Celebration in Suffering

Good morning. I think it’s Monday. December 30, 2013. One more wake-up left in this year. 47 days until pitchers and catchers report. 91 days until Opening day. For all but twelve teams, football season is over.

Today is “National Bicarbonate of Soda Day.” We know this more commonly as “baking soda.” Baking soda has many uses. Just click on the above link to find out about them.

We had a delicious lunch yesterday, with Rachel and Justin, and watched many episodes of Adventure Time on Netflix. Adventure Time is a Cartoon Network production that is very strange and entertaining. It features Jake the Dog, Finn the Human, Princess Bubblegum, Lady Rainicorn, and Marceline the Vampire Queen, just to name a few. After they left, Christi and I watched more Parenthood.

We were planning to go to Mineral Wells today, to do some work around my parents’ house, but Christi just isn’t feeling up to it today. She still has a rough cough and is not feeling well. Plus, today’s high is only going to get to the lower forties, and some of the work is in the back yard. We will see about going on Wednesday or next Sunday, whenever Christi is feeling better.

I just had a brief interruption to go buy the donuts.

(From Great Stories from History for Every Day)

On this date in 1916, the murder of one Grigory Yefimovich Novykh occurred. If you’re like me, and you are, sometimes, you don’t recognize that name. Perhaps you recognize the name Rasputin? As the gramophone played Yankee Doodle, Prince Feliks Yusupov offered Rasputin “two cakes laced with cyanide of potassium, along with a similarly doctored glass of Madeira. Yet despite a dosage theoretically ‘enough to kill a horse,’ the intended murder victim, a bearded and brooding holy man, continued to chat calmly with his host.
“After the clock chimed midnight Yusupov could wait no longer. Drawing a revolver, he shot his visitor in the back, knocking him to the ground. but instead of dying the victim rose to his feet and charged out into the garden. There another assassin waited. He shot the holy man twice, and then the two murderers rolled him up in a blue rug and pushed their grisly package through a hole they had carved through the frozen surface of the Moika Canal on the Neva River. When the body was recovered three days later, water was found in the lungs. The murdered man had finally drowned, after surviving both poison and bullets.”

Today’s birthdays are Rudyard Kipling, author, 1865, Jack Lord, actor, 1928, Del Shannon, singer, 1934, Sandy Koufax, pitcher, 1935, John Hartford, country singer, 1937, Paul Stookey, 1937, Mel Renfro, football player in the Landry era, 1941, Fred Ward, actor, 1942, Michael Nesmith, 1942, Davy Jones, 1945, Jeff Lynne, musician, 1947, Tracey Ullman, singer, 1959, A.J. Pierzynski, catcher, 1976, Grant Balfour, pitcher, 1977, and Eliza Dushka, 1980.

Wow, so many to choose from today. Well, Michael Nesmith and Davy Jones were part of a sixties group created for a TV show, called The Monkees. Sadly, Davy left us last year (2012). Here is a video of them “performing” “Daydream Believer.”


(From The Divine Hours)

Psa 103:20-22 Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Psa 119:19 I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!
Psa 56:12-13 I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.

Eph 3:20-21 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than
all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all
generations, forever and ever. Amen.

“Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your
incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in my heart,
may shine forth in my life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who
lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

Today’s reading in A Year With God is “Celebrating in Times of Suffering.” The scripture reading is Isaiah 51:9-11.

Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD;
awake, as in days of old, the generations of long
ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who
pierced the dragon? Was it not you who dried up
the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made
the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to
pass over? And the ransomed of the LORD shall
return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting
joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain
gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

“These words are written to Israel in exile.” The writer calls out to God and remembers His great deeds on behalf of Israel. He also prophesies that the people, “the ransomed of the LORD,” will return to their land, with singing and everlasting joy! As we find ourselves in times of suffering, it is important that we take time to call out to God, remembering that he has done great things for us in the past, and also knowing that he will deliver us in the future! “Reaching for everlasting joy through singing, dancing, and praising is essential even and perhaps especially in times of sadness, because it returns our focus to God.” Here is a quote from Dallas Willard in The Spirit of the Disciplines:

“Celebration heartily done makes our deprivations and sorrows
seem small, and we find in it great strength to do the will of
our God because his goodness becomes so real to us.”

Father, teach us to celebrate, even when we are suffering. There seems to be a lot of suffering in the lives of people whom we are close to. Sometimes, we think we are suffering, but then we see someone else, and realize we are okay. Our trials are minuscule in comparison. Nevertheless, when we are going through a trial, it seems serious; it seems large; and, sometimes, it seems insurmountable. Take us through these trials and sufferings with our eyes fixed on you, celebrating your grace, your mercy, your wonderful deeds in our lives, and throwing ourselves into worship and celebration with abandonment. Would that we could get our eyes off of ourselves long enough to celebrate in all circumstances. Teach us these things, O Lord!

I pray that Christi will begin to feel better today, and that we will be able to get out on Wednesday. I pray for everyone who will be traveling anywhere tomorrow, especially for those who will be out and about after midnight tomorrow night, celebrating a new year as 2014 arrives. Keep people safe. I pray that anyone who partakes too much in the celebrations will find someone else to drive them home. Take us into this new year with our eyes on you, looking ahead, not backwards.

Your grace is sufficient.

If you are suffering right now, in the midst of some kind of trial or tragedy, try to take your eyes off of your circumstances and look up; lift up your head, your redemption draweth nigh. . .

Grace and peace, friends.

If the House Is A-Rockin’. . .

Good morning. It is. . . um. . . what day is this?? Oh, yeah. Saturday! Saturday, December 28, 2013. Three more days left in 2013.

Today is “Card Playing Day,” a day to relax and wind down after the hubbub of the Christmas rush.

Christi’s appointments went well yesterday. She loves her foot doctor, so that one is always good. The inserts seem to be working well, and the doctor is going to keep giving her Mobic to help with joint pains. The neurologist said that, based on the description of the symptoms, Christi is having migraines. Who knew?? I’ve never had one, so I don’t know what they feel like, but I know from others who have that they can be pretty much disabling. They wanted to schedule a sleep study for tomorrow night, but the insurance company said they couldn’t do a pre-certification on the same day as the study. This is another way of saying, “No, we aren’t going to do this until after January when the patient has a new zero-balance of ‘out of pocket maximum.'” Christi hit her maximum back when she had her foot surgery. They did supposedly fax in a medication, but it wasn’t there yet when we went by CVS. The bad thing is that, according to the doctor’s office, migraine meds are very expensive, and insurance doesn’t cover them very well.

Yesterday afternoon, after having lunch, Christi and I decided to get out of the house and see a movie. I had been wanting to see American Hustle, as it has a pretty good cast in it. It’s rated R for bad language, mostly. There’s no nudity, although Amy Adams continuously wears tops that barely cover. But the cast is great. Amy, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, and Jeremy Renner are all excellent in this film. It’s a film about some con artists in the seventies (yes, there are leisure suits, and there is disco) who get busted, but then are forced into helping the FBI bring down some corrupt politicians and mob people in a sting operation. It was a fun movie, with a nice twist at the end. Also, there was movie popcorn, which is always awesome!

