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Archive for December, 2011

Two young boys, twelvish or so from down the street were hiding from their brother, and asked if they could hang out with me in my garage as I cleaned it, so I gladly obliged. I know their dad, and we have a friendly relationship, so the boys set out asking about this and that. We talked about hunting, as they hunt with their dad, and they knew I hunt also. I asked how their Christmas was, and they told me that they don’t celebrate it. They said it very matter of factly, and I noted that they weren’t uncomfortable, as though they felt they were missing out or anything. I know their folks are very religious and conservative, and that the women all wear skirts always, but that is all I know. For some reason, I thought about this a lot this past week, Christmas and its meaning.

I have lights up all over my house, deer in the yard, snowman on the hill and an angel on top of the tree. There is a wreath on the door, and a garland around it, not to mention all of the other seasonal decorations that go with this season that we drag out every year. I must confess, even at my age, I love to sit in the dark house with the tree lit up and just rest on the couch with only the glow of the tree. It summons up memories of warmth and happiness for me, times of family gathered around, smiling and having a good time.

I can sit there and even let my mind go back even farther to a time when I was in a small bedroom down a small hallway, lying awake in the middle of the night awaiting the sound of hoofs on the roof. Not for a moment doubting that Saint Nick would come, but knowing and fearing that his milk would get too warm before he got there, sitting out on the counter all night, and that he would not like it. Then I heard it, the hoof beats on the roof as my eyes flew wide open and my heart beat faster, never once suspecting it was two goofy teenaged brothers on the roof running above my room for effect. I threw my curtains wide looking for some sign that the reindeer train was on the roof, something, a shadow or something but was only greeted with darkness.

I sneaked to the door and edged it open, only to be greeted by my smiling father who whispered “I think he is coming, you better get back in bed or he will leave you coal”. I turned and jumped under the covers, not about to blow everything because of my curiosity, although it sure would be nice to just see him once. I lay there, and thought I would never go to sleep as my mind raced and I heard noises coming from the living room, as Santa and his helpers filled our stockings with candy and brought a present from the North Pole. Somewhere along the line though, sleep did come, and I drifted off to dreamland until early the next morning.

I don’t know whether I woke my brothers up, or they woke me up, but I still remember going into the living room. It was still dark outside, and the reds and greens of the Christmas lights and tree bulbs seem especially bright in my memory. There, under the tree, Santa had left me a beautiful brand new bright red tricycle with cool streamers from the hand grips. I remember how happy I was with that, how amazed I was that he had carried that all the way from the North Pole. That was about 44 years ago, and it is still vivid in my memory although I don’t know how.

I look on the tree, and I see an ornament that I made for Ivy, my youngest. She saw a picture one day in a magazine of a cat that looked like a cat we used to have named Niles, and she wanted me to cut the picture out and make an ornament out of it, so we did. It has hung on the tree every year since, and she was about four then, now she is sixteen. Looking at the tree, every ornament has a story, our first year as a new family, a new ornament for each year, an ornament for each of the girls; it is hard not to get sentimental when looking at them all because each one represents a memory. I think families being close and loving one another is good, God approves of that.

I have to wonder how Jesus feels about all the hoopla we put on about Christmas though. When He came, there was no place for His mother Mary to rest and give birth, so she had to go to a barn, a stable. Jesus was born on a pile of hay in a stable, in the most humble of circumstances possible. He could have come in with a bang if He had wanted, yet He chose humility. 

This Christmas was very busy and challenging for me as I am sure it was for all of you. I have to ask myself something though, although I have very fond memories of Saint Nick and his reindeer, how did that ever get associated with the birth of Christ? I honestly have no idea. I love the image and idea of Jolly old Saint Nick, but I have no clue about where any of that even came from. It was a legend I was raised with about misfit toys and a reindeer with a red nose narrated by Burl Ives, or the Grinch, it just “was”. 

To me, it is almost as though the legendary yet commercial Christmas gets bigger and bigger every year, and it strives to overpower the true meaning of Christmas, that a Savior is born. This Christmas, one of my brothers at church became homeless, and came to me for help. I helped him, but I didn’t have everything I needed to keep the man afloat. We were able to get him help through the church, and he is okay now, but I struggled with my feelings toward the more commercial Christmas afterward.

I hope that this Christmas season was the very best of times for you, and that you made memories that will last for a lifetime. I hope as you celebrate Christmases in years to come that you will always remember to place Christ first and foremost in all that you do. God Bless-JFT

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My friend Mel and I wedged ourselves in the crack that ran up the cliff face (known as a chimney in climberspeak) and scooted upward using our hands, feet and backsides. Never once on the way up did I even think about how we would get down, I just focused or the task at hand and went up. When we finally topped out, we stood on a small ledge maybe ten feet across and peered over the lip of a 300 foot cliff known as the face wall on the mountain we were on. Mel looked around for an anchor point for our two 300 foot coils of rope, and there was a single Palo-Verde tree with a trunk about four inches in diameter. Mel immediately began to anchor to the small tree without thinking twice. We didn’t have formal harnesses, but a nylon strap that if you tied correctly, should work just fine, so I began to put on my harness/strap and get ready for the descent. I clipped into the rope, then went over the edge, and was at that point, past the point of no return, the first 150 feet I ran side to side on the wall, hooting like an owl, jumping and having a blast, then the wall fell away and the last 150 feet were freefall, rope only. I wasn’t worried about anything, I was eighteen, I was fearless, and I was going to live forever.

