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Blogger, Christ-follower, Encourager, Friend, Husband, Dad

Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Dogs Wish You a Merry Christmas

Note: I composed this post a few days early for newspaper deadline, but then forgot to upload to the blog.  I hope you find it still worth reading.

(Photo credit: blog.missourinet.com)

Have you heard on the radio, or seen on YouTube, dogs and cats singing Christmas songs? They are kind of cute the first time!  After that … not so much.  I know that some people are convinced that their animals can talk to them.  Maybe I’m just not a good dog whisperer, but I don’t get what they are saying most of the time.  And I don’t spend a lot of time speculating.

There is a little Christmas song that does some speculating on what some animals might have said if they were present at the birth of Jesus.  The Friendly Beasts (also known as The Gifts of the Animals, among other titles) has been recorded by such notables as Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, and Garth Brooks.  The song is thought to originate in Twelfth Century France.  It was originally written in Latin as a part of The Donkey’s Festival which celebrated the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt during Herod’s persecution (see Matthew 2:13-15).  The modern words were written in the 1920’s and attached to this ancient tune.

In this fourth in our Life Matters “ADVENTageous” series during December, let’s speculate on what animals might have been present when Jesus was born (the Bible doesn’t mention any), and let’s pretend that we can understand their account of this most significant of all births.  Approach it with childlike wonder.

Jesus our brother, kind and good was humbly born in a stable rude. And the friendly beasts around Him stood, Jesus our brother, kind and good.

"I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown, “I carried His mother up hill and down; I carried her safely to Bethlehem town. I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

 "I," said the cow all white and red, "I gave Him my manger for His bed; I gave him my hay to pillow his head. I," said the cow all white and red.

"I," said the sheep with curly horn, “I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm; He wore my coat on Christmas morn. I," said the sheep with curly horn.

"I," said the dove from the rafters high, "I cooed Him to sleep so He would not cry; we cooed him to sleep, my mate and I. I," said the dove from the rafters high.

Thus every beast by some good spell, in the stable dark was glad to tell of the gift he gave Immanuel, the gift he gave Immanuel.

This song speculates that the animals gave to Jesus what they could.  What will you give this Christmas to the One who came for you because your life matters to Him? Will you offer Him yourself?  Will you make room in your family gathering for Him to be the center of attention?

By the way, if you hear my dogs barking during the night, I’m sure they are wishing you a Merry Christmas.  

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Hey! Everybody Come Check This Out!

(Photo credits: theimpactnews.com  & crazyfrankenstein.com)

As a blogger and newspaper columnist in Texas in 2013, I am pretty much free to write what I want and to do so with little risk.  About the worst thing that could happen if I offend people is that (1) They would stop reading what I write and (2) The newspapers would stop running the columns of this guy that is causing them such grief.  Since I try not to be the source of offense or grief, probably my greatest risk is that readers or newspapers will just get tired of me and send me on my bloggity way.

Not that there is anything wrong with some occasional controversy, you understand.  There’s just not a lot of risk in my context.  Not so for James Montgomery (1771-1854), an English poet and newspaper editor. Twice imprisoned for sedition as a result of his controversial editorials, he championed the causes of the poor and downtrodden, especially focusing on the abolition of slavery and the exploitation of child chimney sweeps. 

However, one of his poems, Angels from the Realms of Glory, met little controversy when it was first published on Christmas Eve, 1816.

This is the third in our Life Matters “ADVENTageous” series during December.  As you read these words, I invite you to imagine a traditional nativity scene.  

Each guest at the scene receives the same invitation: Come and worship, Come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Angels from the realms of glory, Wing your flight o'er all the earth; Ye who sang creation's story, Now proclaim Messiah's birth.

Shepherds, in the fields abiding, Watching o'er your flocks by night, God with man is now residing, Yonder shines the infant Light;

Sages, leave your contemplations, Brighter visions beam afar; Seek the great desire of nations, Ye have seen His natal star;

For the final stanza, we move from the ancient nativity to present day worshipers anticipating the Second Coming of Christ.

Saints before the altar bending, Watching long in hope and fear, Suddenly the Lord, descending, In His temple shall appear: Come and worship, Come and worship, Worship Christ, the newborn King!

