Christmas

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December 25-28

Monday, December 28th, 2020

Christmas reflections:

Friday-After a positive Covid test for me, Jo and Tami and some positive tests for the staff and friends of each of us, this is a really strange Christmas. It was going to be anyway because Janna and Braden were not going to be here. But even Tami can’t come over. This devotion may be a little longer than normal due to my observations but also because it will cover 3 days of observations.

Every year it seems we hear certain refrains from spiritual leaders, i.e. pastors.

  • Slow down. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have said that. “Pull away from the hustle and bustle and slow down,” I’ll say. Well, this has certainly been one of the by-products of covid isolation.
  • Stay home. No problem. And when I have said this in the past it was not a covid-ordered government mandate. We travel a lot visiting family and friends all over the place. We aren’t allowed to go out of the house so staying home is the norm. If we had gone to Ohio today we would have been snowed in. They got a ton of snow! White Christmas indeed! So we stay home and maybe watch some Christmas movies. {Note: we didn’t. Neither one of us felt like it}
  • Refocus. Honestly, how can you not? Gifts will be opened rather quickly instead of one at a time like we normally do going around the room. So when that is all done we get to focus on the real gift.

Saturday– This will forever be remembered in history as CC- Covid Christmas. Yesterday was strange. We Facetimed Tami as we opened gifts-she in her apartment and us here. We would have welcomed her here but MCCSC (her school corporation) monitors her during covid. So it was safer. Later Janna Facetimed us with Braden so we could see what he got. Everything was “Air this and Air that.” I guess I don’t see the fascination with giving a retired basketball player, whose stuff is made in China, all that money…but that’s me. All in all yesterday was an uneventful day. Lazy. Watched a little TV then head back to my “cave” to fall asleep. Other than the no taste and no smell issues, and a few others, the biggest by-product is the desire to sleep. I have slept more in the last week than I have in the last year. I remember Pastor Greg Laurie saying that was his biggest issue (wish I could say that). Some of that is boredom since I can’t concentrate on reading. I’m going to try to study today since I preach virtually tomorrow. Praying for extra grace today as I prepare for tomorrow.

Sunday– I’m writing this after the fact.  Sunday seemed to go off okay without a hitch. We were immensely blessed by the anonymous gift that allowed us to purchase the upgraded equipment. All in all though, I thought it went well. I chose to sit instead of standing. I’m not sure my stamina would have been there to stand the whole time and preach and remember.

Sunday afternoon was tough. I was weary but when I tried to eat some soup it didn’t stay in my stomach very long. But you don’t want here that saga. 🙂 It was a lazy day as they have all become. One family was really kind and brought some soup and crackers, a couple of baked potatoes, and some other items. Friday one family blessed us with Ensure and Pedialyte for me, some veggies  and soup and crackers. Saturday one family blessed Jo with some Zero and Diet Coke. I’m not sure about the other two on staff but I certainly can’t complain how we have been taken care of. Plus the texts and emails have been nice. Oh yeah…one family brought us a Christmas meal on Christmas evening after their family Christmas. Not that we could eat it or taste it. 🙂

Jo and I called it a day at 8:00. Yep 8:00. Seems to be about the norm these days. I’d like to believe I am on the mend. It has been a week since my test but well over that since I started showing symptoms. I should have been more honest and aware and introspective with myself. Gone to be tested sooner. Not gone to Ohio. Funeral? But hindsight is 20/20 and there is nothing I can change. It seems strange the way it has hit us all about the same time and in the same way. Others also have got it-part of our friends group-so there is a common denominator there somewhere. But who wants to try to figure that out. Not me. It is what it is.

I’ll close by saying I’m looking forward to putting this behind me and moving forward.

December 24

Thursday, December 24th, 2020

Caution: soapbox available and now in use. 🙂

There has been a saying which has gained an audience. When I say an audience, I mean an AUDIENCE. Bigger than a cathedral. Bigger than a stadium.  It has garnered the attention of the retail  establishment. You see it on mugs, posters, signs, church signs, billboards…you name it. I know what it is trying to say; I know what it is trying to do. The saying?

