The Puzzle Has Been Solved

By Mark Carlen

swaddling Why would a baby boy be wrapped in swaddling bands

The way that they clothe the dead in that small, distant land

Why was a sacrificial lamb brought to His side?

To give us a picture of the purpose of His life


Why did the wise men bring Him frankincense and myrrh

Gifts meant for royalty at death, but not at birth

Why did they bow down to this humble little one?

They knew that this little child was God’s most precious son


The pages have been opened, the puzzle has been solved

The greatest mystery left for us is why He cared at all


Why did this young man stand before an angry mob

Convicted without trial and rejected as a fraud

Why did they hang Him on the cross upon that hill?

He knew what the answer was; it was His Father’s will


The pages have been opened, the puzzle has been solved

The greatest mystery left for us is why He cared at all


Why did they place this broken man in swaddling clothes

Place Him in a borrowed tomb and seal it with a stone

Why did they place a squad of soldiers just outside?

They knew what the answer was; He would not stay inside.


The grave in three days opened; the veil had rent in two

The King of all creation offered hope for me and you!


Why would a baby boy be wrapped in swaddling bands

The way that they clothe the dead in that small distant land

Why was a sacrificial lamb brought to His side?

To give us a picture of the purpose of His life


My Unexpected Hero

IMomn life, we often build snares that trap us without recognizing what they really are, and once we’re caught in the trap, we fail to recognize the way to escape. Such was the case in my life.

My 12 hour graveyard shift was almost over, and I would soon be going home to get some much-needed sleep. Getting a call from my sister in the early morning hours, I knew something was wrong. She told me that mom was in the hospital. Her years of starving herself had finally reached their breaking point, and at 64 pounds, she may not survive the day.

I quickly left for home to clean up and then head to the hospital. As I drove that wintry morning, the sky seemed darker than usual, the trees seemed more barren, and the songs on my stereo seemed somehow depressing. For the first time in my life, I found myself weeping for my mom, realizing that I may lose her.

I hadn’t always been concerned for my mom; in fact, many times I simply resented her. Her endless night-shifts at the hospital left little time for her to spend with us. When she was at home, we were constantly reminded to be quiet, because “mom is sleeping.” When she was awake, her attempts to guilt us into doing our chores made me resent her more. The one sparkle in all of this was Sunday Morning. Despite working through the night, she usually managed to make it to church to teach my Sunday school class – a time when I saw her energy and enthusiasm shine out from behind those tired eyes.

As I reflected on her condition, I realized how much I was like her. My life had become everything I had resented in my childhood; but that winter morning, I realized both of us had built our own snares we thought we could not escape. Traps that don’t kill us however, can be sprung, but they need to be recognized for what they are before we can hope to be released. There were things we each needed to understand and let go.

I was only 20 years old when I married into a pre-made family with a young daughter, which soon expanded with the births of two boys. My young family required much more than I had expected however, and it seemed that my efforts, no matter how hard, were never enough to pay the bills. I found myself working seemingly endless hours on the night shift, coming home to sleep when everyone else was getting up. There was little money for food; so many times I went without. At work, I longed for the life everyone else seemed to have. I felt trapped by my life’s obligations.

While at the hospital, I found out that mom’s recovery would take time, but the healing was now beginning. She had no choice but to let go of things in her life that had her trapped; the insecurities that drove her to work incessant hours, and the drive to control the only thing in life she thought she could control – her eating.

She let go, and she never gave up. Watching her health improve over subsequent months, I saw a sparkle of joy in her eyes as she began to enjoy life. She eventually returned to work for a few more years, but with normal hours, turning her energies into time with my dad, the family and missions work at church.

As it turned out, this was also the beginning of the healing process for me. I had been focusing on the wrong trap in my life. I needed to understand the heart behind her actions. I needed to see the love behind her hours at work, and self-denial. All of the resentment which was preventing a healthy relationship with my mom, just needed to be let go. When I finally let go of my own bitterness, my mom suddenly changed in my eyes from an object of resentment to a person I deeply admired. She became my unexpected hero.

