Christmas Travel…

travel

I’ve always traveled at Christmas.  Growing up, it was going to Kissimmee to stay at Granny’s house with all the other cousins, trying to stay awake to hear Santa arrive.  I never made it.

After my mother married my step-father, our routine changed.  We did Christmas Eve with Pop’s mother, then we went to Pop’s first wife’s parents (I never could never understand why I didn’t get the same amount of presents as my step-brother and sister), then to Kissimmee, then on Christmas Evening we returned home to be ready for the day after Christmas.  In two days, we would cover over 300 miles on the highways of Central Florida.

The grandparents passed away and the journeys were modified.  There was still the Prescott gathering on Christmas Eve, but now we stayed at the ranch for Christmas morning before going to Kissimmee.

When I met Gina, everything changed.  We worked out that we would spend Thanksgiving with my family and Christmas with hers.  The December we got engaged, I drove from Kentucky to Gaffney, SC in a snow storm after conducting a midnight Christmas Eve service at the church I pastored. It was pretty romantic until I feel asleep at Christmas dinner.

When we moved to Sumter, our tradition changed again.  We would wake up Christmas morning to the delights of Santa, and then pack up and drive to Gaffney to have Christmas dinner.  The kids usually complained about trip but fell asleep on the way.  Even in their twenties, they still nap on the way to Gaffney on Christmas Day.

I know my travels are nothing compared to what some of you have experienced: traveling home from halfway around the world, praying there are no delays and hoping you make it home for Christmas.

Yet I think about the longest Christmas trip of all:  Jesus’ trip to earth.  Imagine living as an infinite being and then making the long trip into a womb as a single cell.  That’s how small Jesus was when he began.  It was a journey not to be measured in miles or hours, but in humility.

Jesus’ journey was not even about going home.  He made his trip to a hostile place.  It was the place he made, but the residents didn’t recognize him and wouldn’t welcome him.  If Jesus rated his trip on Trip Advisor, I would imagine he would give it zero stars.

But he came anyway.  He did the long trip of humility and rejection so we could have a different future, a different life –a new birth.  Given how far he came for us, does it seem such a big thing to follow him wherever he goes?

So this Christmas, while you are traveling, remember the trip Jesus made.  Tell him “thanks.”  Then ask, “So where are we going now?”

Where Did the Wonder Go?

We don’t wonder much anymore.  We are busy dashing to and fro, phones in our hands, trying to keep up with insane amounts of information, trying to stay connected to people we really aren’t connected to.  Where did the wonder go?

Maybe the wonder was washed out by streetlights and light clutter.  I remember walking from the barn to the house in pitch dark, looking up at the sky and being struck by the number of the stars, the dust of the Milky Way, and the beauty of the night sky.

Wonder certainly is victim of speed.  We don’t slow down to drink in a sunset or to listen to a forest wake up in the morning.  Electronic noise occupies our attention.  One deer hunter bragged to me about watching YouTube videos while in the stand.  Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of getting in the woods?

If we can’t drive to it, most of us don’t go.  We miss the rush of the waterfall because it is not right by the road.  Climb a mountain?  Only if there is road to the top. Paddle down a creek and listen to the fish jump?  Won’t a motor get us there faster?

We don’t live on farms anymore so the wonder of birth isn’t part of life.  We see our children born and marvel, but we no longer appreciate how a calf or a foal gets up in a few hours and begins to nurse.  Most of us have never seen an egg hatch and produce a chick, or watched baby ducks follow their momma into the pond.

We now ascribe many miracles to technology.  When I started as a pastor, people wanted me there to pray with them before surgery.  Their trust was in God.  Now I hear more and more, “Don’t send anyone.  The doctors say I’ll be fine.”

 

Children have not yet lost their sense of wonder.  They still will trail a line of ants to their hill, and chase butterflies.  Snow is a delight, not an aggravation.  Give a child a puppy and watch their eyes fill with wonder.

Psychology Today cited a British study which found rumination—or mulling over worries—is the biggest predictor of depression and anxiety. When anxiety strikes, its sufferers are overwhelmed by, and hyperfocused on, their own worrisome, dark thoughts.  It’s a state that infuses an often misleading sense of “realness” or “correctness” to those thoughts.  Robert Leahy, a research psychologist, says, “Awe is the opposite of rumination.  It clears away inner turmoil with a wave of outer immensity.”

