentioned to me that, “I’m a major with 1000 hours in the F-4. Statistically, that’s when most accidents happen. I need to really watch myself.” He was one of the best fighter pilots in the squadron, but a month later he flew into a mountain killing himself and his back seater. Even with a heightened sense or awareness that success and comfort can be dangerous, bad things still happen.
During our trip to Alaska in 2017, I asked a mechanic in Anchorage who filed a nick out of one of my prop blades about the Maule’s reputation in Alaska. He said, “It’s a fine airplane, but it’s misunderstood because it’s a little short-coupled.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant at the time, but I think I do now. He meant the center of gravity is forward enough that it has a propensity to nose over if stopped too fast. This threat is exacerbated by its flying characteristics being very much the same with any load and not betraying this propensity until it happens, suddenly, from an abrupt stop.
This issue is demonstrated by what my Alaska friend told me next: “The nose of my airplane is lighter too. I have a carbon fiber cowl (16# lighter), and my engine is 60# lighter than yours, and I only have a two blade prop, whereas you have a three blade prop.” He was saying, “Your nose is heavier than mine, therefore even more likely to flip over if stopped abruptly.” So, one can get too comfortable and not know the whole story quite as well as he thinks he does.
On a different side of the coin, or maybe the same side, as I think about it, I have a math, engineering, and physics friend named Sam who did a lot of research and pondering my landing-in-snow accident. He’s a fighter pilot, an American Airline’s pilot, and has flown his C-172 in the back country, so he was motivated and interested enough to spend considerable hours with algorithms, diagrams, and a calculator. The layman’s summary he relayed to me was: “Dense snow compacted quickly in front of your tires until it became like concrete blocks. I don’t think it mattered what technique you might have used, it’s like sliding into second base — when you hit the base, you’re going to stop.” The final truth is probably tucked between those two points of view, with the overall lesson being: “On unknown snowy condition days, leave the airplane in the hangar.”
The Maule MX-7 is a wonderful, trustworthy airplane in almost every environment, but a little tricky in this one — wet snow, which is seldom encountered, and to be avoided. It’s what you don’t know or see that gets you!
Do you think this could apply to the church in America and the West? Things have gone along pretty well for a long time. Could there be a sudden stop? One that changes everything? It’s what you don’t know or see that gets you! Read about the church in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Read Eric Metaxas’ book Bonhoeffer, and his short, strong book Letter to the American Chruch.
Do you think this could apply to our country and culture? Things have gone well for a long time and even with some major upheavals we’ve always been able to right the ship. Surely these chaotic times will be no different, right? It’s what you don’t know or see that gets you! Read the history of Israel and Judah around 722BC and 586BC. Or read the major and minor prophets sent to them in those times — Isaiah through Malachi.
It behoves all of us, especially Christians, the church, to pay attention to what’s going on and carefully navigate our times. We need to return to the fear of the Lord and obedience as quickly as possible. We need to pray for His help — His grace to do this. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8).
We must put away our idols, seeing them for the life and future-robbing activities and objects they are. Spend time with Him in solitude, silence, reading the Bible, and prayer. He will help you see clearly and to know what to do. This is in effect the message of my latest book Puzzling 2020.
If we don’t , I feel we’re in for a sudden stop, an upside-down upset, and a damaged church, country, and culture, with no clear way to getting back what we’ve lost.
““Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” (Jonah 2:8, NIV) Or as an earlier version of the NIV says, they “forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”
“Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, But those who keep the law strive with them. Evil men do not understand justice, But those who seek the Lord understand all things” (Proverbs 28:4-5 NASB).
As I sat this morning and contemplated Good Friday and the events of that fateful and glorious day, I found it hard to grasp even a little bit of what happened there in the heavenlies and on earth.
I did notice in Mark’s account, that the very next thing reported after Jesus breathed His last breath was that the curtain hiding the presence of God was torn apart. And that this happened simultaneously. Could that be telling of the most important thing that happened that day? From Heaven’s perspective?
I pray the Lord will give each of us some revelation and insight into it as we walk throughout the day.
I went back and watched a couple of YouTube videos that came my way during Holy Week. This one from Ron Mooney and the Nehemiah group. This one from our friends the Coles in VA.
