Friday, December 21, 2012

Jesus and the Elves

And Joseph went up from Galilee to Bethlehem with Mary, his wife, who was expecting a child.  And she brought forth a son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.  And the angel of the Lord spoke to the shepherds and said, “I bring you tidings of great joy.  Unto you is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” 

“There’s a problem with the angel,” said a Pharisee who happened to be strolling by.  “Angels are widely regarded as religious symbols, and you are on public property where such symbols are not allowed to land or even hover.  And I have to tell you, this whole thing looks very much like a Nativity scene – that’s no no too.”

 Joseph, eager to avoid confrontation, offered a suggestion, “What if I put a couple of reindeer over there near the ox and donkey?”

 “That would definitely help,” said the Pharisee, who knew as well as anyone that whenever a savior appeared, judges usually liked to be on the safe side and surround it with a deer or woodland creatures of some sort.  “Just to be safe, throw in a candy cane, a couple of elves and some snowmen, too.  No court can say no to that.”

 Mary asked, “What does my son’s birth have to do with snowmen?”

 “Snowpersons!” cried a young woman, changing the subject before it turned dangerously toward religion.  Off to the side of the crowd a Philistine was painting the Nativity scene.

 Mary complained that she and Joseph looked too tattered and worn in the picture.  “Artistic license,” he said.  “I’ve got to show the struggles of the poor and homeless in a greedy, uncaring society in winter.”

 “We’re neither poor nor homeless.  The inn was just full,” said Mary.

 “Whatever,” said the painter.

 Two women began to argue fiercely.  One said she objected to Jesus’ birth because it showed favoritism to motherhood.  The other laughed at the idea of a virgin birth but also said that if it encouraged non-traditional family types and single motherhood then she was all for them.

 “I’m not a single mother,” Mary started to say but she was cut off by a third woman who insisted that swaddling clothes are a form of child abuse since they restrict the natural movement of babies.  With the arrival of 10 child advocates, all trained to spot infant abuse and manger rash, Mary and Joseph were pushed to the edge of the crowd.  There they heard arguments break out over how many reindeer (or what mix of reindeer and other seasonal symbols) had to be installed to compensate for the unfortunate religious meaning of Jesus’ birth.

 And old man pushed his way up and knocked over two merchants who had been busy debating whether an elf is the same as a fairy and whether the elf/fairy should be shaking hands with Jesus in the crib or merely standing by jumping around like a sports mascot.

 “I’d hold off on the reindeer,” the old man said.  “The use of donkeys and oxen as backdrops for Nativity scenes carries the subliminal message of human dominance.”  He passed out two leaflets, one opposing manger births as an invasion of animal space and the other arguing that stables are ‘fenced environments’ where animals are imprisoned against their will. 

 He had no opinion about elves or candy canes.  Signs declaring “Free the Bethlehem 2” began appearing, referring to the obviously exploited donkey and ox.

 Someone said the halo on Jesus head was elitist.  Mary was past frustrated and asked sharply to an old woman “what about you?  Are you here to criticize the shepherds as prison guards for oppressed animals, or just to say that I should have given up the religion of my ancestors and joined some stupid new age group?”

 “None of the above,” said the woman.  “I just wanted to tell you that the Magi are here.”  Sure enough, the three wise men rode up.  The crowd gasped, “They’re all men! And they’re not culturally diverse!”

 “Balthasar here is black,” said one of the Magi.

 “Yes, but how many of you are gay or disabled?” someone shouted.  A committee was quickly formed and decided that an underprivileged lesbian Magi should be added to the group.

 A calm voice said, “Be of good cheer Mary, you have done well and your son will change the world.” 

 At last, a sane person, Mary thought.  She turned to see a radiant and confident female face.  The woman spoke again,

 “There is one thing though.  Religious holidays are important, but can’t we just learn to celebrate them in ways that unite, not divide?  For instance, instead of all this business about ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ why not just say ‘Season’s greetings?”

