Thoughts of a messed up Christian saved by God's grace

Monday, December 22, 2014

If every day could be Christmas

 I read a story once about a girl named Betsy who makes a wish to have Christmas every day of the year. Her wish comes true. At first it is all very exciting, with Santa's visit, the opening of packages, the singing of carols, and the arrival of the cousins for dinner. But soon the daily repetition wears thin. Santa is too exhausted to deliver presents and goes to sleep in Betsy's living room. The carolers have no energy to sing, all of the forests are cleared of Christmas trees, and turkeys go for $1,000 each. Eventually the only food for Christmas dinners is sardines and cranberries. People become angry and throw packages at each other, houses are overflowing with toys, and everyone is worn out. After a year of Christmas every day, Betsy gets another wish, and she wishes for the holiday just once a year.

  There are a handful of songs around that wishes Christmas could be everyday day, such as this one by country group, Lonestar:

Christmas lights up the city
Roof tops covered in snow
Lovers sharing a sleigh ride cuddled close
And their eyes seem to glow
Window shopping on main street
Bundled up head to toe
Children are skating around a Chri
stmas tree
I see smiles young and old

If everyday could be Christmas
What a wonderful world it would be
We could carry this feeling within us
All through the year
If everyday could be Christmas

Church bells ring in the distance
Peace on earth fills the air
Sidewalk Santas handing out candy canes
I feel love everywhere
If everyday could be Christmas
What a wonderful world it would be
We could carry this feeling within us
All through the year

If everyday could be Christmas
Oh it's that time
We open and give from our hearts
Let love shine brighter than any star

Oh if everyday could be Christmas
What a wonderful world it would be
We could carry this feeling within us
All through the year

  Now I am sure they don't mean literally, like the story I mentioned. But imagine if the emotions and attitudes of those who have Christmas in their hearts, was around all year.

  What if we greeted strangers we meet with a "good day to you", as we toss "Merry Christmas" to those we meet?

 What if we did random acts of kindness, such as giving someone a card or gift, as we do at Christmas?

 What if we focused as much on Jesus and what He has done for us....everyday, not just at Christmas time.

 What if the feelings of good will toward men were a daily thing, not a seasonal thing?

 What if we spent more time with our families all year long, not just when we are around the Christmas tree opening gifts?

  Christmas shouldn't be just a once a year celebration we do. It shouldn't be something we box up after December 25 is over, and pull out again the next Christmas.

'Cause Christmas is all in the heart
That's where the feeling starts
And like a fire inside
It touches every heart
And even if no white snow falls
That's all right because
The joy can still be found
Wherever you are
'Cause Christmas is all 
It's all in the heart (Steven Curtis Chapman)

 If Christmas is in our hearts, we can't set it aside so easily. It will permeate our very being, and we will live Christmas all year long...every day, because to have Christmas in our hearts, means we have Jesus in our hearts, and that is an every day thing.

 If Christmas in is in our hearts, we will look for ways to spread love and good will all year long. We won't focus on Jesus just at Christmas. We don't talk about Him just at Christmas.

 Most of us lead busy lives, and all to often Jesus is a last minute thought before we go to bed. I am thankful for Christmas, and am glad most of us focus more on the Christ of the Christmas story more at this time of year, but in a way it is also sad if it takes Christmas to do that. Maybe I'm just a bad Christian, and everyone else does it right, but I doubt I am alone in not going about this Christian life as I should every day. I don't greet people as enthusiastically, I don't perform enough acts of kindness or charity to people who are not able to return them. I don't spend enough time at the feet of the Savior in worship and adoration. Oh, I spend time asking for what I need. But the wise men and shepherds didn't do that. The shepherds had nothing to give other than praise and adoration. The wise men brought that and gifts. Why can't we be more like them all year long?

  I couldn't afford Christmas every day if it meant buying gifts. I'd soon weary of Christmas trees and other decorations. Christmas songs would soon grate on me. I tend to decorate early and get the Christmas music out early, and then I want to put it all away as soon as Christmas is over....... and I tend to put all of the feelings, good will, the focusing on Jesus in adoration and worship away with the decorations.

  But we shouldn't box everything about Christmas up...... if we have Christmas in our hearts, we can have Christmas every day, in the right way. Put the decorations and music away, but keep Christmas in our hearts 24/7, 365 days a year. And if we do that, it is going to spill out all year long. The way it should.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The best gifts

 I have to work Christmas Day until 3:00. I'm not happy about it and have been thinking and praying about finding another job, one that doesn't have to be open on major holidays, like a hospital does. My family is going to wait until I get home to open gifts. I hate to have them wait, yet I know how I would feel if they didn't. So I'll put my eight hours in and get home as quickly as I can on Christmas day.

  And yet I realize there are families who can't get together because of distance, or because of work or military service. And there are some families who won't be together because of death. This was brought to my mind afresh yesterday.

  A two year old boy was brought by ambulance to the emergency department. I watched a young father weeping as he waited for the ambulance to arrive. I saw him hit his knees and pray for the little guy. I watched as the doctor and emergency department supervisor gave him the news that they had done all they could do and couldn't save the little boy. My heart broke for the family as I thought about the gifts that will never be opened, about a family planing a funeral for a little boy at what should be the most joyous time of the year. A family, who if they still do it, will gather around a tree next Thursday and be missing a little special person.

