Friday, December 30, 2011

Profound worship in 2012

Today is my last post for the year 2011. There have been 249 previous ones. In 2010 there were 255 posts. I'm not sure if that means my thoughts are getting fewer or (as I'd like to think) they're becoming more profound.

Speaking of being profound, Sunday's sermon is about what made the Magi wise. Have you ever given that profound thought a second of your day?

Here's what we know:

These men (well, we suppose they were men) showed up sometime after the baby Jesus was born (not the night of despite what our nativity scenes show) and brought with them three types of gifts. From the fact there was three types of gifts, we deduce there was three men. There is no evidence of that. Over time, we have decided they were from Persia and we've decided they were named Melchior, Baltazar and Gaspar. That's what we know or think we know.

How profound is that?

Are you as amazed as I that these three (perhaps) men (maybe) were given the message of the infant being born, the infant who would provide eternal life as King of the Jews, as the Messiah, when the message was missed entirely by all those Rabbis, teachers of the law, Pharisees and Sadducees?

Actually, when you think about the way God works (message to a teen-age unwed woman, message to a man in a dream, message to a bunch of shepherds), affecting the lowly and the humble, caring for the poor and those without, it makes more than perfect (if there is such a thing) sense.

God gave those men (maybe) the message that would affect us all. Why? Good question. Did the fact these men were given this message change anything about the world they lived in? No. They apparently told no one what they had seen. They simply worshipped. They brought gifts and they worshipped. They built no large cathedrals. They did nothing but deliver as if they were UPS and worshipped. They received no healing, no reproduction of lost limbs, no trip back from the dead, no teaching, nothing but a message that a baby was GOING to be born. They put on their sandals and packed up their camels and they went ... so they could worship. They took up to two years of travel, marching though they had every reason to quit, travelling though the return on the investment seemed minuscule at best, following a star that seemed to have little to do with GPS help, coming to a house that seemed little to do with a massive, glowing, gold-filled church or synagogue.

And they worshipped.

As we close out 2011, with its numerous terrible weather acts of tsunamis and tornadoes and earthquakes and deaths uncountable, we should all remember the WISE men for one thing: They were smart enough to worship. Nothing else. They were rich enough to afford camels, rich enough to get a face-to-face meeting with King Herod, rich enough to take up to two years out of their lives and it not hurt them financially. Yet when they found the child who would be called Christ, what they did was worship.

Let's start 2012 with that notion. Let's worship this child. Let's not look for blessings or good acts of kindness or excellent teaching that will turn our lives once and for all.

Let's simply worship. Spend a moment (or many) in prayer, in praise, in glorifying, in magnifying the name of Jehovah, of Jesus, of the Holy Spirit. Let's stop a headlong plunge into precariousness and let's PROFOUND devotion.

Maybe I am getting more profound and didn't even know it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

God's message continues to work

Paul wrote to some friends in a church located in Thessalonica:"We also thank God constantly for this: when you accepted God's worst that you heard from us, you welcomed it for what it truly is. Instead of accepting it as a human message, you accepted it as God's message, and it continues to work in you who are believers."

Wow. That's a wonderful thought, isn't it? The Gospel is not a human message, but instead, it is God's message.


Good News. Trust. Faith. Gifts all. Have you experienced even a touch of these things? This morning as I write these simple thoughts while sipping on a cooling cup of coffee, I'm reminded that the year is closing quickly but the eternal life I'm awaiting is hanging over the horizon. What a grand thought.

Jesus, God's message for me, to me, is waiting.

My grand children are sitting in two separate rooms this morning as dew covers the chilly ground. They're like cars sitting in pit row, all filled with gas, ready to take the green flag and explode from the starter's position for another sunny day. They're ready to do their kid's thing, again. Their room is straightened, the colors and crayons and markers are somewhat put away. The kids are put away, as well. They're waiting for that moment when I say, "get dressed kids, we're going outside."

God's message for us this morning is a simple one. Good News...God sent His Son to die for us. Trust ...I am relying on this being true. Faith ... I believe Jesus died for us so that we could have eternal life. That somehow, wonderfully, magically, majestically, beautifully, the blood of this sacred lamb made this possible for me, my wife, my children, my cousin, my grand children, my friends and even my enemies.

This message is not one that comes from human intellect, from human imagination, from human design. It comes from God, and I believe it could only come from God.

It came from God, the Father, and it continues to work on me, through me and with me. This is the wonderful news on Dec. 30. Paul wrote, "What is our hope, joy or crown that we can brag about in front of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Isn't it all of you? You are our crown and joy!"

Enough said.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Changing times, unchanging Jesus

As I read on my Nook app on my Ipad after hooking up my Iphone 4 for the night, I noticed how things were changing just a bit in the world. This morning I noticed the nail in the change coffin: A prediction of businesses that would go away in the year 2012 include (tada) Sears. Sears as in Sears and Roebuck. Sears as in the store that had everything that was anything in my young life.

