What Kind of Christmas Are You Dreaming of This Year? (Part 2)

“What are we dreaming of this Christmas? What is the greatest longing of our hearts?”

As I reflected on these questions, I found myself dreaming of a red Christmas this year. You see red everywhere this time of year as it is the most eye-catching of colors. That’s why it’s used for stop signs and stoplights. That’s one of the things I am longing for this Christmas – time to stop, to slow down, to rest, to reflect. Indeed, this is exactly what Advent invites us to do – and it is a gift we desperately need.

I saw a lady in the mall who was wearing a sweatshirt that said, “Get out of mye way – I’m Christmas shopping.” I made sure not to get in her way, for she was zipping along. When she got to the up escalator, up she zoomed, parting the slower people on it like the Red Sea!

Our whole culture, especially this time of year, feeds this impulse to live on fast forward. “Hurry! The stores are opening at 4 a.m.!” “Hurry! The sale ends tomorrow!” “Hurry! There are only twenty-two more shopping days till Christmas! Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!”

Oh, we need a red Christmas this year. We need to slow down, to give our weary bodies, minds and souls a little respite; time to reflect on our lives and what’s most important.

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What Kind of Christmas Are You Dreaming of This Year? (Part 1)

I imagine most of us have a favorite Christmas movie. Do you?

A sure sign at our house that the Christmas season is at hand is when Debbie, my wife, puts the movie, “White Christmas” into the DVD. We never tire of it.

There are a number of curious things about this movie and the song that inspired it…

  • The movie came out in 1954 and was the highest grossing movie that year.
  • It was inspired by the song, “White Christmas,” which begins and ends the movie.
  • Yet, the song, “White Christmas” was actually written in 1940 beside a pool in a spa in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. Continue reading
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Morning Manna – Don’t Leave Home Without Your Shield

This morning I read these words from Psalm 28:

6 Blessed be the Lord,
for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.
7 The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

One day I took my children to a museum.  Of special interest to them was the display of armor used by knights during the Middle Ages.

“What is that?”  my son asked the tour guide.

“That’s a shield,” she replied.  “Knights used them for protection.  When an enemy swung a sword at them, they would put the shield infront of them so that the sword hit it and not them.  You can see that this one has a lot of dents and cuts on it from battles.”

“I sure would like a shield like that,” he replied.

As we drove home that day I remembered this verse from the Psalms and how often the Psalmist compared God to a shield (3:3; 5:12; 18:35; 28:7; 33:30, etc).  When we got home we looked up some of these passages and talked about God as a shield for us. My children seemed to really understand that God was always with them, protecting them.

A month after this my son and I were riding a  small dirt bike when the brakes locked up and we were thrown off. With no protective gear on, we could have been killed.  My son was knocked unconscious for a moment and I was bruised and cut up, and broke my thumb.  As we sat in the emergency room waiting to be treated, my son looked over at me and said, “Daddy, I’m sure glad God’s our shield.”

“Me, too,” I replied.  “Me, too.”

Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.  Proverbs 30:5 Amen.

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Morning Manna – Life in the Middle

For my devotions I read Psalm 14 this morning. The verse or sentiment repeated throughout it was:

3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.

My first thought was that the old Psalmist must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed or is at least being just a wee bit pessimistic, don’t you think? I mean, everyone is a baddie? No one ever does anything good? Does the Psalmist include him/herself in this assessment?

One can hardly blame the Psalmist. Read almost all the first 14 psalms and you can’t help but notice that he or she had a lot of problems, troubles, enemies. No wonder he/she was down on everyone and everything, even God! Read Psalm 13 and count how many times a personal complaint is made against even the Creator!

Still, this is a bit harsh, would you not agree? Swiping everyone with one broad brush. But then again doesn’t Isaiah say that “all we like sheep have gone astray”? (Which reminds me of a comic strip I saw once that had two sheep, and one said to the other, “All we like people have gone astray.”) Paul says much the same thing when he writes that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And I believe it was Karl Barth, the theologian, who said that of all the doctrines of the Christian faith, sin is the easiest to prove. If you need to ask how is that so, well, the evidence is everywhere. Continue reading

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Morning Manna – That’s What You Get for Sleeping on a Rock

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place… Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’(Geneis 28:10-11, 16-17)

The above verses stood out to me this morning in my devotions. Jacob, a con man, is on his way to find a wife back in his native land. Maybe he’s also still trying to get away from this brother Esau of who he cheated out of blessing and birthright. Family can do some pretty terrible things to one another, can’t they? Even the first family – Adam and Eve – well, Cain kills his brother Abel. Maybe Jacob didn’t kill Esau, but he sure hurt him. Betrayal is a kind of death, is it not?

Anyway, Jacob sets up camp. He apparently isn’t much into camping. I mean, he’s not prepared. He has no pillow or anything except a rock on which to rest his head. Now maybe it was that rock pillow that caused this strange dream he had! Sometimes my old pillow feels like a rock, too, and it doesn’t help the quality of my dreams either. But the dream Jacob had was pretty special. Maybe I should try an actual rock for a pillow tonight.

