Auld Lang Syne

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    “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and days of auld lang syne? For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.” You’ve heard those words countless times…but do you know what they mean? Where they came from? Let me tell you! “Auld Lang Syne” is an extremely old Scottish folk song. The title means “Time Long Past.” The words, handed down orally for many years, were first written down in 1788 by Scottish poet Robert Burns.  Scottish musician George Thomson set those lyrics to the tune of “Can Ye Labour Lea”, A pentatonic Scots folk melody, probably originally a sprightly dance in a much quicker tempo. As Scots emigrated around the world, they took the song with them.

    The song was played by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians as a New Year’s Eve song for the first time on December 31, 1929. Though it was played as the band’s theme song for years, and it had even occasionally been sung on New Year’s Eve, this was the first time that Lombardo’s group played it at the Hotel Roosevelt Grill in New York City to usher in the new year. The annual tradition continued when the party moved to the  Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the song still kicks off the Times Square celebration every New Year’s Eve. In the movie “When Harry Met Sally”, Harry (Billy Crystal) talks about never fully understanding what the song means. “I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot’? Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them,we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?

     As much a drinking song as a song of remembrance, the title is literally translated”old long since”- the equivalent of “long long ago”, “days gone by”or even “once upon a time.” When we sing this song, we are saying, “We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet for times gone by.” The song speaks of fondly and resolutely remembering the past…while we face the future. I fear, especially at the beginning of a new year, too many of us not only remember the past, but dwell there. We labor over decisions we’ve made,paths we’ve taken, things we done…or left undone. The reality is that we cannot go back and change ONE THING that has already happened. All we can do is move forward appropriat
ely. That means we remember the good times with fondness in our heart and we learn from the hard times with resolve in our outlook.

     When you “drink a cup of kindness yet for times gone by” this year, what will follow? Will it be swimming in a sea of “what if’s” and “might have been’s”? Or will it be a commitment and dedication to being the best…YOU…you can be in the eyes of God? To quote that great theologian Billy Joel, “the good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems”! Make 2010 the year you completely step out of the boat, in water over your head, knowing God will be there to keep you afloat!

Grandma’s Cooking

   My grandma was a sweet woman! (This is my paternal grandma, by the way. I never met my maternal grandmother, she died LONG before I came around.) Now, grandmas of that era (early to mid-1960’s) had their own stereotype- stay-at-home moms, great cooks, cleaning machines- all in all, VERY domestic! Notice- I described my grandmother as “sweet”… NOT “domestic”!My grandma did NOT fit the traditional “grandma” mold. To begin with, she was a professional woman. She was  teacher and, later, a school principal. In fact, she was MY DAD’S principal! (He said THAT was NOT a pretty sight- he would GET IT and school…and then come home and GET IT again!) The other thing that made my grandma a “mold breaker” was that she was…we’ll just say…not the best cook in the world! She once made a “box cake” mix, and decided that if ONE box was good, then TWO boxes would be even better! She dumped both cake mixes into the bowl…but only added the extra ingredients for ONE cake! She got a hot, chocolately BRICK when all was said and done! She really couldn’t. or perhaps didn’t is a better word, clean- her house looked…live in! She was NOT the prototypical 60’s grandma!
     But you know what? She was a great lady! I was only 6 years old when she died, so I don’t remember her as well as my siblings do- but I DO remember her! She was sweet, kind, gentle, loving, caring, nurturing, generous…I could go on and on! I remember that all her grandkids would gather in her living room at Christmas. In the middle of the room was a BIG box, full of wrapped presents. The oldest grandkid would play Santa and deliver the gifts to everyone to be opened. It is a Christmas memory I cherish to this day!
     My grandma did NOT fit the mold. She couldn’t cook. She didn’t clean. She wasn’t domestic at all. But, at least for me and my siblings, it didn’t matter- we loved despite those things…perhaps BECAUSE of those things! Who do YOU know who doesn’t “fit the mold”? Who in your live goes against the grain, and sometimes pays the price for being “different”? (Some who read this blog have to contend with a shaved-headed, earring-wearing, rock-drumming pastor in their church!) If you read the Bible, it’s full of folks who didn’t fit in “normal society”- whatever THAT is! The list of Jesus’ disciples reads like a list of the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys from the Rudolph show. But Jesus CALLED them, TRAINED them, ministered THROUGH them…and LOVED them, perhaps BECAUSE they were different. Next time you see someone who isn’t what you would expect them to be, stop and try looking at them through Jesus’ eyes. You will see them in a totally different light. Once you see past color, race, age, gender…once you see past “different”…your world will begin to expand exponentially. And how cool is that?!
     Thanks for coming by and sharing a few minutes with me today. I pray you have a blessed day. Please share this with others. Make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