We spent the rest of the evening finishing season 2 of Parenthood. There was a lot of yelling, and then a lot of crying. Several of the actresses in that show can cry very convincingly. I hate when they do that! Oh, and there’s this one character, named Jasmine, that I loathe. The brother, Crosby, is bound and determined to get back into a relationship with her, and she is the worst person on the planet! Okay, that’s probably an exaggeration. But the other relationships in the show center around an older couple, played by Craig T Nelson and Bonnie Bedelia, and their four kids, who are all grown. Two of the kids are married and have kids of their own. One is a single mother (played by Lauren Graham), and is constantly struggling with the behavior of her kids. One of the couples has a young son, named Max, who has Asperger’s. There have been many moments where Christi and I have been just about bawling because we have been there and done that. It’s a gut-wrenching show.

Today should be a pretty typical Saturday. Lunch, groceries, church, then just hanging out. I should practice the music at some point. That would probably be helpful.

(From Great Stories from History for Every Day)

On this date in 1895, at the Cafe de la Paix in Paris, Louis and Auguste Lumiere “demonstrated their new invention, the cinematographe.” The first film they showed was a short clip of an oncoming train (the customers were alarmed by this). Then they showed a longer film called “Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory.”

“It was the first true motion picture ever made and the birth of cinema.” Apparently, they made over 1000 movies, but stated at one point that “it is an invention without a future.”

Today’s birthdays are Woodrow Wilson, 28th president, 1856, Mortimer Adler, author, 1902, Roebuck “Pops” Staples, Staple Singers, 1915, Stan Lee, comic artist, 1922, Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, 1924 (possibly 12/25), Martin Milner, actor (Adam 12), 1931, Maggie Smith, actress, 1934, Charles Neville, Neville Brothers, 1938, Edgar Winter, rock musician, 1946, Alex Chilton, the Box Tops, 1950, Denzel Washington, actor, 1954, and Sienna Miller, actress, 1981.

Here’s a clip of Edgar Winter performing “Free Ride.”


Psalm 32:11 Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
Psalm 67:3-5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Selah.
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

Psalm 30:12 O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

“O God, you have caused the holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light:
Grant that I, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him
perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God,
in glory everlasting. Amen.” (The Divine Hours)

Today’s reading in A Year With God is “Rejoicing Together.” The scripture reading is Deuteronomy 14:22-26.

“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.”

Okay. I have never, ever, heard a “tithing” sermon based from this scripture. I wonder why. *wink, wink, nudge, nudge* The first time this passage caught my eye, I was amazed. God told his people to take their tithe to a place where he would choose, and basically have a huge party! If the place was too far away for them to carry their actual tithe, they could exchange it for money, take the money to the place God chose, and buy whatever their hearts desired to have their party! “If any Bible passage turns on its ear the thought of a dour god who does not want his people to enjoy life, here it is.” So the challenge over the next ten days is to have a party! Seriously. Gather some friends and family and rejoice together! Perfect time of year for that, too, because there are lots of parties on New Year’s Eve, right? I truly believe that, when we rejoice together, in the name of the Lord, whatever form it takes, he is pleased and glorified. We can enjoy ourselves in him!

Father, keep teaching us to rejoice. We have somewhere managed to develop this image that you want us to be somber and serious all the time. While there are times that soberness is appropriate, there are also times when great rejoicing and celebration are appropriate. I truly believe that you want us to enjoy our lives. You have given us great blessing. Scriptures like the one above tell us that you want us to enjoy these blessings while honoring and glorifying your name! Help us to do that. Free our minds from these misconceptions that everything must be serious, and that we can’t dare be joyful and happy with what we have been given. I pray that you help us to find time to rejoice together with some friends and family sometime soon. Put a song of joy in our hearts. Let us celebrate you and your bounty.

I pray for this day, as it unfolds. May we get our chores done, practice accomplished, and then have a joyful worship celebration this evening. As we approach the beginning of a new year, may we look forward to a stronger, deeper devotion, as well as stronger, deeper relationships with one another.

Your grace is sufficient.

Have a “rejoicing party!” If the house is rockin’. . .

Grace and peace, friends.

Noel, Noel!

Merry Christmas! Today is Wednesday, December 25, 2013.

Besides being Christmas, today is “Pumpkin Pie Day.” Not my favorite, but I’ll have a piece, now and then. I’m not expecting any today, though. If it’s your favorite, I hope you get some today!

Merry Christmas to everyone who stumbles across this blog today.

We had a wonderful Christmas Eve! The service went very well, and we had a pretty good turnout. As noted before, I got to lead the four songs that we sang, and I just played guitar for them. Someone took a picture of me while I was playing.

Jeff leading Christmas Eve
Jeff leading Christmas Eve

We headed back home and continued preparations for Christi’s family Christmas Eve gathering. Let me tell you that it could NOT have gone any better! Everyone got along famously, we all had a good time, and stuffed our faces full of delicious food! Then, even though we could barely move, we opened presents! I think everyone was happy. Rachel and Justin arrived at some point, it may have been close to 9pm, but I’m not positive. They got there before anyone else left, and got to see all the family.

Later today, after we open our Christmas morning presents, we will travel to Mineral Wells, where we will celebrate Christmas with my parents. More food, more presents, but mostly love.

(From Great Stories from History for Every Day)

On this date in 800, Charles the Great (aka Charlemagne) became “the first Holy Roman Emperor to be crowned by the Pope.” This began a revival of the Roman Empire, which had “lapsed in the 5th century.” This revival of the Roman Empire would last for 1000 years until Franz II abdicated in 1806. Charlemagne was 48 when he was crowned, which is rather old “for that time in history.” He was known “for his personal leadership and excellent administration.” His court was famous for attracting intellectuals from around the world, in spite of the fact that Charlemagne, himself, could not write. Being rather religious, he attempted to ban dancing throughout the empire, but his efforts were “widely ignored.” I suspect Kevin Bacon had something to do with it.

Who has Christmas birthdays? Orlando Gibbons, English composer, 1583, Isaac Newton, physicist, 1642, Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, 1821, Robert Ripley, collector of odd facts, 1890, Humphrey Bogart, actor, 1899, Cab Calloway, band leader, 1907, Anwar Sadat, Egyptian president, 1918, Louis Lane, conductor, 1923, Nellie Fox, baseball player, 1927, Billy Horton, The Silhouettes, 1929, Jimmy Buffett, 1946, Larry Csonka, NFL running back, 1946, Barbara Mandrell, country singer, 1948 (Houston, TX), Sissy Spacek, actress, 1949 (Quitman, TX), Annie Lennox, singer, 1954, Allanah Myles, singer, 1955, Rickey Henderson, king of stolen bases, 1958, Dido, singer, 1971, and Hideki Okajima, pitcher, 1975.

Jimmy Buffett is a singer/songwriter, famous for his tropical, casual lifestyle. Here is a clip of his song, “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” which pretty much sums up his philosophy of life.

By the way, Jesus was almost certainly NOT born on this date.


