Tag Archive: Bible

Merry Christmas from Jesus

He walked through the streets in darkness,
Homeless but not alone,
A man on a mission of reverence
beyond the mundane chore of survival,
in a spirit of grace and mercy.

He stopped at Johnson’s Laundry
With it’s Closed for Christmas sign,
He knelt on the sidewalk outside the door,
Quietly saying the Lord’s Prayer,
the only prayer he knew.

Thanking “Papa” Johnson
For the clothes left unclaimed,
He left a small package – a crude, homemade cross
With a card on which was scrawled,
“Merry Christmas, from Jesus.”

Next was Garcia’s Grocery
For the leftovers not yet spoiled
He knelt and prayed –
Another crude cross,
And the card, “Merry Christmas, from Jesus.”

Ten blocks later, Miller’s Hardware,
For his sturdy, cardboard box dwelling,
and timber for his bed,
A kneel, a prayer, a larger crude cross,
And the card, “Merry Christmas, from Jesus.”

Too far from home, the mission closed,
He found a bench in the park,
after a passerby bought coffee
and he walked – recalling forgotten memories –
without knowing what they meant.

Early the next morning on Christmas Day,
he fought the wind and rain,
through the cold streets to the mission,
where Christmas dinner was served, the soul sustained,
and life again had purpose.

The rain stopped, the wind died down,
as he trekked on home,
home – an alley behind the church
white and made of stone,
with a view of the cross on the wall.

He turned into the alley
and stopped in his tracks.
Where his cardboard box had stood,
was a sturdy lumber shack,
with a roof, a window, and a door.

He opened the door to a sturdy wooden cot,
An orange crate table, his few possessions inside,
with something new on top.
A suit of clothes hung on a hook,
with the laundry marker still on it.

He closed the door because he could,
he’d forgotten what it felt like.
Walking to the table he turned on the lamp,
it had been years since he had his own light,
but then his breath went away.

Also on the table sat a Bible, brand new,
inscribed with a name he hadn’t used in years,
next to a picture of a family he’d forgotten he had.
He stood staring at them, his mind racing,
memories bombarding his thoughts.

He sat on the cot and picked up the Bible,
after staring at the picture a while.
He ran his fingers over the only thing he owned
that wasn’t worn by wear or weather,
with emotions he couldn’t control.

Through tears, with shaking hands,
he opened the Bible and read
“Merry Christmas, from Jesus.”

Peace be with you.

VBS BandI played in the Vacation Bible School (VBS) band week before last, and we wrapped it up at the 11 a.m. service on Sunday. Christ UMC in Farmers Branch is like most churches. We get packaged VBS kits, with scripts, ideas for decorations, crafts, and games, cds and corresponding music charts. Then we decorate the church ourselves and add our own unique touches. I don’t know about other churches, but we usually decorate most of the church – immersing the congregation in the concept.

This year it was Cave Quest VBS. The church became one big cave. My son, Cameron, built a cave in the sanctuary, replacing the pulpit, made of pvc pipe and other materials. VBS began on Sunday and ended on Thursday – with the wrap up on Sunday. It is a grueling VBS Caveweek for the volunteers, who have to show up early. It’s the same with the band, except that they might have a little more down time. Although practicing for half an hour before VBS (an hour and a half on the first Sunday), starting off at full tilt for an hour, then down time for an hour and a half before cranking it up again for half an hour can take it’s own toll.

I picked up the cd and charts a week early to run through the songs ahead of time. Just to avoid surprises when practice starts. There were not many surprises. VBS songs usually follow a pattern, which includes no slow songs. Oddly enough, there were two slower songs this year.

But my point is that the band plays these songs day after day for five days – six if you include the Sunday VBS Service. The theme song is played at least six times each night. Other key songs or catchier songs get played at least three times each night. The band shows up the Wednesday evening before to run through the songs we’ll play first – and the most in some cases. Then we arrive early on Sunday and each consecutive night to learn new songs.

