Decorating for Christmas

December 22, 2014

You know how families have traditions and stories that don’t make much sense to those outside of the family? Well, this is one of those.

Probably 25 years ago now, Ellen made an angel to go on the top of our Christmas tree. The angel is made of cloth with a long flowing gown. Since I was the tallest back in that day, I took it upon myself to put the angel on the tree. She basically “sits” on the top bristles with her dress flowing down the stem to hold her in place. For 25 years now it has been our tradition to decorate the tree as a family. As I put the angel in place I say, “That’s gotta hurt.” (Keep in mind my children were small when we began this “tradition”.)

On Saturday, Ellen and I decorated by ourselves for the first time since we were married 40 years ago. Rebekah is sailing around the Caribbean with Disney Cruise Lines and Alissa is living in Nebraska. David and Benjamin were busy and unable to be here. When I placed the angel in her place, frankly, I wasn’t able to speak the “traditional” words. First time in 25 years. But I can tell you this… it really did hurt this time. Ellen and I wiped away tears as we placed one then another familiar ornament in place.

Don’t misunderstand me. I know that some folks are grieving terribly this time of year in ways that I don’t want to think about. Some brokenhearted for recently lost loved ones, and others whose lives have never recovered from the loss of someone gone for a long time. And others are grieving because of children or parents or other loved ones who are unable to be with them during this most special time of year. I know that my circumstances are not unique. But that doesn’t really help much does it?

Over the years I have visited people in the hospital who were in pain. Often they have said something like, “It’s okay, I know there are others in more pain than I am.” You know what? That doesn’t relieve our pain. It might make us be more sympathetic toward others. It might make us better able to identify with others. It might even make us mourn for others. But it doesn’t remove our pain. We continue to hurt.

The strange thing about all of this is that it isn’t just about the fact that our kids are not all home for Christmas for the first time. I mean, certainly that’s a factor. But it has as much to do with the notion that our lives have changed. Ellen and I are slowly moving into another phase; the one where our kids have their own lives and they need to live them. What this is really about is mourning. It’s about grief over what will never be again. But what was a wonderful part of our lives.

Here’s the good news in all of this. This would not be so difficult if Christmas were not a special time, right? And it is my hope and prayer that to some degree we have been able to keep that in perspective over the years. Christmas has been a celebration of the birth of our Savior. I’m more grateful than I can express that all of my children are cognizant of that and actively living out their faith.

My hope and prayer for those reading this is that you would also have a clear perspective on why this time of year is special. Not because of gifts, of course. And not because of all the things that need to get done. And not even because we get to see loved ones whom we only see infrequently. No, it’s because at a time and place in history, the Son of God chose to invade humanity in the form of a small child. Glory to God, Glory to God, Glory to God!

P.S. I just went into our living room and adjusted our angel. I spoke the traditional words over her once again. This time by myself.


December 16, 2014

I have had a number of you comment in recent weeks either personally or through email that I seem to have gotten very serious, maybe even morose in my old age. Furthermore, it appears that any sense of humor that I may ever have had seems to get lost before these ruminations are penned. Well… EXCUUUUUUUUUSE ME! I mean another year in a relatively short life has come and gone. And Christmas is on the horizon… if there is ever a time to be gloomy… well, it has to be Christmas right?


For example, how many man hours or woman hours, kid hours, dog hours, I don’t know… anyway, how many hours have been spent in the past century fiddling with Christmas tree lights? Seriously! Like maybe a billion, or a quintillion, or what about a Fac-bill-jillion? (Okay, made that one up.) Or, I wish I had a penny – just a penny –  for every curse word muttered over an unruly string of lights. I mean how is it possible that lights can surround a tree or hang from a gutter through the most severe weather, covered with snow, and they continue to work? You unplug them in January, carefully, meticulously, like handling an egg, place them back into a container, put them away and don’t move them for 11 months… and when you unpack them THEY DON’T WORK?! I do not believe in gremlins, but I could be convinced.