A Visitor in the Chicken House

     It was hot…it was SO hot! It was the middle of summer, and the air conditioner was on the fritz! (Ever thought about what that meant, by the way? “On the fritz”? Who is Fritz? And why is “it” on him? And why does THAT translate to “not working”? I’m guessing all the Fritzes out there don’t particularly appreciate that phrase!I wouldn’t be real happy if, every time the car broke down, someone said, “the stupid car is on the Mark again!” But that’s just me!) So, before I was so rudely interrupted (by myself!), I was explaining how it was so hot and no air conditioning. The bottom line is that I was sleeping with the window open, trying not to die from heat stroke! (I’m SO dramatic! Of course I DO have a degree in DRAMA, so it would seem appropriate!) About midnight that night, I was awkened by what can only be described as a “ruckus”. Now, said “ruckus”, as I slowly gathered my wits about me, was clearly coming from without, as opposed to within, the house. That’s good! As I listened more closely, it became apparent that the sounds were coming from the chicken house. And BOY were those chickens upset about something. We had been having problems with…SOMETHING…killing chickens, and I was determined to put a stop to it. I got dressed and ran down to the barn. Meanwhile, the chickens are in full uproar mode. I get there, run into the chicken house, and come face to face with a big, fat, MAD possum. (For those of you who WEREN’T born and raised as southern Illinois hillbillies like me, that would be the “opposum”, thank you very much!) The chicken house was inside the barn- it was about 6 feet deep and 15 feet long, with a little hole cut in the wall for the chickens to get out to their “yard”. The door into the chicken house was toward the left end, and the roost (a series of staggered “rungs” that the chickens rest/sleep on) was at the right end. The possum had gotten into the chicken house and climbed the roost. He was on the next to top rung (with what intention I am STILL not sure!), the chickens were carrying on to beat the band, and I was standing a mere few feet from him! Now, if you see a possum waddling down the side of the road, they look pretty doggone harmless. But look at the teeth on the one in the picture- if they get cornered…they are NASTY! He was hissing and snarling at me. I needed to get him out of there, but did NOT want to advance on him any further. I stood there for a moment, trying to figure out ehat to do, then…I “thunk a thought”! I grabbed a shovel that was nearby, went OUTSIDE the barn to the spot were the possum was on the INSIDE, and “whacked” the daylights out of the side of our sheet metal-skinned pole barn with the head of the shovel! I have NEVER seen a possum move so fast! He was out that little hole in the side of the barn and GONE in the blink of an eye! Job well done AND I didn’t have to get my hands dirty- an OCD person’s dream come true!
     What possums do YOU need to get out of the chicken house? What are the things which don’t belong in your life that are messing everything up? Let’s be honest- we KNOW what they are for each of us, it’s just that naming them…and claiming them, is the tough part. But if you CAN name them and claim them, you can flush them out and send them running. When you do that, things tend to settle back down- the chickens can go back to roosting comfortably and quitely, if you will. Don’t let those things just sit and fester, threatening to ruin your life. Turn to God, pray for strength, and then do the spiritual version of the shovel to the side of the barn. Willfully push those dark places out of the corners of your soul- let the Light in- the Light of God! You will be happy with what you see!
     Thanks for stopping by today- I pray you come back again tomorrow. Share this with others. have blessed day, and stick with Jesus!

Bad Hair Day!

