Hanging the Greens


     My college-student son was home for Thanksgiving, so we took the opportunity to decorate our house for Christmas this past weekend- and we have LOTS of Christmas decorations! We arrived back home from our Thanksgiving sojourn to the ancestral manse in Southern Illinois mid-afternoon on Saturday, and a-decorating we did go! Here’s how it happens at our house- we start by packing up all of our “ordinary time” stuff! You see, in the church, there are “seasons” and “days” that have special themes and colors associated with them. When we aren’t in one of those “special” times, we are said to in ‘ordinary time”! (It sounds so…I don’t know…ORDINARY!) Anywho, after our “ordinary” stuff is packed away, we begin hauling out the Christmas storage units. Let’s see: we have 2 large storage tubs marked “Christmas” in the garage (not to be confused with the 3 large tubs marked “snowmen”- they go up in early January- or the other 3 large tubs marked “Easter”- they go up when the snowmen stuff comes down!); we also have 2 larger wooden, wheeled Christmas storage units in the basement. (Did I mention- we have a great deal of Christmas STUFF?!) Meanwhile, the cookies and hot chocolate are served. (Are we Ward and June Cleaver…or what?! Just don’t call my older son Wally- he HATES that!) We crank up the local Christian radio station, which broadcasts Christmas music 24 hours/day from Thanksgiving to Christmas. (I listen to it SO much that I drive my family crazy…a short drive some days!) And with the smell of warm cocoa and melting marshmallows blending with the dulcet tones of Nat King Cole crooning “The Christmas Song” (ONLY the BEST Christmas recording EVER made!), we start unpacking. So much stuff pours out in such a short period of time that, at one point, our dining room table is COVERED in Christmas! My wife and kids put stuff where it belongs while I unpack and re-pack. Things go great until we near the end of the decorating. 
     After all the stories have been re-told and all the laughs had, a remarkable and sadly predictable thing happens- the boys…disappear. It’s like a David Copperfield thing- one minute they’re there, the next minute…presto change-o…they’re gone! (It’s really quite impressive! I can only assume the older one taught it to the younger one. Either that, or it is some sort of genetic marker!) So, we “find the lost sheep” and impress upon them the importance of finishing strong! Counting church and my in-laws house, we have already decorated 3 places for Christmas…and it’s NOT even December yet! 
     Tradition is an interesting thing- it can be a warm, comfortable friend that makes you feel safe and secure, or it can be an anchor, tethering you to the ground, making it impossible for you to move forward. I would argue that tradition which provides those positive feelings and experiences is important, perhaps essential. We need the stability it provides to ground us in that which feeds our souls. However, when tradition crosses over into the “boat anchor” realm, it is not only NOT helpful…it can be QUITE harmful. If you find yourself, your family, your workplace, your church, whatever, saying things like, “we’ve NEVER done it that way” or “we’ve ALWAYS done it that way” or “we tried that once, 40 years ago…it didn’t work”, your traditions have nailed you to the ground. It all boils down to how we respond to change. (Ooooooo…THAT’S a BAD word!) Where in your life do you resist change, rebel against it? Let’s be honest, we ALL do it in some area of our lives! But the truth is that change is inevitable. Change is natural. Change is healthy. Look at your life now, and compare it to your life 30, 20, even just 10 years ago. There is NO facet of your life that is the same NOW as it was THEN. So why would we think that we could freeze some portion of our lives in the past, so that it would NEVER change? Now, I am NOT saying you should throw out your traditions- not at ALL! But you SHOULD consider them, weigh them, decide if they are healthy ones or not.  As hard as it may be to jettison some of those traditions, to free yourself from the ones that weigh you down is so…well… freeing!  What traditions will you be a part of this Christmas season? More importantly, what loved ones will you spend quality time with? That’s the key to this season- relati
onships! 
     Bake some cookies, make some hot chocolate, put a little Nat King Cole on the stereo, and wait with anticipation for the coming of a baby in a manger who split time in half! Please take a moment and join my Facebook Fan Site, or Tweet me, or email me. Also, I encourage you to share your prayer requests with me. All of these things are found on this page. Thanks for stopping by today. Share this with your family and friends, be sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Adoration

 

