“Fan Into a Flame the Gift Within You”

I love to write.  It is something I have enjoyed going back well into my High School years and my creative writing classes.  The verdict is still out as to whether I am any good at it, at least as far as commercial success might indicate, but I continue to write and have been blogging now well over five years.  I also have two published books to my credit that receive high marks from those who have read them.  If I could be anything I wanted to be when I grow up, it would be to have a lucrative and successful career as an author and blogger.

I’m convinced that each of us are gifted with unique talents that can be determined very early in life if we pay close attention.  The most happy and successful of us are those who recognize their gifts, practice and perfect them and pursue them as a career or vocation.  Not all gifts are associated with the Arts.  You may be an excellent communicator or orator; your gift may be in leadership or organization.  Perhaps you excel in your knowledge of travel and destinations, or you are most comfortable behind the stove in a kitchen.  Most of us miss the boat in that we consider these things we love to do as mere hobbies and not potential vocations.  So we work behind a desk all day in jobs less than fulfilling but can’t wait to practice our grilling techniques on the weekend.  The luckiest people in the world are the ones who get to do what they love to do every day, and get paid for doing it!

There is a verse in scripture that reads to “fan into a flame the gift God has placed within you”.  When you fan a flame, you are feeding it with oxygen and causing that flame through your deliberate actions to increase and grow into a raging fire.  That gift doesn’t have to be central or limited to ministry as the context may indicate.  But sometimes we need to take a leap of faith in order to realize the potential of our gift.  And if we linger too long before taking the plunge, and if God has ordained this gift within us, he may help us along with a little push off the edge.  No one likes to experience unemployment, but many are the stories of those who found their dream jobs only after being laid off a job they weren’t really supposed to be doing.

Some dreams may be a bit more challenging to realize than others.  Not everyone who can sing will be a successful recording artist, not everyone who can paint will have their art work hanging in galleries.  As a want-to-be writer, I am but one of millions of bloggers and millions of self-publishers, and if my home city of Las Vegas were to place odds on me succeeding, they would be astronomically against it, perhaps 50,000 to 1 or higher. And to be honest, there are many times when I thought of just quitting and doing something else as I don’t receive many accolades or reviews on material I put out for public consumption.  And yet whenever I begin to feel like giving it up, God seems to give me a new source of material to write about.  Granted this material is often times a new set of challenges in life that I would not choose or prefer, the writing becomes my way of getting through difficult situations, such as the one I’m in  now, and in a way that encourages others who may be experiencing similar challenges.  It is apparently the gift God has given me, and if you will, the vocation, albeit low paying, that he has chosen for me.

What is your gift?  Can you write, sing, coach, teach, build, analyze, decipher, speak numerous languages, motivate, etc.?  What is your passion?  What drives you? The older I get the more I become aware of just how quickly time passes.  When your grandchildren are beginning to graduate from High School and attend college, you are smacked in the face with the speed of time and the inability to recapture precious moments lost or wasted.  Don’t wait for “some day” to pursue your life’s dreams.  Fan into a roaring flame that gift that is hidden within you while there is yet time to realize it.  God bless you on your journey.

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The Simplicity of the First Christmas

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It has become part of the holiday tradition, finding the perfect gift and then the perfect wrapping paper.  Gift wrapping is an art to some, a science to others.  Some spend as much time looking for just the right paper as they do the gift.  Of course with paper comes the right coordinated ribbon, bows and for the really serious wrapper, silk flowers or other accessories.  And when we present that gift with all it’s adornment we expect to hear how lovely the wrapping job is, almost as much as we want to receive appreciation for what’s inside.

I recall when the boys were much younger and even now with grandkids how the fun of watching them open our presents was temporarily sidetracked as they tore off the paper and played with it as if it were the present.  Even our pets got a bigger thrill out of the paper than what the paper covered.  In many ways this is us at Christmas time. We become so engaged in the “wrappings” of Christmas, the parties, the shopping, the decorating, the shows and concerts-all the traditions that surround the actual gift, the reason we stop and commemorate, that many of us discard the gift with the paper and completely miss out on the intended present, the Child born unto us.

When we read the accounts of the first Christmas in the books of Matthew and Luke many details are left out of the story.  For instance, we don’t know for sure if Christ was born in a stable or a cave dwelling or a lower level of a home.  We don’t know much about the shepherds.  We aren’t exact on the date of His birth.  We aren’t really told how many magi traveled to see Jesus or when they actually showed up. Hollywood producers have used artistic license to fill in the blanks for us to make movies more marketable and all of us have a sense of what the real scene may have been like, but the truth is these details were kept from us.  Why? Because we get too caught up in the wrapping!  We want to know things that have little significance in light of the real event and its purpose. Even within our worship we tend to seek approval for our church production or our operatic performance of Oh Holy Night when all the glory and attention is to be focused on the gift.