  I have been thinking about that, and suddenly my working Christmas Day doesn't seem that bad. I'll walk in and depending on how involved they are in the Wii and computer games, get hugs from all six of my nieces and nephews. I'll walk upstairs to find my parents, my 2 sisters, and my 2 brothers-in-law....and our family will be complete. No holes, just a few hours delay til I get there.

  Our family has always gotten along. We aren't perfect, but there is no fighting. No one is fighting addictions to drugs, alcohol, or nicotine. We are all in fairly good health.

  There was a picture on Facebook that said the best gifts are not the ones under the tree, but the ones around the tree. And it is true. We aren't rich, but we pretty well with gifts. I alone have a couple of gifts for everyone, plus a few gag gifts, so I have around 30 gifts wrapped and under the tree. Add the gifts from everyone else for 13 people, and there are going to be a lot of gifts under the tree.
  And yet, none of them would matter if we had a loss like some families are dealing with. So I am going to enjoy opening my gifts and watching my family open the gifts I got for them, I will enjoy the reactions to the gag gifts I bought, I'll enjoy the laughter as someone opens the yearly tradition of the stuffed hippo..... and I'll be thankful that we are all there. The best gifts aren't wrapped in pretty paper. The best gifts are family.

 And no, I'm still not happy to be working Christmas Day, but there are worse things. And I have off the four days after........

A Strange Way to Save the World

 If one steps back from the Christmas story and thinks about it logically, the whole idea seems crazy. God coming to earth as a baby. Letting Himself be raised by a couple who had never raised any children. Growing up as a boy with all of the joys and pain of childhood, all with the end result of being nailed to a cross for our sins. 

  God can do anything. He is God, after all, so why not do it an easier way. God could still have found a way to save the human race without coming as God in man.

  Max Lucado wrote a book some years back that was originally titled "A Cosmic Christmas", later re-titled "An Angel's Story." It is a fictionalized telling of the Christmas story. As plans are being set in motion for Jesus to come to earth and be born as a baby, Satan arrives to check out what is going on. It is fiction, but we know from the story of Job that Satan can evidently interact with God on some level. He is mocking God for how successful he has been at turning people from God, then the story goes like this: 

The King walked over and reached for the book. He turned it toward Lucifer and commanded, “Come, Deceiver, read the name of the One who will call your bluff. Read the name of the One who will storm your gates.” Satan rose slowly off his haunches. Like a wary wolf, he walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before the volume and read the word:

Immanuel?” he muttered to himself, then spoke in a tone of disbelief. “God with us?” For the first time the hooded head turned squarely toward the face of the Father. “No. Not even You would do that. Not even You would go so far.”

You’ve never believed me, Satan.”

But Immanuel? The plan is bizarre! You don’t know what it’s like on Earth! You don’t know how dark I’ve made it. It’s putrid. It’s evil. It’s…”


But what of their sin?”

I will bring mercy.”

What of their death?”

I will give life.”

Satan stood speechless.

God spoke, “I love my children. Love does not take away the beloved’s freedom. But love takes away fear. And Immanuel will leave behind a tribe of fearless children. They will not fear you or your hell.”

Satan stepped back at the thought. His retort was childish. “Th-th-they will too!”

I will take away all sin. I will take away death. Without sin and without death, you have no power.”

Around and around in a circle Satan paced, clenching and unclenching his wiry fingers. When he finally stopped, he asked a question that even I was thinking. “Why? Why would You do this?”

The Father’s voice was deep and soft. “Because I love them.” (From An Angel's Story by Max Lucado)

  He could have done it another way. But He didn't. Maybe He wanted to feel first hand what it is like for us to be born and grow up, to go through childhood, adolescence.

  And maybe He wanted to give us Christmas. A time when we can kneel at the manger and see the miracle of God as a baby, a bundle of hope and joy for the world. At Easter, we look at the crucified and risen Christ, and that is a whole different picture, but Christmas gives us a baby, Emanuel, God with us and in us. Christmas started it all, Easter finished it. God became vulnerable, become one of the weakest of us, a baby, to show us how much He loves us, and to set His plan of salvation in motion.

We'd never have done it that way. Give up our only Son for people who for the most part had no interest in us or in doing what is right.... no way. But God did. He doesn't always operate in orthodox ways that make sense to we humans. He picked what seems to most of us, a strange way to save the world. But what a way.

I'm sure he must have been surprised
At where this road had taken him
'Cause never in a million lives
Would he had dreamed of Bethlehem
And standing at the manger
He saw with his own eyes
The message from the angel come to life
And Joseph said...

Why me, I'm just a simple man of trade
Why Him, with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside this stable filled with hay
Why her, she's just an ordinary girl
Now I'm not one to second guess what angels have to say
But this is such a strange way to save the world
To think of how it could have been
If Jesus had come as He deserved
There would have been no Bethlehem
No lowly shepherds at His birth
But Joseph knew the reason
Love had to reach so far
And as he held the Savior in his arms
He must have thought...
Why me, I'm just a simple man of trade
Why Him, with all the rulers in the world
Why here inside this stable filled with hay
Why her, she's just an ordinary girl
Now I'm not one to second guess what angels have to say
But this is such a strange way to save the world
Now I'm not one to second guess what angels have to say
But this is such a strange way to save the world
...this is such a strange way...such a strange way...a strange way...
to save the world.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The gift I didn't want

It isn't out of the ordinary to receive a gift at Christmas you don't like. It happens to almost all of us at some point, though I am not too picky, and I think I am pretty easy to buy for. I like clothes, books, CDs, food, and gift cards..... it can't get much easier than that. However, it isn't the norm to be told ahead of time that you are receiving a gift you won't like. But it happened to me.

