Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Year End Ramblings from the Chief of Ramblers

Good morning (or afternoon or evening, whenever you read this-it was written in the morning) to you all. 2015 as a year is coming to a close. We have only a day and half before we begin a brand new year. Have you looked back over 2015 yet? Have you spend any time in reflection? I have to say, I just started doing that today. One thing I do like is that on Facebook, there is the app that lets you see what you posted in the years prior. That has been kind of fun to do. I am amazed at all the things I learned that I did in the past years. Next year, I will be looking back over 2015 and saying, "Oh yeah, we did that. I forgot all about that."

There are things that you would like to forget about the year, and yet, having said that, I cannot say that 2015 was a year that I am happy to see go. Even with all the sickness during the year, I do not find that 2015 was a disappointing or challenging year. I think back on some of the tough years - 1987/88, 1999 - and I would say they were difficult. But 2015 was really an all right year.

Having said that, I know that I faced challenges. I had months of chest pain that went unchecked. After 2 heart caths and 1 additional stint, the pain continued. Most people didn't know that for the months of February - April and July - August, I struggle with pain that just wouldn't end. During the summer months, I should have taken stock out in the nitro because of how much I was taking just to make it through the days. I give thanks that one of the mothers of a child in Penny's preschool class works in the heart office at Washington University hospital and she got me an appointment for the next week. Dr. Vader checked me out, suggested a change in medication, and after changing the dosage a month later, by September, I was pain free! Since then, I have not had to take the nitro. I rejoice at that. I feel good and even while Penny asks me, "How is the chest," I find that I can say, "Good. No pain." That is true even after the great flood of December 2015. All the vacuuming and furniture moving and still the heart did well. I give all glory to God that He has given us doctors who know what they are doing and medicine that is able to do the job.

I realize that you might not be pain free. I pray for you. I pray for relief for you even as I prayed for myself day after day. I pray that the Lord will give you relief and if that is not the answer to your prayer, I pray that He gives you the strength to be able to face each day. Not every prayer we offer to the Lord comes back the way we want. But it is answered in the way that He knows is best for us. Hard to remember that when you hurt or don't feel well yet that is where faith comes into play. We live by faith. The Lord has never said that we will get a "yes" to every answer. He does promise to be with us in all we face and in all our struggles. I prayed for my mother to get better in 1999, and that happened. She passed away and went to heaven. She got LOTS better, just not in the way that I wanted to have happen. What do you do in those moments, you ask the Lord to give you the faith and the strength to accept His direction. I had to do that back in 1988. I would never have dreamed that the mess that happened that year would turn out to make me the pastor I am today. Yet, through all that terrible time, He worked in Penny and my lives in ways we could not understand, taking us to places we never dreamed. From that time we moved to Harvel, Ferrin and Altamont, each of which were a blessing in themselves and then finally brought us here to Troy. I keep praying, "Lord, let me retire here at Troy." And boy do I hope that that the answer to that prayer is a resounding "yes." Only another 13-15 years before that is possible. It has already been 7 years, very quick years, and so we will see.

These are ramblings, aren't they? I am still working on the Doctor of Ministry. I do feel that it has already helped me to be a better preacher, which was my goal. I hope you think that as well. Each sermon I preach I pray that the Spirit would guide my thoughts, words and heart to present the message of the Gospel to the congregation in a way that will lift them and help them to grow in faith and trust in their Lord. I think I have had some good sermons and I know that I have had some klunkers. The real joy of preaching is that even when the sermon itself stinks, the Holy Spirit can use it to help someone to grow in faith in their Lord Jesus Christ. That always amazes me. The Spirit is powerful and works in ways that are overwhelming. All praise and glory be to God!

All right, enough rambling for the day. Maybe more tomorrow, we will see. Looking back over the year, I can say, "Yes, Lord, it has been a year that You have been lifted up and that You have blessed. You have strengthened and forgiven. You have loved and You have guided. 2015 was the Lord's year in which I was privileged to live. Thank You Lord."