As time went on, I always still enjoyed the rush of excitement. After I became a daddy, things were a little bit different, I finally realized I wasn’t going to live forever, so I bought better equipment. I wasn’t willing to give up breathing that rare air, but I could manage the risk I reasoned if I had the good stuff. But I secretly scoffed at the boy who once thought he would live forever, what was he thinking? It was important to live life to it’s fullest, but to know that we all have a number, and that one day it will be up. Teenagers are famous for their “I’ll live forever” attitude, and we are famous as parents for being annoyed with them for it. But what if, just what if, they are the ones who are right. Think about it, what if we really “do” live forever?

When we die, do we go into a dark void of nothingness where we wait for the rest of the world to fall apart, or do we just move right along? In John 14: 1-3 Jesus tells His disciples  “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

So, no purgatory, no holding cells or sending angels to do pick-ups, but none other than Jesus Himself to come. Now, this was His disciples he was speaking to, not everyone else. But scriptures point to the fact that He treats all of us the same, so that would mean that pretty much about the time you code and they are placing the paddles on your chest (sorry), Jesus is going to be tapping you on the shoulder. This doesn’t seem very much like death to me, I have always thought of death as morticians, plots, souls in limbo tapping their toes, waiting for the trumpet. All of the stories of those who have died on the table and then been brought back mirror exactly what Jesus promised in John 14, except that they are told it is not their time, and they are sent back. I believe that is something done purposeful to let people know a little of what to expect.

So, if that’s what happens, then we are in fact wrong, and the teenagers have been right all along, we do live forever. Death is not a stopping point, but it is merely like traveling across country and having to stop in a strange town and switch planes. There is no stopping point, our lives are continuous into eternity except for that small adjustment when we shed the flesh, get our forever body, and our eternal assignment. So think about it folks, what if you just completely shed your fear of death altogether and realize that you are already living in eternity, we will in fact live forever, we “are” in fact living forever.

I have ventured into many dark caves in my life, some a hundred feet under the ocean, I have met the unknown, and I have the fear of not knowing what lies around the bend. I have wondered if I would meet a shark, a bear, or one of those freaks I have seen in one too many scary movies I have watched in my life, I know what it is to fear the unknown. But one thing I know, death is one thing Jesus went out of His way to make sure was “not” an unknown to us, He layed it out, and I have nothing to fear from that next step in life, because it is not an end, but merely another stage in the journey. Which brings us to the big question, do we live forever, and to that I shout “YES” we do, there is no end, we are in our eternity. I know God, I know Christ, the Holy Spirit, and I want to tell everyone I can about them as long as I have breath to do so. What will you do with your forever? God Bless-Jim

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School is out till January, so it is time to relax, ride the bike a bit more, write the blog a bit more regularly, and begin putting into practice all those nice little things I learned. The class ended this week after writing final papers, and we met Thursday for our weekly class meeting. The weekly class meetings are usually an hour and a half, but this week it ended with a day-long event.

Now to let you know, this class is offered at our “large” church through a university in California, and while the class probably had fifty or more, there were twenty or so from my church, all of them interns or working in the ministry somehow. I was the only person in the class who was non-ministry, and of course was also the oldest, nice. Many of the students were younger than my own kids, and I was really happy to see a genuine desire to serve the Lord in all of them when we would meet.

As we gathered at the church last Thursday, waiting to be taken to our destination “a retreat in Cave Creek, AZ. We just decided to take personal cars, and so I offered my truck, as it is large and can carry five adults. The retreat was great, we did several exercises that were aimed at helping us connect with God on a more personal level, and as the day came to an end, we all piled back into the vehicles and began heading back.

Now I have to tell you, I have the utmost respect for these interns, they commit to one or two year terms where they work full weeks each week, and the positions are unpaid, they work for free. The intern director was in my truck, and two of the older interns were in my truck as we headed back on the long drive to church. One of the older (early 30’s) interns began to ask me questions about my background, and then he began to tell me about the intern program. He said that because we were a larger church, we could afford to select top notch people for their intern program and that they could screen out those who wouldn’t cut muster and select the best of the best.

The intern director in the back seat was not at all happy with what he was saying, as he was going on and on about the team, and asking her for verification. I could sense the tension in her voice as she was trying to send him signals to knock it off, but in all fairness, he is a guy and he just didn’t pick up the vibes. I sat there driving down the road as he told me that he had successfully run a law firm until he had let it all go to become an intern, and then he began asking what my commitment level to the Lord was. Thankfully, I just talked quietly and realized it was nothing more than the devil taking another one of his cheap shots at the end of a very Spiritually uplifting day.

I dropped everyone off at the church as a very cold rain began to fall, and I couldn’t help but feel a little bummed out. I wondered if I should talk to this intern guy, or maybe to the director, and then I remembered something, a scripture that just brought everything into perspective. Luke 9;46-48  An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

It is in our nature to want to be the best of the best, but that is what becoming a follower of Christ is all about, denying that nature and dying to yourself daily. In hindsight, I hold no ill will toward the intern or anyone in the group. I learned so much from them all and am grateful that they accepted me in. He only showed that he was human, a work in progress like all the rest of us, so I forgot about it, grabbed a coffee, and went to my daughters soccer game in the pouring rain.

One thing that I did learn from my recent studies, dying to yourself is something that we have to do each and every day, some days are better than others. But if we put forth the effort, God will meet us there, to quote Jan Johnson, “If we do the connecting, God will do the perfecting”.   God Bless-JFT

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