Getting Rid of the Clutter

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.  To those who missed it, I apologize.  I’ve been in the process of selling a home I owned and lived in for nearly twenty years and it was a bit of a chore.  It’s amazing to me just how much stuff one person can accumulate over the course of many years.  I don’t enjoy the task of moving.  I am one who will do anything to make it easier.  Since I was moving to a smaller place, I found it necessary to get rid of things as I went through them, mainly because I would not have anywhere in my new place to store them, and paying to store something you don’t need or use makes little sense to me.  I think what I found most curious was the number of items I possessed that I had completely forgotten about, things I hadn’t seen, needed or used in many years.  And while I acquired them at some point for some purpose or desire, they had outlived their usefulness, or I had outgrown my need of them.  So as you might imagine, it was very easy for me to donate these things either to a worthy charity, or to the closest hungry dumpster I could find.  Getting rid of all the useless clutter made my moving forward so mush easier and even enjoyable.

Lesson learned.  Clutter is often defined as a disorderly array of unwanted or useless items that just take up space.  When it comes to life applications, clutter that most of us have may be defined by many intangible things.  Your clutter may be lingering guilt over bad decisions you made years ago that you should be long past by now. Your clutter may be feelings of inadequacies due to certain failures in business ventures or your career choices.  Your clutter may be anger or bitterness over being betrayed in a relationship or marriage.   Granted, not all clutter is necessarily bad or painful, but clutter in a life takes up precious space that could be designated for things more enjoyable and meaningful.  When a computer begins to slow down in its processing speed it is often necessary to go into the Settings and eliminate the cache, or digital clutter if you will, that is taking up memory and storage, so that the computer can perform more efficiently and that precious memory space can be cleared up to download more relevant and current items.

A life is not much different.  A popular television show was one called Hoarders, about real life people who had homes so filled with clutter that they could not easily move from one room to the next.  In many of the situations the city would have to step in and take temporary possession of the home to clean it out as the conditions resulting from the mass of clutter was deemed a health hazard to its occupant, even though the homeowner didn’t recognize it as a problem.  It just isn’t healthy to be surrounded with so much stuff that your existence  and mobility are so severely impeded, whether your clutter is like mine, a house full of items no longer useful, or a mind full of memories, guilt, resentment, disappointment, bitterness or anything else taking up valuable space that could be used for things more enjoyable.

There are some key scriptures that deal directly with putting away things of the past, or getting rid of the clutter:

“Forgetting what is behind me, I strain for what is before me”…Philippians 3:13

“Forget the things of the past”…Isaiah 43:18

“Anyone who is in Christ has been made new; the old you is gone and the new you is here”…2Corinthinas 5:17

“A time to keep things, and a time to throw things away”…Ecclesiastes 3:6

“Throw off everything that hinders and entangles you”…Hebrews 12:1

“Get rid of (the clutter) of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and all malice”…Ephesians 4:31

When I was able to move everything I needed into such a small area at the age of 57, I can’t describe the freedom I had of knowing I had everything I wanted and needed and nothing more.  I now have plenty of room to add things I am more into now and would be more likely to enjoy because I rid myself of things I may have bought twenty years ago that were just taking up space in a closet, unseen, unneeded and unused.  There is much more room for peace and joy in a life that has been decluttered to make room for them.  I also learned in the process to not wait so long to get rid of the clutter next time.  It will make my life much easier, more joyful and full of peace and contentment, things for which one can never have enough of!

 

 

Time-Our Most Precious Commodity

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The text read “So how would you feel about going to Indy the weekend of Oct. 17th?”. It came from my youngest son. The timing wasn’t good.  I had just returned from a trip to Indy two weeks prior and was preparing for a business trip to Dallas. “I have two tix to Notre Dame USC in South Bend”. “I’ll buy your plane ticket”. It was clear that my son was anxious for me to spend the weekend with him and take in a great game.  How could I say no to that?  To say it was a great weekend would be the grandest of understatements!  We had the best time visiting friends and family, catching the game and being on the road, just the two of us.  Had I not made time for this weekend, I would have regretted it for years to come.