     A little boy is going to bed, and he stops to say his prayers. “God, bless my mom, bless my dad, and CAN I HAVE A NEW BICYCLE?!!” His brother, in the bed next to him turns and says, “Keep it down! God is NOT deaf!” The little boy replied, “No…but Grandma is!” What IS prayer? Prayer is, simply put, conversation… with God. And perhaps the most well-known prayer in Christianity is the Lord’s Prayer. Today is the 1st Sunday in Advent- the time of waiting leading to Christmas.  For the next 4 Sundays, we will pick apart and examine the Lord’s Prayer. Then we’ll reassemble it, complete with a new understanding. In the process, we’ll see what new insights we can glean from those familiar words.
     The Greek phrase “Kyrie Eleison” translates “Lord have mercy”, and that’s what the Lord’s Prayer seeks to offer…mercy. God’s mercy, offered in the Lord’s Prayer, comes to fruition in the Christmas season, when the birth of a baby in a manger changes the world.
     In the 11th chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the disciples say to Jesus, “Teach us how to pray”. Jesus’ response is the Lord’s Prayer. The prayer is sometimes known by its 1st 2 words in Latin- Pater Noster…Our Father. It is perhaps the best known and most quoted of all Jesus’ teachings. In this prayer, Jesus moves us from images of God as remote to images of God as one who is always with us. Today, we focus on the 1st 10 words: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name”.
     Our
– the 1st word
suggests that this is a corporate prayer. It reminds us that we are not alone; we are linked to one another through God. When we draw closer to God, we are drawn into a closer relationship with each other.
     Father- a completely uncommon term in Old Testament prayers, where a chasm often seems to separate us from God. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus invites us to draw close to a God who is not only holy but personal. When we call God “Father”, it more rightly describing us and our relationship to God. We can approach Him with the familiar confidence a child has with their parent. How awesome that we can come to the maker of all things and call Him “Father”! Kyrie Eleison- Lord have mercy! Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “My religion is summed up in the 1st 2 words of the Lord’s Prayer!” It’s a simple, clear-cut statement in which Jesus lays out the relationship between God and humanity.
     who art in heaven– God is not just anywhere; He is in the place of power, the seat of love, the time of eternity. And He offers that same eternity to us.
     hallowed be thy name– “hallowed” has the same meaning as “holy”, “wholesome”, and “healed”. It means we are to hold God in reverence; it reminds us that the basic posture of prayer is one of awe. In ancient writings, “name” is often seen as the essential nature or character of a thing. When we are told the name of God, we are told His nature as well- God’s nature is “hallowed”.  Kyrie Eleison- Lord have mercy
    God is the perfect Cause, but a Cause has to be expressed. God expresses Himself through…us. Every feature of our lives is really just a manifestation of something in our soul. Life isn’t easy- there are daily battles, trials that can crush our spirit. So we ask God to keep us from falling, to help us know the right thing, to deliver us. Are you reluctant to approach God? What expectations do you have about God that interfere with your ability to pray? There is a structure of prayer that I have shared before called ACTS. The 1st step of that structure is captured in today’s section- A…for adoration.
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name”. Although His name is honored above all names, we are still His children; we occupy a place of privilege in His heart. On this 1st Sunday in Advent, we say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” Kyrie Eleison- Lord
have mercy!

     Thanks for stopping by today. I pray you have a great day! Share this with friends, come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

   

Decorate For Dax

     I will tell you up front that I don’t know this family or this boy. I never met them, and it seems I never will. But I have been touched by their story and wanted to share it with you. Dax is a 2-year old boy from Illinois suffering from a rare form of leukemia. After a great deal of treatment, the doctors have said there is nothing more they can do. In an effort to make his time as happy as possible, his family lovingly decided to celebrate every day like it was Christmas, even decorating their house. What 2-year old kid DOESN’T like Christmas? The idea spread to their neighbors…and has just mushroomed from there. Today, if you visit his web page:

you will see that MANY people have put up their Christmas decorations, photographed them, and emailed them for him to see. What a marvelous, simple, touching thing to do for  little boy who seems to have touched so many in his short life.
    I encourage you to do two things this holiday season: 1) visit Dax’s website…and consider putting up some of YOUR Christmas decorations early. Photograph them and email them to his website so he can enjoy them. You can also send him a card at the address found on the website, and 2) focus on the simple things this Christmas. You’ll hear a lot about that from me between now and December 25th, but it is important that we remember why we celebrate, what we celebrate. Do something nice for someone (a random act of kindness, if you will) every day bewteen now and Christmas. Do your own small part to help make this season a bit brighter, a bit more Christ-centered!
     Have a great day, thanks for stopping by, share this with someone, be sure and come back for “church” tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Black Friday

