The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Edward Pola and George Wyle, do you know them? If not, you probably know a song they wrote,

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

In 1963, Andy Williams recorded the song for his Christmas album he cleverly entitled, “The Andy Williams Christmas Album.” Some lyrics:

“With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you be of good cheer.
It’s the hap-happiest season of all, with those holiday greetings and gay happy meetings when friends come to call.
There’ll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”


It’s my favorite. Why? Because it describes the Christmas I’ve always wanted but never had. It’s joyful people in parties, with their good friends dropping by, and everyone having a wonderful time. And later they’ll toast marshmallows and go caroling in the snow. Sounds great.

Truthfully, my holidays aren’t like that. December seems rushed, harried, and stressful. Friends rarely “drop by.” Kids don’t go jingle belling. I’ve never toasted marshmallows at Christmas and we’ve never gone caroling in the snow.

Am I a Scrooge? No, I love Christmas, it really is wonderful. It’s just that it can’t live up to the hype, and I’m the one piling on the hype. The song suggests a Christmas experience beyond my reach. No, for me the magic of Christmas isn’t realized by romanticized songs, but by something else.

Focusing on the birth of Christ is what touches my heart and fills my soul. He wasn’t born on December 25, nor does Scripture provide for special observances. Those were started by people wanting to acknowledge his birth with faith and celebration. For 364 days, I’m all about his death and resurrection. But on the 365th day, I  choose to celebrate his birth. I lift him up, high and exalted, for coming to our world and forever changing it.

There will not be any snow this Christmas, so I won’t be out caroling in it. Kids won’t be jingle belling and few people will drop by unannounced. But I will be thinking about his birth, and the cosmic sized purpose for why he came. The night Jesus was born, the universe must have shivered in awe as God came near. So please, let’s lift him up and glorify his name, for his name is Immanuel, and our God came to save us.

Merry Christmas

Becoming A Filled Basket

Thanksgiving leftovers: trays of turkey, mounds of potatoes, and gallons of gravy. Not to mention the cranberries, stuffing, and jello; who decided that Thanksgiving required jello, with cottage cheese?

Afterwards, there are tables to clear, dishes to wash, and a mess in the kitchen. But before all of that, there are leftovers to store. So out come the bowls, aluminum foil, plastic wrap, zip-lock baggies, and the plastic containers with air-tight lids.Then it’s football and pie. Usually, there is leftover pie too, pounds of leftover pie. I love Thanksgiving.

Jesus knew about leftovers. Twice he fed the multitudes with only a few loaves of bread and some fish. Both times, after eating all they wanted, Jesus had the leftovers collected. How did they collect the leftovers – with baskets. They filled twelve baskets the first time and seven baskets the second time.

Question: After miraculously feeding thousands of people, what was the point of the baskets? Clearly, if more food was needed, Jesus could easily multiply some bread and fish. Surely, he didn’t need all those baskets.

Is it possible the baskets represented something else? As if Jesus were saying, “I can provide for all of you, as much as you need, and when you are finished, there will be plenty for everyone else.” If Jesus could feed the masses with so little, just imagine what he could do with nineteen  full baskets? It was a sign:”I am the Messiah, I am Yahweh.”

We cannot deplete God’s power. We can exhaust neither his magnificient mercy or his gargantuan grace. We can’t. After he is finished forgiving the masses, he still has plenty for everyone else. There are yet baskets and baskets full of his compassion, love, and forgiveness. All we need.

Perhaps God has chosen to fill us. Maybe we are the baskets of his grace and divine purpose? Is he looking to bless others by working though us? Are we the living containers of his Word so others can find his kingdom and receive the Gospel’s saving power?

Be a full basket of God, a basket filled with Jesus. Share your heavenly blessings with someone who is empty, hungry, and in need.

God bless you.


Forty Five Million Turkeys Part Two

Not everyone likes turkey. Some find it bland, for others, it’s too dry, and hence the gallons of gravy. But still, it’s a cultural icon, and millions have  turkey every Thanksgiving, like it or not.