   I have never been much into sports. I liked softball OK, but was never good at it, and I really liked soccer, but never had much chance to play it. Basketball wasn't my thing, and I didn't mind throwing the ball in attempts to get it in the basket, but football...... even as an adult, there are not words to describe how much I hate football.

  I attended a Christian school, and since it was a small school, all of the boys in grades 7-12 had the same gym class. We sometimes did exercises, but when we played a sport, we all had to play whatever the popular kids wanted to play.....and I wasn't one of those, so I got no vote, which meant I was forced to play whatever everyone else wanted to play. Softball was easy to understand. I never totally got the rules of basketball, but it sort of made sense. It took me a few games, but soccer made a lot of sense. Football? I still don't know what a fullback is, a running back, or much about the game. I was forced (that sounds bad, but it is true) to play a game I didn't know how to play, and I hated it from the start. Eventually, I hated it so much, that I didn't care to understand it.

  Enter the Christmas that I was 14 years of age. My parents decided I needed to play sports more instead of reading so much. They informed me that they were getting me a football for Christmas. I truly thought they were joking. They knew I didn't like football. But they weren't. As we kids opened our gifts on Christmas morning, sure enough..... one of the gifts I opened had a football.

  I was surprised, but they had told me, or should I say warned me? And that was before the days that we started buying gag gifts. And we never spend that much on gag gifts. Now a normal boy would have been excited, would have taken the football out of the box and wanted to go outside and throw the football. But I wasn't a normal boy. I was a boy who hated football, probably more than my parents realized. To this day, I blame sports in general, and football specifically for the bullying I got  in school, which to this day causes me problems.

  So instead of throwing the football, I tossed it. Aside. My sisters eventually took it out of the box and threw it around a bit. It ended up in the basement, where it went flat and got thrown out.

  God said way back in the Garden of Eden that He was going to send the world a Gift. By the time that Gift came, not many people believed it anymore. And many tossed that Gift aside. Herod tried to kill Him. The religious leaders of the day did kill Him. And down through the ages, people have tried to toss Him aside, have tried to wipe any mention of Him from the earth, but He still is there through it all. A Gift for the taking.

 And what a gift. So much better than a football, or any gift that any human has ever given to another. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of any who bow and ask Him into their heart and repent of their sins. No matter what we have done, how wicked we have been, no matter what sins we have committed or how many, one drop of His blood will wipe it all away. We may still do some reaping and suffer the consequences of some of those sins, but they are forgiven and forgotten forever.

  I for one, tend to overlook that at Christmas. Sure, I try to focus on Jesus coming to earth for me, but the "why" gets lost in all of the gift giving and celebrations and busyness of the season. He came to die so that we could come to Him and find forgiveness for all our sin..... sins that we committed against Him.

  When we breathe our last breath, and our soul takes flight, it won't matter what gifts we tossed aside or kept over our life that came from human hands. But it will matter what we have done with the Gift God gave us. He is so much better than a football, even for those who like football.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Have you any room for Jesus?

I think the inn keeper got a bad rap. He didn't know he was turning away God's Son, and technically he didn't turn Him away. He made room for Jesus, just not in a nice warm room where you'd put guests. He sent Mary and Joseph to the stable, so he did make room and didn't turn Him away.

  We who profess to follow Jesus and claim Him as Savior and Lord can tend to gather our righteous robes around us as we think on the inn keeper. He didn't make room for Jesus, but we did and do. He resides in our hearts. We didn't turn Him away. There's even a song about it:

Have you any room for Jesus,
He who bore your load of sin?
As He knocks and asks admission,
Sinners, will you let Him in?


Room for Jesus, King of Glory!
Hasten now His Word obey;
Swing the heart’s door widely open,
Bid Him enter while you may.

  That's a good song, and we don't sing it often enough. Maybe because we in the church feel we have made room, and it is a song to save for the sinners.

  But do we truly make room for Him? Even the inn keeper let Him in, he just didn't give Him his best. How many of us do that? It is wonderful to focus on Jesus at Christmas, to lay aside a day a week to rest, go to church, and spend more time with Him, even more wonderful to set aside a time in the morning or evening to pray and read our Bibles......but what about the rest of the year, the rest of the week, the rest of the day?

 There's another verse of that song that speaks to me:

Room for pleasure, room for business,
But for Christ the Crucified,
Not a place that He can enter,
In the heart for which He died?

  We live in a pleasure mad society. Everything is fast and drive through. We have all kinds of electronics and devices to make our lives faster, easier, and simpler..... but they don't. They instead make life more hectic and fast-paced, and too many Christians relegate Jesus to the stable, instead of giving Him the best room in our heart, the best times of our day, the best part of our lives.