30 years later, she is still a hero of mine. Just a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to fly to Phoenix and surprise her for her 80th birthday. My eyes welled up as she wept in my arms. After the hugs and kisses, stepping into the dining room, I saw the table covered with shoeboxes full of toys and personal necessities. For years, Mom has put together hundreds of boxes for needy children around the world. From her years as a nurse, through her retirement, she has never stopped caring for people.

What about you? Do you hold bitterness or resentment toward someone who loves you? Are you trapped by the hardness of your heart? Someday, it may be too late for healing. Someday, you will not have the opportunity to say “I love you.” Now is the time to recognize the trap you have built. Now is the time to let things go so you can escape the trap. You don’t know, you too may discover an unexpected hero.

The Beauty of True Love

Our world seems to lack an understanding of what true love really is. It is not physical attraction, romance, dating, flowers, or big weddings, but something much, much deeper.

As a young boy, sitting near the front of the chapel in Tucson AZ, I remembered my grandfather as I watched as the procession pass by his casket.

He was a loving, hard-working man, and my memories of him placing me on a rug draped over a saddle-shaped limb of the large mesquite tree in their front yard, and giving me a horsey-ride by shaking the limb is one of my fondest memories. I remember him taking me up the road to feed sugar cubes to a horse, and the times we children would chase lizards and horny-toads around the property, we could see the stone-shaped molds that grandpa used to form the cement blocks to expand their modest one-bedroom home.

His mismatched legs caused him to always stand leaning to one side, and his small crown of hair wrapped around an otherwise bald head. Working for the railroad, his salary was small, but his compassionate generosity made it seem smaller still.

My grandpa also had a silly side; leaving small square patches of old paint showing so we could always see what color a room used to be. Sometimes he would take out his false teeth and pretend to speak with them in his hand as a ventriloquist might do. If I did something wrong, he would take my hand and then slap his own hand instead of mine.

As I sat in the funeral viewing, I watched as my grandmother approached the casket.  

In contrast to my grandfather, my grandmother was a “proper” German woman from Chicago, with short, silvery-white hair, and horn-rimmed glasses. To me, she seemed always concerned with our posture, and the proper etiquette for eating dinner. Forced to drop out of high school to help with the family mortgage, what she lacked in schooling; she more than excelled in her own studies. Trained as a stenographer, she was proud of her organizational and secretarial skills. A very forward-looking individual, she embraced technological advancement. Bilingual, her English was impeccable. One would have assumed she had a college degree.

If my Grandma and Grandpa were in today’s world, I doubt a dating site would have paired them. They seemed as opposite as one could imagine. What he lacked in fiscal savvy, she lacked in cooking skills. Her famous black beans usually started out as green beans. He lacked the refinement she seemed to expect in others, but despite all their differences, they shared a deep love for God, and for each other, and this would be evidenced in the final years of his life.

Due to a series of strokes, Grandpa was left paralyzed on his entire left side. Unable to care for himself, his stint in a nursing home was quickly ended when Grandma brought him back home. She cared for him for 3 years with only occasional assistance; a ninety pound woman doing everything for someone twice her size. I recall her routinely placing him in a lift to move him from room to room, so he would not be left in bed. To me, it seemed tortuous work, but I admired my grandma for her dedication. When my grandpa died, there were tears, but also relief. He could now rest from his paralysis and endless hiccups, and grandma could also rest.

Sitting in the funeral chapel however, I watched this noble woman stop at the casket, remove her glasses, bend down and kiss his cold lips. I couldn’t believe it! How could anyone do such a gross thing?! But what I thought was gross that day, I understood in later years. She did not care for him out of obligation, but out of a deep love for him. This was not a time of torture, but a special time they shared.

Her kiss explained it all.

To quote from 1 Corinthians 13:

Love…rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

You see? Love is not physical attraction, romance, dating, flowers, or big weddings. Love is a determination, a commitment, a willing sacrifice. It is only through adversity that we can see the depth of true love.

This relationship was real. This was love…lived.

