Twelve Days of Christmas

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Is it really? 

It’s What The Song Says

Do you know Edward Pola or George Wyle? Probably not? But you know a song they wrote,

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

They published their song in 1963, and that same year Andy Williams recorded it on his Christmas album, 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
Not my typical Christmas, not even close!

A Wistful Carol?

It describes the Christmas I always want but never have. It mentions parties, friends dropping by, and gay happy meetings. And don’t forget the marshmallows and caroling. Sounds wonderful. It should, it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

 Truthfully, Christmas isn’t like that for me. It’s often rushed, harried, and stressful. There are deadlines to meet and too many events to attend. The kids aren’t jingle belling, nobody’s dropping by and there’s no snow for caroling.

Am I A Scrooge?

Nope, I love Christmas. It just can’t live up to the hype. The song portrays an experience  beyond my reach. For me, the beauty of Christmas is found elsewhere.

It’s found in the birth of Christ. My Christmas is a blend of the bible story and our personal traditions.

During the year, I’m all about his death, burial, and resurrection. But in the holiday season, I’m all about his birth. I lift him up, high and exalted, for coming to our world.

“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

I live in Houston, so I probably won’t be caroling in the snow. However, I will be celebrating and thinking how the universe must have shivered in awe as God came near in the infant King.

nativity-baby-jesus-christmas-2008-christmas-2806967-1000-5581

Over the next twelve days, I’ll blog the Christmas story, beginning with his childhood and moving back to the night of his birth.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Merry Christmas

Jesus Struggling, Really?

He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.

Who Was?

  1. Lincoln: he lost children, was hated, shot at, and assassinated.
  2. Luther: was excommunicated and pronounced an outlaw.
  3. Copernicus: rejected as a heretic for his heliocentric solar system.
  4. Paul: scourged, jailed, beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked.

All true, but no, it wasn’t one of them. Some other clues:

He was…

Like one from whom men hide their faces.

Stricken and afflicted by God.

Crushed for our iniquities.

Oppressed, judged, and cut off.

Poured out and pierced.

It was Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

And The Cross?

Yes, Jesus died on the cross. However, he wasn’t the only one to experience crucifixion. Hundreds of thousands died on Roman crosses. Some for their crimes, for their race, or for their beliefs. Many were crucified as entertainment for wicked Emperors.  

The Bible

No, it wasn’t the thorns, spikes, or spear that gave the cruelest pain, it was other things:

taking the sins of the world

accepting our guilt and punishment

scorning the shame of the cross

being forsaken by his Father

Now Hebrews 5:7-8

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.”

Jesus suffered and wept. He wept for others and he wept for himself. He prayed with loud cries and petitions. One time he prayed so intensely, that on a cold night, his sweat fell like drops of blood. Notice, he was heard but the answer was still no. 

There are some things in life we just have to go through.

To Close

Are you hurting? Are you struggling? Are you feeling abandoned, oppressed, and discouraged? Then guess what? Jesus understands. He experienced all those and more, just as we have. He probably suffered more, and more deeply, and more intensely. 

But he knows. He lived them. 

Shalom

A Self-Indulgent Coffee

I don’t’ complain, I’m not a complainer.

Here’s My Complaint

Yesterday morning I awakened to cooler temperatures. It was wonderful. Okay, that’s not the complaint.

I headed to the office and decided to listen to Christmas music. I know, it’s not even Thanksgiving. I didn’t care. It was a lovely fall morning and I was in a Christmas mood. 

I thought, “Hey it’s the holidays, what I need is a nice Holiday Coffee.” So, I stopped at a well-known coffee house, used their drive thru, and ordered a medium sized Holiday Spiced Latte. Yep. Then drove up to the window to pay for it. Now here is the complaint.

With tax, it was $5.32

When she told me, I nearly wigged out. I felt the pull to keep on driving. But I didn’t, I kept my place at the window, dug out five dollars and change, and paid for it.

Starbucks_Drive_Thru_012408_fs
Not my car or where I stopped, but close, really very close.

Was It Good?

It was extraordinarily good. It was spiced, and foamy, and smooth and rich. And it came in a festive holiday cup! The cup made it special.

It was my first $5.00 coffee. Then I wondered if they sold coffee drinks costing even more than $5.00? Yes? The more expensive ones probably come in an even nicer cup, with elves or something.