Why do we sustain cultural traditions? Is it because we find comfort in maintaining certain sacred rites? I get that, especially at holidays.

About 3500 years ago, the slaves marched out of Ramses. The final straw was the death of Egypt’s first-born sons. Tragedy swept through their families and Pharaoh was finished fighting. That night was different for the Hebrews. They painted lamb’s blood on their doors, so death would pass over. The first Passover meal was eaten that night and would continue for generations to come. Those leaving Egypt would die when their time came, but their ancestors would remember. In some ways, the Jewish Passover observance is beautifully similar to the Pilgrims and America’s Thanksgiving observance.


       The Hebrew Slaves                                     The Persecuted Pilgrims

  1. Left for the promise land                      Left for the new world
  2. They ate roasted lamb                            Ate roasted turkey
  3. Was shared with family                         Was shared with family
  4. Passover signified freedom                  Thanksgiving signified freedom
  5. Generations annually observed           Generations annually  observed

God was the beating heart of Passover. He was their providence for the exodus to Canaan, providing water and manna, and the promise of a better life. He was the reason for their freedom. Every year Jewish families gather around the Seder table to remember and to give thanks to Yahweh.

The Pilgrims left their homes to escape persecution and to find a better life. God led them to the new world, blessing them with freedom. It was a life their children’s children would inherit and then leave to their children. If not for our Pilgrim forefathers, we would not be here, would not have freedoms, homes, and perhaps not even know Jesus. So we gather around the Thanksgiving table to remember, and to give thanks to the Lord Jehovah.

Our November holiday was purposed as a national day of thanksgiving and prayer. For believers, gratitude should be fused into our spiritual DNA. This year, let’s practice the grace of gratitude and remember those who sacrificed so much to bring the message of Christ to the new world.

Let’s not make those 45,000,000 turkeys die in vain. Friends, we are free, prosperous, and alive, all at the same time! May God bless you and may He continue to bless this great land of ours. Happy Thanksgiving.


Forty Five Million Turkeys, Part One

That’s how many birds Americans will eat this Thursday, plus or minus a few hundred thousand. But we are a big nation, with a lot of people, and Thanksgiving is important.


Benjamin Franklin advocated making the wild turkey our national bird, arguing that turkeys were uniquely American. But the Bald Eagle won out. For 364 days, the Eagle soars alone. But on that one day, the Turkey is king. Yes, we kill and eat the king, but still, and we were never going to eat the eagles anyway.

Alexander Hamilton said, “No citizen of the United States shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day.” Well said. But it was President Lincoln who, in 1863, facilitated a national day of Thanksgiving, making it a holiday. Here we are, 152 years later, preparing to roast, fry, and smoke 45, 000,000 turkeys.

It’s a meal shared with family and friends. The Pilgrims shared their feast with Wampanoag native Americans and it lasted thee days.

Our tables will be laid with traditional side dishes like cranberries and pumpkin pie, which the Pilgrims didn’t have. But they had turkey, at least we think they did. William Bradford recorded in his journal that the colonists hunted fowl and venison for the feast. He also mentioned that they hunted wild turkey in the autumn of the year.

Certainly they were grateful and had much in which to be thankful. They lost nearly half their colony that first winter. But the colonists had a profound belief that God led them here, to find all that is best in a life lived in freedom and in obedience to Scripture.

So how are we to relate? Few of us have sacrificed as much. Our Thanksgiving isn’t about surviving a bitter winter. It’s more about the blessings we’ve enjoyed. It’s a day off work and a gathering of our favorite people. Great amounts of great food with sweet fun, and football enjoyed with pie and ice cream.

But maybe, just maybe, it’s also about something else. Perhaps deep down in those places we don’t often access, Thanksgiving really is a God thing. The Lord led them across a violent sea, to an unknown future, to establish a new world. God led them here and we are richly blessed because of their faith and courage. Praise be to God!

