New “Tires” for 2012

Dec. 31, 2011

John 17:11b

Jesus said, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.”

A couple weeks ago, Rick bought me a new tire for the Jeep that I drive. For a few weeks, the Jeep would shimmy between 50 and 60 miles an hour. Rick thought some new rubber on it would take away the shimmy.

But one new tire? I thought this was a little strange, especially since Rick is the one who insists that keeping tire pairs is important. One tire had an unusual wear spot on it. But then, I discovered how shrewd my husband is. He decided that there was a perfectly fine, full-sized spare that had never been used available. He simply called around until he found another tire to match the spare and put them on as new back tires to the Jeep.

We switched vehicles for a couple days so he could get the tires changed. He was especially shrewd. Not only did he replace the only necessary tires, he did the work himself. This required removing the old tires off the rims and getting the new tires onto the rims.  With better equipment at his folks, Rick did the work there. Nonetheless, Rick’s Mom commented how he worked up a sweat doing this. She also inquired about when he was old enough to graduate from doing this kind of work. Apparently not yet.

Rick was anxious for me to drive the Jeep with the new tires and see how it handled. The Jeep has a pile of miles on it. But I must say: it is amazing how much better it drives with two new tires! All for the price of one! This little exercise got me thinking. How much better would the Jeep drive if all four tires had been replaced? With winter driving a sure bet in the near future, I asked Rick. He was confident the front tires were just fine.

Is this just a little lesson on how tires got replaced on our Jeep? There is more. I couldn’t believe how simply buying one new tire made so much difference in how the Jeep handled and drove. With two new tires, it now drives like a much newer vehicle than it really is.

Let’s translate this analogy to our spiritual lives. Imagine if we embodied one new “tire” this next year into our spiritual lives. What is one thing that might have a “cost,” whether this is time, priority or upfront dedication, but could have a dramatic impact on our spiritual lives? Likewise, is there something sitting around, not fully being utilized, that we could put to work to enhance our spiritual journeys, much like the unused spare did on the Jeep?

Too often, I want to do a complete overhaul – replace all four tires – when this isn’t realistic. I’m expecting too much and by thinking I can do it all, I set myself up for failure. What I really should focus on is just one or two changes or updates or priorities that can take some of the “shimmy” out of my life. If I would just focus on one or two things, I’d be amazed at how much smoother my life’s ride might be.

During World War II, Winstin Churchill said, “Failure to plan is planning to fail.” Unless we reflect upon the messages we’ve explored during Advent and plan for how these lessons will take root in our lives, they will be a bunch of good thoughts that may or may not become embodied in our lives. This is as much of a challenge for myself as it is for anyone else. I’m committed to looking for those one or two things which I can change, improve or adopt. I pray that you will also.

Let us pray: We rejoice in the light, and we echo the song that comes down through the night from the heavenly throng. Ay! We shout to the lovely evangel they bring, and greet in his cradle our Savior and King! Amen.  

Blessings –

Dianne

Singing for Baby Jesus

Dec. 30, 2011

Luke 2:13

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

I love Christmas carols and songs. I love music, so why wouldn’t I love the great songs of the season? Yes, I love the traditional carols. But I also value and appreciate many of the newer more contemporary Christmas songs.

Personally, I feel music and sung words bring about great meaning to the Christmas story. When the company of angels appeared to the shepherds, we don’t actually know if they sang. Scripture says they were praising God. But don’t the words, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” sound better sung than simply spoken?

On the radio, we often hear Christmas songs and carols beginning the day after Thanksgiving, running right up through Christmas Day. And then they stop. Not a Christmas Carol to be heard.

I find this rather interesting, in that Advent purists (of which I’m not), insist upon only having Advent songs in worship during Advent. Christmas carols are not to be sung in worship until Christmas Eve and going forward.

This is another divide between secular and some Christian cultures. Just when secular culture is done with Christmas carols, some churches are finally beginning to sing Christmas carols in worship!