I also felt impressed to read the chapter on Emmaus in Puzzling 2020, which added some clarity to the spiritual aspect of apprehending our Redeemer’s realm.
Have a peaceful and thoughtful day in meditation about our Lord,
[Pertinent thoughts after the accident from a friend named Barry in a Fellowship Fayetteville Bible Study of Romans:]
While studying Romans, I can’t help but think of the radical change in the Apostle Paul’s life before . . . and after . . . he personally met Jesus. Before that experience, he hated Jesus and all Jesus followers.
Obviously, Paul’s entire thoughts about Jesus as the promised Messiah changed radically.
For instance, Paul uses the name of “Jesus” 38 times in Romans. He mentions “Christ” (Messiah) 68 times, and uses the combination of the two together (“Jesus” and “Christ”) approximately 34 verses. All this only in his letter to the church in Rome.
Just as it was for Paul, there are times in each one of our lives where God presents us with an opportunity to consider the current direction of our own life and what is truly important to us. For me this happened a little more than 5 years ago, following an auto accident where I was T-boned causing my vehicle to rollover 1-1/2 times, ending upside down. My head banged against the window, and I was unconscious for quite some time. Two people who attempted to communicate with me during that time, thought that I was likely no longer alive. However, I finally revived, and a trip to the ER showed that I had no broken bones, and no internal injuries. The only thing I had was a few cuts, and a lot of bruises.
This incident caused me to spend much time contemplating why my life was spared. Although my quest for meaning in my life had begun prior to this time, this event increased my desire exponentially to find these answers. As a direct result of this, I began attending Fellowship Fayetteville, then began attending Gary’s study of the book of Matthew when it began that fall.
I bring this up because one of the men in our group had a similar (but even more dramatic) experience the day after Christmas. Fortunately, God spared Dwayne Bell and his wife from any serious injuries.
Dwayne Bell has his own website, and you can read about the incident at the following link.
I mentioned to Dwayne some of the questions that I asked myself after my accident: Does God have something to say to through this incident? Is God taking away something in order to replace it with something else? Does God have a new direction and a new role for my life from this point? Does God want me to reevaluate my priorities?
Here are some of comments that Dwayne has made in regards to this incident in a subsequent email.
When anything happens like this, you become very spiritually sensitive, especially if you have a high view of God and how intimate and involved He is in our lives . . .
I’ve experienced more grace, or been more aware of it, than at any time in my life. And I have more reason to believe and more conviction that “His plans for me are better than my plans for me.” So, I’ve put my main emphasis on getting to hear Him better by walking more closely (solitude, silence, the Word, and prayer) alone, and in community with the family of faith.
This signals something . . . and in the coming days I’m sure He’ll make it known, (if I want to know, and will listen). Listening with brothers is a key part of that, so feel free to speak into my life anyway you feel led.
In Psalms 119:34-37 David says, Give me understanding so that I might observe your law, and keep it with all my heart. Guide me in the path of your commands, for I delight to walk in it. Give me a desire for your rules, rather than for wealth gained unjustly. Turn my eyes away from what is worthless! Revive me with your word!
May our Lord make known to each of us the path that he has for our lives, and may we follow Him closely and obediently all the days of our lives.
Well, the time has come. I’ve dreaded this moment for some reason. It’s not hard to tell what happened, as best I understand it. That’s straightforward and easy. It’s because I don’t want to relive the feeling of what we lost.
My wife and I took a 3-mile walk this morning around our frozen neighborhood in the 19° (which felt like 10°), frozen-world, winter, wonderland covered with 2-3 inches of sleet from the previous 24 hours. The silence and solitude were beautiful, as were our brief conversations and prayers. I couldn’t help but look at the hard, sleet-covered surface of the road and think, “I could have landed the Maule on surfaces like that easily, as I have several times. Hard-packed ice and snow isn’t a problem. But soft, wet, dense snow is.
Here’s What Happened
Let me tell you what happened, and then we can discuss lessons learned or what I would do differently if I got a do-over, which in this case, I don’t.
