Dear Salvation Army, Expressions of Christmas Distribution…

distributionIt hasn’t happened yet…but, “Santa’s Workshop” is in full swing as presents and other gift items are placed on folding tables where our Sunday School class usually meets and are now being carefully sorted by a precious few volunteers.  It sort of feels like a big build up to a crashing finale’ in an orchestra piece.  The triple fortes are being played and soon the timpani will come exploding in the rallying final note that is held out, emphasized and controlled by the conductor’s raised hands…I’m waiting for the signal, the final “cut off”, the conclusion.  It all culminates and concludes here.  All the hard work, the radio spots, the television minutes, the rushing from place to place in order to drop off angel tree tags only to return numerous times to retrieve bags, boxes and ornately wrapped (even though year after year we ask for “unwrapped gifts”) presents.

Sometimes it seems a far cry from a small infant who was born into our world and placed in a feeding trough for animals.  Sometimes, I can kind of see a glimpse of the nativity from our chapel from here.  Sometimes, I wonder if this is as vital as we make it out to be, or if we’re missing the point…and by “we’re” I mean both you and me and those who receive such services.

flashbackBut…Flashback from last year…
I saw Jesus.
I glimpsed His smile in a mother who’s cheeks were wet with tears because we could help her make ends meet this Christmas. -Times had been hard for her.
I glimpsed His caring eyes as parents came to our Social Worker and gave her a thanks laden card that said “you matter and without you here we would not have had a Christmas this year.”
I glimpsed His nail scared hands in the numerous voluntary services those who had come to give of themselves and of their time to this Christmas cause.  In these simple gifts of services I saw a servant Jesus stooping down again to wash the disciples feet – how humbling such acts can be to behold!

I recall Jesus’ words to His disciples when they were squabbling over who would be the greatest disciple in the kingdom and Jesus cuts them off and says, “…whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.” (Mark 10:44)  Sometimes I think this ministry is anything but “greatest work”, it is hard laborious, back breaking work.  It has some rewards in this world, but notoriety and fame is certainly not a part of that.  Sometimes living out this expression of servant demands far more than we’re willing to give.

Thankful and Thankless…
Not everyone will receive these gifts with grace.  Some, with great pride will look upon such an offering and refuse it because it is beneath them.  Some will scorn these works and the efforts put forth hour after back breaking hour by priceless volunteers because it doesn’t meet their standards.  Yet, as infrequent as it occurs, a few will come having worn the bruises of this world, and with eyes welling up and choking back the weary restrains, say “thank you!”.  These few make it worth while, not that we are looking for their gratitude, but it does help to know that an impact on our community has been made.  It does help to feel productive for the Kingdom.  No, perhaps souls were not won at some kind of “Toy Shop Mercy Seat”, but perhaps a seed of generosity, grace and love was planted here.  Perhaps such acts of mercy will cultivate a loosening of the soil around hardened hearts.

And…as they go from that place, with bags of toys, clothing and food, children’s lives will be altered.  Perhaps a glimmer of hope will be found.  Perhaps this simple expression of love with spark a child-like interest in the Divine.

These Aren’t Just Toys…toy story
This isn’t about the blockbuster movie series “Toy Story” where toys will come to life.
This is about something more, something deeply heartfelt, some sort of of personal/spiritual contact with another soul who is searching.  This is not just about toys and physical needs being met…this is something more.  This can be about something more if we can look past the tired eyes, the weary bones and herculean Christmas effort.  Yes, it can be a sin to overwork ourselves.  Yes, it can be wrong if we misplace the true meaning of Salvation born in a manger.  This can be about so much more than just providing gifts at Christmas…but the question remains what will we make it to be?

lineNot Just Another Production Line…
I’ve been to Walmart, Target, Bestbuy and other market places this holiday season.  I’ve seen the madness.  I have witnessed the rush to get the perfect present.  I too have stood in those check-out lines, waiting impatiently for my turn.
BUT…when families and individuals come to The Salvation Army,  who are in need, we cannot treat them like just another number in a long line of other “customers”…they are people!  There is dignity in grace.  There is compassion in calling on names rather than numbers.  Can we change this persona?  Can we make it personal?  Can we become something more than just another production line?

It’s coming…and as we provide these basic human services  to those who are in need at our distribution, will they see Jesus in us?  Can we share that hope?  It may sound like lollipops and rainbows here, but the reality is what we do matters and we can truly make an impact for the Kingdom!

Are you ready?  
Something more for our Army world to ponder today.
To God be the glory!

nativityIsaiah 9:6
For unto us a Child is born,

Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Dear Salvation Army, The Angel Said Whaaaaaaat???