I remember two stores when I was growing up in Meridian, Miss.: Sears and Kress. Kress on the corner and Sears on two different locations including the new one out by the interstate. Sears grew so big that it moved to a new location (which was a big dang deal -- or words to that effect) when I was but a kid. Sears was the only store I remember in Jackson as well. Sears, where all the new and best stuff was located. Sears, which had its own catalogue, was the be all and end all to everything. Sears, who ditched Roebuck somewhere along the long way from rural America to cities. Sears. Going under. Killed by Amazon and Wal-Mart and Target and others who for some reason connected to young America despite having nothing different to sell than did Sears. Sears. Gone.

Truthfully I haven't been into Sears, which has only one store that I'm aware of in the parish in which I now live, for years. Until Monday I hadn't been into JC Penney's for about as long, and I understand that JC Penney is on life-support as well.

Things are achanging, friends, as the Gap in who has money and who doesn't gets bigger and the store the Gap gets smaller.

Blockbuster -- going, going ... K-Mart -- on a ventilator. Kellogg's Corn Pops -- not even milk can save them. A&W -- you won't be able to root around for a cold one with ice cream much longer. All companies that sale stand-alone GPS products (apart from GPSes found in smart phones) -- couldn't find them with a Mapquest. Old Navy is sinking, Chrysler and Plymouth are driving into oblivion, just ahead of Saturns. You can't find a Croc to wear to save your life, isn't so social any longer and Borders hasn't been crossed in a while.

In a Bible Study last night we discussed what Jesus had to say about wealth, or perhaps more importantly, about possessions. Possessions can be a terrible attraction and they can be a terrible distraction spiritually.

In Luke's Gospel, the 12th chapter, we read: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

A treasure in heaven that will never fail...No Sears, Roebuck, or Gap. Just purses that will not wear out because they are more important than earthly possessions by far.

What does this mean? How about giving to those who don't have? How about giving to those who are hurting, hungry, in prison, blinded by sin and made deaf by evil? Jesus came to do all those things, and he did it without having, well, even a pillow for his head at night or a roof over his head. No, his possessions, his Kingdom if you will, wasn't earthly as he told Pilate. No, his Kingdom was in heaven where nothing techno, no Blockbuster ever shows itself.

Just a new Jerusalem coming down.

Friends, times may change, things we've grown so used to might disappear, the norm might be going away. But in the end, there is Jesus who does not change yesterday, today or ever more. That's someone, and some kingdom, that can always be counted on.

Put that in your government-aided bank and store it up.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sounds of children

My blood runs deep through little veins:

My grand son, Gavin, marched into the kitchen of our parsonage home after having brushed his teeth and with a smile as big as the wet parsonage back yard said, "Ah, morningtime."

My grand daughter, Emma, spent the day after Christmas in the emergency room with an IV in her dainty arm. She was dehydrated and lethargic. Fluids have got her going again.

My wacky way of looking at the world meets my hospital home away from home.

Children or in this case grand children are the sounds that keep old hearts churning. I remember my father, Glen, who was not the grandest of fathers by my own understanding but who fell deeply in love with a grand daughter named Carrie and changed before all our eyes for the much better. He was a better man because she was a, well, a child and children are the sounds that keep old hearts churning.

The Bible: Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children. AND Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him.

Oops, gotta run. Gabe, the 8-year-old grand son just took Gavin's coloring book and Gavin is crying like someone just removed a leg. The sounds the keep old hearts churning are rather loud at the moment....

Monday, December 26, 2011

The day AFTER Christmas

Ah, the day after Christmas and all through the yard rain drops fell with the weight of little boys and girls all over our area.

What a wonderful day we had yesterday. Let me count the ways:

We had two wonderful church services. Seriously, the services were great. It truly felt as if families were gathered in the churches. I didn't worry about numbers or the fact I gave our choir director off at one of the services because she has young twins. I didn't worry about who was there and who chose not to come. I merely worshipped and preached as hard and as compassionate and as funny and as loving as I possibly could. I loved and I believe was loved. Church on Christmas is wonderful; it really is.

We had five of the seven grandchildren in our (parsonage) home for the first time. I talked to the other two. It was as close, I guess, as we will come to having everyone in one place at one time. Loud. Too small a house. Loud. And funny. Mary's food was wonderful. Just a great, great day.

Watching son-in-law Blaine fly his helicopter into a tree where it stuck, then all of us trying to throw things at it to knock it down probably was the highlight of the day.

Watching Rocky Organ, a four-year-old comic, act as an injured sheep at Saturday night's children's Christmas play, was the highlight of the weekend.

I guess what I'm trying to write for all to read is the fact that peace and good will to all persons begins in families, branches into the churches, leaks out into strangers homes and we wind up with a dreary, cloud-covered, wet day that is still warm and cuddly for all. Love is about a child, a child we've never held nor ever will but a child all the same. That child, this Jesus, makes life wonderful for all of us, no matter our circumstances, if we but all it.

Today, the day after Christmas, I could write about soldiers being shot at homecoming parties or seven killed in Fort Worth shooting or any number of terrible, sad, awful events that happened on Christmas Day around the globe. Heck, I could even write about our microwave which with a cloud of deep smoke and one last deep breath stopped working while the bacon was beginning to cook today.

Instead, though, I'll think about Gavin eating bacon that I managed to cook properly for him (not hard, but soft he says) and I'll think about those great moments with Emma and I'll think about talking to Parker on the phone and even listening to Livy as she tried to talk to me and I'll think about Karli and Mia opening presents and I'll even think about Gabe playing UNO with Mawmaw while I played Dinosaur with Gavin (I got to be the one who chews, Gavin said). I'll think about the good that came because Jesus came and I'll let the bad just sit there and wash away with the winter rain.

