Tag Archive: Christmas


Here I sit on December 26th wondering if Christmas can speed by any faster than it did this year.  We even notched it back a few degrees from years past.  I have a hard time believing there are 24 hours in every day of the year.  Maybe, just maybe we lose a few after Thanksgiving.  We can request a federal grant to study that one.  I think about a million dollars would make the study feasible.  I could use some research assistants.  

Anyway, now that I’ve woken up from the Christmas hangover (I didn’t imbibe in the occasional spirits), I turn my attention to New Years.  The time of year we make resolutions, over 80% if which will be broken by February 1st.  That’s because most of them have to do with our diet.  A diet is not successful unless it is a lifestyle change.  Who wants to change their lifestyle?  I didn’t think so.  So, we say goodbye to 2018 and hello to 2019.

I hope 2019 is as good as 2018 was.  Seriously, I personally had a decent 2018.  The first thing I did was get my life under control.  I turned a 55-hour a week work schedule down to about 48.  Not bad!  I’m generally out only one night of the week.  That is down from three.  Amazingly, I enjoy life a bit more now and I have more time for family as well as reading books.  Not bad at all!

The second thing was I adopted a dog.  I knew he was going to be a lot of work.  Half lab and half hound makes an interesting combination.  He looks like a lab and acts like a hound.  Did you know hounds are hard headed?  Just like me! He has forced me to make changes that have been very good.  I get up at 5:00 every morning now. It has improved my prayer life.  Walking a dog at 5:45 a.m. for 1.3 miles a trip gives me plenty of time to ask God if I am crazy or not.  Somedays He reminds me that, indeed, I am crazy, and it’s the nature of man.  It’s then I ask for help and a lot of it.  

The dog, Vader (yes, after Darth Vader), has forced me to address my weight.  I have lost 27 pounds since he came into my life.  A lengthly dog walk twice a day has helped.  I have also cut back on my sugar intake and red meat intake.  The last change that my wife and I decided to work on not eating heavy late meals.  I’ve got a ways to go (I would love to lose another 22 pounds), but overall I feel better.   

I’ve also been able to spend a lot of time watching my grandchildren.  They keep me young.  We like to call our time together, “Poppie Adventures.”  It’s fun!  There will be a day they will not want me around.  So…I’ll take advantage of the time they give me now.  We discovered rock painting in 2018.  We paint rocks and hide them around the neighborhood and around town.  You can find pictures of them on the Bluffton Rocks Facebook page.  We like to bring smiles to other’s faces, and a little joy to their lives. 

As I sit and think about 2019, I’m thinking about what kind of person I want to be heading into the new year.  I’m sure my 2018 adventures won’t be topped even though I need to get back into the kayak now that my knees are feeling much better.  So, my thoughts are about what God wants of me in 2019.

I was talking to my dear friend Dwayne from Maryland about this while he visited right before the holidays.  We were actually talking about the modern day church and how to reach the next generation for Jesus.  We like to philosophize around topics like this.  As he got up toward the end of the conversation he happened to say, “I don’t really care what happens, I just need to heal.”  It was like God was speaking!   Literally!  

I enthusiastically told him he had given me my mission for 2019.  Not only was it my personal mission I want it to define my ministry and my church.  The calling is to be a person, a ministry and a church of healing.  I don’t mean physical healing.  I mean relational and emotional healing.  We look at all the physical healing Jesus performed and miss the point.  Those Jesus touched physically were emotionally and relationally scared.  In their judgment filled world if they had a defect they were outcast and often declared “UNCLEAN.”  When Jesus healed them, he restored them to their community.  I wish I had a whole page to write about this.  You will get bits and pieces of it all year long.

What does it mean to be a healing person and ministry?  I’m not sure yet.  I asked Dwayne what a healing church would look like to him.  He said, “I haven’t experienced one so I don’t know.”  We are going to talk on January 1st about being a healing church.  Before a healing church I have to be healing person.  

I know one thing.  Grace, God’s grace, has to be the driving force to be a participant in emotional, relational and spiritual (I added one) healing.  It starts with grace and ends with great grace.  I just got to figure out what is in-between.  Anybody want to come along?