What I found interesting is that the Madison Christian radio station played all Christmas songs for a couple weeks before Christmas, including secular songs such as “Up on the Rooftop” and “Here Comes Santa Claus.” During this time, they promoted that after Christmas listeners would continue to hear uplifting music and had a few sound bits of a few popular contemporary Christian songs. On Dec. 26th, the radio station switched to all contemporary Christian music.

Personally, I love Christmas songs before, during and after Christmas. With a lack of Christmas songs on the radio in the true Christmas season, I popped in a CD in the car this week. I’m not ready to have them disappear for another year yet. In fact, we’ll be singing lots of Christmas carols this Sunday at Midland UMC.

When the angels came to the shepherds, they were so excited to share the good news. Whether it was sung or shouted, it doesn’t matter. It was fantastic news. The shepherds were so moved by their angelic voices that they quickly decided to seek out the baby. And find him, they did.

Like the angels, the shepherds were so moved by the new baby that they had to shout it out to everyone that they saw. Did they do it in perfect four-part harmony? Hardly. My guess is that these shepherds probably didn’t have perfectly trained singing voices. But their message certainly was filled with joy.

When the church is darkened on Christmas Eve and the ushers light a candle off of the Christ candle and then dispense of the flame to everyone in worship, my breath is taken away. As I strum “Silent Night” on the guitar and watch the flickering flames dance across the church’s ceiling, I want to freeze this moment. I don’t want the song to end. I want to hold everyone for a moment longer so we can be deeply moved by the moment, the song’s words, the deep feeling I pray others also have in their bellies. In those moments, I want to be able to sing Christmas carols every day of the year. And why shouldn’t we? I think there would be a heavenly chorus that just might join in.

Let us pray: Silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight. Glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing “Alleluia!” Jesus, Lord, at thy birth. Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

Blessings –

Dianne

Being Just a Night Watchmen

Dec. 29, 2011

Luke 2:8

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. 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 the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you; You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

What did it mean to be a shepherd at the time Jesus was born? It wasn’t a very glamorous job. Instead, it was a job that was pretty much towards the bottom of the “most desired job.” It wasn’t a very high paying job or glamorous job. But it was a job.

The shepherds who were Jesus’ first visitors were basically night watchmen. They would take turns, making sure the sheep were safe throughout the night. There wasn’t a shed or a lean to where the sheep stayed in throughout the night. The sheep were out in the open: right where wolves or coyotes or thieves could easily take them if the night watchmen weren’t doing their job.

I grew up on a dairy farm but my sisters and I also had sheep. They were our 4-H projects, something we raised and sold as a way to earn money for college. We planned the time for the ewes (female sheep) to lamb (have their babies) based on when the fair was. So, during the month of January – often the year’s coldest month – is when our ewes would have babies.

It wasn’t uncommon for us to end up with bottle lambs. These are lambs that lost their mother or the mother decided not to care for. We’d become their pseudo “mom,” making sure they’d get fed every few hours.

When I was about 10 or 11, one of my ewes had twin buck (boy) lambs. She didn’t make it. Suddenly, I was responsible for caring for these cute and leggy little guys. When we’d end up with bottle lambs, Mom would let us keep them in the house for a week or two. We’d put them in a big cardboard box in the back entry room into the house. There was a little electric heater in the room which would help keep the babies warm.

The challenge is that like human babies, baby lambs need to be fed every few hours. We’d convert old glass pop bottles into feeding bottles, using special lamb milk replacer to make milk. The milk was poured into the old pop bottles and attached a nipple. Whenever we had bottle lambs, we had to be a little careful about which pitcher of milk was grabbed out of the refrigerator. Usually marked on the side, if you didn’t look carefully, you might end up with the wrong milk on your cereal!

Getting these twin boys fed was a huge responsibility for a pre-teen. I’d feed them in the morning before school. Mom was great about making sure they got fed during the day. As soon as I got home from school and a few more times each day, I’d make sure they’d get fed. Once they were a couple weeks old and getting out of the box, Mom would decide they were big enough to go back outside with the rest of the mommas and babies.