Jacob sees a ladder connecting earth and heaven. On it angels are descending and ascending. It’s this story that inspired the hymn, “We Are Climbing Jacobs Ladder.” We’re not told whatelse the angels were doing. Was this just some angelic aerobics? Presumable they were going about being divine messengers. But it’s God’s voice Jacob hears. Basically what God says to this old con man is an re-affirmation of the promise made to his father and gandfather. These words especially must have been greatly encouraging to him after his very bad behavior:

15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’

No wonder then that Jacob blesses this place. It becomes a sacred spot for him, a temple, the very house of God – and it had no roof! No architect had designed it, expect the Great Architect. It would forever be a high and holy place for Jacob.

The tendency has been to hold up biblical characters as larger-than-life persons. In some ways, I suppose, this is true. But if you take an honest look at their lives, they were very ordinary persons through whom God did extraordinary things. In fact, almost each one of them has flaws, very human, and sometimes very great. Jacob certainly does. Both his father and grandfather out of fear for their lives even made their wife pretend to be a sister when entering another land! They were terrifed that the rulers would kill them for their wife! They were not exactly model husbands. Even in the New Testament, the great apostle Peter, if you read the whole story, has flaws galore. So whenever I hear a sermon or read something that tells me I need to be more like (except Jesus, of course), my reponse is, “But my problem is I’m already too much like them!” But this is precisely why we can so relate to them. They are a lot like us. Sometimes they can be examples for us, but also warnings. If God could love and use them, flaws and all, then God loves and has work for me and you, too.

But what all of this says to me is this: God does not give up on us. God made us. God knows we have flaws, character and otherwise. Yet, God sticks with us, just like Jacob and Peter and most everyone else in the Bible. God does not just see who we are, but who we can be. God saw an “Israel” in Jacob. God saw a “Peter,” a rock, in Simon. God sees someone in you, too, someone God believes in and works to help bring out. God has not given up on you. Hopefully it won’t take a dream from sleeping on a rock to convince you of that. But just in case, you might want to go out and find one. Amen.

Blessings,

Bass

 

 

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Powerful Video on Grief and Hope

This is from Joe Biden speaking to the troops recently. Chances are you know someone who probably needs to hear what he has to say. Here is a powerful and healing message from a wounded healer:

http://video.msnbc.msn.com/nightly-news/47569634/#47569634

I’d appreciate it if you know of similar sources for ministry to those experiencing if you would send it along to this blog.

God bless,

Bass

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Lessons Learned One Afternoon in the ER (while on vacation, sigh)

Well, it’s not exactly what one would plan or want on your vacation. But since when does life take much notice of your plans or wants?

Friday night was rough. I apparently ate something that did not not agree with me. I was pretty sick. Finally I went to the ER, not being able to eat or drink very much. I went to the ER in Reston. Let me tell you, if you are sick and anywhere near it, go there. From the receptionist to the doctors and everyone inbetween, they are professional, caring, compassionate and kind, all the things you need when you  are sick and afraid.

Anyway, after a lot of tests, everything registered ok, except for my blood pressure which was elevated (something that runs in my family). We have never got a PCP (primary care provider) in this area as we have not needed one until now. But these good folks at Reston recommended one and we will take care of that straight away.

Today I am feeling much better, more human, more like myself. And I have a new perspective on some things.

As a pastor and having been through hospital chaplaincy, I have seen a lot from one side of what goes on in hospitals. But let me tell you, when you are the one in need, the one lying on the bed with needles sticking out of you, it’s a whole new thing. I think this experience will make me a much more sensitive person and pastor. My empathy will certainly be significantly deepened.

Another thing – when you are sick, you begin to realize that too often you have taken your health for granted. Think about it – your health is a pretty big deal! When you don’t feel well, everything is changed. Everything looks different. It sure has a way of focusing your priorities. It also makes you aware that you need to take better care of yourself. The Bible calls this stewardship, which we often take to mean money. Not so. We are to be good stewards of our bodies, which, Paul says, are the temples of the Holy Spirit! So, I know I have to be much more careful about what I eat and that I stay active, with a regular routine for exercise.

Diet and exercise, which you hear about all the time for good reason, help prevent a ton of problems. Ministers, it has been my experience, are not the best stewards of their bodies. If I am talking about you, then listen up. Get a physical if you haven’t had one in a while. When you sit to eat, eat the right things, the things that are right for you – vegetables and fruit and drink plenty of water. Make sure you exercise. And also make sure you take a regular Sabbath and some mini-Sabbaths. Not only is this good for you, it also sets a good example for those you serve.

I can’t say that I will plan or want part of my next vacation to be spent in an ER, but I can say that this time I learned a lot of about myself, about the quality and character of a lot of our health care givers, and how very precious your health is and the importance of nurturing it. Don’t let it take a trip to the ER to teach you these things. Now you know. Take it from me. If you do, maybe you can spend your whole next vacation doing a lot more fun things.