 Mary said, “You mean my son has entered human history to deliver the message, ‘Hello, its winter?’”

 “That’s harsh Mary” said the woman.  “Remember, your son could make it big at the midwinter festivals, if he doesn’t push the religion thing too far.  Centuries form now, in nations yet unborn, people will give each other overpriced gifts and have big office parties to celebrate his birth.  I would think that would be something you would be proud of.”

 “Let me get back to you” Mary said and walked away.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The world according to Jim

August 7 was a great day. Surrounded by family and friends Dawson and Delanie took on Christ as their Lord and Savior. A great day indeed.

They had both been talking about this for several months and we settled on August 7. We were just home from Legacy's kids camp and a weeklong mission trip to Cross and Crown in Oklahoma City. Plus we were waiting on Nanny (grandmother) to get home from a trip to England. Finally, it was the Stanglin's last Sunday at Legacy. The kids wanted Allan to be a part of this.

In one of his final acts as a minister at Legacy, Allan spent almost an hour with the kids in his office before worship began. He looked them in the eye and told them he loved them, that he was proud of them and that God loved them and was proud of them too. He told them to never look back and wonder if they had been ready or if they had been too young. He assured them that God was doing all the work - his plan and the blood of his son was saving them that day. All they had to do was come to this decision. God was handling the rest.

It was glorious and the souls of two Byrnes kids were saved - along with two other Legacy kids.

Fast forward 6 days.

We'd said our last goodbye to the Stanglins. Another emotional, tearful goodbye. I didn't want them to go. I didn't like any of it. It was one of those situations where you're asking God why this was happening and quickly realizing the answers are not there. Not yet. His timing, his plan - not mine. It stinks.

To put it lightly I was in a funk. It was Saturday night and Shanna and the kids were leaving the next morning to spend a few days with her parents. The thought of church did not appeal at all. I just wasn't in the mood. I wanted to be alone. Honestly, I wanted to get up Sunday morning and go on a nice, quiet, head-clearing bike ride.

But Shanna was supposed to help teach. She was heading out of town so I got the nod.

I showed up Sunday morning and hit the kids hall to take Shanna's role as a 'Journeyman' which I completely messed up. However no children were harmed and I've been told I'm welcome to give it another shot.

I wandered, alone, toward worship service. At least I felt alone. The fog I was in prevents me from recalling any conversations I may have had - except one.

Jim Littlejohn is one of those guys who you catch a glimpse of every now and then. He's quiet and low profile but seems to always be serving. He's behind the scenes and is probably the type of servant God really appreciates. Because much of the time God is the only one who sees what he's doing.

This has been a tough year for Jim. He's spending a lot of time caring for his wife but every once in a while you still get that glimpse of him. And he's usually on his way to do something that needs to be done.

That morning he caught me at the entrance to the sanctuary. "Aren't kids and grandkids such a blessing? Isn't it great to be able to watch them grow up? I wanted to let you know how blessed I was to be a part of your kids baptisms last week."


Jim, unintentionally, had delivered me a spiritual smackdown. A well deserved one at that.

He was blessed? This man who had been through so much uncertainty was blessed? Well, yes. Of course he was. I was too. Everyone who was there had been. Even the angels in heaven rejoiced. Had I forgot?

I won't again. As it turns out, Jim came to me to tell me he had been blessed. Little did he know that what he actually did was bless me.

Monday, August 22, 2011

What a day.

8/22 : Not your usual day.

Today I served as a pallbearer which is by no means an ordinary occurrence for me. Actually I think today was the third time but I'll admit it's not one of those things you tend to keep an accurate record of. What today's experience did was put me in an interesting situation - at least it was to me.

Now I don't want this to stir any debate or discussion because I think it could - no, I'm sure it could. I've given it some pretty heavy thought and come to the conclusion that there's not a right or wrong. Actually there's likely just rights.

For several years now I have not taken part in the 'procession' that makes it's way by the open casket at a funeral. I don't go into 'the room' during funeral visitations. The term 'viewing' seems odd to me.