  Occasionally I pause and look back, and am amazed at how fast life has gone, how fast it is going. I don't feel I have accomplished much of anything for God. It's a battle to stay on the right path, and exhausting enough fighting depression, discouragement, and other battles.... I go to church, I pray and read my Bible and a devotional, but am I really making room for Jesus in everything I do, or do I stick Him in the stable and go out and worship Him when it is convenient, and make that small space for Him so I feel I am doing my part as a Christian?

  Our hearts don't have rooms, but we tend to compartmentalize our lives. There's work, church, home, time with friends, leisure time, and time to spend with God. Yet if we do it right, God should be in everything, all compartments of our lives, every day, hour, and second. Jesus should affect every part of our life and we should seek His will in all we do, not put Him in the stable of our life and pull Him out when we need Him.

  The question,"have you any room for Jesus", isn't only for those who haven't invited Him into their heart and life. It is also for all who claim Him as Savior and Lord. Don't just make time for Him at Christmas, but every day and all day all year long.

Monday, December 15, 2014

My problem with Santa

  I posted a link to a great article earlier about Santa, and got a little push back from it, which is OK. It is OK to have differing views on things, and as long as the earth continues to spin in orbit, people are going to disagree. I still think the article had some great points, some of which I had never considered. (link is here)

  Since I am in the mood to blog, and this is on my mind, I decided to blog about my problem with Santa.

  I don't hate Santa. And I know Santa can be traced back to St. Nicolas and all that....but I am still not a Santa fan. I have a few songs about Santa on CD, and I really like the song "Hey Santa", but I own no Santa decorations or do I send any Christmas cards with Santa on or in them.

  I can remember my parents taking my sisters and I to visit Santa, but I can never remember them telling us he was real and brought our gifts. My grandma always wrote "from Santa" on our gifts from her, but we all knew they were from her and my grandpa.

  I like lists, so I will list things I don't like with this Santa thing.

1)I feel it is lying to your kids to tell them he is real and brings their presents. No, it really is. Don't sugarcoat it or say "but....". It is deceiving a child. There's no exception in the Bible for it. Moses 3:1 "Thou shalt not lie, except in things related to Santa. That lie is OK." Really, why argue that point? Is it any different than lying to them about other things? I see no difference.

2) Hinged on that one is something that is brushed aside by parents who tell their kids Santa is real and brings their gifts: If you tell them Santa is real and Jesus is real, how do you know that isn't going to mess them up some day. Just saying it won't is not going to do away with the possibility of it. There are many people who grew up in the church and became atheists. There may not be a way to find out, but there is the very real possibility that there are people who don't believe in God because Mommy and Daddy told them Santa and God were real, then they found out Mommy and Daddy had been lying about Santa all of those years....... so what about God? I know, I know. I have pointed that out to people before and they just shoot it down, but all of the mocking and poo-pooing of the idea does not take away the fact that there is a danger of lying to kids about one thing being real, and expecting them to believe you about God.

3) This may seem silly and humorous, but there is no way I'd buy gifts for a kid, wrap them, watch them open them excitedly....... and let some mythical fat guy in a red suit bought those gifts. No way, Jose'. Uncle Mark bought those with his own money, and the kids are going to know they are from Uncle Mark.... not Santa. Honestly, why would anyone give gifts and let the receiver think they came from someone else? It seems.....dumb.

4) Christmas is too commercialized. We are too focused on everything but the real meaning of Christmas...... and to toss Santa into the mix and let Jesus compete with Santa seems insulting. And forget the statues of Santa kneeling at the manger...... I'd like to smash every one I see. Putting a mythical figure at the manger..... why not throw in the Easter bunny, tooth fairy, and a leprechaun instead of the shepherds and wise men?

5) God's attributes are applied to Santa. "He knows when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake,  he knows when you've been bad or good.......". Only God knows that...... and to give those attributes to a mythical figure borders on sacrilege.

6) Christmas is a religious observation of the birth of our Savior. Christians above all others should seek to keep the holiday Christ-centered, not Santa-centered. I fail to see how one can keep the holiday Christ-centered, while letting kids believe a lie and being a mythical figure into the celebration and observation. Does everything we do have something to do with Jesus? Not necessarily, but the Christmas tree, cookies, gift giving are not trying to take Jesus' place in the way Santa is.

7) Most good parents would question the wisdom in some man they don't know holding their kids on his lap, with the world we live in today.... yet so many perch their kid on strange men's laps every Christmas.......because he has a Santa suit on. A pedophile could be under that suit..... it would be a dream job for them. Who wants to take that chance?

  I'll never have kids. It is a sad fact, but it is a fact. But if I did, I'd want them to learn about Jesus from the start. I'd want them to avoid the struggles I've had to believe. I'd want Christmas to be so Christ-centered that they had no doubts about what Christmas was all about. And that would mean barring the door to Santa.

 Jesus gets too easily pushed aside among all of the hustle and bustle of Christmas.... why let Santa also get in the way?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

It's still the greatest story ever told

I love to read, and have a special fondness for fiction. Some scoff at the idea of reading novels and consider it a waste of time, yet Jesus told a lot of stories, so I don't think He'd knock reading a good story.

  And yet, no one can touch the Christmas story. There's a song the Gaither Vocal Band recorded on their first Christmas CD that is called It's Still the Greatest Story Ever Told. And of all of the stories ever written and told, there is none greater. No other author comes close, and no other author would have come up with such a crazy plan. We in our finite minds can think about it, and be amazed and feel wonder, but I don't think we'll truly get it until we step into Heaven and see what Jesus left for us. Until we see and look on the holiness and majesty of God.