(For some reason, the Divine Hours website is blank for today’s readings, so I will insert my own.)

Psalm 25:1-2 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.
Psalm 25:4-7 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.
Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!

Psalm 25:11-12 For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.

Psalm 25:14 The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.

Today’s reading in A Year With God is “Thanking God.” The scripture reading is Deuteronomy 16:9-15.

“You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.
“You shall keep the Feast of Booths seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your winepress. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the LORD your God at the place that the LORD will choose, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.”

The Lord rescued Israel from Egypt, and now he provides them with crops for their sustenance. Three times each year, they are to celebrate their thankfulness and joy by having these festivals/feasts. Modern Christians seem to have lost this valuable tradition. Not that we should revert back to Old Testament feasts or festivals, I covered that yesterday. But it wouldn’t hurt us to take time throughout our years to stop and thank God for everything he’s done for us. What better way to do that than to throw a huge feast like the people of Israel did?

On this special, celebratory day, I thank God for Jesus Christ, our “Passover Lamb,” who has saved us from our sins. I thank him for our jobs, which provide our sustenance. We don’t grow crops, but we work for paychecks, which allow us to buy groceries to feed our families. Our God provides for us.

Charles Wesley wrote this hymn, “Jesus, Thou Soul of All Our Joys.”

Jesus, thou soul of all our joys,
For whom we now lift up our voice,
And all our strength exert,
Vouchsafe the grace we humbly claim,
Compose into a thankful frame,
And tune thy people’s heart.

Father, on this day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I pray that people all over the world will be thankful for that moment in time when you became flesh; when the Spirit of God became incarnate to save a world from sin. Make us remember that we celebrate a real event in history, and event that changed the world. But may we not just remember on December 25 of each year. May we stop at various times in our year to remember the bounty which you have provided for us and our families. Let us not take you and your gifts for granted, but celebrate that which you give us faithfully throughout the year.

I pray for this day. May our Christmas celebration be joyful and thankful. May we be at peace, both with one another, as well as with the world around us. May there truly be peace on earth.

Noel, noel, noel, noel!
Born is the King of Israel. . .

Merry Christmas!

Grace and peace, friends.

Celebrating Feasts

Good morning. It is Tuesday (I’m not calling this one “post-Monday”), December 24, 2013. One more day until Christmas. Eight more days until 2014. 53 more days until pitchers and catchers report. 97 days until Opening Day.

And, it’s Christmas Eve.

Besides being Christmas Eve, today is also “Eggnog Day.” I’m sure I’ll have some today, but I probably won’t try to make my own, as suggested by the referenced website.

I can’t access my email, currently. Very strange. I use ATT U-Verse web-based mail, and every time I log in, it tells me that my session has expired and I need to log in again. I called tech support and received a recorded message that stated that this was not an isolated incident. So I will wait until they get this fixed.

Yesterday turned out to be kind of weird. We had two trucks to load, and they were both late. The first one, scheduled at 9am, arrived at 10. The second one, scheduled at 1pm, arrived at 3pm! But the guys got it loaded pretty quick, and I still managed to get out at 5pm. We were hoping to get away early, though, to begin our holiday. We are closed today and tomorrow, but I’m on vacation for the rest of the year.

Today, there’s stuff to do! I have to practice some more for the Christmas Eve service. We are having ours at 4:30 this afternoon. I’ve seen at least two churches that are having FOUR services today! Gah!!! I have to wrap some presents. We have to cook for tonight, because Christi’s family is coming over to have Christmas tonight, as is her family tradition. So, tonight, we shall have a house full of Christmas cheer. At least I hope it’s not a house full of Bah! Humbug! 😀

(From Great Stories from History for Every Day)

It was on this date in 1888 that painter Vincent Van Gogh “hacked off his own left earlobe to give to a favorite prostitute, a certain Rachel.” This happened after having spent most of the year living with fellow painter Gauguin, in a little yellow cottage, seen in Van Gogh’s paintings, in Arles, a little town northwest of Marseille. Vincent’s brother, Theo, had hoped to provide him with some stability by arranging for Gauguin to live with him. But after several months of living together, they discovered that they were “artistically and temperamentally incompatible.” On Christmas Eve, Van Gogh attacked Gauguin with a razor, but failed to harm him. It was after that that he returned to the cottage and cut off his earlobe. Gauguin, not surprisingly, left Arles, never to be seen by Van Gogh again. Four months later, Van Gogh “committed himself to an asylum.” After a year, he returned to Paris, only to take his own life on July 29, 1890.

Don McLean wrote this beautiful and time-tested song about Van Gogh.

Christmas Eve birthdays include Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order, 1491, James Prescott Joule, physicist, 1818, Johnny Gruelle, creator of Raggedy Ann, 1880, Howard Hughes, billionaire, 1905 (in Humble, TX), Fritz Leiber, Science Fiction author, 1910, Ava Gardner, actress, 1922, Lee Dorsey, vocalist (Working in the Coal Mine), 1924, Mary Higgins Clark, suspense author, 1929, Doyle Bramhall II, blues guitarist, 1968 (Dallas, TX), and Ryan Seacrest, TV and radio host, 1974.

Doyle Bramhall II is a blues guitar player who grew up around the blues and was born in Dallas, TX. Here is a You Tube clip of a solo he plays alongside Eric Clapton.

(E-mail just started working!)


Fourth Week of Advent

Psalm 66:16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
Psalm 67:1-2 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.

Psalm 119:54 Your statutes have been my songs in the house of my sojourning.
Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
John 4:23-24 “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Psalm 61:1-5 Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.
Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah.
For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Today’s reading in A Year With God is “Celebrate Your Festivals.” The scripture reading is Nahum 1:15.

Behold, upon the mountains, the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace! Keep your feasts, O Judah; fulfill your vows, for never again shall the worthless pass through you; he is utterly cut off.

Celebratory gatherings of God’s people are important components of our lives. “God’s people gather together to hear stories of faith, remember the acts of God, offer thanksgiving, and renew vows.” Passover was one of the most important festivals on the Jewish calendar, as it celebrated their delivery from slavery in Egypt. Observing special seasons of the year, or even the liturgical calendar, can be an important part of our spiritual formation. As I was growing up, in a small Southern Baptist church, I didn’t hear much about the “Christian calendar.” I never heard of Advent until I got to college. I don’t blame anyone for this. As Southern Baptists in the sixties and seventies, we tried to be the complete opposite of Catholics, so anything that resembled Catholicism was shoved right out. I’m surprised we even recognized Good Friday. But as I’ve grown older, I have learned that the rich traditions of the Catholic Church are worthy of recognition. There is much to be learned from the liturgical calendar, and it’s not all wrong. There is still much that I’m ignorant of when it comes to the calendar, but I’m continuing to learn.

Some folks that I know have gotten all wrapped up in observing ancient Jewish festivals, and even go so far as to have a “seder” each year, observing Passover. I don’t think we need to go that far, personally. While I realize that Jesus observed Passover with his disciples for the “last supper,” he took it a little further and modified it for those of us who would follow in the steps of him and his disciples. I also don’t think we need to get all wrapped up in the various feasts from the Old Testament, or try to make them hold significance to us in the New Covenant era. I could be very wrong, but I don’t believe that OT feasts hold any significance to Christians, other than to show us the history whence Christ came.