Some of the songs are fun to play, so the repetition is not all that tough. But some of them get on your nerves night after night. Jokes and camaraderie help to keep it fun. Then some songs you just don’t like playing.

Regardless, I find that I develop an attachment to the songs. Less so the ones that got on my nerves, but an attachment nonetheless. After all, I spent two weeks with them. And when you play in a band, and the sound is  right, you hate for it to end. It’s like when you spent two weeks in camp when you were a teenager and you met friends that were very special during the camp, but then you never really saw them again (the songs, not the band members).

It needs to be mentioned that despite the grueling schedule, the repetition of the songs, and any problems that arose, there were fun times along the way. All the volunteers simply adjusted to sudden changes and did what needed to be done to carry on with VBS. Sunday school classes and Bible study groups brought light food for the volunteers each night. But above all, seeing the children happy and pumped, having fun and learning valuable life lessons, made the problems seem rather trivial.

Peace be with you.



Hotel Room 1bIn the previous post, I was talking about my sabbatical to Marshall that ended up being unlike what I had previously imagined. I checked in to the hotel late Monday night. When I entered the hotel room after checking in at the front desk, I did what I have always done since taking vacations with my parents and my younger brother. Check out every nook and cranny of the room, beginning with the desk and all drawers.

The dresser drawers never had anything in them and they still don’t. Some hotels used to put extra pillows in the bottom drawers of the dresser, but that was years ago. When the desk drawer had hotel stationary. Now the desk does not even have a drawer.

Some things are the same. The book of information about the hotel and surrounding restaurants, shops, etc. A pen, a notepad, survey card, and the usual bathroom items. And the Gideon Bible in the bedside drawer. But when I opened the drawer this time – and found the Bible – the Mormon Bible was next to it. Which was comforting to me – like I said, I was there to quit a bad habit – simply because there is strength in numbers.

But it was also intriguing, because it was a hotel in Marshall, Texas – a town of 24,000 people. As best I could ascertain, there are two Mormon churches in Marshall. I don’t think two churches could afford to supply Bibles to all of the numerous hotels in Marshall. Which raises the question of which hotels and why? But that is a question for another time.

What matters is that the hotel having both a Bible and a Mormon Bible is a step toward understanding our neighbors and living with our differences. Perhaps there will come a day when you check into a hotel and there will be several Bibles or holy books of other religions. More for people of the different faiths who may stay at the hotel than for the proselytization of those faiths. The different holy books would also be available for anyone wanting to learn about other faith traditions.

Which will be a subject we will return to in this blog. One of the main purposes of Chasing After Wind is to write about those times – simple or complicated – in which life and theology intersect. And since I am a member of a few interfaith organizations, another purpose of the blog is to promote dialogue between all religions and faith-based organizations. Join me as we look for God in everyday life, and learn about other faith traditions.

Peace be with you.

The bird in the window was about half the size of this bird.

We had a small visitor at our old house. She spent most of the day outside each of our sons’ rooms going in rotation to all three windows. Cyndy and I thought at first it was a Finch, but Cyndy decided it was a female cardinal. I have large hands and could probably hold the bird in a loose fist without any part of the bird showing. I do not know much about birds, but I do know that this particular bird had the common sense of a tree trunk.

She began to visit in the early afternoon after lunchtime. Which is one of my main reflecting and writing times so the intrusion was quite unwelcome, at least at first. I mistakenly took the sound to be our dog, Misty, scratching at the window trying to get out at a squirrel. But the tapping was more melodic and deliberate and did not result in the harder thump that our medium-sized dog would make as she hit the wall.

The first sudden tap made me jump, expecting to hear glass hit the wood floor at any moment. Less than three minutes later, another tap. Sometimes it would stop for as long as five minutes, leading me to believe it had ceased. But sure enough, as soon as I started working again – another tap. I realized Misty was laying on the floor in front of the my desk so she could not be making the sound. Then I heard a deeper, heavier noise follow the tap, as if someone had thrown a rubber ball at the window.