  But we should still think on it, even if we can't fully appreciate it here.

The God of eternity made man and breathed into man a living soul,something no other living thing has.

Then He put something in him called choice. He didn't make robots, but living beings that would choose to serve Him or not. And looking down through time, He saw that most of us wouldn't serve Him. Yet He still made us, and still gave us the ability to choose Him or scorn and refuse Him.

All man had to do was to not eat of one tree, and yet they did that. God knew they would. He knew that one act would bring all sorts of evil and disease. Everything bad can be traced to that one act: cancer, child molestation, abuse, murder.... God saw it all, and yet created us and gave us the ability to choose.

 And after man sinned, God promised a Savior. Even then, He had a plan. And many, many years later, He put it into play.

  We'd have done it differently. Imagine sending your only Son as a baby into the same world that had been mostly rejecting you for so many years. He knew what was coming, and still He did it. And then the way He did it.

 A pregnant virgin? Who would believe that? And to have Him be born in a stable, laid in a manger, instead of the palace and kingly bed that He deserved.

 And then He sent a multitude of angels to announce the birth to........ shepherds? Dirty, smelly, lowly shepherds.

 To let the Son of God be raised by a carpenter and a young woman, to step back and let humans take care of God in man.

  Then 33 years later, to allow evil men to beat, mock, and crucify His only Son. Surely it could have been done another way.

 Yet the only way was blood from a sinless person, and Jesus was the only sinless One.

  God became Man in a very unorthodox way, died and rose again so He could live in our hearts and we could go to live with Him some day. It is a pretty wild tale. Not at all like we would have written the story, but that is the way He did it.

 And of all the stories that have ever been told, or will ever be told, it is still the greatest story. The greatest story ever told.

A woman and an angel, a promise and a song.
A word too grand for any mind to hold.
A tax law and a journey, a stable and some straw.
These tell the greatest story ever told.

Oh sing glory in the highest, he is come our great messiah.
Come bow before this awesome mystery.
Mighty God and fragile baby, here a lowly manger holds.
And it's still the greatest story ever told.

A hillside and some shepherds, a blaze of blinding light.
Angels singing carols in the cold.
Eternal revelation to men as dull as stone.
The glorious, greatest story ever told.

Oh sing glory in the highest, he is come our great messiah.
Come bow before this awesome mystery.
Mighty God and fragile baby, here a lowly manger holds.
And it's still the greatest story ever told.

Oh sing glory in the highest, he is come our great messiah.
Come bow before this awesome mystery.
Mighty God and fragile baby, here a lowly manger holds.
And it's still the greatest story ever told.

And it's still the greatest story ever told.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Fear not

 I've decided to turn over a new leaf, or at least try. I am going to focus on a couple of words from the Christmas story this year that I normally don't pay much attention to. It is the first two  words  the angels spoke to the shepherds when they appeared to them to announce the birth of Jesus: fear not. And no wonder they needed to speak those words. Imagine the scene: a quite hillside with shepherds watching over their sheep. It was at night, so the sheep were most likely sleeping, then suddenly several angels appear. Yeah, they'd be needing to tell me to fear not also, and possibly waving smelling salts under my nose to revive me.

 I don't watch a lot of movies, and try to be careful about what I watch. I bought one that intrigued me last week on a Black Friday special at Family Christian bookstore for $3. I watched it this past Friday evening, and it shook me up. A lot. I won't go into a lot of the plot, but it was a movie depicting spiritual warfare. There was a man who played fear, and his job was to constantly whisper things in people's ears to cause them to worry and fear. At one point, an angel came into the house to defend the couple living there, and the man playing fear told the angel he had to leave, that he had been invited into the couple's lives and he had the rule in the house. The angel's sword turned to dust and Fear kicked him out of the house. Another angel questioned him outside why he wasn't going back into fight, and he replied he couldn't. The couple had invited fear in, and they were powerless to do anything,

  Now I know it was just a movie, but it still shook me up and has had me thinking and praying. Fear has ruled me for years. It has caused me to not apply for some jobs, has stopped me from trying to make friends, and has emotionally, mentally, and physically crippled me. Normal things that might slightly worry most guys terrify me, like starting a new job, applying for a job, going on a job interview.

  There may or may not be a demon whispering fear into my ear, but fear definitely doesn't come from God, so it has to be from the devil and my own insecurities.

 I've even tried to serve God out of fear most of my life.

 The Bible has 233 instances of "fear not" or "be not afraid", so it must be important to God for us not to fear.  Perhaps the best verse about fear is in Isaiah 41:10:

  I have been feeling really checked about this fear issue. To be so fearful means to not trust God. Can I honestly say I am trusting God when I am so fearful? No. I am not trusting God. I pray for His help in situations and ask for miracles, then sit back and expect the worst to happen. A multitude of angels would be a welcome break from the things I fear.

  And I am not talking things. I am scared to death of snakes and heights. I think it is OK with God to be afraid of something like that, but to be so fearful of the future, of change.....of being alone. That is a lack of trusting God, and is not good.

  I have many battles in my life, and if one knew of the battles I face, they may be surprised to find that I feel this is the worst one. It has eclipsed every other battle, and fear has even stopped me from seeking help I needed so many times over the years.... fear of what people would think, fear that I'd be bothering someone.

