December 22, 2011

I Have Seen the Light!

As I mentioned a few posts back, I have been listening to Christmas music since Halloween because I need a couple of months to hear everything I want to hear..and I want to hear everything more than once.

Last week I realized I had not yet heard one of my favorites, I Have Seen the Light. One of the things I love about this song is that it's written for men's voices. So often it seems that men at church don't like to sing so I like the encouragement men's voices lend to the guys in the congregation. That and it has a beat a girl could dance to, and listening to it makes me smile.

I found a wonderful version on YouTube. I tried to find one from a Living Christmas Tree because my church had one for years and if you've never seen one, it's a sight to behold. There were several of those, but my favorite version didn't have a tree - it's just fabulous voices from Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover, Alabama. (If you look at the background, you'll even see that Baptist choir swaying to the music.) Enjoy!

Have a wonderful Christmas!

Until next time,

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” ~ John 8:12 (NIV)


December 20, 2011

Expecting the Unexpected

God doesn't color inside the lines. You know how I know that? Because He chose to use a girl to bring his plan to save the world to fruition. There was nothing about Mary's station in life to qualify her for such a position. She wasn't just a girl, she was a teenager for crying out loud. She was poor. She was betrothed, but not yet married. Her family had no influence.

Mary was the last person anyone would have expected God to use in such a miraculous fashion, yet she was an integral part of His plan. Religious leaders of the day certainly weren't looking for an unwed teenage mother to deliver the Child through whom the entire world could find deliverance. Despite the prophecies, they weren't looking for an infant in Bethlehem. Their preconceptions about who God could use led them to miss the Messiah.

There were exceptions, of course. The shepherds who were out minding their own business were easy converts when an angel showed up with a story to tell, soon accompanied by a heavenly host praising God. There were also devoted servants of God who understood the prophecies and who immediately recognized Jesus for who He was when He was just a few weeks old.

From Luke 2:25-38:

Source: Microsoft Clip Art

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (NIV)

Simeon and Anna recognized God's handiwork, even when He colored outside the lines. They understood that it's not our job to tell God who He can use, or how He can act. They understood that when God says that something will happen, it will happen, even if His methods don't make sense. They understood that when it comes to God, you have to expect the unexpected...especially if He's already told you exactly what He's going to do.

Until next time,

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel (God with us). ~ Isaiah 7:14

December 17, 2011

In the Eye of the Beholder

I have a confession. I adore Christmas sweaters.

I know, I know. Popular opinion has deemed them ugly, tacky even. I blame the GenXers and Millennials who put them in the same category as mom jeans. They'll never know how fun it was to dress as gaudy as you pleased for 3 weeks out of the year without looking like a hooker. What's next? Are they going to tell me that Santa's not real?

I'll concede that a lot of Christmas sweaters are quite ugly. As for tacky, well, I'll give you that one, too. That's precisely their appeal.

Maybe it's the same reason I'm drawn to pink flamingos (I don't own any, mind you) and pink tinsel Christmas trees. (It's just possible that I have a small pink tinsel tree. Just ignore the picture on the right.)

Until the War on Christmas Sweaters was launched, I never had a problem wearing a Christmas sweater in public. I didn't feel as bad if I hadn't put my tree up (the regular green variety) if I could personally be bedecked and bedazzled. Now if I wear a Christmas sweater, I'm afraid I look like the eccentric old aunt that no one wants to claim. Sigh.

Savannah Guthrie did a story on ugly Christmas sweaters this week and I actually own one of the sweaters she featured during a trip to a thrift store. (It's the green one that Savannah deems "pretty" in the video. I suspect that means her crazy old aunt has the same sweater.)

I particularly liked the one Matt Damon put on, although viewers voted it the ugliest of all in a poll, which I would like to stress was non-scientific. It was cuter on Savannah when she wore it to deliver fruitcake to Brian Williams but it really wasn't the best look for Matt. (The striped tie is the crowning touch.) Despite its ranking in the poll, I think it would make an adorable Christmas pillow. It would look so cute with the pink tinsel tree that I may or may not own.

Since I will no longer embarrass my family by wearing them, my Christmas sweaters are all in a corner of my closet, waiting for a Tacky Christmas Sweater Party excuse to come out and see the light of day. And since everything comes back sooner or later, their day will surely come again. If not, I'll eventually become old enough and eccentric enough that my nieces and nephews will just have to deal with having an aunt who wants to look like a bloomin' Christmas tree. ;-)

Until next time,

“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” ~ I Samuel 16:7

December 14, 2011

Hope: To Expect With Confidence

"Hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them." ~ Vincent McNabb

Sometimes I wonder if our collective memories are all shot. We seem to have forgotten much of our (relatively) recent history.