All of that being said, I agree with the opening statement of today’s reading. It is important for us to gather together, as Christian family, outside of the regular, weekly, worship times, to celebrate together. “Feasts” are good times; they are times when we can hear those stories, remember the great acts of our mighty God, give him thanks, and even renew vows to him and to one another. This time of year is a good time to do that. Many families get together over the course of the next few days. There is joy, remembrance, and perhaps some sadness as we remember loved ones who have passed on ahead of us. Sometimes acquaintances are renewed, and sometimes relationships are restored.

As we celebrate Christmas this year, may there be more togetherness and less isolation. May we not try to be islands among the millions. Let us celebrate together!

The book offers this prayer:

Lord God, thank you for the beautiful rhythm of the church year. Help
me to honor you as I remember and celebrate all the ways you have been
with me. As I reflect on the wonder of Jesus’s birth, death, and resurrection,
help me to learn more about you and your ways. What better cause for
celebration than the knowledge that Jesus rose again! In your name I pray.

Father, I pray that you would inspire your Church to gather together more often, in a variety of forms and purposes. While it’s good that we gather to worship you regularly, bring us together more often to celebrate, to feast, to fellowship, to remember the things that you have done in our lives. Our culture has gotten too used to doing the Christian life alone. I have been very guilty of this, thinking, at times, that all I need is these brief times of devotion, along with a weekly worship service. But I have found, through experience, that meeting together at other times, with smaller groups of varying makeup, can be very beneficial, and draw us closer together as a family. Some of these meetings really don’t even have to be about “church.” May we not be “loners,” Father, but be more willing to meet together.

I pray for this day. May we be able to get everything accomplished that we need to do today. I pray that your presence would fill my practice today, and that you would fill our hearts with celebration and joy as we meet together for a short Christmas Eve service later today. I pray for all of the church staff people who are having multiple meetings over this day, and having already experienced more meetings previously. Lord, this season should not be about being so busy! I pray that people will be able to take time to just sit and reflect, and not have to work so much at worshiping you. May we all experience rest in the midst of our celebration and worship.

I pray for our family gathering tonight. There is always potential for tension and stress during these gatherings, and I pray that there will be none tonight. Fill our home with your joy and compassion this evening. May the words of scripture written on the framework of this house come alive, as your Word is alive within us! Fill this place with your Spirit!

I pray that you will find good cause to celebrate and feast over the next couple of days. Take time to reflect on the blessings you have in your life, and be thankful.

Grace and peace, friends.

Praying the Psalms

Good morning. It is Monday, December 23, 2013. Christmas Eve Eve, as it were. Two more days. Nine more days until 2014. 54 days until pitchers and catchers report. 98 days until Opening Day.

Today is “Festivus,” a made-up “holiday,” invented by Dan O’Keefe, but made popular by the TV show “Seinfeld,” in 1997.

We successfully finished our Christmas shopping yesterday, as Stephanie and I went out and got a few things. It was a very enjoyable time that we had together! And I must say that Michael’s, the arts and crafts store, has a very efficient system for dealing with these Christmas crowds. While we were standing in a lengthy line (moving very fast) a couple of ladies came by with scanners. One of them started scanning the stuff in our basket, while the other one bagged it. They scanned all the merchandise to a card with a barcode on it, and handed us the card. When we got to the checkout counter, the girl at the register simply scanned the card, we paid, and we were outta there! I salute Michael’s for the best Christmas shopping experience of the year!

We pretty much didn’t do anything for the rest of the day. Today is our last working day of 2013. I might be gloating a little. I’ll pray for forgiveness.

(From Great Stories from History for Every Day)

On this date in 1790, Jean-Francois Champollion was born. Who is that, you ask? Only one of history’s greatest archaeologists, and “the man who deciphered the Rosetta Stone,” giving us understanding to the system of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Other birthdays today include Joseph Smith, Jr. (dumdumdumdumdum), 1805, Dick Weber, pro bowler, 1929, Paul Hornung, pro football player, 1935, Jerry Koosman, the guy on the other half of Nolan Ryan’s rookie card, 1942, Harry Shearer, actor, 1943, Susan Lucci, (Erika Kane), 1946, Adrian Belew, musician (King Crimson), 1949, Corey Haim, 1971, Victor Martinez, baseball player, 1978, and Cody Ross, baseball player, 1980.

Corey Haim was an actor who became famous during his childhood years, often alongside the other “Corey,” Corey Feldman. Unfortunately, Haim passed away in 2010. Here’s a clip from the great eighties vampire movie, The Lost Boys. There is some brief offensive language toward the end of the clip.


Fourth Week of Advent

Psalm 31:23-24 Love the LORD, all you his saints! The LORD preserves the faithful but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD!

Psalm 31:2-3 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!
For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me.

Psalm 31:19 Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!

Today’s reading in A Year With God is “Clap Your Hands, All You Peoples.” The scripture reading is Psalm 47:1-9.

Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah.
God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted!

This is one of the psalms that is known as an “enthronement psalm.” It celebrates God’s reign as “King of all the earth.” It calls upon all people of the earth to celebrate with “loud songs of joy!” When I acknowledge the place of the “King of all the earth,” it gives me a great sense of security and hope. God is in control of all things, no matter how chaotic this world seems to be, at times. This knowledge keeps me going, through all the chaos. If I didn’t believe that God was in control, and his sovereign will was being worked out, I would be too afraid to leave my house. Ever. But because God is in control, I boldly drive to work every morning. If it’s my time to suffer, then I will suffer with grace (hopefully), and endure whatever he has planned for me. I just hope it doesn’t hurt too much. I’m a sissy when it comes to pain.

Thomas Merton said, in Praying the Psalms:

“St. Augustine [says] that God has taught us to praise Him, in the
Psalms, not in order that He may get something out of this praise,but
in order that we might be made better by it. Praising God in the words
of the Psalms, we can come to know Him better. Knowing Him better
we love Him better, loving Him better we find our happiness in Him.”

I’m a big fan of praying the Psalms. That’s one of the reasons that I enjoy using The Divine Hours for prayer times. Most of the prayers in that series of books are direct quotes of Psalms. I’m thinking about, in 2014, getting back into my old habit of reading five Psalms a day, which, effectively, takes one through the entire book of Psalms in one month. I would read the Psalm corresponding to the day of the month, and then add 30 to that until five of them have been read. For example, on January 1, I would read Psalms 1, 31, 61, 91, and 121. I would save Psalm 119 until the 31st of the month. So there would be a few months were that particular Psalm would not get read.

But I digress. The point of today’s reading is the celebration offered by certain psalms like Psalm 47. Reading psalms like this one is just one way to help us practice the discipline of celebration.