     By now, the crowds have already inundated the stores where you are. People who camped there overnight, or at least arrive in the wee small hours of the morning, have the Wii game or the computer or the IPod or whatever they went to get. The stores, restaurants, and gas stations are PACKED as “the shoppers rush home with their presents”. (I write this in advance of Friday, praying that I don’t have to go to any stores…but knowing that I will probably end up at one!) Thanksgiving is already but a distant memory (except for ALL the leftovers in the fridge. How many ways CAN you creatively re-use turkey?) And we have arrived firmly in the midst of Black Friday. I have always found it interesting that today is called Black Friday. As someone who has managed my share of  businesses, I fully understand the concept that today is the day when many businesses get out of “the red” and move into “the black”…ergo Black Friday. But when I hear the term, I can’t help but think about October 19, 1987, which is commonly referred to as Black Monday. Now, you would assume that Black Monday and Black Friday would somehow be related. That would not, however, be the case. We KNOW what Black Friday is, and Black Monday was the day the United States Stock Market devalued by 22.68% in one day. The name was patterned after Black Thursday, Monday and Tuesday, days in October of 1929 when the Stock Market also crashed.
     It will be interesting to see, at the end of today, what the sales totals are like. On the one hand, the economy is bad, many people’s wages have been frozen, and banks are failing. On the other hand…it IS Black Friday! What we do surrounding Christmas says a great deal about our priorities. So many people spend way more money than they actually have to spend buying things for other people that they really don’t need and might not even really want. At some point in the past several years, my extended family came to the awareness and understanding that what we DIDN’T need was another tie or pair of gloves, let alone that ONE fruitcake that just gets passed from person to person each year, never actually getting eaten…or tossed! We realized that we really didn’t NEED much of anything. So we have pushed further and further into the realm of doing other things with our money- donating it to charities, using it to help provide for families in need, etc. Now, I still get my wife something nice. We still get our kids things. We still buy my dad a shirt! But we have grown to understand the actual point of Christmas…and it’s NOT about how far into debt we can go to wow others! I don’r mean to preach, but I am…after all, a preacher! So my prayer for you, going into this Christmas season, is that you don’t feel the compunction to provide expensive gifts to everyone, regardless of the literal and figurative cost. Instead, that you will focus on the celebration of the greatest gift ever given…a baby in a manger who came to save the world. This Christmas, give your family your time, your attention, your love…that’s what they REALLY want!
     I pray you have survived Black Friday in one piece, and if you HAD to get some bargains today, I pray that worked out the way you wanted it to! Have a great day, thanks for stopping by, make sure you come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Thanksgiving Prayer

