Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Great Day!

We, yes I am including you, seem to wait for a day to be done before deciding what kind of a day it was. What if we, yes you too, decided before a particular day started that it was going to be a great day. I believe that the day will generally become what you are looking for. I am not just talking about the power of positive thinking, if you believe you can achieve (did anyone else get annoyed at the guy on "Deal or No Deal" who kept saying that? What does that have to do with picking a numbered case? Sorry, just a little rant.) and other such phrases. I am talking about what we choose to look for and do as a new day approaches. Sure there will always be some things that are out of our control, but if you are looking for good things you will find them on viritually any day. On the other hand, if you are looking for the bad things you will surely find them on any day.

So, I declare today a great day. I am really looking forward to this Sunday. I can't wait to see what all will unfold and what God is going to do.

I will let you know how this day goes. How about you, what kind of a day are you looking for?

Here's hoping you find a great day.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Thursday's Thoughts ...

Since this Monday was Christmas day I did not do a "Monday Musings", so I thought I would give you some "Thursday Thoughts". Sunday was Christmas Eve, and I didn't have any idea what to expect. It was a very good Sunday. We had several visitors, as in those who were in town for Christmas with family, so our attendance was good and more importantly the spirit was great in the service. That is not always true when you have so many out of town visitors in your service. The music was good and you could really sense the spirit building throughout the service, especially leading to an unplanned time of prayer with people around the altar during our last congregational song. I love those moments. Sometimes I think we plan the Holy Spirit right out of our services, but thankfully my wife was sensitive to the spirit's moving and encouraged people to come to the altar during the song and I was alert enough to realize we had a special moment and stepped in to pray. The wife sang a special song, "Bethlehem Morning", a favorite of mine and she sang it as a true ministry.

Sunday evening we had a time of communion by family. Anyone could come and take communion with their family by candlelight. I really enjoyed serving the families. One family had 4 generations come together. I love sharing with each group, it was not the same with each family, but the format allowed me to mold the presentation for each group.

I have been especially encouraged recently by the way our congregation is receiving and reaching out to those who are visiting in our services. Also, we have had the opportunity to help a few families that were having rough times this Christmas. I love seeing the church be the church.

Have a terrific Thursday!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas Memories ... Fresh ones

The great thing about Christmas memories is that ones from 40 years ago are wonderful and carry great emotion, but the most recent ones can be just as strong. Every year has something in it that create a memory. It might be gifts that didn't make the trip, forgotten ingredients for a special dish at dinner, surprised exclamations from loved 0nes as they open a gift, the what is this look as a present has to be explained, and so much more. The key is to realize that each moment is a special memory in the making.

For me, just being with the family makes Christmas memorable. We have been fortunate to be with our children and grandchildren every Christmas, or at least within a few days of Christmas. I know that the string will come to end, but I am enjoying it for as long as it lasts.

This year was another memorable one. Granted we were only together for about 20 hours, but we packed a lot into those hours. We celebrated my daughter-in-law's birthday (the big 30), we played games (we never get together without doing that) we exchanged gifts and we had an awesome brunch together. The grandkids swallowed a couple of bites and then ran off to play with their new gifts. The rest of us ate and talked for quite a while, it was a wonderful time. Then we all went our own way, either to be with other family or to get to our duties as pastors.

Christmas day was quiet and fun. Our oldest daughter was with the wife and I. We slept in, went to a neighbor's for a wonderful brunch (she had biscuits and gravy!!!) we really got to know them much better, we played games and watched old TV shows, I grilled Christmas dinner (ribs and chicken), we played more games and watched more old shows and laughed at each other a lot. It was a good day.

Christmas memories are wonderful, make them and share them every year. Here's hoping you had a wonderful Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

More Memories ...

It is interesting how many emotions Christmas memories bring out in all of us. I got an email from a cousin who remembered the Christmas at our house where everyone came. One of my daughters wrote her own post about some of our traditions while the kids were all still home. I am enough Christmas memories, from growing up and with my own family, to post for a month. Then there are the memories of Christmas as a pastor and some special times at various churches.