Father, help me to celebrate more. Specifically, help me to celebrate you more. There are plenty of people in our world who “celebrate” at the drop of a hat. But their celebration is shallow and meaningless. Their celebration is more of a way to block out the pain and emptiness of their world by endless drinking and sensuality. I want to celebrate your sovereignty, your authority over all creation, your mercy and grace in my life and the life of my family and friends. I want to flaunt your grace in the face of the apparent chaos of this world, letting everyone around me know that there is a strength available that is much stronger than anything I could muster.

I pray for this day, as Christi and I head to work. Keep us safe as we travel to and from work. I expect traffic to be light this morning. May our work day go smoothly and quickly today. As we make our final preparations for the Christmas celebrations, may we keep in mind the real reason we are celebrating. May we never forget the reality of the baby that was born, whenever it really happened, born in a scenario that was nowhere near as pristine as we want to make it out to be. Nevertheless, may we never forget that this baby was God in the flesh, born to die for our sins, to be the only “person” to ever be truly resurrected, to ascend to your right hand, and to eventually return to judge this earth. This is Christmas.

I pray as always that you be especially near to Stephanie, and that you would give her understanding, as well as show her the path for her life. I also lift up Brandon Gaines to you, our friend and brother, as he lost his father a few days ago, on the anniversary of his mother’s death. Dear Father, I pray that you would be especially close to Brandon, Kristen, and Ava today, as well as the rest of his family, as they bury his dad today.

Do you have a favorite Psalm? If so, try praying it to God today. Read it out loud, as if you were praying it yourself.

Grace and peace, friends.

Spontaneous Celebration

Good morning (at least it was when I started this). It is Sunday, December 22, 2013. Three days until Christmas. 10 days until 2014. 55 days until pitchers and catchers report. 99 days until Opening Day.

Today is “Date Nut Bread Day.” No. No thank you. You can have mine.

We had, in my opinion, an awesome worship celebration last night at The Exchange. And not just because I got to lead three songs. I mean, that was great fun; felt like old times. But I think the worship was good, and Jacob’s sermon was another great one. He keeps showing me stuff I’ve never seen before. Last night, his sermon passage was Isaiah 11:1-10. He took that passage and made direct correlation to Genesis 3:8-19. It was beautiful and well done. Jacob Seay, I salute you!!

After church, we stopped at Sonic for dinner, and headed home, where we pretty much chilled for the rest of the evening. We even had eggnog with brandy in it. Yes, brandy. I read an article that said that brandy was best in eggnog, between brandy, rum, and whiskey. I know it’s just one person’s opinion, and I had never had brandy before. So I decided to try it. I don’t think I would like brandy by itself, because it smells like wine. But the eggnog was very delicious!

We didn’t get our mail, though, because, for some reason, the lock on our mail slot has decided to stop working. This is disturbing. I guess I’ll have to call the post office Monday. We’ve had issues before, but were able to fix it with good ol’ reliable WD-40. You know the saying, right? “If it moves and shouldn’t, use duct tape. If it doesn’t move and should, use WD-40.” That’s pretty much all you need to know. Well, WD-40 didn’t work this time.

Christi is making the Kahlua fudge today. We cleaned out the bowl after she poured the fudge into the pan for cooling. It was delicious, warm, gooey, chocolaty goodness. That description doesn’t even begin to do it justice. You should be very jealous. And your mouth should be watering all over your keyboard or smartphone or whatever device you are using to read this.

Today, I hope to take Stephanie out to do some last-minute Christmas shopping. Well, I guess it’s not technically “last-minute,” because it’s still three days until Christmas. One thing I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever (do you understand?) do AGAIN is go to a mall on Christmas Eve. I did that once. It was probably at least 30 years ago, and the memory is still fresh. It was, perhaps, the most horrible thing I have ever experienced. Just thinking about it makes me want more eggnog.

(From Great Stories from History for Every Day)

On this date in 1793, Captain of Artillery Napoleone Buonaparte “was promoted to the rank of brigadier general” at the age of 24. This was a reward for his “heroic achievements during Republican France’s victorious Siege of Toulon.”

Today’s birthdays are Rene-Robert Cavelier La Salle, French explorer, 1643, Abigail Adams, second First Lady, 1744, Thomas Cook, English tour director, 1808, George Eliot, Victorian novelist, 1819, (both of the last two are listed as having birthdays of November 22 by other sources), Frank Kellogg, Secretary of State, 1856, Connie Mack, baseball executive, 1862, Edgard Varese, composer, 1883, Wiley Post, aviation pioneer, 1899, Claudia A “Lady Bird” Taylor Johnson, First Lady, 1912, Barbara Billingsley, June Cleaver, 1915, Gene Rayburn, game show host, 1917, Geraldine Page, actress, 1924, Gunther Schuller, composer, 1925, Steve Carlton, MLB pitcher, 1944, Diane Sawyer, newscaster, 1945, Rick Nielsen, guitarist for Cheap Trick, 1946, Steve Garvey, 1st baseman, 1948, Maurice and Robin Gibb, The Bee Gees, 1949, and Jordin Sparks, 1989.

Muarice and Robin Gibb were co-founders of The Bee Gees. Maurice passed in 2003, while Robin passed last year (2012). Here is a You Tube of what is probably my favorite Bee Gees song.


Sunday Fourth Week of Advent

Psalm 47:5-8 God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.

Psalm 67:3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!
Jeremiah 23:5-6 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.'”
Psa 111 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy;
they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name!
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!

“Purify my conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ,
at his coming, may find in me a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” (The Divine Hours)

Today’s reading in A Year With God is “Awake, Awake, Utter a Song!” The scripture reading is Judges 5:1-5, 12a.

Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day: “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the LORD!
“Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the LORD I will sing; I will make melody to the LORD, the God of Israel.
“LORD, when you went out from Seir, when you marched from the region of Edom, the earth trembled and the heavens dropped, yes, the clouds dropped water. The mountains quaked before the LORD, even Sinai before the LORD, the God of Israel.”
“Awake, awake, Deborah! Awake, awake, break out in a song!”

This song gives praise to God for his deliverance, as well as for people cooperating with God. “Deborah’s prayer of praise holds as much gratitude for the turning of the people’s hearts toward God as for the turning of the battle to Israel’s favor. Deborah rejoices to see the Israelites once again worshiping God and placing themselves in his hands.” Perhaps we can be inspired by Deborah to come up with our own song of praise.

“Lord, as you awaken us to delight in your praise,
grant that we may know you,
call on you, and praise you;
for you have made us for yourself,
and our hearts are restless
until they find their rest in you. Amen.”

Father, may I find myself erupting in spontaneous songs of praise each day! I have so much to be thankful for in my life. There is no reason why I should not burst into songs of praise frequently throughout my days. I pray that your Spirit would remind me throughout my day, of the great and wonderful gifts that I have to praise you for. Teach me to celebrate more.

I pray for this day, that we would have good rest and that we would be safe when we venture out. Even though we worshiped you last night, keep us mindful of your grace and mercy in our lives throughout this day.

Your grace is sufficient.

We have no idea what kind of “musician” Deborah was, and it really doesn’t matter. You don’t have to be a skilled singer to sing a song of praise to God. The Psalms tell us to “make a joyful noise to God,” so I encourage you to simply do that. Whenever his Spirit leads you, let yourself erupt in spontaneous praise for his goodness.

