Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Every Day is New Year's Day!

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone! I pray that 2015 will be a blessing for each and every one of you. New Year's Day is such an interesting time. So many hopes, so many dreams, so many things we hope to accomplish. Most of us know the frustration of making a resolution, only to fall short of our goal. We plan to lose weight, to exercise more, to quit smoking or to forgive a friend. Some of our resolutions don't even last a day. You know why? Because we are humans, and without heavenly help we are weak. The problem is not that we fail- the problem is that we fail ONCE and then give up! You know the drill-I ate a doughnut and blew my diet, so there is no need to diet anymore. We only give ourselves one chance at success.

Aren't we glad God doesn't hold us to the same standard? Scripture tells us that our sins are washed away if we bow a knee to Jesus Christ. We are forgiven 70 x 7 times (and no, God doesn't stop at 490!). Romans tell us that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is Jesus. No matter how often we slip and fall, Jesus will still be there to pick us up and love us.

So today I would like to suggest to you a new kind of resolution. One that doesn't end as soon as your resolve gives way, but rather that offers you grace. A second chance. Under this system (to quote the great songwriter Carolyn Arends"everyday is New Year's Day!"  Check out the lyric:

I buy a lot of diaries, fill them full of good intentions
Each and every new years eve, I make myself a list
All the things I'm gonna change, until January Second
So this time I'm making one promise
Yeah, This will be my resolution, Every day is New Year's Day
Oh, this will be my resolution, Every day is New Year's Day.
Well I believe it's possible, I believe in new beginnings
I believe in Christmas Day, and Easter Morning too
On the list it's doable, cuz I believe in second chances
Just the way that I, believe in You
Yeah, this will be my resolution, every day is New Year's Day
Oh, this could start a revolution, 
every day is...
One more chance to start all over
One more chance to change and grow, 
one more chance to grab a hold of grace and never let it go
This will be my resolution, every day is New Year's Day, 
Oh this could start a revolution, every day is--New Year's Day.
Carolyn Arends, 1997  

Wouldn't it be amazing if we could offer that kind of grace to ourselves? And to each other?  That could start a revolution! That could change the world! And isn't that what Jesus called us to do? So make every day a new beginning and remember- if Jesus is your Lord and Savior, then there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less! Let us resolve to be a people of grace. And let us resolve to give all the glory, honor and praise to the One who is worthy of our worship- Christ Jesus, the King! So have another doughnut for now...then start your diet again tomorrow! God bless and Happy New Year!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, December 26, 2014

Twas the Night After Christmas 2

Last year I wrote and posted a poem that summed up my Christmas day and called it Twas the Night After Christmas. It was such a hit that it seemed worth it to give it another try this year. There are differences; last year Marilyn was traveling to NC by herself to visit her family on the 26th. This year I'm going with her. But still, as I write this on Christmas night, the joys of the day have been many. So here we go. As always, I apologize to real poets everywhere...

Twas the night after Christmas and here at our place
I've spent the whole day just stuffing my face!
Shrimp & Crab Casserole and sausage balls galore
and leftover hot dogs from the holy night before
There were presents aplenty with gifts from each other
And OH- I got the box set of How I Met Your Mother!
There was Pandora and movies and clothing and cash
and ornaments for all, including one that says "Hulk smash!" 
The Muppet Christmas Carol was our afternoon movie 
with Michelle seeing it for the first time- how groovy!
There were tweets, texts and calls from family and friends
Reminding that the love of this day never ends
Christmas is a time of peace and of love
of remembering the gift God sent from above
But it's also a time to reach out to a friend
with a hug you can give or a text you can send
We can all make the world a bit warmer place
by putting a smile on a dear old friend's face
In the morning we'll head for dear old NC
With family to visit and old friends to see
We'll enjoy the blessings and keep feeling the glow
that has nothing to do with a gift or a bow
So enjoy your new toys and your sweet families
Enjoy your last days with your own Christmas trees
Miss me this week while this blog I don't write
Merry Day after Christmas- and to all a goodnight!