One difficult Christmas that is memorable was in Kansas. I was still in college, we had just moved there a few months earlier. Todd was 7 months old, we were living in a 3 room duplex with a wall space heater that didn't work well and at times roaches, who we constantly battled in that place. I was a full-time student and worked full-time as a school custodian at night. My wife was babysitting in our little 3 room castle. Money was so tight it hurt. The only reason we had a Christmas tree was the generousity of a friend who purchased one for us (yes , it was a real one). We purchased one present for Todd, a little clear plastic ball with a butterfly in the middle that would spin when he pushed the ball. That was the only present under the tree that year. The wife and I each needed something desperately so we got those and declared them presents. I remember for me it was $15 pair of shoes, because mine had holes in them, I can't remember what she got, but know it was nothing big or exciting.

My parents came from Indiana on Christmas Eve and brought a couple of presents for each of us. Then the lousy space heater went out that night and it was very cold that Christmas. It made for a tearful Christmas. But it is one that will never be forgotten. That was a tough one for me, feeling like I was a failure when I couldn't provide anything for Christmas for my family. Maybe that is why I sometimes go a little overboard with gifts at Christmas.

I guess it also makes me more sensitive to others around us who are having a rough Christmas. We have done something for some other family nearly every year. Usually done quietly, often anonymously, to help someone else who be having one of those difficult Christmases.

Who are you helping this year? May your memories be bright and meaningful and may you remember the greatest memory is of the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Memories ... the Nativity Set

When we went to Dad's parents, yes I know that they were my grandparents, home for Christmas there was one thing I could always count on. Actually there were several things I could always count on, but the one I was thinking of this morning was Grandma's Nativity set. I don't remember a Christmas tree in the house, but there was a beautiful Nativity set by the big picture window every year. That is where we placed our presents and it was the focal point as gave gifts and shared at Christmas. It probably wasn't a true thing of beauty compared to many Nativity sets, but I thought it was awesome. I remember the stable was made of real wood and there were animals in this Nativity set, I think Grandma may have even put some real straw around it, but maybe that is just my memory and not reality. I remember looking at it for long periods of time and always knowing it would be there when we came. Grandma and Grandpa understood, and in their quiet way, wanted all of us to remember that Christmas was really about the birth of Christ. Thanks Grandpa and Grandma, I remember and am trying to help others remember as well.

I could also count of lots of food and lots of homemade candy. French Chewing, Divinity, fudge of several kinds, cookies and of course the four glass jars by the back door filled with chocolate stars, hershey kisses, chocolate covered peanuts or cashews, not to mention the Dairy Queen treats in the freezer. Diets were never considered at Grandma's. I remember the big old kitchen at Grandma's.

I better stop for now, I am drooling on my keyboard.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Memories ...

My buddy Rob has been posting some of his top ten favorite Christmas memories, so I thought I would join the fun. I don't know how many I will post, but let's just dive in and see what happens.

I remember my Mom playing Christmas music for weeks on the old record player. For my grandkids that is something really old, before 8 tracks, cassettes and CDs. In fact the records looked like giant CDs. My favorite was a rendition of "The Little Drummer Boy". I think I wore at least one of those out and Mom had to get a new one.

I remember one special Christmas while we were living in Auburn, IN. We normally all went to my Grandparents farm in Central Indiana each year (more on that in later post), but this one year everyone came to our house. That was quite a big deal because my two uncles were farmers and had to come about 3 hours from their farms. My uncle Harold was still a dairy farmer at that time, so it was a big sacrifice for him and his family in particular. We had people sleeping everywhere, beds, sofas, cots and the floor. As a kid this was an awesome adventure. We got a lot of snow that Christmas. It was wonderful, a lot of noise, a lot of laughter, a lot of pranks, a lot of eating, a lot of laughter, a lot of smiles, a lot of stories (some were greatly exaggerated, which just made them more fun) and, did I mention the laughter? A special memory, I can still picutre that house with people sleeping everywhere. I am smiling as I type this post.

What are your favorite Christmas memories? Share them with your family or friends this Christmas and make some new ones as well.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Monday Musings ...

Another Monday, therefore, I have some more musings. Yesterday was a very fun day. Our children did their Christmas program as a part of the morning worship service. They did a very good job. We only had one significant technical glitch, not bad for us. The kids sang well, and with some volume, they delivered their lines well and the sticks performance was good. The kids were cute and everyone enjoyed them. I had the opportunity to share briefly after their program, as in 5 minutes or so, it is always nice to a have an audience that is warmed up. There were some relatives who attended who would not normally attend church, I love those kind of visitors.