This would mean feeding them in the dark a couple times each day. I can clearly remember going out for the last feeding of the evening, about 10 PM, in the cold, crisp air. I’d take a flash light to help guide my way. By now, the boys knew the schedule and would be waiting for their midnight snack. As soon as they heard me walking towards the sheep yard, they’d run up by the fence, waiting for me to arrive. I’d stand in the moonlight, holding tightly onto the bottles while the little guys sucked on them like there was no tomorrow.

These guys depended upon me and my Mom to get them fed. They knew who their shepherds were. We took our job seriously.

What would have happened, had one night, during that last feeding of the night, an angel had appeared to me? Would have I trusted myself and believed it? Or would have I thought I was simply tired, sleep-deprived and dreaming? Would have I carefully listened to the important message the angel shared, or would have I only been interested in getting in out of the cold and crawling into my bed to warm up?

Thank goodness those shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem weren’t skeptics. Just as the angel had announced to Mary, the angel also encouraged the shepherds not to be afraid. Not be afraid? Who was the angel think he/she was? Somehow, the shepherds kept their wits about them, heard what the angel said, which was re-enforced by a whole bunch of angel friends.

The most important job of the night is no longer making sure no wild animal tackles a sheep. Or making sure the sheep don’t get caught in some brush. Finding the long-awaited Messiah becomes job #1.

Bethlehemwasn’t a terribly large town 2,000 years ago. But without a star to guide them to the right cave, it probably took the shepherds more than one attempt to find just the right cave where Baby Jesus was. The shepherds are persistent and find the baby who by now was sleeping in a manger. His astonished parents were trying to get their heads around the events of the last day.

The shepherds, well, they were simply amazed. Why were they chosen to be that baby’s first visitors? No job would be too humble for Jesus. He’d be willing to do whatever his Father asked him to do, including being a sheep night watchman, if necessary.

I think about how those twin buck lambs depended upon me, my Mom and sometimes my sisters who helped out when necessary. The boys heard me coming, long before they saw me. They trusted that I would bring them dinner. They were so excited to see me; their heads would bob up and down, anticipating getting to drink out of the bottle. After they were done eating, they’d baa at me, as if to thank me for filling their little tummies.

Like any baby, as they got a little bigger and their tummies slowly increased in size, we’d give them increasing amounts of milk and lengthen the time between feedings. Even as they received fewer feedings throughout the day, they still knew who their shepherd was.

Do you know who your shepherd is? As you’ve gotten older and moved from spiritual milk to more solid food, do you still anticipate spending time with your shepherd? Or do you think you can do it more often on your own? When you get into trouble – when wild things come into your life – are you able to call out to your shepherd, ask and receive help? Or do you simply think you can handle any situation on your own? Do you thank your shepherd night watchman for looking over you and your family?

Luke’s gospel tells us the shepherds were so astonished by the night’s events that they told everyone what had happened. Their lives were changed forever. Yes, they were still shepherds. But in their often simple lives, something big had happened.

I pray that in our simple lives, something big will happen that will change our lives forever. Maybe getting to know your shepherd a bit more might be one of those things.

Let us pray: Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong? What the gladsome tidings be which inspire your heavenly song?

Blessings –

Dianne

 

Letting Your Soul Catch Up

Dec. 28, 2011

Luke 5:16

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

Today, I am tired. Honestly, I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. I would have been happy to spend the morning reading in bed and taking a nap as I desired. My whole body is tired this day. I’m thinking that it just needs a little down time.

As for many of you, the past week has been overfull. Add to this, I woke up Christmas morning at 3 AM with a cramping tummy and not feeling well. I spent the next five hours on the bathroom floor, contemplating how I was going to get myself ready for church. I drug myself there and while I was no where near the top of my game, we celebrated Jesus’ birth. Two family Christmas celebrations later, I was wiped out.

I’m feeling much better. But sometimes, our bodies need a bit more rest. I didn’t set an alarm this morning. I decided to let my body wake up when it was ready. It deserved it.

There’s a story about a wealthy American businessman who wanted to climb Mount Everest. I’ll try to recall the events. The window in which people can do this in the spring is quite narrow. Because of business dealings, his planned trip was near the end of this window. Add to this, a storm was predicted that would make the ascent even more difficult.