    My sister and brother hated me! No…really, it’s documented!Here’s why. I am the baby of the family…and I often got treated as such! Now, if you ARE the baby of the family, that’s not a bad deal at all! However, if you AREN’T the baby of family, it kind of stinks. Ergo…my siblings hated me! Here is ONE (JUST one) example of how that played out in time and space!
     When we were kids, one of them got a chemistry set for Christmas/ birthday/Groundhog’s Day/Whatever. One of the experiments init had to do with PH levels or somesuch. The only ingredient they weremissing was (ready?) some very light-colored hair! Anyone who knows meNOW says, “Well, that leaves YOU out!” But anyone who knew me when Iwas a kid is thinking, “I know where this is going!”I had such blondhair that is was nearly white. AND…mom and dad weren’t home! “We need light-colored hair, YOU have nearly white hair, AND mom and dad aren’t home!” Now THERE’S a recipe for disaster! Admittedly, the picture is a bit…exaggerated, but they DID take a decent…notch…out of the front of my hair. The BACK of my hair would have been better- at least I could actually face people. But NO…it HAD to be the front! They snipped it off, and then went about their nefarious science experiements. I was A) young, and NOT the sharpest tool in the shed, so I saw absolutely NO problem with the whole scheme. That is…until MOM got home! (Cue the spooky music!)
     As I recall, Mom walked in the door, saw me, and went COMPLETELY apoplectic (Googe it)! Words, phrases and emotions came out of that woman that I had never seen or heard before! It was NOT a pretty sight! Fortunately for me, Mom WAS “together” enough to identify the guilty and praise the non-participants- and was CLEARLY a non-participant! Punishment was handed out to the guilty parties- let’s see, this happened ABOUT 40 years ago, so…if I am doing the math right…I THINK my brother and sister are ABOUT to be un-grounded! (It’s REALLY hard to raise a family when you’re grounded!)
     Ever do stupid stuff when you were a kid? What was the stupidest thing you ever did? Ever do stupid stuff when you were a teenager? THOSE can get in you in bigger, more long-lasting trouble! Ever do stupid stuff, say…last year? Last week? Last night? Of course you have. I have. We ALL have- we’re human, for goodness sake! But here is the beauty part- forgiveness is available for the asking- from God. All you have to do is go to God in prayer and SINCERELY and EARNESTLY (those are BOTH crucial) ask Him to forgive you. Do that, and guess what- you ARE forgiven! Now, there IS a “but”! (There ALWAYS is!) You have to be willing to forgive yourself as well. God’s forgiveness is powerful, but it is incomplete if you are unwilling or unable to release yourself from that burden as well.
     What do you need to ask God forgiveness for? Do it. Do it today. Do it now, for that matter. But once you have done that, are you willing to forgive yourself? You NEED to. Look at it this way- if the Creator of the heavens and the earth can foegive you, why not forgive yourself?! You will be so amazed at the difference it makes when you do this. That 3-ton weight is finally lifted off your shoulders. You can walk upright again. You can breathe again. You can live again. Seek God’s forgiveness…and accept it!
     Thanks for stopping by today. Have a blessed day. Share this with someone who needs to hear it. make sure you come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Free Ride!

    In the Spring of 2003, I wrote, produced and directed an original Classic Rock musical called Free Ride: the Life and Times of Jesus Christ.It chronicles Jesus’ life from birth through resurrection andascension, and is told through a combination Scripture and music. Thedialogue is taken word for word from the Bible; the music is taken wordfor word from the 70’s and 80’s top 40’s list. Songs from groups likeThe Eagles, Chicago, The Edgar Winter Group, Blue Oyster, U2, TheBeatles, Queen, REO Speedwagon, Pink Floyd and Kansas are featured.That 1st year, 20 actors (including me), 5 musicians and 4 technicalfolks made the show happen. It was presented a few weeks before Easter-3 shows over one weekend. About 600 people came over the course ofthose 3 days!

     Whenit was over, I “put it to bed”, thinking that, while I might mountanother production of the show SOMETIME…it wouldn’t be anytime soon.Little did I know! The next winter, some of the folks who were involvedin the show began to talk about doing it again. I didn’t think I WANTEDto do it yet, so I told them I would only do it if the musicians wouldcome back- because I didn’t think they would! I was wrong. Much to mysurprise, they were all on board, so…we mounted another production- a”revival” if you will- one year later. This time, the cast swelled from20 to 30, the musicians from 5 to 6, and the “techies” from 4 to 5.Again, 3 shows- with over 700 coming this time. The man who playedJesus both years has since gone on to become a United Methodistminister (his wife was in the show as well), and several peopleassociated with the show are still my Facebook friends. Many peoplekidded me that there was some typecasting going on- my son played 2characters- Andrew the disciple and…ready?…Satan! (He wasuncomfortably beliebable!)

    While it was pure joy to blend my love of writing with my love oftheatre AND my love of God, the highlight of the experience was veryspecific and very unique. At the end of each show, we had an altarcall. People were invited to come forward and pray to receive Jesus asa result of their experience. That’s often a rather uncomfortable thingfor people to do, especially in such a public setting, so I wasn’tsurprised that not many people came forward. But there is one thatstands out. It was a Sunday matinee. I made the altar call offer andthanked the audience for coming. As I stood there, a rather diminutiveolder woman began to make her way forward. I knew she was related to acouple of cast members and I also knew she was involved in anon-Christian faith tradition. So my assumption was that she was NOTcoming forward to accept Jesus but to praise her relatives- made sense,right? Wrong! She walked right up to me. I said, “They did a great job,didn’t they?” She said, almost as an afterthought, “Oh…yes.” Then sheadded, “But I came up here to accept Jesus Christ.” I was speechless- astate I RARELY experience! When I got my “sea legs” back, I took her tothe altar, prayed with her, and she accepted Jesus, right there! It wasa highlight of my ministry!

