Watching Something Fall at Midnight

383936_2438983145858_1485766825_n2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Well, looks like old 2014 is on the way out and a brand new year is on the way in. Just a few hours away and 14 is over – good or bad, and 15 is here – good or bad. How are you approaching the end of the year this year – any different? Shirley and I are. Usually she gets the New Year’s Day meal ready. You know, the pork, greens, black eyed peas – the healthy, wealthy and wise. And we gather the family over for the meal, good conversation, football, etc. Shirley has purchased all the food stuff, but there is one little problem this year. She is on the couch with a temp over 100, chills, a could be at any moment upset stomach, cough, and a generally yucky feeling.

It is harder to stay up to midnight just to watch a ball drop v-e-r-y slowly and nothing really happens when it reaches the bottom. No kaboom. Just confetti, kissing, shouting, and the playing of Auld Lang Syne. Well, I like the kissing part, the sipping of champaign, and the thoughts behind the song.

Not sure what I will do tonight with Shirley (my sidekick) out of commission? I guess I’ll have her glass of champaign also, kiss her on the forehead, and think about how we have messed up 2014. I wish I could say it was a stellar year, but we all know that is not the case. The racial tension in this country is just crazy. My fear is that it will lead to more trouble and death rather than better understanding and sensitivity to each other’s needs.

I am troubled by all the senseless killing of children – helpless children. It seems like every week or so a little child is killed by their parents or some close relative. If they do not want the children can’t they just take them to a hospital, police station, somewhere they can be helped and saved?

Wars, the rattling of sabers and drawing of lines around the world seems to be shouting out to the world – watch out – we still haven’t learned to get along with each other. And Isis seems to be pointing the world toward some kind of grand religious war because they want us to be them and we want to be us. They interpret their god saying kill while we interpret our God saying love. I am afraid there will be a reckoning at some point.

Some of the good stuff that has happened in this 2014 is that my health seems some better. My heart seems to be staying in rhythm more than it was earlier this year. The diabetes seems less of a problem since I am staying right at the borderline of being pre-diabetic. I hope that is a good thing. Still have low energy and terrible feet pain. Shirley seems to be doing really well (except for today).

I published two ebooks this year: A devotional book entitled “Daily Moments with Pastor Steve (on iTunes) and a book of talks, sermons for Lent entitled “Sayings of Noah; The Four Year Old Theologian (on Amazon). It was confusing and exciting to get this done. Matter of fact I was looking on Amazon’s book list today, searching under my name to find the book written about Noah. Using my name only it found the book on the 11th page right between Stephen Brown’s book on “Scurvy” and Stephen Cox’s book “Hooterville Handbook.” I had to laugh at that one. I just finished today publishing the third ebook. It is entitled: “The Grieving Heart: Up-Lifting Funeral Homilies” (on Amazon). I have compiled some 55 funeral messages to help people during their times of grief. These sermons are ones that I have delivered over the years to people in times of dealing with a death in their family. It is not a grand masterpiece, just seeking to touch a wounded heart with everyday words and stories.

Perhaps tonight would be better served if we spend some time in positive, creative meditation about how God would have us be part of the solution to the world’s problems rather than part of the problem? Allow that meditation to move and grow until you have an affirmation that the path you are traveling is the one God is walking. If we could do that I believe that 2015 could be a stellar year for all concerned.

Dear Lord, Move us in the direction of peace, love, understanding and the welfare of all people of the world. Touch us, move us, nudge us until we make a difference in and through Jesus. Amen.

Practice What You Preach

383936_2438983145858_1485766825_nIsaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Last night we got together with family in from Virginia at one of the local restaurants. Well, we arrived at a prearranged time and everyone settled in with our catching up hugs and conversations. There are eleven of us and most restaurants are not equipped to seat eleven people so all eleven people can see and hear all eleven people. You are usually at these small tables pushed together in this long row. I could see the people at the other end but I couldn’t hear them. So we are all kind of limited to conversations with those around us (either side and ones across from us). Shirley’s conversation is with her sister so I just try to listen to most of what they are saying.

I have been assigned the seat on the end of one side of this row on the corner. Shirley is sitting beside me. No one is on my right side (the side of my married ear). Her sister is across from me but talks so softly that I (with poor hearing) can hear only a word every now and then. So to be part of what is going on I look around and smile at someone/anyone who just happens to look my way. For some reason I believe that keeps me in the loop – in the moment with the family.