It's the day after Christmas and all through the house all sorts of creatures were stirring with the exception of mice who would be insane to trying to move in our house what with all the cats and dogs and kids.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

That shoe was dumb

This happened yesterday (really; I mean it; it really, really did): Scuffles broke out and police were brought in to quell unrest that nearly turned into riots across the nation Friday following the release of Nike’s new Air Jordan basketball shoes—a retro model of one of the most popular Air Jordans ever made.
The mayhem stretched from Washington state to Georgia and was reminiscent of the violence that broke out 20 years ago in many cities as the shoes became popular targets for thieves. It also had a decidedly Black Friday feel as huge crowds of shoppers overwhelmed stores for a must-have item.
In suburban Seattle, police used pepper spray on about 20 customers who started fighting at the Westfield Southcenter mall. The crowd started gathering at four stores in the mall around midnight and had grown to more than 1,000 people by 4 a.m., when the stores opened, Tukwila Officer Mike Murphy said. He said it started as fighting and pushing among people in line and escalated over the next hour.

Today is, of course, Christmas Eve. We have services at each of our churches and I can't wait to get to them. To see the faces of those who have become friends. To see the faces of the kids as they perform a short play as part of one of the services. To see candles held as Silent Night is sung. To feel the cool, crisp night air as we prepare to receive grand kids to our parsonage home tomorrow for Christmas dinner.

Every time I think the world starts to get it, as the 99 percent protest the notion that the world's wealth shouldn't be held by a mere one percent of the world's population or perhaps more importantly the world's wealth should be willingly given to the poor by the one percent who have been fortunate to accumulate that wealth, this happens. We show we, the one percent, are just as selfish and unwise as anyone could be.

It's a shoe. It's a tablet. It's a Cabbage Patch kid. It's the next techno babble game-playing thingamajig. We risk danger, jail, pepper spray just to say we have that shoe or that tablet or you name it. Black Fridays all.

Today, this wonderful holiday felt around the world I pray, let us prepare to honor and worship our Savior born into flesh so long ago.

Let his blood, also shed so very long ago, wash the selfishness out of our children, our adults, our spouses, our parents. Let us care for those who are less fortunate than ourselves who could have made an entire Christmas out of $180 shoes.

Let us get it, soon.

Merry Christmas, friends, family. I love you with a passion that only Christ could give me.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A mother's sweet love

Luke's gospel says, "As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. "Let's get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us." They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they'd been told!"
There is the birth of the child. But there are two key lines this morning. First, "They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child." Second is "Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself."

What does that mean, you think?

First, the shepherds made the story known. So why isn't that tale in all four gospels? Why wasn't that tale told throughout Palestine the next day? Angels singing in the sky would get my attention. Well, I believe the tale was told. I believe the shepherds were the talkingest bunch of sheep wranglers you ever saw. But there was one big ol' problem. The obvious answer is the people simply didn't believe the shepherds. There were ignorant people who didn't get the message. Imagine that. People are told the greatest news of all time and they choose to ignore it. No one would do that today would they? Uh, huh.

Second, only Mary knew what she knew, if you know what I mean. Gabriel told her, remember, "He will be great, be called 'Son of the Highest.' The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; He will rule Jacob's house forever— no end, ever, to his kingdom." So that was in her mind, I'm sure, when shepherds show up to bow down before this little king. Do you think this was early fear for her baby? It might not have been such good news to some, including the blood-thirsty Herod, that the Son of the Highest had been born. The whole Messiah thing apparently wasn't such good news for those in the business of religion.

So here we have the shepherds telling everyone who would listen, not believe but listen. Love the line, "The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen." And we have Mary keeping it all inside, trying to keep a cork on the bottle, trying to keep things a secret, trying to keep her child her child, trying to keep a rein on the runaway horse.

I'm going to make a leap here, so stay with me.

My mother, Delores Turner, died five years ago today. Five years. Seems like yesterday, really. Seems like just a few long minutes ago, really.

Now, I'm adopted and was not flesh of her flesh, but in all ways important, she was my mother just as I'm sure Joseph felt about his son. A greater love hath no woman for child. But she, like Mary, tried to keep a rein on me all her life. The creative beast that lies inside me always wanted to pour out, and it showed itself in increasingly insane and inane ways. But my mother did what Mary did all those years...she prayed for her child. Mary's specialty was praying that her child, flesh of her flesh, love of her life, would one day do what God had called him to do, prayed that he would be great when called to be great. But I'm not at all sure she did it completely willingly. She merely prayed that God's will be done in her child's life.

My mother had an eighth-grade education, wasn't sure about a lot of things in her life that I was absolutely sure about, but she was loved by many. She prayed over many years that God's will would be done in her child's life. My mother was no Mary, but she was a mother equal in tenacity with Mary. But she could never have kept things inside the way Mary did, for she spent way too much of her time being like the shepherds and telling all about her baby.

The point?

A mother's love is unique in this world. True love wasn't known in this world till Jesus came. Therefore, the love between Mary and Jesus could not be equalled.