January 26, 2023, in the early morning we flew from Springdale, AR, where we live much of the time and keep our airplane hangared to Hot Springs, AR, to visit my wife’s sister, who has some health challenges. It was a pristine, clear, blue-skies day, and we made the smooth flight in a record 45 minutes due to a substantial tailwind out of the NW. The snow-covered mountains of the Ozarks and Ouachitas were breathtaking, and flying seemed surreal, which it often does.
After our visit, we filled up with fuel due to the expected weekend flying and headed north to our mountain-top strip, John Harris Field, or AR05, on the aeronautical charts. We flew lower northbound to mitigate the effects of the NW headwind. At 3500′, I slowed the plane and configured it to land to the north. The skies were clear blue, and the north/south runway looked beautiful in the snow. I noted it was 1210 PM. The winds at 2500′ on down to the 1777′ landing zone elevation were out of the NW (310° and steady at 10-15 knots, I estimated from the 3000′ winds aloft at RUE and what I was feeling from the airplane). I held my normal 60 MPH final approach speed steady until it was time to flare. Once we glided near the runway surface, past the windsock at the approach end, and between the pine trees which line the runway, there was practically no wind or drift to correct. Before entering the snow, I held it off in the flare to dissipate as much airspeed as possible.
When I let it settle into the snow, it seemed like our deceleration rate was typical for the landing phase. But it then decelerated faster than I could imagine. The tail came up very quickly, and before I knew it, it was straight up in the air, and then the momentum of the plane carried it on over in a somewhat slow tumble onto its back.
I would say from the “fairly normal deceleration” assessment until the tail was up vertical only took 2-3 seconds — unbelievably fast, even when I think about it now as I type. I didn’t get the time compression that sometimes accompanies these sudden events. It still seems like a blur. I had my hand on the throttle to add power if needed. If they happen, I’d read that soft snow-related incidents happen at very slow speeds at the end of the landing roll when not much air is going over the tail to hold it down. But nothing I read, thought, or heard about prepared me for this rapid deceleration. It was as if at 15-20 MPH, some gremlins threw chocks in front of the main wheels.
The only thoughts I had, at the time the tail was about 30° up in the air and moving rapidly, were: “I can’t make myself push the power up looking down at the ground at this slow speed, with no real threats around” and, when the prop hit the ground one second later, “This is going to be expensive.”
The next thing I know, my wife and I are hanging upside down in our seat belts. We release them and crawl out of the airplane onto the bottom of the pilot’s side wing. While she released her belt, I turned the master switch off, the ignition switch off, and the fuel selector to off. Then we walked away quickly in shock that it had happened. But we were unharmed and grateful.
To Stop or Not to Stop, That is the Question
Hundreds experiences work for you when flying in the backcountry from thousands of hours flying fighters and airliners. Then there are a few things that might work against you.
One such thing is the throttle. For many repetitions and landings, when I pulled the throttle to idle, it wasn’t going to be pushed back up. In the backcountry with lighter aircraft, sometimes you need to do so to get air over the control surfaces to control the airplane and prevent mishaps. I have made substantial progress in overcoming this big-muscle memory and demonstrated it at times. But this event happened too fast to react like that.
Secondly, you spend most of your career thinking snow is slick and the primary threat it presents is getting stopped from the momentum of heavy airplanes landing at high speeds. One never suspects it could be an agent for causing you to stop too quickly.
I will continue to mull this over and try to think of what I might have done differently and hear from fellow pilots their thoughts. An F-16 buddy called yesterday and after hearing my story said, “Yeah, but this is different. The snow got hold of you and flipped you over.” That isn’t a bad summary of what happened.
An older pilot friend with lots of experience told me, “CG (center of gravity) might have had some effect on you. When you fly airplanes like the Maule or a Cherokee Six that carry about anything you put in them and feel about the same when landing, one can get a little lax in thinking about it.” That’s possible for sure. If I had remotely anticipated anything like this, I would have extra bags or weight in the back to slow or help prevent the tail from coming up. And I might have landed with a bit of power on until it stopped in its tracks — very counterintuitive though. If I had dreamed it could be a problem, I wouldn’t have landed at all. All of this is hindsight and speculation. But you can’t help but try to problem-solve or be a better pilot, even when you’re still grieving the loss of something.