Thanks for making 2014 another year to remember here at I'd Laugh...  I may or may not be able to post this week from NC, but you will continue to be in my thoughts and my prayers. Much love to all!

Because of Jesus,

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Is Just the Beginning

"In the first light of a new day 
no one knew he had arrived,
Things continued as they had been
while a newborn softly cried..."

Merry Christmas! As we celebrate with family and friends today it is important to remember once again that Christmas is all about Jesus. This day we celebrate the beginning of the greatest love story ever told, of how God sent His only Son to save us from ourselves. But the story does not end there. The life of the man we call Jesus should change the way we live. His death should teach us much about sacrifice. But first and foremost, we are a Resurrection People. The Christmas story and the Easter story cannot and must not be separated.  Over the years, the song In the First Light (quoted above and below) by the group GLAD has become one of the most meaningful songs in my life. My prayer is that this video will stir your heart this last week of the holiday season to worship not only the babe in the straw, but the risen savior of the universe. As Christ-followers, we much never forget this truth:

"Hear the angels as they're singing 

On the morning of His birth,
But how much greater will their song be
When He come again to Earth...
When He comes to rule the Earth!"

Merry Christmas, one and all!!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Only One More Sleep 'til Christmas

Me, Andrew & a photobomber!
Andrew Lewis was Organist and Interim Youth Minister when I was hired at First UMC-Kissimmee in 1994. He eventually became the Minister of Music and Worship there, and also became one of my best friends. Andrew had many gifts; a beautiful voice, a loving spirit and servant's heart. In all my years around churches he was the best worship designer I have ever been around, although in such a traditional church he got to use those skills on a very limited basis. One particular Advent season Andrew, Pastor John Willis and the rest of the worship team outdid ourselves. We took the One More Sleep 'Til Christmas theme from the movie The Muppet Christmas Carol and started our "sleep" countdown a month before Christmas Eve. Pastor John, his famous infamous puppet Hollywood (who has his own post here on this blog!) and I would weave the impending arrival of Santa Claus into the Children' Moment each week along with the excitement over the coming of the Christ child. By our Christmas Eve "family services" we had built to a fever pitch. Those kids and their parents had gotten the message- it was the night before JESUS! That night Andrew sang the Muppet song and had me sing the Rich Mullins classic You Gotta' Get Up (see the video at the bottom). Children performed a nativity play. Hollywood, John and myself then closed the series by reminding everyone that the coming of Jesus was an even more exciting event than the coming of Santa- although Santa rocks! It was an awesome service. Then everyone went outside to witness a Living Nativity performed by our youth. God even spoke to us through and angel on a ladder that night...

Every year MarilynWill and I attend a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. Every year I am moved by the music, the lifting of candles as we sing Silent Night, and the Christmas story itself. And every year I think of Andrew, John, and Hollywood and all the time, effort and creativity that went into making that night in the late '90's one that will stay with me forever!

I hope that for each of you, tonight will be a Holy night.My family will attend the 6 PM service at Van Dyke, return home for real Carolina hot dogs and a viewing of Scrooged. Tradition will be broken, as we normally watch The Muppet Christmas Carol, but this year we are saving it until tomorrow so Michelle, who has never seen it, can watch with us. But Scrooged works nicely as a replacement, and so that is Christmas Eve at the Jones' house. Whatever your traditions may be, please don't forget the original Christmas tradition-  O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining; It is the night of our dear Saviors' birth...  Merry Christmas to all.  Today it is finally true again-there's only one more sleep 'til Christmas!  And that means that tomorrow you gotta' get up- it's Christmas morning. Hugs and blessings to you all!

