Friday, December 31, 2010
We are in winter, and it feels like spring. But year end, and time for several bits of wisdom.
“If you think some praise is due him,
Now’s the time to slip it to him,
For he cannot read his tombstone
When he’s dead.”
This is part of a bit of poetry that sticks in the mind, and ought to be done.
There is another, from the Psalms.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom:
A good understanding have all they,
That do His commandments;
His praise endure forever.” Ps. 111,10.
To this St, John adds, (l John 5,3)
“For this is the love of God,
That we keep His commandments,
And His commandments are not grievous.”
One other bit of business that the wise person ought to take into his year-end thought, and that is to rid oneself of any weight or burden that troubles us. In short, “forgiving one another, as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you”. Eph. 4,32.
In all these items, Satan is ever ready to stand and tell us, “No, let him take the first step. You have been wronged.” But look at that other phrase again, “As God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you.” Remember, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5,8.
So, may God bless the doing to end the year in His name, and with His peace in our hearts because Jesus Christ is born. May He bless you now and always.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
My son called me today and asked whether we had taken care of the IRA withdrawal. I had forgotten, so took care of that by phone and are tax friendly for another year. They promised to cut the check today but it will arrive several days hence by mail.
Well, this morning I got my walk in before the rains started. They come intermittently and are promised to last the day long, and we certainly need the moisture.
December means the Christmas Bird Count is now underway. It runs from the 14th to the month end. Such a bird count was organized on Christmas Day back in 1900 when ornithologist Frank Chapman deployed 27 citizens who counted 90 species of birds in 25 North American locales. He started it to try to change a fading fashion of ‘side hunts’ in which shooters choose sides to see who shoot the most birds in a single day.
The side hunt faded out, and the bird count became one of the most successful, and enduring, citizen-science projects in history. It is now an international event. In the western hemisphere some 60,753 volunteers counted 2,319 species of birds in 2000 locales last year.
Each locale is called a count circle and extends some 15 miles in area. Texas usually hosts about 100 counters, and five circles in Texas were among the top 20 for numbers of species tallied. Areas that are more rural usually top the count totals.
Data from these Christmas counts show trends in bird shifts, population declines, migration, etc.
You can take part. I never have because I simply do not know too many species by sight or call. The Houston area hosts many species, among them the cardinal, mourning dove, lesser goldfinch, caolina wren, great horned owl, red-tailed hawk, eastern bluebird snow goose, and the whooping crane.
All God’s creatures, all serve a purpose and fit in.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
The walking is wonderful, brisk air, dry underfoot, no snow to slough through, and no rumbling of those big yellow boxes to disturb the morning quiet. And I got to thinking, today is the anniversary of my father’s birth, and it was always time for family gathering since it fell in the middle of celebrations, and there was nothing much else to do.
So the family gathered at our house. Aunts brought loads of sandwiches, cakes, and other eat stuff while uncles brought them and saw the car did not freeze while inside, because it was always below freezing and usually the ground was covered with snow.
And for us youngsters, play time. Usually cousins brought favorite board games, and we played monopoly, checkers, and stuff like that.
And off in the corner, there was always uncle Oscar and uncle Robert, hunkered over a chess board, battling their battles in silence. Intense, attention centered on the plan, and maneuvering to try to outwit each other. They were so evenly matched that the total games won was really nearly even.
Other uncles gathered around the kitchen table intent on their games, never for money, you understand, just mostly to pass the time and exchange news about what they planned to plant next year, or how the herds was performing during the cold months, or some other farm talk.
The evening ended around ten or so when the aunts began to set out plates of sandwiches, served hot coffee, added cakes of many kinds, and when the food was gone one heard the first, “Well, tomorrow comes soon enough, I guess we’ll be going.”
I thought of those times, and thought they were the best of times for me. I had no worries. My wants and needs were taken care of, always plenty of food to eat, chores to do, and when I needed a new shirt, it was provided. I did no planning nor did I worry about tomorrow.
Strikes me that is How the Lord, our God, plans it for us. He teaches us, “Do not worry about the morrow, for the morrow will tale care of itself. For your heavenly Father knows that ye have need of all these things.” Then come these marvelous words of comfort and strength, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”
With that thought, I wish you a wonderful day.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
At Christmas 2010
We sing joyfully,
“Hark, the Herald angels sing,
Glory to the new born king”.