Exhibit A:  Readers of Men's Health magazine recently voted Jennifer Aniston  "The Hottest Woman of All Time". All time??? OK, it turns out that they only included women who had been photographed, but still, it seems that Jen beat out a lot of other women from decades past. I will confess that I found a certain satisfaction on Jennifer's behalf when I saw that she had garnered the Number 1 spot while Angelina Jolie came in at Number 10. Then I realized that Madonna came in at Number 5, further evidence that I have no earthly idea what men find appealing. It's not that I begrudge Jennifer Aniston's placement at the top of the poll but I wonder if it's a sign that the men who voted have frightfully short memories...or maybe they are all just very young.

I see evidence of our short memories everywhere. I see it in the endless political polls. I see it in fashion. (Five inch heels will mess up your feet in ways you've never imagined, they're bad for your knees, and we've known these things about five inch heels for a long, long time.)

People seem to be particularly downcast these days and as the effects of the recession linger on, many seem to think things are the worst they've ever been. Christmas is just a few days away, and it seems that far too many people are filled with despair. It's more than the economy. It's the sense that we don't quite know what our place is in a rapidly changing world. There is fear for the future. There are people who are convinced that things have never been this bad when the truth is that there have been times that were far worse, and yet people got through them largely because they never quit dreaming of a brighter future. They never gave up hope.

I wonder how my paternal grandparents dealt with the worst period of their lives. Beginning shortly after Pearl Harbor, they watched as all of their sons and some sons-in-law left home to fight in World War II. They faced Christmas of 1944 with the realization that their oldest son would never come home and undoubtedly feared for the safety of their remaining sons. It was the most painful loss that any parent can experience and I'm sure they felt the full depth of that pain with every breath. If hope was gone for them that Christmas, it would return as their faith played a significant role in leading them to find hope and healing.

Source: Google Images
All four of my grandparents struggled to raise their families during the Great Depression. They went through year after year of lean times. Any gifts were modest, and each Christmas the stockings were filled with fruit and a few pecans. They felt blessed, never giving up hope that things would get better.

Their own grandparents had lived through what were truly the darkest days of our nation's history, a time when we were at war against ourselves. As I write this post, there is a Victorian loveseat just a few feet away from me that was in my great-great-grandparents' living room parlor during the Civil War. I wonder what their feelings were as they sat on that loveseat...were they filled with hope, or did they feel despair? Did they turn to God for comfort, or were they consumed by fear?

The journal of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow makes it clear that he was filled with despair during those years. Shortly after the war began, Henry lost his wife when her dress caught fire and she was soon consumed by the flames. That Christmas he wrote in his journal, "How inexpressibly sad are all holidays." The next Christmas, in 1862, he wrote, "'A merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me."  There was no entry for Christmas of 1863. Not long before that Christmas, Longfellow had received the news that his eldest son had been injured in the war. Perhaps it was because Lt. Charles Longfellow survived his injuries, but by Christmas of 1864, Henry was evidently feeling more optimistic. That was they year that Longfellow wrote a poem that has become a favorite for many, Christmas Bells.  In 1872, John Baptiste Calkin set the poem to music, deleting verses specific to the Civil War. Today, we know the poem as I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

This is the poem with all seven of the original verses. It echoes the ups and downs of Longfellow's life and his reflections on the war, ending with that glorious verse brimming over with hope.

Christmas Bells
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!

The last verse is one of my favorite verses of any hymn. "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 'God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!'" May those words encourage anyone who looks to the future with trepidation to remember that God is in control, and that with Him there is always hope for the future.

Until next time,

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified...for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. ~ Deuteronomy 31:6

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

December 7, 2011

It's Not the Name That Matters

Once upon a time, and not all that long ago, "the holidays" referred to the period from Thanksgiving to New Year's. It was the stuff of which movies and songs were made. We looked forward to watching "Holiday Inn" on TV and we listened to Steve and Edie sing, "Happy Holidays". We openly wished our friends, "Happy Holidays!" as often as we said, "Merry Christmas!" and we didn't feel a need to apologize for either greeting.

We all understood that for many of us, the most important holiday in the aforementioned period was Christmas but we didn't feel a need to make it an issue because we also understood that everyone was not a Christian. Then something happened. Someone decided that the word "holiday" was an assault on Christianity and they found lots of people who agreed, that yes, that's what it assault on Christianity.

Last year the debate over the use of the H-word brought national attention to my hometown. It all started when one of our US Senators decided he would not ride his horse in what was formerly known as the Christmas Parade of Lights but had been renamed (a year earlier, a point he evidently failed to notice) the Holiday Parade of Lights.

The controversy that followed did not escape Jon Stewart's attention. As Stewart pointed out, Christianity survived the Roman Empire, and it will surely survive the renaming of Tulsa's parade. But goodness me. When Jon Stewart makes fun of the hullabaloo over your parade, you know things have gotten out of hand.

There was a mixed reaction to the parade controversy. There were Christians who sided with the senator, saying they were glad someone was "taking a stand". Other Christians felt that the fact there was a controversy at all over the H-word was an embarrassment.