My Deliverer is Coming,

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tiny Jesus

Many of you may remeber one of the great theological movies of the past decade- Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby (sarcasm intended). Some of you will remember the scene where Ricky (Will Ferrell) is saying the blessing over a family meal. He begins by praying, "Dear Baby Jesus" (My son Will and our friend David White still joke about beginning prayers that way). A discussion later ensues about the fact that Jesus did in fact grow up and become a man, but Ricky doesn't care. He prefers to think of Jesus as a cute little baby, helpless in the manger. Throughout his prayer he continues to refer to Baby Jesus in more and more descriptive ways, but never advancing him beyond the infant stage.

It occurs to me that far too often we do the same thing with Jesus at Christmas. We have our nativity scenes and our Christmas plays and our scripture readings that focus (quite rightly) on the miraculous birth story of our Savior. But too many times we let the story end there. Like Ricky Bobby, we prefer a Tiny Jesus.  Tiny Jesus is cute, cuddly and much easier for us to understand. Tiny J doesn't ask us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Tiny J doesn't remind us to take care of the "least of these." Tiny J doesn't call anyone a "brood of vipers." Tiny J doesn't tell us "to find your life you have to lose it." It is much easier for us if we do not allow Jesus to grow up...

Babies are cute little miracles from God, and we love them. It is no wonder the Christ-child captures out attention. A few years ago we had a tiny little Christmas tree in a room with a 14 foot ceiling, and the room dwarfed it. Now we have a grown up tree that may not be as cute, but is much more impressive. Tiny J may be cute and cuddly and worthy of our praise. But the full-grown Messiah, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings- now that Jesus knows how to fill up a room! The Son of God became the most important person in history. There is such power in his life, his teaching and in his death and resurrection that we cannot ignore his presence. When we allow Jesus to grow up, it is no longer enough to bring gold or myrrh. The only gift that is sufficient is to offer him our lives.

So this Christmas season celebrate the birth of the infant Christ-child. Worship the babe as the shepherds did all those years ago. Rejoice in his coming to our world. Read the Luke 2 stories of that most holy night. Just be sure to keep reading- and watch that baby grow into a man who would one day save the world...

My Deliverer is Coming,

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Ridiculous Way To Start a Revolution

Each year at Christmas one of the grand traditions of the Church is to read the birth story of Jesus from Luke 2. I have read it so often (and heard Linus recite it so many times on A Charlie Brown Christmas) that I pretty much have it memorized. Some of it almost seems normal now, when in fact there is not a single normal thing about the story. And the part that always gets me is when the angels appear to the shepherds. The big announcement that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords was coming to earth was delivered in a field outside of a no-name village to a bunch of stinkin' sheep-herders. Absolutely ridiculous.

I mean, if God really wanted to make a splash with this birth you would have thought the angels would have appeared to the Roman rulers or the Jewish high priests. God might have tried a huge fireworks display and sky-writing event over downtown Jerusalem. That would have gotten the word out big-time. That could have made the rich and the powerful head for the stable that night, bringing honor and glory to the newborn King. Heck, they probably could have even gotten Joseph and Mary a room! But shepherds? Scripture tells us that they were "abiding in the fields" when the Heavenly Host (Is it just me or does that sound like a jazz band to anyone else?  Gabriel on trumpet, of course...) showed up. Of course they were! You know why? Because they smelled so bad no one wanted to be anywhere near them. Shepherds weren't even allowed in the temple in those days, because they were too nasty to go through the ritualistic purification required to worship there. They spent all of their days and nights in the field with sheep because no one else would have them! But when it came time to announce to the world that God was sending the Son to save us, God turned to this smelly bunch of uneducated Hebrew rednecks. And they obeyed. They went to find the baby in a smelly barn, surrounded by smelly animals and laying in a disgusting manger- no doubt with animal slobber all over it (as a side note, I hope moms everywhere will note that Jesus and millions of other kids lived very healthy lives BEFORE the invention of the disinfectant wipe.  I'm just sayin...). And in the midst of all of this smelliness, hope was born. The world was saved, though no one knew it yet. When those stinkin' sheep-herders bowed to worship that baby, they represented us all. We are all totally unworthy of being in the presence of God, and yet because of the man that baby became we are all invited. How ridiculous!