We spoke about jobs, women, future plans, tattoos and kicked back a beverage or three.  It was a reminder to me of what great sons I have, not that I had much to do with it. To pass myself off as the model father would be dishonest. While I took advantage of this opportunity to spend time with my son, there were too many times that I didn’t. We have made some great memories along the way-I just wonder how many memories were left unmade because I didn’t  make time. How many such moments did I not experience because I was too busy. It’s shameful and regrettable. And sadly, once the moments have passed, they can’t be recaptured.

We live in a world that spins as a hectic pace. Whether you are chasing a career, remodeling a house or even a fixture at your local church, our time gets divided by the things we choose to prioritize. I can’t make that event because it’s my poker night, or I will miss your birthday party because I’m singing at church. Don’t misunderstand me-there are things in each of our lives that we do as eternal investments, but in doing so many times we miss the chance to invest in the here and now-our adult children ever maturing or our grandchildren who remind us, if we pay attention, of just how precious and fleeting time is whether we are in the moment or not. Time passes at the same pace for all of us but some are much better at recognizing Kodak opportunities.  None of us are guaranteed a certain quota of time-it’s as if we are in a constant game of musical chairs, wondering when it’s our time for the music to stop and to find ourselves the odd man out for additional time, left to face eternity with no more opportunities to create memories for those we leave behind.

As I write this I just turned fifty-four years old.  As I look back on my life so far, the best memories I have are not of the things I had, the cars I drove or the salaries I made. The best times were when I was with people I loved just doing life together-Christmases, vacations, walks on the beach, making snow women with the kids on the block, playing monster at the playground with the grandkids-riding roller coasters with the boys-the things that will keep me company when I am old and alone. I don’t want any more regrets of time wasted, of memories lost at the expense of something so temporal to even remember. But how many of us have made the same mistakes in the name of chasing the dream. That, sadly, I have been very good at.

In the New Testament Jesus reminds us how foolish it is to say tomorrow we are going here or there and make this amount of profit, etc, when in fact we don’t have any assurance that we will be around in the near future.  It is certainly not in error to plan for your future or make plans for events or activities, but to do so in arrogance as if we have all the time in the world and not taking advantage of today is a mistake Christ didn’t want us to make. As always, His words are true for us on numerous levels if we will but listen.

This week is the twentieth year anniversary of the film back to the Future about time travel.  While the movie was entertaining, it certainly was far from realty.  What we wouldn’t give to go back in time and make better decisions, eliminate events that weren’t so important after all and replace them with those we didn’t take advantage of. But time has only one direction, forward. We can make time that that is still before us but none of us can substitute for the time that has already passed. The weekend I spent with my son will be one I’ll always remember and will serve to further remind me that whether taking in a road trip for football, or spending the afternoon on the golf course or sipping a beer at a NASCAR race, time spent with my kids is never wasted. The same may be said of siblings, spouses and close friends. When we leave this earth it won’t be the toys we acquired, the titles we held or the degrees we earned that will be remembered, it will be the moments, the toasts, the laughs and a few tears.  These are the real things that make up life. These are the things I want to spend the balance of my time pursuing. A plaque on the wall is nice; a Notre Dame ticket stub or a golf score card is priceless.

How do I Measure Up On Father’s Day?

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It’s 105 degrees on a hot Las Vegas high desert afternoon. I have the rare occasion to go golfing with my son.  We are both duffers-my handicap is, well, um-Golf! We schedule a 3:00 PM Tee Time as only idiots play golf in 105 degree heat-this way we have the course to ourselves.  After two holes we decide keeping score is not beneficial to our male egos and discard the score card.  At three holes my back is reminding me why I don’t play golf more often.  After six holes it is doing so with four-letter words and exclamation points!! After twelve holes I’m grateful that I rented a cart instead of walking the course. We finish and cool down with an adult beverage and talk about our better shots on the course-we each had two I think.

