Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas of '83

I will never forget Christmas of '83.

I grew up in the 1960's in the heart of the Midwest, at a time when we still sang Christmas carols in school - even the good ones that talked about Jesus. Hark the Herald Angels, Joy to the World, O Holy Night, We Three Kings... being in chorus through all my years of school I sang them every year, and knew them all very well.

The problem was, I knew the songs but not the Savior; I was not yet a Christian. Of course, Christmas was still special - that kind of special so hard to describe but clearly felt by everyone, no matter what their background or faith. The songs... the lights... the trees... the packages... the whole spirit of the holiday was glorious and wonderful, so different from the rest of the year. No one could really define why or how, it just was.

And I loved it. The winter snows brought icicles and snowmen, sledding and ice skating, all the things that trimmed out the holidays so perfectly. Caroling down the streets of our small towns was everything Norman Rockwell could have envisioned - winter mittens and woolen coats, galoshes and bright scarves with air so cold you could see the long notes hanging in the air above the mouths of the singers. People would actually come out of their homes and stand on their porches to hear the singing, that awesome singing.

It was all so special.

Living on the farm as a small child, I know we had some tough years. We were not what you would consider 'poor', but sometimes we were probably as close to poor as we could get without actually being there. My parents worked hard. Dad had a full time job in the city, plus worked the farm all the other hours of the days and weeks. Mom took care of the family, the household, and the farm too. We all had chores to do, caring for the animals and crops, building fence and working the fields, everything that makes a farm come together. It wasn't uncommon in those days for rural homes to still use outhouses, and for people to carry water to the house from a well somewhere. We installed our first bathroom when I was twelve, before that it was a long winter walk to the back yard facilities, and warm baths in a washtub. Life was very different from what we have now, but we didn't think anything of it, we just lived it. We were a family - we had birthdays and hot summers and an old black and white TV.

And we had Christmas. That chilly old farmhouse with the oil stove and snow-filled winds whistling outside the windows just made it more special - we had Christmas. We always had a real tree - my dad always liked real trees - and Christmas morning was everything a child could want. The awesome feeling was there all those years, that special holiday feeling.

Now fast forward... past my childhood in the sixties into the tumultuous seventies, and on into the uncertainty of the eighties... to that wonderful moment in my life in 1983 when I accepted Christ and became a Christian. The miracle change took place - the Bible describes it as being 'born again' - where we devote our lives to Jesus and become a new creation in Christ. It was an amazing event for me, opening my eyes to so many truths I had never seen, and real answers to questions I had asked for years. My life was genuinely turned around - I had become a Christian!

As wonderful as that time was, the transformation beginning in March of that year, I was in for yet another surprise as the months wore on. My new life was wonderful, glorious, and blessed - I knew I had finally come home and found in Jesus all that I needed for life and love. My life began to blossom that year, and grew more blessed as the year passed.

Christmas came. The trees, the lights, the glitter and festivities. Shopping, presents and bows, and family dinners. And we sang.

We sang.

We sang the songs of Christmas, the sleighing songs, the snowing songs, the winter songs... and the Jesus songs. And that's when it happened - something exceptional took place in my heart.

The songs came alive! For the first time in my life, those wonderful songs were not only special and seemingly magic, my eyes were opened up and I saw the same Jesus in them that I now had in my heart. They made sense now! It was like a whole new revelation, a brilliant new flash of light that came on and stayed forever, the truth of Jesus! The same songs that were always so special were also now even more beautiful and personal - songs of the birth of the same Savior I had come to know earlier that year - Jesus the light and life of God.

And it was wonderful.

Although I didn't hear the voices of angels, I very clearly heard the message. "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10-11

That was Christmas of 1983, the year I finally understood that special meaning in Christmas, that wonderful feeling that sets it apart. Just as there is nothing like the feeling we experience around the holiday, there is also no feeling like we experience when we receive Jesus as Savior. If you're reading this, and you want to feel Christmas all year, the good news is that you can. Call on this Jesus, the baby born in a humble manger, this Savior who paid the price for our sins on the cross, this risen Messiah who now sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us, and who dwells in our hearts through faith. Jesus - the answer to all our problems.

Come. Let us adore him, today. Yes, come, let us adore him - Christ the Lord.

Yep, I'll never forget that special Christmas of '83. 

And it just gets better every year. 

God Bless!

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Preparing for Tomorrow's Disaster

Preparing for disaster. 

