it IS a wonderful life! (Poem)

Tonight,
as the lights on the Christmas tree twinkled
as the fire crackled and popped
hissing at dampened wood
as the family gathered around the sofa
bundled together in love
it IS a wonderful life!

Tonight,
as we shared the story of Jesus
as we talked, laughed and reclined
within this moment,
within each other’s presence
was presents enough for me
it IS a wonderful life!

Tonight,
as George Bailey’s heart is warmed again
with town’s people gloriously giving
and songs are shared
and joy is dispersed
we find these moments to grasp at
we find these moments and glimpses of heaven
and…
it IS a wonderful life!

SES 12-24-14

At Christmas (A poem)

I’m keeping warm, this heart of mine
in winter’s air, this soul repines,
these bones, but brittle glory be
the wonders of His love to see.

I dare not miss nor neglect this grace
and lose out on heavn’s holy place
a song of praise, a song of peace
a hope of joy will never cease.

And so I glimpse into that stable
the Son of God, no, not a fable.
A gift of hope, of love divine
salvation givn’ to all mankind.
SEStrissel 12-19-14

Question: What is your greatest Christmas memory?

Christmas

I don’t often delve into the realms of reminiscing and romanticizing about Christmas…but sometimes it helps to really appreciate what you have.  It helps to remember.  To bring to mind that which we have perhaps lost along the journey.  Bringing to mind these precious memories helps us to recognize the blessings in this life.  This is an Advent Thanksgiving of sorts.  In these moments of appreciation we can thrust ourselves back into joy which can overflow our souls if we let it.  Bringing to mind these moments, these Christmas memories helps us cope with the hardships that perhaps we’re facing now.  It can help us get through the “dark days”.  It’s therapeutic.  It is cathartic. It can be life changing.

Let Me Start With A Story Telling (And then it’s your turn!)
Years ago, during a very busy Christmas season, just like this year, I was working long hours and in dire need of rest.
I was still in college at the time and just before Christmas break and midterm finals I would drive for my parents.
When I say drive, what I mean is that I was a Christmas Red Kettle Campaign driver.  The days were long, the nights swiftly approached far too soon (4:30pm), and I would spend long hours driving from kettle location to kettle location burning tanks of gas as I went.  That van became my dorm room when I had to study.  That van became my dinning room table when I grew hungry.

As I drove the daily routes to and from kettle sites, I got to know the bell ringers who rang at those locations.  Many would arrive at The Salvation Army corps building and I would have to transport them because most would not have reliable transportation on their own.  A couple of individuals in particular, whom I will call Frank and Joe were some of “my regulars”.  Frank and Joe were quite dirty and smelly most days.  I don’t say that to be mean, it was just simply how it was.  They were both from hard living lifestyles, they both lived with government assistance because of slight mental disabilities, they truly struggled in life.  These two friends lived in a little, run down trailer at a trailer park in some back lot, and if not for this driving position, I would never have met them.  They weren’t much to look at but they did alright at their daily “jobs” ringing the bell at The Salvation Army’s red kettle.  van

Towards the end of the Christmas season, as the campaign was winding down and Christmas Eve was a day away, I chatted like I always did with my “regulars” on the way to their kettle sites.  I asked them what they would be doing for Christmas. Some said they would be going to spend time with family.  Some shared all of their Christmas plans in great detail.  Frank and Joe remained silent throughout the conversation.   I was getting close to the end of the route, I had dropped off most of the bell ringers, all except Frank and Joe.  Looking back in the rear-view mirror, they both had dour expressions on their faces.  I felt compelled to ask them once again what they would be doing for Christmas.  They remained silent for a moment or two until Joe spoke up and said, “Well we really aren’t doing anything.  We don’t have family around anymore, and we don’t really have any money to cook a nice meal.”  I was slightly surprised by their honest and sad answer.  I had been aware of the needs of some of our bell ringers, but I had never realized just how alone Frank and Joe truly were.  Dropping them off that day I began to have this little voice in my head say, “You can help them have a Christmas!”   I chewed on that thought all day as I drove and helped out around the corps.  What could I possibly do to help them?  That night I picked them back up, dropped off the full kettles at the corps and took Frank and Joe home to their little trailer in the back lot.  We said our good-nights and farewells and I went home.