(Luke 1:26-45)
Today’s Pondering, Dear Soldier…

It had been a quiet morning as the sun seemingly struggled to wake the slumbering cobwebs from the earth.  This is how Mary always began her day.  She helped her mother prepare the house then it was off to collect water and the list went on… The sun began to pour into their dwelling, rays of gold catching every glimmer and spec of dust falling in the air.  Mary enjoyed these silent, ponderous moments.  Abruptly, her silent moment is caught by the heel and turned upside down in the most remarkable way possible.  Perhaps, years later, she will look back upon her life and identify this as the moment when everything changed.

Her neck hairs stand on end and she immediately knows that she is not alone.  Something behind her catches the eye…movement.  Spinning around swiftly she is caught off guard by the imagery in front of her.  Imagine something not of this earth, strikingly radiant, suddenly appearing in your home.  Wouldn’t you be caught off guard as well?
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She notices beyond the aura of light that a being stands before her.
Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’ An unknown voice calls out.  The being’s voice is deep, confident and strong.  Mary is afraid.  A momentary swell of fear captures her and she is glued in place, unable to move.  Mary peers around for the closest door, her muscles tense as she prepares to escape this fear.  But The angel, for that is what it is, calls out again and says “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,and he will reign over the house of Jacob                                                                                   forever; his kingdom will never end.”  


Whaaaat???

Okay, perhaps Mary’s response wasn’t exactly like that, but a look of concern crosses her face.  How could this be?  She isn’t even married yet.  She is, in fact, still a virgin.  It is unnatural, unheard of, it is just too much to take in all at once.  The Angel had told her not to be afraid and yet she was certainly anxious and afraid.

There in that lowly room so long ago, history was being made.  It didn’t happen to a mighty queen,  nor did it happen to one who was prepared for such a feat…but it happened to a teenage girl, inexperienced in the world, naive and young.  How could this be?  The Savior of the world is placed in the arms, or soon would be, of a young woman.  Think of it!  Mary experiences this theophany of sorts and the symphony of salvation is born to all the world!

I find it interesting that Mary doesn’t refuse the Angel’s announcement, or laugh as Zacharias (Elizabeth’s husband) does.  She takes in this message.  She absorbs the news.  She is strong, much stronger than most…perhaps this is one of the reasons she is chosen to be the mother of Jesus.  It still astounds us today if we contemplate it long enough.  Salvation will be born of a virgin.  Could it be that because of such a concept the Christ is not born into sin as we were?  Could it be that all of the “messiah’s” who came before Jesus, the bloodshed, the violence was all in vain?  Could it be that man’s attempts to find salvation and restoration from sin was imperfect for the lambs they were sacrificing were also imperfect and not enough?  There is much to ponder here today my friends.

Immediately following the proclamation from Gabriel, Mary runs as fast as she can to the nearby village…(was it the same day? Was it immediately, as in ‘that day’?  We don’t know, it just says “at that timeMary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea.) Perhaps she stumbles a few times on the way in her haste to seek out solace and reassurance.   Mary seeks out the comfort of family.  She seeks out someone in whom to confide.  No one will believe that she is still a virgin.  No one will accept such a tale…but family, the trusted few will help, protect and guide.

For Us…faith2
What do we make of this tale?  What do we find reassuring from this record?  Is there not something we can all glean from this?  What does faith look like, dear soldier?  Certainly Mary’s response to the Angel’s proclamation is a indication of courage and faith.  Certainly the mother of Jesus provides us with an example of how we are to respond to the workings of the Lord.  Are we so far removed from this narrative?  Does this not still impact our daily lives?   Mary doesn’t laugh at the Angel.  She doesn’t weep and rebel and refuse to participate in this salvation story…in fact she accepts it and moves forward.  It doesn’t say that her life improves immediately.  I am sure she could not have hidden this pregnancy for too long.  From a pure physical perspective, Mary’s life could have been in danger and at the very least susceptible to all kinds of scorn, gossip and sideways glances.  “Oh look, there goes THAT Girl“.

QUESTIONS:
How do we respond to the leading of the Lord in our lives?
What is our response?
Are we fully submitted to His will or do we still struggle, moaning and groaning within this call?
Can we reflect within this holy narrative today?
Can we find comfort in a mighty God?
Have we forgotten, or taken His holy presence for granted, especially during this busy season?

Prayer:
Dear Lord,
renew us again.  May we respond to you as Mary once did so long ago.  We all face challenges, some large and some small, instill in us Your comfort again no matter what season we are in.  We long to be your people.  We long to give you praise in all things.  Refine us, O Lord.  Restore unto us, this joy of our salvation today!  Reignite our passion to serve you and to reach out to those who are still lost.  O Lord, we can do nothing without your hand upon us.  Journey beside us today.  This we pray.  -Amen.