The Jesus Revolution was going on right from the very beginning. God used a no-name girl from the least respected town of a pitiful little province to bring his only Son into our world. God had him born in the most humble of circumstances, and sent the angels to the least likely witnesses anyone could think of- shepherds. Before ever speaking a word, Jesus told the world that everything was about to change. Power, wealth and prestige were going to give way to the weak, the poor and the smelly. And yet so many of us have still not heeded that message. I encourage you today to be willing to get a little smelly for Jesus. Find ways to connect with those who are "abiding in the fields" and are being ignored by our society. They have much to teach us. For the Jesus Revolution to take hold in this world, we all need to be more like the shepherds. My friends, it is time to get out there and stink, because the Creator has shown over and over again that God uses the smelly to change the world. How totally ridiculous. Just as ridiculous as sacrificing your only Son to save a bunch of sinful humans...                                   Amen and Amen.

My Deliverer is Coming,

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Advent: Child of Bethlehem

Today is the 4th Sunday in Advent, and today we light the candle of Peace. Pease is a very complicated word in our world. There is so much violence all around us, and most people talk about wanting peace and praying for peace- but very few us actually work towards it. We tend to confine the concept to a large scale, to things like wars and riots and shootings, and when we think that way peace often seems like a wishful dream. On the hilarious old SNL skit that advertises a collection of songs called A Dysfunctional Family Christmas, one of the song titles mentioned is "Peace on Earth? Where?"  I think many of us would ask that question. And yet, today, we remember that the coming of the Christ-child was all about bringing us peace. Has God failed us?

Let's look at what we know. Hundreds of years before that night in Bethlehem, the prophet Isaiah announced the coming Messiah would be called (among other things) The Prince of Peace. When the angels appeared to the smelly shepherds they said to them, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth Peace and goodwill towards men." Jesus, in his most important sermon, said that those who work for peace would be blessed and called children of God. Peace is important to Jesus, and so many of us claim to be his followers. So where does it all go wrong?

I know you didn't ask, but here is my take on that question. When we think about peacemaking and praying for peace, we start in the wrong place. We pray for the big stuff, the major events, the real tragedies of violence- as we should. But that is NOT where peace begins. It begins in our hearts. God sent his Son on the first Christmas so they we could have peace in our relationship with God. With the coming of Jesus, a bridge was built and we were forgiven and forever connected to the Creator. The Christmas gift should bring peace to our souls. But it can't stop there. The earthly teachings of the Messiah focused completely on one word- LOVE. We are to love ourselves as God's creation; we are to love God with all of our strenght; and we are to love each other no matter what our differences and our circumstances. Peace is so often absent from our lives because we are just so bad at those three things. We dislike ourselves, which gives us bad attitudes and lots of feelings of hostility and jealousy. We are not fully devoted to following Jesus, so we miss out on his call to be radically different. And we seem to constantly be in search of new reasons not to love other individuals- or entire groups of people- in our daily lives. Peace begins with a relationship with The Prince of Peace and spreads through loving the way Jesus taught us to love. If we cannot forgive, overcome differences and face our fears in our families, our neighborhoods, our schools and our workplaces then we have no chance of being peacemakers on the world stage. None.

James Ward is a musician who (for too many reason to list here) also happens to have been a huge influence on my ministry. The first time I ever met James was 1982. He looked like James Taylor, but when he opened his mouth it was more like Stevie Wonder came flying out! That same year he released his album Faith Takes a Vision, and the first track was a song called Child of Bethlehem. I still break it out every Christmas. In it, James asks interesting questions. What is it we are allowing Jesus to be in our lives? Savior? Teacher? Prince of Peace? God sent his only son to die for us so that each of us would be transformed, and in turn would then be transformers of our world. For over 2000 years world peace has escaped us. But what about the peace in our hearts? My prayer today, with only 4 sleeps left before Christmas, is that we would commit anew to loving the way Jesus loved. That is the path to peace. Enjoy the song, and ponder the question- "Child of Bethlehem, will you be the Prince of Peace?"  Have a blessed Sunday.