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Don’t look now but Christmas Day is looming.  Right about now, we realize we forgot someone on the gift list.  It’s also possible we received a Christmas card from someone we left off our list.  For younger readers Christmas card lists used to reach into the hundreds.  Now we hope to get a mention on Facebook.

The world will begin to close down around noon tomorrow.  In a few hours we can begin to slow down.  We can begin to focus on “peace on earth, goodwill to man.”  Yes, there are toys that need to be put together.  If I may give a hint, since I’m now in the grandfather stage, don’t kill yourself putting them together the night before.  There will be plenty of time later.  Putting toys together after Christmas extends the day.  Instead, enjoy your family and focus on the importance of this one day.

This one day is so much more important than a manger scene, three kings, a baby, a star and much more.   It is the day we set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  I can’t help but remember the scene from Talladega Nights when Ricky Bobby says grace to the baby Jesus.  It borders on sacrilegious for sure.  The satire points out the truth written by Michael Kruger when he says, “Sometimes our picture of scriptural stories is shaped more by popular perceptions and modern retellings than by the text itself.”  Often we look at Christmas by focusing on the story line and miss the deeper truth of Christmas.

It is the day that God became personal.  I didn’t spell it wrong.  Yes, God became a person.  More than that truth, the concept of God went from a bit of a  mystic concept to a personal God leaving us with no excuses.  We can’t leave the baby in the manger.  It’s sweet for sure.  But God can now be defined in a personal, human sense.

The idea of a personal God is very important.  Many will talk about God from a distant perspective.  But when the name of Jesus comes up, it is amazing how it makes people squirm.  Why?  Jesus connected man to God and God to man.  It is somewhat easy to leave a belief in God somewhat up in the air, since, God is not embraceable.  But Jesus, that’s a different story.  The beauty of the story isn’t that we can embrace Jesus.  It’s that he embraces us.  

He invades our world.  He doesn’t just show up in the little town of Bethlehem.  He appears bringing God into understandable measure.  Man would never be the same again.  

Kings fear.  Wise men trail long distances to find him.  Shepherds are invited to the appearance bringing the marginalized into fellowship with God.  It gets better.  The lame will walk.   The blind will see.  Demons know him and fear.  Lepers become whole.  Gentiles are adopted.   Storms are calmed.  The dead walk.  Women are elevated and respected.  Cultural boundaries are erased.  The guilty are forgiven.  Hope is restored.  Grace abounds.  Love prevails.  Mercy is granted.  Jesus is here!  

What did we do?  Killed him.  Those who cannot move past the baby in the manger can only depend upon man himself.  The self-righteous stay on the outside looking in.  Instead of humility, their pride keeps them from the embrace of a personal God.  

As the baby became a man of whom John the Baptist said, “He must increase and I must decrease,” the grave could not contain the personal God.  The resurrection guarantees the truth that this child is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and came proclaiming, “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Man.”  

The God who we struggled to get our minds around had embraced his fallen creation and came in the form of a human baby.  We can now relate.  We can now communicate.  We can now have a relationship.  There is no magical prayer mentioned in the Bible.  There is no special action.  All Jesus would ask is “Do you believe?”  Do you believe that Jesus, the Son of God, is the way, the truth, and the life for man or woman no matter their past?  

Honestly, it was not a silent night at all.  It was a thunderous night.  God has come and now we can relate to him as never before.  The world would never be the same again.  “Joy to the World, the Lord has come.”  It ain’t no baby.  It’s God!  

Every Christmas of late there seems to be the group that insists on emphasizing “keeping Christ in Christmas.”   Bumper stickers appear.  Buttons are worn.  Sometimes, at church, if one happens to mention “Happy Holidays,” he may be treated  as if he violated the 11th commandment.  It can get intense. 

We should not be surprised; the non-believing world has no intention of keeping Christ in anything.  If we are surprised we have bad theology.  We also should not be surprised since reliable faith-based pollsters have been telling us for years the percentage of Christians in our society is decreasing at an alarming rate, especially among the younger generations.  We recently learned the older generations (baby boomers and the silent generation) are now outnumbered by the younger generations (millennials), who are no longer defined as “Christian” influenced.  All the numbers point to a secular society.  