But there is this other distraction to the one sitting down on the end, at the corner. Way across the room (at the bar) are two televisions. The Panthers are on one and the Packers are on the other. They are too far away for me to hear. I can barely see the players. No hope of seeing the score. So I judge who is winning by the reactions of the players. If they are jumping up and down I figure they must be winning. Then Aaron Rogers (whom I think is a great quarterback) falls down, gets hurt and is taken to the locker room on that little golf cart. My first impression is “Oh no not Aaron… what a big blow that would be to his team.”

Well, I am looking (not really watching) toward these games around these little statues on the dividers between us and the televisions way across the room. I am not really in the games because they are so far away, and not really in the moment with family members because I can’t hear what is going on around me. They all have their own conversations going. They are laughing, the kids are involved with the other kids. Everyone is having a good time.

Yesterday I wrote about keeping the Christmas season alive longer through more family time and less football distractions. I am not really sure what I could have done differently last night. I didn’t cheer, jump up and down when someone scored. I just quietly squinted in the direction of the televisions hoping to have some understanding of what was happening. That is kinda what I was doing with the family as well… hoping that I would catch a word every now and then and know a little of what was happening at our table.

Logistics was the problem at the restaurant. Perhaps the only thing that could have changed my predicament was to have moved my chair to where I could see and hear and carry on a conversation with someone. But I am not sure where that would have been. No, I didn’t practice what I preached. I didn’t even get in the pulpit.

Today let me change up things and ask you what you would have done or what you think I should have done. I would love to hear from you.

Dear Lord, sometimes we get ourselves in a predicament simply by where we are seated… unable to make conversation with those about us. Help us to know what to do and how to stay involved in the lives of those we love, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Books By Dr. Martin

The Sayings of Noah

Daily Moments with Pastor Steve

Christmastide and/or Roll Tide

383936_2438983145858_1485766825_nGalatians 4:4-5 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

You may have noticed on your church bulletin that this Sunday after Christmas is known as Christmastide. It is also known as the Christmas Season, that period of time between Christmas and the eve of Epiphany (Jan. 5). Others call it the twelve days of Christmas. Ellen gives away big prizes on her show during the days leading up to Christmas and calls it the twelve days of Christmas. The point over many Church Councils down through the years was to ensure that these days between Christmas and Epiphany should be observed as a festival season, a holy season.

Many emphasize the holiness of this season by keeping the Advent and Christmas decorations up through January 5th. I see people with their trees at the roadside the day after Christmas, and all the decorations down as soon as possible. I think that is sad and misdirected. Keep the season alive. Enjoy the flavor of Christ-mass a little longer.

Our family has always made it a tradition of keeping the decorations in full focus until January 5th in order to keep the season alive through Christmastide.

One of the reasons for the Church to continue to speak to the holiness of this season of Christmastide was also to tamp down the pagan customs.

That brings us to the “Roll Tide” part. This has become a sacred season to many men for an entirely different reason – Holy because there is more football on T.V. than at any other time of the year. We are in the midst of over 35 college football bowl games culminating in the college National Championship game. Pro football is also on the verge of playoffs which will end with the Super Bowl.

Some wives call this season “The Worthless Husband” season because men are so distracted from real life by football. I must say that I am a bit torn by this time of the year. I love the Christmas season with its sacredness and significance to all the world. I do all I can to pay particular attention to the things of faith during this time of the year. However, I do love football at this time of the year because it seems that this is when each team brings their very best and leave it all on the field. Yes, I want to see Bama play, and the Panthers, and Florida State, and them Ducks I hear everyone talking about.

So how do we reconcile these two tides? May I suggest that we come together as husband and wife and talk about how we can be what we need to be and get done what we need to get done during this busy time of the year. Begin with sharing in “family” devotions each day. As husband, wife and children gather to share time in prayer and devotion that sets the tone for the end of this year and the beginning of the next that God is first and foremost in the lives of this family. This will help us to keep the “holy” in every day of every season.

Next, as husband and wife, negotiate where and when we all need to be something other than involved in watching football or shopping, or something that distracts us from family. What is tradition and what is not? What are we willing to give up or compromise in order to be more present to our Lord and our family? What new traditions are we willing to try that will help us keep the “Holy” in Christmastide?

Dear Lord, help us to compromise with other less important things in order that we may receive more of what it means to celebrate the “Holy” of Christmastide, and understand more of what it means to be heirs of God, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Box of What Day?

383936_2438983145858_1485766825_n1 John 3:17 But if someone who is supposed to be a Christian has money enough to live well, and sees a brother in need, and won’t help him–how can God’s love be within him ? 1 John 3:18 Little children, let us stop just saying we love people; let us really love them, and show it by our actions. 1 John 3:19 Then we will know for sure, by our actions, that we are on God’s side, and our consciences will be clear, even when we stand before the Lord.