Then follow the thought to this.
“Mild he lays his glory by
Born that man no more may die,
raise the sons of earth,
born to give them second birth”
So we sing, Glory to the Newborn King”.
Aside from all the hurry and joy of unwrapping and having family about and being content, I pray God will bless you and yours, deepen your faith, strengthen your hope, fill you wth renewed wonder, worship, andd obedience.
For, “This is the Christ, the Savior of all.”
In His name, Merry Christmas.
Monday, December 20, 2010
There is a small step down from our front door to the porch and I find I usually step down first with my right foot. I just do. It feels right, and when I use the other foot first I feel there is something amiss.
Just proves we are creatures of habit.
What shoe do you put on first, right or left? See? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Habits do make life easier and often more pleasant. You find it so too.
Take speech patterns. Experts can tell our origin from the way we talk. Such things as Texas drawl or a clipped mid-western speech are often easy to identify.
But it brings to mind the patterns or lazy habits we develop in the way we talk with each other. The habit of ending every statement with a “you know”, often excuses thinking that might make clearer what we intend to say.
Some patterns or habits are just that, habit. My mother had a cousin, a fine, hard-working mother of four, who ended every sentence with “gella”. A completely meaningless expression. It meant nothing. She did not even know where it came from, but she used it till her dying day, and her friends became used to hearing it.
So, what meaningless or pointless speech pattern do you use? And will it make it easier to listen to you if you don’t use it, or maybe even cause you to think more before expressing a thought.
Here is one habit I do hope you have developed, to speak to God, often, in prayer. Maybe it’s just as simple as thanking God for a pleasant day, or a safe trip, or a wonderful visit with a friend. But develop the habit of saying what Paul urges, “In everything give thanks”.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Just walked to the mail box to send some tax checks on their way. (No, taxes don’t stop when one retires). Anyway, on the way I saw something shining on the street and stooped to pick up a dime. This seems to be my day, for I had to go to the store for some items early on and picked up a dime on the parking lot. My question, do I need to report this as income and pay tax, or not?
It’s a small thing, and really nonsensical, isn’t it? Makes as much sense as people getting all worked up over what words to use in greeting each other during this season?
This sort of thing got underway when the ACLU started to take towns to court because they set a crèche on the courthouse lawn, something they had been doing for maybe 35 years already. That was ‘mixing church and State”, and the courts foolishly allowed that argument.
And of course, did that diminish the story of Jesus birth. Of course not.
All it did, really, was to show how forgetful many people are. They forget their NEED for this Jesus, born to “save people from their sins”. And, sadly, many do forget how great their need really is. The irony of it all is that those who want nothing to do with Christmas can’t understand why their lives are in such a mess.
It won’t offend me if you wish me a Happy Holiday, and even use that familiar “Xmas” when you twitter, because it gives you an extra five letters to tell me how cute your kitten is when she tears down the Christmas tree.
Which brings up the furor that was caused when Lutheran Pastor H.C. Schwan set a little trimmed tree in his church at Christmas. This happened in Cleveland, Ohio, and the town was so upset they even threatened to boycott any businesses run by any members of that Church. The next year, of course, it had become an accepted custom to beautify a church sanctuary with a tree.
So, “And the angels did sing, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.” It remains true. Christ was born to “save His people from their sins”, and our carrying on will not change that blessed truth.
So rejoice with me, that Our Savior is Born.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Christmas lights are still shining when I walk in the morning, so it’s almost like walking through a bright avenue, each sight different, and many innovative. Oh, there are several of those icicle-like lights hanging on the roof line, but others took imagination, and are an inviting sight to see. Missing along the Gulf Coast of Texas, of course, are the softly flying flakes of snow to smooth and brighten the landscape. But be satisfied with what is here, eh?
Every mail brings its quota of cards and notes. We enjoy them, but would also remind folks to identify, identify, identify. We love you, but your children grow and we fail to recognize them. So please. (This is not a complaint, it is a SUGGESTION).
The Christmas story, so familiar, but amazing just the same.