The American man hired the best team possible to help him make the climb. This included a guide as well as excellent local Sherpa’s, native men who are accustomed to the higher elevation. They are the hard-working guys who work on getting the necessary supplies to the various base camps along the way.

With the storm approaching, the American instructed his hired guide and Sherpas that they would go further each day than initially planned for to ensure his reaching the peak. For three days, the crew worked especially hard, through difficult weather. They were making good progress.

One day, the sun came out and the weather was perfect for climbing. The American was surprised when the Sherpas were not busy preparing for departure. He approached the guide, angry, that the natives were not taking his ascent seriously. He demanded to know what the problem was. The guide simply told him the Sherpas refused to journey that day.

The American approached the head Sherpa, wanting to know what the problem was. If they needed more money, he would accommodate. He desperately wanted to reach the peak. This was the year he was going to cross “climbing Mount Everest” off his bucket list. The head Sherpa quietly told the businessman that he and his friends would not be leaving from camp that day. When the American demanded an explanation, the head Sherpa told him in broken English that they had been pushing and moving so fast the three previous days that they needed a day for their souls to catch up.

Have you ever felt like you needed a day for your soul to catch up to you? In these days between Christmas and New Years, it is often a good time to set aside some time intentionally to let your soul catch up.

As I was driving out to church this morning, knowing that I was getting a late start, I pondered a few questions. Did Jesus ever get tired? Were there days he just wanted to lay in bed a little longer and let his weary bones rest? Did his soul need catching up?

One difference, of many, between Jesus and I is that Jesus did a better job of regularly keeping his soul in check. He was certainly more disciplined, intentional and regular in doing the things he needed to do to keep himself filled mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally. We see this throughout the Gospels, when he intentionally takes time to break away from his “important” work and spend time quietly with his Father. He understood that as necessary as it is for us to be with other folks, there are times when our bodies, minds, spirits and souls need down time. And he took it.

Have you been able to find some time this week to let your body, mind, spirit and soul rest? Will you allow yourself time to let your soul catch up with you? If Jesus thought this was a good idea, maybe we should too.

Going back to theMount Everest story, I do believe the Sherpa’s were up, early the following morning, ready to continue their trek. Did they make it to the peak? I can’t remember. I’m not sure it matters. Reaching the ultimate goal requires our souls be intact. If we leave it behind, then will we ever really cross the finish line?

Let us pray: God rest ye, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born upon this day; to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; O tidings of comfort and joy.

Blessings –

Dianne

More than a Seven Pound Sacrifice

Dec. 27, 2011

Hebrews 10:10

And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

On December 25, one of my Facebook friends made this posting:

Today’s the day my God was born.

I absolutely love this!

Recently, Rick and I watched the move “Seven Pounds.” We had no clue what this Will Smith film was really about. Smith portrays himself an IRS audit person who selects seven people to help: seven people who have terminal illnesses. He physically gives a bit of himself to each person to help them deal with their physical ailment.

A problem arises when he develops strong feelings for one woman he plans to help. Does he forgo his plan to help all the people so that he can have a relationship with this woman?

It’s a very provocative movie. While it moved slowly in the beginning and we were trying to figure out the plot line, we hung in there and were glad we did.

Ever since we watched the movie, I’ve thought about how this man ultimately gave of himself to change seven other people’s lives: eyes for a blind man, bone marrow for a young boy, part of his liver for an older woman, and his heart for a woman are examples of what he does. He makes huge sacrifices … combined sacrifices most human beings would not be willing to make.

There is one example of a human being who did this and much more. Who? Jesus.

Last summer, we learned a song at Vacation Bible School called, “He Gave.” It quickly became a favorite song for some of us leaders. Here are the words:

Lord, I want to be, please to you in everything I do.

And I want to love you more,

More than yesterday, more than words can say.

‘Cause you gave your life, You lived and died for me, for me.

You paid the price, You sacrificed for me, for me.

Now the least that I can do

Is live my life for you.

Christ was born, lived his life and gave up his life sacrificially just for you and me. For me, this is a significant part of the Bible’s message, the reason I serve as a pastor and why I try and live my life the way I do. Jesus sacrificed so much for me, the least that I can do is to live my life for him.