But I must tell you that for good or bad, my mother's love must have been close. When I was born, no shepherds showed up, no wise men came riding in, and there were no celebrations in the sky. But when I was adopted three months later, a mother's love was born in a heart and it wasn't extinguished until she passed about 1 a.m. on Dec. 23, 2006.

When the baby born in Bethlehem bled from the cross, it is instructive that no one from the Nazareth Day Care was there. There was no one from the Nazareth Elementary or the Nazareth Middle School or even those close friends of Jesus' from Nazareth High School there. No friend. No enemies even. No, not one as they sing.

But there was Mary. Mother Mary. All of Rome, all of its soldiers and its might, all of Herod's brood, all the Sadducee's and those remarkably religious Pharisees could not have stopped her from being there.

Christ's love is amazing. The closest we can come, I suspect, is a mother's love for a child -- a good child, a bad child, a child who returns that love or one who is cold as December's heel.

We call that love, unconditional. It is how God chooses to love you, me, us, all of us even those who choose to never return that love to Him.

We could call it a mother's love and be done with it. The strength of the link isn't weakened by death. Perhaps, just perhaps, it is strengthened. I miss my mother in death much more than I ever missed her in life, sad to say.

I wish she could see my churches. I wish she could see her grand children growing up. I wish she could have met her son-in-law, Blaine. I wish she could see Blaine and Carrie's daughters, Mia, Karli and especially little Emma who spectacularly recites the Pledge of Allegiance with a robust-ness that I've never seen or heard. If I could understand a single word (I might have heard indivisible in there somewhere and I'm pretty sure I heard her tell me to put my hand over my heart) it would be even better. I wish she could have seen Jason and Becky's daughter Livvy and seen a grown up beautiful Parker, her older sister. And I wish she could have met the wise and funny Gavin. She loved the oldest of the lot, Gabe with an intensity that only grand mothers can show.

I wish she could be here for this Christmas.

"Mary kept all these things to herself...."

Do you realize that Mary out-lived that child she knew would be the Christ?

And we sing "Mary did you know?"

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Your word fulfilled

And then there was Mary.



Obviously religious.


You name it. She was it.

And when the angel came to her, she thought it over (not) about a second and said, "I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Friends, as we near the celebration of Christmas, let us remember that the only answer when God the father calls us is "May your word to me be fulfilled." It isn't always easy, in fact, many time it is hard do do what God calls us to.

This Christmas, as we give and give to our kids and our grand kids, let us remember the poor, the unwed, the homeless. And let us remember to give to the Humane Society as pets are just as needy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

And then there was Joseph

We're a few miles closer to Bethlehem today. It's a dark morning after a rainy night. But our memories are with us, packed in bags thrown across the donkey as it were.

Let's review the persons connected to the Christmas story once more.

Whom do we think we are?

Let's see Joseph for who he was, a forgiving man.

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Then in Matthew:

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about[d]: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet[e] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”[g] (which means “God with us”).
24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

And ...

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”[c]

There. That's pretty much what we know of Joseph, and he was only the step-father of Jesus, the son of God.

What was he like? Was he even-tempered, patient, kind, pressed on all sides?

We know he was righteous.We know he was forgiving. We know he was churched. Is that enough?

Let's look at it this way: he was strong enough to do what God wanted, and God knew him enough to know that he would.

Who are the Josephs in our lives? Who are those persons sent by God for just the right moment in our lives?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Shepherds just like you and I

We celebrate Christmas as one of the two most important and most revered of Christian holidays, but isn't it interesting that two of the Gospels don't even mention the virgin birth or any birth at all.

Just saying.

Anyway, let's look at Luke's Gospel for a moment as we wind our way toward the night (was it midnight, 1 a.m., 9 p.m.?) he was born.

Who do you identify with in the story?
The inn keeper
You name it

I identify with a group of folk:
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

Thankless jobs. Thankless life, but all they knew and all they could do probably. Below middle-class. But here they were, the living messengers of the Good News of the birth.

J. Hampton Keathley III, on a blog called writes, "The birth of the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, and the Chief Shepherd of our souls was first announced to those men whose very work spoke of the person and work of Jesus Christ—the Lamb of God. It was this Lamb who would lay down His life for us, provide for and lead us as His sheep, and then one day reward those men who have been faithful themselves as under-shepherds. The glory of God, for which Israel had long awaited, was not revealed to the priests or the Pharisees, but to shepherds. Further, there is good evidence these men may have been watching over the temple sheep, sheep designated for sacrifice, which spoke of Jesus Christ and the reason for His coming into the world. Christ took on himself true humanity. He became the babe of the cradle that He might become the man of the cross (Heb. 10:5; 2:14)."

All I know is the first persons that the birth was announced to were persons just like you and I, regular folks. That gives me a warm feeling on a cold winter's night.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas is ...

Working on a sermon for Christmas Eve titled Christmas Is ...

How would you fill out the sentence? I need responses for this to work, so you need to read and respond for a change.

To me, Christmas is ...

Remembering. I can't go into a Christmas without remembering the wheres, the hows, the whens and most importantly the whos. I don't remember many gifts, but I remember the gift-givers and what they did to get the gifts that meant so much.

Christmas is ...