  Imagine what it must be like to live with no fear. To step into the unknown, knowing God is there and has it under control. To jump off the cliff knowing He'll catch me. To walk through the door with certainty that it will all work out for the best. To raise the knife over your only son, knowing God can raise him back up, to raise your staff over a mighty sea believing God is going to deliver the multitudes of people you are guiding, to be thrown into a den of lions and believe God can keep you safe, to go up against a giant and have confidence God will take him down.

  Many before have had faith, not fear, and they faced worse things than I fear. How did they do it? How am I supposed to do it?

 In the movie, the main character decided he needed to fight for his family and basically kicked fear out....... I wish it were that easy, but there is prayer. If God sees we are serious about doing away with fear and trusting Him, I am sure He will help in that regard.

 Maybe it is no coincidence that those words appear in the Christmas story, "Fear not." Christmas is a good time to seek spiritual renewal, to focus more on Jesus and one's relationship with God. And a great time to set aside our fears and instead of laying gold, frankincense and myrrh at the feet of the Savior, give Him our fears and let Him turn them into trust.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Come let us adore Him

I love Christmas music. I have more Christmas CDs than I can keep track of, and start listening to them in late October or early November. Those CDs are full of all kinds of Christmas songs. There's old and new, serious and funny, religious and secular. There are some great Christmas songs, but the ones that have held up the longest are the ones  that are the most special and should ring a chord in  the heart of every person who serves the Jesus who was born in Bethlehem. Silent Night, Away In a Manger, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear. And O Come All Ye Faithful.

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

  I have been thinking about this song lately. The song says "come all ye faithful." Does that mean only the faithful are invited to come and adore Him. or is everyone welcome to come and adore Him?

  I don't know the intent of the hymn writer, but could it be the song calls for the faithful to come and adore the Savior because they are the ones most apt to come anyway?

 At least once during every Christmas season when I am gazing at the nativity scene or an artist's rendering of the scene, the desire to step into the scene pops into my head. Can you imagine being there, gazing on God in the manger. Emmanuel, God with us. 

 But if we had been alive at that time, would we have been there if we had known? Angels appeared to the shepherds, the lowliest of people. They didn't appear to the religious people of the day, but to the lowliest, Maybe it was because God knew they were more faithful than the religious leaders of the day and all who conformed to their rules and ideals.

  We see how they reacted to Jesus years later. They didn't have time for Him or what He had to say and they wanted Him dead. Most likely, they would not have wanted to kill the baby Jesus as Herod did, but He would not have been found worth their time.

  More importantly, is He worth our time? Christmas is a great time to focus more on the Christ of the Christmas story, to renew our covenant we made with Him when we asked Him into our hearts. It is awesome to come and adore Him this time of year and aim to make the holiday with all of its trappings about Him as much as we can. But if when we pack up Christmas and put it away, we also put Him in a box or on the shelf to just pull out when we need Him, we aren't doing it right.

  The faithful adore and worship Him 365 days a year, 24/7. He doesn't become the center of our lives and attention one month out of the year, but every day of the year. He isn't a baby anymore, but a risen Savior who we need to serve and not make just an important part of our lives, but THE most important part.

  We can't step into the Christmas story, but the most important part of the Christmas story, Jesus, can step into our hearts, and that is far greater than being able to step into the Christmas story and gaze upon and adore the baby king. We can have Him in our hearts and worship and adore Him every day.
  And if we are among the faithful, that is exactly what we will do.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Christmas is for.....

If one would step into our world at this time of year and learn about Christmas through what they see and the songs they'd hear, they'd be confused for one thing. Is Christmas about Jesus, or the fat guy in a red suit? But they also might get the idea that Christmas is for kids and lovers. Everywhere you go, you see Santa and ads for toys and things for the special someone in your life. You hear songs about Santa and Frosty, Merry Christmas Darling (which I love, even if I have no darling), Baby It's Cold Outside (which is just an awful song), and more. Even Christmas stories abound with tales of love.

  It can be rough being a single adult at Christmas. There does seem to be an overabundance of songs about love and lovers at Christmas. The kid's songs don't bother me, but even though I like some of the songs I hear, they can still make a single guy feel left out. I've even found myself wondering about Christmases in the future. Now I have my parents and nieces and nephews that are still kids, but some day.........

  It is human nature to wish for someone special any time of  the year, but Christmas does bring out those feelings more than any other time of the year. To have someone to love and be with, to spend time with family and exchange gifts.

  But Christmas isn't just for kids or lovers. It is for everyone. Underneath all of the music, the gifts, decorations, and all of the other trappings, is the truth of Christmas: That God became a man to die for everyone. Not just kids. Not just lovers. Everyone..... even single guys who are never getting married.

  It is so easy to chirp "He's the reason for the season", and feel we are celebrating Christmas in the right way, and I am not condemning the way we all celebrate it. It just seems we lose sight of the reason we are doing it all. It isn't to spend time with our special love, family, to give gifts and decorate the house.

 It is about Jesus. His coming to earth to live as a man and die for us. So we can live eternally.