I leaned towards the latter. I thought the Christian community looked like a petulant 2-year-old who has a toy they don't want to share. There are two problems with that. One is that Jesus does not "belong" to His followers. We belong to Him. The second problem is that we are called to tell others about Christ, and I believe that Christmas is a time when some are more open to the message of a light shining in the darkness of their lives. That message is often drowned out by Christians who are busy screaming, "Mine!" every December. There are Christians who bristle at the inclusiveness of the word "holiday" but if we're called to share Christ, doesn't He demand inclusiveness?

Source: Microsoft Clip Art
It's been 15 years or more since I've been to the parade, but I have no memory of baby Jesus being the star of the show. There were always a few church floats, business floats, school floats and bands, local TV anchors, and of course, the main attraction, Santa. But despite the parade's name and the presence of some churches, the parade was never about Jesus. The change from a daytime parade to a "Parade of Lights" came about not as a way to allow Christ's light to shine, but because the main sponsor was the local electric company. I have to think Jesus is totally cool with not being featured in a parade that's primary purpose is well, commercial.

Indeed, I think there are times when Christ would probably just as soon we left His name out of things that don't really honor Him, at all. As much as our economy is driven by consumerism, and knowing that businesses rely on Christmas shopping to make a profit, I don't think Christ feels particularly honored when we use the celebration of His birth as an excuse for extravagant giving in order to impress others. I don't think He feels glorified by Christmas parties that have nothing to do with God's love for us. I don't think He is impressed when we "stand up for Him" in a way that builds walls that prevent others from coming to Him. (While I hesitate to say how Jesus would respond to those of us who profess to follow Him but who build walls to keep others away, I suspect it would start with the phrase, "Woe to you...")

Which brings me back to the parade. This year, there will be competing parades, held on the same night and at the same time. The Holiday Parade of Lights will be held downtown, as it always has been.

There will also be a "Christmas parade", which will be held at a local shopping center. Supporters of the Christmas parade say they will attend because the parade has honored Christ in its name. However, according to the Tulsa Beacon, the location was selected "because there are almost no retail shops downtown." Really? I didn't realize retail shops were required in order to honor Christ. An organizer - who happens to be running for office - went on to say, "Our center is becoming the more frequent first choice for shoppers. We have chosen this location for our first (hopefully of many) annual Christmas parade." Is it me, or does this parade seem to be about retail businesses? There's nothing wrong with a parade being centered around shopping, that's how our downtown parade began back when most stores were located downtown. But don't pretend it's something spiritual when clearly, it's not.

As He prayed at Gethsemane in His final hours, Christ prayed for future believers who would  come to Him through the message of those who already believed. He prayed for us in those early morning hours as He waited for the soldiers who would lead him to the Cross. Christ prayed that we would hear His message and come to know the grace of God. Now it's our turn to spread the message, and that message is one of love and grace. Is that the message we're sending?

May you experience the love of Christ throughout this holiday season.

Until next time,

My prayers is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one -- I in them and you in me -- so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 
~ John 17:20-23

December 5, 2011

Angels and Men Rejoice!

My maternal grandparents were extremely legalistic about the Christmas season. It lasted exactly one week. They never put the tree up before Christmas Eve and it absolutely had to come down on New Year's Eve. I always wondered if they had any idea how much joy they missed by limiting Christmas to such a narrow window of time.

Maybe that's why I start listening to Christmas music around Halloween, something for which I refuse to apologize. What baffles me is why it disturbs so many people. A couple of weeks ago I heard someone at the mall complaining about the Christmas music. "It's too soon," she said. "I'm already sick of it." Sick of Christmas music? In my mind, that just doesn't compute.

It seems to me that despite all of the options available, most of us tend to listen to one or two specific genres of music. Our preferences might be country, jazz, songs from our youth, or current hits, but we still listen to basically the same songs over and over and over again throughout the year. But there are a lot of people who want to restrict Christmas carols to a period of about four weeks. They have no idea how many different songs I want to hear more than can't be done in four weeks.

I'm not talking about Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer here. Heavens, no. If I hear that once a season, it's one time too many. I'm talking about songs that herald the joy of Christmas.

It can be Bing Crosby and Davie Bowie singing Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy or a choir singing Joy to the World. It can be a contemporary artist or it can be Rosemary Clooney. It can be be secular...I love John Lennon's Happy Christmas (War is Over) and the hope it represents. It can be the ancient sound of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, the familiar strains of For Unto Us a Child is Born, or the more recent Breath of Heaven. All of these songs remind me of a season that represents the full depth of God's love for us, that He would send His only Son to live among us and to be a living sacrifice for us.

When you think how long the world waited for the Messiah, is it really too much to spend a couple of months a year anticipating His arrival all over again through music? Is it ever wrong to rejoice over the reality of Emmanuel...God with us? Is it ever too soon to sing, "O come, let us adore Him?"

One of my favorite Christmas songs is a newer song, All Is Well, by Wayne Kirkpatrick with music by Michael W. Smith. I love the music, and I love the words. You can listen to it on YouTube.

How early do you start listening to Christmas music? What are your favorite Christmas songs?