I went down the hall quietly and stood in the doorway of Conner’s room at the front corner of the house. The bird was standing in the middle of the window sill of the window facing the side of the house. She would look at the window, look around the side yard, then back at the window. Then, suddenly, she would tap the window hard with her beak – as if she had forgotten it was there, or just to be sure she had not been wrong the first five times. It was also entirely possible that she had tapped her beak so hard she had rattled her brains.

Then, in between periods of tapping, so suddenly it made me jump, she backed up a step and flung her little four inch, 20 ounce body against the window as hard as she could. Only appearing to be dazed for a few seconds, she flew around in a small circle and landed back on the window. She looked at the window for a few minutes, looked around a bit, and the whole cycle began again. I stood transfixed, thinking surely she would not do it again. But sure enough, after a series of taps, she backed up and body-slammed the window.

I leaned against the doorframe and watched for a while. Either the bird was so daft that neither thought nor pain registered in her small brain or she was so stubbornly persistent that constant failure was not enough for her to give up her task, whatever it was. Regardless, her task was a painful and fruitless one. Stubborn persistence can sometimes be beneficial, but more often than not it is simply detrimental.

While I thought the bird’s actions were ridiculously naive and mistaken, they reminded me of our stubborn persistence in not listening to what the Lord is telling us. Rather than having faith and trusting in God, we insist on looking for an easier way. Which actually turns out to be more difficult in the long run.

We have a chance to fly free, as it were, and explore all that the Lord’s world has to offer. Yet we insist on constantly tapping on the glass representing the things that we think we want or should have, but would never give us the fulfillment we long for. In our stubborn persistence we “body-slam” the glass, throwing our entire body into the refusal to accept what is before us. But,  as if that is not enough, we turn right around and start the whole process over again.

Like the Israelites of the Old Testament, we keep giving in to our temptation to slip back into sinful ways. We begin to find excuses to not read the Bible, pray or attend church or volunteer regularly. When life is going okay, we’re too busy for God. Then, when tragedy strikes, we wonder where God is – when, in fact, he has been there all along.

After God saves the day, yet again, and life returns to normal, we begin the insistent tapping all over again. We need to have faith in God, trust in his mercy, accept the grace he freely offers, and strive to live the way we were taught to live by Jesus. What is on the other side of the glass is ultimately unimportant.

Peace be with you.

I washed dishes two or three times the other day – I lost count. Which, with a family of five – three of whom are teenagers – is not unusual. I have a love-hate relationship with the task of washing dishes. I do not enjoy the task, per se, but it gives me a chance to think. Not surprisingly, no one seems to bother me when I am at the sink. I wash them by hand and use the dishwasher as a draining board.

Be that as it may, a thought occurred to me while I was washing dishes for what I hoped was the last time. I realized I was washing the same dishes for the third time. The same plates, the same glasses, and the same silverware. Over and over. Time after time. Day after day. So on and so on.

Looking back on my life, there have been quite a few things I thought I might be  remembered for doing. I have also thought about what my purpose in life might be. Yet I never actually considered washing the same dishes day after day for years on end to be my toil in life. True, it is not anywhere close to the only thing I do or have ever done in my life. But do I really want to put it on my resume?

Qohelet would say it does not matter. It is all vanity and a chasing after wind anyway. “This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot.” (Eccl. 5:18 NRSV)

So should I try to find enjoyment in washing the dishes? Derive some pleasure from washing wasted condiments from plates and dried milk from bowls? Receive brief satisfaction from having clean dishes – albeit temporarily?