To God Be The Glory!

Stop Giving Dirty Diapers to God!

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“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”
― John Lennon

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I was driving down the road when I saw it.  It was a purple bill board.  It was the color that first caught my eye (someone please pay that advertising genius).  As I got closer and adjusted my “old man” eyes I read what the sign said, “Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, we all worship TV.”   Perhaps the advertisers were just trying to unify us by saying we all worshiped something together, but it just didn’t sit well with me.  I drove past that bill board but in a way I was still staring at it for the next ten miles.  Something felt sinking in my heart…was it really true?  Do we worship the television?

What is the definition of an “Idol”?

i·dol
ˈīdl/
noun
noun: idol; plural noun: idols
  1. 1.

    an image or representation of a god used as an object of worship.
    synonyms: icon, representation of a god, imageeffigystatuefigurefigurine,fetishtotem; More

    Here’s another definition – an Idol is whatever you allow to take up and consume all of your time.  How much time do we spend in church?  Maybe four – seven hours a week (if you don’t work there).  How much time do you spend in front of the television or perhaps the tablet device/computer screen?  I would venture a guess that for the most part the hours spent here would out number the hours spent at church.  But church isn’t the only place to find God is it?  I mean we all own bibles don’t we?  How many hours a day or even a week do we spend reading its pages?

    What is consuming your time?  Some might say, “well my family takes up a lot of it“, while others might say, “I work sixty hour weeks” and I certainly don’t want to sound as if I’m condemning any of that.  It just hit me driving by that big purple bill board how little time I sometimes actually-physically give to God.  Not just at work, but as a devoted lover and follower of God.

    “Here God – take my left-overs”

    It’s almost as if I’ve been saying to God, “You stay home while I go to work, I’ll be back in like eight hours…see ya!”  or “Well God I’ve got more pressing things to do today, I have to catch up on all of my DVR’d shows, we’ll talk some other time”.  God doesn’t have an on/off switch.  He isn’t some toy you place on a shelf and only take Him down when you feel like it.  God desires from us real and genuine fellowship, not our left-overs.

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    “CAIN & ABEL” 

    Do you remember Cain and Abel? (Read Genesis 4 again)  Sure we remember that Cain kills his brother, but why?  Because he was jealous of how he was blessed by God.  But why was he blessed by God?  Because Abel honored God with the first fruits and not his left-overs.  Cain honored God with the scraps of his left-overs, the less desired cuts from his crops, while he feasted on prime rib of the land.  Abel set apart the best of the best for God and then used the rest.

    You see there’s an application here.  Are you ABEL (pun intended) to give God the best of the best first?  For far too long I’ve been giving Him my left-overs.  I’ve been giving Him my after thoughts, my junk…my dirty diapers, and I’ve been thinking that’s good enough.  WELL IT ISN’T!   God didn’t send down some second rate half-wit of an angel to save us did He?  No way!  He sent us His best.  He sent us His Son to save us from sin and death.  God doesn’t want our scraps…He wants genuine fellowship with us.  He wants us to set apart our hearts first for Him and then for others…then for our self.  Be we get that backwards sometimesa lot of times…most of the time.

    Stop giving God your dirty diapers, your rubbish, your “good enoughs”.  Only your best will do!  Maybe it’s time to turn off the television for while, or put down that novel.  Maybe it’s time to let God consume you instead of you consuming stuff and work and play.  Are you prepared to give God your best instead of the rest of the left-overs and the dirty diapers?

    -Just a thought to consider.

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    “But I do know we’re deficient in some way. We are too involved in materialistic things, and they don’t satisfy us. The loving relationships we have, the universe around us, we take these things for granted.”
    ― Mitch AlbomTuesdays With Morrie

A Cerulean Bike and a Christmas tree.

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I remember a shimmering cerulean bicycle with a crimson bow on the handle sitting under the Christmas tree.  The Christmas lights were blinking and twinkling casting reflections on the brand new shiny chrome frame.  My eyes tried yet failed to take in the whole spectacle before me.  They were as wide as saucers, yet still my brain couldn’t process the scene.

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I remember my parents, both younger than they are now, with smiles of satisfaction on their faces.  This had been no easy feat.  A bicycle, let alone a new bicycle had taken months to arrive.  We lived on a small island with no airport or major shopping centers.  This Christmas gift had been planned well in advance.