My Deliverer is Coming,

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The 2014 Jones Family Christmas Letter

There are many Christmas traditions on this blog, and one of them has been to do a Christmas letter for our friends and family. If you are thinking, "WOW! What a cheap and lazy way to send a Christmas letter!" you are not wrong. But it is important to us to include you in our lives and let you know how important each one of you is to us. So imagine, if you will, that this letter is addressed specifically to you. And thanks for reading...

Let's start with Will, who somehow turned 19 this year. He's one semester and one summer class away from finishing his AA degree at St. Pete College and then heading off to the film school at UCF. He will share an apartment on campus with an old friend from high school (and one other guy), and for the following 2 years his adopted parents will be Jerry & Melissa Hanbery. He is still with his girlfriend Michelle who is also off to UCF next August. How convenient! We love Michelle, and she and her family have become a part of ours over these past months. Will spent the first part of the year working for Chick-fil-A in the local mall. He sought new employment after discovering that the "our pleasure" they share with customers turns into "we don't care!" when you are an employee. He got a job as a host at Olive Garden, but spent the summer working both places and taking classes. It's just a shame the boy has no initiative! He's exclusively at the OG now, working 40 hour weeks in only 4 days because according to management, "the place falls apart when Will isn't here!" He's still very much into music and movies. He's also turned himself into a pretty stellar guitar player. And finally, at age 19, we were able to secure a car for him to use (a hand-me-down from my mother) and so he got his license.  It's been a really good year for Will...

Marilyn is also doing well, except for having to work way too much. She continues to serve as an executive assistant to an attorney who is one of the leading authorities on alcohol beverage licensing in the nation. Want to know how busy they are? You know how all of the Red Lobsters were recently sold? They handled all the license transfer and what-not. And there are many more HUGE examples I could share. The alcohol business is booming! In addition to her work, Marilyn finds time to visit Walt Disney World on a fairly regular basis and to keep up with friends and family via Facebook. If you are her friend and you have posted pictures on your feed, chances are good she has seen them. Especially if there are children involved! She loves dinners with friends, going to the movies and the occasional trip over to the beach. And if you want to talk about the goings-on on The Good Wife, she's your girl! Her year hit some rough patches back in the late summer with the death of her father and trying to help her mom through the hard times that followed. Dealing with family trauma from 700 miles away is not easy, but she has done what she can. She and I will be heading up to NC the week after Christmas to spend time with her family. Her bravery in being a practical and organized woman living with two "creatives" cannot be overstated. She is the glue that holds us together.

Conner the Dog continues to be a big part of our family as well. At age 11 he has slowed down a bit, and wakes me up way too early way too often, but we still love him! He spends his days napping, eating Beggin' Strips and anything else he can talk the rest of us into sharing. The dog has his own recliner- I think he's pretty happy with his lot in life!

As for me, life continues to be both a blessing and a roller coaster. My mom's health is not good; she has days when she doesn't get out of bed and she rarely leaves her house. But not unlike her son, she is stubborn and wants to stay there despite our best efforts to move her to Tampa. My health, on the other hand, has been very good. No toe surgery in 2014- I call that a big honkin' WIN! We were blessed and thrilled when my probation was terminated 3 years early on April 1 (no foolin'); we were crushed to discover that my transgression of nearly 8 years ago would prevent me from ever going back to WDW. I did get to cross many bridges with my newfound freedoms however, including spending a week in Myrtle Beach with Marilyn's family and an extended weekend in NC visiting friends, some of them for the first time in years. And I have to say- I have the best friends anyone could ever ask for! They continue to support me through thick and thin and look after me no matter the circumstances. This includes my Twitter family, which continued to grow this year. As you know, I continue to write this blog on a regular basis. I also write for couple of other blogs about once a month. My novel (Even Better Than Before), which I began back in the spring, is nearly complete and should be ready to be shared with the first batch of readers in early 2015. My work as a personal assistant for Lisa Jewett continues, reminding her when to buy groceries, looking at pictures of her grandchildren and answering her very random questions about very random things. She is a great friend to the whole family and very much a part of our lives. All-in-all, life is good. There have been trials and struggles and even a few major disappointments along the way. But God is good. All the time.