But I'm obviously in the minority - at least from what I've seen at quite a few funerals now. As the pew spills out into the aisle and heads toward the front I head for the back. So far I have not had a nice funeral man grab me and point me in the 'right' direction. I also have not had anyone jump out of line with me.

And that's fine. I get it. The whole 'one last look' or 'closure' thing is understandable but it's just not for me. I have a very vivid memory of the last 'viewing' I attended and that memory is forever burned in my mind. Despite the fact I have plenty of other memories of that life that was cut very short I'm constantly taken back to the vision of a lifeless body laying in a lifeless box. And I don't like it - not at all.

That was my interesting situation for today. As a pallbearer I was led to the front row of the church prior to the entrance of the family. Avoiding that one was pretty easy.

The hard part was during the 'procession.' I couldn't bow out and head upstream like I normally would. I was a pallbearer - I had to maintain formation. But I also wanted to maintain my principle. It's important to me. I'll be perfectly honest and say that avoiding the logistics of the unpleasant view was much easier than fighting the urge to take that glimpse.

I don't know what it is. There was something pulling at me to take that look. Some sort of morbid curiosity. Fortunately I was able to resist and the pleasant memory of that wonderful man remains intact - exactly as I think it should.

I'm glad it's intact. That wasn't my friend in there. It was a tired, used shell. He was gone - he had been made new. He actually looks much better than he does in my memory. Praise be to God.

8/22 : First day of school. Facebook led me to believe it was the first day of school pretty much everywhere in the civilized world. For us it meant 4 kids on three different campuses. Seems like we were dropping off kids for and hour and a half. Wait, we were.

8/22 : Dad died 11 years ago today and he is still missed greatly. But like my friend today he's been made new. Praise be to God.

8/22 : This is the day I became 'great' uncle David. Little Hadleigh turned three today. She's the daughter of my niece Corlie and nephew in law, if there is such a thing, Heath. I don't see her nearly as much as I'd like but I still take a certain amount of pride in that title.

Like I said, what a day.

Friday, August 19, 2011

5 Stones

I guess you could call it an addiction but I think that would be a little harsh. Whatever the label I will admit that long road trips prompt me to pick up a book or two on CD. It seems to help pass the time. Give it a try next time you're heading to west Texas or the panhandle and tell me I'm wrong.

I had a one day trip last week - Houston and back. Per my criteria this trip qualifies as 'book-worthy.' Normally Cracker Barrel is my source but this time I opted for the library as I was making a stop there anyway.

The book was good and it served it's purpose. But when I went to return it I thought I'd see what else was available as these Houston runs are going to be pretty regular. There on the shelf I saw Max Lucado's "Facing Your Giants" and picked it up. I started it this morning on the way to the office which is a break from the usual routine and could indeed indicate the beginning of an addiction.

The story of David and Goliath, duh. I guess I could have made that connection. I'm only three chapters in - much of which is a recap of that famous battle. Early on it actually begins with David kneeling at the stream and picking up five stones.

Wait, five?

Of course I knew it was five. But why five? I think I was always so excited about the eventual downfall of the giant that I never gave any thought to the number of stones the recently annointed king picked up. He went out and faced Goliath "in the name of the LORD almighty" and one did the trick just fine.

So why five? I've read it's because he wanted to make sure he hit him which I will quickly dismiss. God killed Goliath, not David, so let's assume that after creating the universe in 6 days it would only take him one try to hit a nine foot tall man with a head the size of a watermelon.

Goliath had four brothers? Maybe. There may be retaliation from other Philistines? Perhaps. David was an avid rock collector? Doubtful.

I don't know. And I think this is one of many instances that is left to our speculation. Realistically in the terms of David vs. Goliath it doesn't matter, it's not the main point.

But should I take something from this seemingly small detail? Lucado has not given me his opinion of this, at least not yet. He seems more focused on us facing our giants, our Goliaths, just as David did. Charge at them confidently with your faith in God, not the sling or the stone.