Until next time,

For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6


November 26, 2011

Change, One Step at a Time

I've been thinking about the part of my childhood spent in Mississippi over the last several months. It was over 40 years ago, but it many ways, it seems like yesterday. "The Help" brought back many of the memories -- a combination of fond memories specific to Jackson, and others that reflected the ugly face of racism that could be found anywhere.

I once read a book about generational differences. The author maintained that much of how we view the world as adults is shaped by the events that took place when we were 10. I think there is some truth in that. I'm not the person I would have been if my family had stayed in Oklahoma instead of moving to Jackson in 1968 because the short time we lived in the deep South changed me forever, just as that period began to change the South itself.

Source: Google Images
The year I was 10 was the year that Jackson's public schools were closed for two weeks in January for reorganization. When the schools reopened at the end of the two weeks, they were no longer segregated...for the most part. My school was the exception with no black students that year, but we did have black teachers for the first time. At that point, we had lived in Jackson almost 18 months, and most of that time had been permeated with talk about whether or not Jackson could avoid integrating the schools. Most of the talk was awful, and it was hard to escape, even at church.

It's difficult to believe now, but for people who had grown up under segregation, it seemed normal. Many believed segregation was ordained by God. They looked to scripture in Joshua where God instructed the Israelites not to mix with the Canaanites. They referenced New Testament scriptures that talked about keeping light separate from darkness, and they genuinely believed that meant that God intended for all races to be separate, and for all time. In that atmosphere, it wasn't surprising when my Sunday school teacher and my missions leader -- both public schoolteachers -- asked us to pray that they would not be taken from their white schools to teach black children. Not surprising, perhaps, but I couldn't help but wonder how "love your neighbor" fit into the way my teachers at church saw the world.

When the community finally realized that they could no longer ignore a ruling from the Supreme Court, panicked families began searching for ways to start their own schools, just about anywhere. They started them in their homes, in abandoned buildings, and in churches. When our church held a meeting to discuss the possibility of joining the white flight movement by starting a school within the church, my dad was one of the members who spoke out forcefully against the proposal. Thankfully, the idea of a school failed.

I was blessed with parents who managed to set aside their own upbringings and who taught me that racism was wrong. When neighbors and friends abandoned the public schools, my parents held firm. We would not give in to white flight. When my dad's company picnic was held at a state park outside of Jackson and our group -- made up of white and black families -- was threatened with violence, my dad and the other company managers were forced to make the decision to leave peaceably rather than risk harm to their families. My parents used the incident as an opportunity to teach me about the ugliness of racism.

I knew that although my parents taught me the right thing, they struggled with racism themselves, as I sometimes find myself struggling with it. Each generation comes further than the one before, and while my generation didn't defeat racism, the role we played on the front lines of desegregation made it easier for the generations after us.

In recent years, I have heard my peers in Oklahoma say things like, "Busing didn't change anything." Whenever I hear someone say that, I look them in the eye and say, "I disagree. Desegregation changed everything." I remind them that we were born into a world with separate restrooms, separate water fountains, and separate sections in movie theaters. There were restaurants where blacks could not be served, parts of cities they could not enter. There were people who were murdered for no other reason than someone didn't like the color of their skin.

While the Civil Rights Act changed laws, it was integrating the schools that led to changed hearts because it allowed opportunities for interaction that otherwise never could have happened. And it was changed hearts -- much more so than changed laws -- that led to changed behavior. Today, I'm praying that God continues to change my heart where He sees I need to change.

Until next time,

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." ~ Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)

November 17, 2011

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Two weeks ago this Saturday night, I was starting to doze off when it sounded like a semi had pulled up outside my window. Then, just as I was beginning to process what I thought was the sound of thunder in the distance, I realized my bed was shaking. And it wan't just my bed. The walls were shaking, and it seemed as though I could hear the sound of everything - and I mean everything - in my house shaking. The pictures on the walls made noise, my closet doors rattled, and it sounded like bee bee pellets were rolling across the attic.One of my cats, who had been sleeping next to me on the bed, took off for the stairs as my other cat came out from under the bed and followed in hot pursuit.

And I just lay there thinking, "So this is what an earthquake feels like." Well, that was my first thought. My second was, "We don't have earthquakes like this in Oklahoma."

Apparently, we do now.

It turned out it was a 5.6, and while there was some damage near the epicenter -- which was about 60 miles away -- it didn't do much more than rattle people (pardon the pun) around here. There had been a foreshock much earlier in the day, while most of us were asleep. A number of people I know felt some shaking during the night, and I was a little disappointed that I had slept though it. That was before we knew it was a foreshock -- I didn't even realize there was such a thing. (Blogger's spell-check doesn't know there's such a thing either.)

By Monday, as tornado warnings were in effect over parts of Oklahoma which we're accustomed to -- but not so much in November -- the joke was that we still had a few weeks left in hurricane season. Could a hurricane be next?