Let us pray: Come, Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free. From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in thee. Amen.  

Blessings –

Dianne

 

Stealing Baby Jesus

Luke 2:7

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Yesterday during Christmas Day worship atMidland, Baby Jesus was stolen from the manger. By an 18-month-old named Brooklyn.

Little girls this age are often enamored by babies, or at least our 18-month-old granddaughter, Ellie is. Maybe Ellie’s awareness of babies has heightened since she has a new baby brother in her house. Yesterday, she toted around one of her newest babies with juice and milk bottles. Her Mom assures me it’s one of her favorite pastimes these days.

Back toBrooklyn. Apparently, she is also into babies these days. Or at least she was yesterday during worship. During the Kidz Korner yesterday, I was helping the other kids put together a “snow globe” of sorts that represents the three gifts the wise man brought to Jesus.Brooklynwasn’t interested in making a snow globe. She was really interested in the baby in the manger.Brooklynsaw Baby Jesus and decided that she would like to play with him. So, while everyone was watching, she picked Baby Jesus out of the manger, carefully making sure that she left his blankets behind. And then, she carried the naked Baby Jesus around the front of the church. Who knew that a little girl would kidnap Baby Jesus right in front of everyone celebrating Jesus’ birth during worship?

Brooklyn’s parents proudly posted several pictures on Facebook. One person commented, “Hey, good to know she found Jesus at such an early age.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we’d all chose to steal Baby Jesus from the manger and keep him in our hearts forever?

Let’s think about this. Generally speaking, we usually “steal” something only if it is of great importance to us. Or it’s something that we need or something in which we have a great interest. There must be some value for us to “steal” something.

What would it look like if we really stole Baby Jesus from the manger? It would mean that having Jesus in our life really means something to us. We would see that how this baby lived his life maybe has value and importance to us. Then, we’d make life choices influenced by what Jesus taught. We’d understand that living live as a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean life will be easier. It assures us that we’ll never have to journey alone. We’d understand how important it is for us to be the hands and feet and wallets of Christ on earth today.

I think Baby Jesus should regularly get stolen from the manger. This would assure me that people place great value on his life. As far as being carried around naked … well, that’s basically how he died. Naked, on a cross. Imagine what he was willing to do just for you.

Let us pray: Down in a lowly manger the humble Christ was born. And God sent us salvation that blessed Christmas morn. Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; go, tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born. Amen.  

Blessings –

Dianne

Taking Christ’s Biography Seriously

Dec. 25, 2011

John 1:1-5, 9-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcomeit.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

We don’t think of these words from John’s Gospel as the Christmas story. Read them closely. Actually, these words are John’s description of the Christmas story. Rather than it beginning inBethlehem, the author of John’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus didn’t just show up in a manger inBethlehem. He was around since the beginning of time with God. In place of the word, “Word,” insert the word, “Jesus.” Then, we see how powerful these words are.

The author reminds us of how necessary it was for Jesus to come into this world. Jesus’ light needed to combat the ugly darkness of the world. Unfortunately, too many folks didn’t recognize him. Nonetheless, Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us.

These aren’t light words. They are heavy, dense and strong. Probably too strong for most folks on Christmas Day, when we want to keep things light and fun. But this is the reality we really need to begin to get our heads around.

One of my favorite theologians was a man named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A German pastor, Bonhoeffer was involved in a plot to try and assassinate Hitler. Of course, these attempts failed. When it became known that he was involved, he was arrested and spent the last years of his life in prison and then a concentration camp. He was killed just a few days before the German’s surrendered at the end of World War II.

Bonhoeffer was a prolific writer. In God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas, Bonhoeffer provides daily devotions for this time of the year. I share with you a few quotes from his book.

No priest, no theologian stood at the cradle of Bethlehem. And yet, all Christian theology finds its beginnings in the miracle of miracles, that God became human.”

The New Testament Gospels are really biographies of Jesus’ life. Biographies are fun and important to read because through them, we see how people dealt with life. We see how they withstood adversity and came out on the other side. We hear the stories of how faith made a difference.

