Holidays


I have a scar on my right hand. When I see that scar, I remember. The reminder, while scars are not always pleasant, takes me back to days in my youth ministry when I began learning that I couldn’t do things that I had done when I was part of the youth group and not the leader of it. You see, the scar is a memorial to a year at youth camp when I (as an old man of about 28 years) got out on the softball field with the teenagers. In my zeal to outrun the ball to first base, I tripped over the bag and flailed my way to the chain link fence and cut open my hand trying to stop the fall.

Truthfully, though the scar is a reminder to me of days spent working with a great group of teenagers, and introducing them to a life lived with and for Jesus.

This weekend, we in America celebrate Memorial Day. It is a time set aside to honor those who sacrificed their lives on battlefields in order to enjoy the freedoms that are part of our nation’s DNA. While we don’t want to park on thoughts of war and men giving their lives on battlefields, it is important to remember.

Memorials are set up for that reason: to remind those who see them of what has gone on before; to spur them on to thankfulness for the blessings in life; and possibly to encourage them to live the same kind of sacrificial lives for future generations.

Set up some memorials in your life today, and remember.

[Joshua] said to the Israelites, “In the future, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What is the meaning of these stones?’ you should tell your children, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’”  —Joshua 4:21-22

Greeting card manufacturers, candy makers, florists, and jewelers. What do these people have in common? At this time of year, our go to answer would probably be “Valentine’s Day.” Some of the more argumentative among us might claim that St. Valentine’s Day was created by the card and candy industry to make more sales, but that misses the point of the celebration altogether. Inspired by the legend of a third century martyr (Valentinus) who taught of the love of God. St. Valentine has since been a symbol for and inspiration of love.

At this time of year, we like to remind each other of our feelings of love and goodwill. We send special gifts and messages signed with the legendary greeting “From Your Valentine.” The greatest valentine or love letter ever sent was the one that God sent because He loved the world that He had created, He loved the people who had rejected Him through sin and disobedience. That valentine bore the cloak of Jesus of Nazareth, and He brought with Him the greatest love as well as the grandest reason to celebrate love that ever was—God’s everlasting, redeeming, unrelenting, irreplaceable Love.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”  — John 3:16, The Message

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, so beginning with today’s post, I will be relating what Christmas is to me. Please enjoy.

When we served as missionaries, some of our American brothers and sisters were carrying on an idea that ultimately became very disturbing. The practice was to buy tickets for a cruise. Of course, going on a cruise is not disturbing in and of itself. Many people enjoy taking a leisurely vacation cruise to spend time with friends doing what they mutually agree is fun. But that isn’t the whole story. On this river cruise, there would be Bible studies led by big named preachers and worship directed by the most fascinating personalities in the Christian music market. Again, nothing is throwing up red flags to this point—although one can wonder if the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on this vacation might be better spent.

The cruise down the Dnieper River (and later moved to a different river in Russia), and the tourists would bathe themselves in the aura of all this Bible learning and worship, then they would land at a significant city, disembark, and with the help of a translator blitz the locals with tracts and canned evangelistic presentations. They would record names and numbers to report back to their friends at home the hundreds and thousands of “decisions” made along the way.

What disturbed me was not the desire to see people come to know Christ, but that the ultimate purpose of the trips was to make the tourists feel good about themselves. The method of evangelism left little or no possibility of follow-up or discipleship among those who reportedly became Christians. Truth be told, each year it was found that some of the same people (in the hopes of getting a handout or other aid from the wealthy Americans) would “get saved” over and over again. And to me, perhaps the most disturbing factor of all was the name given to the cruise: “The Riverboat of Hope.”

More Hope is found in relationship—first with Christ, and then with fellow believers who can help us grow in our relationship with Christ. That is Christmas to me.

  “Christ in you, the hope of Glory.”  – Colossians 1:27c

Me with My Dad (Thomas Potter)

Too many times, I let days go by without being thankful to my father for the heritage he gave me. It would be appropriate today to send a message of gratitude his way, and I hope that you can be inspired by my words.

 

Dear Dad, thanks. Perhaps it’s not really enough to say just that simple word, but there are very few others that can fully harness the necessary sentiment. So, thanks.

Thanks for loving my mother for the godly woman she is, and treating her right. I learned how to be a true, honest, and loving husband by watching you.

Thanks for the years of discipline and teaching that you took with me and my siblings. We learned what a father should be just by being in your home.

Thanks for living faith out loud and unashamedly at home and in the world. Through your life, words and lifestyle I found a firm foundation of faith in Jesus Christ. I learned how to be active and faithful in my church. I learned that my best example of father may not really be you, but our mutual heavenly Father. So you taught me to say:

Dear Father in Heaven, Thanks. Thanks for life, for love, for all you are.

Today, I am thankful for my fathers—both earthly and Heavenly. I count it a privilege to know both well and intimately.

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.”  (Psalms 103:13)

Remember. This weekend as our country takes a pause to remember those who have died in defense of our nation’s basic tenets, I think that is appropriate for us to remember.

Remember the ones who have fought for your freedom to worship today, and every week, as you love to do.

Remember those who taught you how to stand up and defend your rights and your faith.

Remember those who penned words that have been etched on every American’s heart for 240 years.

Don’t take for granted the service that has been rendered to us in order that we might live freely and honorably.

Remember also, the One who made it possible for us to become one body here in this place; the One who died for true freedom to be experienced by all men.

Perhaps Rudyard Kipling said it best in the refrain of “Recessional” which reminds readers to hearken their hearts and their minds to the God who directed the steps of mortal men “lest we forget, lest we forget.”

There are some who would argue that there is no place for this kind of patriotism in our worship, but I believe that when we remember the price Christ paid, we must also remember those men—martyrs of the faith as well as heroes of our liberty—who sacrificed that we might be free.

So, remember.

“All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us” (Hebrews 12:39-40)

Today is the day we have set aside in our culture to honor the one person in our lives that might be the most indispensable person we have ever known. As babies this person is more important than any other because she shows us nurture and care like none other—at least that’s how God designed things.

Personally, although my father was my pastor for as long as I could remember until I moved away to college (and even a few years after that), it was Mom who provided that gentle persuasion that ultimately led me to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Who among us can really be: caregiver, provider, manager, coach, teacher, guide and confidant all rolled into one. I would like to take this moment to thank my mom for being the godly example that she has always been for me. I’d like to thank my childrens’ mom for keeping our ship afloat. I’d like to honor all who are, have been, or will be called “Mom” today.

With all that Mom does and all the potential that is there, I think that it is no coincidence that in the English language “mom” upside down is “wow!”

“Her children arise up, and call her blessed.” (Proverbs 31:28a)

Before you gather ‘round the Christmas tree and begin to plunder the greed hidden there, take a moment to reflect on Christmas. Shall I say CHRIST-mas. Today is the day that we celebrate the moment that the world welcomed its Maker. I like the fairly new Christmas song by Chris Rice (it’s been recorded not only by Rice, but also by the likes of Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant): “Welcome to our world.” This is the one thing that is all too often forgotten amidst the reckless abandon with which we practice our avarice on Christmas. We even encourage it with our children trying to bribe them into good behavior with a jolly old elf who will or will not give them all of their selfish desires depending on their behavior.

So this morning as you pour your Christmas morning coffee and settle onto the couch in front of your Yuletide evergreen, take a moment to read the Christmas story (most people choose Luke 2, but there are some other great passages in Matthew and Mark, and I really like John 1 for a thoughtful approach). Then take a moment to say to the Savior about whom we celebrate: “Welcome to our world; welcome to our home; welcome to my life.” And Merry Christmas to one and all.

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