Not a normal Oklahoma snow!
It's been that kind of year. We had snow in February that would rival snowstorms in Chicago. As a matter of fact, the same storm hit Chicago later in the week. It actually paralyzed snow-savvy Chicago, although not nearly as long as it paralyzed us. By the following week, with close to two feet of snow on the ground, we had temperatures that would rival those in International Falls, Minnesota. Thanks to the heat island, Tulsa only got down to about 13 below at its coldest, but outlying areas were 20-30 degrees below zero.

That's not anywhere close to a normal Oklahoma winter, and I knew that did not bode well for the coming summer. Sure enough, July and August brought temperatures that would rival those in Death Valley. My sister pointed out to me long ago that whenever we have extremely hot summers, they are either preceded or followed by extremely cold winters...and vice versa. I pulled my phone out and called her at her home in Minnesota one afternoon in August when I got into my car and the thermometer read 125 degrees. It was a rare summer in that it seemed few people had tans because no one wanted to spend time in the sun, and even a fake tan was too. much. trouble. Area lakes brought no comfort because the heat and the drought (oh, yeah, we're still in the midst of a drought) combined to cause algae to grow on at least 3 of the nearby lakes. Yuck.

While we have the occasional colder-than-normal winter, the occasional hotter-than-usual summer, and even the occasional drought, this year's extremes exceeded anything I've ever experienced in Oklahoma. While we have the occasional record-breaking snowfall, this year's snow totals broke records for the entire season. It was particularly jarring in that most of it came over a 10-day period. And while we're used to tornadoes and the uncertainty they bring to our lives, we were stunned when a large portion of Joplin was destroyed just across the state line on Mothers Day.

But the earthquake was different. While a 5.6 is big for Oklahoma - the biggest ever recorded in the state - it doesn't compare to earthquakes in California, or Japan, or Turkey, or Chili, or any of the other places that have experienced much larger earthquakes. It didn't kill anyone, or cause anything more than minor injuries. It damaged some homes and buildings, but it didn't destroy large portions of cities, or take out entire neighborhoods. It was different largely because it wasn't something we're used to dealing with. There was an aftershock a couple of nights later that was the same magnitude as the foreshock, a 4.7, but it came early enough in the evening that most of us felt it. It wasn't as loud, and it didn't last long, but it sure got our attention.

As the ground stopped shaking and as I realized my second experience with an earthquake was over, I thought about how God sometimes reaches into our lives and shakes things up to get our attention. And while that can be a little scary, it can also be an earthquake.

I just hope he doesn't have a 6.0 up his sleeve. ;-)

Until next time,

"I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory," says the Lord Almighty. ~ Haggai 2:7

August 14, 2011

The Eye of the Beholder

It's always amazing to me when two people can look at the same thing and see something totally different. Remember Nancy Reagan's first Inaugural gown? Some people looked at the one-shouldered white dress and saw classic elegance.

Source: Google Images

Others saw this:

August 5, 2011

Nothing New Under the Sun

No doubt you've heard that we're sizzling in the middle of the United States. Seriously, sizzling. Adding insult to injury, voluntary water rationing began this week so we're supposed to limit outside watering to every-other-day, between the hours of midnight to noon...when I'm usually either asleep or at work. So, for the foreseeable future, it looks like I'll be up at 5:00 a.m. every-other-day to water, which leaves me with some time on my hands to write about the things I have been tossing around in my head.

As we have watched weather records fall this summer with temperatures reaching new highs, I have found myself thinking that every generation needs its very own summer from you-know-where to tell their children about. I grew up hearing all about the summer of 1936, when not only was there no air-conditioning, but my mother's family didn't even own a fan. My friends' kids grew up hearing tales about the summer of 1980 when, mercifully, central air-conditioning was pretty standard. The thing I remember most about that summer was when the day came that the high was only 90 degrees, it seemed as though everyone in town was driving around with their windows down to feel the "cool" breeze. The summer of 2011 is another one of those summers that generations to come will grow up hearing all about, thinking it will never be THAT hot again. But the truth is, there will be another summer like this...we just hope it will be decades from now.

Each generation has to learn truths about life for themselves. My mom gets a kick out of watching the epiphany as each generation of parents stumbles onto something "new" that isn't new, at all. You should hear her on the topic of lead paint. "Do they think they're the first ones to figure out that lead paint is dangerous? What, do they think we were feeding paint chips to our kids? Honestly, how do they think we survived without them?"

I found myself doing the same thing a couple of weeks ago when I was watching Today. Natalie Morales, who is in her late 30s, was doing a segment on how GenX women are re-inventing 40. Seriously? They think this is new? I remember Jane Pauley doing almost exactly the same segment a little over 20 years ago, and I feel sure that Barbara Walters probably did a similar segment as she approached 40. It's only new to today's generation of late 30-somethings because they weren't paying attention 20 years ago. There wasn't any reason for them to notice it. They weren't ready for the story about reinventing 40 when they were in their late teens. It had no relevance for them.

Spiritual truths work the same way. We all have to discover them when we're ready. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, but we're not. It takes us time to catch up - not to where He is - just to where He wants us to be at any given point in our lives. And He is always willing to wait patiently for us to get there, knowing that when we do, we'll still have further to go. He will show us exactly what we need for that part of our journey, preparing us for what's ahead, when He'll show us a little more...