  That isn't just for kids and lovers. It is for everyone.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Making Christmas too "Jesusy", a re-post

This post has been on my mind this week, not because I think it was that well written.... I am sure it could be better, but as we are entering this Christmas season, life seems to be going like a whirlwind. I get up early, go to work, come home and eat supper, have around 5 1/2 hours of free time before I go to bed so I can get up the next day and do it all over again.

  And it is bugging me that again, I am working Christmas. It almost seems like a sacrilege, but amid all of the busyness, the work, the shopping....I don't want it to be a holiday I celebrate like the world does. I want my Christmas to be more "Jesusy" than ever before. So with that said, I am re-posting this blog post from last year. Thankfully, I am no longer working Sundays, so I can be in church every Sunday.

I've been thinking this week about something I blogged about a few years ago. I was at the post office here in my town, being the second person in a line of two people. The customer being waited on, a woman, was buying stamps. What she said caught my attention: "I need a book of Christmas stamps, but I don't want anything too Jesusy."

  Anyone who knows me very well will be completely shocked that I had to open my mouth, but I overcame my intense shyness and spoke up, "Too Jesusy? You do know Christmas is all about Jesus and His birth, don't you?" She laughed and gave some explanation about her request, paid, and left.

 What a crazy statement. And a weird word. Whoever heard of "Jesusy" anyway.

 I don't know if my remarks changed her thinking any, but hers have stuck with me. Christmas is all about Jesus, or it is supposed to be, so how can you be too "Jesusy" about His birthday? That's like someone having a birthday party for you and trying not to make it too much about you. Sounds dumb. As dumb as trying not to make Christmas too much about Jesus.

  The truth of the matter is, we are all a bit like that woman. If we are a Christian, hopefully we don't set out to not make Christmas too much about Jesus, but too many of us do exactly that. We chirp "He's the reason for the season" and make sure to say "Merry Christmas", instead of "happy holidays" - and those are important, but it takes more than that to make Christmas about Jesus.

  I did a blog post recently on Keeping Christ In Christmas, and another post on keeping focused on Jesus during Christmas, and that's all well and good, but its easier said than done.

 It is so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle, the Christmas services at church, the gift giving, and good things we associate with Christmas, and even while doing lip service to the real meaning of Christmas, we let the season slip by without truly experiencing it in our hearts.

 What does that look like? We're all different, but I believe we need to focus more on Him at this time. I have been thanking Him for coming for me, for saving me, and trying to spend some time thinking about that night. About what it was like, about the characters in the Christmas story, and what it means that God became a baby for us.

  I'm not setting myself on a pedestal, for I have been just as guilty as any, in doing lip service to the real meaning of Christmas, yet breezing through His birthday, too busy to do more than the usual.

  I have talked a lot about Brennan Manning's book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, and how much the book has helped me. I bought his devotional book, Reflections for Ragamuffins, and I started reading it even though its close the end of the year. He has some great insights into Christmas and that has helped me focus more on Jesus.

  If we don't make Christmas more "Jesusy" in our hearts, it won't do us any good to say "Christmas" instead of holiday, and go around telling people "He's the reason for the season." We should be focused on Jesus 24/7, 365 days of the year, but this is the time we observe His birth. But we shouldn't stop there. We need to meditate on why He came, and think about that baby dying on a cross for our sins. You can't have Calvary without Christmas, but Christmas is only important because of Calvary.

 I want this time to be special. Yes, I love the shopping, the giving and receiving of gifts, the decorations, and everything we associate with Christmas, but I want to focus on the Reason for it all.

  There is only one service I have been in at church this month. I have to work every Sunday morning, and missed the last two Sunday nights, so maybe that has forced me to pursue this more than I would have if I had heard Christmas sermons and been in church. But I haven't had that, so I have had to pray more and focus more on Jesus in the manger and on the cross. Maybe its a good thing I have missed the Christmas services so far. It has caused me to do more searching and meditating on my own. I am, God willing, going to be at our candle light service this coming Sunday night.

  One of the last lines in The Christmas Carol says of Scrooge, "and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge." May it be said of we Christians that we know how to keep Christmas, and keep it Christ centered. "Jesusy", if you will. It is all about Him, it is time we did more to make it about Him.

Paper Angels

  I just re-read a book that I had read when it first came out a few years ago, Paper Angels, by Jimmy Wayne and Travis Thrasher. Although this may sound like a book review that belongs on my other blog where I do review books, it is not intended to be a book review.

  The story is fictional, though after reading Jimmy Wayne's book about his life, I saw some similarities in the fictional story and Jimmy's story.

  The fictional story revolves around a 15 year old boy named Thomas and his mother and sister. They run off from their husband and father to avoid his abuse, and live in some very poor and sad circumstances. So her children can have some gifts for Christmas, the mother signs her kids up for the Salvation Army's Christmas Tree Angel program..... underprivileged kids write out their Christmas wish list and it is written on a paper angel with the kid's first name for someone to take and buy the gifts for. Jimmy Wayne himself benefited from it as a kid, and wrote a song titled Paper Angels on one of his country CDs.

  When I read Jimmy Wayne's story, I found tears in my eyes several times. The same thing happened while reading Paper Angels. Some books are dangerous to read, for they shake you up and make you wish you could do more. And both books did that.

  In the fictional book, the boy asked for an iPod, a pair of Nike basketball shoes, a Chicago Bulls jacket, and a digital camera. There's no way I could afford a Christmas list like that, but I found myself wishing I could do something for someone this Christmas who is in need.

