Pt 4: Twelve Days of Christmas

“All Alone On Christmas,” is the title of a Christmas song released by Darlene Love in 1992. Tough to be all alone on Christmas.

The Grandparents

Seems like their whole world revolves around the grandkids. I loved having grandma visit us. She was fun, laughed a lot, and was really cool. She bought me my first skateboard, though I’m not sure she had my parent’s approval. Grandma was the best!

What About Jesus?

Although Jacob was mentioned as Joseph’s father, there’s no mention of Jesus having grandparents. But it’s reasonable to think that he did. It must have been hard for them when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to live in Egypt. Grandparents aren’t as happy when the grandkids live in another country.

grandparents-christmas

Good and Godly People

The Messiah was circumcised on his eighth day and given the name Jesus. He was later consecrated to God since he was the first born son. While there at the temple, an older man named Simeon took Jesus in his arms and blessed him, a very grandfatherly thing to do. Joseph and Mary marveled at what Simeon said to them about their son.

When an older woman, a prophetess named Anna, saw Jesus she went up to them and gave thanks for the baby. A very grandmotherly thing to do. She spoke about Jesus’s future, of how he would restore Israel. It was an amazing day for the young couple, to have so much attention from such good and Godly people.

Jesus and Christmas?

Christmas is a time when grandparents spoil their grandkids. But in ancient Egypt, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus were probably all alone. They didn’t have lights on the house, a decorated tree, or a little wooden manger scene with a little baby Jesus. 

Nativity Scene and Santa's Sleigh 12-20-14

To Close

Please forgive my foolishness. “Christmas” was a long, long way away from being celebrated. On the second “Christmas,” the one-year old messiah wasn’t surrounded by a large and loving family with brightly wrapped gifts. 

His parents were busy keeping him safe from those wanting to kill him. 

All alone on Christmas? I think we owe a great debt of gratitude to Joseph and Mary.

Merry Christmas

Pt 3: Twelve Days of Christmas

“There’s no place like home,” said Dorothy. Was she right?

Off To London

In 1958, my Air Force Dad received orders for England, so off we went, me, mom and my two brothers. We lived there for about four years. It was wonderful, I’m told, as I don’t really remember much. But then the time came to return to the states. We were very excited, for like Dorothy, there was no place like home.

Jesus In Egypt

Nazareth was Mary and Joseph’s ancestral home, and would ultimately be Jesus’ home too. But at his birth, and for a while, the young Messiah had no home but Egypt. His birth threatened King Herod and Herod tolerated no threats to his crown. Failing to find and finish the infant king of the Jews, he had the male children of Bethlehem, age two and under, put to death. Joseph and Mary escaped to Egypt, to flee Herod’s villainy.

But Egypt, Really?

 The challenge was that Egypt was full of Egyptians, not Jews, not Abraham’s descendants. Although there were probably some Jews living there.

How did Joseph make a living? Did he find work in the Arab community? Was there a Synagogue? How about Passover and Pentecost? Scripture doesn’t say but I can’t imagine them going back to Jerusalem for the feasts. So they lived in isolation, hiding from Herod. Can you imagine knowing there are people, at the highest levels of government, committed to murdering your child?

How did they manage? It had to be hard and disheartening.

Pyramids

The Greater Good

But there was divine purpose for the young Messiah. So thank God for Egypt, for there our savior survived. The world needed him to die, but not as an infant, and not in Egypt or Bethlehem. 

The beating heart of Christmas is that Emmanuel came near. God came to help and he came as an infant. Good people loved and protected him. For it would do us little good to murder the Messiah within hours of his arrival.

To Close

At his birth, the Messiah didn’t have a home, nor did he have one at his death. Yet he came to give us new birth and take away our fear of death. He came to take us home.

Dorothy was right. There really is no place like home.

Merry Christmas

Pt 2: Twelve Days of Christmas

I like small towns; they can be charming, friendly, and quaint.

Living In Small Towns

Living in a small town can be a blessing. At least they have for me. But as a rule, they have little in the way of great importance. Sorry, but getting a single blinking light in the middle of town doesn’t qualify for change of status.

An Exception?

The exception is when someone from a small town becomes famous. Maybe an athlete, a movie star, a rock star, or even President. Then everyone knows the small town because they know the celebrity.

Guess Who Came From A Small Town?

Jesus lived in a small town. When his family came back from Egypt, they returned to Nazareth; Mary and Joseph’s home town. The village was agricultural, had little economic strength, and never exceeded 500 in population. It wasn’t an important town.