Recurring. It's interesting to see the grand kids respond the way the children did and the way I once did. It is without question a cycle, this Christmas thing.

Christmas is ...

Giving. I'm going to tell the story of the first time I was given money to shop by myself. The amount I don't remember. The gifts I barely have remembrance. But what I remember is going through Kress Department Store and the smells of perfume and the joys of a new pair of socks or whatever it might have been. It was about giving, and I was allowed to participate for the first time in the joy of buying so that I might give. It was unforgettable.

Christmas is ...

Lights. Cameras (talk about photos?). First "stereos" and first records to go with those stereos. I was 14 when that wonderful wood stereo came to me. The first album was Glen Campbell's By The Time I Get to Phoenix. First 45s were Snoopy and the Red Baron and the Monkeys Daydream Believer. Played them, and the ones to come until they were barren and skipped.

Christmas is ...

Sneaking out of the bedroom through the window, letting myself down carefully to the ground, taking Mamas keys to the trunk of the car and opening the trunk and playing with the football inside (by myself, at night).

Christmas is ...

Mama looking all over town for a chemistry set and finding only a used one. I loved it, though no instructions came with it and I might well have blown us all up.

Christmas is ...


Friday, December 16, 2011

For sur

Before fluid, like water washing against a dam's walls, build up in my chest and effectively took me out for a while, I was doing a lot of reflective work about the Christmas season. Getting back to it, I wanted to look at the season through the eyes of children.

My youngest male grand child, Gavin, is the future wordsmith in the family, I think. He sees the world differently certainly than his older brother who is the ar-tiiiist. Gavin is in a word hilarious. Filling a notebook of Gavinisms would be a good start on a TV sit-com.

On a recent trip to a drug store (my home away from home) I instructed Gavin, who is four, that he would be getting nothing toy wise in the store so there was no reason to ask. I carefully explained, then asked him to repeat it. He did. I asked a third time if he understood. He looked me square in the eyes and said, "Yes." I said the old "Yes what?" He squirreled up his nose and said, "Yes," paused and added "for sur."

We entered the store, made a wrong turn down the toy aisle and he began to ask for everything he saw, one by one, carefully, not really waiting for an answer. He was rapid-fire asking as if somehow in there would be an answer he wanted to hear. Maybe even "yes for sur."

Reaching the mid-point of the aisle, nearly laughing out loud, I stopped and looked down at him as he eyed a dinosaur something or other with relish. "Gavin, I thought we talked about not asking for things in this store." He answered without thought or pause, "I hoped you had changed your mind."

Fair enough, for sur.

Recently as my oldest daughter visited me in that dreaded hospital (my second home away from home), she told me that she and Gavin had had a discussion about what Christmas was about. The answer for her to him came close to being a good one. She and he talked about family and what family means and how family and Christmas should be good buddies.

Gavin decided, she said, he would go around telling everyone, his big brother, his step-cousin Karli, his cousin Emma, that Christmas is about family.  Remember this is a kid who asked for everything in a DRUG store, so perhaps family is a big, big step.

The Christian family would be a good next step for learning for him.

All this led me to thinking about that "first family" of Christmas. Growing up, was Jesus like most of us? Did he live a typical kid-like life? Was he sickly, strong, pushy, good-tempered? What was he like with the neighbors, the kids in the neighborhood?

In Rich Mullins song Boy like you, man like me, he wrote, "You was a baby like I was once, you were cryin' in the early morning; you were born in a stable, Reid Memorial was where I was born; They wrapped you in swaddling clothes, me they dressed in baby blue. ... And you was a boy like I was once But was You a boy like me? I grew up around Indiana, you grew up in Galilee; And if I ever grow up Lord I want to grow up and be just like you."

The point is as clear as toys on a shelf. Jesus grew up like every other little boy and girls in the tiny Jewish villages that circled the life-giving water of the Sea of Galilee. He began to learn the work that his father, Joseph, worked at...carpentry or stone masonry or whatever that work truly was. He began to learn in the synagogues that were home to the men of the area. He learned, the scriptures say.

He learned about family, before there was a Christmas.

The key, then, before there is a Christmas, is to love family deeply. Though there be ups and necessary downs, though there be arguments and clashes and shocking deaths and wonderful holidays together, it is all about family.

Though I was sick enough to be wobbly and wacky this past weekend, the lift I got from seeing my three children together was well worth is. If there was anything on the planet I could change it would be to have them and Mary and I live close together and see each other much, much more often.

For sur.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Recovery time

As you recover from whatever ails you in the hospital, one has numerous occasions to think. Since I'm already more in the thinking that doing camp, this set me into stages of thinking delirium. In other words, I thought a lot. A lot.

I thought often of how much I love being a pastor, of how much I missed preaching, of how preaching affects me, of how much I miss being the visiting person than the one being visited but how much being visited lifted me each and ever time someone came in.

Reading the Holy Word this morning, I came across this little description of what Paul saw to be the role of ministers under his care...

"Appoint leaders in every town according to my instructions. As you select them, ask, "Is this man well-thought-of? Is he committed to his wife? Are his children believers? Do they respect him and stay out of trouble?" It's important that a church leader, responsible for the affairs in God's house, be looked up to—not pushy, not short-tempered, not a drunk, not a bully, not money-hungry. He must welcome people, be helpful, wise, fair, reverent, have a good grip on himself, and have a good grip on the Message, knowing how to use the truth to either spur people on in knowledge or stop them in their tracks if they oppose it."