Tomorrow is the big day, so I have taken the precaution of preparing a guide to assist with those who may have procrastinated to the last minute. Don't panic, I'm here to help. Simply follow this step-by-step guide to have everything ready for the end. No worries, I'll walk you through it.

First, handle your tangible assets. Since we don't have a lot of information about how the end will come or who may be left behind, it's important not to allow any kind of flagrant misappropriation of funds or material goods by whatever zombies, mutants or country & western singers may remain. The best way to secure your assets is by relocation - move them from their current money accounts, banks or other stash boxes to a previously defined 'secure area'. Since most of you reading this article probably have not created a suitable location, simply send them to my accounts and I will make sure they are safe and sound. By preparing well ahead of the pending disaster, we are equipped to receive up to several million in assets and will assure they are disposed of in a safe, hygienic manner.

Second, release all real estate. Who knows what kind of chaos will erupt in the aftermath of the end of the world? The last thing you want is your good name dragged into the madness, simply because that pesky property has your name on some of the original documents. Again, thanks to some unusually amazing foresight, there is a solution. Grab your deeds, titles, etc. for your property and quickly sign them over to me for safe keeping. You sure don't want to look back from your eternal home and wish you weren't affiliated with whatever reprobate activity could be taking place there after you're gone: A castle for an evil king, a breeding ground for some kind of intergalactic four-headed creatures, or possibly even a used car lot. You just can't take that chance, especially when you can get your name off it easily and quickly now while there's still time.

Third, educate yourself to understand the possibilities. The best preparation is education - find out what may be the likelihood of certain scenarios playing out. How can the world end? What types of natural disasters may in looming on the literal horizon? Where can we learn more? Tough questions, that deserve quality answers. To execute some last-minute end-of-life cramming, grab some reading material and lock yourself in a quiet, private room with few distractions. You need to focus. Get some science fiction, some doomsday magazines, several copies of USA today and a Bible. Put on some blues to set the mood. Start studying. Let your fears build, get stirred, troubled and ultimately panicked. See how bad a person you are for neglecting this for so long, and that now it's too late. Work through those tragedist predictions, coordinating the events with modern day news. Finally, grab that Bible and start in.

Well, actually, at this point you may begin to experience a bit of an intellectual mood swing. Once in the Bible, you will eventually discover that in the Word of God things are explained a bit differently. The doomsday predictions are quickly shot down, replaced with the truth of the second return of Christ - an event filled with glory for all who believe, not tragedy. You'll see that God has prepared for your eternity in a perfect paradise. Sorry, no zombies or aliens. No asteroid collisions. No nuclear holocausts or solar meltdowns. Just good news. Sorry about that, hate to disappoint you but there it is.

So I guess the bad news for everyone is that God is in control and there isn't going to be a tragic end, unless of course you neglect to accept salvation and risk eternity in hell, but that's a whole 'nother topic. For today, it's just the disappointing realization that the world isn't ending tomorrow.

But what? You already completed steps one and two? Oh dear, now we have a mess. Well, I'll sort it all out, and get your property back to you, as soon as I can. But, what's the rush?

It's not like it's the end of the world.

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Ah, Facebook...

Ah, Facebook.

First of all, you have to know that I love Facebook. LOVE it. I've been involved with the Internet since before there was an Internet, back in the 80's and early 90's when we ran local Bulletin Board systems for local callers to get email, download files etc. We would dial into a bigger provider, the beginnings of the 'net, retrieve mail and files and post our uploads. Cludgy, expensive and slow, but it was the beginnings of a worldwide network.

Then came the actual Internet. Providers had a bank of phone lines for callers and a small trunk line into the network. Email improved, a new invention called a 'web browser' came along and suddenly everyone was surfing websites worldwide. No one really knew what they were doing, but it was huge and we all knew the potential was staggering.

Then came more... online game sites, huge listings of downloads, forums and newsgroups, and text, voice and video chats. There was so much information out there it was difficult to find and sort through it all - so the search engine was popularized. Better algorithms, more knowledgeable tags, and soon we could find just about anything we wanted.

Except people.

Finding and communicating with people was still a challenge. You might find their name in an article, or a mailing address and phone number, or even an obituary, but to really communicate with people you had to locate an email address or some kind of chat group... and it just wasn't effective.

Enter social networking. The concept of everyone signing up at one site and able to chat, share stories or photos, and follow each other daily was exciting and daring. Several possible ideas came and went. Forums were too sparse and slow. Chat rooms too limited. MySpace was a joke, a kids toy with lots of flashy nonsense but little mainstream attraction.