Why do this knowing the physical outcome? Because spending time with the boys is something I value more now than when I was a young father, and because I missed out on too many opportunities with them along the way.  There could never be enough time to make up for time wasted. Whether spent wisely or squandered, it remains spent nonetheless.

The next morning I roll out of bed and on to the floor after a couple hours of sleep, only to hear those words every man wants to hear from his beloved wife-“You walk like an old man!”. Nothing says love like verbal reminders of your aging physical limitations and resulting posture. No time to ponder it now-we are picking up the grandkids for a day at the amusement park. A day of thrill rides, corkscrew barrel rolls and loopty-loops on roller coasters should do the trick!  Oh, and can’t forget the Big Shot that shoots you up about 300 feet into the air in about two seconds, compressing a normal spine into 12 inches of bone and nerves where vertebrae used to be! And then just as quickly it drops you with a sudden free fall with a stop that eliminates any remaining vertebrae from the previous rapid ascent. Honey if you thought I was an old man this morning, just wait until tomorrow!

Why, you might ask? Two reasons. First, when it comes to thrill rides and amusement parks I’m still just a big kid at heart-to die on an inverted roller coaster would be the best way to go. More importantly, I learned the hard way, as mentioned above, that time squandered can’t be recaptured.  Your children have a way of making you realize how quickly time flies, but your grandchildren teach you that time flies at hyper speed. I don’t want to miss any opportunity to be with them and create memories that they and I can share until it’s time for me to die on a roller coaster. There is nothing more precious to me than having fun and spending time wisely with my grandchildren.

It’s the morning of the third day now. My wife knows not to say anything about my posture or speed because the weekend isn’t over yet.  It’s my grandson’s fourteenth birthday and he and I are heading to the ballpark for a baseball game. I asked the lady at the ticket window for the soft seats in the air conditioned section. She didn’t appreciate my humor or have knowledge of my situation.  It’s all good. The seats are rigid but we are in the shade for a hot afternoon of America’s favorite past time.  This was important to me-he had never seen a professional baseball game-I was the one who was privileged to expose him to the sport-he’s now hooked! We threw back a couple dogs each and washed it down with our over priced souvenir ball park drinks. I dropped him off at the house and he says “Thanks papa-that was fun-Love you!”. That’s why! That’s my reward-that makes the pain go away-that’s why I’d do it all again next weekend and probably will.

So you might ask if I’m making my case for a Father of the Year Award-hardly. In fact quite the opposite is true. I’m not a great dad-it didn’t come naturally to me.  I’m a man on a mission to compensate for missed opportunities, for time wasted, for disappointing memories or memories missing in action I left behind with my kids. People joke about a middle-aged man with a sports car over compensating for various short comings.  When you see me with my grandchildren the smiles are genuine but I am compensating for all the years I came up short as a dad. I only hope I live long enough to someday even out the scorecard somewhat. If I died today, there would be way too many gaps in my life’s “dash” where the kids are concerned.

Most people use Father’s day as a day to celebrate and reflect on those father-figures who made impacts on their lives, as well we should. However I use it as a grading opportunity as I look back over the past year on my performance as a Dad and a Papa. I am usually left with more questions than answers as I honestly review and grade the areas that are most important to me:

Do my kids and grandkids know beyond any doubt how much I love them?

Am I doing enough to create fun and lasting memories? 

Am I genuinely engaged in their lives or just there for the fun stuff?

Am I showing the boys what a real love relationship should look like and how to properly treat their eventual mates?

Have I taught them the importance of faith and do they see Jesus in my life and character?

Have I fulfilled Proverbs 22:6, to train them and teach them the right paths to navigate in their adulthood?

