TRADITION

tradition

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I have a friend (I know that might be hard for some of you to believe) whom I’ve never met in person. Her name is April McKinnon, she has a blog titled Blessed Beyond Measure. Over the last few months, I’ve got to know her by reading her blog. April writes from the perspective of being blessed by God beyond what she could ever measure. I’ve come to believe that anyone who reads the words from her heart will also be “Blessed Beyond Measure.”

April shared with us one of the Christmas traditions of her family. It just so happens it’s one of the same ones I share with mine. I’ve written a post about it on her site. Maybe some of you have the same tradition as well. Take a quick trip over and visit April’s site, even if you’re not at this time, eventually you will be “Blessed Beyond Measure.”   Please click here http://amblessedbeyondmeasure.wordpress.com leave her a comment to cheer her up as she will be recuperating from a surgery, maybe even a Merry Christmas!

THE PERFECT GIFT

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I don’t like to rush into things. Take Christmas, for example, everyone knows that the process needs to be planned out. You can’t just rush into these things.

OK the truth? I don’t like shopping… Especially at Christmas time. While I hear about people being “in the Christmas spirit,” I can’t seem to find any of those people when I’m out in the consumer world.

Maybe everyone is a little grouchy from having the Christmas shopping season and it’s specific products jammed down our throats since before Halloween? “You know, I’m just sayin’.” They’ve tried to turn this shopping season into a quarter of the year!

The people you see and talk to every day suddenly have nothing else to talk about. I dread the inevitable question. “You all done Christmas shopping”? I casually counter with the clever line I opened with, “I don’t like to rush into these things.”

I’m sure a few people along the way consider my actions, or lack thereof to be a bit on the calloused side. I want to ask them, “Who are you, the Christmas shopping police”?– “What’s it to you how or when I do my Christmas shopping”?

I refrain from those type of questions so as not to tip my calloused hand, metaphorically speaking of course…

It was easier when the kids were little. Toys are fun to buy even as an adult, those are the easy gifts. Of all the things I’ve purchased for my wife and daughters over the last 5 or 6 years, there’s only on thing that didn’t get returned. I think it was four years ago I picked up some ridiculously over-priced brand named jeans. Of the four I bought only Kenz didn’t return hers. They were still pretty good gifts.

I’m not sayin’ women are picky about clothes, jewelry, make-up, hairstyle, or anything like that. You know, I’m just sayin’.

In truth, if women only knew, some of us are confident everywhere, under almost all circumstances, but not in those types of stores.

It’s like sending our wives to the hardware store for tools and fasteners. Sometimes when I have to go to the hardware store I ask my wife, “Hey, you wanna go with me”? She suspiciously responds with one eyebrow raised, “Where to”? “The hardware store real quick.” I answer. Always the same tone flat response, “NO”!

I on the other hand, am like our dogs…They like treats… I like treats… I’m not gonna roll over, play dead, or anything like that, but I love the good food that this holiday inspires, that would be gift enough.

As far as gifts go, I’m not much more difficult to please in this arena. I love tennis shoes. That has become a tradition in our house. Year after year the same thing, dad gets tennis shoes for Christmas.

I know it, everyone knows it. Maybe the best part of unwrapping that tennis shoe box is the same worn out humor I use every year right before I open them. “HMMM, I wonder what this is”? I ask smiling. No one else smiles anymore. They don’t appreciate the classics. They roll their eyes… Which make it even funnier for me. They don’t think of my humor as a gift.

All the hustle and bustle, fighting crowds looking for something you don’t usually have any idea you’re looking for until you see it type of gifts.

The aggravation of fallen ornaments that leave the floor like a war zone complete with land mines. The presents that come with batteries that turn out to be dead.

All of that for this: A morning Christmas prayer giving thanks for God’s sacrifice of His son being born into flesh so that one day He could be the last perfect sacrifice for the final covering of sin.

I also give thanks for His protection and provision in our lives. Then, quality time with my loved ones as we exchange gifts, celebrating the only gift that truly matters.

The gift of eternal life. The only perfect gift ever given.

CAMPING

camping

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I woke up to a beautiful white blanket of snow on the ground, it was stunning. It looked like a perfect Christmas morning. Because of where I grew up I rarely got to see snow, much less wake up to the magic of it.