Christmas Eve rolled around and, as tradition, we only rang at the kettles for half the day as we all prepared to celebrate Christmas the following day.  I picked up Frank and Joe and delivered them to their work sites for the shortened day and went about my duties.  Along the way I was fortunate to have some extra spending money that I had be given and I was prepared to go and spend it…but something happened.  A recollection of those two filthy guys in my van.  Their dour faces in the rear-view mirror.  The harsh life they found themselves in.  I could do something for them…and so I did.  I don’t say this for any kind of glory.  I don’t tell this tale because I want you to think better of me, but the Lord had blessed me with some additional resources during that time and I was able to share those blessings with others who were more in need of it than I was.  I went to the grocery store and got them a fully prepared Christmas dinner and then with the leftover money I was able to buy them a few small gifts.  I wrapped the gifts and placed the full meal in a box together.

As the half-day wrapped up, and we put our kettles away.  I loaded up my regulars for their journey home.  The sun was setting and I too looked forward to some rest.  Frank and Joe were my last drop-offs on my “homeward bound” route.  As I dropped them off they said their normal farewells, but I surprised them that day.  Parking the van, I went to the back and pulled out the box of food and gifts I had gotten them.  At first they refused to accept it.  Frank kept shaking his head and saying “no”.  I told them it was a gift and I that wanted them to have it.  Joe choked back some tears and in a husky voice said “thanks” as he nodded his head.  They walked into their little trailer with the box of food and waved good-bye.  I drove home to a warm home surrounded by family and I couldn’t help but feel, in a small way that the best Christmas gift I received that holiday season was the opportunity to genuinely give to a couple of guys who had nothing.  In my heart I knew that giving was truly better than receiving gifts and in that moment I was able to find a deeper appreciation for the gift that God gave to us so long ago in a manger, the Savior of the world – Christ Jesus.  Salvation was born and this gift of grace was given freely to us despite our lowly, undeserving hearts.

That is one Christmas memory that I still cherish to this very day. There are many more memories. Some greater than others, but THAT Christmas memory is certainly one hold onto.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN…
What Christmas memories do you have?
Please leave comments below and share in the joys of Christmas together today!

Dear Salvation Army, Don’t Hate Christmas…but Don’t Worship it either

georgeIn my head I have this idealistic concept of what Christmas should look feel like.
I picture myself standing next to George Bailey as the whole town comes to rally around him.  I picture all of us gathered around the Christmas tree all bright and sparkly, glittering and shiny, and we’re singing ‘Auld Lang Syne‘.  We are all breathing in the regalia, drinking up our tasty glasses of egg nog and we’re all wearing those cheesy sweaters you only see at Christmas time.  It’s a fantasy.  It’s a dream.  It’s certainly not reality.  (just let me dream for a moment please)

Sometimes it’s Christmas worship…for all the wrong reasons.

There’s another side of me though.  grinch
It’s the side that comes out more often than not.
It’s a side that I seldom acknowledge.
With everything that we do this time of year…raising much needed funds, running ourselves sick so that by Christmas day, almost every year, we are literally sick…counting toys, sorting toys, dreaming about toys and the sounds of ringing bells (it really is a reoccurring nightmare)…that side of me wishes I never experience another Christmas again. This side of me HATES Christmas.

Bah…humbug.  

I don’t say that lightly.
Sometimes I wish someone else would just take over and let me go put on my cheesy sweater so that I can stand by George Bailey again.  Sometimes I honestly dread getting to this time of year.  Now, I know what we do and why we do these things matters, it’s just that I can’t help but feel overworked, under-appreciated, and Christmas has become something that I hate instead of love.   Did I do something wrong?  Did I cancel Christmas because of my calloused heart?  Am I the cause of this emotion?  Sometimes that side of me rises up, rages, and won’t go back into its cage.  It snarls at the “job”.  It wails at the hours.  It flails like a two year old in the middle of a grocery store when they don’t get what they want.  The Grinch scream at the top of its lungs with veins popping out of its neck, the words are garbled yet still recognizable; “I HATE CHRISTMAAAAAS!

But…
worship1Then I get to Sunday morning.
Then I get to refocus my heart.
Then the raging animal gets locked up again in its dented cage.
Then I get to retrain these emotions.
Then I swallow them down.
Then I push back at these raw, sour feelings.
Then I get to realign my intentions and my attitude.
Then I realize that once again I’ve lost my way.
It’s Sunday.
It’s Advent.
Where is this holiness, this sanctified spirit within me?
Did I misplace it?
Did I leave in the pew next to the pew bible and discarded bulletin?
Is it sitting next to the advent candles ironically located above the crimson holiness table with the words of irony “Holiness unto the Lord”?  Is it left in the chapel on Sunday?