Jesus is the reason for the season.

Sounds catchy. Sounds so…right. But I don’t think it is. Sometimes I have felt like a lone wolf (probably because I don’t get out much) in speaking against it. And I know whoever made it up never intended a whole cottage industry to build up around it (then again maybe it was just a marketing tool). The one who made it up was trying to get us to focus-away from Santa Claus and to the real meaning for Christmas.

But they got it wrong. And this is what I’ve been trying to say for years. Jesus never was the reason for the season. We were. Want proof? Take a moment and read Phil.2:6-8 and then Isaiah 53: 4-6. That oughta do it. Jesus was never the reason for the season.  You were. I was. As the old song by David Meece says, “We were the reason He gave His life/We were the reason He suffered and died.” But…wait…that’s the rest of the story!! (And in case you are wondering it is called Easter).

Jesus is not the reason for the season; He is the one who is and who gives meaning to the season.

“Thank you, Father, for Jesus being willing to come for me. I was the reason He came and He gave the ultimate gift…His life.”

December 22

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2020

These days, in fact many days in the past, Christmas gift-giving in our household is an interesting study in perplexity.  As in most households, we start asking, “What would you like for Christmas?” around or before Thanksgiving Day. Tami and Janna have always been fairly easy to buy for since they were pretty much upfront with their list. Braden is not so upfront but I figure Ohio State or Reds clothing or a gift card to Dick’s or Chik-fil-A will do him well. I’m pretty content with what I already have so I would suggest a gift certificate to a bicycle site (names included) and some jigsaw puzzle sites. It didn’t matter though because for the most part those suggestions were ignored. 🙂 But Jo?? She is extremely hard to buy for. She doesn’t wear jewelry (for which I am grateful for since I see what some wear and its cost). She doesn’t even wear a watch. Her Fitbit is most often in her pocket. She doesn’t wear perfume very often and was always picky as to what she would wear (Coty Wild Musk was a favorite). I don’t dare buy her clothes. Too big or too small I can’t win! 🙂

So one year I decided I wasn’t buying anything. I decided I was going to give myself. How’s that for a real treat? I made each one of them a booklet of 12 coupons. Any time during the month stated they could cash it in. I’m not very handy or creative so I can’t remember much about it. I do KNOW they liked the Date Night-a meal and doing whatever they wanted. I remember Janna and I actually seeing Back to the Future 3 on one of them.

Point: The greatest gift we could give each other is ourselves.  While other gifts fade away, that one lasts forever and there are no returns. No too big or too small. No wrong color.  There is, however, lasting impact and unforgettable memories. Give the best gift possible…YOURSELF.

“Father, you gave yourself in the person of Jesus. ‘The Word became flesh’ is the way it is put. May I always remember it isn’t the presents under the tree that matters but my presence.”

December 21

Monday, December 21st, 2020

I want to continue with some thoughts that further my devotion of December 18. I had them then but word limit tends to keep a restraint on me. And that’s good! 🙂

There is no doubt that Christmas is a unique time. While we (especially pastors) say, “Take some time to reflect on the birth of Jesus, etc during this holiday season,” the busyness belies that. No one has a handle on slowing down during this season, except for maybe the hermit in a remote cabin who has no cell phone, Amazon, or endless Hallmark movies. 🙂  According to Chuck Swindoll there are four dangers we must be aware of.

  1. There is the doctrinal danger of substituting the temporal for the eternal. Let’s ask ourselves this: Why are we celebrating Christmas? Seriously. And please don’t flippantly give me the old “It’s Jesus’ birthday” answer. Seriously now, why?
  2. There is the personal danger of impressing but not imparting. What does it say to others when we are just as frazzled as our friends and neighbors? Are we trying to impress others or share some love, joy, and peace…the real kind?
  3. There is the economic danger of spending more than we have. I can hear Dave Ramsey now! I’m grateful for his material. And I’m grateful for my bank’s Christmas Club. I have only so much to spend. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
  4. There is the psychological danger of getting built up for a letdown. I hate to admit it but a lot of Christmas is hype. What will we do when the “high” is over?