Grace and peace, friends.

One Thing

Good morning. It is Monday, December 16, 2013.

Today is (I swear I’m not making this up) “Chocolate Covered Anything Day.” There are a lot of things that are made much better by covering them with chocolate, right? Ice cream, cherries, nuts, peanut butter, popcorn, chocolate, Oreos, graham crackers, the list goes on and on.

Yesterday we went out and picked a chair for Christmas for Christi. The wing-back recliner that we’ve had in the front room for years has seen better days. Between various pets and a daughter who shall not be named, it’s been chew on, shredded, and, well, broken. So we found a new one at Ashley Furniture. You know how hard it is to find a recliner that doesn’t look like a La-Z Boy chair? As well as one that has some kind of print fabric on it, instead of leather or suede? It was a difficult task, but we succeeded. Of course, we won’t see it until next year, but it’s ordered. What’s really cool about this is that we had purchased protection plans on three sets of furniture back in 2007. Ashley has this deal where, if you don’t make claims on the protection for five years, they will reimburse the cost of the plan. I don’t remember ever knowing that, but Christi did. We just forgot (which I figure most people do). But the salesperson reminded us yesterday as she was selling us the chair. So we inquired at the customer service counter and discovered that we had almost $400 worth of protection plan reimbursement coming to us! This almost pays for the chair! Of course, we went ahead and got a small side table to go next to it, but when we finally get the chair, we will only owe about $200 on it. We wound up being in the store for several hours, but it was pretty much worth it.

From there, it was grocery shopping, where we spent way too much, but most was in preparation for Christmas. It’s probably better that we stocked up this last weekend, rather than waiting until next weekend. The cool thing is that both of us will only be working Monday of Christmas week. We both have off between Christmas and New Year’s Day! That will be fun.

I rarely talk about football here, but anyone who knows me very well knows that I am vigorously NOT a fan of the Dallas Cowboys. Yes, I live in DFW. And even though I’m a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan, that doesn’t mean I’m a Patriots fan, like most people assume. In truth, I care little for football (not as little as I care for basketball. . . don’t like basketball at all). But I relished the end of yesterday’s Dallas/Green Bay contest, as good ol’ Tony Romo threw, not one, but TWO interceptions in the closing moments of the game, to blow the 36-31 lead that they had with just over two minutes left. Packers win, 37-36! 😀 I didn’t watch the game, I was looking at the score on the Interwebs.

(From Great Stories from History for Every Day)

Today is the 240th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. On this date in 1773, led by Samuel Adams (was this before he had a beer named after him?), about 2000 American colonists gathered at the wharf at Boston Harbor, as three British ships sat in the harbor, waiting for their tea supplies to be unloaded. About 60 protesters, “some disguised as Mohawk Indians,” went on board the ships and began throwing “the cargo of 342 cases of tea into Boston Harbor.”

Today’s birthdays: Catherine of Aragon, 1485, George Whitefield, 1714, Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770, Jane Austen, 1775, Amy Carmichael, 1867, Noel Coward, 1899, Margaret Mead, 1901, Arthur C. Clarke, 1917, Philip K. Dick, 1928, Liv Ullmann, 1938, Steven Bochco, 1943, Ben Cross, 1947, Billy Gibbons, 1949, Jon Tenney, 1962, and Anna Popplewell, 1988.

Billy Gibbons (in case anyone doesn’t know) is the guitar player and one of the singers for ZZ Top.


Third Week of Advent

Psalm 103:20-22 Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!
Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!
Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Psalm 115:1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
Psalm 118:24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Luke 1:39-45 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah,
and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit,
and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Today’s reading in A Year With God is “Do Not Set Your Heart on Riches.” The scripture reading is Psalm 62:9-10.

Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.

We see in this passage that no humans are truly trustworthy, whether they be rich or poor. All of them are “lighter than a breath.” We should not put our trust in people, but in God alone. We should not even put our trust in ourselves, to be self-reliant. After all, we do fall in that category of “people,” who are, in general, not trustworthy. This discipline of simplicity serves to focus our trust and reliance on God.

The book offers this prayer from Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing, by Soren Kierkegaard:

Father in Heaven! What are we without You? . . . what is all our striv-
ing, could it ever encompass a world, but a half-finished work if we do not
know You: You the One, who is one thing and who is all!
So may you give to the intellect
wisdom to comprehend that one thing;
to the heart,
sincerity to receive this understanding;
to the will,
purity that wills only one thing.
In prosperity, may you grant
perseverance to will on thing;
amid distractions,
collectedness to will one thing;
in suffering,
patience to will one thing.

Father, teach me to will one thing, and that thing be to love and serve you only. May my devotion to Christ grow deeper and deeper as I grow older. May the desires of my heart be in sync with the desires of your heart. Teach me that I cannot rely, even upon myself, much less any other, besides you. You only can I rely upon. Draw my heart, my mind, and my will to the place where I rely upon and trust only you for my security, both present and future.

I pray for this day, as we begin a new week. Keep us close to you in devotion and prayer as this week goes by, no matter what kind of distraction comes our way. May our work go smoothly, but may we face challenges with your grace and with patience. Give us wisdom to know how to respond to anything this week. I pray that Christi’s feet will continue to feel better during this week. Draw Stephanie’s heart ever closer to yours, and show her the path you have for her life.

May we think today, as in Kierkegaard’s prayer, on that one thing.

Grace and peace, friends.

Simplicity of A Soldier

“We have scaled the gospel down to some message that never offends; we have practiced the faith in ways that never present a rebuke to the ways of the world.”

Good morning. It is Sunday, December 15, 2013.

Today is (and this one is funny) “Cat-herders Day.” This day is all about recognizing the difficulty of “trying to manage the unmanageable.” I love that. Being a cat owner (and we use that word “owner” very loosely), I know that it would be impossible to “herd cats.”

Yesterday was a pretty good day. Not much happened in the morning, other than my blogging and practicing for the music for yesterday’s church service. At around 1:30pm, we headed out, first to the library, and then to Lee’s Grilled Cheese for lunch. I think I’ve mentioned this wonderful place before. It’s a small restaurant that specializes in . . . do I have to tell you? They have about a dozen varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches, and they are very good! The sandwiches are a very generous size, and, to make it even better, the drinks are free!! Nobody does that!! I had a grilled cheese with Chipotle Gouda, cheddar, and mozzarella cheeses, bacon, avocado, and ranch. It was delicious. After lunch, we headed on up to church to start setting up and rehearsing. The church service went pretty well, and I got to lead Silent Night. Oh, and I’m also getting to lead the music portion of our Christmas Eve service. That should be great fun.

The best part of the night for me, though, was what happened after the service. Unfortunately, Christi wasn’t feeling well, so she did not accompany me. I had recently reconnected with a long-lost friend, John. I had found that he was playing guitar along with some of his students at a sandwich shop in Burleson (it’s called “Pinocchio’s”). So I drove down there to see him. Sadly, I missed most of the playing, as I got there shortly after 8pm, and they were just finishing. But I got a sandwich, and John and I sat and talked for about an hour. It was great to see him again, and meet his wife, Toni. Hopefully, we will meet up again soon, maybe after Christmas is over with. He is quite good at the guitar, by the way. 😀 Oh, and the sandwich was very good, too. A spicy chicken panini.