In Part Two of this article,  I will attempt to connect our hearts and minds to the greater meaning of Thanksgiving. Perhaps it is a God thing after all.

I’ll publish Part Two on Tuesday afternoon.

Three Things You Need To Know About These Stones

2013-01-14 11.09.19.jpgThe stones in this picture are from an ancient Canaanite culture. Meaning that the stones themselves are ancient and probably predate Abraham. However, it’s likely that Abraham would have passed by them on his travels in Canaan, and would have interacted with the descendants of those who placed them there.

What are the three things you need to know? Glad you asked!

1 .The stones represented boundary markers. They were signs to anyone passing by that they were traveling on someone’s land.

2. The stones were treaty markers between tribes. The agreements would have been about trade covenants. For instance, permission to travel across their land for some kind of compensation. As well as other aspects of tribal life.

3. The stones stood next to a stone basin. The basin was hewn out of a large rock and was used in animal sacrifices. The blood pooled in the basin, and then was used in ceremonies related to the treaties and covenants.

I stood there, marveling at their size and imagining the people who set them in place 4,000 years ago. To them, the stones stood for boundaries, treaties and covenants, and the blood used to seal the covenants.

In Jesus our Messiah, we have a living stone. He existed both in reality and as a symbol, for God’s plan to redeem mankind.

Jesus is our boundary marker. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He knows his flock and his flock knows him, they know his voice, and will follow no other. We are his body, his temple, and his bride. Jesus is our boundary, we are subjects of his kingdom.

Jesus is our  peace marker. The treaty between God and man was made by Jesus our Messiah. He made the peace for those who were near and those who were far off. Jesus is our peace.

Jesus is our stone basin. His was the blood that washed the sins of the worldHe was the Lamb of God. By his blood we are cleansed, made whole, and made holy. Jesus the living stone, is our basin of stone.

Four thousand years ago, people set up stones of great meaning, solemnized in blood, kept for posterity. Jesus our Messiah is all of that and so much more. We lift him up in our hearts, we glorify him in our words, and we honor him with our actions. Jesus our Messiah, our living stone!

Winning The Important Races

IMG_0282I should have been a race car driver. But I’m not. If I had been, I would have raced at the Indianapolis Speedway, the racing capital of the world.

IMG_0276Here I am in front of the track with that iconic tower in the background. I could smell the burning rubber and high-octane fuel.

Getting to see the winning cars in the museum was awesome. I IMG_0279marveled at how sleek and powerful they were. I could have been a driver.

IMG_0270It was so cool at track level, I could almost feel the wind of the speeding cars rushing by. It stirred my imagination. I was born to race.

IMG_0264I’m in an Indy car. Feels good, feels right. If I were years younger, pounds lighter, and inches shorter, I could have made it. Talent and ability would have helped. Can you see how good I look? But I was never meant for such things.

Yes, I was at the Speedway and wearing my cap. I’d taken the tour and seen the museum, (It’s where I got the cap). But it wasn’t enough. I guess it takes more than a hat to race Indy cars.

Will it take more to be an effective believer? Will it require more than a hat to change our world? We look out and see hard and complex things all around us. There’s hatred and violence, and Satan rules as the Prince of Darkness. We believers need to put on the armor of God, fighting not with the weapons of the world, but with divine power. Has there ever been a better time for Christians to be vessels of holiness and instruments of light? The army of God marches in humility and prayer. But, we march as soldiers of righteousness. We are cities on hills, shining out bright and clear. The darkness cannot be wished away. It can only be expelled by light, yours and mine. The word of God empowers us and the Holy Spirit fills us. We need to suit up for the darkness is gaining.

To be a truly effective servant of Christ requires more than taking the tour. Come on folks, let’s get in the game. Let’s win the race.

Lets be authentic.