Yes, we have made Christmas something to despise…sometimes.
Yes, we have worked ourselves to death…sometimes.
Yes, we make an impact on people’s lives…but are we really?
Yes, this system works…but is this the best we can do with the limited resources that we have?

All of these questions…
Not very many answers.

I really don’t hate Christmas.
I’m not green and please don’t call me the Grinch.
The two year old was left on the floor to finish that childish tantrum alone and embarrassed.

In my dream of the perfect Christmas I know that me and George Bailey are hanging out…but It’s just a dream.
I can’t worship this false ideal of what Christmas should look like either.  The real world come crashing in.
For now I’ll forget about buying that cheesy Christmas sweater and lounging in a comfy couch next to that fantastically decorated Christmas tree sipping egg nog while singing Old Lang Syne.

But is there a middle ground here?
I don’t want the proverbial cake and eat it too.
I’m not complaining.
I am a servant and an Officer.
Though I think we might get our priorities backwards at times.
Servants of what exactly?  Whose servants are we?

To help refocus and realign us  today amidst the hustle and bustle of our crazy, busy day:

Luke 2:1-20

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Something more for our Army to ponder today.
To God Be The Glory.

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, Expressions of an Officer at Christmas

hope2
The “Hope” for all the world!

Perhaps this will sound poetic and a little disjunct…perhaps you will relate.
Every year we gear up, dear Officer, staff, volunteers and friends.
Every year we spend countless hours planning, preparing and executing a plan for “others”.

Expressions:
I am tired.
I am weary.
I am a little banged up and bruised.
I am bruised physically,
but most of it is on the inside…the frequent personal encounters.
the connections with the cynical, the battered, the broken, the apathetic.
many have given up.
many have lost touch with compassion.
many are consumed with self-driven purpose.
sometimes all I can do is find one solitary moment and exhale.
sometimes I have laid tired bones upon a pew in a sanctuary that is far too often deserted.

at night, following the long burdensome day
I drive home and on my way I peer past windows and homes
illuminated by twinkling Christmas lights and trees carefully donned
with ornaments, keepsakes and aspirations.
lights1I cannot help but covet in these moments.
I cannot help but long for something that vaguely resembles idealic Christmas’
I have seen on the big screen.
I cannot help but pine for something out of reach to me.
It is selfish, I know.
It is a little melodramatic.
it is, at times, unrealistic…it is a dream, a blur in my rearview mirror.
I park the car in the driveway, hang up my coat, lounge for a time and slumber for a while
only to do it all again.

Expressions of Purpose:
In spite of these emotions.
in spite of these longings.
in spite of my covetous spirit…I plod on.
There is a reason.
There is a purpose to this.
Something beyond working tired bones to a daily grind.
Something past human personal needs.

eyesI have seen tired, hopeless eyes.
these eyes are not the ones staring back at me in the mirror.
I see them every day.
I see them in faces of parents desperately trying to make ends meet.
I see them in the eyes of single mothers who  work three jobs
and is weeping in front of me.
I see hopelessness in the dirty work clothes of an underpaid worker
coming in for a foodbox because this month’s rent is late.

We could all just pretend these needs are not real.
we could imagine they all deserve the circumstances they find themselves in
we could easily compartmentalize this
push it down
swallow the guilt and conscience…
but we are soldiers.
fightwe are fighters
we fight for more than food boxes and funding
we fight for the lives of these hopeless souls
we fight even in the midst of our covetous moments…
when in the rearview mirror we see a life that glitters and glimmers
beckoning to us…

sometimes we have to dig down deep to keep fighting.
sometimes we have to be pulled up short to be reminded.
sometimes we enter the fray with jaded hearts.
sometimes we would prefer to spectate, deliberate and end our day
by putting it all out of our minds.