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Christmas

"So this is Christmas," croons John Lennon. As I listen to that song, I find myself somewhat melancholy. As I look at the Christmas tree and the decorations, as I listen to the commercials and see the lines at the stores, I often find myself singing that opening line from the song. (I am not a fan of John Lennon's music but this line runs through my head.) So this is Christmas, as I watch people with carts full of stuff for gifts to people who probably won't care what they received only that they have a stack of stuff to look at and then shove off into a corner.

Kinda sound like I am cynical when it comes to Christmas. I am not. Actually, I love Christmas and all the things that surround it - the decorations, the songs, the gifts,the gaiety, and all the other things that are a part of Christmas. I have been watching the sappy Hallmark Christmas movies (that all have the same story line, just different characters and settings). I sing "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" and drive my family crazy by whistling Christmas songs even when it isn't Christmas.

But as I think about Christmas in the world, I think "so this is Christmas?" Then I think about it from the point of view that I have no right to think about - from God's perspective. I am not God nor do I try to speak for Him. But I wonder what He would think about the way that the world approaches Christmas. Gifts and debts. "I want, I want, I want." You owe it me. I deserve it. I need it. I, I, I. The focus becomes me, what I want and how you have do everything you can to give it to me. If you don't, I will be upset and throw a fit, become angry, never talk to you again.

Why would the Son of God step down from His throne in heaven and become a child in a world that doesn't want Him or care about Him? Why would God become incarnate, become human? We humans are unkind, terrible people. Oh, it is true, there are those brief moments in which someone will do something wonderful. A person will drop a gold coin in the Salvation Army kettle and it will make news (though they begin to expect it to happen and are disappointed when a kind person doesn't do what they expect). Someone might pull together a group of folks to help out a poor family who has lost everything to a nasty person who has taken all they had in their house. We give thanks for that person or persons who help out in those situations. But we forget about the nasty, terrible people who rob, steal, mame, brutalize and kill day after day all because they are lost in their self, their drug habit, their gang culture, their self-centered life that says "I have the right to take from you what is yours because I want it and am stronger and more ruthless than you."  Over and over again we hear about the rottenness of this world. People live in squalor all year long and society does nothing for them until Christmas time and then they are forgotten for another year. Children are abused and neglected and society is too self-centered to really do anything to help them. (Yes, there are some who work year round to help out but those are few and far between.) Families are torn apart because of self-centered desires that say, "I no longer love you but now I love this other person. Good bye." And the description of the woes of society could go on and on.

Why would God come into this world of sin and death? It is for that very reason, because the world is full of sin and death. "We all like sheep have gone astray." Even the most "nice" of us people (and I would like to think I am one of those nice people, who avoids helping others through out the year because I have my own things to face, oops, I guess maybe I am not that nice after all) are not that nice really. We focus on ourselves, our desires and leave others to fend for themselves.

THAT is exactly why He comes into the world. We cannot help ourselves. We are lost in our sins and we need Him. He is born for us, for our forgiveness and salvation. He comes into an imperfect world as the perfect sacrifice. The Son of God comes because He loves us so much He doesn't want us to be lost in the muck and mire of sin but to have life, love and salvation.

Christmas is all about the coming of our Savior. It is about the greatest gift of all. It is about the love of God for a world that doesn't love Him. "So this is Christmas" is really saying that there is one thing about Christmas that is glorious - the birth of the Christ-child. Christmas is a wonder, a wonder that God could love a world so much that He became a human in order to save the world. When I get melancholy about Christmas, I stop and remember what God has really done and then I feel the joy once again. He has loved me. He has saved me. He has given me a family to love and to be loved by, He has placed me in a congregation of people that I love and care for and that love and care for me and my family, He has given me what I truly need - the gift of a Savior.

Merry Christmas! Christ is born! Gloria! Enjoy the time with family. Help out the less fortunate. Sing the songs, eat the candy and celebrate the wonder of the season. Yes, this is Christmas!