I looked inside immediate. Well-thought of? That's for others to decide, of course. Committed to his wife? Not as much as I should be for Mary saved me from the dreaded pneumonia for a second time in just a year. She helps save me daily, though, and I love her as deep as rain falling in the Grand Canyon. Looked up to? The office of pastor is worthy of being looked up to almost immediately. I try to not let people down (though getting sick and missing time really bummed me out, again). Not pushy, short-tempered, not a drunk, bully, money-hungry, welcoming, helpful, wise, fair, reverent, good grip on myself and the Gospel? All I believe I try to be.

Are my children believers? Though they aren't much for attending, I think with my head as well as my heart that they are believers. And I know they love me. Truthfully it it worth being in the dreaded hospital bed simply to be visited with love by your children. Each of my three have grown into wonderful adults and I thank God for them.

Summed into teachable themes, Paul said that those who he wanted to be in charge of his "churches" were not perfect people but men who were committed -- committed to the Lord, to the Message, to family. Committed? You betcha.

I love loving, not being loved. I love teaching as well as being taught. And if three or four days in the hospital are what it takes to again be humbled and to be taught, so be it.

Paul concludes with this sentence: They must pay attention to the reliable message as it has been taught to them so they can encourage people with healthy instruction and refute those who speak against it.

Time in the hospital bed is time well spent if it is not only in recovery but in growth.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

From the hospital bed to you

Some observations from my back in a hospital room bed...

Who knew ESPN simply repeated not only segments of shows but whole shows time after time after time? Nah. Didn't think so.

Is there anything going on in the NFL right now besides Tim Tebow? Oh, Tom Brady. Oh, the Green Bay Packers. That's it, apparently. Does anyone in the country know that the New Orleans Saints have clinched a playoff berth for the third straight season, have the best record in the NFC in the past six years and can still clinch second place in the playoff seedings? Nah. Didn't think so.

You have to leave the hospital to get some rest. Does anyone really think that checking my blood pressure at 4 a.m. is necessary if that's not why I went into the hospital? Nah. Didn't think so.

Who invented the narrative device for fiction television shows that shows you the ending at the beginning then after a commercial comes back with the printed words, two days earlier or six hours earlier or whatever and what can we do to make them stop?

How I've missed my churches these past two weeks. My journey onto my back in a hospital room began with what one doctor thought was a pulled muscle in my side that turned out to be pneumonia. After draining fluid from back side, body cavity, lung or check book (I'm not sure), I am upright again and mostly out of the worst pain I can remember for quite a while. Twice in one year I've had pneumonia. Never had it before. Don't know where it came from or why. Never want to have it again. Never want to have someone stick a long needle into my back without me being unconscious again in my lifetime. Never want to watch 14 hours of ESPN again in my lifetime either. Did I mention they repeat entire shows?

It's good to be back. Back in the scriptures. Back to life. Back to friends and family and the time leading up to Christmas. All the things I've felt I missed, I'm glad to be back to them. I missed them all.

Except ESPN. Did I mention they repeat....

Friday, December 9, 2011

Joe Say Can You See?

Several years ago, Shanna, Carrie, Jason, Mary and I attended our first Major League baseball game together. We spent a little extra to get good seats, seats you could embrace the possissibilities that for one summer evening your chance of catching a pop fly was a good as anyone else's. A nine-year-old softball player with soft hands a hinh

Shanna was dancing around.n the aisles that May, her pale skin, the most blonde hair I'd ever seen and those untellable turquoise eyes making me nervous as if she as going to trip and begin a fee fall  that would land her begise one oas sometimes what we were sure would happen, does not. We sit at the kitchen table as somebodys favorite baseball player and a team parted ways, the player the happy, happy, camper.

Look at it this way: Today is a fresh start for the St. Louis Cadinal. For the first time in 11 years, they are in need of a few first basemen.  The long career of Jose Pujoles ended in St. Louis. I spent the next 20 years or so as I rememberedit rooting for the Braves to little availab,.

But on this one special night, as Shanna screamed "Let's go Joe Seeeee. Heck, say it he

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The feet of Christ

I went back to look at the first house I can remember living in a few years back, from the outside, and I was shocked at how small it seemed. I really would have loved to have seen the inside to compare, but what the heck. It was small.

It didn't seem that way growing up. It seemed to be big. The second house, the one in Lizelia that I still call home and will forever I guess, was huge even in my young memory. But the little house in Oakland Heights that sent me out into the world in the first and second grade was big to me.

I remember little other than two friends I had when I lived there, but I remember one Christmas Morning. I woke while it was still dark, I still believe prompted by some sound, and ran into the little living room. The small tree and its gifts were under there and I was ecstatic. But just before you got to them, there was a big boot print. Mud, as I recall.

Of course that sent me into a delirium that was matched by the frowns of my father and mother who were not happy I had risen so early. I saw EVIDENCE that there was a Santa.