Until next time,

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; 
there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV)

May 21, 2011

Rapture Saturday

I can't remember the last time we had such a wacky week  We had so many sex scandals that Thursday morning when I turned the car radio on and found the station was in the middle of a news story, it took me a few seconds to decided if they were talking about the French cad or the Arnold cad. (For the record, it was the French cad, and of course his alleged behavior far exceeds that of a run-of-the-mill sex scandal as he has been accused of criminal behavior.)

Then there was the spectacle of a potential presidential candidate "dropping out" of the race he never officially entered, at a roll-out of a major network's fall television season. Really? Is this where we're going to discuss the important issues confronting our nation? Of course it's not.

By the end of the week, we were all enraptured by talk of the rapture. While I take the promise of Christ's return seriously, I can't help but laugh out loud at the idea that anyone could figure out the hour and day by coming up with just the right mathematical formula. It's not because math was my worst subject. It's that Jesus made it clear that no one knows the hour or the day - not even the Son.

I know that to a lot of people, the very idea of a rapture - of Jesus coming to claim believers and take them up into heaven - is nuts. And perhaps by choosing a word like "rapture" to describe such an event, Christ's followers have encouraged such cynicism.

But despite the fact that the term "rapture" isn't biblical, the concept is. Jesus refers to his coming again and tells his disciples to be prepared. In Matthew he tells them that the day will come when all the nations "will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens of the other." Now we know that Jesus often spoke in figurative terms. If his disciples had realized he was talking about his body when he told them that the temple would be destroyed and he would raise it again in three days, they'd have been hanging out at the tomb following the crucifixion. They would have been actual witness to more than an empty tomb - they would have been waiting in anticipation of watching him walk out of that tomb.

I don't know if Jesus is speaking in literal or figurative terms when he tells what his second coming will look like. I suspect we'll be surprised by the reality, much as we were surprised by the baby in the manger. But I know that whatever it looks like, we won't miss it. And we won't need to worry about anyone's ability to come up with the right math formula to be ready for it.

As for today, it looks like instead of waiting for Jesus to come around dinnertime, I'll be cleaning house. Because tomorrow is another day and I'd like to wake up on clean sheets.


Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage one another with these words. 
~ I Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)

April 20, 2011

Easter Carols

Growing up, there were Christmas hymns that I dreaded hearing in church. While I loved Hark, The Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, and Silent Night, there were others that I just didn't think sounded at all Christmasy. I don't know what it was in my 6-year-old brain that considered Silent Night worthy of Christmas, but O Holy Night not, but that's how I felt. Now, my middle-aged brain finds it irritating that O Holy Night is almost never included in my church's Christmas Eve service. (I can only assume that someone on our staff must have been traumatized at some point in life by one too many bad O Holy Night solos.)

Source: Google Images
While I still love the jubilant and the sentimental carols, I have come to love the haunting ones just as much...maybe even more. While Holy Week always brings to my mind the more traditional songs of Easter, such as Were You There? and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, I also find the more haunting hymns of Christmas running through my mind this week, long after the Christmas decorations have been put away. These are the hymns that remind me that it is impossible to separate the Baby in the manger from the Savior on the Cross, for they are one and the same.

Beginning with Palm Sunday, I find myself singing the first verse of I Wonder As I Wander as it runs through my head over and over again.  My mind simply will not let it go...

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus, the Savior, did come forth to die,
For poor ornery people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander...
Out under the sky.

Then there's O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. It's a song that has been sung for hundreds of years - although most of those years it was sung in Latin. It's easy to imagine Christians who lived in the 15th century singing the mystical tune with words that paint a clear portrait of the Lamb of God. As I listen to it, I am overcome by the realization that Christ came to ransom more than captive Israel. He came to ransom all of captive mankind. He came to ransom me.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Just as I have learned that it is impossible to separate the manger from the cross, I have leaned that the joy of Christmas, the sorrow of Good Friday, and the jubilation of the Resurrection are all intertwined. And perhaps nothing says that better than the last verse of that Christmas carol I didn't care for as a child.

Truly He taught us to love one another; 
His law is love, and His gospel is peace;
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name;
Christ is the Lord, Oh, praise His name forever!
His pow'r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow'r and glory evermore proclaim!

Blessings to you this Easter,

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
~Isaiah 53:5

March 27, 2011

The Single Pastor

Death and taxes are only two of life's certainties. There are others.

For instance, if a tornado hits Oklahoma, network reporters will invariably seek out video of the person with the strongest Okie twang and the worst grammar to share their tornado survival story on the national news.While our hearts go out to anyone who has been so traumatized, I have to tell you, we always wonder why they never seem to be able to find any articulate tornado victims to interview. Believe me, there are plenty of articulate people who have survived tornadoes.