I wish I had had Don Sheldon to ask about the landing before I attempted it.
I would love to have lived in the heyday of the Alaska bush pilots, my father’s generation, just after WWII. If you want to get a feel for what that was like, as much as we can, read Wager With the Wind by James Greiner. When four friends flew our two Maules to Alaska in 2017, we landed on downtown Talkeetna’s legendary Don Sheldon’s grass strip. Back then, a similar accident would be addressed by friends trying to get you back in the air as soon as possible, with no reports, insurance companies, and massive paperwork to complete. It was more about adventure, courage, camaraderie, and survival together.
I told the gentleman who called from the Denver office of the NTSB, who was very kind and compassionate, “That’s quite a form. I’m seventy. I don’t know if I have enough time left to fill that out.” I’m just kidding, of course (sort of). I’m not cursing the darkness or calling the NTSB, FAA, or insurance companies bad guys. They are a part of why we have the safest general aviation flying in the world, offering as much freedom to US citizens as we have. And the insurance guy was as kind, sympathetic, and helpful as the NTSB representative.
I’m grateful for the aviation experience, and we’ll see where this interruption leads us. It has been a magnificent flight in life. Thanks for listening to my story and to you who have reached out, checking on us, and wishing us the best — most hoping we fly again. Godspeed to you on your journey, and His shalom be yours in abundance.
From my journal January 27, 2023: 0245L, I awakened thirsty and sad, so I decided to get up and sit by the fire with my journal in hand. I then recorded the following:
The backcountry flying and flying-freedom part of our lives may be over.
I wrecked the airplane yesterday, landing in wet snow — something I didn’t see coming and can hardly believe happened.
Neither Elizabeth nor I was hurt, and that’s the main thing.
We have much to be thankful for. It’s insured, and we’ll probably break even on our investment, so to speak.
But something treasured is gone — something that brought joy to our lives, beauty, seeing the Earth often from above and visiting inaccessible places.
It’s about the loss of that ability and freedom. It’s about the death of a vision and the change that it brings.
Something that brought joy, beauty, and adventure to life is gone, with no clear path to getting it back.
I know it shouldn’t be, but it feels almost like a death in the family — something to be mourned. Our daughter was very sympathetic and kind when we talked to the kids last night. She kept saying, “It’s OK to mourn the loss — we all feel it.”
It’s not about the metal, although I can’t help but feel I’ve lost an old, trusted friend. It’s taken me to Alaska, Idaho, Honduras, and untold places in the Ozarks and around the USA with friends. It’s been faithful, trustworthy, strong, and true.
It’s about a way of life that’s gone and likely not coming back.
That’s the way I feel lately about America and the church. Only the grace of God can bring good out of this, and it may take a crash to experience what we’ve lost. Why wouldn’t my heart be sad?
My hope and trust are in the Lord. That I can say with hope and honesty. Even now, the reality of His nearness brings warmth and joy to my soul.
I’ll put more wood on the fire and read from the Psalms. I’ll await more of Your thoughts and any truth You would share. Thank you, Lord.
The YouVersion verse of the day may apply to the loss and life in the USA in the future: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation [to be overly sad, hopeless, have a bad attitude, be negative or worry] will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
It’s 3:48 in the morning, and I just sent that verse to a friend with this message: “I had an airplane crash yesterday. We are OK. Are you OK?” Then I prayed for him. I think self-pity is behind many of our troubles, and I didn’t have that revelation until recently.
As far as the crash goes, I think I heard, “Don’t make more of it than you should or less of it than you should.”
Then I heard a twist on an old saying, “You can take the dog out of the fight, but you can’t take the fight out of the dog.”
Don’t be ashamed that you’re a man and adventurer who enjoyed exploring every corner of the airplane’s capabilities. Yes, what you don’t know or see can hurt you. But there is also “The Man in the Arena.” [A famous quote by Teddy Roosevelt]
Which is more important? To be totally safe — if there is such a thing? Or to be unafraid of taking a measured risk?
What brings you joy and satisfaction? What portals have opened the vastest horizons for you or led out onto the highest peaks and broadest plains?
I think I hear, “Don’t quit being a man” in all this. Take the hit to your pride; that’s a good thing. Honor and tell the truth, then get up and get going again.
