"Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words." - St. Francis of Assisi

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent Day 4 - Wednesday, November 30

“When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:10-11)

Yesterday (November 29) was my birthday. It has always been a source of encouragement to my writing that I share a birthday with Louisa May Alcott, one of my favorite authors. We have both written that it seems appropriate that we were born in a gloomy, gray, unpredictable month since I feel my life runs the same gamut at times. Somedays, I feel like it is bright, sunny and in the 70’s; other days, cold, bitter, windy and in the 30’s. Kinda true about November, isn’t it.

Not being a believer in astrology, horror-scopes and all those things, I don’t really know what the characteristics are for a Sagittarius, but I do know that I have always sought for something more. Something bigger. Something that includes my name in lights and has me being interviewed by Diane Sawyer. To this day, I know without a doubt, that I could appear in a Broadway musical just as easily as I could win a Nobel Prize for Writing. There is a star out there with my name on it that I am constantly following. Perhaps even on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

However, besides the star of ‘my hopeful fame,’ there is a much more important Star that I follow in my life. The same star that led the Shepherds and the Magi over 2,000 years ago. The same star that came to shine over Bethlehem. Over Jesus’ birth. Over the Saviour. My Saviour. Without that Star my life would have absolutely no direction or meaning. If it means all I do for the rest of my days is to plunk away on a piano keyboard for a church, or click away on a computer keyboard writing my journals and thoughts down to share with others, then that is okay with me. As long as I can do what I do for God’s glory, then I’m accomplishing more than starring in the largest Broadway show or winning the largest journalism award in the world. I will give all I have to Him. Will You?

(But, could I still get that Diane Sawyer interview, please?….)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent Day 3 - Tuesday, November 29

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” (John Mason Neale)

Both scripture and other historical writings show that the Jewish people, long enslaved by Rome, were eagerly waiting for a Messiah, a Saviour, someone to come rescue them from their bondage and free them to be their own nation. These same sources tell in many places that the people wanted a mighty soldier and warrior to come with armies, horses, chariots and weapons to physically destroy Rome and prove to the other nations that the Jewish people were not to be reckoned with. They were God’s chosen people and they would be invincible. Powerful. Indestructible.

What did they get? A baby. A (probably) crying, squalling baby. Lying in a feed trough in a nasty stable in the nasty town of Bethlehem. No horses and soldiers. Instead donkeys, cows, sheep and dirty smelly shepherds. No wonder the Jewish people have such a difficult time in accepting Jesus as their Messiah.

What do you expect out of Jesus? Can you first remember hearing of Him? Can you first remember what you thought He could do for you? I remember as a young teenager when I first came to a knowledge of Jesus that I anticipated a world free of heartache, pain…full of sunny days and happy thoughts. Where the birds sing my name and the squirrels iron my clothes. Well, sorta. I honestly did think that I would now have the power to zap those kids that teased me for being a band nerd. And when I got in mongo-trouble for “borrowing” a school bus in 11th grade with some buddies for a McDonald’s run…I figured Jesus would get me out of trouble. Nope. Didn’t happen.

As we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth, it’s a good idea to focus on what and who He really is. The Son of God. The One who was born and lived on earth, experiencing the same human emotions and struggles as we do so that He can understand what you and I face every day. The One who was finally betrayed and denied by his closest companions, then died the most horrible death imaginable (even by today’s Hollywood standards). But. But. But…He rose from the dead so that I can live eternally with Him. And all this because He. Loves. Me.

I cannot imagine this Love. I do some very unlovable things, yet, Jesus loves me. And I celebrate His birth in a few weeks. In a very personal way, I celebrate it.

Think about the Love that came down at Christmas and reflect on His love for you. I mean…really focus on it….not just a passing thought. Think about His Love. What are you going to do about it?

Joy to the World!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent Day 2 - November 28

“Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah and he was startled and gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife, Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” (Luke 1:11-13

This new baby, John, would grow up to be known as John the Baptizer, or John the Baptist. He was the cousin of Jesus (who would be born later) and John’s primary role was to prepare the way for Jesus. As boys, John and Jesus more than likely played together, swam together, camped out together, did chores together, got into trouble together, visited each other’s homes, and all those things that cousins do….especially boy cousins. Do you reckon John knew that Jesus was the Messiah as they were growing up? Would he have treated him differently? Or did John not know until Jesus met him at the Jordan River to be baptized? That’s one of those questions I wonder about sometimes, but figure I can ask John about it when I finally meet him in heaven.

But, as an adult, as the Preparer, John had the responsibility to point the way to one who is yet to be known. To tell people and urge them to get their hearts right because their Messiah was coming. John was diligent and (according to the scriptures) he sacrificed much in the way of shelter, clothing and food. He was dedicated and committed to his calling. Locusts and wild honey? I don’t think so. Unless there was chocolate to cover it with.

If you look at it through my odd little way of seeing things, John was the first observer of Advent. He sorta wrote the first set of lesson plans and we are still following his example. We, as Christians in 2011, are here to prepare the way for Christ’s coming for the second time. The final time. As in John’s time, people are stubborn to hear the truth and not willing to set aside their comfortable lifestyles to follow the Jesus way. The Christmas season is one where at least the unbelieving world may think a teench more about the meaning of Christmas and at least use the name of Christ when they say Christmas.