We offhandedly say, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Let’s make it a reality, not a slick saying. “Father, help me to be a leader in celebrating Christmas. Not the hype but the beauty and passion of the Christmas story.” 

December 13

Friday, December 18th, 2020

I’ve been doing this “pastor-gig” for over 45 years officially, and close to 50 if you count college ministries. There is one thing that has been a constant-something that never changed-and that is the ability of people to wear a mask at Christmas. The hype gives them a temporary lift-a “high” to use another word-that seems to pull them through the season and celebrations. December 25 masks the painful reality of December 24 & 26.

The widow/widower mourning the loss of his/her mate. The parent who walks through the house that has missing sounds. The teen whose parent left home with someone else, leaving behind a trail of betrayal and even hopelessness. The mother with the empty womb. The one left behind because suicide was the choice. That list could go on and on.

Christmas for these people is empty. It is a painful reminder of an empty bed, an empty chair, a sense of being unwanted, and more. But we have gotten really good at masking our true feelings. Like the commercial where the woman struggles with depression but holds up a smiley face to cover her true feelings. I can understand why people do that, especially at Christmas. They don’t want to be seen as “Debby Downers.” They don’t want to be seen as the stick-in-the-mud. They won’t want to be the one raining on everyone’s parade.

Jesus came to change that. He came to save us from our sin. He came to give us hope and life and joy and peace and yes, laughter. He also came to heal our hurts, to bind up wounds. You may be the one who dreads Christmas. All I can say is He is there for you. You may be the one who knows or sees others struggle. Let me encourage you to practice the real meaning of this season: reach out with the love of Jesus and help ease their pain. Sometimes all they want is to know someone sees their pain, knows why they are hurting, and then caring. Be the one.

“Father, may I be that one with open eyes to see others.”

December 8

Tuesday, December 8th, 2020

I had a tradition I observed for years but broke two years ago. Every Thanksgiving Day I watched It’s a Wonderful Life (IWL) and followed it with The Santa Clause (TSC) featuring Tim Allen. I broke it because our local theater showed IWL on the big screen. I would watch TSC but this year with no TV or DVD player I watched neither.

IWL is probably my favorite Christmas movie, although it really isn’t one. Not like TSC or White Christmas. But the setting is Christmas Eve so IWL falls into that category. George Bailey is a local yokel who had dreams of travel but his plans were always thwarted. One desperate night he had come to the end of his rope and he prays, “Dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there, and you can hear me, show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope.”  The situation which made him this lost and desperate was not his fault but he took it on as though it was. The story is told that Jimmy Stewart had real tears in his eyes because he felt the loneliness and the brokenness of people.

We live in a broken world.  We could say “sinful” instead of broken and that would be true. But broken adequately describes our world. Things are broken. Yes, they are sinful, but broken just pictures someone at their wit’s end. Broken and cracked but unable to be fixed (or so they think). Not by any man made means for sure. Not by self. Not by a self-help guru.  Our brokenness, our “cracked-ness,” can only be fixed by Jesus. What better time of the year than now to bring hope and life and love to a world looking for it (even though they may not know).

“Father, I’m asking you to mend me and then help me tell others that you are the mender of lives and souls.”

December 3

Thursday, December 3rd, 2020

When you think about it, Christmas is contrary to modern ideology. It goes against the grain of our normal way of thinking. Let me explain.

Up until a few years ago (I’m not able to pinpoint when exactly), our culture glorified and glamorized the strong. The man’s man was the rugged, western Marlboro Man…until, of course, we found out smoking was linked to lung cancer. We glorify the athletes, the strong men (and now women) of sport who personify to us healthy, vibrant, strong lives. You know…the superhero who can leap tall buildings in a single bound; fend off bullets; run with super speed; grow big or small depending on the need; escape any situation; and “live forever.” We see physical strength as the end all. Others see superior mental capabilities as worthy of praise. Logic is king. God? There is none.  And I could go on.

Enter Christmas. This whole story was not one of strength, but one of weakness. While Herod, the Romans, and the religious leaders were showing their strength (which actually was a weakness), God was showing His weakness and humility (which actually was strength). Who else would have thought a humble virgin from a backwater town would be the one suitable for and chosen to bear and bring the King into the world? Not me. Probably not you either. But God did. As was His MO, He chose the weak to shame the wise.