    Now it strikes me that, if rock songs like “Don’t Fear the Reaper”,”Ridin’ the Storm Out”, “Another One Bites the Dust”, and “Bad MoonRising” can speak to an elderly woman and move her heart to acceptsomething she hasn’t accepted her whole life, then perhaps there issomething to this whole Christianity thing! What it tells me is thatit’s never too late and we are never too far from God. God can workthrough the least likely sources to change our direction, change ourhearts. What is God calling you to? How is He speaking to you? Be opento the many and varied ways God can and will move in your life. Thanksso much for stopping by today. Have blessed rest of the day. Share thiswith others, make sure and come back tomorrow, and stick with Jesus.

Is It Over Yet?

    Well, the dust has settled.The area around the Christmas tree, recently SWAMPED withbrightly-colored packages, is bare…expect for a few odds and ends thekids or grandkids didn’t put away. There are 2 large trash bags outback, brimming with crumpled wrapping paper that you paid GOOD moneyfor a few days ago. The food has been eaten. People have gone back totheir homes. And here you sit…exhausted. In the stillness, youwonder…was it all worth it? Was it worth the AMAZING stress of theseason? The running around like a mad person trying to get all thegifts purchased. The exorbitant balances on the credit cards. Much likeThanksgiving dinner, we bust our TAILS to get READY for Christmas, andthen, before you can blink and eye…it’s over. And we are left withthat empty, unsatisfied feeling. “Mark another one off the list…wesurvived!”

     Now, Ipray that the cynical desciption you just read DOESN’T describeYOU…but, based on my experience as both a pastor and a human (I havebeen a human longer that I have been a pastor, for those of you keepingscore at home!), there are MANY people who DO feel that way afterChristmas. We set our expectations SO high, we couldn’t POSSIBLY meetthem. “This has to be the BEST Christmas, with the MOST presents, andjust the RIGHT food, and the RIGHT music, and the RIGHT attitude. Itmust be Norman Rockwell, Jimmy Stewart and Burl Ives, all rolled intoone. Is it any wonder we find ourselves disappointed?

     If you have these feeling as you read this, let me offer two thoughts:

1.I’m genuinely sorry you feel that way. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.Please feel free to go to the Prayer Request page on the website andshare your thoughts with me. I would be honored to pray for you.

2.Ask yourself what your expectations going into Christmas were. If theyfall toward that whole Norman Rockwell/Jimmy Stewart/Burl Ives thing,that might be part of the culprit right there.

    Society has taken us SO far down the path of commercializing andsentimentalizing (is that actually a word? Well, if not…it is NOW!)Christmas that it can’t POSSIBLY live up to the hype. But here’s thebeauty part- Christmas isn’t really about those things anyway! ItREALLY IS about the birth of a Savior, to a young, unwed Jewish girl,in a backwater town. It REALLY IS about the fact that God chose totrascend the laws of nature and physics and enter into time nd space ina powerful and unexpected way. If you look at Christmas THAT way, thentoday ISN’T the day it’s all over- it’s the day it all BEGINS! Thespiritual seeds that are planted at Christmas are cultivated throughoutthe year and harvested at Easter, when we celebrate an empty tomb and arisen Savior!

     Sodon’t look at today as one of those “Phew! Glad THAT’S over!” days.Instead, look at it as a journey- one that began in a manger inBethlehem and ends at the door of your heart. Jesus stands this day andknocks…will you let Him in?

    Thanks for stopping by on this day AFTER Christnmas. Have a blessedday, share this with someone who needs to hear it, make sure and comeback tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!

Merry Christmas!

     “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to  the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

     Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them,“Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “ Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

     So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” (Luke 2:1-20, New King James version)

    The greatest story EVER told. A child, born in a dirty stable, in a backwater town, on the fringes of the empire. A baby who SPLIT TIME IN HALF- even non-believers mark time based on Jesus’ birth. An infant who came to save the world…to save you…and me. I pray you are having a wonderful, blessed day today. I pray you get to spend some time with people you love. I pray the glory, peace and love of Jesus Christ is upon you this day! Merry Christmas!