Bass

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Morning Manna – Old and New Wells

I was reading Genesis 26 for my morning devotions. There we find Isaac, the only son of Abrham and Sarah, redigging the old wells of his father (which had been filled in by their enemies). He renamed them the same names as his father had given to them. But as he traveled, he discovered that he had to dig new wells of his own. Near the end of that chapter one of his servants comes to him shouting, “We have found water!” Another successful new well.

I am touched by this story in so many ways. For one thing, I, too, have greatly benefited from the old wells dug by my fathers and mothers and persons before me. Because of their hard work, their faith, their sacrifices, their thinking not just of themselves but of me and future generations, I have not gone thirsty. I have found in so many ways water for my physical and spiritual life.

Think back over your own life for a moment this morning. Where are the old wells to which you have often stopped and found life giving water? How have the efforts of others blessed and continue to bless you?

Isaac had to re-dig some of those old wells. Maybe we do, too. We do that by valuing the past, giving thanks for those who have come before us, celebrating them and cherishing also the values and the teachings they passed along. We keep those wells, those things alive and accessible by doing all of these things.

But another thought comes to mind. Isaac did not just take from the old wells, thinking only of himself. By necessity, he dug new ones in new places, not just for himself, but for all who were with him and followed him.

How might I/we dig some new wells? How might we leave for others resources that will phsycially and spiritually  refresh and renew them? How might our children find these wells, keep them clean, re-dig them, too, should they become filled? Would they find in us, in our lives, in our legacy that which they would so value and that would encourage them to dig their own wells?

I remember reading about this water pump in the wilderness. It had a sign on it that directed the thirsty to a jar of water buried beneath a rock just behind the pump. But the sign said in bold letters, “Use this to prime the pump. But before you drink, refill the jar and leave it for the next thirsty soul.”

Today, O Lord, we remember and give you thanks for those before us, who primed the pump, who left jars of water and often deep and refreshing wells from which we have often drank. We honor them and you for giving them to us. Now we ask that you keep us as faithful as they. Let us think first not of ourselves but those around us and those to follow us. Let us leave many jars of water and new wells for them. Amen.

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In the Morning You Hear My Voice, and I Watch

My morning Bible reading was from Psalm 5. One of the things I do each morning is look for that one verse that I can memorize and then use throughout the day. It is amazing to me how often I need just that verse.

Anyway, the verse that stood out to me this morning was Psalm 5:3:

“O Lord, you hear my voice in the morning;in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.”

The Psalmist is stressed. If you read the whole Psalm 5, you see it’s because of his enemies. So pressed and stressed is he that his first thoughts and words are addressed to God (which is a common theme in the Psalms of beginning each day by looking to and speaking to God). He has a case to plead, like someone presenting something to a judge to make a decision. He is confident that he will get a hearing and a favorable ruling, for he trusts in the “hesed” or steadfast love of God. So, he pleads his case and watches…

Maybe you and I do not have literal enemies like the Psalmist (maybe some of us do). But we have much that would stress and press us, do we not? Perhaps these things have caused us also some sleepless nights. So, who are we going to call to in the morning light? To whom will we plead our case? And then watch…watch to see what happens…

Turn your thoughts and words this morning to the One who created you, the One who loves you more than you can know. This One is no stern judge but, as Jesus said, is to be called upon as the most loving of parents, a heavenly “Father.” You will discover in just the mere act of doing so, a greater sense of peace and relief. Then continue to “watch” throughout the day and days, and see how God answers and cares.

I prayed this morning for a dear aunt who has been struggling and suffering for so long with an illness. I prayed that God would provide what she needed. In less than an hour later, as I watched and listened, the call came that she had gone on to be with the Lord!

How many times I have had similar things happen. This isn’t magic. It’s not a way to manipulate God. It’s a matter of trust and love. God cares for us. When we take that seriously, then in the morning (and at all times) we speak, we pour out our souls to God, daaring to believe that God hears and cares; then watching, listening for signs of God’s presence and provision.

It is a simple matter, really. Make it a practice to begin each morning by letting God hear your voice, plead your case for yourself or on behalf of others, then watch, wait and see if there are not signs that God has heard and answers. Maybe it will not always be at the time or in the way you hope for or want, but God’s timing and actions are always what is best for us.

How about sharing with me some of your experiences along these lines?

God bless and keep you,

Bass

 

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Mormonism

The Mormon faith has certainly been in the news for some time now. Frankly, I have never read much about it. I feel compelled to learn more, however. So I am reading a short history of Mormonism by Richard Lyman, a reputable scholar, who also happens to be a practicing Mormon. This is good in one way as it gives you an insider’s view (at least historically) of Mormonism. But the down side is that it isn’t as objective as I would prefer.

I am wondering, what resources have you found that give a fair and accurate perspective on Mormonism?

Also, have you ever taught or preached about it? If so, would you be willing to share your thoughts and even a sermon here on our blog?

At this point I have a lot more questions than answers, which isn’t such a bad state.

So, what are your thoughts?

Bass

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