Thursday, December 31, 2009

The New Year

My sister lives three time zones away, which is altogether too far. We can't meet for lunch or go shopping together, so we find other ways to stay close. Of course, there's the phone, but we have to time our calls just right, because one of us might be sleeping. We e-mail and send each other hilarious photos of questionable taste. It helps that the men in our lives hit it off last summer and now are friends, too. But the best way we stay close is by sending each other crazy gifts, a tradition that started when we were in college.

A few years back, she gave me a Jesus Action Figure. (She gave me Moses, too, but he's not nearly as much fun. Tom says, "Moses only divides the water. Jesus makes wine!") Jesus has jointed, bendable arms and little wheels under his feet so he can move quickly to help the helpless and bless those who are wavering in faith, unsure of what they really need.

My Jesus Action Figure has been the visual for any number of sermons (which only works because I have preached in many different places.) Imagine, me seriously preaching about "be what God made you to be, do what God calls you to do" then reaching into the pulpit, and whipping out my favorite toy: "Be a Jesus Action Figure!" I love the surprise, the giggles and then the laughter.

As I write this in my time zone, we have only about five and a half hours of the old year remaining. 2009 has been good and bad for us. Job uncertainty, no jobs, our son needing surgery (and, oh, by the way, since he had no health insurance, we had to pay thousands of dollars up front). Then there was the failing health of our parents and the loss of my father in law, a traumatic move for my mother, worry for her well being and for that of my brother, many trips to visit them in the next time zone east... But then "Eddie's Wake" was published after all those years of work and the book itself looks fantastic, I left my last interim-pastor job feeling pretty good about how things went, our son went back to work, then back to college and got A's and B's his first semester... Our needs have been met often miraculously - more than once - just when we were about to panic.

What will '010 bring? Probably another mixed bag. Sometimes I'm afraid about what's ahead, sometimes I can't wait (will I be able to write a whole first draft of book two by the end of the new year? I hope I've learned enough about writing fiction to be able to do that.)

The thing is... the true, real, live Jesus Action Figure is already there in 2010... and beyond, ready and waiting to move quickly to help the helpless and bless those who are wavering in faith, unsure of what they really need.

Happy New Year, friends. May 2010 be for you a time of joy and blessing upon blessing! Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Huddle

When I felt that our boys were old enough to “be very careful” with breakable things, we set up our nativity set on a low shelf so they could see it. We remembered the story of Jesus’ birth as we placed the angel, then Mary and Joseph, then the baby in the manger, then the shepherd and sheep and finally the kings. With Christmas lights all around, it was a beautiful sight.

But the next morning as I walked through the room, I noticed that the figures were all bunched up in a tight little wad around the manger. Hmmm... I was a little annoyed that I had to put it back in order, along with everything else I was picking up and putting back in order.

Not too long after that, it happened again. Who was doing this? As I recall, the dog got blamed for it. Once more, I fixed it up and went back to chasing my two little boys.

But the next time I looked, Mary and Joseph and their baby were again being suffocated by sheep, shepherd and wise men. What on earth? “Does everything in this house always have to be so messy?” I thought.

Then it dawned on me. We had been singing about the Baby Jesus, things like, "I love thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky, and stay by my cradle till morning is nigh." We’d been lighting candles on our Advent wreath and had been talking about Jesus’ birthday. To this day, I can’t get either boy to admit that he was the one who did it, but whoever it was understood this Christmas stuff way better than his Mom did.

Who doesn’t love a new baby? Who wouldn’t want to get close to this wondrous Babe, who’d come to bring healing to a hurting world?

My wish for all of you, my friends, is that you huddle close around the manger this year, for herein lies your hope and salvation.

A Blessed, Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A New Day

This morning when I went into the kitchen to fix my oatmeal, I looked across the living room and out the picture windows and was stunned by the beauty of the sunrise. The house was dark, and the "automatic on-off LED Christmas candles" still shone brightly on the window sills... but outside and across the yard, I could see the deep night brighten to blues, then rose, then burning orange; the silhouettes of bare trees fancying it up, even though there was no need.

It didn't last long. By the time I'd finished my oatmeal,it was gone. But it made a difference that I was able to behold such a spectacular sight at the start of my day.

Like many others, our household has been hit by the bad economy. (I get really sick of hearing the term "touch economic times." I think it was coined by someone who's had little if any first hand experience, someone who wanted to package up the uncertainty of being able to pay all of next month's bills into a nice p.c. phrase when there's really nothing nice about it!) As I was saying - we've been hit here, too, and there are moments of high panic, moments of hope, moments of impatience.

But seeing a sight like I did this morning makes me thankful I had a reason to get out of bed. (Supply preaching that pays!) One way or another, things will work out. They always do.

It was worth getting up for. Try it sometime.