Jesus, Have Pity On Us!

thanksgivingTen lepers are a group of very sick people. From Luke 17, Jesus was entering a village when the ten called to him. They did so from a distance, for they were unclean, and leprosy could do that to a person. Required to keep their distance, they knew better than to approach him, for the clean could not risk becoming defiled. What did they say? “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”

It’s likely they were separated from family, removed from their villages, and unwelcome at the door of anyone’s home. They couldn’t enter the Synagogue for prayer and Torah reading. They were outcasts and would likely die a lonely, painful death. They were a band of broken brothers, linked by leprosy. “Jesus, have pity on us!” He did. He healed them and his healing was a total fix. He wasn’t just curing illness, but provided a complete restoration of the body. Appendages were brought to life. Noses of rotting flesh were replaced with healthy tissue, their ears and limbs were repaired.  They were as good, or even better, than before they got sick.

I would have quickly found a priest to pronounce me clean, then complete Torah’s requirements, and head for home like a scalded dog. I would rush through the door of my house to hold the children I hadn’t hugged and embrace the wife I hadn’t kissed. All my family and friends would celebrate my good fortune. It would be glorious!

Odd that one of the ten was Samaritan. Only in the company of lepers would a Samaritan be accepted by Jews. Even more odd, is that he went back to tell Jesus thank you, and did so while kneeling at his feet. Before returning home, before his wife and family, he said thank you. “Where are the others,” Jesus asked?

Perhaps they were too busy celebrating to consider such courtesies?

Jesus made me clean. He washed my sins and then he scrubbed the stains. He repaired my soul, restored my life, and brought me back to the Father. I am whole and wholly renewed. But am I thankful? “Jesus, have pity on us.”

It’s fifteen days till Thanksgiving. But please don’t wait to tell Jesus thanks. Any day is a good day to remember our blessings and be grateful, don’t you think?

Five Things I Am Not Thankful For

Houston Freeways1. Insane Freeway Drivers: When did Houston’s freeways become racetracks? There’s a lot of crazy people driving at crazy speeds and pulling crazy stunts. They are a menace to society and a danger to themselves. And especially to me. Has all sanity suddenly slipped?

2. Dueling News Shows: I get hundreds of TV channels, most of which are nonstop news shows with talking heads reporting things they’ve already said a dozen times. Okay, maybe not most of the channels, but too many of them! I just love the promotional spots they do about their own news casters, as if I would select my news based on how personable and civic-minded the talking heads were. It’s insane and I’m getting off the merry-go-round.

3.  Day Light Savings Time: Really? Sure, it served a purpose. But its 2015 and hundreds of millions of us don’t want it anymore. Did you know that the hour of lost sleep contributes to diminished productivity, diagnosed depression, and other desperate behaviors and thoughts? Whatever value DST once had, it’s done; it’s had its day. And I say it’s high time we pull the shade on it. Uh-Huh.

4. Home Invasions-The Telephone: There should be a law limiting telemarketers to when they can make their unwanted, uninvited invasions into our homes. No more than an hour a day sounds about right. I mean, good grief Charlie Brown, enough is enough. Can we get to the place where arrests can be made, fines issued, and community service inflicted? Telemarketing is a blemish on the landscape of America. I vote revolt.

5. Lines, Lines, Everywhere A Line: Keeping me waiting in line has become a global obsession. The freeways are just lines of unmoving traffic, except for the crazies mentioned above. I can’t remember waiting less than 45 minutes to be called in a Doctor’s office. At the pharmacy, there is always a line ahead of me and when I’m done, there isn’t anyone behind me. How can that be? And don’t get me started about drive through lines. “Drive through lines,” are you kidding? They should be called “crawl through lines.” It’s out of control. I’ve had it with the lines.

These are five things for which I am not thankful. Yes, I know, it’s the season to give thanks and I do, mostly. It annoys me that the apostle Paul said to, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Easy for him to say, he didn’t live in 21st century America with all of our challenges and problems. Clearly his was a life of simple, peaceful existence. I might be more thankful if my life was as easy and free of conflict as his was. Don’t you think?