It is our prayer that 2015 will bring us more opportunities to spend time with family and friends and to continue to seek to discover what God has in store for us all. We wish for each of you a merry and blessed Christmas season, filled with the love hope, love, joy and peace that the Christ-child came to bring. We love you all!

Because of Jesus,

Friday, December 19, 2014

T'was the Friday Before Christmas

Less than a week to go until the fat man slides down the chimney, the candles are lit in worship, families gather and we celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world! Yesterday I did some shopping, today I'm making sausage balls and fudge. It's getting real up in here! To keep my Christmas spirits rising this morning I cranked up my iPod nano and put my Christmas playlist on shuffle. Here are the 10 songs that started my Friday before Christmas. You could do a lot worse!

  1. Santa Claus is Comin' To Town - Bruce Springsteen
  2. Merry Christmas, Darling - The Carpenters
  3. Angels We Have Heard on High- Relient K
  4. Mary, Mary - Lost And Found
  5. Babe In the Straw - Caedmon's Call
  6. Mele Kalikimaka - Jimmy Buffet
  7. Happy Christmas (War is Over) - John Lennon
  8. Silent Night - Stevie Nicks
  9. I Celebrate the Day - Relient K
  10. All I Want for Christmas Is You - Michael Buble
Remember- "the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singling loud for all to hear"- so don't just listen this holiday season- SING!  Have a merry and blessed weekend, everyone!

My Deliverer is Coming!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


In December of 2012 I was recovering from major surgery and a blood sugar crisis that could have been fatal. There was very little energy in my body; I hadn't really been anywhere in weeks. Against all wisdom, my son Will and our friend Butch convinced me to go the The Hobbit. It didn't take too much convincing, as I was a very willing victim. Middle Earth is near and dear to my heart and has been for a very long time. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a favorite long before they were made into masterpieces of cinema. The Hobbit was also a much loved book in my younger days. Heck, I even read The Silmarillion! J.R.R. Tolkien's writing has had a huge influence on my life, and Peter Jackson's movies have brought Middle Earth to life in ways that seemed highly unlikely to me. 

Today marks the release of the third and final chapter in The Hobbit trilogy of movies, the first two of which have been simply stunning. I had spent many moments in my lifetime imagining what the dragon Smaug would look like; Peter Jackson captured the beast on film in the most awesome of ways. And now it all comes to an end. At 1 PM today Will, Butch and myself will once again travel together to Middle Earth- #OneLastTime. It's time to bid farewell to the film versions of Gandalf, Bilbo, Gollum, Legolas and so many others. It's time to discover once more time that Hobbits are much more than they appear to be. We have forged our own little fellowship of the ring, and we go forth together on this day to see what promises to be an amazing 2.5 hours of movie magic. The battle of the 5 armies is about to begin. All hail Bilbo Baggins! 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Remember Who You Are

There is a great scene in Disney's The Lion King where the spirit of Mufasa, the dead King, reminds his son Simba that as the child of a King there are certain things that are expected of him. He is royalty; he needs to behave in a way that will reflect that. Sometimes such expectations feel unfair, but the truth is everyone who wears the label of royalty represents not only themselves through their actions and words, but also the King. If you are a Christ-follower, then your behavior represents THE King- and many of us aren't doing so well. It's time to remember who (and whose) you are. Here are 3 quick stories...