In fact, when Nathanael heard that Jesus was from Nazareth he asked, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

Humble Beginnings

Think about Jesus and his humble beginnings. Nazareth wasn’t famous. There were no academic institutions, no financial empires, it couldn’t boast of world class research or medical facilities. There wasn’t a respected seminary. It never made the list for the best small towns in Palestine.

Jesus saved the world, but the world knew nothing of Nazareth.

Maybe Jerusalem?

Wouldn’t Jerusalem have been a better choice? It had the temple and the feasts. It was home to the Sanhedrin, the Sadducees, and the Priesthood. It was the city of Prophets and Kings. It makes sense that he would be raised there. But no, our Messiah was a small town boy.

Perhaps he stayed out of the light until he was ready to be the light.

Nazareth? It wasn’t anything special. There wasn’t anything special about my home town either. Christmas isn’t celebrated because Nazareth was special. 

In Closing

On a cold, starlit night, the Son of God was born.

He didn’t even get to be born in his small, unimportant home town.

TheNativity (600 x 300)

Jesus was born for all the people from all the unimportant places. He was born for me. 

Merry Christmas

Day 1: Twelve Days of Christmas

Have you ever had to search for your child?

When Our Kids Were Little

When the kids were little, we typically took separate cars to church. I left early, then the family followed later. It worked find, mostly. But it didn’t work on the Sunday when Danielle went home with only one child, thinking our son was with me. Walking into the house I knew something was off. She quickly asked, “Where is he?” 

It’s all funny now, but for the one left behind, not so much.

Guess Who Else Got Left Behind?

At age twelve, Jesus wasn’t really a boy any more, but was transitioning to manhood. Culturally, if he had learned the Torah, which was largely about memorization, he would be rewarded with his first trip to Jerusalem for Passover. He had learned it, and off he went with mom and dad.

Afterwards, as they were headed home, and had traveled all day, they realized their son wasn’t with them, that he wasn’t with the caravan. So it was back to Jerusalem, probably walking all night. Imagine Joseph and Mary struggling with worry and guilt. Or did fear occupy their thoughts?

After Three Days

They found him in the temple courts, sitting with the Rabbis, who were amazed with Jesus. His parent’s reaction was less amazement and more astonishment. They couldn’t believe that after three days of stress and anxiety, that their son was just fine and in the company of Israel’s finest teachers. They were a bit angry.

Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” He answered her, but Mary and Joseph didn’t understand his answer. They couldn’t grasp that being in his Father’s house was all about the Father’s business, the business of saving the world.

Before there was an ascension, there was an empty tomb, a cross, and a ministry. There was a trip to Egypt, there were shepherds and wise men, there was a star in the sky, a stone cold manger, and a virgin birth.

My blog for the next eleven days will go backwards, beginning today with Jesus at the temple and finishing with his birth.

In Closing

Jesus was left behind. But he wasn’t lost, he was only moving forward to the time when he would be the one searching, seeking and saving the lost.

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Merry Christmas

The Most Wonderful Time!

Is Christmas really the most wonderful time of the year?

caroling-in-the-snow-e1386967276161

What Does The Song Say?

Edward Pola and George Wyle, do you know them? You probably know the song they wrote, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

In 1963, Andy Williams recorded the song for a Christmas album he cleverly entitled, “The Andy Williams Christmas Album.”

Some Of The 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.

carolingwp

It’s My Most Wistful Carol

It describes the Christmas I’ve always wanted but never had. The song tells of people in parties, of good friends dropping by, and everyone having a wonderful time. Then there’s marshmallow toasting and caroling in the snow.

 Truthfully, Christmas isn’t like that for me. It’s rushed, harried, and often stressful. Friends aren’t “dropping by.” Kids aren’t jingle belling. I’ve never toasted marshmallows at a party or caroled in the snow.

Am I A Scrooge?

Nope, I love Christmas and all the songs. It’s just that it can’t live up to the hype. The song suggests an experience beyond my reach. 

For me, the beauty of Christmas is found in something else, in someone else.

The Messiah’s Birth

The birth of Christ moves me most. The Christmas I love is a combination of cultural traditions laced with the biblical account of the Messiah’s birth.

For most of the year, I’m all about his death and resurrection. But in the holiday season, I lift him up, high and exalted, for coming to our world and forever changing it.

The angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”

To Close

It won’t be snowing in Houston, so I won’t be caroling in the snow.

carol-singers-in-snow-007

But I will be thinking about the global purpose for his coming. The universe must have shivered in awe as God came near.

Let’s lift him up and glorify his name, for his name is Emmanuel; God came to save.