Then there was Facebook. Determined to keep the interface simple and usable yet full featured, it quickly became a favorite for both the young tech-set and the old timers trying to saddle up to modern times. You could find family, classmates and neighbors. You didn't have emails piling up to sort out from all the spam, no annoying messages with thirty layers of forwards, it was simply there whenever you wanted to check and see what was going on within your little circle.

And so we come to the present. Facebook, ever growing and changing, has captured the hearts of Internet users all over the world as the place to connect up. And it works. My family is huge. I have hundreds of cousins, and it seems a new generation comes along about every five minutes. Most of them I have never met face to face, yet on Facebook I have not only learn their names and see their pictures, I also get a glimpse into their lives, their activities, and their passions. I meet their children as they are born, follow their careers, experience their struggles and dreams, share their hearts and laugh, cry and pray with them daily. Facebook has traveled across impossible miles and cultural boundaries, and brought us together again as a family.

And I love it.

Of course, there are negatives, but you can get that at any family reunion. The differences, the gossip and slander, the morality arguments and the politics. Oh goodness, the politics. But at least on the Internet it's a little easier to scoot the chair back and walk away for a break, let the dust settle and cool some heads, and return with some love and caring that just might stop the battles. Or so we would like to think anyway, sometimes the battles get bloody and people get hurt in spite of the best intentions. But we're still family, and that can't change. As they say, 'you can pick your friends but you're stuck with your family.' So true... but when it comes down to basics, we love 'em anyway. And with Facebook, we get to share with each other better than we ever have before, and I love it.

Ah, yes. Facebook...

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

When a Child Passes

Dealing with the loss of a child can be traumatic, crippling and confusing. Not only heartbreaking, it is also in most cases unexpected, forcing the parent into a situation they are neither equipped nor prepared to handle. It is an unspeakable, mostly forbidden topic, dealt with only by those who find themselves thrust into it.

It is every Christian parent's desire that their children go to heaven - just not today.

How should we, as believers, handle the loss of a child? As born again Christians, we have placed our faith and trust in the truth that Jesus died for our sins, paid the price for our penalty, and redeemed us from the curse of this world into the blessed glory of the presence of God. Our passing is not a loss, but ultimate gain. We leave a place of sin and misery, and enter into a realm of perfect paradise, with no more tears, crying or pain. Heaven is real - more real than the dark deceptions and spiritual chaos we wrestle through down here. We sing of heaven, we talk of heaven, we happily look forward to heaven.

And yet, we are reluctant to release our most precious treasures to this blessed place of perfection and glory. Why? Because we love them deeply, deeper than anything in the world can reach. Our affection for them is intertwined with the most vulnerable components of our being, a fabric woven of goodness and life, called by the creator himself "family".

Tearing away from them is to shred that fabric. It uproots from a place more personal and painful than any other connection we experience. The bond with our child is greater than any other, as it should be. Releasing is pain.

And even though we all know these truths to exist, we somehow skip over them in our day to day thinking. Life is short. What is our life, but a mist that is here today and gone tomorrow. Children are like the flowers of the field that grow, bloom and pass all seemingly within the blink of an eye. We are not guaranteed days, months or years - in fact, we are warned to be prepared at any time, that we do not know when we die, or when the Lord returns. The simple truth is: Be ready.

Be ready.

Ready to go home. Ready to suffer loss. Ready to let go. It's hard, but inevitable. It may seem tragic, but in proper perspective it's glorifying, blessed and beautiful. Trust the Lord with your life, your treasure, your heart. As much as we hate to admit it - they were his children first, chosen in Christ before the creation of the world. Trust him. He will care for them, and we can look forward to that great reunion day, when all is said and done, and we're all back together again.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Tragedy in Connecticut

This is so tragic. I can't even function I am so broken inside. I can't see the computer monitor for the tears in my eyes. 

I hate the devil. I hate the sin of man, led by the powers of darkness, into the evils we fight every day in this world. It hate that the devil always targets children & families, and everything good and loving that God has given our hearts.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Eph 6:12

Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Come now in the comforting and healing power of your Spirit to these families and this community. Come now to our nation and spark a revival in our broken hearts, through our tears and in the midst of our madness, and restore us once again to a place of comfort and peace in your perfect presence. God bless and care for those in this desperate need right now. In Jesus name, Amen

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