I decided to check it out in my own neighborhood.  I take the dog for a walk every morning and night.  So, I wanted to see what voice the meaning of Christmas has in a neighborhood that has many church-going Christians as residents.

As of December 10th the following numbers have been verified: 

32 Santa Clauses

54 Reindeer

51 Snowmen

39 Trees

8 Mickey or Minnie Mouses

12 Soldiers

3 Wolves

7 Penguins

4 Yeti

3 Trains

2 Unicorns

2 Grinch

2 Bear

1 Snoopy

2 Ocean Creatures (Whale, dolphin)

14 Other (I have no idea)

and 4 manger scenes

That is 223 other representations of Christmas to 4 manger scenes.  Jesus doesn’t stand a chance.   Now, I will admit, it’s early.  We are 2 weeks away from Christmas.  The Christians can make a come back.  We need to put on the Christmas rally caps for a big inning.  Maybe a Hail Mary is the call of the day sort of like the one the Dolphins pulled off against the Patriots last Sunday.  Sounds a bit crazy doesn’t it?  

The only person that has to worry about Christ being taken out of Christmas is the Christian.  We get all upset that the government bans manger scenes from public property; however, traveling to Asheville last weekend and looking around town the last few days I don’t see too many churches putting out symbols of the Christ in Christmas either.  How we get so harsh with the secular world and don’t hold ourselves to the same standard is one of the very reasons the world looks at us and laughs.

Hold on for a minute!  The very message of Christmas is the grace of our Lord Jesus who leaves the kingdom of heaven to rescue us from ourselves.  Instead of being critical of the Christmas expressions, we should be engaging our neighbors with the love of Christ more than anything else.  Manger scenes say I honor the day.  The love of Christ brings Christ to life the other 364 days of the year.  

It is so easy to get critical.  After John 3:16 comes John 3:17.  Jesus said, “I came into the world not to condemn the world but that the world through me will be saved.”  The lights are beautiful in honor of the one who is the Light of Light.  The decorations all display the joy we can have when we sing “Joy to the World.”  

Christian, be concerned more with the lack of love and grace than the lack of manger scenes.  If one wants Christ in Christmas…put him there.  Do so with great grace and love.

Now, after all that I have one question, “When and how did unicorns become associated with Christmas?” I googled it, and Mr. Google says it is a millennial expression against tradition.  On one hand, I can’t say I blame them.  A manger scene without the expression of Christ’s love is a tradition that needs to end.  But unicorns?  Somethings I don’t quite get.  Oh well, Merry Christmas anyway. 

Once again I scan the various stores on line and can’t seem to find the right gift for my wife.  She is not easy to buy for this time of year.  She doesn’t wear makeup (she’s naturally beautiful).  She is not a big jewelry person.  I used to buy almost all her clothes, but since styles changed I have no idea. 

Black Friday came and went with no ideas hitting home.  Cyber Monday was full of gifts that hold zero interest.  It’s going to be a very hard Christmas gift-wise.  I could take some guesses.  I’d buy her one of those light up Cowboys sweaters I see on T.V., howeve,r I enjoy being married.  I’m about ready to give up!

I did get an idea last night. We were at our community group meeting.  We are reading and discussing a book titled Caring for One Another.  Chapter 6 talks about building personal and prayerful relationships.  It is almost a lost art these days.  It was a great discussion.

We were talking about the obstacles to a personal relationship.  One of our members boldly proclaimed, “Nobody knows each other anymore.”  He was right!  

It was right at that moment I got my idea for Christmas.  I know it sounds strange, but, as I Iistened to the conversation, it became clear.  Instead of gifts, my wife and my family need time with each other.  With our fast-paced society and many working long hard jobs, the amount of quality time we spend with each other is getting less and less, and we don’t need research to prove the point. 