      My most enduring Thanksgiving memory is perhaps the oddest as well. I was about 8 years old. Many family members came to eat with us. The house smelled WONDERFUL. The food looked great! And…I had a loose tooth. It NEEDED to come out, but I was being a big wuss (a technical term!) and didn’t want to pull it. My mom, tired of hearing me complain about it while being unwilling to actually DO anything about it (a typical “modus operandi” for me as a child!), said she was going to pull it for me at the end of the day if it wasn’t out. That didn’t sound good. You know how your mom brushed your hair when she was mad at your dad? I feared that would be the approach she would take with my tooth! (By the way, looking at my profile picture, perhaps my mom brushed my hair one too many times while mad at my dad!) Well, I fretted and stewed over that tooth all day, too big of a coward to actually pull it out. Then, we sat down to eat. Now, you know that, when you have a loose tooth, it is a challenge to eat. You try and work the food AROUND that tooth, without actually hitting it. So I sat down, excitedly  and expectantly filled my plate, waited impatiently for “grace” to be said (a once-a-year occurrence at my house growing up) and then…dug in! The first thing I took a bite of was the turkey. It looked and smelled SO good that I couldn’t contain myself. It got a big bite on my fork, quickly shoved it in my mouth, and bit down…forgetting all about the tooth! The turkey hit that tooth and POP…it came out. It hurt enough and surprised me enough that tears came to my eyes. And as I pulled the tooth out of my mouth, blinking back those tears, I held it up and said, “Now mom won’t have to pull it!” My day was made!
   So, what are YOU doing for Thanksgiving? Our tradition is to spend it with family…family that we don’t get to see often enough throughout the year. I love white meat turkey, with homemade gravy and stuffing. I love my sister’s mashed potatoes, which sadly I didn’t get to eat today! I love sweet potatoes, and my sister-in-law’s green bean casserole.  Nothing…let me repeat NOTHING…beats my wife’s pumkpin cheesecake! (Although, I must admit, you could probably smear pumpkin on DIRT and I would deem it “OK”- I just love pumpkin!) There is not enough coffee in the world (decaf for me, thank you, since I gave up caffeine a few years ago!) to go along with all that good food. Not being a huge football fan (and sadly, there is NO baseball being played on Thanksgiving!), I won’t watch much TV today. But I just LOVE Thanksgiving. I’ll be honest…I USED to love it for the food. But now, I love it because I get to see people I love. I NEVER get to see ALL the people I would like to see on Thanksgiving (some are in other parts of the country, spending time with other loved ones, and my mom, who’s birthday is tomorrow, passed away 5 1/2 years ago), but I have grown to appreciate and cherish the time I DO get with the people who ARE here! I pray you are able to spend time today with people you love. What you eat, and where you eat it is, in the end of all things, pretty irrelevant. THAT you get to spend that time is what matters. Make the most of it.
     At the end of this post is “prayer requests”. Today, I would encourage you to use that to post A) your favorite Thanksgiving memory, B) what you’re thankful for this year, or C) a Thanksgiving message to the other readers of this blog. Have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving. Thanks for sharing just a bit of your day with me, come back tomorrow for a break from Black Friday, and stick with Jesus!

Lend a Helping Hand

     Over the past few days, I got to do something…remarkable. And I can say that without fear of sounding like I’m bragging or full of myself, because in the grand scheme of things, I did VERY LITTLE to make this happen- I just set up a few things…and then got to go along for the ride! A young woman who is a small business owner in our town AND attends my church (and, by the way, is pregnant!) has a passion for helping others. She contacted me and laid out this plan she had for collecting food and money that would be distributed to families in need for Thanksgiving. Our community has a Food Pantry and a Helping Hand fund- but this was something she felt led to do over and above those existing programs. So…she arranged that services rendered through her business during this time period would generate a $5 donation to go into this fund. Likewise, anyone who brought food in would receive a discount on those services. She laid this plan out for me and then asked me if A) I would help her (she told me she couldn’t do it if I didn’t help…how can you say “no” to that?!), and B) would I get the church involved in it? I assured her the answer was “yes” to both questions, and away we went. I gathered food at the church while she gathered food at her business. When the dust settled, we had collected about 2 shopping carts overflowing with food (the IGA supplied actual shopping carts to collect in!) and nearly $200 in cash! In addition, folks donated whole turkeys. So, we gathered all the food in one place, got the information from the families we had found to receive this bounty, and she went shopping for the perishable items. And BOY did she shop! She bought milk, eggs, cheese, butter, bread, along with paper plates, soap, toilet paper, paper towels, salad dressing, pasta…the list goes on! We then “divvied” up the food between three families, loaded it into my van and her car, and off we went. As we got in our vehicles, she said to me, “Don’t be surprised if I start bawling!” Little did she know!
     We got to the first house, where we were met by a grandma and her granddaughter. They helped us carry all the food in, which literally COVERED their dining table and part of their counter top. The look on their faces was all I needed- I don’t know if SHE was bawling or not, because I was too busy wiping tears from MY eyes! (Must have been hot in there or something!) We then pulled out and went to the 2nd house. There we found a family of 5, including a tiny little baby, who was asleep on the couch. The house was clean and tidy, but it was apparent these folks needed some help. This time, I hadn’t even set the first bag of stuff down before the “waterworks” started again. I just…FELT…for these folks who were trying to do the best they could with what they had.
     I have been involved in a pretty fair amount of missional work over the past 12 1/2 years of ministry. And the one thing it has taught me, above all else is this- when we set out to “help” someone, we often go into it thinking we are going to GIVE these people so much…and it makes us feel good to give. But my experience is this- any time I go into a missional situation thinking I’m going to GIVE something, I ALWAYS come out the other side have received much more than I gave. When you give from the heart, God has a way of blessing you at the same time. Society says, “Take all that you can. Look out for yourself. Cling to your “stuff” with a death grip and DON’T give anything away.” God, on the other hand, says, “Give, and it will be given to you- a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over…” Let me tell you, when I helped  make those deliveries, those families got a lot of food. But I got a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. How will you show God’s love this Thanksgiving? You will NOT be disappointed if you do! Thanks for stopping by, have a great day, see you tomorrow for Thanksgiving, and stick with Jesus!