The intentional outcast

jesus loves youHe was born into a nation of outcasts: shepherds and riders of donkeys, shunned in neighboring lands. Other peoples lived in their land, often waging war with them. These people twice lost their homeland, only to find it again and reclaim it against all odds. Today, these people uniquely face the hostility of many peoples, a malady that garners its own name.

His ancestors included an unwanted wife, a rejected daughter-in-law, a prostitute rescued from a condemned city, a foreign widow, an adulteress, and an unwed mother.

He came into this world as an outsider in the town of His own family. He was sought for execution while a toddler. Coming from a tribe in a different region, He grew up in a town known for its hostility to outsiders. As an adult, He was homeless, walking from town to town. His own brothers disliked Him, His neighbors and even His countrymen sought to kill him though he committed no crime. He rejected no one, but was rejected by many. He was an outcast of outcasts.

This was the plan from the beginning; that He would be the rejected one, that He would know our deepest hurts and struggles, so that we could understand the depth of His love.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Isaiah 53:4-9, c. 700 BC. (ESV)


The Top 5 Threats to Freedom

5. Covetousness – “Class envy/class warfare”

Coveting is not wanting a car like your neighbors, but actually wanting your neighbor’s car. It is the consuming desire to take it from your neighbor by any means possible.

The 10th of the Ten Commandments of the Bible in Exodus 20 says, “Do not covet your neighbor’s house…”

The implications of coveting seem more relevant to a modern democratic society than they must have to the ancient Israelis who originally received the commandments.  Applying the template of “when most of the people most of the time…,” one can see that when most of the people most of the time covet others, they will vote for people who will take from others. They will base their vote on what they can get, and not what is best for the nation, and without fail, they eventually will place a tyrant in power.

4. Rebelliousness – “Stick it to the man”

There are valid reasons to rebel against an authority; however, rebelliousness does not look for a reason. Rebelliousness will poison a positive atmosphere, and seek to tear down any authority, even a good one. This makes rebelliousness especially dangerous to a free society, because free societies will tolerate rebellion, while totalitarian societies will not.

Since rebellion against laws in a free society is usually met with jail time, the place where the rebellious can get away with it is in the arena of morality. The underpinning values of a free society are always the primary target of flagrant rebellion.

In a rebellious atmosphere, the values of common decency, respect for human life, commitment, responsibility, and hard work are ridiculed. When most of the people most of the time rebel against a free society, those values are replaced with their polar opposites and freedom itself is thrown out.

3. Drunkenness and drug use – altered reality

Can a free society survive when reality is denied? Do drunks and stoners contribute to society while under the influence? If you answered “yes” to both questions, perhaps you are under the influence. No drunkard makes good decisions, and no drunken army has ever won a war; quite the opposite is the case. Drunkenness and drug use are the intentional denial of reality – often on a continual basis, and where reality is denied, truth is denied.

Truth and sobriety are crucial to maintaining freedom, but the person who denies truth will fall for anything (false promises, tyrants, enemies, etc.). When most of the people most of the time deny the truth, the nation will fall.

2. Sexual promiscuity – “Self-gratification”

Sexual promiscuity has its roots in rebelliousness, but is its most dangerous element. Promiscuity tears at the heart of commitment and responsibility, and because of its addictive nature it becomes an overwhelming, controlling power. Just like drunkenness and drug use, it creates its own enslavement, replacing care for another with a desire to use others.

The responsibility, love, care and concern for a spouse is replaced with “what makes me feel good.” Promiscuity seeks to destroy anything that would require responsibility, avoiding the consequences at all cost. This may even mean killing a baby conceived by this irresponsibility.

Absolution of guilt drives many of the actions of the promiscuous. A desire for acceptance or even glorification of that behavior seeks to destroy the sacredness of marriage and family.

When most of the people most of the time engage in sexual promiscuity; love, responsibility, trust, and commitment to family are replaced with dependence on government, and dependence on government is another form of slavery.

1. Atheism – “There is no God”

Atheism is the culmination of promiscuity, drug use, and rebelliousness, because it is a belief that embraces them all. Atheists refuse to accept that a God exists because they don’t want Him to; simply because of the moral implications of His existence.