Merry Christmas

When Life Seems Perfect

There’s just something about the hill country.

It’s In Texas

If you aren’t familiar with the Texas hill country, then you aren’t familiar with some of the best of what Texas has to offer. Yes, there are hills big and small, and beautiful to see. There are charming towns with great places to eat, great places to shop, and great places to fish, hunt, hike, and camp.  

And Me?

I’m at a hill country ranch between Llano and Fredericksburg. The ranch sits on three thousand acres and the ranch house sits right in the middle, isolated from roads, vehicles, and people. The ranch belongs to the family of one of my best and closest friends.

What Do I Do?

I can do lots of things. I can hunt, but I don’t hunt, or even own a gun. But I do love watching the deer, turkeys, bob cats, foxes, coyotes, squirrels, raccoons, and even the wild pigs. There are so many kinds of birds. Some are plain and ordinary while others are brightly colored and spectacular. They busy themselves as birds do, chirping and chattering. They are fun to watch.

But my favorite thing of all is doing nothing, and I’m great at it. The best place to do nothing is on the back porch, in a rocking chair, letting the stress and worries melt away. It’s the art of relaxation, the value of being still and quiet.

The Natural Beauty

The Texas wild flowers bloom in the spring. The ranch looks like it’s been carpeted with millions of multi-colored flowers.

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Then there’s the night sky, adorned with stars so bright you can’t stop looking; and at times, it feels like you could reach up and grab one. But my favorite ranch magnificence are the sunsets. I can’t explain it, but the sunsets here are glorious, with the deepest of reds and oranges. They stretch across the evening sky and somehow manage to be unique every night.

an-amazing-hill-country-sunset

To Finish Up

I’ve been coming at least once a year for twenty years. The annual ranch trip is always in December. Right now, my friend is hunting and I’m at the ranch house, sitting at the kitchen table writing this blog. I have a cup of steaming coffee and some soft Christmas music in the background.

In this moment, life seems absolutely perfect.

Merry Christmas

Great Friends, Good Times

I haven’t’ blogged about friendship in a while, so here goes.

Friends Again

One of my closest friends is a friend I nearly lost. The issues don’t matter. What does matter is that we found a path back and are now closer than ever.

We had a planned phone call last week to discuss some work items, but we never got to them. Instead, we talked about life, faith, victories and defeats. It was marvelous. Good friendships are just the best.

Don’t give up on the possibility of renewing old friendships. Don’t give up on people, because you don’t want people giving up on you. It’s a golden rule thing.

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Work Friends

Saturday evening my wife and I hosted a Christmas party for our church staff and their spouses. There were four dinner tables set up to accommodate everyone. Dinner was great and then we gathered to play a game, men against the women. The men won in a landslide, although I was accused of bending the rules. Maybe.

The best part was just having everybody together. We laughed and enjoyed one another and had a fabulous time. Frankly, the people I work with are just the best. I respect and appreciate them so much. Its great to work with great friends.

Some things I appreciate about friends:

  1. Being connected with others.
  2. A sense of community.
  3. People to care about.
  4. People who care about me.
  5. The love.

friends-talking-on-a-bench

We are fast approaching the most meaningful of the holidays, the birth of Christ. Not everyone celebrates his birth, for them it isn’t a religious observance. But many do. Either way, Christmas can be a time to enjoy our friends, to appreciate them, and to make sure they know how we feel. Make the effort. You’ll be glad you did.

In Closing

I’ll leave you with this prayer:

“Good morning Holy Spirit. I lift up praise, glory and honor to you and to the Father and to Jesus my Messiah. Thank you for shaping my life with love, patience, goodness, and peace. Thank you Holy Spirt for all the fruits of Godly character. Thank you for helping me to make good friendships with great people. Amen.”

Shalom

Strength To Finish

Some childhood memories about finishing things:

  1. “Did you finish your chores?”
  2. “Did you finish the dishes?”
  3. “Did you finish your homework?”

kid-doing-homework

housework

Finishing Things

It was important to finish what we started. Sure, some of it was about getting things done and doing well in school. Mostly it was about character development. It was considered good character, good manners, and was just good to finish what was started.

child-doing-dishes

Some Things I Didn’t Finish

  1. Boy Scouts: I quit after 6 weeks, not exactly Eagle Scout material.
  2. Hog Farm: It was summer work and I didn’t last the summer.
  3. Model Rocket Club: couldn’t get the rockets to launch.

The hog farm was stinky, dirty, and gross. The Boy Scouts took too much time. The rockets were tedious to make and required way too much effort. Excuses, excuses.