In the evening our adults did a musical. The choir did wonderful, under my lovely wife's direction, their sound was great and they did it with enthusiasm. We had no major sound glitches, this is a huge praise. Those doing the drama did well and it was very well received. This was done as a dessert theatre. Each table was decorated by a different person and they all looked great. We had dozens of wonderful desserts for people to choose from as they arrived. They chose their dessert, got a drink and went to their table. The place looked great with all the Christmas trees, the decorated tables, lit candles and smiles. Our people did such a great job of greeting and serving people. The attendance was much better than we anticipated. There were over 180 with all of those participating! The response was wonderful.

It was a very good day. People enjoyed the day, they felt good about participating in some way and they enjoyed seeing such good attendances. As someone said this morning, "I feel so full from the whole day yesterday." (And they weren't even speaking of the desserts.)

With all of that said, I am glad it is done. My wife, who put the whole thing together, is especially pleased that it is done. Hope you are having a great Christmas season.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Christmas Concerts ...

Tis the season for Christmas programs and concerts. Last night my associate pastor and I went to a Christmas concert that involved students from 1st through 12th grade. It is that time of year in schools, communities and churches, it comes every year and every year I generally enjoy it. I admit that I don't always get excited to go to some of these events, but I always have some part of them that I really enjoy. Last night was no different, this is a busy week on it's own merit so I was going to the concert with a little chip on my shoulder. You know what I mean, I was going but was thinking of all the other things I need to do this week that I could have been doing, but probably wouldn't have done anyway. That, I confess, was how I was feeling as we arrived.

But as the night wore on I began to feel much differently. The effort of the students was encouraging and Christmas music is always uplifting. It was fun to watch parents and grandparents, to see their proud smiles, to see some tear filled eyes, to see the multitudes of cameras flashing and videos rolling. It brought back memories of when my kids were in those programs. I must admit I went to those programs with a different attitude. Okay, I may have wished that some of the other kids would hurry up so my kids could get on stage. As a pastor I go to many events in which students from my church are participating and there is some sense of pride in their accomplishments. Not I have anything to do with it, but the fact that they are a part of my church family leads to me swelling with some pride.

So here's to Christmas concerts and programs, may you enjoy a couple of your own this Christmas season. If you are not excited to be there, just look around at the parents, the grandparents and look carefully at the students. Then see if you don't enjoy it a lot more as you sense their excitement and their efforts.

Here's hoping at some program you experience at least one kid who stumles, picks their nose, lifts their dress over their head, forgets their lines or throws baby Jesus into the manger.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Inadequate ...

Inadequate is not just a feeling I get at times it is a full blown reality. I am reminded of this fact every week as I prepare sermons or lessons and then again as I present those sermons and lessons. I was reminde of this fact again this morning in a powerful way. In some previous posts I have referenced a young lady who was dying of cancer, she died this morning. When went to her house to express my condolences to her parents I not only felt inadequate, I was in fact inadequate. Trying to express condolences to people that I don't know that well about the loss of their 20 something daughter and that their grandchild now has no mother. These parents are my age, but what do you say? I spoke to them, I offered condolences, sympathy and the "if there is anything we can do please let us know" phrase, but it seemed so inadequate.

I am not writing this for any sympathy. How adequate do you feel when attempting to minister? I am coming to the realization that I am in big trouble when I think I am adequate for the ministry task at hand. The apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 12:10 "...when I am weak, then I am strong." When we admit our weaknesses and allow God's strength to guide us and flow through us, then we are truly strong. It is not our own strength, because we are inadequate in our own strength, it has to be His strength if is going to be any good.

Yes I am inadequate, but that is okay because God is more than adequate and I need to let Him guide and strengthen me, then I must give Him all the glory. So here's to be inadequate. The good news is I know I have a lot of company when it comes to being inadequate. Right?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Monday Musings ...

I liked the phrase that Perry Noble used on his blog, that God is "good and amazing". That is great motto to live by. To remember that God is "good and amazing" can help us through all of the situations that we face. Whether we are riding high or struggling to make it through the next breath, when we remember that God is "good and amazing" we have hope for the moment and the future.