I remember attempting to hold both handles within my child-hands clutching them tightly, white knuckled as I tried to ride with my Father at my side as he held on, as he was my balance.  He wasn’t going to let me fall.  “All you have to do is pump your legs and keep the front wheel straight” He would say; “You can do this!”  I knew I could…and I did.  But not without help.

Yet standing in front of that Christmas tree, cerulean bike shimmering in the twinkling Christmas lights, I caught a glimpse.  It was a glimpse not of a bike, or presents under some tree, but rather as a young child, the love that parents have (or should have) for their children.  It wasn’t about spending money, or giving gifts, but rather it was about being together.  It was about soaking in the presence of each other and caring for one another.  I caught a glimpse of the future too.  It is a future that is before me now, and on Wednesday will join a slew of other Christmas’ soon to be filed away into the ever increasing recesses of my memory, and that of the memories of my children.  I am blessed.  Do my children see this love in me?  Am I beside them?  Am I their balance in a world so often out of it?

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This Christmas, there won’t be a cerulean bicycle beneath our tree…but I will be watching the faces of my children.  I will be soaking up their presence – Ah yes, this is the best gift that money could never buy…which reminds me of another more everlasting gift that we have all been given.

More Musings on Misheard Christmas Songs:

Christmas is a spectacular time of year! There should be plenty of cheer to go around, yet all too often people get bent out of shape, stressed out and generally miss the whole meaning of Christmas. In order to lighten the mood, allow me once again to expound on some often misunderstood Christmas song lyrics. These are not my own, but rather from other people who have reported these along the years:

car

Good King Wencelas’ car backed out on a piece of Steven.”
Who knew that Good King Wencelas even had an automobile! The song doesn’t say if he was drive a fuel efficient vehicle or if it was an SUV, but the dude needs to check his mirrors and check them twice. Poor Steven, I hope he had good medical insurance to cover the repairs on the “piece” that got run over! One thing I do know, that if this happened in our day and age Good king Wencelas would certainly be sued and probably would lose his crown in the process. Perhaps next time he will just have one of his loyal subjects drive him instead…that is if he has any loyal subjects left after the dust settles on the legal suit!

I kid you not, nothing irritates me more (in real life) than drivers who either aren’t paying attention or are simply inconsiderate to other people. I have to calm myself down when I see drivers who are holding their cell phones in front of them while they are attempting to drive. I will admit from time to time checking my status at a red light, but seriously while driving in heavy traffic around town (or anywhere for that matter) – not cool! Hopefully Good King Wencelas wasn’t on his cell phone poor Steven got run over.

We three kings of porridge and tar…

quaker
Seriously, does the Quaker Oatmeal company know about this porridge and the secret ingredient “tar”? I imagine the three kings running out of supplies on their long journey. It’s hot, the camels are crabby, and so they stop to park their camels, they whip out these pots and pans and a big box of porridge and tar. YUM! talk about a substance that literally sticks around. There beside the fire the acrid smell of burning pitch and oats pollute the air with its stench, but it’s apparently a meal fit for a king. 😉

Oh the joys of Christmas, and yule tide cheer…you have to enjoy while it lasts! Christmas can be really special if you slow down long enough to laugh a little bit and take in the true meaning of the season. Maybe watch some Christmas movies to help, go caroling with a church group, make some Christmas cookies (by the way send me some if you do!).

peas

In closing I’m reminded of the misheard lyric from “Silent Night” in which the child boldly sings the last refrain:
“Sleep in heavenly peas…” See, perhaps Veggie Tales hasn’t cornered the market on french peas…there’s a heavenly place filled with peas to prove it.

Until next time….

“The Lord has gum and the Shepherds are making S’mores with their socks!”

My favorite misunderstood Christmas lyric for any carol or song this time of year is:  “Joy to the world, the Lord has GUM!”  That’s right Gum!  I’m not sure if it’s Big Red or Spearmint or even Hubba Bubba…but apparently the Lord has gum.   I don’t know about you but when ever someone is around and me they open up a new package of gum, I always ask for a piece.  If the Lord has gum, then I want some!

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Another humorous song that I use to sing as a child is:  “While Shepherd wash their socks by night!”  I always envisioned them huddling around an open fire, the smell of burning wood in the air slowly ascending into the sky and instead of making s’mores they have these giant sticks with already washed socks strapped to them and they are attempting to dry them without burning them.  Steam is hissing and and also quickly giving chase to the smell of the burning wood as the shepherds regale themselves of shepherding stories and emergency rescues gone wrong (insert scary campfire stories here).

You know, you just have to possess a little bit of humor this time of year.  Especially when in traffic or in front of impatient Christmas shoppers intent of running you over!  I hope that we don’t lose our humor in the midst of our celebratory second glass of eggnog and a guilt-ridden nibble of another frosted Christmas sugar cookie.