Our lives matter so much to God that He came … And will come again.  This is the message of Advent: The Coming of the King!  As you prepare to celebrate Christmas, I invite you to a sense of wonder.  Neither the size of your gathering, the extravagance of your decorations, nor the abundance of your food or gifts (or any lack thereof) is what truly matters.

Luke 2:10-12: But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

There's Plenty of Room Here

(YouTube credit: bocworshipteam)

One of the great benefits of the Sweetie Suite we added on the back of our house last year is that we have lots of room for guests, and they can have one whole part of the house to themselves.  Now, you may question whether or not that is a benefit … perhaps our guests are more pleasant than yours?

We have joked that we are now running the Lewis B&B.  Of course, the second B depends on our schedule.  But we can handle several for the first B and we will enjoy them during the Christmas season.

As we continue our Life MattersADVENTageous” perspective during December, I’m thinking of another song, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne,” written by Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliott (1836-1987).  Emily, who wrote quite a few poems and hymn texts, especially for the chronically ill, published 48 of them in a little book entitled “Under the Pillow”.  She was perhaps influenced by her aunt, Charlotte Elliott (1789-1971), who wrote the well known hymn “Just As I Am”. 

This Christmas hymn was written to teach children about the birth of Jesus.  In each of the first four stanzas there is a “but” that teaches how the One who should have been welcomed, was not, and how important it is for each of us, individually, to make room in our hearts.

Thou didst leave thy throne and thy kingly crown, when thou camest to earth for me; but in Bethlehem's home there was found no room for thy holy nativity. O, come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.

Heaven's arches rang when the angels sang, proclaiming thy royal degree; but in lowly birth didst thou come to earth, and in greatest humility. O, come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.

The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest in the shade of the forest tree; but thy couch was the sod, O thou Son of God, in the deserts of Galilee. O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.
Thou camest, O Lord, with the living Word that should set thy people free; but with mocking scorn, and with crown of thorn, they bore thee to Calvary. O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.
The final stanza assures a welcome in Heaven for those who make a place in their hearts here.

When heavens arches shall ring and its choir shall sing at thy coming to victory, let thy voice call me home, saying "Yet there is room, there is room at my side for thee!" And my heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus, when thou comest and callest for me.

John 1:10-13 (New Living Translation): “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn't recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.”

Mrs. Sweetie and I are looking forward to our Christmastime guests.  We are also committed to making room, every day, for the One to whom our lives mattered so much that He left a throne for a manger.

How will you make room in your heart today for Him?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Gaining an ADVENTageous Perspective

(Photo credit: patheos.com)

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Of course, in some places, that started months ago.  It is, after all, convenient to be able to buy your Zombie Halloween costume on one aisle and your tinseled garland (or is it garlanded tinsel?) on the next.

Other signs of the season: people with cuts, bruises, and dark, baggy eyes still recovering from Black Friday shopping; credit cards hot to the touch from the friction of holiday-pace swiping; turkeys who survived Thanksgiving starting to look over their shoulders again; boycotters getting ready for every “Happy Holidays” and “Merry Xmas” sign.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

During the month of December, I have decided to give Life Matters an Advent flavor through some Advent/Christmas Carols.  Full disclosure here: growing up in a small, traditional Southern Baptist Church, I don’t remember even hearing the word “advent”.  So, for anyone with a similar background, here’s the Wikipedia version.

Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning "coming".   

Advent is the beginning of the Western liturgical year and commences on Advent Sunday … At least in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian and Methodist calendars, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, which is the Sunday between November 27 and December 3. 

Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was one of the most prolific hymn writers in history, publishing the words to over 6,000 hymns in his lifetime.  Charles and his brother John were ordained as Anglican clergymen, but they pushed the envelope of their tradition by emphasizing personal and methodical study and application of Scripture and personal relationship with Christ characterized by holy living.  The hymn “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” is one example of that emphasis.

Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee
Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart

Born Thy people to deliver
Born a child and yet a King
Born to reign in us forever
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring
By Thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Our lives matter so much to God that he “came” to us in Jesus. My prayer is that we would enter this season with an ADVENTageous perspective.

What is something you will do this week to focus on the coming of Jesus?

