Christmas Morning . . .

Merry Christmas to one and all. As Christmas has approached this year, I have found myself reflecting back over my life and remembering Christmases past. I recalled meager years as a kid in which my family lived in a small, simple little house. Oftentimes, we would have a scraggly little cedar tree that we had cut ourselves and it would be decorated with simple homemade things including popcorn on a thread. Most years there would not be much under the tree, but a few years there would be a bit more. I also recalled years as Sandy and I reared our own little family. Sandy always tried to do things in a very special way to make it special. Some of my fondest memories of Christmas involved the Christmas Eve Service at FBC Rockport when Charles Fake was our Pastor. Now is a special period in my life with two beautiful granddaughters with whom to enjoy Christmas and see the wonder of it all in their sweet little eyes. In fact, we have just been back in the house a couple of weeks after the repairs of Hurricane Harvey damage, and Ali and Abi will be coming for a week. It Seems to Me this morning . . . that we will do well to remember that it isn’t really about what is under the tree or inside the stocking, it is about what is in our hearts and on our minds. It is the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Possibly . . . Trading Kids for Animals . . .

On Chris’ birthday I wrote about 3-year-old Courtney suggesting that we trade her 2-day-old brother . . . his loud crying and smelly diapers and all . . . for a Shetland pony. Today, I write about an opportunity to have traded Courtney for several animals! It occurred on the street . . . in the marketplace . . . of Jerusalem. Courtney had graduated from high school and I told her that I thought she ought to travel abroad some and offered to send her anywhere she wanted to travel as her senior trip. After a few days of thinking about it, she decided that she wanted to visit the Holy Land and see the places she had heard so much about over the years. Sandy immediately volunteered to be her travel companion, so the trip was booked.

Chris and I picked them up at Houston Intercontinental Airport on their return. As we walked thru the airport, Courtney told us of a frightening experience during her trip. She said as she and Mom walked through the marketplace, a man . . . a merchant with a long beard and dressed in a robe, confronted her and her mom demanding to know where I . . . as her Father was. Courtney said her Mom politely informed the fellow that I was back in the States. She exclaimed, “Daddy, that men wanted to trade 50 camels and 10 donkeys for me . . . he said that I was beautiful and he wanted me as one of his wives!” I turned to Sandy and asked, “And you didn’t make the trade . . . you brought her back home? Do you have any idea of how much trouble this girl is going to be going forward . . . how much she is going cost us? What a good way that would have been to spare us all of that frustration and expense!”

Missed opportunity? . . . Perhaps!

Chris M . . .

It was on this day in 1978 that Sandy woke me early in the morning with those frightful, yet exciting words, “Honey, I believe it is time to go to the hospital!”  What a way to start the day.

I jumped up and began scrambling around, while she very methodically woke three-year-old Courtney and dressed her and packed a small bag for each of them. She also fixed Courtney a light breakfast. Soon, we dropped Courtney off at Mrs. Duffy’s home (her three-year-old preschool teacher at the Methodist school). Courtney knew that she had a little brother coming . . . well, I suppose as much as a three-year-old can know such a thing. We made it to the hospital and Chris soon made his appearance (47 minutes after Sandy waking) . . . the dude was hollering like there was something terribly wrong. Mom was doing just fine, so after hugging and thanking her, I made my way down to the nursery to perform my job. I strutted like a rooster and captured everyone I could, escorting them to the window to admire my new son!

A couple of days later Sandy and Chris were discharged from the hospital, I stopped by Mrs. Duffy’s house and picked up Courtney to go meet her new brother. When we loaded Mom and baby into the car, Chris was crying loudly and soon had a smelly diaper . . . Courtney instantly had second thoughts about this whole matter. Of course, those were pre-car-seat days, so Sandy sat in the passenger seat holding Chris, I drove, and Courtney sat on the arm-rest between the two front seats. As we drove along, I watched her sweet little face in the rear-view mirror as she took it all in and I knew she was wondering just how good it would be to have such a noisy and stinky little grouch around all of the time. As we drove along Archer Street headed home, Courtney spotted a Shetland pony that had tethered in the right-of-way to graze, she looked up at me and asked, Daddy, let’s trade Brother for that pony . . . the pony would be more fun!