When husbands and wives come to the office for some work on their marriage, I guarantee every time there is a deficit in quality time together.  There is a little exercise that has the couple actually say how many hours a week they spend doing various activities during the week.  Let’s consider sleep.  Eight hours a night times seven days a week has an individual sleeping 56 hours a week.  With 168 hours in a week after sleep, it leaves 112 hours.  Add 8 hours a day for work and we are down to 72 hours.  We work this exercise.  Without fail families end up in the deficit, and we don’t even get to time spent dedicated to one another.  The worst one I saw recently was a negative 22 hours.  Something had to change and change quickly.

My family is no different.  Ministry is not a 40-hour a week job.  Both my wife and I are in ministerial positions.  We have double trouble.  Some weeks I spend more time with my dog than with my wife.  That is not good.  

In our world there is another element stealing our time together.  Other people no longer have to knock on the door to interrupt the family.  All they have to do is text.  Ministry might be the worst of all occupations.  Church members will text any time of the day or night about non-essential topics.  We talk a lot about grace.  If only it could be applied to a non-answered text at 10:30 p.m. about the topic being covered in the morning Bible study.  

Even if we choose to not answer, we then disrupt our lives with thoughts and feelings about not answering.  Sometimes it’s just easier to answer the text.  Meanwhile, our family time has just been lost, and those moments lost will not be recoverable.  

The more I talk with my friends I find this is the norm.

This Christmas, instead of giving a nice gift that, over time loses its value, consider giving your loved ones what I believe is the most important commodity…time.  We can make more money, but we can’t make more time.  Only so much time is allowed to all of us.  There is no such thing as a “time” bank.  

So, this year there will be one present to open.  The other ones are dedicated commitments to spend quality time together.  That means saying “no” to others.  It involves making decisions with the other person in mind.  I won’t remember the many Christmas presents I have received over the years.  I will remember the walks on the beach, the laughter as we talk about our crazy family, and the times we turn our phones off and enjoy each other’s company no matter where we are and no matter what we are doing. 

Here we go!  Thanksgiving has just passed and we are on our way to Christmas.  Not counting Christmas Day we are 29 days away.  That’s right…29 days.  I don’t know what is or is not a shopping day anymore.  I think they all are. 

I wish Thanksgiving could be more than one day.  It is our family’s favorite day of the year.  There is no pressure of gift giving or expected custom other than to be at the table when mom told us to be there.  No schedule other than the Dallas Cowboys game.  I’m not sure anyone was awake at 4:00 p.m.  That’s the joy of Thanksgiving.

We are going away for a few days.  With the grandkids we have tickets to go on the Polar Express Train.  It is inspired from the popular book by Chris Van Allsburg about a magical train ride on Christmas Eve.  I think it’s quite funny we are going on a train ride when Christmas is like a locomotive going full blast through our lives.  All Aboard! 

As the train called “Life” gets going we can get caught in the rush and miss so many and much around us.  Yes, it is a time for family and friends.  Yes, we buy a present to show our love or admiration.  We might do some special things for special people.  However, in the process we can get caught in the rat race of the holidays.  Sometimes it feels like the rats are winning.

Our lives are crazy enough without 3 back-to-back holidays.  I meet so many people who are working hard just to keep their nose above the water line.  I meet many fellow weary travelers on the exhausting road of life.  Now, with the season it gets ramped up.  I’m concerned we are over stimulated and some will break under the pressure.

As a chaplain for the Bluffton Police Department we are very much aware the holiday season can be rough.  Some have experienced loss and grieve their loved ones.  Others have serious  struggles and cannot relate to the “joy” of the season.  It leaves them feeling isolated and alone.  For a few the season propels them deeper into their depression and hopelessness as thoughts of suicide deceive them into grievous actions.

As we hustle and bustle though the season slow down a bit and look around.   There are plenty that not only need to hear of Jesus, they need to see him.

Consider:

  allowing someone to go ahead of you in the long lines

  asking a waitress how you can pray for her as you say grace

  saying “thank you” to everyone who fills our many needs

  actively forgive someone this season you hold blame against

  inviting someone to a meal or a cup of coffee

  being a bearer of peace in times of chaos

  do something out of the ordinary for someone in need

  baking an extra pie and give it away

  buying a few Walmart gift cards, stand out front and give them away to someone who 

looks like they are in need

  doing the outrageous

  making it a point to talk to people instead of walking by them every day

  giving double tips (I’m sure they could use it)

  being gracious, extending mercy and loving others including your enemy (Jesus   

didn’t give us an out)

The greatest gift you can give those around you is to slow down and enjoy them.  Even our kids have enough stimulation from outside sources.  They don’t need more.  They need us.  