I am not a fitting candidate for any awards, but I have learned some valuable lessons in my quest to make up for lost time.  First, don’t lose any more time dwelling on lost time-a no brainer. Second, don’t tell yourself it’s too late to do things the right way now.  You can’t go back and fix or rearrange history, good or bad.  You can however resolve to go forward and make every moment count. Third, pray-pray for your children and grandchildren daily, for their health, their safety, the salvation and their happiness.  And then pray for yourself, that God will continue to reveal His fatherly character in your life so that you can accurately emulate it in the lives of your family. In many cases, you are the only Christ they may see. And lastly, just be there-show up-be open and available and always have your proverbial “The Dad is In” shingle hanging and obvious for them to see at times when they need you.

Fathering kids is easy and instinctive-being a dad is difficult and a life-long learning process.  I hope some day I measure up. There’s nothing more desirable in this life I could ever hope to achieve than to be a loving Dad and Papa in the eyes of my family.

Love Stories-God’s Gift for the Heart

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It was a warm and sunny day as always in Las Vegas on September 15th, 1996. I was heading to our newly opened motor speedway for the inaugural race with an extra ticket in hand. As I pulled away from the apartment, there she was, getting out of her car. Her short shorts revealed the most beautiful long legs I’d ever seen. Her blonde hair blowing in the light breeze served as the perfect frame for her crystal blue eyes that were captivating even from many yards away. It wasn’t the first time I’d noticed her-she lived in the apartment across the lot from mine. But even in my arrogance I would never have had the courage to approach her-she was from heaven and I a mere mortal. Only in fairy tales and Hollywood movies do such unlikely unions take place. Ah, but I did have an extra race ticket-a reasonable excuse to at least see her up close and say hello. So I did-she was even more breath-taking standing just a few feet away. I offered her the ticket assuming she would have some friend who would enjoy the race.  She graciously accepted and thanked me and I drove off, forgetting for a moment where it was I was heading and grateful to God for my brief brush with one of His angels.

Just a few minutes before the drop of the green flag a shadow was converging on my seat but the background of the bright sun prohibited me from identifying the figure, until the figure took the vacant seat next to mine-it was her, the angel. Her friends had dropped her off and left her in my custody for the race and the balance of the day. Wondering if this was a cruel trick from God or if not, how I came to deserve to spend the afternoon with this creature, I just went with it. We enjoyed getting to know each other over the roar of the open wheel engines and as the race ended, I was pleasantly surprised as she asked if she could ride with me back to our apartments.  As luck or fate or divine providence would have it, the 20 minute trip took over two hours due to the unexpected attendance and the city’s clueless efforts to direct traffic from such a large event, an amount of time that gives ample opportunity to become intimately acquainted. When we finally returned we met at the pool, ordered pizza and spent the rest of the evening together.  As it turns out she had previously and secretly noticed my legs as well-who would have guessed!  On September 27th of the following year I married my angel and have been blessed of God to spend the last 18 years with her as we shared life together.

Love Stories-most of us have them.  Some may be epic and worthy of Hollywood screen plays and others more simple but no less cherished.  I’ve heard many people argue that there is no such thing as love at first sight, or that two people don’t “fall” in love but grow slowly and comfortably into a relationship like breaking in a new pair of jeans.  I couldn’t disagree more. Countless are the stories retold of eyes meeting from across a crowded room or chance encounters on a busy street or mall when the individuals knew from first glance that there was something special in the gaze worthy of investigation and closer review. God creates each of us with a special set of interests and features that form a uniquely shaped profile, and only He knows for sure who He created with the complimenting and opposite profile that when joined with ours, fits perfectly together like two pieces of a puzzle.  God’s cool like that!

The concept of two souls joining together for a lifetime has certainly been subjected to the modern day devaluation of eternal commitment. Some seem more sure of the longevity of a tattoo than the covenant of marriage. To be willing to stand before friends, family and God and vow to each other and to God to remain loyal and joined to this one person for the balance of your life causes fear and trepidation with many young couples, while others take the vows flippantly, knowing if they get bored or “fall out of love” they can always proceed with divorce and find another. Just this past weekend I was privileged to be among the witnesses as my niece married.  In her tradition, Greek Orthodox, the words “til death do us part” are never used because they believe that marriage does not end with death but rather transitions to our ultimate marriage to Christ as His bride. In the ceremony two crowns, one each for the bride and groom, are placed on their heads and blessed by the priest.  These crowns are connected by one ribbon and guarded throughout their marriage.  Upon the death of one of the partners the ribbon is cut and the departed is buried with his or her crown while the survivor retains theirs and is then buried with it upon their own death.  What blessed symbolism of eternal love, of lifelong commitment and of honoring the sacred vows made to each other in the presence of their Lord and eventual groom Jesus Christ!