  The year I moved to the state of Indiana, I was very low on cash at Christmas. It didn't look like I would be able to buy gifts for my family for Christmas, but some unknown good Samaritan gave me $100, and I was able to buy some things. Not a lot, but enough that I was able to give.

 I was in the Big Brother program for a few years, and though the boy who was my little brother wasn't poor or destitute, but had a hard working mother. Regardless, I enjoyed spending money on the kid and got him some Christmas gifts. But how much more enjoyable it must be to give to a kid who isn't going to get Christmas gifts.

  We Christians like to spout religious phrases this time of year. "He's the reason for the season", "Wise men still seek Him", "Give Him your heart for Christmas", etc. We like to point out that we give gifts because God gave His Son as a gift for us.... and that is the idea. But how much greater the meaning of Christmas if we give to someone who isn't going to give us a gift back?

  Last year the week of Christmas, I was let in front of a lady while checking out because I had 3 items and she had a cart full. A lady got behind her who only had eggnog, so paid for her eggnog so she wouldn't have to wait. I got a hug, smile, and a "Merry Christmas" out of adding a few bucks to what I was buying.

  Eggnog. In the grand scheme of life, one eggnog bought out of my own pocket for a lady I had never seen before and most likely won't see again...... it isn't going to amount to much. God isn't going to let me into Heaven for that one kind and unselfish deed. But what if we did more? What if everyone who claimed to serve God bought a gift for someone in need, or for someone they don't expect a gift back from?

  God did that. He knew the majority of people down through the ages would refuse His gift and refuse to give in return all He wants from us: our hearts. Not eggnog. A heart.

  I have been praying about it; asking God to help me find someone to do something for this Christmas. A paper angel may be more than I could do, but a gift card, a gift basket, a toy...... I could do that.

  And most of us can. I love to get gifts, but I love to give gifts. But it doesn't always have to be to those who are going to give back. Even the wickedest of people do that. To give to those who cannot give back is to do what all Christians should do. It is what Christmas is all about.

Paper Angels by Jimmy Wayne

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My favorite Christmas songs

Since I listed my least favorite Christmas songs, here are some of my top favorites, in no particular order. I have many more favorites, but here are 20 of my favorites:

1) Mary Did You Know by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd

2) We Are The Reason by Avalon

3) Unto You This Night by Garth Brooks

4)  It's Still The Greatest Story Ever Told by the Gaither Vocal Band

5) Come On, Ring Those Bells by Evie

6) Merry Christmas Darling by The Carpenters

7) A Light In the Window by The Greenes

8) I'll Be Home With Bells on by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton

9) Redeeming Love by Ernie Haase & Signature Sound

10) That's Christmas to Me by Pentatonix

11) Immanuel by Michael Card

12) Our God Is With Us by Steven Curtis Chapman

13) Go Tell It On the Mountain by Brandon Heath

14) Sweet Baby Jesus by the Kingsmen

15) If You Could See What I See by the Whisnants

16) Tennessee Christmas by Amy Grant

17) Christmas In Dixie by Alabama or Kenny Chesney

18) Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree by Brenda Lee

19) Hey Santa! by Wendy and Carnie Wilson

20) New Star Shining by Mark Wills

Christmas songs that make me cringe

 I have been in the mood to blog, and am completely empty of ideas, so this is the result: Christmas songs that I hear that I wish I didn't hear. In no particular order.

1) Blue Christmas by Elvis (or any song by Elvis. I love the song by other people)

2)Santa Baby by anyone

3) Baby It's Cold Outside by anyone

4) That Old Lang Syne by Dan Fogelberg

5) The Little Drummer Boy, with Peace on Earth by David Bowie and Bing Crosby

6) White Christmas with the alternate way of singing it

7) For Christ's Sake, It's Christmas by George Strait

8) Santa Claus Is Coming to Town by Bruce Springsteen

9) Last Christmas by Taylor Swift or George Michael....or anyone

10) Dominick The Donkey by Lou Monte

11) Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays by NSYNC

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A tale of a tree, part 2: the new

  In 1981, we lost everything we owned in a fire that burned the house we were living in to the ground. This deal with the tree was hard on my parents, but I have pointed out some positives from the experience:

1) They didn't lose anything, but a porch

2) They gained more space, bigger rooms.

  Since the siding and roof was damaged on the front of the house, the whole house was re-sided and got a new roof.

Above, the new living room, 8 feet bigger. We can actually have Christmas in there this year. It was never big enough before. My parents even needed more furniture for it and bought two Lazy Boys.

Mom's bedroom (they keep each other awake if they sleep in the same room) :)

The upstairs is what got the biggest makeover. Pre tree, you walked up the steps and stepped directly into one room, low ceilings, and they went down on the sides. There was no door to it, or to the other bedroom that you had to walk through bedroom #1 to get into. No hallways, just two rooms joined by a large doorway.

Now, there is a hallway, doors on two completely separate rooms, and a new bathroom, or half bath, I guess you'd call it......and 8 foot ceilings.

Dad's bedroom, which he gives up when my little sister and her gang visit from Erie.

And the spare bedroom, which as the sign on the door indicates, is where the grand-kids sleep when they are here. It has two double beds.

 And the front of the house, all completed, though thanks to all of the trucks and traffic in the yard, has no grass.