Another certainty? Whenever evangelical churches do something questionable, The New York Times will not only write about it, but they will go out of their way to include a quote from Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. It's also fairly certain that whatever Dr. Mohler says will make me cringe.

Not surprisingly, it is Mohler's quotes on singleness that most try my patience. It was an article in The New York Times this past week that reminded me of how much I hate to hear the man's thoughts on the subject. The article, Unmarried Pastor, Seeking a Job, Sees Bias, centers on Mark Almlie, and evangelical pastor who has been out of work for 2 years.

Almlie, who has years of experience behind him, says he has responded to more than 500 job postings. Some churches reply and request more information, but never contact him again once they learn he is single.

He believes there is a bias against single pastors, and I think his point is valid.

March 16, 2011

Murphy's Law

The events of the past week have been incomprehensible, beginning with a 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan, followed by a tsunami that wiped out entire towns, and now a nuclear crisis. As we watch the pictures, it's hard to believe it's real. The home videos of the tsunami look like special effects from a disaster movie.

There are those who say it's God's judgment. I don't agree with that but I do believe it's the result of living in an imperfect world. That said, I also believe the images of the past week, including what's happening right now at the nuclear plant in Fukushima are a vivid illustration of sin in our lives.

When I was in the 8th grade, the local electric company announced plans to build a nuclear power plant 30 miles east of the city. It would be named Black Fox, which sounded like an appropriate name for a plant in Oklahoma. But over the next 9 years, as opposition to the plant grew, the name came to sound very ominous.

As I neared my 20th birthday, the plant had still not been built, and a couple of things happened that spring to draw everyone's attention to the protests. The first was the release of the movie, The China Syndrome, about safety issues at a fictional nuclear plant. That same month, there was the all-too-real accident at Three-Mile Island.

By now, I was paying full attention to the issue, and I agreed with local protesters that the dangers of a nuclear power plant were too great. While I never joined their efforts, I admired their tenacity, particularly that of Carrie Barefoot Dickerson, who led the fight. By 1982 the power company gave up their plans for Black Fox.

A few years later came the disaster at Chernobyl, and I was again relieved that Black Fox had never been completed. But 25 years went by without another major event at a nuclear plant - although there have been other accidents - and like many people, I didn't give nuclear power a lot of thought.

Then, a couple of years ago, as it became more obvious that we needed to be considering alternative energy sources, I began to wonder if maybe Black Fox should have been completed. "Sure," I thought, "things could go wrong, but they hardly ever do go wrong. Maybe nuclear power isn't really all that dangerous." Those who planned the various nuclear plants that have been built along fault lines probably told themselves the same thing.

Source: Google Images
That's exactly how sin works. "Sure, things could go wrong, but they hardly ever do go wrong," we tell ourselves. I know even the word "sin" causes some of you to cringe. Too often, we see use of the word itself as judgment. While we all acknowledge the big sins - sins against children, sins of violence, we tend the minimize the sins we see as small sins, or the sins that we don't believe affect others.

But that's the problem. Just as radiation escaping from the plant in Fukushima could potentially affect people beyond the immediate area, our sins can have an impact beyond ourselves. Sin is what separates us from God, but it also separates us from others, as it impacts our relationships. All sin can do that, from those we see as "small" all the way to the Big 10. Sin can permeate our culture and impact generations.

Just as those who approved and built nuclear power plants on fault lines convinced themselves the dangers could be controlled, we think we can control sin. And while we tell ourselves that the sin we're considering giving into is not that dangerous, the truth is we never know when the ground will begin to shift beneath our feet, or when the wave will overcome us, or when the safety mechanisms we thought were in place will fail.

Fortunately we have a God who forgives. We have a Savior.

Lord, please help those who are harm's way in Japan because we foolishly thought we could outsmart nature. Lord, forgive us our arrogance. Forgive us our greed. Forgive us our short-sightedness. Lord, have mercy.

Praying continually for the people of Japan,

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. ~ Romans 8:5-6

March 1, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

Since my last post much has happened.

  • I have learned that I'm a Leo instead of a Cancer, which is just plain wrong.
  • Two Middle-Eastern governments have been overthrown.
  • We have discovered that the delusional rants of Muammar Gaddafi are nothing compared to the delusional rants of Charlie Sheen.

I may have exaggerated a bit on the last one, but just a bit. I feel reasonably certain that Charlie Sheen has not hired mercenaries to kill his enemies - although at this point I don't think anything would surprise me as each day seems to bring a new dimension to the very public unraveling of Charlie.

As long as I have brought up the topic of Charlie Sheen, just this week I have learned that I have missed the vanity cards that appear at the end of each episode of Two and a Half Men. I was vaguely aware that something flashed by at the end of the credits, but I didn't know what it was.

Now, thanks to Charlie's rants, I have discovered that I have been missing a creative art form. It seems that Chuck Lorre, the show's co-creator and the target of some of Charlie's nastiest comments, has been writing vanity cards to end episodes of his various shows for years. It turns out they are also on The Big Bang Theory and Mike & Molly and they were on Dharma & Greg. You can find them archived on Lorre's website.