This is why God said, “Be still and know I am God.”  When we get still, we pay attention to this world and our amazing God who made it.  Noticing God’s world clears away the inner turmoil by reminding us of the correct size of the universe and the God who made it.

So the next time you see an amazing sunset, don’t grab your phone to take a picture.  Pull off the road and marvel.  Soak it in.  When your dog looks at you with love, wonder about why God made such a creature.  When your grandchild grasps your finger without being taught, think about the brilliance of God that built that ability into your offspring.

If you take time to wonder, maybe you will find the amazing wonder of Christmas, the love of God made flesh in Jesus coming near.

One Sentence Stories with a semi-colon

Telling your faith story doesn’t have to be complicated.  Think about a sentence with a semi-colon. You remember the semi-colon don’t you?  It is an article of punctuation that divides a sentence.  In essence, a semi-colon drives the sentence in a different direction.

You can tell your story of Jesus in one sentence with a semi-colon.  This is my life without Jesus; this is my life with Jesus.

This is my one sentence story:  I grew up without a Dad; Jesus became love, security and a guiding voice for me.

Is there more to the story? Yes.  But in one sentence I’ve given you the essentials of my story with Jesus.

Here are some other examples:

  • I was addicting, destroying  myself; Jesus healed me and made me healthy.
  • I was a bored rich guy; Jesus moved me from success to significance – Bob Buford.
  • I screwed up my life; Jesus found me and I found grace – Chuck Colson
  • I was angry and bitter because my husband left me; I found out Jesus loves me and accepts me.
  • I followed Jesus since childhood; now He helps me cope with a difficult marriage.
  • I was looking for love in all the wrong places; then I found Jesus and found love in the right place.
  • I’ve always known Jesus; He gives me courage to do what everyone tells me I can’t do.

What’s your one sentence with a semi-colon story of Jesus?  Share it with someone who needs to hear your story.

Stories I Want to Share…

I love my job, for lots of reasons.  One of the reasons is I get to hear people’s stories and how Jesus is changing their lives.  I want to share some of those stories with you:

  • A woman from another country told her LIFE Group during a Christmas party: ““You all don’t see nationality; you accept me as one of you.  I have never felt more loved, more part of a group than I do today.”

I love LIFE groups being places of grace!

  • David, our worship pastor, struck up a conversation in a doctor’s waiting room with an older woman.  She said her husband disliked church because he had been burned by several churches in the past.   But they had heard that Alice Drive wasn’t like other churches.  She was waiting for someone to invite them to come – so David told her, “You’re invited!”

 

People are literally waiting for an invitation!

  • A young man who felt like he didn’t fit in anywhere started attending our Monday night service.  He attended off and on for a few months.  Todd, our Education Pastor had a conversation with him recently and he told Todd he accepted Jesus two months ago and was ready to be baptized!

Could we have reached this young man if we didn’t do Monday night service for people who won’t or can’t come on Sunday?

  • Nineteen months ago a man walked into Jock’s office and told him, “I’m an alcoholic and I am killing myself.”  Jock helped that man come to Jesus.  He got involved in Celebrate Recovery and is now stepping up to serve God in a way He never thought possible.

Everyone matters to God, even people who are wrecking their lives.  No one is beyond the love and light of Jesus.

  • One of the joys of being pastor of one church for a long time is seeing a teenager you thought was pretty hopeless turn into a great servant of Jesus. This past weekend, I watched this now young adult help someone learn to serve Jesus.

God has a purpose for everyone; even when we can’t see it!

There are a thousand great stories at Alice Drive of how people are taking a next step toward Jesus.  If you stop and think about it, I’ll bet you have story of how you are taking a next step toward Him.  Here’s what I know for sure:  Someone needs to hear that story!

PS:  If you have a great story of how you are taking a next step toward Jesus, share it with me, would you?  Send it to wcsmith@adbc.org

Pop Always Said…

It’s been six and half years since my step-father, Lawrence, passed away.  He’s the only Dad I ever knew.