(From Great Stories from History for Every Day)

On this date in 1809, the Emperor Napoleon divorced his wife Josephine. The true reason is not known, but it could very well be that she had not provided him with an heir in over 13 years of marriage, and he needed an heir. He now knew that he could father children, because he had recently impregnated his mistress. As he divorced Josephine, he said, “I love you still, but in politics there is no heart, only head.” Ironically, it would be her grandson that would eventually rule France, not Napoleon’s. Josephine’s daughter from a previous marriage, Hortense, would marry Napoleon’s brother, Louis. “Their son was Napoleon III.”

Napoleon died in 1821. His body was returned to France in 1840, where he was buried on “the exact anniversary of his divorce.”

Today’s birthdays are possibly Nero Claudius Augustus Germanicus, 37AD, Gustave Eiffel, 1832, J. Paul Getty, 1892, Alan Freed, 1922, Tim Conway, 1933, Dave Clark, 1942, Carmine Appice, 1946, Art Howe, 1946, Don Johnson, 1949, Tim Reynolds, 1957, Helen Slater, 1963, Mo Vaughn, 1967, and Stuart Townsend, 1972.

Tim Reynolds is a guitar play who plays with the Dave Matthews Band, but also does some solo work. I had never heard his name before last night, during my conversations with John. Here is a solo piece, “Betrayal,” that he performed during a DMB concert.


Third Week of Advent

Psa 66:16 Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
Psa 17:6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my words.
Psa 118:14 The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
Psa 47:1-9 Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah.
God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted!

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we
are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help
and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory now and for ever. Amen.” (The Divine Hours)

Today’s reading in A Year With God is “Limited Possessions.” The scripture reading is 2 Timothy 2:3-4.

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.

The way of Jesus is the narrow way. No matter how we doctor it up and “prettify” it in our cheesy gospel presentations, his way involves suffering. “Few of us North American Christians find ourselves in circumstances where we are persecuted for our faith, yet millions of Christians are persecuted and martyred still because of their commitment to Christ.” This is not because we have a society where “no one can be hurt following Jesus.” It is most likely because the Church in North America has “settled in comfortably.” (These are very strong and painful words, here, yet I believe them to be true.) “We have scaled the gospel down to some message that never offends; we have practiced the faith in ways that never present a rebuke to the ways of the world.”

A soldier’s life is “the epitome of simplicity.” Possessions are very limited, usually to only personal effects and clothes. All of their energy is supposed to be centered on their job. Can I even imagine a life “pared down to such bare essentials?” Getting rid of unessential possessions would certainly “make it easier to shun the status quo and seek first God’s kingdom and its righteousness.” According to Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline, that is the “central point for the Discipline of simplicity.”

This doesn’t mean that we are supposed to bash the world over the head with “truth,” ala Westboro Baptist Church. I believe their tactics to be shameful and deplorable. We are to speak the truth in love, love being the overriding principle of the gospel. However, we also should not water down the gospel to make it more popular. The truth is, even if you get someone to believe the gospel of “easy-believism,” you still have not “saved” them. The only gospel that saves is the true gospel of Jesus Christ, which involves seeking first God’s kingdom and its righteousness. It is not a gospel of works, lest we be confused on that point. It is a gospel of grace through faith, which is the gift of God. But if we are truly “saved,” then we will live a life that endeavors to make God’s kingdom our first priority.

Father, help me to rid myself of the need for possessions. I pray that I am not finding security in the acquiring of more stuff. I believe that I have been better about this in the past few years. My focus has been more on prayer and devotion than on getting more stuff. I find that even the book store doesn’t hold as much power over me as it used to. But I still have too much stuff. I pray that, over the next week or so, you would help me to identify something that I need to give away, whether to an individual or to Goodwill, The Salvation Army, or some other similar organization. May your Spirit direct me with wisdom.

I am very thankful that I was able to get together with John last night. I pray that we will be able to do that again.

I pray for the rest of this day. May we get our errands done and find time to rest up this evening, preparing ourselves for the coming work week. I also pray that, as Christmas approaches, we will find ourselves enthralled by the story of Christmas once again, finding peace and joy in the story of our Redeemer who came to deliver us from darkness.

Tough words today, but not impossible. For us as individuals, I believe the main thing is to live simply and present a true picture of the gospel to the world, living it out in love, yet not watering it down until it is ineffective.

Grace and peace, friends.

You Gotta Serve Somebody

Good morning. It is Saturday, December 14, 2013.

Today is “Monkey Day.” Really? So we’re supposed to monkey around today?

Yesterday was a pretty fine day. Christi went to her foot doctor yesterday afternoon. This doctor is wonderful! She is Dr. Sara Suttle. Anyway, she said that Christi’s feet were exhibiting classic, textbook symptoms of something or other that resembles carpal tunnel syndrome. She gave Christi an injection of a steroid substance in each foot. This morning, Christi’s feet feel wonderful. We’re hoping that this lasts, and is not just a temporary result of the injections. However, she is supposed to return in a couple of weeks for a followup visit.

I got off work early yesterday, as it was a rather slow day, and everything was done by 4pm. That was really nice, because, as noted in yesterday’s entry, Christi and I rode to work together. She came and got me after her doctor appointment, and we went over to Grapevine Mills Mall area, where we looked at some chairs in furniture stores, and then went into the mall for a few minutes. We were a little hungry, so we went to the food court. All we wound up buying was a couple of drinks from the Sonic there, because several of the restaurants had people standing out front, giving away samples. We got enough samples to curb our hunger until we got to the party. This party was in Flower Mound, at the home of Christi’s ex-boss. We had a great time, having snacks and chatting with people, some of whom we knew, some of whom we had never met before. Good times.

(From Great Stories from History for Every Day)

On this date in 1799, George Washington died at the age of 67. He died at about 10pm, having suffered for a couple of days with what seemed to begin as a simple cold. He had gone for a horseback ride a couple of mornings earlier, riding “for several hours in the damp cold of a snowy Virginia December.” He had a sore throat the next morning, and “remained in the house to pursue farm business at his desk.” However, he went back out later in the afternoon, “to mark trees for removal.” His cold had gotten worse by dinner, and he was hoarse, but remained cheerful, refusing to take any medications. However, the next day, he was seriously ill, “suffering from fever and acute laryngitis, possibly with diphtheria.” The local doctor ordered him to be bled (that was the way they did things back then), but none of the doctor’s methods had any effect. He knew death was imminent. He was afraid of being buried alive, though, and ordered that his body not be put in the vault for at least three days. Just before he died, he said, “I die hard, but I am not afraid to go.” His last words were, “‘Tis well.”