Before and during most every youth trip I ever led there would come a time when the students would be reminded that while on our adventure we represented three very important labels. We represented our families at home. We represented the church who sponsored the trip and whose name was on the side of the van. And most importantly, we represented Jesus, the reason our groups existed. Anything we did that brought shame to ourselves trickled down to those 3 entities. Embarrassing me was one thing; bringing shame to Jesus was a much tougher pill to swallow. And for the most part they lived up to their royalty for nearly 30 years.

One of the Senior Pastors I worked with was very aware of the danger of hypocrisy in his daily life. He was a devout believer, but he refused to label his car with bumper stickers or a "Jesus fish" logo. Why? Because he knew himself as a driver, and he was afraid that the strong possibility that he would flip off someone who cut him off might reflect poorly on his Savior if his car screamed "Christian Inside!" The thought of a driver thinking less of Jesus because of his action was more that he could deal with- so he made a choice. Sometimes it is painful to remember who you are.

And finally, the story that spawned this post. My son Will is a seating host at a very busy Olive Garden. He often works lunch, and on several occasions now it has been his task to greet and/or seat a middle aged man who comes in alone. Each and every time the man has been gruff and demanding, rude to other patrons and a true pain in the butt for the staff. The servers complain when they get him, and have mentioned that he is a rotten tipper. While we are certain he is not the only one who behaves in such a manner, Will has taken special notice of him because he recognized the man- from a church staff where he once served as a youth pastor, and from his announcements in church as the leader of an international mission organization. The man is a long-time professional Christian. Will recognizes him and sees his behavior. Who else does? Does he ever share a kind word or the love of Jesus with his server, or is he too busy not tipping them? Everyone has bad days. He seems to be having a bad year- and at least at Olive Garden he has forgotten who he is. And oh by the way- Christians who tip poorly really rattle my cage!!!

All of us are human. Like Simba, there are times when it is easier to hide than to acknowledge our royalty and seek to be the people we are called to be. If we claim to be part of God's royal family but do not show love and respect to the people we encounter daily, we embarrass Jesus. If we spout scripture but live lives of pettiness and hypocrisy, we are not serving the King. If we are bold enough to claim friendship with the Son of God yet claim others are not "good enough" for his family, then we have lost our identity- for who among us is truly worthy? And if we wear a gold cross around our necks so that the world will know to whom we belong, then we need to remember that the cross means something. It's not just a symbol. It's a proclamation of whose we are. So today, with everyone you encounter- even the guy you flipped off on the way to to work- remember who you are. A child of the one true King. Let's show this hurting world what a royal family REALLY looks like...

Because of Jesus,

Monday, December 15, 2014

70 X 7

Last night in a movie theater while waiting for Mockingjay to begin I overheard the following bit of a conversation: "I just can't believe she did it again. I forgave her once; how many times should I forgive her?"  I don't know who she is or what she did, but it occurred to me that Jesus already answered the question...if they really wants to know the answer.

Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV): Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "LORD, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? 7 times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not 7 times, but 70 times 7."  

Not recorded is Peter's response of, "HOLY CRAP!" That's a lot of forgiveness. Most of us have trouble with once. But that is not what Jesus requires of us. It's hard, and it may not seem fair, but that's the deal. Just as there are no limits on God's grace in our lives, we are to take the cap off our well of forgiveness. 70 X 7. Lots of scholars believe that means an infinite amount of times we are called upon to forgive others...and ourselves. But I'll make a deal with you today. You forgive someone 490 times, and we'll not worry about the infinite stuff. 490 times. We'd better get started...

Because of Jesus,

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Advent: Unspeakable Joy!

Today is the third Sunday in Advent, a time for many congregations around the world to light the candle of JOY. We talk a lot about joy in this season of the year. We sing Joy To the World. We talk about the joy of being with family and friends. We share in the joy of Christmas parties and special worship services. But let's be real for a minute. Sometimes the joy we speak of is hard to find during the holiday season. There is merriment, festivity, laughter, happiness and excitement- but often very little joy. My favorite definition of joy is "a contentment that satisfies the soul and clears the mind." In all of the stress of Christmas time that kind of joy is often in short supply. We worry. We want too much. We expect too much. We try to please too often. We search for happiness-  and we lose the joy.