And if you think for one moment that God did not establish and ordain the beauty and rapture of romantic love between two people, consider the words from the fourth chapter of the Old Testament Book, The Song of Solomon, taken from The Message translation:

1-5 You’re so beautiful, my darling, so beautiful, and your dove eyes are veiled
By your hair as it flows and shimmers, like a flock of goats in the distance
    streaming down a hillside in the sunshine. Your smile is generous and full—
    expressive and strong and clean. Your lips are jewel red,
    your mouth elegant and inviting, your veiled cheeks soft and radiant.
The smooth, lithe lines of your neck command notice—all heads turn in awe and admiration!
Your breasts are like fawns, twins of a gazelle, grazing among the first spring flowers.

6-7 The sweet, fragrant curves of your body, the soft, spiced contours of your flesh
Invite me, and I come. I stay until dawn breathes its light and night slips away.
You’re beautiful from head to toe, my dear love, beautiful beyond compare, absolutely flawless.

You have captured my heart, dear friend. You looked at me, and I fell in love.
    One look my way and I was hopelessly in love! How beautiful your love, dear, dear friend—
    far more pleasing than a fine, rare wine, your fragrance more exotic than select spices.
The kisses of your lips are honey, my love,  every syllable you speak a delicacy to savor.

God saw that it wasn’t good for His created man to be alone and created from his own flesh the perfect compliment, woman. His ideal from the beginning was for these two newly created beings to enjoy and be filled and fulfilled with each other and to share a long and happy life together, learning new things, blazing new paths and being one in life and in worship to their creator. You can tell that a woman loves her husband by looking into her eyes and seeing her expression; you can tell how much a man loves God by how much he loves and dotes over his wife!

A word to the men-we are not naturally gifted in all things romantic and some of us lack the art of expression or sentiment.  There is a day approaching, you know, the Hallmark holiday, that as cheesy as you may think it to be, provides an inexcusable opportunity to shower your beloved with love and attention, and to thank God for the beauty and grace of such women who put up with us when we are at our worst. DON”T BLOW IT-MAN UP-LOVE YOUR WIFE AND MAKE IT KNOWN LIKE A MEDAL OF HONOR OR A TROPHY PROUDLY DISPLAYED IN YOUR CASE. BY HONORING HER WE ARE HONORING GOD HIMSELF!

As I close this week’s blog, I think it would be an amazing tribute to your spouse and God’s greatest gift to reply or comment and share your love stories. Let’s exchange each others epic tales  and glorify our creator in reliving those moments when you just knew that God shined his light of favor on you and His spirit slapped you on the back and said “go get ’em”.  “God, thank you for the gift of romantic love, the blessing of eternal union and the hope of our ultimate heavenly marriage to the Lamb of God, your son and gift to us, Jesus Christ”. 

You Can Create Nothing More Precious Than Memories

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As I write this week’s blog I’m about to embark on a weekend wedding for my niece. Camera, check. Kilt, check. Greek dance lessons, check. I’m not exactly sure what all is in store but of this I’m certain-lasting memories will be made. Some will be suitable for print and framing while others will simply be etched forever in our minds. Truly, there is little more precious that one can create than a memory of a happier time. They cost nothing but are priceless.