There was a young man who I knew many years ago who at the ripe age of 15 was already wound around the axle.  We were walking in King’s Dominion and he was so bent on not being able to ride certain rides for the 3rd or 4th time.  I looked at him and with his parents around bellowed, “Dude, you need to slow down and smell the roses.”  I didn’t realize we were actually in an area with beautiful red roses everywhere.  

This holiday season, slow it down instead of speeding it up.  Say “No” to some parties.  How many do you need to go to anyway?  How many useless gifts litter our shelves?  Instead, make time to look someone in the eye and talk with them.  

Impart good tidings on them.   Let the hustle and bustle of consumerism be drowned out by the love, grace and mercy we can bestow on others as it has been given to us by the one we celebrate on December 25th.  

As the plane was preparing to land, the pilot came on the audio system to inform the passengers that an earthquake had set off a tsunami. The northern coast of Australia was on full alert. The joyous passengers suddenly became quiet. It wouldn’t take too long until we landed and faced the devastation and death that quickly followed just to the north of us. Our trip took on a new dimension.
We made our way to Darwin from Sydney. The sleepy coastal town suddenly became the center of the Australian relief effort. As supplies went out survivors came in. Restaurants became places where many would sit and listen for hours to the first hand accounts.
Heads would shake. Hands trembled. Tears would flow. Drinks would be passed around. In our lifetime we had never seen nor heard of a tsunami. Christmas went from a time of great celebration to sudden dread and disaster. Over 225,000 people lost their lives that day. It will be a Christmas I won’t forget. We had flown into Sydney to study the biomes of Australia on Christmas Day and ended up with a unique view of the fragility of life.
Some told stories about the ocean retreating before the first wave struck. Nobody was thinking tsunami. There was a total lack of knowledge and understanding. Instead of running the opposite way many were walking far out, picking up shark’s teeth and amazing sea shells. Minutes later their lives would be on the line. Others reported that the death toll did not accelerate upward as the water drove inland. More lives were lost as the water raced back to the ocean. Unseen debris-laced water ripped people out of the trees and buildings sending them to certain death.
Several days later, pictures left us breathless. Towns were gone. Buildings had disappeared. Families were lost. The infrastructure was totally destroyed, leaving more sickness and death to come.
First hand accounts and images not seen in the States etched memories that will last a lifetime. How we could be snorkeling on the great barrier reef, enjoying some of the most beautiful creation observed by man, only to have the same nature take so many lives at will just to our north was beyond comprehension. The Indian Ocean tsunami took place 14 years ago. Many of the communities have recovered but many, many lives will never be the same.
In the late 1990’s a cultural tsunami crashed upon American shores in full force. It should not have been a surprise to the Christian community. Unlike the Indian Ocean waves, we were warned. For some reason we didn’t listen to the warning sirens. Was it spiritual arrogance? Maybe. Was it ignorance thinking the church itself could withstand such mind-numbing influences? Maybe. We spend too much time wanting to lay blame instead of facing the fact that the tsunami has struck, and we are woefully hanging on for dear life.
Between rampant consumerism and pervasive relativism even the church looks like life back in the book of Judges when every man did what was right in his own eyes. King Solomon was right: “There is nothing new under the sun.” We like to look out the window of the church with condemning attitudes. In the 60’s, we blamed the hippies. In the 70’s, we blamed Vietnam. In the 80’s, we blamed politics. In the 90’s, we blamed technology. In the early 2000’s, we blamed the Islamic Jihad. In the teens, we blame them all.
Meanwhile we continue to refuse to look inside the walls of the church and our own hearts. We need to set up confessionals. Instead of hearing confessions, we need to confess our sins. We are just as much consumers as the wolves on Wall Street. We treat Biblical truth as if we are at the Golden Corral picking and choosing what we want at any given time to make us happy. A friend of mine once said, “We call ourselves sinners but we won’t dare say what kind.” We show up on Sunday thinking we are more pious then our non-churched friends. Maybe we are like those who were looking for sea shells instead of comprehending the signs of massive change unlike we have ever seen before.
Martin Luther called the church in his day to repent. That was the message in the 1st of his 95 theseis. We need the same today. The call isn’t just for those who have remained in the pews. It’s for those who abandoned the system established by God himself as well. We look no different than the world anymore. They mock us with the name “Christian.” Instead of resentment maybe we should consider their words as truth. Jesus said, “He who loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” I know that message doesn’t fill pews. It wasn’t supposed to.