I don’t disregard safety. No rational pilot does. But I don’t worship it, either.
We all learn from our mistakes; what doesn’t kill you should make you stronger — unless you cower in fear. Then you’re in for a slow death — by degrees.
I’m not happy this object lesson came my way. I’m very sad about it. It hurts a lot for the reasons I have journaled in the early morning.
But there is a flying saying as old as it is true, “Any landing you walk away from is a good one.” So I made a good landing on top of the snow-covered mountain yesterday. I got the Jeep from the hangar and drove a short distance to a warm, beautiful cabin to spend the night with my best friend, my lovely wife. Life is good — even with a few bumps, falls, and stings.
Just before sunset, a friend on the other side of the mountain called to say hello, unaware of the accident. He offered and came with his four-wheel-drive tractor and front-end loader. We flipped the plane back over, then towed it to the hangar for the night. It didn’t change things. But it made my heart feel better to see her in a dry hanger on her feet instead of on her back in the snow.
After writing what I heard and thought in the beautiful stillness of the early morning, I feel better. Circumstances haven’t changed. But the Spirit has warmed my heart, let it cry, and pointed me again toward courage, endurance, and soaring in life. Thank you, holy Father. You are Jehovah Shalom, my Lord, and my God.
To those of you I’ve promised an airplane ride, let me say I’m truly sorry. You know I meant it. I’ve never refused a free flight to anyone who asked. I’ve given scores of flights and enjoyed each one immensely watching others experience the wonder and beauty of flight. Don’t give up hope, we’ll see what happens.
This speaks to the emotional, spiritual situation surrounding the accident, and where our hearts are. In the coming days, for my pilot friends and those interested I’ll speak to what happened and how it happened, as best I understand it, in more detail to add to our corporate body of knowledge and experience. A quick summary might be: Wet, dense snow will stop you a lot faster than you can imagine, and if you must try it, have an aft CG (some or a lot of weight in the rear of the plane.)
Einstein said, “Adversity introduces a man to himself.” The pandemic and explosion of events beginning in 2020 certainly did that to Americans and the world. As busy lives slowed to a crawl, isolated people worked thousands of puzzles, and people got outside, slowing to the pace of living and to being human. This book of 70 short chapters or puzzle pieces makes sense of what we experienced from a perspective of spiritual, historical, and current events. It also provides inspiration and insight to live hopeful, meaningful, courageous lives. Enjoy!
Many things were stripped away from our lives as we pondered how to stay healthy. Some reacted in fear, and some in faith. It caused everyone to reexamine who they trusted for valid information about safety, health, and hope for the future. Puzzling these events, even after two years, a resolution is still inconclusive. This book seeks to answer some basic questions: “Where are we? How did we get here? Where do we go from here, or how do we live in these puzzling times?” We look to the Bible, history, and God for insight and truth — and for grace to live with purpose and without fear. These puzzle pieces will help you “Light a candle, instead of cursing the darkness.” Click here to order.
Dwayne Bell holds degrees in mathematics and theology, and was a school teacher before pursuing a career in aviation. He served in the United States Air Force and reserves for twenty years flying F-16 fighter aircraft while concurrently concluding a twenty-five-year career as an airline pilot, flying Boeing 777s to Europe and Asia. He retired early to begin a new chapter of kingdom life and adventures. He enjoys back country flying, writing, photography, and biking. He and Elizabeth, his wife of forty-seven years, make their home in Springdale, Arkansas. You can reach Dwayne at: www.afriendoftheking.com
“Those living in darkness have seen a great light….” (Isaiah 9:2, Matthew 4:16).
On December 16th my wife and I read the Christmas story from Luke 2 together. The verses that stood out to me were not the normal ones. We also read Psalm 16, which oddly seemed to parallel Luke 2 and what I was hearing and seeing at the moment.
“… Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed [emphasis added]'” (Luke 2:33-35).
“For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel [emphasis added]” (Luke 2:30-32).
“Preserve me, O God, for I take refuge in You. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good besides You.’ As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied; I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood, nor will I take their names upon my lips” (Psalm 16:1-4).