It’s just a thought, thanks.

Contracts or Connections?

cross at sunset“Don’t cry, don’t be afraid, and don’t show weakness.” Are these the universal rules for manliness? Often it gets lumped into one rule: “don’t show, share, or talk about your feelings.” Men and boys are allowed their enthusiasm and excitement while on a playing field. They can root, holler and yell at sporting events, but that’s about it. If they lose, or their team loses, they can show disappointment, but no real emotions. Remember the line, “There’s no crying in baseball.”

It’s a social contract isn’t it? Feelings aren’t shared. Shame, fear, guilt, sadness and grief; it all gets pushed down and sealed over. Our culture insists that emotions are feminine while emotional disconnection is masculine.

Jesus was a man and he showed his feelings. But men struggle with his emotionalism. He openly wept and cried. He showed compassion and concern. He loved children, especially the infants, holding and blessing them. He wasn’t a woman; he was a man and was masculine. If you doubt that, then ask the money changers in the temple courts. Jesus made a whip and whipped them out of the temple. It wasn’t miraculous. It was a man with righteous anger cleansing the stains of greed and exploitation. Now see him carrying the cross, bruised, battered, and beaten. See him hanging there, scourged, impaled, and bleeding. Jesus, the son of God, will soon die for you. Is he a real man yet?

Men, can we overcome the social contract we were born to honor? Can we admit that we need genuine connection with Jesus, and not just an embracing of his intellect? We are naturally drawn to his strength and amazing power. But can we also be drawn to his heart and soul? I know, we aren’t going to join a circle, light some candles, and share our feelings. We don’t have to. But our relationship with Jesus needs to also have heart connection.

Let’s reach out to Jesus a little more. This week, let’s find our Messiah’s heart by seeing a child in need. Let’s experience his mercy and grace by giving some mercy and grace. Be Jesus to someone, sharing his soul as well as his mind. Let’s strive for a real connection and not settle for an impersonal contract.

Finding Purpose

BAFD9125-03CB-4367-9911-087D7F333428This a picture of my friend Keren and her husband. She is Jewish, lives in Israel, and her goal is to become a tour guide, licensed by Israel’s Department of Tourism. While on a private tour, my good friend and guide introduced me to Keren. I had the very great blessing of spending a few hours with her to hear her story. I’ve met a number of interesting people in Israel, but none quite as intriguing as Keren. You see, she is a survivor of a terrorist attack. While riding home on public transportation, a man got on and detonated the bomb strapped to his chest. Many died and those who didn’t suffered severe injuries. When she regained consciousness, she was lying in the street, disoriented and bleeding. People poured into the street and began doing whatever they could. A man approached Keren and did what he could for her while waiting for emergency services. She was taken to a hospital and in time recovered from most of her injuries. She still suffers from some of the injuries. But that’s not the best part of the story. The Jewish man who attended to her was a believer in Jesus. Over time, this man and Keren built a friendship and eventually she professed faith in Jesus Christ and became a Christian.

I sat there mesmerized as she told her story. Her coming to Jesus seemed a miracle to me, and of course, the best part of her story. But if you talk with Keren, she will tell you that the best part isn’t that she survived, or became friends with a Jewish Christian, or even that she became a Christian, at least not exactly. She will tell you that the best part was coming to know that Jehovah God, Yahweh, loved her and had a plan for her life. She will tell you that God used the hatred of a Palestinian youth to bring about the life her Heavenly Father always intended her to live.

Keren’s hope is to share her story with as many people as she can, with her Jewish friends and with those from around the world who come to the Holy Land and are in need of God.

This week, take a moment to take stock of your life and purpose. Who are you? What has God purposed for you? Ask Keren. She will tell you her purpose wasn’t just to survive a terrorist attack, or even to meet a Christian. She will say that her purpose is to live for God, to praise His holy name, and to boldly share her faith with everyone she meets. My friend Keren, wow.