Excuses, Excuses

There are always quick and easy excuses for not finishing. Finding the strength to finish comes from within. It comes from the heart.

Some Good Finishers

Paul finished strong. He wrote about finishing his race. Moses succeeded in leading the Israelites across the desert to the promise land. Noah had to finish the ark, his family’s lives depended on it. David didn’t just knock Goliath down with a rock, he also cut his head off; and that’s a good finish. Mary stayed at the cross to the bitter end. When it comes to their kids, mothers are typically world class finishers.

A Strong Finishing Kick

In track there is a thing about a strong finishing kick. It came at the end of the race as the runner approached the finish line, that he commits to the finish kick: to dig deep, run harder, ignore the pain and hit the finish line with everything he has to give. That’s finishing strong.

Too Close

Will we finish strong as the end of 2016 approaches? Is there something that needs to be completed? Is there a letter you’ve avoided writing, or a phone call you’ve ignored making? Maybe there’s a project to finish or a promise to keep? It’s not too late to finish strong. Remember, the strength to finish comes from within, it comes from the heart. The strength to finish comes from the power of God within. 

With God all things are possible. We can do it. Let’s finish strong.

Shalom  

Cold For The Homeless

My friend asked me to help serve lunch to some homeless people. I served the soup.

I overheard them as they went through the line. They talked about the cold front and the preparations they needed to make. Temperatures would drop into the 40’s, a fairly cold night for Houstonians.

It Made Me Think

I wondered about them, how they would cope, where they would go, what they would do. They have a life no one wants. A life no one envies. 

The Holidays

Maybe it’s the Christmas season. It seems easier to be a bit more compassionate. For them, every day is the same. It’s about surviving.

The holidays can affect us in different ways. Christmas isn’t always happy for everyone. Some will be alone for the first time. Some will celebrate without their kids, or grandkids. Others will be separated by distance, will be in places they wish they didn’t have to be, but duty requires it. God be with them.

The Blues

There is a seasonal depression that affects some of us. We want certain things to be a certain way. But they won’t and the disappointment can be really hard. Some fall into a funk, crawl deep inside ourselves, and just disconnect. Hopefully, we come out of the cave to once more seek the fellowship of family and friends.

Many won’t have a snowy Christmas in a beautiful cabin, with a roaring fire and a freshly cut tree with scores of brightly colored gifts. We won’t be in the company of a large and loving family, with sweet children, and close friends. It won’t be a post card Christmas.

To Close

Whatever else this holiday season may be, I pause to acknowledge that I don’t have to sleep outside tonight. I know where my next meal is coming from and I don’t have to worry about the cold front.

So I’ll leave you with this:

“Good morning Holy Spirit. Thank you for blessing us, thank you for being with us, for being the Father’s gift. We look to you for comfort. And help us to be thankful, no matter the circumstances, for we know we are loved. And we want to glorify you and the Father for sending Jesus to be born. Merry Christmas Father”

Peace

Seeing Behind the Scenes

We constantly benefit from unseen people. We receive services and assistance from people we can’t physically see.

Some Examples

The bank teller at the drive-up window. Those working in restaurant kitchens. The trash collectors who are rarely see. Every morning my office is clean. My compensation is paid twice monthly; and somebody somewhere makes sure it happens.

kitchen

Another Example

Yesterday, I mentioned our Children’s Christmas Musical and expressed appreciation to those who produced it. They deserve a lot of credit and gratitude.

But allow me to mention some others. There were professional level light, sound, and camera people in the A/V booth. A program was designed, printed, stapled, and folded. Volunteers served dinner to the children before the performance. Afterwards, hundreds entered the gym to find tables and chairs set up. The tables had lovely, seasonal center pieces. There was delicious food, deserts, and beverages. There was hot cocoa!

Somebody had to make the food and drinks, decorate the tables, and make sure that 400-500 people had all they wanted.

Somebody.

And after we all drove home, somebody had to clean up and put everything away.

 Who were they? They were the great unseen.

Seeing Behind The Scenes

To you who missed the musical because you were someplace else preparing to serve everyone else, I say God bless you. I don’t know who all labored in the shadows, or worked in the background, to insure the evening would be a huge success. But to all of you on behalf of all of us, thank you!

You are the hidden talent. The quiet servants. The humble givers.

Jesus knows.

To Close

We often measure the success of things by what can be counted.

To those everywhere, serving in the background, laboring in the shadows, who are often overlooked, unnoticed, and un-thanked, you are the real heroes. You are all the reasons. You may feel uncounted, but believe me, you count and you count huge.

God bless you.