Psalm 16 is a beautiful meditation for our times ( all times really), times when our Lord is bringing a scalpel or a sword on the land because of unfaithfulness, injustice, and our worshiping idols — objects of worship made by our own hands and leading us in the pathways of destruction and death. We were created for so much more.
But we have chosen, and are choosing, to worship humankind and human creations over our loving, wise, sovereign, creator God — to our own hurt.
Our wise and good God gave us the choice, life or death, then encouraged us to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19–20). But then He truly lets us decide, to honor us with that privilege, and to see what’s in our hearts. In my upcoming book Puzzling 2020, I quote C.S. Lewis who speaks with insight and truth into the ways of God: “Free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” Yes, even the manifold evil we see happening in our day and times.
“May our gracious Father, Creator, Lord have mercy — then supply to us grace for turning and living from His giant, good heart.” A Christmas prayer.
“The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me” (Psalm 16:5-6).
“I will bless the Lord who has counseled me; indeed, my mind instructs me in the night. I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will dwell securely” (Psalm 16:7-9).
“You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:11).
“And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,
‘Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel'” (Luke 25:32).
As a dark cloud seemingly descends on our country and world during these past two years, it’s good to remember that it was that way when the King came the first time, to humble parents and humble people, in a place we know as Bethlehem Judea, within tiny Israel.
Here’s a blurb about it recorded in my newest book Puzzling 2020, which will be out any day now:
“It’s encouraging to remember something the Scriptures say: ‘But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 5:20-21 NLT).
“Recently in conversation, a quote about Christmas came up, ‘Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas’ (Calvin Coolidge). Indeed, everyone should cherish peace and goodwill. Certainly, everyone should be plenteous in mercy. And those things are rightly celebrated at Christmas. However, Christmas is a time and a season, and perhaps a state of mind, to focus on the King whose advent makes these things possible on a wide scale in a dark world at spiritual war.
“Christmas is about Christ more than about his rule and reign, his attributes, or even His kingdom. It’s about the gem of creation — God becomes a man. A Son of Man to tell us about God, His kingdom, His rule, His purpose, His Person, and then to send us His power in the form of His Spirit to live this life and make peace, goodwill, and mercy possible on the earth and in our realm of family and friends. He came to dwell with us.
“Some might ask, ‘Isn’t the point of Christmas love, peace, mercy, truth, goodness?’ I’d say yes, of course, these are the things we celebrate which are made possible by the King and are descriptive of the King. But I would add that many people think and act as if they can bring these qualities to bear on the earth on their own. History would demonstrate that we can’t in any widespread measure or lasting degree. We need a righteous, kind, powerful king to effect what we celebrate at Christmas and desire year-round and lifelong.
“Christmas is a time and a season to be still, to be quiet, and focus on this gift from above — a baby, a gift of power and love. A king is born — beautiful, personal, good, enabling. He is mighty to reign and enforces justice in the middle of His enemies all around. His rule ensures ‘the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth and goodwill to men’ (Longfellow).
“Worship and give thanks — honor and celebrate Jesus the King.”
“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (I Timothy 1:17 NASB).
“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 5:2-5a).
Tonight at sundown begins Hanukkah 2022/5783, which will last until 7 pm on December 26th. It’s unique to me how Hanukkah comes around Christmas each year, with no one on earth planning the timing and synchronicity. The two celebrations come from unrelated historical events. But they have this in common — “warfare and light” with pagan cultures trying to force themselves on communities of faith in God.
For those not familiar with Hanukkah or its origins, consider this summary:
“Although according to Jewish custom Hanukkah is considered a “minor” Jewish festival, today it ranks—along with Passover and Purim—as one of the most beloved Jewish holidays, full of light and joy and family celebration.
“Unlike many Jewish holidays, Hanukkah (also known as the Festival of Lights) is not mentioned in the Bible. The historical events upon which the celebration is based are recorded in Maccabees I and II, two books contained within a later collection of writings known as the Apocrypha.
“In the year 168 B.C.E., the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanes sent his soldiers to Jerusalem. The Syrians desecrated the Temple, the holiest place for Jews at that time. Antiochus also abolished Judaism, outlawing the observance of Shabbat and the festivals, as well as circumcision. Altars and idols were set up for the worship of Greek gods, and he offered Jews two options: conversion or death.