The power of God to change the look of our world while we are sleeping to awake to a new world, a different world, to say the least, was exhilarating.

The problem with this day of God’s magical hand was that it wasn’t Christmas and I was sleeping outside on a job site. To wake up to snow when you’re sleeping in it, is much different when you gaze upon it from the warm shelter of a home.

It was 1981, Midland Texas. Our country was in a tough economic recession. There weren’t many jobs available anywhere, so us, the unemployed went wherever we had to for employment opportunity.

I worked in three states in less than one year in order to survive. Circumstances that we live through certainly have a bearing on our perspective.

When I was a boy I loved to go camping. We didn’t do too much of it, but when we did I truly enjoyed it. What kid doesn’t? My parents had a big tent that the six of us could sleep in. I remember in detail the smell and feel of the brisk mountain air as my mom fried bacon in a skillet over the open campfire.

My perspective as a child was if or when you could sleep outside and be camping, life would be perfect! As an adult, I’m not a big camper. Having been forced by the financial reality of life to sleep outside with camping as a necessity for survival, put a new perspective on how  I enjoyed “the great outdoors.”

Sleeping outside, showering 2 or 3 times a week at the YMCA at a buck a pop is somewhat of an adventure. The perspective is usually determined by circumstances. Do we have a choice or is it a necessity?

Many people in our country are making difficult choices due to our present economic meltdown. The choices we make now will help shape our future perspectives.

I guess in 1981 I had a choice. I could have stayed at home and tried to get a government handout. Maybe I could have begged on a corner. I didn’t think I had a choice. At the time, I never considered anything except trying and never giving up.

I’m not saying I’m exceptional for having done so. It is what was expected of me from my family and my country, the way I viewed it at the time.

My wife and I have friends that have had to move across the country to find a way to survive. A husband of one of the couples has been working out of town for over a year. He just got relocated to California. This time it is for a promotion. If he never had to navigate the tough times he would never have reached a goal he’s dreamed about since I’ve known him.

My wife’s other friend sent pictures of the ocean in Connecticut that she now lives four blocks from. She told my wife she can’t remember being this happy in years. This couple had lost a business here, and yet now she’s happier than she’s been in years.

I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t had adversity in their life. I’m convinced that the ones who fight through on their own or by the grace of God and don’t give in or give up, are the ones who receive the most blessings.

Maybe not riches, but something of more value than silver or gold.

They earn what money can’t buy or what anyone can give, not even at Christmas… Self-respect.

I think I’ll go camping again… This time I’ll be taking a tent… and bacon.

THE SHADOW

the shadow

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When I was in third grade I had to memorize a poem. Not just memorize it, but I also had to recite it in front of my class. Although not the best of students, (understatement!) I still remember some of that poem years later.

“I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, but what’s the very use of it is more than I can see.” That’s the first verse. The poem was written by Robert Louis Stevenson, who was a famous poet in the late 1800’s.

As a youngster, I paid more attention to shadows than I do now. I remember after getting the required haircut noting how skinny my neck looked in my shadow. I remember other times watching my out-grown-bell-bottom-pants flapping as I walked. They were 3 or 4 inches above the top of my shoe. I pushed down my pants as far as possible in my shadow hoping to avoid the “He’s waiting for a flood,” comment at school.

The funniest looking shadows occurred during the winter times. The Native Americans called it “the season of the long shadow.” As kids, we’d run, jump, put our hands up and wave as we watched our shadows.

Our shadows were giants during the season of the long shadow. We’d laugh and carry on about how “cool” it would be to really be that big. We turned those shadows into characters to add to our number. Our playmates doubled immediately once we counted our giants in the shadows.

I find it interesting that children often find awe and beauty in the simplest things in creation. As adults, we consider those things childish. Maybe they are… The fact that we don’t even notice the simple things any longer might prove the point.

As an adult, I notice my long shadow in winter mostly subconsciously. It’s not as skinny as it was as a child… I should have been a little more careful what I wished for. I have to confess the days spent here on this earth find me a tad on the somber side during the season of the long shadow.

Maybe with the shorter days I’m reminded of the relative quickness of this life. 1st Chronicles 29:15 and Job 8:9 read almost identical, (partial) “Our days on this earth are a shadow.” Here today gone tomorrow.