Speaking of gremlins they must also eat the extension cords! If I had all the money I have spent on extension cords over the years… my kids would not have college loans! Where do they go? I mean they can’t dissolve, can they? They’re made of plastic and copper for heaven’s sake. Don’t they dig up copper things in Egypt that are like 10,000 years old? (Okay, may have made that one up too.) But plastic will still be decomposing when the earth gets sucked into the sun a fac-bill-jilloin years from now. Where are all the cords? Now that I think of it…, I’m going to mark them then check my neighbors every year. Gremlins, my foot!


And whatever happened to outside “Christmas” decorations? I see a lot of Disney decorations, and Winnie the Pooh decorations, and Santa decorations, and Frosty decoration, and reindeer decorations, and Snoopy decorations, and inflatable decorations, and coordinated light decorations, and heaven knows what decorations, ad nauseam (that means “until I puke”). But, no “Christmas” decorations! If I didn’t know better I would think we have somehow supplanted the celebration of the Birth of our Savior with something else. NAH!!


I have a prayer that I pray each year. Sweat runs down my brow as I think of the possibility of this prayer not being answered: “Please God, don’t let us run out of milk any time near Christmas Eve. Don’t make me have to go out… THERE! Anything but that! Yank off my fingernails, give me eternal noogies, make me listen to Justin Bieber, but PLEASE… don’t make me leave the house. There are unstable people afoot who are… um… shall I say… ‘aggressive’ about ‘celebrating’ Christmas.” I went out one year… barely made it home alive. I used to have an older brother. He went out for bread on Christmas Eve. That was back in the 60’s…. still haven’t heard from him.

Don’t tell me about humor. After all, it’s Christmas! Not a time for light heartedness. It’s time for stress, frustration, traffic, pointless gifts and baking those licorice tasting things that most people don’t like. Call it anise if you want, it’s licorice. I should add that I looked up the definition of anise: it’s “… fragrant seed, used for flavoring and as a medicine for expelling intestinal gas.” Need I say more?


Go ahead, laugh if you want but I’m taking all of this very seriously. I’m gonna go untangle some Christmas tree lights. Shouldn’t take me too long.


Bah Humbug!


December 10, 2014

I know that part of this is physiological… you know, the whole “getting older thing, our bodies changing….” But not all of this is about my body reacting to things in ways it didn’t used to do. So, what is the “this” I speak of? The sleepless nights; the things that cause me to lay awake and fret and worry; obsessions that run through my mind that cause my fingers to forever tap, tap, tap… And please don’t remind me about what the scripture says about worrying… I KNOW! And frankly, that’s simply one more reason to fret.

I know about the birds and how God cares for them. I get the flower thing. (See Matthew 6:25-34, if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) Why can’t I get this “worry” thing under control! What’s wrong with me? Am I simply destined to live a life filled with lack of faith? I mean I can’t even conjure up a tiny mustard seed!? Matthew 17:20 He replied “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” And it doesn’t help knowing that a mustard seed is about as big as the period at the end of this sentence.

I remember a lady from years ago, a wonderful Christian woman. She had numerous 3×5 cards held together with gum bands (That’s “rubber bands” or “elastics” for those of you not from Western PA) filled with prayer reminders sitting on her kitchen table that she prayed through every day. Got that? EVERY DAY! And yet I had a troubling conversation with her on numerous occasions. She would fret about everything and anything. If all was well – her children were well, her husband was well, her life was fulfilling – she would go back years to find something that she had done that she regretted and… well… fret about it! I remember at the time thinking with my most pastoral and sensitive heart: “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? You are one of the most gracious and kindly women of God I have ever known! You are a model of Christian faith… and yet you can’t get past this worry thing?!”

It is one of the many things that I understand now that I am a little more seasoned that I just couldn’t understand back then. Well, maybe I don’t exactly “understand it” but I can now sympathize with it. I wish I couldn’t. I would love it to not be a part of my life. And yet…

I have had people over the years tell me that I shouldn’t share these sorts of things. “It may cause lay people to question their own faith, or question your leadership as a pastor.” Hey, guess what? This is not something I’m going to worry about! Seriously, your faith journey is YOUR faith journey. If it’s based on my faith… well, see the little dot at the end of this sentence.