Please leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thank You For the Thorns

I saw this quote on Facebook: “75% of Facebook quotes are made up” (Abraham Lincoln)

While I’m pretty sure he didn’t say that, I saw another Lincoln quote that seems to be legit based on what little research I did. 

 (Photo credit: Facebook)

I have used that quote to help people (and myself) gain perspective in the middle of a “whiny” time.  It is good to look for the blessings in the middle of the challenges of life.  But is it possible to thank God for the challenges of life?

In 1891, a young Swedish Salvation Army worker wrote the following hymn:

Thanks to God for my Redeemer, Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory, Thanks for Jesus by my side.
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime, Thanks for dark and dreary fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten, Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou has answered, Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered, Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain and thanks for pleasure, Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure, Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside, Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside, Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow, Thanks for heavenly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow, Thanks through all eternity!

In 1899, eight years after writing this hymn, August Ludwig Storm suffered a back injury that crippled him for the rest of his life.  He continued his Salvation Army work and maintained a thankful spirit until his death in 1914.  His thankful spirit in times of trouble gave even more credibility to his work and ministry.

It is one thing to be thankful that thorn bushes have roses. It is another level of thankfulness to say, “Thanks for roses by the wayside, Thanks for thorns their stems contain!”

My dear friend, Lew Shaffer, suffered a massive stroke in 1989.  Many of the folks who are blessed by his constant encouragement and letter writing ministry now don’t know what a powerful preacher he was before the stroke.  He tells a story of the dark days of rehab after the stroke when he was completely immobile and God told him to be thankful for his stroke. It was a hard prayer to pray, but once he did, his perspective on everything changed.

                                              (Photo credit: Carla Noah Stutsman, www.azlenews.net)

God has not removed the results of the stroke. He can’t get around without help.  His speech is incredibly difficult to understand.  Those dozen-word letters he writes look like a kindergartener’s unsteady script.  And yet, I don’t know another person who encourages me more.  His life matters as much now as it ever has.

For what thorns are you thankful in this Thanksgiving season?

I would love to heard from you.  Leave a comment below.

Monday, November 18, 2013

God Uses Cracked Pots

                                                   (Photo credit: kentcrockett.blogspot.com)

“Have Thine own way, Lord.  Have Thine own way.   
Thou art the Potter, I am the clay.  Mold me and make me after Thy will; 
While I am waiting, yielded and still.”

Those words were written by missionary Adelaide Pollard after attending a 1902 prayer meeting. I grew up singing those words in church.  That “while I am waiting” part was frustrating for Adelaide Pollard while she was trying to raise funds to go for mission work in Africa.  That “while I am waiting” part has been frustrating for me many times when I have had great visions of what I wanted to do for God.

 I have pondered this week how many times God has been waiting for me. One instance surfaced last week.  The specifics are not important, but the gist of it is this:  While on my way to work one day a few months ago I noticed something about a house that I drive by every day.  On this particular day, God told me to stop and check on the people who live there.

People I have never met.

Really, God?  Since God’s voice was not audible, surely that impression was wrong.  Of course, God has never spoken to me in an audible voice, but I have known He was speaking to my heart many times.  But this one is really out there, God.  They will think I’m nuts.  They will be offended.  They are doing all kinds of crazy things in there … and they have guns … and dogs … and …

So, being the obedient follower of Christ that I am, I just prayed for whoever was in that house and kept on driving.  I’ve kept driving and kept praying for months. But, God wouldn’t quit.  These gentle nudges kept on day after day until I finally relented.  I prayed really, really hard and went to the door. 

I came away without gunshot wounds or dog bites.  I also discovered some needs that I could help with, some immediate and some long-term.  I would like to say that I waited until just the right time to go.  Everything was just right on that particular day.  I might not have been welcomed on another day.

I think it is more likely that God used me in spite of me.  Back in 1998, Christian author Patsy Clairmont wrote a book entitled, God Uses Cracked Pots.  I haven’t read it, but I remember the title.  I am living proof that if God could only use perfect people, He wouldn’t get much done.  I am cracked, flawed, hesitant, and sometimes flat-out disobedient. But He uses me anyway.

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard.” (Romans 3:23, NLT).  But our lives matter so much to Him that He “… showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8)

You’re cracked, too.  But are you available to God?

This week's Question:  How has God used you in spite of you? 

Leave a comment below to join the conversation.