I’m not old by any means but I’m certainly getting older every day. While I try not to linger on things past or regrets just yet, I do already regret that I didn’t make the effort to create more positive memories, especially with my boys. I’m sure many who thought they took advantage of every opportunity can look back and say much the same thing, especially as your kids grow into adulthood. Don’t get me wrong, I carry with me plenty of precious memories of their childhood and school years.  I can still remember my oldest son’s cap and gown kindergarten graduation. I recall my middle son playing Little League baseball-I still have his gear. I recall my youngest being a chubby version of his current model like appearance. I remember taking all of them to a small Indiana amusement park no longer there; I remember wrestling with them on the living room floor and sledding with them on cardboard boxes down snowy banks during Indiana winters. These are things I won’t soon forget. But, I didn’t spend nearly enough time with them as I should have.  For every opportunity I took advantage of there are two or three or more I missed. And sadly there is no way to go back in time and recapture lost moments or forfeited opportunities-once lost, they’re gone forever. And I’m just as certain that if you were to ask the boys they would say the same thing-I could have done more.

My wife takes pictures of everything-every event-every occasion; we must have 50 photo albums waiting to be filled that we haven’t started because we have 100 albums worth of photos to go through. Each photo is a moment in time-an image captured that can be revisited and for a brief moment relived. There seems to be nothing so insignificant or unworthy of a photo opp with her-I love that about her. One thing we have learned as grandparents is that moments are fleeting.  We want to be sure not to miss anything we might have missed in the first round as a parent. And besides, who can resist pulling out embarrassing baby pictures on certain occasions just because we were smart enough to keep them handy for such times.

There are many things we do in the faith to remember special occasions-things we should never forget. In the Jewish custom Passover is celebrated as a reminder of the Exodus. We partake of Communion at the Lord’s command to remember His broken body and shed blood on our behalf. We celebrate Christmas to acknowledge the Incarnation, the day the Word became flesh.  We likewise celebrate Easter or Pascha and give thanks for the glorious works done through the cross and the Resurrection. We refer to scripture to revisit the historical roots of the early church and acknowledge the lives of certain Saints for their works and contributions to the traditions of our faith. To us of the faith these are indeed precious memories of eternal existence that will continue to be celebrated in our Heavenly home. 

Creating lasting positive memories is vital to enjoying life because all of us will unfortunately have our share of not so positive memories that must somehow be offset. There are the memories of past relationships that couldn’t be repaired.  There are the memories of broken homes and reduced visitations and forever lost bonding time. There are the memories of tragic events, auto accidents, violence, the unexpected loss of a loved one, the crippling illness that one never recovered from. I recall a fire in 1994 that destroyed all our photos.  Life is not always kind and some painful memories will be created by circumstances beyond your control and without your consent. Such is life.  They too are forever etched in the recesses of your mind and can pop up randomly without explanation. It is for this reason that we must have an inventory of deliberate memories to fall back on that can push out the ones we don’t cherish as much.  This catalog of mental archives can sustain us through the most difficult situations. It is in times of distress that we can be grateful for moments captured and embossed in our memories.

This wasn’t intended to be overly spiritual. All of us, regardless of faith or race or income bracket have equal opportunities to latch on to memorable occasions and relish the value of time-stamped memory making. If I could offer any advice for my children that they would actually adhere to, it would be to never take for granted the small seemingly insignificant events of your life when laughter is shared and family and friends are gathered.  And never think that time stands still for you or that you will pass this way again at some point in the future. Don’t let “if only I had known” be a regular part of your vocabulary. Don’t look back at times in your life and have regrets that you didn’t do more to exploit and savor the moments. Take advantage of every opportunity you are given to create something that costs you nothing but can’t be purchased for all the money in the world-precious, timeless memories.

The Heart is Compelled to Celebrate Christmas

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In just a few days the world will pause to remember the day when God the Son laid aside His Heavenly Kingship and entered into the world He created to set into motion the divine plan of redemption and reconciliation conceived from the beginning.  But sadly too many will get caught up in the wrappings of the holiday through business, through commercialization and even through religious debates as to the validity of our commemoration, and will completely miss out on the heart and the reasons we pause. Defense over “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” will stir indignation and false piety; the worn argument over leaving Christ in Christmas opposed to those who use Xmas; the ever aging debate over the pagan roots of the holiday and why like Halloween, “Real” Christians would never participate in such secular distractions.  I’m confident Christ is pleased at how diligently we defend Him and promote the model of love He displayed by coming into our world to save us from, well, us.