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Go wash some socks with the Shepherds, and don’t forget to ask the Lord for a piece of His gum!

Just how important is Intercessory Prayer?

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” -Romans 8:26

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Just how important is praying for one another?  It is vital!  Each of us have needs that must to be brought into the very throne room of heaven and placed at Jesus’ feet.  Sometimes though we have difficulty in articulating these concerns.  Have you ever been to the place of sheer and utter weakness?   Have you been to that dark place of loneliness and fear?  Brothers and sisters in Christ, our love and care for one another isn’t solely meant for Sundays in the pews alone!  No!  We have been given this vital task of praying for each other daily.  We, are to exercise these prayers of intercession for one another daily!

Perhaps you may say to yourself, “Well I’m not much of a pray-er, there are much better Christians out there who could do a better job!”  This may be true, but God has called YOU to pray today for someone in need.  You don’t have to be “good” at it.  You just have to be diligent and faithful.  We are all called to this task and we need to be in prayer for the body of Christ.  There will be times when you need prayer and others will surround you.  It will be in those moments when this vital intercessory prayer circle will make complete sense to a doubting heart of the vitality and power of such a discipline.

Brothers and sisters, say a prayer for each other today.  The Holy Spirit can help you articulate it for you.  He guides us in our prayer discoveries and in those dry moments when nothing comes forth.  You don’t have to have all the elegant and “right” words, you just have to show up.  Say to the Lord, “Here I am, send me!” in an attitude of prayer and He will allow your mind to be “sent” upon those people and situations in which need crucial intercessors.

Commit to it today.  Prayer for one another, give thanks for your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and pray through intercessory prayer.

-Just a thought for today.

Burning the Christmas Tree

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I burned the Christmas tree tonight…

warm summer breeze blew in to join

in the ol lang syne and somber tune

which added its fuel as we danced and sang

one last time.

The yule tree, now more of a yule log

hisses at us now, popping and wheezing

replacing the hohoho’s and the cheer,

blazing now here on the second of June.

This dried up timber with its wafting

scent, merriment and good tidings

cracklin’ gladly, roaring in this silent night.

I burned the Christmas tree tonight

and the boughs were a light once

more, brighter than before

in this final leg of festooning

and holiday mirth…and a lowly ornament,

long forgotten, smolders now glowing

amber, brilliantly mixing the fragrance of

the holly and the ivy with the

smells of barbecues and camping days…

and the freshly  mowed green lawn.

The ornament aglow now…although more inflames,

almost reflecting the gifts now discarded

beneath its canopy, and the wrappings

now too far gone having shuffled off their

mortal coils, after advents and deepening snows

of mid february’s gustings.

So too the tree has never been

so alight tonight.

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree

How lovely are your burning branches

The fire bright with summer light

the soothing glow of ember’s might

O Christmas tree, o Christmas tree

how lovely to behold you

…one last time.

My Christmas Sofa.

The wrapping paper, all ripped from the packaging is strewn on the couch and the floor. The bows have oddly landed on Christmas tree branches, the cat and the carpet. All of the children are exploring their presents, while the dog in the corner gnaws on a Christmas bone. In the twinkling lights of Christmas morning, with presents unwrapped, the tree begging for release and house eviction, and the smell of a cooking roast in the kitchen, the small voice of rest beckons to me. It isn’t very loud, but for a meek whisper which had, for two months, be drowned out by the hustle and bustle of this life. That voice whispers now into my ear, “Christmas is here”, and I find, with eyes drooping, the soft fabric of the living room sofa. That pillow, that had been someone’s seat, though still warm from gift unwrapping, makes a splendid pillow underneath this heavy head. Propping up my feet, following the countless miles of the ebb and flow of this to and fro lifestyle…ah, it feels good!  Isn’t it funny how the holidays makes us pace the carpet, chew our nails, sending hyperventilation into the record books (mine was six weeks long this time around)? Now, with calloused feet de-socked and propped, and head upon this pillow still warm…that long winter’s nap calls and finally I will answer her siren’s spell. Some where in the background the noise of the television drones on, children laugh, bicker then laugh again…soon I will drift off, like a Grizzly in the wild into a hibernation state…but for a short time expelling the world, rejecting the pace while matching the tempo of a slumbering heart beat with shallow breaths…maybe a snore will be expelled, who knows?! Though here on my Christmas sofa, I am content to remain for but a moment disconnected, prayerfully undetected…let me slumber but for a bit.

Merry Christmas, and happy new nap…I mean new year!

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