I love the beginning of John’s biography about Jesus because it doesn’t sidestep that in Jesus, God became human. As a pastor, whoa be it to me to fully understand what this means. But I’m thinking it made a huge difference in mine and many others lives.

There are only two places where the powerful and great in this world lose their courage, tremble in the depths of their souls, and become truly afraid. These are the manger and the cross of Jesus Christ.”

Who looses their courage at the manger and the cross? Certainly not Jesus Christ. He’s the one who overcomes them. As powerful and great as you may think you are, who really is in control of your life?

“It is not a light thing to God that every year we celebrate Christmas and do not take it seriously.”

This one hits home for me. I’ve had a hard time putting together the message for the Christmas Day service. I don’t want it to be like the Christmas Eve service. I don’t want it to be like a message that I would give the other 51 Sundays of the year. How can I impart upon folks how serious these events really are?

This is at least partially the reason why I have written this Advent Devotional this year. I wanted to embody a discipline throughout Advent and Christmas that would force me to ponder the events around Christmas and not just slide through another Christmas season. Any benefit they may have been for someone else is a bonus. I’ve written these words to ground myself and make sure I take seriously in my own life the message of Christmas.

What is the Christmas message? I know it’s different for various people. It maybe different for you this year than it has been in previous or future years. For me this year, the message of Christmas has been to make sure I celebrate Jesus’ birthday in a way that Jesus would prefer his birthday to be celebrated. It’s not my birthday, it’s not your birthday; its Jesus birthday. If giving $100 to a couple that I don’t know from Adam is a way that I can honor Jesus’ birthday, then this is what I need to do. If sharing a few words on a blog can begin to encourage other folks to take Jesus’ birthday seriously, then I pray God will allow others to be blessed through this.

These words from the beginning of John’s Gospel are the first of many words that describe John’s biography of Jesus’ life. As well as we know the basic words of Luke’s and Matthew’s accounts of the Christmas story, personally, I believe these words remind me how I must take the Christmas story seriously. The implications go way beyond a manger and a stable and Bethlehem. They go all the way to my heart if I allow them to. I pray that you’ll let them take some serious nature in your heart this day.

Let us pray: How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin. Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in. Amen.  

Blessings –

Dianne

PS – I started this as an Advent Devotional … and Advent has ended. While commercially Christmas has been happening since Thanksgiving, in the church, the Christmas season begins today and goes for 12 days. I’m going to try and continue this devotion for another 12 days. I hope you’ll stay tuned for a few more reflections on Christmas and Jesus’ birthday.

 

The Greatness of Christmas

Dec. 24, 2011

Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Within church circles, there is something called “the lectionary.” This is a three-year plan of what passages of scripture can be used in worship for every Sunday and special worship days of the year. Each worship day lists four Biblical passages of scripture. This passage from Titus is listed for Dec. 24. I’m guessing this isn’t the most popular scripture passage that will be used in worship services today. Luke 2:1-20, which tells the story of Mary and Joseph going toBethlehemand the birth of Jesus, is the scripture I have used at Christmas Eve worship services ever since I’ve been serving as a pastor.

Look closely at this passage again. (OK – maybe look at it for the first time if you skipped over it and went right to the words I write. I understand. Quite often I do this myself!) The very last words speak about “doing what is good.” Most people want to do what is good. I hear this sentence all the time, especially when meeting with a family that has just lost a loved one, “He/She was such a good person.” Good is good. But should being good be all that we strive for?

Personally, I hope that if someone describes me and the way I’ve lived my life, I pray that he/she will think of a more descriptive word than “good.” Besides, is good really all that good?

When someone asks you, “How are you doing?” what is your normal response? I have this sliding scale. If I’m having a not so good day, I say, “OK.” “Fine” is one step above “OK,” and “Good,” is one step above “Fine.” If I’m really having a good (there it is again!) day, then I might say, “Great.” I have this running dialogue with an older gentleman fromMidlandnamed Irv. After worship on Sunday, he asks me how I’m doing. He has sort-of figured out my sliding scale and sometimes calls me on it. If my response is, “OK,” he’ll say, “Are you really OK?”