Stay with me for a moment.
Adam and Eve sinned, and brought the need for a Savior.
So the Lord promised one who would “Crush Satan’s head”.
Years went by. The Lord identified the family of Abraham. “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
More time, more patient waiting,. Till Isaiah speaks of a virgin to be the mother of the Lord. Then Micah placed the birth. It would happen kin an obscure place called Bethlehem.
Time went on, silence till Malachi, the last of the old Testament prophets who declared, “Behold, I will send my Messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.” 3,1.
Then more silence, more than 400 years of silence. Finally the events recorded so clearly by St.Luke. That’s the story we read, many of us have memorized, and can recite. That’s the story that seems “old hat” to us.
Yet it is a story so wonderful that the angels can’t help but rejoice over a God whose Name is Glory, Glory, Glory. The angels and all of heaven rejoice because of God’s invasion in this broken world.
That brings us the angel chorus.
“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace,
Good will to men.” Luke 2,13-14.
Good will to men.” Luke 2,13-14.
That is what I wish for us all in Jesus’ Blessed Name.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
I really am sort of at a standstill as to how to begin. (Now if that sentence doesn’t intrigue you, then nothing will.)
Christmas is near, and the news says so, no end. Only so many days left to do your shopping, getting gifts wrapped and sent, doing all the pre-Christmas chores. Shopping for gifts either online or in person is hard, wondering whether what you plan to give is right, and now you have to worry whether your high school niece will find the label you buy right. “Correct” with the “in crowd”.
Stress no end, and the voice gets a bit shrill, and tempers are short, and you forget the person serving you in a busy store is also a person with feelings, needs, and cares of their own.
Maybe the think piece that called Christmas “a numbing season” had it right. For it seems as if the thing is way out of kilter.
Especially so when we consider that Mark and John don’t even mention the birth, and the early Church celebrated the Resurrection of Christ, not the birth. So St. Paul writes, “I determined not to Know anything among you but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
The climax of the four Gospels is not the birth, but the events we celebrate at Easter. One quarter to one half of each of the chapters in the four Gospels focus on Easter events. Early Christians did not celebrate the birth so much as they did the Resurrection, at least not from their basic texts.
Pressures to buy loads of gifts are pressures from the culture, not from the faith. Pressures to present a flawless meal, or spend a holiday without family friction, or keep a relentless façade of good cheer are not pressures of the faith. We may not be able to escape the pressure completely, but let us at least put things into persective. Let us not confuse faith and discipleship with what the world offers.
May I offer this, that we pause in the race, take time for quiet worship, relax a bit and remember that we are God’s baptized children and that He has written the plan of our lives before they ever began. Psalm 139,16 is the selection of choice, among so many others rich in promise and of blessing.
When we do that, it won’t bother us when we end up in the grocery line behind the person who starts digging for money only after everything had checked and the cashier is waiting to be paid.
We are patient, because we know something, we are God’s children.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
For some years many papers carried a feature titled “The Country parson”. Each is a bit of wisdom or comment on the passing scene. One showed the Parson on his morning walk with a folded newspaper tucked under his arm. Someone asked why the paper, and his reply was this. “The newspaper tells is what is happening in the world.. The Bible tells us why.”
No sooner had I read that bit when someone suggested a verse of Scripture to describe our political scene best. The verse is Ecclesiastes 10,2.
NIV Translates this: “The heart of the wise man inclines to the right, the heart of the fool to the left.”
Trying to make sense of things is the study that engages many minds.
Jeremiah, the ancient prophet to Israel, writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” Jer 17,9.
So where to look? Well, the Country parson is right, go to the Bible for our answers. It is the one Book that will not only make sense of the way we behave, but tell us exactly why we do it, and what the only solution is.
Old stuff, you say, I know all that.
It is because humans tend to be forgetful of how desperate their situation really is that the Church celebrates Advent again, and Christmas, and, in order, the scenes of our salvation through the birth of Jesus Christ. The Bible calls Him our Savior.
