Pigeons!

My children’s sermon this morning came from the gospel, the account of Joseph and Mary coming to the temple with Jesus for their purification, where they met Simeon and Anna. Hmm. What would the kids connect with? I know – pigeons! The ancient law of Moses prescribed bringing two turtledoves or pigeons as an offering. I’ll just get a couple of pigeons. OK, not real ones, but a couple of cool stuffed ones.

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I was blessed to have my granddaughter Eden present in worship today to see the pigeons!

It was a hit. I know, because they wanted to take them home. Thank goodness we don’t have to bring pigeons anymore. Joseph and Mary brought a better sacrifice, the sacrifice, the Savior to the temple that day.

I had the pigeons out on the pulpit for the service. They’ll nest in my office until the next time I need them, a powerful reminder of God’s grace!

Toddlers, tortellini, and toys

The other night, I go to hang out with all three of my grandkids for a few hours. Their parents headed out to see the lights in St. Augustine, my wife had a meeting, and they wondered, “Can you watch them for a few hours?” Without a moment’s hesitation, I replied, “Yes!” I don’t get that kind of opportunity very often.

At ages one, two, and three, they really don’t play together. For the first half-an-hour or so, each wanted to play with what another had, but eventually they settled down with their own. After a bit, time for some music. I got out my guitar to sing songs, but no one really wanted to sing with me. Instead, they wanted to run laps around the living room, chasing or running from me as I played. Then it’s time for food.

IMG_8147Tortellini (with “dip”), strawberries and green beans were a hit, everyone wanting seconds. Once supper is over, a few episodes of Paw Patrol kept them quiet for a moment as I cleaned up supper.

My wife was the first adult human to return home, amused and perhaps a bit dismayed at the number of toys strewn around the house. Cars, pretend food, zoo animals, farm animals, action figures, balls, flashlights, a doll house, trains, pretend ice cream cones, kid-friendly power tools, books, lab coats and medical equipment, dinosaurs and a pretend Keurig are all needed to keep everyone busy for a while. Yep, we used them all! (Side note: it doesn’t take three to get and leave out all the toys. One can do the job just as well!)

As a grandparent, I relish these moments not only because they are fun and fill me with joy, but because I know they are rare. As a parent, you feel like you’ve got a lot of time to spend with your kids as eighteen-plus years stretches out in front of you. But as a grandparent, you know those years will fly, so you savor those moments when you have them.

 

Why is it so hard to understand?

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Throughout the Bible, whenever God speak to people, they understand him. Adam: “Where are you?” Noah: “Build a boat.” Abram: “Leave…go…a great nation.” All the prophets. God spoke in their language. They may not have liked it, but they got it.

But now, we have to translate God’s word into the language of the people, so they can understand. Why is that? At Pentecost, everyone from all over the world heard and understood the word spoken by the disciples. After that, it gets more complicated.

It took a long time, and a lot of sweat and tears to learn Greek and Hebrew, so I could read, hear and understand God in the original languages.  But even with a wide variety of English translations, I still struggle to figure out what God is talking about. Why is it so hard now?

Some possibilities: God spoke to fewer people back then. Like one at a time. God spoke to one nation. Israel. God spoke through one person: Jesus. Now, since Pentecost, the word has been unleashed in the world and for the world and for me.

It’s worth the effort.

Sounds of heaven

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Photo by Fab Lentz on Unsplash

A couple of days ago I waded into the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. From previous readings, I knew there would be much I wouldn’t understand. But as always happens, something would capture my imagination. Something would resonate.

In the very first chapter, Ezekiel’s visions include creatures with faces and wings within earshot of the voice of God. “As they flew, their wings sounded to me like waves crashing against the shore” (Ezekiel 1:24 NLT). I’ve heard that sound lots of times. Could it mean that  I’ve heard some of the sounds of heaven?

That would be awesome. Heaven always seems so far away, so remote, so distant. Yet if some of its sounds echo in our world, it might not be so far away after all. Are there any other sounds? Sure there are: thunder, a mighty rushing wind, a river, silence. Those are some that immediately come to mind. I’m sure there are more. I’ve heard all these. I’ve heard the sounds of heaven.

Maybe we should spend more time just listening.

Movie day: “The Star”

img_8139.jpgToday was movie day. My wife and I took our two oldest grandchildren to see “The Star,” an animated and creatively adventurous telling of the Christmas story, involving the experience and help of assorted animals.

Since the movie was released about six weeks ago, so we had to search for a theater still showing it. One about a half an hour from our home still had showings today and tomorrow, so the four of us headed out for the noon show. Both the three and two year old had sat through movies in a theater before, so both had popcorn on their minds when we arrived. The lady at the counter told us we could save a lot of money just getting a large popcorn and drink to split between them, but we knew better. Each grandchild had to have their own and they had to have the same, even if it meant a larger investment. It worked like a charm. The snacks lasted them the whole 90 minute show!

I thought “The Star” was well done. Yes, it is a wild departure from the biblical account, with a large cast of talking animals. But from the annunciation to the birth in Bethlehem, I believe that the plans and miracles of God along with the faith and struggles of Mary and Joseph were well presented. I enjoyed it, laughed out loud a lot, and especially liked a camel’s mishearing of Herod’s concern about a “king of the shoes.”26168646_10155353178098460_213610419848755604_n

 

Christmases two and three

img_8086.jpgToday was crazy fun as we had Christmases two and three. I picked up my son, daughter-in-law and grandkids at the airport last night and got home about 10 pm. We planned to open Christmas gifts with the children this morning and our secret Santas and white elephants tonight. It was way more fun than I anticipated.