Yesterday was a great reminder that God is "good and amazing". The atmosphere was dead as our Worship began in the morning service, but as we continued God intervened and the Holy Spirit showed up in a very noticeable way. Nothing appeared to be dynamic in the service, but God did a work and changed the spirit in the place. As a result God worked in people's hearts. Attendance was very low, we had many people who did not attend because of illness and typical December travel and family gatherings. We now have the Sunday morning messages recorded on our Church website. I know that it works because a staff member from a former pastorate emailed me to let me know that he had listened to last Sunday's message.

We had no evening service because of a community service. This one was of a community choir singing "Messiah", not the 3 hour version but rather just the Christmas portion which is only about 35 minutes. My wife and my associate's wife did some baking and we had a continental breakfast for everyone as a Christmas present from our families to the church. My associate and I helped, he cut up some fruit, I made coffee, did some of the shopping and helped make the little sausages. That sure gave people some substance as they headed to their Sunday School classes. (Maybe that led to the people so lethargic as Worship began.)

This morning I agained visited a young woman who is dying of cancer. She is not doing well. It is difficult to see a 20 something mother who doesn't look like she is going to make it. I love her faith and her courage, it is humbling and inspiring. I know that God is "good and amazing" but I am not sure that is how that family feels at the moment. But I am glad to be reminded today that God is both "good and amazing". Do you realze that about God?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mixed Emotions ...

This has been a week of very mixed emotions. As I stated in my Monday Musings post last Sunday was such a good day and then I got the call on Monday morning that a young man, 41 years old, had died. We knew he was dying, after a long battle with cancer. That brought me back down. But I had the privilege to lead him to the Lord a couple of weeks before he died, so in the midst of the sorrow was the joy of knowing he is with the Lord. Funeral planning is never easy and is even more difficult when it is for someone so young and who leaves behind a spouse and children. The family had decided to have their Christmas on Friday, less than 3 days before he died, and just 24 hours before he become basically non-responsive. That was great timing, God is good isn't He?

Imagine trying to tell a 3 and half year old that Daddy is gone. Pray for this family. The visitation and funeral went well and it was a great moment to share with those at the funeral that he had accepted Jesus as his Savior. There were several at the funeral who do not know the Lord. But it was also difficult in that I don't want those people to think that they can just wait and take care of things with God just before they die. We don't always know when our time will come. That created some mixed emotions. Also, I did this young man's mother's funeral just 10 months ago. So for his brothers and sister they have lost a mom and brother in a span of 10 months and face this Christmas without either of them for the first time. The good news, his mother was a Christian so they will now be united. How cool is that?

All of this took place in the midst of an all church Christmas Dinner the evening of the visitation and while planning for our own Christmas programs in just a week and preparing to preach and teach today. Thus is the life of a Pastor things rarely stop just because something extra has arisen.

Mixed emotions are always a part of the life of a Pastor at Christmas. There are many extra things, special programs, several opportunities for Christmas gatherings around the church, special family times and all of the normal stuff as well. To be honest most pastors I know are relieved when the Christmas season finishes and then we feel guilty for having that feeling at such a special time of the year.

Mixed emotions are difficult and all of us face them regularly. But during this time of year, let's not forget that it is really about God sending His Son Jesus to bring us life, forgiveness and salvation. That must be the real focus and the motivation. So while you are sorting through all of your emotions this Christmas remember that, "...a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."

Monday, December 04, 2006

Monday Musings ...

Once again the musings are coming in the afternoon. This time it is because I was visiting a family where a 22 year old has been given just a short time to live and then went to a funeral home to meet the family of a 40 year old who passed away during the night. Not a great way to began a day, especially a Monday. But in both cases the individuals have indicated that they have accepted Jesus as their Savior. So as you can see my thoughts are in a different place today.