Many of us get caught up in the details of our daily lives. We try to micromanage everything in our life.

As surely as the sun rises to create shadows, so is God in control of all things in our lives. Instead of playing and finding God in our shadows, we focus on different kinds of shadows.

I’m not suggesting that we as humans don’t have difficult times in life. I understand that trouble is part of this life. Most of us treat our difficulties, big and small alike as if we’re walking with David through “The valley of the shadow of death.”

I have to remind myself it doesn’t matter what difficulty I face, the God of heaven and the designer of the sun and shadows is with me. It doesn’t matter how big the problem, it could be an army, a government, or a group of powerful individuals. Whatever we face in this life, God either causes or allows it.

It really is that simple. To stand under the shadow of the hand of God is more powerful than the sun itself. If God spoke the sun into existence, how powerful must He be?

Nothing happens to us without His consent. “If Christ be for us, who can be against us”?

We stand not in defiance, but in the shadow of the grace given by the hand of our Father.

“God gave me a shadow that goes in and out with me,  I’ve learned the very use of HIM… Now I plainly see”…

PA RUM PUM PUM PUM

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You’d have to wear ear plugs to avoid hearing Christmas songs during this season.

My wife and I pulled into the parking lot of the closest outdoor mall to our house. We’ve accepted the role as Santa’s helpers. Actually we’ve never seen our boss, come to think of it, his assistant either… Somehow we got the memo on our Christmas responsibilities.

Anyway, we were listening to Christmas songs in the car. As soon as I shut the engine off and opened the door, a new Christmas song was being piped into the parking lot and all throughout the mall.

Today at church was almost all Christmas songs backed up by an orchestra. I enjoy this part of the season as much as any of it. The church songs are deep in theology, explaining the story of God in Jesus Christ. Being a pretty simple guy, I enjoy the most simple of things, even the music.

While I enjoy classical Christian songs, they don’t touch my heart like a simpler song, “The Little Drummer Boy.” My Christmas isn’t complete until I’ve heard that simple song. My favorite is version is by Bob Seger.

I’ve heard that song my whole life. When I was younger I didn’t especially care for it. I listened to the words without hearing them. About five years ago, after listening to that song my whole life, I finally “heard” the words to that song.

Although knowing the words in my brain, they couldn’t make their way through the thick denseness down into my heart. When they finally did, that’s when I learned to love that song.

Not that the song was a true story, but the idea of God showing His approval to his children finally got traction in my heart.

The idea that like that little drummer boy we have nothing to offer God. We only have to give Him what He’s given us first. Like the Psalmist understood, (paraphrase) “What is it that I can give to you God”?  “All things come from your hand.”

I have nothing– I am nothing– All I am is because of God’s gift to me. The ultimate Christmas present–The only perfect sacrifice to cover our sins permanently. His son Jesus Christ, whom He allowed to suffer on our behalf so that He would be able to look upon us, even with our sin and offer this perfect gift. The gift of eternal life.

As if that weren’t enough, He also gave each and every one of us something else… Another gift. The things we do. The things we have a talent or passion for. I have a drum set. I even have a guitar. I have no illusions, that gift He gave the little drummer boy he didn’t give me.

I bring a whole new meaning to “making a joyful noise unto the Lord.” I’m sure most people have several gifts, things they excel at beyond what is average. I’ve known many people who God’s gifted in many ways.

For those of us that belong to God understand these gifts aren’t ours, they belong to God. When we use them to bring Him honor we find peace and joy beyond our flesh. We live in a spiritual peace that surpasses human comprehension.

Since the gifts we have are actually intellectual property of the Creator of the cosmos, they are given with a responsibility.We have a duty to use them in such a way that shows the greatness of the One who provided them.

The last verse of that song is what I finally heard after a lifetime of listening to it. “Then He smiled at me pa rum pum pum pum, me and my drum.”

The God of all creation smiling as we use the gifts He blessed us with. What could be better in life that God smiling at us?

This is one of the gifts He’s given me, may I honor Him with it. May He smile on me and my family as we try to bring Him honor with what belongs to Him.

This Christmas may we all use whatever gifts He’s blessed us with.

May we bring a smile to His Holy Face…