Maybe the point is preparation. I'm David. Yes, literally I am David. But in a spiritual sense I'm David - a young shepherd facing a giant. Or more correctly in my case - giants. A whole army of God-mocking giants being sent my way to discourage me, derail me, destroy me.

Why five? I need five. Honestly I probably need five a day. Certainly there's been days I've needed five before lunch. Because for every giant that falls there's more coming. And they'll continue to come until Jesus returns and makes things right.

In confidence I will continually kneel at the stream to gather more stones. As I kneel I know that God stands there behind me staring down the giants. With that knowledge I will confidently face them and allow God to strike them down.

He is after all, a much better shot than me.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Is it really greener?

Delanie's third grade teacher, who was previously Dillon and Dawson's third grade teacher, and who will likely be Dakota's third grade teacher lives about 60 miles from the metroplex. It's my understanding that he and his family live somewhat of a farm/ranch life. He's got some of the typical farm-type animals.

Like cows.

One day he looked out in the pasture and saw a cow sticking its head through the fence to eat the grass on the other side. You know exactly what I mean. You've used the phrase before or at very least you've heard it. If you've ever driven anywhere where there are cows you've probably seen it.

Certainly he'd seen if before but today he tried a little experiment.

The man took the cow and led it outside the pasture and to the other side of the fence. Actually led it to the exact place where it had been eating. He put the cow - head, legs, feet and all in the very spot that it was convinced was better than where it had been. The cow, realizing the good fortune, firmly planted its feet and began eating from what had to be the most delicious patch of grass in all of Texas.

Well, not exactly.

Instead, the cow firmly planted its feet at the base of the fence, stuck its head through, and began eating from the patch of grass inside the pasture. Eating from the very spot where it stood previously.

I guess the grass truly is greener on the other side - even if you haven't experienced the grass where you are.

How many times have I wondered what our church would be like if we were only more like 'that congregation' or 'the church I once visited?' It would have to be better because obviously they have a better grasp of worship or teaching or communion or fellowship or blah, blah, blah. Whatever.

Let me know if you attend a church where they've got it all figured out. Everything runs smoothly. Everyone gets along. Everyone always agrees. No feathers are ever ruffled. Rose petals spontaneously fall from the rafters because of all the love being passed between the brothers and sisters there.

I think we're all trying to do the best we can. The best we know how. At least I think that's what I'm called to do. And I can do it at church A just as easily and effectively as I can at church B. There's no need for me to peek through the blinds and wonder what it would be like to go to church over there where everything is done perfectly.

Because I can't honestly believe that place exists.

In Bible study a couple of months ago I remember we were talking about the differences between churches and denominations and about how much time and effort is spent debating (and sometimes arguing) and attempting to convince each other who is right.

(I do find it ironic how so often we will think other congregations have something figured out and that we should strive to be more like them. We go so far as to complain about the leadership or the staff or the programs of our church and yet we will defend to the bitter end that very same 'faulty' church if it's criticized by someone else.)

After that study I commented how funny it would be for all the different 'flavors' of Christianity to be standing before God fully confident they were the one group who actually got it all right. Only to have God wave his arm across the whole group and say "Congratulations, you were all approximately 60% correct."

To that Allan Stanglin proposed an alternate scenario. God waves his arm across the whole group and says "You were all approximately 10% correct. Fortunately grace and the blood of Christ will pick up the remaining 90%."

I'm convinced his prediction is more accurate. Maybe we can all go forward realizing none of us has it figured out. The grass is not greener at that church across the street or across town or across the country. We're all dealing with the same garbage that this world can throw at us.

But there is a place where the grass is greener. A place we all should long for - no matter where you attend. One day we'll all be led from this pasture to that place.

And we won't be sticking our heads back through the fence.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Catch me I'm falling - ok, not really.

"Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister."

We covered this a few weeks ago in Bible study and it came up again today....
on Facebook.