When the angels appeared to the smelly shepherds in Luke 2, they made it clear that the arrival of the Christ-child was all about joy. "I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people!" The Wise Guys saw the star in the east and "rejoiced with exceeding great joy!" It seems that that they knew instantly that life had changed forever. Jesus would later explain what that kind of joy really meant in John 10:10- "I came that you might have life, and life abundant!" Joy is not about emotions or feelings- joy is a lifestyle! It is understanding that because love came down on that first Christmas, EVERYTHING changed. Our search for things that make our hearts tingle may never end, but our search for things that give us that contented soul could be at rest. Jesus is our joy.

A fairly obscure 1970s recording artist named Lobo wrote a very obscure song called Stoney- which of course is on my iPod. In the chorus it has this great line- "The joy that you can find in living everyday, Stoney how I love your simple way." To my mind, that is the abundant life Jesus talked about bringing us- living each day with joy and purpose. Life is seldom what we want it to be. Some days it just flat out sucks. But in every day- even the suckiest ones- we can find joy in loving our family and friends. We can find joy in serving those who need our help. We can understand that joy is often not in the destination, but in the journey. And we can discover the joy- the unspeakable joy- that comes from knowing that each of us is so loved by the Creator of the universe that God sent his Son to be our guide, our friend, and to forgive our sins before we had ever committed them.

Today is a great day to be alive. And tomorrow will be as well. Find the simple joy that Jesus brings in living everyday. If we understand that Christmas is all about a story that brought good news to ALL people,  then the Nativity will fill our hearts each day of the year. And that, my friends, is a MERRY CHRISTMAS! Have a blessed Sunday.

My Deliverer is Coming,

Friday, December 12, 2014

It's Christmas Time

"In the town of Bethlehem
See the stars shine
Fall down and worship Him
It's Christmas time..."

I love everything about Christmas. I love the religious celebrations of the birth of our Savior.  I love reading from Luke 2 (just like Linus!).  I love the decorations, the trees and Santa Claus. I love the movies and TV specials. And I love the music. I know that they start playing it way too early for most of us, but when it it time I am sooo ready for it! I love it.  And I love a wide variety of Christmas tunes. My play-list includes everything from traditional carols to rock anthems to singing vegetables. In fact, the first VeggieTales Christmas CD is a traditional favorite for us. And I love sharing some of my favorite Christmas music with you. 

Today's selection may be a little obscure, but it also is one of my very favorite contemporary Christmas songs. It comes from the 2002 album City On A Hill: It's Christmas Time.  This album featured various contemporary Christian artists including Third Day, Caedmon's Call, Jars of Clay and Sixpence None the Richer. The title track, It's Christmas Time, was written by Terry Scott Taylor and Steve Hindalong. Taylor's roots in CCM go all the way back to the beginning at Calvary Church in southern California. He has been a prolific songwriter and member of the bands Daniel Amos and Lost Dogs.  His songwriting has been listed as an inspiration by artists as varied as U2 and Michael W. Smith. Hindalong received a Dove Award for his production work on the City On A Hill albums. He was in the classic CCM band The Choir, and with Taylor in Lost Dogs. He is perhaps most noted as a drummer and percussionist, having played on numerous albums for various artists over the years. This song (for me) sets the mood for the celebration, joy and reverence that the Christmas season should be all about. It is sung by an all-star choir, including Dan Haseltine (of Jars of Clay), Mac Powell (of Third Day), Michael Tait (of dc Talk and now Newsboys), Leigh Nash (of Sixpence), Caedmon's Call and Out of Eden. I trust the God will use it to move you as much as it moves me. The celebration of the birth of our LORD is coming quickly. Let's prepare ourselves now for the coming of the hope of the world. Enjoy the song!

My Deliverer is Coming,