Years ago a well known pastor and author was speaking to the graduating class of Princeton Theological Seminary. He said something like this: “You all think you’re a bunch of theological hotshots because you have been to seminary. The truth is, you are likely going to go pastor a small church with a group of little old ladies who have more spirituality in their little fingers than you have in your whole body.” He was right.

So, next time you’re awake at 2:00 am, give me a call… I’ll likely be fretting about something or tapping my fingers while irritating Ellen at the same time. On second thought… maybe no phone call.

Oh, sorry… were you looking for a solution to the “worry” problem. I’ll get back to you on that one.




December 1 2014

Oh my goodness… Black Friday is over! Thank the Lord. All the pushing, shoving, foul language. The impatience and bad attitudes. Tazers, and even knives were rumored. I’m telling you… eating Thanksgiving dinner with Ellen’s family is brutal! J

Okay so let me stick my neck out here just a little bit into the realm of “full contact Christianity.” So if you really want to get some folks’ ire up in the faith how do you do it? What do you say? What issues do you question? Things like:

Causing people to stumble? Matthew 18:7Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!

Nope we’re not too concerned with that.

Not caring for those in need? Matthew 25:35-37 – For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?

Nope don’t care so much for that.

Being hypocrites? Matthew 23:27“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean”.

Nope. Seriously?!

There are many more issues that ought to incense us. Things that ought to cause believers to rise up and confront with all that we are. But these are not them. Well at least they don’t seem to be first on the list.

BUT… question whether Jesus is coming back soon???? Oh my! You will receive the full attention (wrath?) of those who put many of their Christians eggs into that basket. I had a professor in college who said this, “Christians have a New Testament that either has 26 books in it because they ignore Revelation. Or they have a New Testament with 1 book in it…” You get it, right? I have known too many Christians over the years who know all about prophecy (or they think they do). They focus their lives on knowing the end times. They are up on all of the latest “gossip posing as theology” related to eschatology (look it up). And yet they have little idea of the need to live their lives fully sold out to Jesus. Or they think that focusing on the “end times” is sold out to Jesus?

Why do we do this? Why the focus on “the end times”? Particularly in light of several very important verses from Jesus and Paul.
Matthew 24:36-37 – “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-2“Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Seriously… how hard are they to figure out? We don’t know, we won’t know and I don’t think we’re supposed to know. So why the vigor… to know?

A few less then complimentary thoughts.

  1. In our arrogance as Americans we look at the plight of Christianity in our country (not exclusively, I understand) and since The Church is in dramatic decline and to some degree persecuted (irrelevant?), we must be near the end times. That is the height of hubris! Who do we think we are?! Do we think that the Kingdom somehow focuseson or revolves around the USA? This naiveté posing as “Christian Patriotism” makes me ill.
  2. We are a people who have gossipy minds… we just have to know things first. And we need to make sure that others know we know things first. I sense it has something to do with self-importance, but I’m not positive. It’s not unlike when we get a phone call that someone is critically ill, or that a friend died. Something in us just has to tell others. Not just because they might want to know… but also because we want to make sure that folks know that we knew first. What’s better to know first than the fact that Jesus is coming soon?! That is a juicy piece of information!
  3. Do you remember what the sin of Adam and Eve was? They wanted to be like God. Go back and review Matthew 24 above. Who does it say has the exclusive intel on the second coming? So if we want to know what only God knows… uh… does anyone else see a problem with that?

One little suggestion… and I say this with some reservation. Take some time to read through the Gospels. Not the other parts of the Bible, just the Gospels. Then compare your issues to Jesus’ issues. Does he address the things that are dear to you? If so how are they addressed? Does he mention them directly, indirectly or not at all? Then ask yourself how important they ought to be to you. Don’t misunderstand me… I’m not saying the other parts of the Scriptures are not important. I am implying however that if we’re going to begin somewhere we might want to begin with the Words of our Lord.

Frankly it all makes me embarrassed to be around believers sometimes (not so thrilled with myself on occasion either). This misguided, self-centered focus is difficult to deal with. If you never mention the second coming, end times, prophecy related to last things or eschatology again, but you fill your life with caring for the poor and leading people toward the Lord… Well I’m going to guess you will honor God much more than trying to know what only He knows.

Just sayin.