Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Simplest of Gifts

The Simplest of Gifts

Let’s play Let’s Pretend – after all, we are headed toward Christmas, and what better time than now to pretend, no matter our ages.

You go and grab the coffee or warm egg nog and I’ll tell you a story. 

We’re going back in time – way back.  Feel the shiver in your bones?  Feel the wind blowing cold and icy chills up your spine?  It’s cold.  Colder than cold.  And that is how our story begins.

See that house over there, the brown one with the broken shutter?  Listen.

And as we listen, we hear …

“Joshua.  It’s time to get up.”

The little bundle named Joshua didn’t budge. 

“Joshua.  I said get up.  You have got to get out of this house and bring us some money.”

Still no movement.

And with a swift whack on the back side, Joshua felt the broom land where it was intended.  And he stirred … and yawned.

“Well, well, Mr. Joshua.  So, you finally decided to rise from the dead, did you?”

He groaned, and yawned again.

“Now get up and get moving.  The day is moving on without you.”

“What’s for breakfast” Joshua asked.

“Breakfast?  Are you crazy?  What’s for breakfast, he says.”

The mother paused, laughed a sarcastic snicker and replied, “The same thing you had yesterday and the day before that.  “Now you git before I really take this broom to you, and I don’t mean the soft end.  You hear me.”

And so, Josh began to move.  He didn’t have to get dressed, for he was already dresses, such as it was, for he slept in his clothes.  He and his Mom lived on what you might call the poor side of their village.

As he was getting ready to leave, his Mom called out, “Don’t forget that thing you hang around your neck, and go make some money.  We need to eat tonight.”

And out the door he went.

He went from door to door trying to beg or plead for a handout, and none were offered.  He used “that thing” his mother referred to, and no one seemed to appreciate what he could do with it. 

Time passed, the hours drifted by.  It was a cold winter’s day and he felt the chill in every bone in his body. 

Along about nine at night, if there was such a thing as clocks in those days, he spotted a group of men shuffling along, headed down a narrow path toward a barn.  They were a jovial lot, laughing, and in a good mood and so he thought he would follow them for sport.

They approached the barn, went in … he stayed outside.  After all, he was an intruder. 

He turned to leave, and for the first time noticed a bright light overhead, and it seemed to settle right over the barn where that motley tangle of men had just entered. 

Just as he made a move back to the barn, he was brushed off the trail by an abrupt man leading a camel.  What followed was a whole parade of people and three regal looking men dressed in finery.  What was this all about, he wondered.

The kingly-looking men entered the barn, their attendants cared for their animals, and he stood outside looking on.

From somewhere deep inside he found his courage and entered the barn.  His eyes first landed on the wise me, whose backs were to him.  They were just beginning to stand and he could see they were laying gifts – expensive-looking gifts, on the floor.  And as they moved further away, he saw a man and a woman, and then he heard the soft cooing of a baby.  Why, the baby was lying in a feed trough.  And the kings had given these gifts to the parents of this baby.

And here he stood, dressed in his everyday rags, with no money, no finery … nothing.  Was he supposed to bow as the king-types had done?  Was he supposed to go and buy a gift, without money even, for this family?

Call it inspiration.  Call it impulse.  Call it
whatever you will, young Joshua somehow knew he was witness to a holy moment in time.  And in his heart, he knew the only gift he could offer, was from “that thing” that hung around his neck.  And so, he swung it into place.

And he played his drum … softly, simply.  
Pa-rum-pu-pum-pum.  He paused, and the lady, the mother, smiled and nodded as if to say … “play some more son.”

And he did.  He played.  The kingly men clapped, and smiled, the shepherds looked in the windows and the open door, and the baby quieted and listened, and waved his tiny fist in the air as if directing and saying “more, more.”

His gift … a simple drum solo.  It was all he could offer.  It was enough.

~ ~ ~

This story, as you have figured out, is a play on the song Little Drummer  Boy.  It is my own creation and a reminder for all of us that our gifts given to the Christ of Christmas matter, regardless of their size, their cost, or their worth.  When given from the heart, our gifts are acceptable.

One of my gifts is writing, and so I give it.  Others make beautiful music, or delicious pies, and some are able to give large sums of money to help the needy.  Some build things or make clothes.  Regardless of the ‘way’ you choose to give this Christmas, the important ingredient is that we give from a heart of love, with a kind spirit, and we give willingly of what we have.  That is, perhaps, giving as unto God himself. 

Merry Christmas.

Hope Encouragement Inspiration

Friday, November 24, 2017

Christmas Begins

Christmas Begins

Christmas begins!  We put up our tree a week ago.  We are already looking at the schedule for Scrooge at the Act Theatre.  Lights are beginning to brighten our neighborhoods and streets. 