Someone who is loved dearly by our family posted the verse. Usually when I come across scriptural posts I just hit 'Like' in response and hope that encourages the 'poster' to continue the practice. Considering the general hodge-podge of posts it's refreshing to come across a piece of encouragement now and then.

For some reason on this one I couldn't stop at Like. Something, likely some self serving motive or desire to vent drove me to actually post something.

I think there may be some unintentional misrepresentation going on here.

The first half of this passage says don't judge. That's it. It's clear, it's concise, it's straight to the point. It's simple, but certainly not always easy. (Note to self - possible future topic)

It's the second half that, in my humble and regularly erroneous opinion, that can pose a problem:

"Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister."

Personally, I've never been accused of violating this - at least not to my face.

Now what I'm going to say may seem surprising but I have heard of situations where the point of this passage gets misrepresented. You could say it's used, or misused, in a way that could be considered self serving. Certainly I've never been guilty of this either.

Stumbling block. Grumbling block. Two very different things. Yet I think the latter sometimes gets confused with the former.

You do something that causes me to doubt my faith, to veer off the path, to fall. That's a stumbling block.

You do something based on scripture that is designed to promote spiritual growth. It's new, it's different, it's not our tradition. I don't like it. But rather than give it a chance, rather than dive into the Word, I go for the game ending trump and throw out Romans 14:13 in an effort to keep things the way I want them. That's a grumbling block.

I'm not stumbling - I'm grumbling.

Instead, I should focus on what comes just a few verses later in Romans 14:19:

"Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification."

So I need to quit grumbling. I need to put the interests of others ahead of my own. I need to think about the well being of the body rather than myself.

Thankfully it was just hypothetical.


Saturday, January 22, 2011


I'm at a loss.

For the past three weeks I've been at a loss. I'm supposed to be following a curriculum for the 9th grade class and I just can't do it. They're not ready. Honestly, I question my own readiness. More importantly I question my ability to cover the subject. No I don't question, I doubt it entirely.

The Holy Spirit.

Note I said 'supposed to be following' because I didn't. I threw it out and went to the basics. See, the lesson should have covered how we act and respond to the Holy Spirit. There are two problems this. First, they're ninth graders. They tend to respond in one word answers - if they respond at all. I teased them a few months ago and said that when I throw out something for discussion don't think that the silence bothers me. I could sit there the entire time without a word being said. I've got four kids, silence doesn't bother me. I cherish it.

That was a lie. I've outlasted many classes when no one made an attempt to participate. Eventually someone will crack and blurt something out. But this time I knew as soon as the first question went out. They were perfectly content to sit there the entire hour and not say a word. I could see it on their faces.

And that leads us to the second problem. They just flat out don't know how the Holy Spirit impacts their life. I'm not sure they could have given a basic explanation of the Holy Spirit. And here I am, the person who is supposed to correct that and I couldn't feel more inadequate.

Do I know? Maybe I have an idea but I certainly would not be considered any sort of expert on the subject. I dare say anyone could be considered an expert but to be perfectly honest I cannot recall studying it at all when I was their age (or older for that matter).

So back to the basics we went. The Trinity, where we find it and what the purpose is. Over two weeks we probably spent the entire class going over a few scriptures and some examples. And I told them it's possible, even likely that brief overview put them ahead of half the church in knowledge about the Holy Spirit.

I don't know why it's this way but it seems like we've been focusing on two out of three. Are they easier to grasp? It's almost like we can't wrap our mind fully around God but we get the concept of father, creator.

We can't understand the sacrifice of Christ but we appreciate it. We understand the significance and the necessity.

Then we look over there at the Holy Spirit and it's as if we think we'll never get it so why bother.

Maybe I'm way off base here but I feel like I'm a product of that line of thinking. Hopefully I'm the last generation that learned so much about what we should (or actually should not) be doing and not so much about what we could be doing if we just tap into the resources provided. So I'll throw myself back in to a room of 9th graders and explain to them yet again that as far as this is concerned - the teacher is also the student.

But I guess we're all students for as long as we're here.