Now Jesus-Luke 21:2-4

“He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” 

I didn’t feel guilty for spending $5.00 on a coffee, but it was a little unnecessary, perhaps a bit wasteful. But I still bought it and I really enjoyed it!

To Close

No doubt, Jesus is still watching and noticing the givers. What does he see when he sees me giving? Anyway, I bet that poor widow was holding a spiced latte when she gave her two small copper coins. Maybe? 

 $5.00 for coffee is outrageous, self indulgent, and terrible, but it’s really good!

O well, Happy Holidays to all my rich friends!

 

We Need It Back!

Chairs and blankets, cardboard boxes, and scrap lumber.

Huh?

When I was a kid, I made tents, forts, and tree houses.

  1. Tents: dining room chairs with blankets.
  2. Forts: cardboard boxes connected like hamster tubes.
  3. Tree houses: low branches and scrap lumber.
cardboard box maze
I Could play in a cardboard fort all day. 

In Common?

  1. Each was something I could make.
  2. They were fun and offered fellowship with friends.
  3. They were temporary.

Mom wanted the chairs back at the table, and the boxes slowly disintegrated, and the old lumber always fell apart.

tent of blankets bad-tree-house

August 30

That was the first day we got into our church building after Tropical Storm Harvey. Everything was saturated, mold was growing, the carpet was foul, the furnishings damp, the walls damaged, and just about everything was ruined.

November 5

Today is 65 days later. The Worship Center has been remodeled. The interior walls have been repaired. The exterior walls have been fixed and sealed.

Getting the classrooms fitted and furnished will take the rest of this year. Our facilities and their functions will be restored and ready by January. 

Now Jesus, Matthew 16:18

“…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

The church isn’t a building, its people, the sacred community of Christ. But our sacred community gathers in a building for:

  • Worship
  • Teaching
  • The Vine preschool
  • Bible classes
  • Housing the homeless
  • Feeding the hungry
  • Women’s Ministry
  • Small groups
  • Support groups
  • Seniors ministry
  • Children’s ministry
  • Youth ministry
  • Children’s musical
  • Christmas Eve
  • Easter Services
  • Men’s basketball
  • Fall Festival
  • And on and on…

We shouldn’t marvel at our structures or glory in our buildings, for they aren’t the church that Jesus built. However, the building is a tool and tools are used to build things.

We use ours to build the body of Christ, to advance the Kingdom of God. It’s a vital tool. Yes, the building is temporary and Harvey showed us just how temporary it can be. But praise God, the church is indestructible!

To Close

Our damaged building is more than a tent of blankets, or a fort of boxes, or a tree house of splintered boards. But as it was in my childhood, the building offers its own kind of “Fun and Fellowship.”

And we need it back!

 

A Moment Out of Time

It’s an appointment we will all keep.

Busy Schedule?

I take pride in keeping appointments. Typically, I’m early and the first to arrive.

I missed a lunch appointment this week because I got preoccupied and lost track of time. I felt bad about it, again, it’s a pride thing.

Two Kinds of People

Those who are on time and those who aren’t. It’s the prompt verses the tardy. If you are fanatically prompt, then it’s those who are courteous and those who aren’t.

If you are the latter, then you find the former to be uptight, overwrought, and irritating. If you are the former, then you find the latter to be selfish, undisciplined, and irritating.

Appointments need to be kept, honored, and respected.

Now Jesus: Matthew 23:42

 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

Will that be the hardest appointment to keep? Jesus was speaking eschatologically, a big word about the end of time.

It’s a tough appointment because you can’t put it on a calendar, or set a reminder on your phone, or a post-it-note to keep you aware. It’s an appointment we will all keep, we just don’t know when.

Statue-of-Jesus-the-redeemer

Today

This afternoon is a milestone for me, albeit a sad one. Today I officiate my 50th funeral as Senior Minister for the Southeast Church of Christ. 

The person we’ll gather to honor was ready. He didn’t know the day or hour he would pass, but he knew it was coming, and he died talking to Jesus.

To Close

I’m sad that he is gone, but I have peace knowing that he is at peace. He was a good friend, a respected member of my church, and an honorable man. He was an excellent husband, father, and grandfather. I miss him.