Christmas brings back so many joyful memories for me from my younger years, and most all of them center around the central figure of Christmas, the Christ Child. I can’t tell you the number of times I played Joseph in the annual church Christmas play.  I recall being part of a multi-level living Christmas Tree set up outside in the cold parking lot of an Indiana mall as we sang carols about none other than Jesus in near zero temps.  I remember as a teen in our youth group taking part in a Madrigal Dinner performance complete with costumes and yes, even tights (because back then I made tights fashionable for men).  I did the Santa thing with our kids and enjoyed every minute and memory made.  The snow, the songs, the plays, the animated Christmas displays downtown, the lights-all part of Christmas memories no one can take from me or diminish through theological orations of gross holiness infractions served up by some who are guilty of brutality through overbearing policing. We get through deeper study that the birth was most likely not a December event.  We understand that the shepherds being outside with the flock indicate a season other than Winter.  We know the timing of the Census and the calendar of Jewish festivals create doubt for a December nativity.  But are these things really essential on our choice and reasoning to remember?

Throwing off the wrappings, the controversy and the distractions, let us merely examine the wonder and the reason of the Incarnation of the Christ child on that Holy night. Jesus, the Word and creator of all things made according to John 1, saw His creation in turmoil. Mankind had perverted everything good about life.  Sin had separated us from Him and there was not enough time or livestock available for the continuing of sacrifices required according to Jewish custom to atone for our sinful ways. A promise had been made to never destroy the population as in the days of Noah, so a new covenant had to be established, one that was final, all inclusive and everlasting, and yet still meet the requirements of bloodshed. Enter Jesus-literally! The time was right and the need never greater. God’s entry into our planet was done in the most unusual, abnormal and uncharacteristic way possible.  He didn’t come into existence suddenly in the synagogue-He didn’t just appear before Kings and religious leaders. He picked a young teen aged girl from a city of poverty and disease and a man who had many of the same struggles we do today, fear, doubt, jealousy, weakness, to be the earthly vessel and parents of His Son. The news of his birth was not proclaimed to the rabbis in the temple-it was proclaimed to the shepherds, the outcasts of society, the indispensable protectors of flocks from wild predators who had little family or means.  Jesus didn’t come with prenatal care in a lavish facility worthy of  king’s birth, but rather a holding stable for animals-the local kennel if you will for all the visiting guests from other countries who had converged on Bethlehem that night. But in that blessed event is the fulfillment of all the carols we sing to this day recalling His birth. “Long lay the world in sin and error pining til He appeared”. “Peace on earth and mercy mild-God and sinner reconciled”. “Come and behold Him, born the king of ages”. “Whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping”. The plan was set into motion.

While we rejoiced, God the Father was broken, knowing that in the blink of an eye this baby boy so innocently portrayed in a manger would be maliciously beaten and scourged and left to die on the Roman cross of crucifixion. In order for the perpetual sacrifice to be made for us, God had to become one of us-the Word becomes flesh and lives among us. The Lamb of God was born only to die. The virgin birth secured His separation from all things sinful so that He who knew no sin, could become the flawless sacrifice-the lamb without any blemish, to die blameless just as he was born. There was no other way for us to be restored to our creator because of our sin, than through the death and blood of one of us who was perfect-Jesus the Christ child. It was truly a cradle to the grave implementation of a divine plan by which we would be forgiven, redeemed, restored and made spotless before Him who made us.  At last we who were made in His image could once again appear like Him, reconciled into the lineage of Christ. We sing “Glory to the newborn king” so that we can sing “my sin, oh the joy of this glorious thought-my sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more”! This my friends is Christmas!