The Winds of Fortune

     The winds came without warning. Later, The National Weather Service said they were “straight line” winds, but THEY didn’t come out and inspect the damage at my parent’s house. We all claim “tornado” as the event that occurred that day. I was serving a church near St. Louis, which put me about a 45-minute drive from the “ancestral manse” (Google it) as it were. A severe storm hit the area, causing a great deal of damage across a wide swath of Southern Illinois, including the area where my parents lived. We called to see if they were OK, only to find that, while they AND their house were unharmed, some 24 trees were down in their yard and barn lot alone, along with dozens of trees and power line poles up and down the road on which they lived. They were in NO position to tackle the mess by themselves, and we were all worried about the cost of hiring a service to come in and do the clearing. Then…God stepped in. Someone at my church, who had heard about what happened, said, “why don’t we just put together a work crew from here and go take care of it?!” Gee…what a GREAT idea. Wish I’D thought of it! So we asked for volunteers. 36 people later, we were ready to head out!
     We loaded chainsaws and hand saws up and caravaned to their house. When we turned onto their road, the devastation became apparent. Their house sat 1/2 mile from the end of the lane, and we could only make it a few hundred feet in, blocked from driving any further by trees and poles across the road. So…we unloaded and walked the rest of the way, lugging all the equipment with us. When we arrived at their house, it truly looked like a war zone. Miraculously, not one tree hit the house, although several came REALLY close! My folks were delighted to see all the help. and people jumped right in. The sound of chainsaws and the smell of burning gasoline/oil mix filled the air as we worked. At one point, we found a man in his late 70’s (the SAME man mentioned in previous blogs about Outhouse Evangelism and a preacher with his microphone on in the restroom) standing on a limb, 20 feet off the ground, cutting branches off with a chainsaw! From that day forth, Chainsaw became his nickname! By 2PM that afternoon, ALL the trees were cut up and piled for burning. all the workers were fed, all the equipment was loaded, and we were saying our goodbyes. An amazing amount of work got done by a relatively small group of people in a relatively brief period of time.  As I reflected on what had happened that day, I remembered a quote by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
     How often do we think, “Why bother? I’m just one person- I can’t make a difference!” But imagine if we all took Margaret Mead’s philosophy to heart. Or if we truly BELIEVED what Helen Keller said, “I’m only one…but I’m still one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something, and I won’t refuse to do the something I CAN do.” We are often so quick to dismiss the possibility of getting involved. We either are too cynical to care or too unsure of ourselves to feel we matter. Know what? None of us is SO awesome as to not care and none of us is so unworthy as to not be able to make a difference. In this current economic climate, there are many things that have been bedrock for us forever that we can no longer cling to: our jobs, our pensions, our 401K’s, Social Security, etc., etc., etc! So to where do we turn? You KNOW what my answer is- God. We turn to God, we ask for guidance, strength, discernment. And then we roll up our sleeves and get involved. We seek out the least, the lost, the hurting in our communities (believe me, when you look, they are NOT hard to find!), and we…get…involved! How awesome would it be if that happened? If people once again acted like…well…PEOPLE, and cared for, and about each other? Who can you help this Thanksgiving week? What difference can YOU make in the lives of others?
     Thanks for coming by, have a great day, come back tomorrow for the Thanksgiving Eve post, and stick with Jesus!