“Father, humility befits the season. Humility befits life all year ’round actually. Help me to be an example of humility and grace, following in Your footsteps.”

December 2

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020

Christmas season is upon us. If we haven’t already, we will soon hear strains of love, joy, and peace. There is no question our world is in need of all three of those and more. The one which strikes me the most right now is the latter: peace.

As I write this in 2020, we have been through what can rightly be called The Year from Hell. It started with the China virus (Covid-19). It escalated into a summer of unrest and riots fueled by lawlessness and resulted in destruction of livelihoods and landmarks. Defunding the police. Crooked politicians who say, “Do what I say but not as I do.” A tumultuous election season. A resurgence and spike of covid.  A group known as “the squad” whose whole plan is to take down the democratic system we have. Socialism/Marxism fostered by groups like Antifa and BLM and some of the politicians plague us.

I want to echo the songwriter of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day when he says, “Hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.” Peace will never be found in our modern post-Christian culture which says human intervention will bring about peace. No. Peace is found in trusting the One who controls all things, even when we don’t understand what is going on, let alone what is going to happen next. Peace will not be found in “if I do this or that.” Peace will be found when we run to the One who is in charge and knows all things.

“Father, You are the One in charge. You are the true source of peace. Let me run to and cling to You.”

October 13

Tuesday, October 13th, 2020

The church world goes through rages, as does the “secular” world. One of those rages of the past-probably in the mid ’90s especially-were angels. It seemed like everywhere one turned there was an angel. Go to a store and there were angels of all kinds wherever you turned. Books on angels. Children’s stories on angels. Even songs on angels (I can remember Alabama’s “Angels Among Us” being played over and over and over and…well you get the picture). Angel jewelry. Angel art. And, not surprisingly, picturing angels as they aren’t. Wings. Clouds. Harps.

What hits me even more is that what was happening at the time was the exact opposite of what they were created to do…except for one. Angels were supposed to be messengers, heralds; protect God’s people (angel armies); and deflect praise from themselves and toward the One they were to worship. Except one. He chose to garner his own praise. He chose to ascend his own throne. He chose to rival God.

What brought about this seemingly random devotion about angels? Reading a book on the characters of Christmas and finding out the key role they played-not only during the Christmas story-but also throughout the Bible story. Gabriel to Zechariah. Gabriel to Mary. Angels to shepherds. Possibly angels to Joseph in a dream; Simeon and Anna. Ultimately angels who encircle the throne and continually worship God. (Rev.4:8)

Angles don’t have wings, sit in clouds and play harps. They are messengers who will even go to battle and surround God’s people with protection.

“Father, angels are to be appreciated not worshiped. Help me to remember they are real and at my disposal and do continually what I am to do: worship You.”

October 7

Wednesday, October 7th, 2020

Are you kidding me? Seriously? You have got to be joking with me. Consider how we use those phrases. We use them when someone says something incredulous to us. We are stunned. Flummoxed. Dumbfounded. It is not that we don’t believe it; we are just bowled over by it.

There is, on the other hand, another way to use them.  Cynicism. Confrontive questions. There is a questioning there but it is almost one of rebellion.  We “pshaw” something someone says because we simply cannot believe it is possible.

I’ve been reading The Characters of Christmas by Daniel Darling during my Quiet Time. (Yeah, I know its only October but…). He raised a good point when talking about Zechariah and Elizabeth. When Mary said “How can this be?” in her response to Gabriel, it was laden with trust. But then Zechariah responded to the announcement that he and Elizabeth were to have a child his response was laden with cynicism and doubt. I think what Daniel says is true. I also agree with these words:

“God loves to hear our doubts, to field our questions, and to hear our anguished cries.  But it is disbelief that is a sin, our unwillingness to trust that God can do the impossible.” (p.41)

And there you have it. One similar response; two different perspectives.  Which one is yours?

“Father, may my questions be laced with trust not cynicism and doubt.”