Of course, we didn’t make the trade . . . but there have been a few times over the years when Mom, Courtney, and I all three have debated the wisdom of our not even having made at least an attempt at making a trade. Today, I am glad that we didn’t trade the stinky little rascal for that pony! He has made a fine man and is the Dad to two beautiful girls: Ali and Abi!

Happy Birthday, Buddy . . . I love you!

Struggles at Church . . .

My Sunday school lesson yesterday was on Acts 15 which serves as the historical account (perhaps the minutes) of the 2nd called business meeting of the New Testament Church. The Apostle Paul and his wingman Barnabas had ventured out to some remote regions encountered some difficulties and doubled back to Antioch. Upon their arrival back at Antioch, the missionaries learned that during their absence that some guys from Judea had visited the local Church (which was in stages of infancy). The young Church gave audience to the visiting men . . . and those visitors put a fly in the ointment. The visitors insisted that these new Believers still had not yet achieved the status of salvation as they had a few additional requirements to achieve or meet, and laid out some items enumerated in the Law of Moses. After some debate, the young Church decided that it ought to dispatch a delegation to Jerusalem to present the matter before the Apostles and Elders there. Thus, a special called business meeting was held. I referred above to this as the 2nd called business meeting of the new Church . . . believing that the first called meeting was when the first Deacons were elected to settle the issue do distribution of goods amongst the widows of the Church.

Those in attendance at the business meeting were the Apostles, Elders, a group of believing Pharisees (sticklers for details—men who thought they, and they alone, understood the rules and how things were supposed to be), members of the local congregation, Paul, Barnabas, and the Antioch delegation. The speakers at the meeting were: Simeon Peter, Paul, Barnabas and James, the half-brother of Jesus, who served as the local Pastor. After considerable debate, the Jerusalem council determined that the men who had caused the confusion at the Antioch Church were wrong in what they had put before those new Believers. The Council concluded that salvation was not achieved by doing stuff and keeping a set of rules . . . that salvation was accomplished by individual faith! In spite of the leader’s moment of clarity, they still permitted their long-held beliefs and traditions to creep forward and concluded that these Gentiles “would do well to abstain from blood, meat from animals that had been sacrificed in the pagan temples, and immorality,” and then put it in a letter to the Church at Antioch and sent the letter back by the delegation.

That event ought to serve as a model for dealing with matters within the Church, and thankfully, it most often does, but that is not always true. Tragically, there are occasions when a few forget that it is really the Lord’s business and begin to behave as if it is their own, personal business. That can become quite problematic.

I recall reading of a Church that split soon after completion of a building program. Rather than expend large sums of money on decorations in the new facility, the building committee decided to engage a number of artists to paint/draw murals depicting various Bible stories on the wall in different areas. One mural depicted Daniel in the lion’s den, another showed Noah standing on the deck of the ark surrounded by animals, still another showed Jesus walking upon the water, and a variety of others events. During the open-house, folks wandered through the lovely new facility and admired and enjoyed the clever art work; then a group stumbled upon a scene of Adam and Eve in the Garden . . . merely covered with fig leaves. As the crowd inspected the painting, someone commented that neither Adam nor Eve had a belly button! A debate ensued . . . some arguing that an umbilical cord would not have been appropriate for the pair as they had been created and argued that the artist got it right, as opposed to natural birth process that properly leaves one with a belly button. The debate heated up and soon thereafter split that Church body that had just earlier been growing and glowing.

I read of another Church . . . this one located in a small rural town in the Deep South that had strayed from normal building standards and build its new Church facility with logs and argued that the building-style honored the age of the Church and paid tribute to its Southern heritage. Before too long, a debate began and the Church split up. A group of angry rednecks drove out to the building site and using their chainsaws cut the new building in half! The group left “The Other’s” half of the log building on site, loaded their half up onto a trailer and smugly drove off!

While we might chuckle at such bazaar events, we ought to be ashamed.

The truth is that one can enter any Church facility and see some things that ought to have been made larger, others that ought to have been made smaller, some things that were painted the wrong color, and several areas where the wrong flooring section was made.

I want to never get caught up in such matters of insanity. I simply want to enter the Lord’s house with an attitude of gratitude . . . ever mindful that I have no right to even be able to stand upon that holy ground except that Jesus loves me and that He, and He alone, paid my price of admission.