Take a pile of gifts and stir in a one, two and three year old and you have a recipe for an energy-filled Christmas “two” morning. We had so much fun with the current Paw Patrol and PJ Masks characters, and doctor kits that we didn’t want to break away for our traditional breakfast of cinnamon rolls, quiche and fruit.

We spent a good portion of a beautiful Florida December afternoon outside, playing hide and seek, swinging and following lizards and frogs. In the evening, we had a rare gathering of my whole family four generations including my wife’s parents, our three children and their spouses, plus the three grandkids. As Elijah began grace by saying, “Our Father, thank you for this food…” I felt incredibly thankful for this rare moment of togetherness.

After a supper of filet mignon, salad and curly fries, we had Christmas “three” and opened the hand-made secret Santa presents we made for each other and chose our white elephant gifts. Our evening was blessed with laughter, personally crafted gifts and the best gift: togetherness. There’s a gift I wouldn’t exchange for anything else in the world.

With family spread out around the country and work commitments that limit travel, time together is a rare moment and precious gift. img_8083.jpg

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Day and night, night and day

It was as different as night and day. I preached to the big Christmas Eve crowd last night and to a much smaller gathering this morning, Christmas Day. I grew up always going to both, but most worshippers choose one or the other.

Those contrasting moments feel very different to a preacher. On the one hand, I hope for the “full house” on Christmas Eve. I accept the fact that worship on Christmas Day isn’t even on most people’s radar. The temptation is to be pumped up for the eve crowd, and not put as much effort into the day attendees.

But you can’t do that. Some of those folks came a long way and carved out time to be there. It’s been a long time since they’ve been together as a family. And they are because of the story. A story that remains the same, even though much has changed in the past year.

While the one feels exciting, the other is more intimate. At the one you look at a crowd, but at the other you can look into their eyes. At the one there are many strangers; at the other I’ve met everyone as they’ve arrived.

Which do I like better? It’s hard to say. I really like both. I like to tell the story and I like to hear it, too. It pumps me up and settles me down more than the size of the crowd.

I love the sea of candles in a dark sanctuary on Christmas Eve. I also love the rays of sunshine that stream through the windows first thing on Christmas morning.

Thank you, Lord, for the best of both worlds!

What do the holidays do to you?

denise-johnson-426641As I was browsing through some stories and articles on Medium, I ran across this curious statement: “The holidays do things to some people.” So I began to wonder, “What kinds of things?” Not necessarily bad things. Hopefully good things, too.

The holidays make some people very generous. They give a lot to those whom they love as well as to strangers and causes of every size and shape. That’s a good thing, right?

The holidays make some some very family conscious. There is an underlying expectation that family will gather to celebrate, making it necessary to get time off, plan travel, pack and head out with zillions of other people to make the journey “home.” That’s good, right? Pretty much, unless you’ve neglected that dimension of your life for the past year, making it feel like you’re in an awkward roomful of strangers who don’t know each other very well.

The holidays are a whole bucket full of stress for some. That’s probably not a good thing. Folks become more and more snippy as the season unfolds. Too much to do, not enough time, and unrealistic expectations sap tidings of comfort and joy from their lives.

The holidays drive some to excess. It’s so easy to spend too much, drink too much, schedule too much, and eat too much. Probably not good.

The holidays sometimes prompts you to reflect on your life, the year past, your relationships, and the stuff you have. Such reflection can generate gratitude, make you dream, help you set goals, and maybe try something new. That one sounds good to me.

What do the holidays do to you?

Cuttin’ the lawn for Christmas

img_8001.jpgI’ve lived in Florida for over twenty-one years and it still blows my mind that one of the things on my Christmas to-do list is “cut the lawn.” Granted, the days are a bit shorter, so the grass grows a little slower and I only have to cut and trim once a month or so. But for a guy who grew up in the northeast, it feels really strange to on sunblock and a hat, and do yard work in shorts and T-shirt just two days on Christmas Eve eve!

On the flip side, I enjoy the hour I spend cutting and trimming. (I like it better than bundling up to shovel snow.) Even though it is yard “work” there is something very relaxing about the sound of the mower, the smell of the freshly cut grass, the fresh air and the pattern of neatly cut rows. Today was especially nice: blue skies, just a few wispy clouds, 70 degrees with lower humidity, and just a hint of a breeze. No interruptions, no phone calls, songs going through my head, a bumper crop  of pine cones to pick up and toss into the woods, and the satisfaction of a completed task.

That last benefit is rare. Oh, I complete a lot of tasks, but rarely get to see the results. The “results” ministry are matters of the heart and soul, both of which I can’t see. The rewards are often eternal rather than temporal. I don’t get to see what happens after you go home from church, or I leave after a visit, so I don’t have a concrete metric for ministry. I’m OK with that. As Paul reminds us, we plant and water, but God causes the growth. Someone else somewhere down the road may harvest what I plant today. There may not be fruit for generations, long after I’m gone. That’s all in God’s hands.

But I can cut the lawn. I can care for the little “yarden” God has given me. And I can sit back and enjoy a little sabbath when it’s all done. Amen!