While it made for interesting thoughts during my dishwashing toil, my consternation at continually washing dishes was causing me to miss the point. The New International Version (NIV) says “satisfaction” in place of enjoyment. The New Living Translation (NLT) says “accept their lot in life.” Which I think might be closer to the point Qohelet was making. ;

In verses 13-15, Qohelet laments the fate of those who hoard wealth and find that they still – through circumstances during life and the finality, and pennilessness, of death, end up with nothing. “All their hard work produces nothing – nothing they can take with them.” In verse 19, he states that “whenever God gives people wealth and riches and enables them to enjoy it, to accept their place in the world and to find pleasure in their hard work – all this is God’s gift.” Concluding the chapter in verse 20, “people shouldn’t brood too much over the days of their lives because God gives an answer in their hearts’ joy.” (CEB)

The answer lies, not in my receiving some weird satisfaction from such mundane tasks such as washing dishes, but in enjoying the life that God gave me. Whether pleasure or toil, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to experience either one. Which is a theme Qohelet returned to more than once.

Earlier in Ecclesiastes, in 3 10-11, Qohelet says that “God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end.” He ends the book of Ecclesiastes with “So this is the end of the matter; all has been heard. Worship God and keep God’s commandments because this is what  everyone must do. God will definitely bring every deed to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or bad.”

The fact that I am tired of having to wash the dishes – or any other task which I am required to undertake – is inconsequential. Having faith in God, attempting to live Christ-like to the best of  my ability, and enjoying the life I have been blessed with, both good and bad, is what is important. God will take care of the rest.

Peace be with you.

The full title of Rubel Shelly’s book published by Leafwood Publishers (ACU Press) is “I Knew Jesus Before He Was A Christian…and I Liked Him Better Then.” When I was asked to review the book, I was intrigued by the title. As I began to read, it became apparent that the title was not merely cute to boost sales, but was entirely appropriate for the material. Our small group was deciding what book to study next and I suggested this one. Rather than read through it before the group studied it, I waited to review the book in order to include it’s effectiveness for a small group study.

The conclusion is that I Knew Jesus… works well for small groups. Precisely because it compares the original churches to churches now and the Jesus of the Bible to the Jesus nonbelievers perceive to be preached in churches today. The subject is – and should be – on the minds of all church and small group members.

Shelly begins by asserting that we can be both pro-Jesus and pro-church simultaneously. But not as long as a perception exists of disconnect between the two. Changing the perception necessarily requires elimination of the disconnect. The author quotes Stephen King when he wrote, “And while I believe in God, I have no use for organized religion..”

That is what many Christians have heard, unfortunately, far too often. Then there is the oft-quoted “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” In chapter four, Shelly tells the story of author Anne Rice. Rice renounced the Catholic religion at age eighteen. After a series of tragedies, including  the near loss of her life, she renewed her commitment to the Catholic faith. Rice wrote a book about the experience, dedicated herself to “glorifying God,” and launched a series of Christ the Lord books.

On July 28, 2010, Anne Rice posted a statement on her Facebook page that she was giving up Christianity and doing it “in the name of Christ.” She said that she remained committed to Christ as always, but not to being ‘Christian’ or part of Christianity. Rice followed the next day with “my conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I don’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following his followers.”

Which is precisely the point Shelly is making. The Jesus of the Bible – and by extension, of the original churches – is not the Jesus the people of the world see proclaimed by many of today’s churches. We should strive to be more like the Jesus of the Bible than the Jesus we portray through the filter of our organizational structure and polity. Rubel Shelly, in I Knew Jesus…, looks at different aspects of the disconnect and barriers between Jesus and the church. The author challenges and encourages the reader to work toward solutions in their own lives and churches, with questions found in the discussion guide.

Too many people have decided they are done with the church. They do not want to have anything to do with the church. “But you just might get attention with this radical, engaging, challenging, life-transforming, healing, rescuing person named Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, I think it is the only hope we have for communicating with a postmodern world. The best argument is…a living demonstration of kindness and acceptance, grace made incarnate, or love emptying itself for the sake of others.”