Christmas begins.

And so, it begs the question – how do I let Christmas begin in my heart and in my thoughts?

There is a phrase in a Christmas hymn that I love …

“There is room in my heart for thee”

It’s a simple thought – a simple expression.  Some might say it’s a nice little ditty. 

If I were to play with words and suppositions, I might write something like this:

“Yeah, come on in Jesus.  You can sit over there in the corner.  There’s plenty of room.”

“Jesus – at our table?  Oh yeah.  I guess we could squeeze in one more.  Joe, go get the piano bench from the parlor and put it at that small table next to the piano.  It’s close enough, don’t you think?

“Marvin!  Save some of that pie for our guest.  Jesus has to eat dessert too.”

The key word in the phrase is “heart”. 

Room in my heart!

This phrase speaks of moving aside agendas, plans, ideas, futures.  It’s the old play on … Jesus Be the Lord of All.

I want to start there this Christmas. 

Let the words of my mouth
and the meditations of my heart,
the shopping I do and the food that I eat,
the places I visit and the songs I sing,
the gifts I buy and the wish lists I create,
the greetings I offer and the smile I smile,

Let it all be a pleasing offering in honor
of the Christ of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Let it begin in you and me!

Please watch this:

Hope Encouragement Inspiration

Thursday, November 16, 2017

What Does Grace Mean

What Does Grace Mean?

With a topic like this I feel like Captain Ahab going after Moby Dick with tartar sauce on his sword.  Eager though I am, and optimistic, this is a daunting topic.  And here I go. 

I think Thomas Merton gives us a great word on grace: “A saint is not someone who is good but one who experiences the goodness of God.

That is grace.  Others have declared it “receiving the unearned favor of God.”


I turn to my favorite writer on the subject of grace – Brennan Manning:
“All that is good is ours not by right but by sheer bounty of a gracious God.”

In a later passage from The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan says: “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

Sometimes … most of the time, I am amazed that God would even recognize me, call to me, and dare to possibly use me, much less forgive me.  But by the grace of God this is possible.  It is a miracle of God’s magnificent grace.

Do you believe that God loves you in sickness and in health, He loves you when you are pretty good and pretty bad? 

Do you believe He loves you when you are brilliantly astute and when you are dumb as a door knob? 

Do you believe He loves you in the singing of the morning birds and in the evening thunder storms? 

Do you believe God loves you when the election goes your way and when we are threatened with nuclear annihilation? 

How about when your daughter is valedictorian, and when your son is in reform school?

Grace says this … God loves us through it all. 

In peace, in turmoil, in good, in bad, in right, in wrong, and in any other metaphorical situation you wish to name, God loves us and His grace is extended to us. 

As the hymn so nicely puts it:

His love has no limits,
His grace has no measure,
His power has no boundary
known unto men;

For out of His infinite
riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth
And giveth again.

Philip Yancey puts a nice finishing touch on grace.

“We run toward the light of Christ.  It makes sense for the one who has experienced the power of forgiveness of Christ.  We want to be near the one who accepts us and loves us at our worst.  We feel something in that embrace that other life experiences cannot offer.”
~What’s So Amazing about Grace

What does grace mean?

I am loved, and so are you.  We are loved as we are, not as we should be.

Hope Encouragement Inspiration

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Light Shines Through the Cracks

David was an adulterer, and God’s light shown through his cracks.

Peter was a traitor, and he went on to write some life-changing epistles for generations of Christians like you and me to read and redefine our lives through Christ.

Saul of Tarsus was a human rights abuser.  He persecuted others for their beliefs, until he himself became a follower of the Christ.

John Newton was a drunken sailor, till one day he met Christ and became so transformed by grace that his poem is still heard today – Amazing Grace.

Philip Yancey has a term for these individuals, and for any of us who once led a life of waywardness and then became
 a transformed one.  He calls us ‘trophies of God’s grace.’

You see, these people allowed God’s light to shine through their cracks, and flaws and blemishes.

God has a soft spot for the rebels, the off-track, the stubborn and the resistant to his love.  He just keeps pinging us.  He keeps sending us little messages, little signals that He is still around and that He loves us still.

Yancey again says … “At the heart of the gospel is a God who deliberately surrenders to the wild, irresistible power of love.”

He chooses to love us, through the thick and thin of bad choices, bad manners and dangerous habits.  He loves us through it all, because He wants His light to shine through us to light the way for others. 

Come home to the one who can still use us, cracks, flaws, broken parts and all. 

Hope Encouragement Inspiration