When you think about it; if God does not exist, then morality does not; everything is ok. There is nothing wrong with killing, promiscuity, or slavery if you think we evolved.

  • If God did not create mankind in His image, there is no special and unique value of mankind. People are then no different than animals; therefore, people can be treated as animals. They (you) can be controlled, and slaughtered as animals without compunction.
  • To an atheist, free will (true freedom of thought) is non-existent. One’s thoughts and feelings are merely products of chemical processes – impossible to think otherwise.
  • A moral compass does not exist in the mind of an atheist, as there is no true North. Morality becomes whatever the controlling power determines it should be.  Morals can be voted in or out, or changed at the discretion of a dictator. Wrong becomes right, and right becomes wrong.

Atheism is also the height of arrogance; thinking you are above all else – your mind is the greatest. However, atheists fail to think outside the box they have created. They fail to realize that the moral authority they are rejecting is also the author of the Book of Freedom (The Bible). Their quest for freedom from God, leads only to self-imposed slavery, because when most of the people most of the time reject God; the values of human life, free will and justice are no longer supported in a free society. Tyranny is always standing by ready to fill the moral void.


Sex versus God

attack on churchIt is becoming increasingly apparent that objections and hostility to religion (namely Christianity) are not based on any supposed factual evidence, but merely because people do not want to believe. So why do people not want to believe? One simple word: sex.

It is not just sex, but uninhibited, unlimited sex; what Biblical morality stands in opposition to.

The video linked to the photo (warning: disturbing and graphic) is an attack on the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Argentina. As praying men tried to block a crowd of topless, pro-abortion, feminist women attempting to vandalize the church, they were attacked with spray paint and verbal insults, and were spat upon.

This is not the first attack on a church and will not be the last, and is an increasing phenomenon that will only grow as societies condone promiscuity.

In the public square in America and elsewhere, references and symbols of Christianity are systematically being removed with lawsuits claiming such symbols are offensive to non-believers. Elsewhere, Christian owned businesses are being legally forced to provide services to those who violate their moral convictions. As Christian symbols and values are removed, other symbols and values are replacing them. Eventually, one value system will dominate.

It is telling that those who want sexual “tolerance” do not seem to tolerate anyone who states their opposition, and are not-so-subtly changing societal values to the detriment of freedom. This is a war over morality. Enemies of the church are becoming louder and more empowered, and once devoid of the morality of self-control they are trying to eradicate, they will become violent. The same crowd that demands freedom will be the ones to take it away.

Freedom requires a societal morality of self-restraint, personal responsibility, justice, and concern for others. The values taught by Bible-believing churches are the values of every free society. To forsake them is to forsake freedom. The lines are getting clearer; which side are you on?

What do we hope for?

Watching people plan their lives; I often wonder, what is their end goal? People sacrificehope and save money in hopes that one day they will retire, and will live comfortably for a few years. Our odds of dying someday are pretty high however, and so are the odds that retirement will not last long.

Physical pain seems to grow with age. A favorite pass-time of elderly people seems to be discussing illnesses and medical procedures. As bodies break down and pain increases, it is hard to imagine that this is what people hoped for much of their lives. Of course, it is good to save for retirement, but we must ask, “Is this really what they were hoping for?” Is this all life has to offer?

For those who fail to believe in God, this IS ALL they have to hope for; a few years of comfort, followed by extinction. That would explain why so many people abandon spouses, and seek pleasure in sex, drugs, or alcohol; they really believe this life is all there is. If pleasure and comfort are all they are hoping for in life, I would have to say they have a very pathetic existence.

Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 2:11 Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun (ESV). So we work hard and then we die; really? Our lives must be something more than surviving a few years with occasional comfort and pleasure.

For those who believe in the God of the Bible, there is something more to hope for: something permanent, something real, something wonderful. It is an eternity with our loving creator who made us in His image so we could choose a relationship with Him.

As we enter another new year, do you hope for something temporary, or something permanent? Your hopes reflect your beliefs, and your beliefs determine what you will do. Think outside this life. There is more.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrew 11:1 (KJV).