In I Knew Jesus Before He was a Christian, Shelly uses real-life and biblical examples to illustrate that while church membership may be declining, there are still souls searching for the life-affirming love of Christ. For a church to be a model of the first Christian churches and the life Christ displayed, they must first exhibit Jesus in the community and participate in ministering to those in need.

Peace be with you.

[I received this book free from Leafwood Publishers for a review. I was not required to write a favorable review.]

Happy New Year everyone, and I hope you had a wonderful Christmas! The past year was interesting, to say the least, for all of us. I do not make New Year’s resolutions, but I do set goals for the year ahead. There are the usual health related goals: walk more, eat better, and adjust the daily schedule. And the Christian goals: give more, use less, better Bible study, and more mission work. As well as the harder ones: be more sensitive to others’ needs and less attentive to my own, be more considerate and less quick to anger. Lastly, the writing related productivity goals: post more, write more, and publish more.

I will reach some of the goals. I may even surpass a few. Unfortunately, however, I am afraid that I may fall considerably short with others. But that does not mean I will cease attempting to accomplish them. Some of the goals I’ve been working on for years. One of these years, maybe I’ll accomplish all goals across the board. But then there will be more goals to work toward.

Whether you make new year’s resolutions, set goals for the year, or do not dwell on it at all, I hope the year goes well for you. A new year brings new experiences, new opportunities, and new chances to improve our lives. May God watch over you and bless you with grace.

Happy New Year! – peace be with you.

The Dartboard Incident

My family lived in Waco, Texas when I began attending elementary school. I had a friend whose family lived in one of the largest homes of anyone I have personally known. Although it might not seem as expansive now. While I do not remember his name (I’ll call him Rick) or how we became acquainted, I distinctly remember parts of the house and activities we were involved in. There were parts of the house I never saw.

There were small enclosed stairs at the back entrance – or one of the back entrances – that led to a small, seemingly hidden room on the second floor, and a larger room on the third floor. The smaller room was a reading room of sorts, and I think that the larger room was the entirety of the third floor. The only access to the rest of the house was through a short hall on the second floor leading from the stairs and reading room. The larger room had a large tv – for the time – an easy chair, a sofa, a coffee table, and little else I cared about noticing at the time.

Behind the easy chair was a cardboard box about 3’x3’x3′ that was always at least half full of candy of all sorts. When I spent the night at Rick’s house, we would wake up early and walk to what I think was one of the first 7-11s. Either way, it opened at 7 a.m. and closed at 11 p.m. If we were up before six, we would play in the large pile of dirt in the middle of the construction site next door to the convenience store.

At the store we would buy a bunch of candy, take it back to Rick’s house, and add it to the candy in the cardboard box. After a couple of visits, I discovered that Rick had rules for the box of candy. Regardless of how much candy I put in the box, I could only take out one piece at a time. And not whenever I wanted to. I did not contribute to the stash of candy after that.

On one such sleepover, the two of us were in the short hallway between the reading room and the door to the rest of the house – which was closed. On the back of the door was a dart board. Rick was being cruel for some reason and would not let me have a turn at throwing darts. Which was not how I had been taught to treat a guest.

I protested for what seemed to me like a good while. Certainly longer than I thought it should take to get my turn at darts. Exasperated, I stood in front of the dartboard with my hands out, telling him I would not move until he gave me the darts. I was not all that confident after Rick told me if I did not move he was going to throw a dart anyway. The interchange repeated several times. Until he threw the dart into the palm of my hand. I stood there with a dart sticking out of my palm, staring at him in disbelief, asking him why he would do that.

“You should have moved,” Rick said as he snickered and shrugged his shoulders.

My hand did not hurt until after I pulled the dart out. Then it stung considerably. I do not recall staying at Rick’s house after that. I may have, but if I did, it was never the same. The trust was no longer present. Granted, I might have continued protesting without standing in front of the dartboard, but that was having little effect. Then again, he could have been a kind host and let me take a turn. He also never apologized.