A few years ago I had the privilege of spending two weeks in Australia. We flew into Sydney on Christmas Day. It was a remarkable trip. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef was fantastic. God’s creation is incredible below the water. We had our shoes melt in the Outback, stayed right outside the Sydney Opera House, visited Darwin and Melbourne and saw what was left of the Twelve Apostles (limestone stacks along the southern shores). I would love to go back one day.
We saw the Twelve Apostles on a bus tour of the Great Ocean Road. After we traveled as far west as time allowed we cut across the fertile area of Australia heading to Melbourne. This area is farmland and cattle country. It is the opposite of the famous Outback.
As we traveled suddenly someone gasped and asked the bus driver if he could stop for a picture. It didn’t take long to understand the request. In the field to our right stood hundreds of sheep. They were not your ordinary sheep. They wore yellow raincoats. Yes, you read that right. Yellow raincoats that covered not only their body but their heads including their ears. It was a sight to see. The only problem was the bus driver would not stop. Company rules did not allow a roadside stop.
The yellow raincoated sheep quickly became the talk of the bus. Eventually the driver turned on his microphone and gave the Americans and a few Europeans a quick lesson. It seems that virgin wool (the expensive kind) is wool that is unblemished. How do you keep wool from being damaged by weather and the environment? You protect it while it is still on the sheep. Thus, we have yellow raincoat clad sheep.
The lesson did not stop there. It seems that virgin wool has been around before yellow rain coats. The bus driver told of shepherds who would wrap the newborn lambs with a long cloth often covering the young lamb in multiple layers of cloth. As the lamb grew the shepherds would rewrap it. This process went on over and over until shearing day.
What does this have to do with Christmas?
I was watching a video by Rabbi Son Sobel, a Messianic Rabbi. He spoke concerning the significance of the baby Jesus’ swaddling clothes as recorded in Luke. It seems that the angels appeared to Levitical shepherds not the ordinary low life shepherds often spoken of this time of the year. The Levitical shepherds were raising the sheep in their care to be the unblemished Temple sacrifices. The lambs would be born in a cave directly in the care of the priests. They were not your run of the mill sheep born in the field exposed to the elements.
The lambs as soon as they were born would be swaddled. In other words, they would be wrapped in “swaddling cloths” since they had to be unblemished to qualify as a sacrificial lamb. Their wool was “virgin wool.”
It was these shepherds that got a message that there was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. They would find him in a manger. That manger was a cave. These Levitical shepherds were given more then a message of a sweet baby in a manger that they had to go see. They were given a message and a visual proclamation of the coming of the Messiah who would fulfill the Scriptures coming to be the unblemished sacrifice taking away the sins of those who believe in him..
Lately I have been amazed to see and understand the depth of the Bible that extends Jesus and truth beyond nice stories. We have cleaned up these stories way too much. They go much deep. They are immersed in the proclamation and revelation of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. People have asked me why I believe. I can’t help but believe. Who would have imagined that swaddling clothes had any significance. I have heard all sorts of explanations about swaddling cloths. Some say it foretold of the burial cloth of Jesus. Some point to the custom of the day among poor families. Others say it showed the proper care for a baby. But, it was only the shepherds who were called to go and find the “baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.” Of course. It was the Levitical shepherds who would understand the significance. It is this type of detail that confirms my belief in the one they named Jesus.
Tonight we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. Even his birth clothes details his destiny…to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. We do not come to celebrate the birth of a baby. We celebrate the birth of the Redeemer, the Messiah, the Christ. He is worthy of more than a token appearance.

Merry Christmas!