Saturday, December 6, 2008

Iiiiiit's Saturday

Since several of you have joined me the past few days, here's a bit about what I try to do schedule-wise. I do my best to post fresh material (even fun stuff like yesterday) on Sunday through Friday.

That's because I prefer Saturday In The Park -- or working in the yard. Or putting up Christmas decorations since we were gone last week. Sooo, I try to share one of my previous posts that most of you haven't read. It gives me a break and brings some of you along on a bit of my journey.

Entitled Mending Fences, this was one of my very first blogs...

Preaching three times on Sunday morning is mentally and physically taxing. By the time I arrive home, I wonder if my brain is mush or spaghetti. Fortunately, Cathy has lunch pretty much ready to go after my quick change of clothes. My custom is to eat, finish the Sunday paper and head to a nap.

It's almost never exciting when the phone rings right after lunch and Cathy says it's for me. My brain screams for the release of a dream and my head wants to shake "no" when I put the communication gadget to my ear.

"Sam, this is someone you haven't spoken to in a long time." As I hear the words, the voice is already sounding familiar. It belongs to a man who used to attend our church many years ago. I haven't actually seen him since my grown kids were in high school. We have spoken on the phone a few times since then. Each of those occurrences left me thinking that the man is buried in his problems and will probably never get better.

"Hi," I reply, "how can I help you?" I know my voice is tense. I don't want to be bothered and I'm sure he can tell. I feel guilty, but it is inconvenient. (I'd rather not admit that attitude.) Besides, the last time or two we talked, I'm not even sure the guy was sober.

"I'm actually getting my life together," he said. "I am being treated for PTSD because of Viet Nam and I'm better than I have been in many, many years. I have been giving it some thought and I can think of two people right now that I need to reconcile with. You're one of them."

A voice from the past. I relax, grateful for this turn in the conversation. I tell him truthfully that he owes me no apology. I invite him back to church because he says he has tried a few and wants to attend again. He seems relieved, promises to see me and says goodbye.

I have had to make many similar calls over the years. They have left me feeling joyful and relieved. I hope it did the same for him.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Yesterday, er The Day Before

I was tagged by my new friend Chris over at Simply Put on Tuesday. If you haven't taken a gander at his blog, I hope you will. His creative writing style is interesting, humorous and always leaves me chewing an imaginary eraser.

Any way, Chris, I shared those seven secrets here in one of my first posts. I'm taking advantage of the opportunity, though, to tag some others who have started following my blog and you might want to check out.

Cathy's dad spent a career at the US Postal Service. Thus, our family has a pretty low view of chain letters. HOWEVER, (ahem), since we aren't paying postage for playing this little game and since it gives us a chance to encourage other writers, today I will play along. You whom I tag can decide how far you want to get into this...

Okay, here are the rules:

1. Link the person who tagged you.
2. Post the rules on your blog.
3. Share seven random or weird facts about yourself.
4. Tag seven others and include links to their blogs.
5. Let each of the other people know by commenting on their blogs.

AND... Tony, Heather, Dina, J, Gina, Liz, and Isabella, you're it!

One other Friday remark... Wednesday was my most comments so far. Hurray and thanks to all of you!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Grinch

The issue at hand was pews. The order was wrong. Was it the buyer or the builder? I'll never know for sure. What I do know is that somebody at church accepted the delivery. Because a leader's daughter was getting married. In the brand new building.

And it was too late to change. So the delivery was accepted.

That's when the builder/buyer feud started. It was polite. At first. Feeling wronged, the church refused to pay the remainder of their bill.

I arrived as pastor many years later. It took a few years for me to hear the full story. Then I was shown the file of correspondence...

...which concluded with a formal notice that the church had been written off as a bad debt. What to do?