Skip a Rope . . .

The year was about 1958 or possibly 1959. I can remember all of us boys (five brothers and the neighborhood boys) lying on the wood floor in our humble, old house looking at a small black-and-white TV with rabbit-ears and, of course, the ever- important wadded-up mess of aluminum foil perfectly balanced on their tips . . . absolutely required to improve reception. We always laid on the floor with our elbows on the floor and our chins resting on our upturned hands. There were two reasons we watched TV in that fashion . . . there were always more people than chairs available and periodically one of us had to smack the dang thing to keep it working. The event that had our attention that day was my Mama’s cousin, one Will Ory from Del Rio, Texas, was competing in the National Finals Rodeo in Madison Square Garden! Cousin Will was a Cowboy who was said to be very skilled in the art of steer-roping. None of us had ever met Cousin Will, nor did we know where Del Rio, Texas, was located and we didn’t have a clue where or what Madison Square Garden was . . . but we knew that our kin was going to be on TV and that certainly had to make our importance in the world increase . . . not one of us knew anyone, anywhere who had ever had kinfolks on TV! That was a thing of which legends were made. To our absolute delight, Cousin Will won the World Championship and we were all now famous people, with a very famous cousin!

For several days all of us boys spent untold hours running around with old cotton ropes trying to rope the neighborhood dogs and cats; as well as each other, mailboxes, bicycles, our younger brothers and sisters, and such . . . with visions of one day taking Cousin Will’s place in rodeo history. After a week or so, we concluded that we simply were not gifted with Cousin Will’s touch of the lariat, and reluctantly returned to simply using those ropes as jump ropes as we all prepared for our next career . . . Golden Gloves boxing!

Not too many years into the future we would watch that same old TV in like manner and watch a man walk upon the moon. It would be a waste of time for me to even try to describe what that event inspired us future astronauts to do . . . but I will tell you that it was an absolute miracle we all survived our unsupervised, primitive space-training school we developed!

Bully . . .

I have recently made connection with some folks with whom I went to Jr High and High school. These are folks I have not seen or talked with in about 50 years. I have established contact through social media . . . more specifically Facebook. One of those with whom I have connected is a lady I will simply refer to as LJ.

I don’t really recall that LJ and I were ever really friends . . . simply school acquaintances. I recall that she was a rather small, cute, and athletic girl, with lots of personality and pretty popular. I also remember her Dad . . . perhaps even better than I actually remember L.J. Her dad was a deputy sheriff and he cared about and believed in kids. He was a regular at all of our baseball games. He always had a word of encouragement for a kid, a pat on the back for something done well; but he was always willing to offer a word of correction to a boy who was getting out of line. I really liked and respected that good man.

As I have gotten reacquainted with L.J., I have learned that she and her husband have two grandsons living in their home because her daughter’s husband abused both her and the boys. L.J. said that one of the boys was punched in the mouth at 18-months and suffered a busted lip.

Tragically, that same boy is now in high school and a victim of school-house bullies. That poor kid. I really wish there was something I could do for him . . . to protect him . . . or teach him to protect himself.

When I was a kid in Hobbs, there was a boxing club (of sorts) and my brothers and I were in it. The boxing club was actually a guy who was a local roofer and had several sons. The guy had been a pretty good boxer in his younger years and took tough street kids and taught us how to box in a makeshift gym he set up in his warehouse. He also taught us self-confidence, respect, discipline, and to always strive to have honor and dignity. That oftentimes required us to stand in the gap for a weaker kid who was unable to defend himself.

I wish there was something like that today for L.J.’s grandson.

 

 

Ella . . .

As I entered the pool at the Burnet YMCA, I saw the Seaton Hospital physical therapist working with her, so I knew she was working to overcome some physical struggle. As I moved into the deeper water and made eye contact with the therapist, I asked about my friend Bill who she was assigned to. Of course, she is limited in what she can disclose about patients, so she simply smiled and replied, “He hasn’t been around in a while.” That gave me pause . . .

After Ella’s session with the therapist ended, she remained behind in the pool to do some additional strengthening work. After a while, she eased in near to where I was working and struck up a conversation about the dumbbells with which I exercise.

What a nice lady. She grew up in San Juan, Mexico, and she and her husband became US citizens 25 years ago. The lady loves the USA . . . and thankful for the privilege of living in this land of plenty.