He died unafraid. He knew he had an appointment with eternity and it was an appointment he was not going to miss.

It’s an appointment we will all keep.

It Was A Night of Nights!

…and then there was one.

Last Night

Like many, I watched the full nine innings of game seven. I am a Houston fan, I live in Houston, and it was our night to shine. 

Houston needed a win. After the last nine weeks, it was a gift. The Astros would have won with or without Tropical Storm Harvey, but since we had to live with it, a World Series Championship is extra sweet.

astros celebration

Just A Thought

Houston scored all five runs early in the game. Then the Dodgers pulled the pitcher and put in some guys who kept Houston from scoring another run, not even one.

Houston’s starting pitcher did well, but after hitting four batters, he was pulled for a series of relievers. Somewhere in there, the Dodgers scored their single run.

If Los Angeles had started a different pitcher, its possible they may have won the game 1-0. But they didn’t start a different pitcher, and they didn’t win the Series. And if they had started someone else, its possible Houston would have scored even more runs.

The Point

I’m not sure I have one. But I’ll offer a few random life thoughts:

  1. Game 7 was the finish line, it started with game 1, which the Astros lost.
  2. A few years ago, Houston was losing a 100 games a season, they got better.
  3. Succeed when you can, waiting to get runs may be too late.
  4. The Astros weren’t better athletes, they just played better ball.

To Close

It was an exciting series, a fantastic game seven, and a sweet celebration. It brought tears to my eyes to see their happiness and to share in their moment of immense achievement. 

But I’ll leave you with this. Winning doesn’t always look like winning. The cross of Jesus didn’t. It looked like total defeat. It wasn’t. It was overwhelming victory.

…and then there was one.

Shalom

Halloween: Light of the World?

About Fall Festival

What Churches Are Doing

A quick Google reveals that many churches offer an annual Fall Festival. They offer it as an alternative to Halloween. The message?

“Come out of the darkness and into the light.”

Halloween Concerns?

  • Some say Halloween supports the worship of evil.
  • Others suggest it’s unsafe to eat the treats given by strangers.
  • Many fear the strangers.
  • Are these valid concerns? Just read your newspaper the day after.

Have we exchanged our fear of witches, goblins, and zombies for our fear of kidnappers, malevolent candy givers, and unsafe neighborhoods?

Our church’s Fall Festival doesn’t replace Halloween, it’s on a different night. Some believe that the light of the world still needs to be out there and not be hidden under the bowl of a church fun night.

Still, our Fall Festival has hundreds of community guests. And this year, we offered more than treats. We set up a “store” with all kinds of supplies like food items, bedding, cleaning supplies, school supplies, clothes, and much more, available for anyone, for free. Many visitors left with bags of needed items.

Me?

I love Fall Festival. We have bouncy houses, cotton candy and popcorn, and a great meal. There’s a petting zoo, an arcade with decent video games, and super-heroes walking around being super. It encourages fun costumes and discourages the imitation of evil. Families young and old interact and have great fun.

rick and chicken
Not my pet, but close, really very close. I think it was a chicken? 

I’m grateful for my church staff who envision such events and produce a fantastic experience. Our Children’ Ministers, Youth Minister, and Media Director deserve a lot of gratitude.

My Favorite Part?

It was a family whose house had been flooded and destroyed by Harvey. They aren’t members of my church. I met them and then helped carry bags of needed items to their car.

Yes, their children left with bags of candy! They all left with bags of something.

I guess there are many ways to be the light of the world.

Shalom

Our Most Exciting House

The house we were most excited about.

Which One?

The View? In our first ministry, a couple from church offered us their home at no cost to us. The house was in an upscale neighborhood in the hills above Los Angeles, with a pool, and an amazing back yard with an amazing view. We didn’t own it, but we loved living there.

beacon-hill-griffith-park-view
We loved living there, it had a gorgeous view.

The Acre? Years later, we got a house on an acre, about a mile from the church. It had oak floors and lots of charm. It was like living in a huge garden. Each time I pulled into the driveway I felt so happy.  We loved living there.

The Atrium? Currently, we live in a beautiful neighborhood of custom homes with mature trees and landscaping. It’s gorgeous here. It also has a pool, a charming atrium with a water-feature and fire pit. For us, it’s a cool house. We love living here.

Which was our favorite, the one we are were the most excited about? None of them.