Wise words (from The Word) were like a spiritual sextant making our direction sure...
He who walks in integrity walks securely. (Proverbs 10:9 NASB)
Choose a good reputation over great riches. (Proverbs 22:1 NLT)

We contacted the pew manufacturer, offering to settle our debt plus interest for the years that had passed between. They charged us -- all of it. We paid it -- joyfully. It's the only choice when you have decided to "DWELL in the land AND CULTIVATE faithfulness."

We all face the occasional temptation to be a Grinch. The Christmas we help steal may belong to a laborer in a cabinet shop building pews. Or it might be the one which should go to the cashier at Target.

The one who gave you too much change. During Christmas rush. And has to balance the cash drawer at the end of the shift.

The extra money you noticed when you got home from the store.

Whose fault is it? What will you do?

What's your story? I would love your comments.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

'Tis The Season

I'm sure you've noticed how "seasonal" we are in this culture. It used to be that we had four seasons, but now it seems like we experience a different one every few weeks. AND, if you follow the ad inserts in our Sunday paper, you'll know that EVERY ONE of them is the season for shopping!

Seasonal. That's what we are.

We just came through the season of...

Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, hot rolls and butter, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, apple pie, cherry pie and (drum roll) WHIPPED CREAM! I almost forgot: Starbucks Pumpkin Spiced Lattes!!

We are about to enter the season of ham, more turkey, duck (duck goose), fruit salad, plum pudding, gingerbread, candy canes, eggnog, sweet potato casserole, pecan pie, apple pie, cherry pie, mince pie and whipped cream. I didn't almost forget: Starbucks Gingersnap Lattes!!

Then comes January. The season of Nordic Track and gym memberships. (Note to self: some of the best deals at yards sales are of almost new workout equipment.)

You and I have some choices to make. We can either forget about any kind of self discipline during this holiday or we can plan a way to navigate the season with minimum waistline damage.

Don't get me wrong. I love food. I really love holiday food! What I don't love is the uphill battle after days upon days of stuffing myself. I'm fortunate, though. Cathy is the best accountability partner and encourager I could ever have. The eating results of this holiday season will be a lot easier for me to live with because of her.

What's your thought on this subject? To encourage your input, I'll give you a multiple choice way to respond. If you like, just comment below with A, B, or C.

A-I'll plan my holiday diet and stick to it (asking for help as needed).
B-This one isn't really a problem for me. I may splurge a bit, but only a little.
C-Mind your own business, Sam!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

All I Want For Christmas Is...

"At only $99, these make great stocking stuffers! Order one for every member of you family, including Uncles, Aunts and Cousins! Call now!"

At the risk of sounding a bit out of touch, let me tell you about Christmas when I was a boy. Like every one else, the kids in our family got excited about the big event. We started getting Christmas Catalogs in something like October. The day they came in the mail was one of the big thrills of the year. We had to take turns looking through it and, within a couple weeks, just about every page was dogeared.

Having limited resources meant that our family was on a budget. We could look and dream all we wanted, but when decision time came we had to limit our our choice(s) to a total of..


That's right. Stocking stuffers? What was that? My bachelor Uncles would come from the mountains for the day and our family gift to them was usually one or two pairs of socks.

Sure, $5.00 would buy a lot more back then. I can still remember -- I think -- about three different $5 Christmas gifts from different years. I had fun with each of them for a while.

What I remember the most, though, is the many hours of fun we had as a family. The cousins all played outside until it was too dark to do anything. We went back in and played table games until bedtime. We ate food (and ate and ate and ate), finally crashing with hearts full of joy.

Those $5.00 presents have long since landed in a landfill. The family relationships? Well, the tribal members who are still living are separated by miles as well as years. Every time we get together, however, we pick right up where we left off.

And the loved ones who have passed? Their memories linger with the rest of us for the remainder of our lives.

What memories of Christmas do you cherish?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Practice Makes Prefect... Uh, Perfect?

Yesterday was "Family Worship" at our church. Every time we have a 5th Sunday in a month, we all gather together for services that target all ages. It's a special day for us -- other Sundays feature services for children in elementary school. Our middle school and high school students also have worship services designed for them.