I was thinking about this story and it led me to think of those disciples who continually wanted signs and wonders to be given to them by our Lord. They walked with the man, saw him, saw him heal and such and still couldn't believe.

We have been given a tough task, this faith road we're on. But I believe there are always a few boot steps along the way to give us hope. We just have to look for them

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Breaking the bank

Ah, we're stepping closer and closer to that wonderful birth event. So another look back:

I was in West Virginia, again, for a Christmas. I had real ideas about what I wanted for Christmas. Concrete ideas. Ideas as strong as any on the Christmas Story movie. I wanted (tadda) a Lassie dog for Christmas.

They had been offering them on television on one of my favorite shows (and by the way I mentioned this to my grandboys the other day and they didn't know who or what Lassie was. Ughhh) and I wanted one. Nothing else as I remember, which is probably wrong since I always wanted so much.

But Christmas eve came and Santa was featured on the weather channel as coming in for a landing at such and such time in Fairmont, and I drifted into sleep knowing I would be awakened by a bark or two.

I woke the next morning, I scrambled down stairs and there under the tree was a Lassie A plastic bank in the form of Lassie.

Clearly Santa had gotten this wrong. The message hadn't come through. Surely this was a mix-up that could be fixed. What was the statue of limitations, I wondered (or something like that).

I came close to a Lassie dog once when I was nine, having a collie I loved, but things didn't work out there either. Seems Lassie, and all her tricks, was for television.

Thinking of this I wonder, how many of our prayers are sent to the one who wants nothing more than to hear them as Santa requests? I wonder how many times we feel they've been misheard, they've been misinterpreted or they flat out weren't heard at all?

Perhaps it's our methods not our Master that is at fault. Just saying...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tim Tebow and Aaron Rodgers

Let's give another side to the argument about testimony. This comes from Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in reference to Tim Tebow, the currently glory story in the NFL:

"Well I started playing before Tim, so these are things I've thought about for a long time, and I think one thing that I try to look at when I was a younger player, and I mean, in high school, junior college and Division I, I was always interested in seeing how guys talked in their interviews, talked about their faith, or didn't talk about their faith. And then the reactions at times, I know Bob Costas at one point was critical about a player thanking Jesus Christ after a win, questioning what would happen if that player had lost, or do you really think God cares about winning and losing.
"I feel like my stance and my desire has always been to follow a quote from St. Francis of Assisi, who said, 'Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.' So basically, I'm not an over-the-top, or an in-your-face kind of guy with my faith. I would rather people have questions about why I act the way I act, whether they view it as positive or not, and ask questions, and then given an opportunity at some point, then you can talk about your faith a little bit. I firmly believe, just personally, what works for me, and what I enjoy doing is letting my actions speak about the kind of character that I want to have, and following that quote from St. Francis.''

Tebow, I saw yesterday in a two-minute clip, was asked a question about how his team had come back to win one more time, and he began with "First I want to thank my Lord and Savior."

I've written before that there is nothing wrong with this. He is praising his Savior.

The question, I would think, becomes what are you trying to accomplish by saying that so often? If it is to help others to Christ, I doubt that helps completely. But as a method of praising, it is superb. But I also want to say that if making disciples is our main job as Christians, keeping silent always might not be the best way to go.

So who is right?

Both, of course. Speak and act. Act and speak.

Give glory to God and be a glory to God.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Black days ahead

I remember the day he and his wife came into my church in Lutcher. They are from the Caribbean, but they are black none the same. When they came in, they were the first black folks to enter Lutcher United Methodist Church.

My friends were running late and were looking for my church. They stopped and were given directions to another church than mine. See, there's a black version (almost a photo negative) of the LUMC just down the road, across the railroad tracks. It was there my friends found themselves first, and they were welcomed handily. They asked for me, a Caucasian friend, and were told there was no way I would be there. Members of that church thought for a minute, laughed about it and sent them on their way to my church.

My friends were welcomed warmly for any visitor to that church was a moment of joy. Still, they were the first blacks in the church, and it was the year 2,000.

I read this yesterday : In Tomahawk, Ky., a vote to bar interracial couples from a small church in eastern Kentucky  triggered hand-wringing and embarrassment.

It is, by the way, the year 2011 as a church tries to BAR interractial couples from entering its church. One must figure that homosexuals, drunks, closet wife abusers, smokers, druggies and such never are invited to this church, which one assumes has never shown grace to an outsider.

Nine members of  Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church backed their former pastor, with six opposed, in Sunday's vote to bar interracial couples from church membership and worship activities. Funerals were excluded.The vote was taken after most of the 40 people who attended Sunday services had left the church in Pike County, near the border with West Virginia. Many members left to avoid the vote.

Most members of the church "didn't want anything to do with this," said longtime church official Dean Harville, whose daughter and her black fiance had drawn pastor Melvin Thompson's ire.

At services earlier this year, Stella Harville, 24, who is working on her master's degree in optical engineering, sang "I Surrender All" with her fiance, Ticha Chikuni, 29, a Zimbabwe native, according to her father. Chikuni, an employee at Georgetown College in Kentucky, played the piano.

"There didn't appear to be any problem," Dean Harville said on Wednesday. "None whatsoever."

But Harville said Thompson told him the couple would not be allowed to sing at the church again. Thompson resigned in August but would not drop the issue.