Our favorite house was only 1450 square feet. It wasn’t fancy or upscale. It didn’t have hardwood floors, a pool, or a great view. It was a starter house, but it was our house. It’s where we brought our son when he was born. We were so excited to live there..

Now Jesus: John 2:17

“His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Jesus was in his Father’s house just after his birth. He was there at age twelve. He was there during Passover, the week of his death. He was in God’s house many times.

To Close

There are things Jesus did that I can’t do. I can’t walk on water or turn water into wine. I can’t feed the multitudes with a few a few fish and loaves. I can’t heal the sick or give sight, hearing and mobility to those without them. I can’t live a perfect life.

But there is one thing I can do.

I can be consumed with zeal for his house.

Not a house with architecture and a parking lot, not a building, but the house of God that is the sacred community of Christ.

This morning, I’ll be speaking on the theme of, “Zeal For God’s House.” Come join us at 10:00, or watch the livestream from our site: www.southeastonline.org                 

God’s house is the house I’m most excited about!

Not A Superstar, Or Even A Star!

I never wanted to be a big-league ball player.

Why Is That?

I was never any good. In fact, I wasn’t any good at several sports.

  • Baseball: couldn’t hit, field, or throw.
  • Golf: lowest score is an 87, clubs in the attic.
  • Tennis: couldn’t find the sweet spot.
  • Hockey: never tried, assuming I wouldn’t have been a star.
  • Swimming: love to swim, but competitive swimming?

Five sports in which I didn’t get trophies, scholarships or professional sponsors.

Didn’t Try Hard Enough?

Optimism is good. Some say if you hold on to your dream, work hard enough and never give up, that you will succeed. Maybe. But at 7’-1” and 260 pounds, Shaquille O’Neal could never have won the Kentucky Derby. No matter how optimistic, he was never going to be a winning jockey.

I was never going to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, or quarterback the Dallas Cowboys, or beat Jack Nicholas’s record of 18 major golf tournaments.

At age 61, the dream is probably over.

houston-astros
Not me out there on the playing field, not even close.

Now Jesus, Matthew 9:36

“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Some of us didn’t become super-stars, or even stars. In fact, some of us became lost sheep, suffering life’s harassing hardships, and needing a helping hand.  

To Close

As I watch our Houston Astros in the World Series, I’m glad they were blessed with the gifts, opportunities, and drive to succeed at that  level.

I never wanted to be a big-league ball player. I’m happy being a rescued sheep.

Thank you Jesus.

It’s Astro’s Time!

On the nature of sport’s-fans.

The True Believers

These people are all in, win or lose. They wear the jerseys, t-shirts, and ball caps. They’ll have snacks, but not chips and dip. Nope, they’ll have wings, poppers, and pizza and something special at halftime. They’ll get loud and excited. They are the true believers, the true sports fans.

Fair-Weather Fans

These people don’t believe. They are casual observers and won’t wear anything special. They snack on microwave popcorn and carrot sticks. They only watch if the team is in the playoffs. They won’t get loud and excited. They aren’t true believers, they aren’t true sports fans.

How Do I Know?

Because I’ve been both types. I’ve been the die-hard supporter and the casual observer. 

My Die-Hard Sports

  • College Football
  • Pro-Football
  • Summer/Winter Olympics

My Fair-Weather Sports

  • Basketball
  • Baseball
  • Track and Field

My I Don’t Care Sports

  • Soccer
  • Gymnastics
  • Racing (horses, cars, boats, etc.)

You have your own lists. No judging please. It is what it is. Thank you for not writing.

Here’s Something

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. Any anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26-27.

Did Jesus ask us to literally hate ourselves and our families to be his disciples? Probably not since he didn’t mean for us to carry a literal cross and to literally follow him.

Jesus wants us all in. To wear the hats and the t-shirts. To show up for every game. To get loud and excited. To be the true sports fans of his word.

new-york-yankees-vs-houston-astros-20082014As a Houstonian, I’m excited the Astros are in the World Series, and I’ll watch every game, and with above average snacks. But honestly, I hadn’t watched a single game until the American League Championship with the Yankees. Clearly, I’m a fair-weather fan and not a true believer.

To Close

Jesus seeks the true believers, and he isn’t much interested in the other kind.

Have a good week.