The Season of the year we are in right now leads to the Birth, and we do need this reminder, we rejoice to celebrate it again, and it gives us new heart for the life we lead here in this sin-riddled earth. Here we find strength, get renewed faith for the struggle, take fresh heart to face tomorrow, and get the peace from God that only He can give us. Why, He assures us our sins have been forgiven. This is what God tells us, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” Psalm 103. Then the psalm adds, “For He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust”. v.14.
So, yes, “The newspaper & TV news tell us what is happening, the Bible tells us why.”
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
This is the day “That will live in infamy”. Those words were part of a speech then president Roosevelt made when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the U S declared war on Japan. That was December 7, in 1941, and many of you weren’t even born yet. But there was a sense of “Can this be real?” feeling in the country. After all, we are America! We win wars. “How could they?”
But the deed was done, and it took real determined effort, concentration, and much sacrifice on the part of many before we finally concluded that war in 1945. But meanwhile the world changed, and many people who had been sent to every corner of the world changed too, their outlook, often their thinking, and their understanding of events.
What really gets tested in times of massive change like that is faith. No longer can we sit down with the friend we grew up with who lives around the corner to discuss some problem, for he is suddenly in Iowa Jima or North Africa. And events move faster than we are used to, it bewilders, and, as I said, it tests a faith. Does God know what is going on? Does the Word still work, and are the truths I learned in my childhood at home and at school still relevant to this time?
The changes reminded me of the change when Israel was hauled off to captivity. Disaster. They stewed in misery, and some false prophets encouraged that, till Jeremiah, God’s prophet, sent them a letter that told them to settle down, build houses, make it your home, for your Gad is there with you till you return home again.
And that is always the best way to survive a test, to depend on what you know. The Psalmist said this.
“But as for me, I trust in you, O Lord; I say,
'You are my God, my times are in your hands’.” Psalm 31,14.15.
'You are my God, my times are in your hands’.” Psalm 31,14.15.
The old truths, that have stood the test of time, that have carried many, many their life long. Such truths that have been comfort and strength in times of trouble and distress, these truths that cling to Jesus Christ, who teaches still, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father but by ME.”
So December the 7th passes by, always under God’s direction, and His blessing comes to us always.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Still nice and cool for my morning walk. It is energizing, and gives time for reflection.
The subject this morning was thinking on a book review. The Book, “The Shallows, What The internet is Doing to our Brains” by Nicholas Carr. He reports that Computers are changing the way we think. No longer “Calm, focused, undistracted. The linear mind is bring pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping, bursts – the faster the better.” And it may not be a good thing. The book is not optimistic about the future of thought.
When Johann Gutenberg invented movable type, people learned to engage their minds more deeply to an inward flow of words, ideas, and emotions. Before this, a mind was distracted by every passing butterfly. Now it started to focus more on ideas, on words and emotions. The results are impressive, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the industrial revolution, and modernism.
Today young adults average more than 19 hours a week online, and 49 minutes reading books, magazines, or newspapers. Today youth no longer memorizes poetry, philosophy, or scripture. Nor do we spend long evenings reading and pondering ideas, and stocking our minds with learned thoughts. This worries Carr.
But why bother with memory when we have all this material available at Google. Long term memory becomes impoverished, and that leads to inability to reinterpret ancient wisdom for the present day, and we cannot transmit to future generations our cultural heritage. Carr warns, “Outsource memory and our culture withers.”
Technology’s numbing effect is not a new condition. It happened, described by Psalm 135,15-18 and 115, 4-8. where idolaters grow to resemble what they idolize.
Religion is also being changed. The Reformation happened because of the printed word. Once upon a time the Church service was a high point in life, and the sermons taught truths mined from the Holy Book. Today this is changing. Our church services are fast-paced, entertaining, with sermons and songs projected on giant screens, and the emphasis is on entertaining the crowds.
On the plus side, not everyone has allowed the internet to hijack their lives. There is renewed emphasis in many places on slowing down, increased emphasis on meditation, and many are turning again to chants, Lectio Divina (A slow meditative reading of sections of Scripture), and taking time for thoughtful discussion and prayer.
I hope and pray you remember the days of old, as David suggests, and always keep in mind the history of God at work in the world to save His people by sending Christ Jesus, the Savior, “to die for the sins of the whole world.” As St. John so joyfully points out.