Thompson told a local radio outlet, "I do not believe in interracial marriages, and I do not believe this (ban) will give our church a black eye at all." He could not be reached for comment.

There are numerous things I could write about this, but the simplest question is why the church is having a vote based upon what a former pastor would say and where is the current preacher in this. Be a leader man. Second, isn't Thompson crazy to think that the vote won't give his former church a black eye? Third, the 25 who left the church because they didn't want to vote are cowards. Fourth, where does Thompson come across this in scripture? Finally, I simply add, "good grief."

The church in America has so many problems today. We struggle and fight over the issue of homosexuality, which is covered with scripture to help us understand the issue. We're losing members over the fight about worship styles, which isn't even scriptural. Then issues of race come in and you just want to either smite them or sit down and weep.

We're headed to the baby's birth. I'm ready for the adult to return instead.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Brian's Song and the torrent of tears

"I love Brian Piccolo. And I'd like all of you to love him, too. And tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him." Gayle Sayers, running back Chicago Bears
And that was the first time I cried at a movie, albeit a TV movie. I was a senior in high school when Brian's Song was aired. My recollection was that the movie played late on the night of Nov. 30, 1971 my Senior year. I think all those Tuesday night movies of the week did for some reason. The local channels in my hometown of Meridian, Miss. did for some reason play shows later than their planned starting time often. I don't remember if I ever knew why. But my memory, certainly not what it once was, tells me it was late in the evening when I saw this. It as also late in the evening when I first saw All in the Family, but I digress.
I stayed up with my little  black and white television in my room and watched this movie that I had no idea of its subject matter. As I recall, it simply was exciting to stay up later than normal.
I was mesmerized. It was a football-related movie, so instantly I was enthralled. I didn't know the story after that, so I prepped for a late night knowing I would watch all of it.
The more I watched, the more I fell into its trance. I still believe it is the best TV movie of all time. But beyond it's greatness was its depth.
Somewhere in that movie, which is about bonding football roommates on the Chicago Bears Brian Piccolo and Gayle Sayers (my favorite running back of all time) I lost my heart to it.
The story was this: Piccolo died of cancer at the age of 26. Piccolo was a good running back, drafted by the Bears after leading the nation in rushing his senior year. He was white. The two players were positional rivals, and the first interracial roommates on the Bears. Piccolo parodied the periods racial tensions with a subversive sense of humor. Once asked what Piccolo and Sayers talked about on the road. He said, "Oh, the usual racist stuff. He calls me by my nickname, Honky. We get along fine as long as he doesn't use the bathroom. He sleeps in the lampshade.
Understand that at the time of the movie, it was almost a national rule that grown men don't cry. You held in your emotions. You kept your emotions in check. Heck, you weren't even supposed to have any emotions. Sometimes after Piccolo's diagnosis, he reportedly told his wife, Joy, "you can't cry. It's a league rule."
In a 2008 interview for the Archive of American Television, screenplay writer William Blinn was asked about the movie's legacy. "It's easy," he replied instantly. "I can't tell you how many times guys have said to me, 'That's the first time I cried around other guys.' That sounds stupid. And it is to some degree. And now it's on television as a cliched joke, and that's OK, I got no problem with that. But there's something to be said for that. (Actor) Kurt Russell said 'I'd never cried at a movie before that picture.' Manipulative? Yeah, sure it is. Sentimental? Yes, sure it is. So what?"
All I know is as I watched this in my room, tears ran down my cheeks like summer rain. I've had that experience since at the movies ET and Field of Dreams and Hoosiers and a few others and previous to that as a child I wept openly at a viewing of Old Yeller. I recently saw three different trailer/teasers of the movie War Horse, which comes out on Christmas Day. I teared up at each of them. Sports and animal movies are wet shirt movies for me much of the time.  but there was nothing quite like Brian's Song in that regard. Steve Rushin of Sports Illustrated said before that movie men were known to have tear ducts but no one had actually seen them use them.

Cry. Me?
When Sayers (played by Billy Dee Williams) says that above quote, I was shaken to my core. I did some of those choke-tears where breath is a challenge you're crying so hard. I think I might even have made some noise. It was that sad.
In the New Testament lies the shortest verse in the Bible. In perspective, Jesus' friend Lazarus has just died. Jesus was away when word came to him of this event. He came, not rushing, but he came. He was too late, of course. We pick up this story there: "Where have you laid him," he asked. "Come and see, Lord, "they replied. Jesus wept. then the Jews said, "See how he loved him."
Jesus wept. There it is. Emotions on display. Though Jesus knew he would save his friend, knew he would return him intact from the dead, knew he would produce unimaginable joy, Jesus wept. The obvious question, then, is why. why would Jesus weep knowing what he knew?
I believe it was because Jesus knew what Lazarus would return to, a world without tears or better yet a world without love.
In Brian's Song, a black and white man lived and loved together. Maybe what we all cried for during a watching of that movie is our longing for a world where races get along, where men can give their all to whatever it is they do and still have time for family, a world where pain is secondary to rejoicing.
I think we call that world heaven.
Brian's Song lives on 40 years later. What a tribute to fellowship and friendship and living and dying the best we can. If you haven't seen it, find it, watch it (with Kleenex in hand).