One year ago today, in Newtown, Connecticut, a mentally disturbed lone man entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School and began shooting. Before it was over, six adult women, 12 girls and eight boys (all between 6-7 years of age), were dead. As the nation reflects on the one year anniversary of this tragedy (the second deadliest mass shooting in US history), this video was brought to my attention. It was made by the family of Emelie Parker, one of the girls who was killed. Grab some tissue and watch this. It is aptly titled, “Evil Did Not Win.”

Today’s birthdays just might be Nostradamus, 1503, Francis Beauvier, 1902, Morey Amsterdam, 1908 (or 1912), Spike Jones, 1911, Shirley Jackson, 1916, Charlie Rich, 1932, Lee Remick, 1935, Patty Duke, 1946, Christopher Parkening, 1947, Dee Wallace Stone, 1948, Bill Buckner, 1949, Spider Tracy, 1958, and Craig Biggio, 1965.

Bill Buckner is a retired baseball player who played for the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately, he is most remembered for the ground ball that dribbled between his legs in game six of the 1986 World Series. The Red Sox went on to lose that game, and, subsequently, the World Series title. However, as is made evident by Joe Castiglione’s welcoming speech in this video, they might not have even made it to the World Series that year without Buckner. Here he is, throwing out the first pitch of the 2008 season.


Second Week of Advent

Psa 104:34 May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.
Psa 141:3-5 Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!
Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds.

Psa 119:174-175 I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight.
Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.

Psa 71:17 O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
Eze 34:11, 15-16 “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”

“O God, the source of eternal light: Shed forth your unending day upon all of us who
watch for you, that our lips may praise you, our lives may bless you, and our worship
may give you glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (The Divine Hours)

Today’s reading in A Year With God is “Treasures on Earth.” The scripture reading is Matthew 6:19-21, 24.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

All of this relates to what we put our trust in, and where we allow our security to lie. Do we count on earthly treasures and possessions for our security? They will not last. Rust will destroy them, moths will eat them, thieves will steal them, the market will crash, totally devastating retirement accounts. We cannot serve two masters. The reading points out the irony of the statement “In God we trust,” printed on our money. As we consider giving away unneeded possessions, it is good to consider their finite nature.

The book offers this prayer:

Father god, help me to break my addiction to material things. Help me
to identify and rid myself of those things that are keeping me from fully
serving you–not only the goods, but my vanity, my pride, my selfish am-
bition. Teach me what true simplicity is. In your name I pray. Amen.

Father, as I ponder what possessions I might give away during this season, I pray for the attitude of simplicity to prevail in my life and in my family’s life. Traditionally, certain members of our family have gone above and beyond necessity, lavishing expensive gifts, spending tons of money for things that really aren’t even necessary. There have been times when affections were obviously being purchased with lavish gifts. I pray against that attitude this season. Our direct family has scaled back Christmas spending a great deal this year, and in recent years. That’s not what this is about. I pray that, as we celebrate the season, and as Christmas Day approaches, we will remember what the day is celebrating. Let us celebrate the sacrifice made by you through your Son, and, in turn, be willing to sacrifice things that we have for the sake of others. Let us not attempt to serve two masters, but only serve you.

I pray for the rest of this day. We will be going out for a few errands. Keep us safe as we go, Lord. We look forward to worshiping with our Exchange family this evening, and also the possibility of connecting with an old friend tonight. Give us rest for the remainder of the weekend.

Your grace is sufficient.

As the holiday season progresses, may we consider who or what we serve with our lives. And if you think you don’t serve anyone or anything, think again. Everyone serves somebody or something.

Grace and peace, friends.

Travelling Light

Good morning. It is Friday, December 13, 2013. For those of you who are superstitious, it’s Friday the 13th. Well, technically, it’s Friday the 13th for all of us.

Today is “Violin Day.” If you play violin, have it your way today! Have some violin music. . .


Well, I guess I don’t have to hurry quite that much. But I do need to get on with things.

(From Great Stories from History for Every Day)

On this date in 1784 died Samuel Johnson, the man who said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

Today’s birthdays are allegedly Mary Todd Lincoln, 1818, Carlos Montoya, 1903, Dick Van Dyke, 1925, Christopher Plummer, 1929, Ferguson Jenkins, 1943, Ted Nugent, 1948, Steve Buscemi, 1957, Morris Day, 1957, Jamie Foxx, 1967, Amy Lee, 1981, and Taylor Swift, 1989.

Amy Lee is (was?) the lead singer for the rock group Evanescence. Here is the song “My Immortal.”


Second Week of Advent

Psa 100:3 Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Psa 5:8 Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness . . . make your way straight before me.
Psa 118:25-27 Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!
Psa 69:6 Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, O Lord GOD of hosts; let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me, O God of Israel.
Psa 28:6-9 Blessed be the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.

Today’s reading in A Year With God is “Disciples Travel Light.” The scripture reading is Mark 6:7-13.

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

Discipleship training was pretty simple in the days of Jesus. We’ve made it a lot more complicated today, with all our secret languages and special shapes and such. Jesus’s disciples, simply watched what he did, listened to what he said, and then tried to imitate him. It is, I believe, actually possible for us to learn the same way today. “As we mature spiritually, we give ourselves more and more fully to God’s care and keeping.” Once again, we must be reminded that our security, our future, does not lie in possessions, but in our possession by God. “We continue the mission of the first disciples as we proclaim the good news of Jesus and work for healing and wholeness in individuals and groups.” “Disciples travel light,” as they realize that interaction with other people is important, as well as being totally dependent upon God.

Here is a quote from George Fox, in Works:

“There is the danger and the temptation to you, of drawing your
minds into your business, and clogging them with it; so that ye can
hardly do anything to the service of God. . . and your minds will go
into the things, and not over the things. . . And then, if the Lord God
cross you, and stop you by sea and land, and take [your] goods and
customs from you, that your minds should not be cumbered, then that
mind that is cumbered will fret, being out of the power of God.”

This doesn’t mean that we don’t think about what we are doing. There are plenty Christians out there who don’t seem to use their brains. What it does mean, though, is that we need not be more concerned with the stuff that we think we need to carry out the mission than we are with the mission itself. We don’t need to carry dozens of books, charts, graphs, pamphlets, and so forth, to make disciples. All we need is ourselves and Jesus. If we are truly following him, listening to him, watching him, and then imitating him, that should be all we need.

Father, teach me more about being a disciple. We are trying to learn this in our huddle group, but I still believe that it is too encumbered with unnecessary things. Teach me to listen to Jesus. Teach me to watch what Jesus did. Teach me to imitate my savior. Then teach me to teach someone else to do the same. As I work through issues that distract me from simplicity, direct me more and more toward the life and words of Jesus (at least what we have of them), that I might learn from him, and that it might have a dramatic impact on my life. Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.

I pray for this day today, that we will have safe passage to work. May we enjoy each other’s company on this rare drive to work together. I pray that our work day will be productive and effective, and that we will be able to display grace to people with whom we come in contact today. More and more, teach us that our life is not about our own comfort and desires, but should be about your desires. Teach Stephanie your ways and give her understanding.

I pray for my friend and brother, Rob, that he might find time this morning to abide in you.

Your grace is sufficient.

May we learn to “travel light” as disciples of Christ.

Grace and peace, friends.