Ella has three adult children and two grandchildren . . . all living in San Antonio. Her daughter is a nurse at Stone Oak Hospital . . . where I had some of my surgeries. We discussed what a terrific hospital it is and she boasted about her daughter’s good work.  Ella’s husband owns a local business that does granite countertops. She reported that business was good.

After a bit, Ella asked about my Fishers of Men bracelet.  I told her about the Walk to Emmaus retreat. As it turns out, Ella is also a Believer and has also been to a treat (commonly referred to as ‘A Walk’).

As I said adios and exited the pool, I was reminded of the line from the Desiderata Poem . . . “be kind to everyone . . . listen to others . . . even the dull and ignorant have their story, too.”   I have always interpreted that line to mean ‘folks who seem to be different that me.’  It certainly proved true this morning. Here was an immigrant suffering from a debilitating injury who would, in the normal course of life, been easy to overlook, yet as it turned out she is my sister . . . and a very nice lady!  I thoroughly enjoyed my chat with her and found her to be an inspiration.

It Seems to Me . . . that we do well when we stop and pay attention to the folks who the Lord brings across our path . . . there is a method to the madness!


 

Who are You? Do you Even Know?

In the Gospel of John, there are many interesting stories recorded . . . and the one in Chapter 3 certainly should not be missed. It is a fascinating story . . . the personal story of a man of rank and authority, serving in what was viewed as a respectable station of life . . . he was a man of some means and he was mature. Yet, in spite of all of that, in his innermost parts, he really didn’t know who he was, what he really believed, or actually how he had even arrived at this place . . . or in his high office.

This man, along with his collogues, had heard about Jesus and the amazing things he had been doing and saying throughout Israel. Some of the man’s associates felt threatened by Jesus and immediately began to stand in opposition to him, but this man and a few others developed a curiosity about Jesus. The man in the story is named Nicodemus. He wore the garments of his office and was held in high regard by those he encountered on the streets and in the marketplace. He was a leader in Israel . . . was viewed by the common folks as knowing about God and the Law as given by Moses. Yet, as the story develops, it becomes evident that he didn’t believe that he really knew those important things . . . and he didn’t even know who he was, or how he had ended up at this place in life.

He goes seeking to find Jesus one evening. Many preachers throughout history have made a compelling argument about why this man visited Jesus after dark. Nevertheless, he finds Jesus and asks the question that has been haunting him . . . his question: What is it that I must do to be allowed to enter heaven when my life on earth comes to an end?

The question is a haunting question and Jesus’ answer put the cookies on a shelf low enough where most anyone of average intelligence can reach them. Jesus answered that “one must be born again” . . . explaining that there are two births . . . one physical and the other spiritual. Jesus’ answer was so perplexing to this religious leader that he asked some rather foolish questions. Jesus asked him, “Are you a teacher and you don’t know these things?” . . . Jesus asked that question because he knew deep in Nicodemus’ heart he wrestled with the prominence of the office he held . . . and the large hole inside himself . . . always troubled over who he was, who God is, and how he might make peace with God.

When I read this story of Nicodemus, I think of him as a boy growing up and his mom and the folks in the neighborhood calling him ‘little Nicky.’ I think the evening he visited Jesus, that little Nicky was front-and-center . . . his life had just developed sort of naturally and he found himself at a place and station . . . and he likely was not even sure how it had all come to be . . . just the result of family connections, circumstances, events, and a few choices along the way.

There was another fellow who also held that same office (a Pharisee) a few years later who had the same struggle. His name was Saul and his home was in Tarsus and was thus known as Saul of Tarsus. His story of coming face-to-face with that huge hole in his life is recorded in Acts 9. Saul had found success in office by doing what he thought was expected of him by his peers, but deep within he knew there was something terribly wrong. In Acts 26, he would relate his experience of coming face-to-face with the reality of his situation,  his behavior, and the truth revealed and said that Jesus told him “it is hard to kick against the goad” . . . meaning his own conscience . . . what he really knew was missing in his life.