I am a wretched man, like Joseph, who struggles with pride, impatience, temptation-living everyday in a sinful world. The message of Christmas is that He who knew me before I was conceived made provisions for my shortcomings and afforded me forgiveness, salvation and everlasting life with Him in a kingdom yet to come, and it all started on that first Christmas morning 2000 years or so ago in Bethlehem, whatever night it was. You’re damn right I’m going to celebrate it-I’m going to sing songs about it-I’m going to enjoy a special church service to reflect on it-I’m going to have my family over and share in a great feast and offer up prayers in remembrance of it and even exchange gifts, remembering that the greatest gift of all was given freely on that first Holy night to all who choose to receive it. There are lights on my house, angels on my tree, a nativity in our family room, and Christmas shows on the TV. I will live according to the book of Romans knowing that some keep certain days as more holy than others but all being acceptable when done to the glory of God.  My only regret is that we only mark one day each year to remember the essence of our faith.  If it were left to me the lights would never come down, the carols would never cease and the magic and joy felt in December would never diminish in January. “For unto us a savior is born-unto us a Son is given, and He is called Jesus”.

It is my heartfelt wish and fervent prayer that my family, my kids, my grand kids and friends find in their hearts this season the wonder and the joy and the core of all things Christmas, and that they make merry in full acknowledgement of the hope born to us on that special night.

Merry Christmas to all!

Is Your Life a Scary Movie?

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I have always been a fan of scary movies.  I don’t go for the blood and guts genres as much as the drama and suspense. I prefer the Classics like Frankenstein, Dracula, and particularly the not-so-funny spoofs like Young Frankenstein where the monster dons a top hat and sings Puttin’ on the Ritz, ala Broadway.  

I’m amazed with the more modern horror flicks at how many times a monster can be killed off only to be resurrected for a sequel or two or ten. How many ways can Michael Myers be terminated before he stays dead?  Just when you think the boogey man is gone, he re-emerges back into your life unexpectedly to haunt and terrorize you some more. Every time he comes back to life we entertain him some more, almost as if we have been waiting in anticipation for his return.

For many of us our lives resemble a scary movie, haunted by events and decisions in the past that just won’t die. We are constantly haunted by regrets, by failures, by skeletons in our closets that emerge just when we think the coast is clear. For believers in Christ who have been forgiven their sins, the enemy likes to bring them back from the dead into our memory bank like a shadow we can’t lose or the fog we can’t find our way out of. Could we have saved our marriage? Could I have done more to save a business?  Have I really been forgiven of stupid decisions in my past? How can God, who knows everything from the beginning to the end really forget my sins? Instead of living in peace with the assurance of eternal forgiveness we find ourselves like the victim of a scary movie, running for our lives from monsters who just don’t seem to ever die, and we entertain them as if we were expecting them to come back.

The best weapon we have against the haunts of our past is not a wood stake or crucifix or hi-tech ghost zapper. It’s the simple but powerful Word of God and the promises He has given for our assurance.  Consider just a few of these weapons of mass destruction against the enemies of the mind:

2 Corinthians 5:17-If any man be in Christ, he has become a new creature. All things in his past have gone away and everything has become new.

1 John 1:9-when we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all (past and present) unrighteousness. (parentheses mine)

Isaiah 43:25-I am he who blots out your sins for my sake and remembers them no more.

Romans 8:1-There is now no condemnation to those who are now in Christ. 

Psalm 103:12-As far as the East is from the West he has removed our sins from us.

Hebrews 8:12-I will purge them of all evil, and I will not remember their sins again. I will be merciful to their iniquities and their sins I will remember no more.

If we are truly in Christ and beneficiaries of his promises, then there is no reason to give in to the constant reminders by the enemy of where we were and what we did. “I Still Remember What You Did Last Summer” is the name of a fictional scary movie, not the theme of a believer whose sins are covered and buried under grace and forgiveness. It may be impossible for us to completely blot from memory our past, but it is possible through the daily renewing of our minds to change the scary movie channel and find a different station.  Leave the ghost stories for sleepovers and camp fires!