By my thinking, this season of Advent is a prime time for us to prepare the world around us for Christ. Our church has passed out buttons for us to wear that tell whoever we meet that “It’s okay to say Merry Christmas.” Encourage folks that may tick us off by just telling them “Merry Christmas”……and smile. Show the love. Do some random acts of kindness. Volunteer some time to those in need. Put a dollar or two in the Salvation Army bucket. I was a bell ringer for the Army the last few years and hope to do it again during December. Why don’t you volunteer to be a ringer? Give some canned goods or toys to one of the local food banks or children’s homes. Dollar stores have a great supply and your dollars can go a long way. Pick up the newspaper from a senior adult’s driveway and take it to the door. Just do something.

Let me encourage you to think long, hard and creatively about how you can be a Preparer during these next few weeks. And do it all in the name of Jesus. Our Savior. Emmanuel.

Joy to the World!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent - Day 1 Sunday, November 27

Advent – Day 1 Sunday, November 27

Have you gotten your house or dorm room all decorated for Christmas? Way back in the dark ages when I was young, people did not usually decorate until just a couple weeks before Christmas. Stores never had Christmas decorations or advertisements until after Thanksgiving and there was no such thing as “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday” shopping.

Now we see Christmas hitting the stores just after Labor Day, craziness and mayhem beginning in the stores after Thanksgiving and it seems every day and evening is filled with church, school, business, family and neighborhood Christmas things. Not wanting to be left out, we join the crowds and rushing willy nilly through the rushing torrent known as the “joyous” holiday season and finally arrive at the first of January full of stress and frustration.

For a number of years, Christmas was my least favorite time of year. I dreaded for mid-November to come because I knew my evenings for the next five or six weeks would be occupied by music rehearsals, church meetings, church dinners, church services, business dinners and meet & greet parties, family reunions, and on and on. Fa-la-la-la-la-ppbbt! I could have easily skipped the whole thing. I never decorated my home because I was never home to enjoy it. And the worst part of it all was that I lost the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of Jesus, my Saviour.

It’s different for me now. I don’t know whether it is a result of growing older and realizing that I just had to slow it down and smell the pine branches or a result of the fact I finally learned how to prepare for Christmas. For Christ. For the season of His birth. His birth was on a quiet night in a small town with not a lot of hubbub. So different from the world in 2011. I had to learn to say ‘no’ to some things that may be fun, but would just put me over the top of the stress pot. In time, that stress pot would overflow and the reason for the season would be lost.

This morning, our church began Advent with the traditional service of the “Hanging of the Green.” It was glorious. Simple, calm, informal in a way, no one screaming if a musical mistake was made or someone stood up at the wrong time. The garlands and wreaths were hung, holly and ivy set in place, candles lit, poinsettias set out and lots of music. Again, it was glorious. A time for my church family to come together and begin the Advent season. Advent. The coming of Christ. Emmanuel.

How are you preparing for the upcoming celebration of the coming of Christ? Let me encourage you to not act like me in times past and go full-goose-bozo-crazy with all the stuff, but to keep your eyes on Jesus. Immerse yourself in the Bible and find some good daily Advent devotionals. (I just happen to have a couple books of Advent devotions that I’ve written in years past that I’d be glad to give you…..selfish self-promotion here). I’ll be praying for you as we all enter this exciting season.

Joy to the World!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Me and My Baggage

I’m heading off this weekend for a church retreat and I am already remembering that…...my friends hate to travel with me. Whether it is vacation, a weekend camping trip, an overnight hike or a musical tour, they hate to see my car pull into the driveway. Why is that? I am not one to travel lightly. Even if it is a weekend trip, there are always those circumstances for which I must plan.

You know, the ‘what if I fall in the pool or lake more than once’ and need extra socks and pants. ‘What if I find a good wireless connection for my laptop’ and I can get some surf time in? So, I usually end up with one bag full of my electronics (Laptop, iPod, iPad, Blackberry, digital camera, portable DVD player and various chargers and cables), then another bag full of twice as many clothes as I actually need, then another bag with the essentials of travel, like chocolate and potential water balloons.

The point is that I’m known for all the baggage I trundle along with as I travel the highways. Are you the same way? Regardless of how you pack for a trip, we all do have one thing in common and that is the unseen baggage that we carry. We have accumulated it from failed relationships, financial problems, abusive situations, employment problems, broken or dysfunctional families, lack of education and so many other areas far too numerous to name. It is much easier to leave a suitcase at home than it is to leave some of our internal baggage behind.

Now, before you get all excited about this being an expose’ on my life I will just share that I have my own fair share of baggage. I’ve also learned that it does not matter what age we are, we can still add to the stack of luggage we carry and it gets heavier and heavier with each day unless we learn to deal with it. By this time in my life, I’ve got a trainload full. As a Christian, it is easy for me to say, ‘Oh, just turn it all over to God and He’ll take your cares away” (I Peter 5:7), but to be honest, sometimes that just doesn’t cut it for me. My personality is one to take care of things myself and effect the changes I need to make.

One of my favorite vocalists and Christian brother is my good long-time friend, Kirk Talley, who wrote a song several years ago entitled “Past Your Past”. In it he speaks of a young lady who was struggling with a lot of old baggage and could not put it behind her to begin living in today. You can find it on iTunes, if you are interested. The song goes on to encourage her (and us);

“You can get past your past. You can walk away from painful memories. Get past your past; you don’t have to be alone. You can stand upon the Word of God; your yesterdays can be gone. Let Jesus bring you past your past and then you can go on.”

Music is the medium that speaks to my soul. Be it good jazz and blues, rock and roll, or contemporary Christian; music can stir me like no other vehicle. Each time I hear this song, I am reminded that I can put my baggage behind and move on into today. First I must ask God’s forgiveness and then I have to forgive myself. It’s hard, it’s scary, it can be emotional and it may require accountability with others, but you can begin to leave your past behind, one tote bag at a time.

And for today my friends, this is the gospel according to Jimmy.