Funny the things that stick in your memory.  Some of his sayings run through my mind:

  • “Well, kiss my foot.”
  • “I’m kicking, but not very high.”
  • “They will start biting in a minute.”
  • “It’s not dark yet.  We can work a little longer.”
  • “Always open the door for a lady.”
  • “We need some rain – we must not be paying the preacher enough.”
  • “Keep looking.  It’s around here somewhere.”
  • “Eat some more, or it will go to waste.”
  • “Go get some gas at the barn for yourself; and fill up your sister’s car while you’re there.”

In every one of those sayings, he was expressing a conviction:

  • “Well, kiss my foot” – I may have just fallen out of tangerine tree, but that’s no reason to start cussing.
  • “I’m kicking, but not very high” – I’m old and I’ve got pain, but I’m still here.
  • “They will start biting in a minute” – If you do what you love (like fishing), there’s never enough time.
  • “It’s not dark yet.  We can work a little longer” – Don’t quit working till the job is done, even if you have to push a little harder.
  • “Always open the door for a lady” – Habits of courtesy and kindness pay off.
  • “We need some rain – we must not be paying the preacher enough” – You need someone to pray for God to intervene.
  • “Keep looking. It’s around here somewhere” – don’t give up.  Persist.  You will find it only if you are looking.
  • “Eat some more, or it will go to waste” – Waste equals being a bad steward.
  • “Go get some gas at the barn for yourself; and fill up your sister’s car while you’re there” – If you are doing for yourself, take time to something for somebody else.

Your Father in Heaven has some sayings that express His convictions too:

  • “I am the God of grace and compassion.”
  • “Love your enemies, do good to those who push against you.”
  • “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Only if you stay attached to me to bear the fruit I designed you to bear.”
  • “By grace you are saved, not by anything you do, so you can’t brag about it.  I paid the price for you to be forgiven.”
  • “I loved the whole world so much I gave my one and only Son so everyone who believes in him can have a forever life worth living.”
  • “Peace I give to, my peace I leave with you.  Not peace like the world gives (temporary).  Be encouraged – I have overcome the world.”

Your Father’s words to you are worth remembering, too.

What Will You Get Jesus for Christmas?

Making the list starts for us before Thanksgiving.  We add to it as we have conversations with the children.  Shopping begins in earnest after Thanksgiving.  There are web-sites to check out and stores to dash into.  Each day seems to bring something new to the list.  Sometimes, it is a new item added by one of the children.  Sometimes, it is the name of someone we forgot.

By mid-December we’ve made good headway.  Amazon should be delivering.  A special trip or two is scheduled to get things we can’t find in town.  We’ve gotten on a first name basis with the cashiers at Simpsons.

Two days before Christmas there is a final flurry of activity.  Stocking must be stuffed, last minute items purchased.  Someone must make the frightening trip to Walmart on Christmas Eve.

Gift giving starts for us on Christmas Eve and goes through Christmas night.  It’s a wonderful twenty four hours of expressing love by giving gifts.

It struck me the other day, that one name is missing from our list:  Jesus.  Seems strange doesn’t it?  After all, it is His birthday.

Granted, Jesus is hard to buy for.  What do you get the person who has everything?  I mean, literally, everything!  He already owns the cattle on a thousands hills and stars by the thousands.  What would He want anyway?

He has a list detailing what He wants. It is found in the book of Micah:  “What does He require of you, O man, but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?”

This Christmas, give Jesus the gift of doing justice.  This is about more than being fair; it means treating each other with respect, standing for what is right, and doing right even when it costs you.

This Christmas, give Jesus the gift of loving mercy.  When someone offends you or hurts you, forgive them.  Give them grace.  If possible, keep the relationship intact.  Love people when it is hard to love them.

This Christmas, give Jesus the gift of walking humbly with Him.  Admit to Him you have no idea how to live your life.  Ask for His help and guidance every day.  Walk closely with Him so you learn to be like Him.  Stop where He would stop.  Walk past temptations as He does. Climb mountains with Him.  Rest in the valleys with Him.

This Christmas, the best gift to give Jesus is to give Him yourself.  He delights in you and will love the gift you present.  Ironically, the gift you give Him will also be the greatest gift you give yourself.