Quite honestly, I’m not sure God would desire for us to live simply “good” lives. I’m thinking that God has a deep desire for us to be on the “great” end of the spectrum. That’s why God offers salvation for all people through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. When we see what God has done for us, then we see how important it is to say “no” to worldly passions and choose to follow Jesus’ example of how to live our lives. It means choosing to do what is good, as described by Titus in this passage.

I’ve just finished spending 45 minutes with a couple that I have never met before. The man called yesterday looking for assistance. As a pastor, I get these kinds of requests more frequently than other folks. They are fromHouston,TX. His son and the son’s half-brother were living with their mother inEau Clairewith her boyfriend. The mother and boyfriend were arrested for dealing drugs. The boys are in foster care. The man who called me is trying to get the boys but needs employment to do so. He shared that yesterday he got a job. They needed $100 to cover the rest of their rent and wanted to know if I could help out.

As you read these words, what is your first reaction? Would you help this couple? What is the good thing to do? “It depends,” is what I’m guessing many would say.

I’ve heard many stories, some which I could classify as true; some which I think are embellished to pull at my heart strings. Rick and I have discussed this many times. There are people out there who are trying to take advantage of others. And seriously, there are folks who really need help. How do we tell the difference? One way Rick and I keep perspective of this is to recognize that we are called to do our part, to live upright and godly lives today. If someone is taking advantage of us, then that’s for them to ultimately make peace with and not us. We error on the side of helping more often than not, recognizing that maybe some receivers are trying to take advantage of us. Our hearts just need to be in the place where we are giving as a response to God’s love for us. We leave the rest up to God and not drive ourselves crazy trying to decide whether we did the right thing or not.

Honestly, do you want God to look at you and ponder whether or not you deserve the gift of salvation and have God respond, “It depends?” Thank goodness God doesn’t have a sliding scale. Every day for God is great. Now we choose whether or not to make everyday we can great for the little part of God’s kingdom we’ve been entrusted with.

My prayer for you this day is that we can all see the greatness which God desires for us. Otherwise, why would have God set God’s very own Son into the world? Please pause life for a few moments and see how this really is more important than any worldly pleasures. This is the true greatness of Christmas Eve.

Let us pray: The splendor of the King, clothed in majesty. Let all the earth rejoice, all the earth rejoice. He wraps Himself in light, and darkness tries to hide. And trembles at His voice, and trembles at His voice. How great is our God! Sing with me: How great is our God! And all will see how great, how great is our God. Amen.  

Blessings –

Dianne

The Smells of Christmas

Dec. 23, 2011

Luke 2:7

And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

My nose is alive with the wonderful smells of Christmas. Foremost, I’m a real Christmas tree tsar. I love walking into the house and smelling the tree, even before I see it. I know there are lots of good reasons to have an artificial tree. I just haven’t bought into them yet because I do not want to give up the smell of the real deal.

A week ago, a friend sent me a vase of Christmas flowers. I’ve had it on my home desk the last number of days and its fragrance fills my nostrils as I type on the laptop. Yum!

I broke down last night and made a batch of rosettes. These are little crispy fry cakes that we always made in December when I was growing up. I’m not especially fond of the frying oil smell that is left behind. But smelling the rosettes, prettily laid out on the kitchen counter, dusted with powered sugar this morning reminds me of the kitchen on the farm where I grew up.

Yesterday morning, I awoke to a beautiful painting of white snow outside. It was a picture-perfect scene. The snow hung on the branches all day. It was so crisp and clean and downright beautiful. Stepping outside and breathing deep to fill my lungs with the winter air, my nostrils received a symphony of snow smell. You didn’t think snow could smell, did you?  Try it the next time we have a fresh, new dusting.

Personally, nothing transports me back faster to another time and place than an appropriate smell. One of my all-time favorite smells is freshly brewed coffee. As a child, I couldn’t stand the taste. My Grandma Deaton would lovingly let me set on her lap and smell her coffee. She put cream and sugar in it, so as I stirred and wafted the aroma steaming off her cup, it also had a little sweet smell. When I want the house to smell great, I simply brew a pot of coffee. Hmm …

There were smells that first Christmas. Cow dung and wool. Fresh straw. Maybe the dampness that often accompanies a stable or animal cave. Who cannot appreciate the smell of a new baby?