While cards from the recent weeks have attracted a lot of attention, it's #111 that caught my eye. It begins with words that I felt speaking directly to me. "This is the official "I have nothing worth writing about" vanity card. It will run whenever I have nothing worth writing about." It was first aired in November of 2009, and as Lorre goes on to explain, he wrote it because he realized he had nothing to say, and the only thing that had kept him from coming up with this card earlier was his vanity about the vanity cards.

Source: Google Images
That pretty much sums up how I have felt the last couple of months. It wasn't necessarily that I had nothing to say, or nothing worth writing about. There were a couple of times when I was tempted to write a post about something I felt strongly about, but I held back because it either wasn't my post to write, or it wasn't the right time to write it. I realized that I would be writing for the sake of filling a space, and to appease my own vanity. I tried reading other blogs and realized my competitive nature was dangerously close to taking over, tempting me to post just to keep up with everyone else.

As I held back, I learned that I don't need to share every thought as it enters my head. I can wait for the right time. I can wait to feel inspired. I can wait. And, as Chuck Lorre points out on card #111, "that knowledge is freedom."

So thanks to each of you who have either posted or emailed me to ask how I'm doing. Nothing has been going on beyond regular life and oh yeah, the occasional record-breaking snowstorm. It's wonderful to know I have been missed. I am feeling refreshed from this break, but I'm still not sure I'm ready to get back to a regular writing schedule.

While I continue to wait for the right time to return to posting on a somewhat regular basis, I will get back to the routine of visiting and commenting on your blogs, looking forward to the wisdom each of you has to share. I've missed all of you!

Love to each of you,

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
2 Corinthians 3:17

January 12, 2011

Cheering Scripture

I can tell from the comments of my high school classmates on Facebook that I'm not the only one who was a little surprised by the pep rally tone of the memorial service in Tucson. Maybe time colors our memories, but if I remember correctly, the memorial service following the Oklahoma City bombing was pretty somber although - again, if my memory serves - I think after the service the attendees launched into an impromptu chorus of Oklahoma as they were exiting.

It seems that after days of mourning as a community, people have a desperate need to latch onto anything positive. I can understand that. Grief is exhausting. It saps our energy and feels as though the sun will never shine again. It makes us want to hide.

So after my initial surprise at the tone of the service, which after all, was held in a sports arena at the University of Arizona, I decided maybe cheering at a memorial service isn't such a bad thing. And when Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano walked away from the podium to cheers following her reading of Isaiah 40, I smiled because it reminded me of something that Deron, my pastor, often chides us for.

You may have heard that Oklahomans love football. (Well, most Oklahomans seem to. The fascination with football totally escapes me.)  Sooner fans get excited about OU and Cowboy fans get excited about OSU and it seems that most Oklahomans have a strong preference for one over the other. Deron can make a positive comment about one of the teams and the sanctuary will erupt into cheers that even manage to drown out the (good-natured?) boos of the opposing fans.

Then Deron will point out that we never show that kind of unbridled enthusiasm for scripture or for worship. We never give God the kind of glory that we give our favorite teams. We talk a lot about giving God glory. We sing about it..."Shout to the Lord, all the earth, let us sing!" But the sad truth is, we don't cheer for God.

I don't have any illusions about who the crowd in Tucson was cheering for. Some may indeed have been cheering for the words she read, but I suspect most were excited to see their former Governor and current Cabinet Secretary back for the service and more than that, they were caught up in the pep rally atmosphere.

But perhaps the rest of us can learn something. We should shout to the mountaintops when we hear scripture. We should always be thrilled for the opportunity to shout to the Lord with passion, giving him all the glory.

Until next time,

Do you not know?
   Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
   the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
   and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
   and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
   and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
   will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow weary,
   they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)

January 10, 2011

A Perfect Storm

The only thing that surprised me about the tragic event in Tucson this past weekend was that it didn't happen sooner. My earliest memory of an historic event is the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was 4-years-old at the time. Despite the fact no president has died in office since 1963, it was only about 10 years ago that I realized I no longer assumed that every President of the United States would die at the hands of an assassin.

Over an 18-year-period,  we had the assassination of JFK, then Martin Luther King, then Bobby Kennedy, then the attempt on the life of George Wallace, two attempts on the life of President Ford and one attempt on President Reagan, which likely would have succeeded had he not been so close to a hospital.. It seemed as though the violence would never end, but it did...for awhile.

Like many Americans, I have been troubled by the political rhetoric of the past few years. Much of it seems designed to appeal specifically to people who might not be playing with a full deck. And yes, it comes from both sides of the political spectrum.

Google Images
With 435 Congressional districts, it's impossible to be familiar with all of the U.S. Representatives, but I'm sorry I had never noticed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords before tragedy struck. It seems she is truly special, and I don't think it's just because of her injuries that her colleagues are being so generous with praise for her. In the few clips I've seen of her over the past few days, it's apparent that she is articulate, intelligent, reasonable, and thoughtful.