But let me reflect on the past Sunday for a while. This was one of those days where a lot of little things went wrong, most of them related to our sound system. From slow sound switches, to buzzes, beeps and crackles all through the mroning worship service to problems with projection of the sermon notes, it all happened yesterday. The good news is that in spite of these problems there was a good spirit in the service. We had some visitors, including two special girls (you know who you are) who stayed with my wife and I this weekend. We had a good prayer time and our attendance was very good. I went to visit the aforementioned 40 year old in the afternoon knowing that time was short. In the evening I was privileged to be a part of a service of remembrance sponsored by the local Hospice organization. The purpose to give people a chance to remember loved ones who have died and to support others who are facing the same situation this Christmas. It was a special and meaningful time. (I am a big fan of the Hospice organization.) My wife did extra duty and ran the entire evening service while I was at the Hospice service. I am so fortunate to have a spouse who is so supportive and works so hard in the church.

This will be a very busy week, I just got another phone call asking me to come to funeral visitation for a relative of a family I have been working with who do not attend church anywhere regularly. But all of this busyness is true ministry, not just meetings, paperwork or things that so often occupy a pastor's time. I am looking forward to the week and to see what God will do with all of these opportunities.

Here's hoping you recognize Christ in your Christmas activities this week and encourage someone else along the way.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Hunt ...

Yesterday I participated in my first real hunting experience, a pheasant hunt with some men from my church. The only "hunts" I had participated in before that were shooting pigeons out of my grandpa's barn as a kid and hunting for the regularly lost items in my household (such as my wife's keys, my daughters keys, things like that). The hunt was an interesting experience, I enjoyed it and for those of you who are wondering I got two birds on my first two shots (I missed on my next 4 shots).

I think there are some life lessons to be learned from the hunt. For one, be prepared. As you start walking through the field you must be ready for a bird at most any time, you must watch the bird dogs for clues as well. Being prepared and watching for clues as to what is coming in life is pretty is good advice. (Another be prepared is to have on the right clothes so you don't freeze.) Another lesson is have the right equipment. You need to have a gun that works and it must be loaded with the proper ammunition. In life you to have the necessary things to make it through whatever you are facing. The best equipment is the Lord and His Word obviously. Another lesson is keep the safety on the gun until it is time to fire. This one is important for yourself and for anyone else who may be hunting with you. In life you need to be cautious and not go off unnecessarily, because it will hurt you and those who are around you. Another lesson is have someone around who knows how to clean whatever you get in the hunt. I have no idea if this one really applies in life, but it sure does when hunting (Thanks Barry). Another lesson that may have no parrallel in life is to have someone take a picture of what you get on the hunt so you have some proof. (If I can figure out how to get pictures in blog I will show you some proof of my hunt.)

I could go on, but I am guessing that most of you have stopped reading already, either because I have stretched the life lessons too far for you or you are upset that I shot and killed such beautiful innocent creatures. By the way, does anyone have a good recipe for Pheasant?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Reassurance ...

Sometimes you just need some reassurance. It could be about anything. Your haircut, the style of jeans you are wearing, the love or affection of someone you love or care about, your job, that there is no salad stuck in your teeth or any number of things you could name. Let's just agree that we all need reassurance at times. For me it was how my Dad was doing. I talk with him on the phone often, we email periodically and I send the occasional (very occasional, because I have never been good at mailing things) card, but I just needed to see for myself, I needed that reassurance.

I got it, my daughter Kris and I flew out to see him and my stepmom this week. We left Tuesday afternoon and got back Thursday afternoon. He looked good, he sounded good and seemed good. We had a good time visiting with he and my stepmom. Had a great time of reminiscing with Dad. He was pulling up names and stories that I had forgotten, or in a couple of cases never knew. As my daughter said, "Grandpa was cracking himself up." at times when recounting stories. He and my stepmom were doing well. We went to a basketball game together, to a couple of restaurants and even met a group of other retired ministers that they meet with for lunch and Bible study. A bonus was that we got to see some other relatives of wife's as well and some old friends of ours (all of our friends seem to be getting older, go figure). All in all the reassurance that I was seeking.

The temperature was a high of 68 on Tuesday when we arrived. On Wednesday it was in the low 30's most of the day and dropped into the mid 20's that night with some sleet falling and ice forming. Then on Thursday the temperature kept dropping and they had several inches of snow that fell, fortunately for us the snow waited until about an hour after our flight left.

Reassurance is necessary at times, and it is wonderful to receive. Who do you know who could use some reassurance from you this week? Why not give it to them, even before they ask?