Expressions of Reason:
Yes, dear soldier,
we work this insanity at Christmas
yes, sometimes it seems unholy, improper
all in vain.
walking awayWe could walk away,
others will pick up the slack
others will finish what we started
others will lend a helping hand.
Does faith play into this?
Where does our walk with the Lord lead?
Have we left Him behind in OUR works?
Have we begun to do this great thing
for man’s glory instead of His glory?
Are our intentions pure?
Or are we just chasing the dollar signs?
Capturing notoriety….
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me...”
(Luke 9:23)
Is this what discipleship looks like?
Do we get it wrong sometimes?
are we truly denying ourselves in this?
Is this “cross” worth carrying?
These questions arise in me during this time.
Sometimes His holy presence stills these thoughts
other times they get bantered about
tossed around, chewed on, bitten into
sometimes they get spit out…

Expressions of Compassioncompassion
But in the eyes of the hopeless
in the lives of the desperate
in the darkness of the forlorn
I have an opportunity to help.
I have a chance to mend brokenness
I have these hands that are able to pick up
the broken pieces and, with the holy spirit, help
to put the pieces back together again.
Can I attain and capture this compassion?
No.
It isn’t in me…it never was, nor will it ever be…
homeless1It isn’t something I am born with
or some sort of innate empathy for complete strangers…
I am, at times,
the priest that walks on by in that parable of the Samaritan.
I am incapable of it…by my own strength, heart, and power.
Without Him, I can do nothing.
Without His strength, heart, and power
this compassion is far beyond my reach.
But…
I want to help.
I want to serve.
I want to live this set-apartness
To experience this holiness
To shine His light…
Lord,
help me to express
your restoration
your forgiveness
your deliverance
your love.
-Amen.

These are some expressions of an Officer at Christmas.
There’s nothing wrong or right about it, just expressions, inflections, conversations of the heart.
Often times these conversations become reality and represent us.
I understand weariness.
I understand frustrations.
I understand fighting this – for good and for ill.

In the end, at least for me, it boils down to where my heart is…whose heart is mine…what or who I serve…
this makes all the difference between pointless, mindless work and mission-filled service to the Almighty.

Something for the Army to ponder today.
To God Be The Glory!

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?
mary1
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!

Merry Christmas – Re-ignite the Dance!

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It is officially twelve days until Christmas, holiday shoppers are increasing while patience with our fellow man is slowly, sometimes rapidly, decreasing.  Yuletide mirth and cheer are everywhere!  I was driving down-town last night and the town was all aglow with ambient strings of lights hung meticulously as were the green festive wreathes on lampposts and specialty shops.  The colors blurred my vision as the reds danced and twinkled to an invisible tune played by the wind as the colors of blues and greens joined in.  They marked out a clear and perfect message; “Christ is almost here again!”  Perhaps it was all in my head, but I heard it’s siren’s song!  I heard the melodious cacophony of merriment and expectations!  My heart leap within my chest as I longed to join in as its tune caught my breath and carried it away in one puff of steam rising into the cold crisp air.  

I was alone, being it late at night, there in my van looking down a vacant street waiting for the light to change.  The giant Christmas tree before our old red bricked city hall also glowed and pulsated as the winter wind too en-wrapped its furry bows in merriment and festooning.  Such mystery and awe captured in this solitary moment.  I was caught off guard and yet something that night spoke to me.  Not an audible voice, nor a messenger from heaven with unfurled wings and halo to boot…though I have always longed for such a sign.  But His still small voice whispered into my very soul.  He made me look closely at the dance of His creation there before me.  The humming rhythm and the melodies and harmonies that sauntered on the breeze and blended in an intertwining dance.  He drew my eyes to the dimming lights of homes nearby and my thoughts wandered into their homes and into lives of people I have never met.  They too needed to dance like this.  They were missing the true celebration of Christmas.  They were missing the music of creation worshiping its Creator!  This music doesn’t just happen here on a cold winter night in December, but I felt closer to Him on this night.  My eyes caught its fire and I was ill-prepared to take it all in.  

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We need to dance to the music of the Creator.  We have lost this glow and joy from within our souls and hearts!  Our greatest gift, our source of hope and joy is still playing our tune and message that can ignite our lives once more.  We shouldn’t idly cruise on through, just trying to “survive”…I want to relish this.  We have to relish this!  Cannot miss this anymore.  It isn’t about the lights or the trees, or even the gifts beneath the tree, it’s about God sending us His Son…It’s about Jesus saying “If they keep quiet, the very rocks will cry out!” (Luke 19:40)    The rocks, lights and trees have cried out for far too long…it’s our turn to worship Him!  It’s our turn to re-capture the mystery and awe of His birth!  Don’t miss it again this year!  Don’t be caught unaware and wake up January 1st and wonder how you will survive this next year.  Stop from time to time and dance to His music.  Stop and sing His praises.  Stop and allow Him to shine through you into a world that still longs to wake up and dance as well.  

May your Christmas be about Him, and may He ignite in you like never before!  

Merry Christmas!

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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.

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