But... about once a quarter we all join together. I'm pretty sensitive to the need to bring this service to a level that the entire family can get into. Yesterday, being the first Sunday of Advent, I asked kids and youth to write down some of their Christmas traditions. After getting almost no response, I realized that "tradition" is a word that children don't use much. (Perhaps I should have asked them what special things their family does to celebrate Christmas.)

I did, however, get responses from a couple of teens. Here is the one I found the most interesting...

When I was in Kindergarten my teacher read us stories about how boys and girls around the world celebrated Christmas. The one I liked the best was about children in Germany who had good luck if they could find the pickle that was hidden on their tree. I came home and begged my mom for a Christmas pickle. She found one and now every year we look for the hidden Christmas pickle.


Having shared one of our family traditions last Friday, several of you commented about the need to do some traditional things to keep you in the right spirit for Christmas. I think it's important. Otherwise, the "frantic-ness" of the season with swallow you.

At church, we are encouraging families to celebrate Advent. As most of you know, "advent" means "coming." For Christ-followers, it's natural at Christmas for us to celebrate someone coming. And, no, I'm not talking about anybody who lives at the North Pole.

What are your family traditions during this season?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Let Us Go To Bethlehem And See

We will begin the Christmas season at church today. For the next few weeks we count down to the celebratory cry, "For unto us a Child is born..." By God's grace, I would like to take a journey together that will leave us in greater awe of the Birth.

Anyone who hears me speak, quickly knows the deep influence my dad had on my life. A simple man in so many ways, he exemplified what a genuine Christian looks like. He befriended the poor as well as the rich. He wasn't enamored with the glitter and glamor that so often become the carrot that pulls people around the race track of life.

Dad was consumed with the need to do the right thing in each situation. He told me that he once had a conversation with a car dealer he knew. Somehow the subject of honesty came up and dad said, "I would rather be cheated out of a dollar than cheat someone else out of a dime." The car dealer hung his head and responded, "I can't really say that."

People came from ranches as far as 100 miles away to have dad repair their vehicles. He always had work to do in his independent shop and canceled his Yellow Pages ad a year after he opened because he had plenty of business (and he was skeptical that people found his garage that way). I remember asking him why he didn't hire more people. His answer: "Son, I managed other mechanics when I worked for the dealership and never knew if they were really doing the work they were assigned. I made checklists and the mechanics signed off on them, but I would find out that they were taking shortcuts to work faster and make more money. In the meantime, my reputation was on every car that went out that door." By working for himself, he had no trouble standing by his craftsmanship because he knew what he had done.

I have taken a couple of minutes to tell you about my dad because of the way he talked the last few years of his life. Virtually every time the conversation came up, he spoke words reflecting John Newton: Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!" Dad would often tell how overwhelmed he felt that Jesus Christ died for a sinner like him. At the time, I knew the words were true of me, too. But I admit they hadn't really hit home yet.

As the years pass, I become ever more aware of my own heart. I have come to understand that even many of the "good" things I have done have been done for the wrong motives. Though I have sometimes wept and spoken the words to Jesus, "I love you," I have a growing realization of how shallow they are. The Savior Himself said, "If you love Me, keep my commands." John, the "disciple Jesus loved" added "The person who doesn't love others, does not know God." In both these areas, I have frequently fallen short.

The road to Bethlehem is meant to be a journey of humility. It was a humble Jewish girl who was chosen to be His mother, lowly shepherds who were called to the birthing "room" and a simple carpenter who raised Him. For you and me to fully grasp Christmas, we must approach it as desperate sinners. Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost For His Highest (November 28), said...

There is a certain pride in man that will give and give, but to come and accept is another thing. I will give my life to martyrdom, I will give myself in consecration, I will do anything, but do not humiliate me to the level of the most hell-deserving sinner and tell me that all I have to do is to accept the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

So, friend, let US -- YOU AND ME -- go to Bethlehem with broken hearts. Then we can be filled with hope and awe!