The first Christmas was incomprehensibly simple. In the beginning, Christ was.  He created all that is created.  We messed it up as we always do.  We needed a perfect sacrifice in order to be reconciled to God the Father.  Christ put off his glory, His Kingship and became flesh, His creation so that as a man he could die as a man once and for all.  His coming was proclaimed as great tidings for ALL people. In one selfless act He became our King, our redeemer, our eternal bridegroom. God loved the world so much He gave us the perfect gift sans the trappings and distractions that would make us glory in the surroundings but lose sight of the gift. One Holy Night, one perfect sinless child, one act of unmatched love, one eternal hope.  That is as simple as it can be if we would but accept it as it was intended.

In a world of hate and bigotry and finger pointing it would serve us all well to revisit Bethlehem and insert ourselves into the story as humble observers of a blessed event that would change mankind forever; to feel and see the love, to hear Heaven sing and to experience the forever healing and completion of our souls. Peace on earth, good will to all men, all ethnicities, all countries, all religions.  I wish you the very best this Christmas season with a prayer that you will not miss the gift because of the wrappings, and that you will find it in your heart to carry this good will to all those you encounter in the coming year.

 

 

Grandma’s Shiny Christmas Pin

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When I was but a boy I delivered flyers for a local grocery store in Indianapolis-I was paid a penny per flyer.  I made about $3.00 per week and loved doing it. On most weeks I would take some of my money to Long’s Bakery where I could buy second day donuts for half price as my reward.  The grocer is long gone but the bakery remains. However, whenever Christmas rolled around I looked forward to taking my two or three dollars to the local G. C. Murphy or Kresge store to buy my grandmother a shiny colored pin for Christmas.  She loved her collection of costume pins and wore them to church each Sunday. These stores would have tables of little white boxes each containing a different pin they brought in just for Christmas.  I would be in there for hours picking out just the right pin for her.  The funny thing, it didn’t really matter which one I selected-she would love it just the same.

At age fifty-five this remains one of my favorite Christmas memories.  It was a simplistic time, the pride of buying a gift for my grandma with money I earned, the thrill of the search for the perfect pin, the joy of giving it to her on Christmas Eve and the love she showed when opening it.  I could have given her a purple hippo pin with orange ears-she would have never said a word but would have loved it and worn it proudly.  In my grandmother’s eyes, I could do no wrong.  Simple, loving, cherished, pure!  How times have changed.

I’m all grown up now.  I live in a world where acceptance and approval is sometime difficult to acquire. It’s almost as if our lives are lived as an obstacle course full of hazards and opportunities for failure, lined along the way with our share of naysayers telling us we didn’t study hard enough, we didn’t work hard enough, we haven’t earned enough, we haven’t given enough, we haven’t loved enough. And all along the course we are looking for grandma in the crowd to give her unconditional approval but she’s long since gone to her reward and no one really cares for our shiny pins anymore.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at Christmas time.  The intensity of the season serves as a natural amplifier for all emotions and feelings, good or bad.  For the lucky ones whose lives are balanced and in order Christmas is a magical time where love and hope abounds in volume. But for those who have been beaten down by failure, by rejection, by battles unknown to others, Christmas can be a lonely, dark and empty time that only reveals to us the desperation of our current state.

It is during this season that we are compelled to look beyond what Christmas may have become and instead consider the divine purpose of the Holy Incarnation of that special night when God became flesh to show us an unconditional Grandma type love that would lead to us being called children of God. The arrival of that baby Christ-child was not trumpeted in the courts of kings or revealed to the religious leaders and holy men.  It was instead heralded to the lowliest of the low, the shepherds, society’s outcast, those whose lives were expendable, unwanted, invisible. Christ came to give all men equal status and acceptance into a new kingdom where worth and value are not placed on income levels, educational degrees or corporate titles, but rather on who you know, specifically, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. When we come before Christ and lay down our lives in surrender and sacrifice with all our sins, our failures, our bad decisions, our regrets He doesn’t look upon the darkness of our status or see the obvious soil on our robes.  He sees shiny Christmas pins, full of color, sparkling in the light as if they were Lennox or Swarovski crystal. We are received and set at the same table next to kings and royalty as VIP guests of the highest honor with full access and privilege to the King of all kings, the Christ, now wearing our shiny pins as His badges of honor.

My grandmother has been gone almost twenty years now and I still miss her at Christmas.

An update; in September I wrote a post entitled A Tale of Two Brothers about the differences  and lessons to be learned from our two beagles, Peyton and Romo, emphasizing Peyton’s carefree approach to everyday life even though he had terminal cancer.  Sadly, we said goodbye to Peyton a week ago but know he has gone to that place where our furry kids go on the Rainbow Ridge. He will be missed terribly.