“On the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in 168 B.C.E., the Temple was renamed for the Greek god Zeus. A Jewish resistance movement – led by a priestly family known as the Hasmoneans, or Maccabees – developed, resisting the cruelty of Antiochus. The head of the family was Mattathias, an elderly man. His son, Judah, became the chief strategist and military leader of the resistance. Though outnumbered, Judah Maccabee and his fighters miraculously won two major battles, routing the Syrians decisively.
“Although historians debate the causes and outcomes of the war in which Judah Maccabee and his followers defeated the Syrian armies of Antiochus, there is no doubt that Hanukkah evokes stirring images of Jewish valor against overwhelming odds. Other themes of the holiday include the refusal to submit to the religious demands of an empire practicing idolatry, the struggle against total assimilation into Greek culture and loss of Jewish identity, and the fight for Jewish political autonomy and self-determination.
“Hanukkah, which means ‘dedication,’ is the festival that commemorates the purification and rededication of the Temple following the Greek occupation of that holy place. Today, the holiday reminds Jews to rededicate themselves to keeping alive the flame of Jewish religion, culture, and peoplehood so that it may be passed on to the next generation” (reformjudism.org).
Even though Hanukkah, or “The Feast of Dedication” as it’s also known, wasn’t one of the original feasts of Israel given to Moses, there is evidence that Jesus celebrated it or kept the feast. John records in his gospel: “At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, ‘How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly’” (John 10:22-24).
Thus today, 2000 years later, if one visits Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, you can climb the long stone stairs known as “the portico of Solomon” and realize you’re standing somewhere Jesus stood.
It was a dark time of oppression by Rome and a deceived religious system of some Jews in collusion with Rome and Herod, the appointed local king. Jesus shed a lot of light for the people to see what was going on, and He was the Light of the world, making God known to the people who could and would see it. The Gospel records: “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12).
Yes, the circumstances of Hanukkah and Christmas are striking! Governments pressuring God-fearing people of faith to give up their faith and freedom. Even today, in the USA, something is happening that couldn’t have been dreamt of in previous decades and generations. A nation founded on tolerance and freedom of religion, in the name of tolerance, is denying freedom of religion to many from the halls of congress and courts of the land. God-fearing, Bible-believing Jews and Christians are being vilified and coerced to accept things contrary to their faith and the commandments of God clearly laid out in the Bible and proven true and wise throughout history.
Darkness and warfare — Light and life, are things Hanukkah and Christmas have in common, as well as a supernatural God in Heaven helping those who would choose Him as King and trust Him as protector for salvation from their foes.
“The Hanukkah lamp is an eight-branched imitation of the original Tabernacle menorah that is used to celebrate the rededication of the Second Temple. The lamp has taken many forms through the ages, but its essential feature has been eight receptacles for oil or candles and a holder for the shammash (“servant”) light, which is used for kindling the other lights. During each night of Hanukkah, candles are inserted into the menorah from right to left but are lighted from left to right. The lamp is displayed in a highly visible location, and depictions of it are often found on public buildings, synagogues, and private homes” (Encyclopedia Britannica).
“Shammes” is the dictionary.com word of the day. It’s the candle used to kindle the candles in the Hanukkah Menorah. In Hebrew it means “servant, attendant.” Perhaps that’s all the Lord asks of us? To serve and attend God. To be servants and attendants to others. To light, or relight, others. To be a light among lights. To be witnesses, believers — lights shinning in dark places.
Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!! May your days be merry and bright, and may your hearts be full of light. Special Hanukkah greetings to Joan, a special Jewish grandmother I know of in Colorado, and to a Jewish-Christian friend named Wendy in Arkansas, as well as Randy Russell, MD., a special friend who led our first trip to Israel in 1994 and is leading a group again in 2023. Shalom שלוֹם
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 NIV).
“…The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Matthew 4:16).
“Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light” (Micah 7:8).
“You, LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light” (Psalms 18:28).
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalms 119:105).
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life'” (John 8:12).
“The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalms 27:1).
“This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you'” (Ephesians 5:4).
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).