I was beginning to learn that not everyone lived – or tried to live – by the golden rule. Or by “loving thy neighbors as thyself” as the Bible says. I was also beginning to be the recipient of looks and remarks when I stuttered. I had often heard people say that I would grow out of my stuttering. Since that was beginning to look less and less likely, people were beginning to assume that something was wrong with me. I was certainly not normal. While I was used to snide remarks and looks, physical pain at the purposeful hand of another was something new. As to the dart situation, it was difficult to ascertain which hurt more – my pride or my hand.

Through the years, I have seen, and heard of, people making a sheer mockery of the golden rule. I have also learned how difficult the golden rule is to follow. I have long since forgiven Rick. I do not even remember his right name or the pain of the dart in my hand. Regardless of the difficulty, I keep trying to treat others as I want them to treat me. But I keep track of my own candy and I do not play darts anymore.

Peace be with you.

 Tyndale House Publishers is having an NLT Facebook page giveaway. Here are the details:

Starting on November 29th until December 24th at the New Living Translation Facebook page Tyndale is giving away lots of great prizes and something free for you just for singing up.

By visiting the giveaway entry page (located on the NLT Facebook page, the link is under the profile picture) and entering your name and e-mail address you’ll be entered to win the following prizes:

One random person each day will win a Life Application Study Bible Family Pack (Guys Life Application Study Bible hc, Girls Life Application Study Bible hc, Student’s Life Application Study Bible hc, Life Application Study Bible hc, Life Application Study Bible Large Print hc).

One Random person each week will win an Apple iPad 2!

Everyone that signs up gets a free download copy of the Life Application Bible Study – Book of Luke!

Good luck!

Peace be with you.

There are a number of boxes, gadgets, and doohickies in our shed, closets, and drawers that we have kept because they “might be useful some day.” They just sit there waiting – hoping that someday they fulfill their purpose – useless until useful. I walked out into the backyard this morning and discovered that Cyndy found a use for a box I decided to hang on to a few days ago. The box had acquired a secondary purpose. Like the doohickey – or thing-of-a-jig – that becomes the perfect “tool” to complete an odd job around the house.

Once a “might be useful someday” object serves a purpose it is no longer possibly useful. It is indispensable. It can collect dust for years, but it will not be thrown away. On the premise that because it has been useful once – or twice as the case may be – it will inevitably be useful again. Even though that might not be the case.

I have found that for some people, and some Christians, the Bible is simply one of those things to have around because it might be useful some day. They take it to church on Sunday if they remember it. “After all, they have one in the pew.” Then they never actual open it. Why bother when the lay reader is reading it to them. And the preacher will remind them if their thoughts happen to drift.

But – sure enough – a time comes when their Bible becomes useful. Tragedy strikes family or friends. A job is lost, a relationship ends, or any one of any number of life-changing events occur. Then their Bible again has purpose. It eases their mind, softens their heart, soothes their soul, or simply provides comfort. Their Bible has become indispensable.

Unfortunately, there are too many Christians to whom the Bible is something waiting to be useful. They have not discovered the life-changing story of the Israelite’s history, the life and death on the cross of Jesus, or the forgiving grace of God. They have not felt their “heart strangely warmed” as John Wesley did. They have not had their souls cleansed with God’s grace.

With persecuted Christians around the world clamoring for Bibles and materials to continue their spiritual journey with Christ, it is sad that many Christians in our part of the world have a Bible that they never use. I have had a Bible – and have been a Christian – for as long as I can remember. Beginning with the pocket-size New Testament I received when I began attending Sunday school. I have always had a Bible at hand. Unfortunately though, there were times when I felt I was keeping it around “in case it was useful.”

When I finally felt the Lord’s nudging and again opened my Bible for study and prayer, I ceased to think of the Bible as being “potential useful.” It is a part of my day, my life, my profession, and our family life. I feel uncomfortable when too much time has passed since our last visit. The Bible, once thought of as potentially useful, has become indispensable.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1 NRSV.

Peace be with you.

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