Maybe Mary remembered these smells and she too was transported back to another time and place whenever she smelt them later on in her life. She didn’t have a camera or a camcorder to record the night’s events. But smells … this was something she could use to remember those special hours and minutes when the Messiah entered this world. I’m confident there were many smells that recalled those special moments for Mary and Joseph.

Let your nose help you celebrate and enjoy this special time of the year. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Be filled with the smells that abound. Be filled with the Holy Spirit. May the Spirit of God enliven your live and soul these next few days.

Let us pray: O Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air; dispel in glorious splendor the darkness everywhere. True man yet very God, from sin and death now saw us, and share our every load. Amen.  

Blessings –

Dianne

Survey Says: The Most Important Holiday of the Year

Dec. 22, 2011

Romans 16:25-27

Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to faith and obedience—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Americans believe Christmas is the most important holiday of the year, the 2011 American Holiday Study, commissioned by the United Methodist Communications, discovered. What are the top Christmas activities families enjoy? They include meals, gifts, decorations and parties. Here are few statistics:

  • 94% of us will share a meal
  • 76% will exchange gifts
  • 63% will decorate their homes
  • 58% will have a tree
  • 55% will attend a holiday party
  • 48% will attend a worship service
  • More people will buy a present for themselves than volunteer time
  • 42% will make a monetary donation
  • 36% will send Christmas emails, but 61 % will still send Christmas cards.
  • 60% percent think the holidays are too commercialized and 32% wish they were simpler.
  • Most Americans appear more practical about Christmas spending and will spend $250-$499 on presents this year.

The survey discovered that the most popular activities involve connecting with others. It discovered that people really prefer to connect with others at Christmas, rather than purchasing more things.  “What everyone seems to agree on is that is that the holidays should not be about consumerism, but about connection with others,” said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications. “People want to be in touch with family and friends – to be part of a community, and that’s what the church is all about.”

What activity do people feel is most meaningful? Sharing a meal which 54% identified as most meaningful tradition. In contrast, 14% said attending a worship service as the most significant activity.

Last Sunday, I did a very informal, unscientific survey with our kids atMidlandto see what Christmas activity they enjoy the most. I wasn’t surprised when the first answer I received was “presents.” Several other kids agreed with this young boy. Decorating the tree, visiting Santa and going to Grandma’s also received votes.

Part of what all this information says to me is this: whatever a family places most emphasis on will often be what the kids will take forward as what is most important and significant for them in celebrating Christmas.

I see this in my own life. The events and things I remember most fondly (and have written about in this blog), are the things that my Mom felt were important and instilled in me and my siblings while growing up. I can’t imagine skipping church on Christmas Eve. Even when I was overseas, we found a place to worship. The crèche, the Advent wreath, Christmas dinner, decorating our often Charlie Brown Christmas tree, reading the Christmas story before eating Christmas dinner: these are all things my Mom impressed upon me and I feel are important.

What’s all of this to say? Think about the Christmas traditions and events that are most important to you. Do you celebrate these things? Are they something you celebrated as a child or when did this tradition begin? If you have children and/or grandchildren, have you celebrated these things with them so they can develop this as a personal tradition?

The whole reason we celebrate Christmas is because people realized that there was a story about how Baby Jesus was born. Someone – the author of Luke’s gospel – felt it was important to share how it all happened. And so, this “tradition” of celebrating Jesus’ birth has been passed down from generation to generation. His birth and the implications of it are no longer a secret. The information is widely available for us to hear and choose whether or not to believe.

Personally, I think his birth is worth celebrating. Developing meaningful ways to recall, remember and celebrate Jesus’ birthday are important. I pray that you have special traditions that you will utilize and share with your family in the next few days. After all, we Americans have declared that Christmas is the most important holiday of the year.

Let us pray: Angels from the realms of glory, wing your flight o’er all t he earth. Ye who sang creations’ story now proclaim Messiah’s birth. Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn King.  I pray that we will have meaningful ways to celebrate this great event this year. Amen.  

Blessings –

Dianne