When I see folks in various stations in the life experience, and I know what they are peddling in error, I wonder if they really even know what they truly believe or how they arrived at that place. One such person is the pope of the Roman Catholic Church. The current pope is the 266th pope who selected the name of Pope Francis . . . in honor of Francis of Assisi. He is assigned the title Holy Father . . . and is reported to be “THE vicar of Christ” . . . meaning Christ’s earthly representative. I am certain that man . . . deep in his heart . . . knows that he has missed something serious . . . wonders if those who held the office before him struggled with the same gaps with which he struggles . . . and knows that he is caught in a trap . . . and must remain there to save face.

A few years back, a prominent preacher and head of a large church and university, climbed up into a bell-tower on the campus of his school and announced to his flock that God had told him if the flock failed to deliver $1,000,000 to him, then he would die. It seems clear to me that dude knew the truth in his heart as he laid on that floor and said that goofy stuff.

I am reminded of a man named Pontus Pilate . . . a Roman governor who presided over a hearing on Jesus. That man knew the truth . . . his wife warned him about a dream she had the night before . . . yet he maintained the status quo . . . and did what he believed his office required of him . . . in spite of knowing the truth about himself and the truth about Jesus.

Perhaps the time has come for you to confront the truth . . . about who you are . . . and that void in your life. Be wise . . . be prudent . . . life is about choices and decisions made.

Survival . . .

I can’t verify the truth of it, but I have been told that a survival handbook issued to workers being sent to work in the Amazon river area are cautioned about the danger of the anaconda . . . a very large and fast reptile found in that part of the world. Some of those beasts have been measured at 25+-feet and weighing several hundred pounds. Workers are told to never attempt to outrun or evade the snake . . . cautioned that the critter is equipped with all manner of assets to seek out its prey.

I am told the survival manual reports that there is only one hope for survival in such situation . . . that being for the person being pursued to lie down and play dead, permit the beast to swallow him whole, and then cut himself outside . . . the one and only time when the giant beast is defenseless.

Good grief . . . that would take nerves of steel, and I doubt many could actually do such a thing.

I am glad my survival doesn’t depend on my having nerves of steel and being mentally, emotionally, and physically able to perform such an unnatural feat. In John 14, Jesus said, “You believe in God, believe also in me.”  I am persuaded that my belief in Jesus changes everything for me . . . and assures my survival . . . even in situations that will certainly be more compelling than a giant reptile wanting to have me for his noon meal.  The Bible book Revelation predicts some serious challenges out ahead.  Current events seem to reflect the decline of decency and increase of evil . . . as portrayed in Revelation.

So, It Seems to Me . . . that things are unwinding pretty much as predicted. Are you ready? Will you survive? I hope so!

 


 

Is There Really a Difference Between Christianity and Religion?

This past Sunday I taught Acts 14 in Sunday school . . . in that chapter Paul and Barnabas were visiting the cities that would one day likely be home of the Churches to which Paul wrote his epistle known as Galatians. Soon into their visit to that area, the missionaries discovered that things weren’t too terribly different in that area than they had been back in Jerusalem.

As it is in physics, every action spawns an equal and opposite reaction, so it is in the spiritual realm. The proclamation of the truth encountered opposition back then just as it does today. But a serious difference for the Brothers there was that they were no longer just bringing the Gospel message alongside Judaism . . . a religious system they both knew quite well. They were now confronted with paganism with all of its superstitions, foolishness, and confusion; the sweet, pure message of the Gospel proclaimed into a world of darkness and ignorance. One can set man free while the other holds him in invisible chains.  So, in a nutshell, what exactly is the difference between Christianity and religion?

Actually, there is a quite simple answer to the question. Religion is about sinful humans seeking to reach up to God (however it is they imagine Him to be), while Christianity is about a relationship between man and God . . . a relationship made possible by Christ. How about this . . . The difference between Christianity and every religion in the world is that all religions are about man trying to reach up to God. Christianity is about God reaching down to man. This is a very important distinction.

Augustine of Hippo wrote many years ago that ever since the Garden, man has worshipped pretty much anything/everything except his Creator. The Apostle Paul certainly made that argument in Romans 1:21-23 (which I urge you to read). Augustine also wrote this:

Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold, Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee. Thou was with me when I was not with Thee. Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness. Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispell my blindness. Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace. For Thyself Thou hast made us, And restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease. Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.

I think this is about the best I can offer as an answer to an old question. I hope it is helpful to you in your