Thursday, December 14, 2017

Merry Christmas? It's just not working.

This won't be a long blog. You're busy. I'm busy. The world is crazy busy, especially this time of year. And I need to get out and ring a bell.

In order for you to understand where I am going with this Merry Christmas? It's just not  working blog thing, you need to know that this year I answered a cry from the Salvation Army for more bell-ringers. I had been asking God to show me where I could serve...I tend to get paralyzed like a deer in the headlights at all the  opportunities to minister out there and I need Him to make is so clear that I couldn't miss it. And He willingly obliged. A call went out. I heard it. And now I ring. Simple!

One thing about the Salvation Army is that it gets the job done, providing shelter, food, clothing, whatever is necessary, freely, to those in need with little going into corporate pockets. I like that. I can stand in temperatures so cold that my mouth stops working and the bell tumbles from frozen fingers for a cause like that!

But yesterday I was struggling. I don't know how other people do the bell ringing.  I've heard that some bell-ringers sing and dance and do all sorts of talented things to draw people in. But me of little talent, I just sit there and smile and wish everyone that comes in front of me a Merry Christmas!

And this is where the trouble started.

After about three days and hundreds of Merry Christmas! wishes, I began to struggle. At first I thought it was the cold, making my words slur together, But then my greeting began to sound shallow. Wrong. Out of place.

First there was the man who stopped, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, Happy Hanukah! I blinked and then replied the same to him.

Next came the sad-eyed woman that sidled up to me and stood there. She needed to tell me that her mother had died this year and the Merry just wasn't there anymore. Oh my dear, I know your pain!

And the multitude of others who had stories to tell of loss and sickness and a year that was anything but Merry. And after each story my heart grew heavier.

Between visitors I found myself singing the song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day...repeating over and over the one verse, "There is no peace on earth, I said."

Hour after hour a parade of broken humanity walked past me. My heart cry became, "Lord, how do I bring hope into these people's lives?"  A Merry Christmas! wish is not working.

And that question has been hanging on to my heart throughout the night. And this morning it's still there.

Options have presented themselves like tidy schoolchildren for inspection...

Peace! No, they'll think I'm from the 60's and some may give me the peace sign back, and then what will I do?

The peace of the Lord be always with you! Which says more but has too many words to say over and over again to all those people. They'll think I'm drunk as my speech begins to tangle after the first hour.

Happy Holidays! Oh my, no. That's got all the makings of our secular culture.

Good Morning! Good Afternoon! Good Evening! Ugh. It not only sounds like The Truman Show, but I'm back to the same problem...Merry/Good...not going to work.

What I wish I could do is stop. And listen. And take time to meet each person where they are at...where their pain is making havoc of their lives...where their fears and questions hang them.

At times I have wanted to fold up my bucket stand and walk away. How's that for true confessions?

But I can't.

I love that so many give money, freely, to a worthy cause. And that's really why I'm there. It's the greeting that I'm struggling with.

So, this is what I've decided...

Today, I will give the gift of Presence...right there in front of that food store, next to the Sun City retirement community.

By His grace I will greet each person with a smile and a God bless you!  because only God knows where each of those precious souls are in their earthly wandering and where they need a blessing. I sure don't.

You see, they know it's Christmas. I know it's Christmas. You couldn't miss it in our culture.

But what they may not know is the reason we celebrate Christmas...that it's not about gifts and parties and busyness. If that is the only star to follow, we will end up hopeless and exhausted and broke.

Instead, Christmas is a gift of relationship...from a God who cares so passionately for us that He left the glory of Heaven to come to earth as a vulnerable infant...Who, living a sinless life, was the only worthy sacrifice for our sins...ultimately dying on the cross for our salvation. This is the message we all need to hear...over and  over and over again...not only at Christmas, but every day of every year.

The true meaning of Christmas is that God loves us so much He provided a way for us to be with Him forever...Christ Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us.

And now, because of this Gift, we have hope every day, no matter what life throws at us.

And that is what I pray my smile and greeting will tell them.

So, on that note I leave's time to get ready to ring. Thanks for listening.

And in expectation of ringing today, I say with a full heart, God Bless You!

May the joy and hope that Christ brings be yours in abundance during this season of celebration and throughout the New Year!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The gift of a handicap

Have you ever heard the saying, "If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans?"

Well, over a week ago someone said to me, "Send me your newest blog when it's ready."

And I, confident in my ability to foresee the future, replied, "Oh it will be up tomorrow! I'll make sure I send it on to you." Laugh. Laugh.

It is now nine days later. Like the pastor said during his talk on Sunday, "What makes you think you were ever in control?"

And that is really a very good question.

I come from a long line of controlees...people who were wired to "keep it together"...a direct descendent of William Bradford who took the ultimate control and left the Old World across the Pond to establish a colony in the New World....

A Swamp Yankee by heritage...born with a bootstrap in hand and an ingrained sense of how to pull oneself up by said bootstrap on a daily basis.

The thing about bootstraps is that the more you pull on them, the stronger your boot-strap-pulling-muscles grow. It becomes second nature to pull, pull, pull. After awhile, you don't even realize you are pulling anymore.

But eventually you do realize you are tired...very, very tired. And pulling gets more and more difficult. But you can't imagine ever letting go. Pulling is the only life you have ever would life go on without your pulling?

And in that desperate moment God, in His infinite mercy, looks down upon you and plants in you a hunger for rest, which being the good controlee you are, only means you amp up your need to pull harder and make that rest-thing happen by golly!

Rest? Got it! Pull, pull, pull!

So God, in even greater mercy, steps up the trials and tribulations in your life. And you pull harder and harder...and the cycle goes on and on and on...

Until one day you can't pull anymore. And exhausted you let go, not seeing God in the midst of it, just believing that you must have failed. If you had held on just a little longer...pulled a little harder...all these trials and tribulations would not be happening.

Paul has a name for this merciful intervention by God..."The Gift of a Handicap"...