Today, December 26, is known in a few countries as Boxing Day. It was started in the UK about 800 years ago, during the Middle Ages. It was the day when the alms box, collection boxes for the poor often kept in churches, were traditionally opened so that the contents could be distributed to poor people. Some churches still open these boxes on Boxing Day.

It might have been the Romans that first brought this type of collecting box to the UK, but they used them to collect money for the betting games which they played during their winter celebrations!

In Holland, some collection boxes were made out of a rough pottery called ‘earthenware’ and were shaped like pigs. Perhaps this is where we get the term ‘Piggy Bank’!

The Christmas Carol, Good King Wenceslas, is set on Boxing Day and is about a King in the Middle Ages who brings food to a poor family.

It was also traditional that servants got the day off to celebrate Christmas with their families on Boxing Day. Before World War II, it was common for working people (such as milkmen and butchers) to travel round their delivery places and collect their Christmas box or tip. This tradition has now mostly stopped and any Christmas tips, given to people such as postal workers and newspaper delivery people, are not normally given or collected on Boxing Day.

Boxing Day has now become another public holiday in countries such as the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It is also the traditional day that Pantomimes started to play. There are also often sports played on Boxing Day in the UK, especially horse racing and football matches! (You know that strange kinda football?)

The 26th of December is also St. Stephen’s Day. Just to confuse things, there are two St. Stephens in history! The first St. Stephen was a very early follower of Jesus and was the first Christian Martyr (a person who dies for their religious beliefs). He was stoned to death by Jews who didn’t believe in Jesus.

The second St. Stephen was a Missionary, in Sweden, in the 800s. He loved all animals but particularly horses (perhaps why there is traditionally horse racing on boxing day). He was also a martyr and was killed by pagans in Sweden. In Germany there was a tradition that horses would be ridden around the inside of the church during the St. Stephen’s Day service!

In the US, Boxing Day is celebrated as a public holiday in some, mainly southern, states: Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Texas. Although referred to informally as Boxing Day, officially it is called “Day After Christmas Day.” And knowing us we probably add to the end of that “Sale.” One more excuse to make a profit.

How are you celebrating this U.S. non-religious holiday? Are you thinking about the poor and those who offer you services throughout the year or are you celebrating the return of the unwanted presents to the store? That seems to be more of the ritual here than thinking about the poor. I am very thankful for all the good stuff we do for the poor around Christmas time. It really warms the heart. I wish we would find ways to be that open-hearted the rest of the year. Think of how Christmas could be if we provided structures and systems that would encourage and allow the poor to lift themselves out of poverty. That really would be a Christmas present to celebrate, even a Boxing Day celebration… but more than that we would be celebrating the Spirit of God living in and through us to care for all of God’s people.

Happy Boxing Day. Whatever you do with it… think of your brothers and sisters in need.

Dear Lord, we have kinda lost the meaning of caring for the poor on a day like Boxing Day. We sometimes miss it in the everydayness of life – for people are hurting and in need all year round. Give us a spirit that seeks to lift up our brothers and sisters all year long – everyday in every way, in and through Jesus. Amen.

New eBooks Published:

Daily Moments with Pastor Steve

The Sayings of Noah (The Four year-old Theologian)

A Pop-Up Christmas Story

383936_2438983145858_1485766825_nLuke 2: 4-20  So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

At Pleasant Garden UMC’s Christmas Eve Service Nancy Jo read the children a pop-up children’s book about the Biblical story of Christ’s birth. Charlotte and Abby helped display the book, turning the pages and pulling the tabs at just the right time. It was a wonderful story which captivated even the most restless child.

I couldn’t help but think that Christmas is a kind of Pop-Up Story of Faith. The prophecies had been told for so long you would think that a lot, if not most people had forgotten or discounted them. They were busy with everyday, ordinary life and not expecting a Savior. It was the hustle and bustle of traveling during the most traveled time – census time when everyone had to head back home and be registered. So everybody was on the roads and trails. All the local restaurants, hotels and time shares were booked solid for days to come.

People were buying and selling, doing the very best they could to take advantage of the money that could be made in this census time windfall. I bet people are working extra shifts. No vacations. No time off. This is the time to make it… perhaps it was like the madness of our Black Fridays? Look out for yourself. Get your own business done and don’t let anyone get in your way.

I think we all can take our own experiences of life and read between the lines. We too are very busy with life and all that is expected of us at this time of the year. We too are pulled in many directions and our attention many times is not where it should be. We may not really be thinking of a Savior being born but just getting through the holidays.

But God sent us a Pop-Up Christmas Story. Amidst all the routine and everydayness of Advent and Christmas God Popped-Up right in the middle of it all. Some still didn’t notice and continued on with their busyness. Others became even more vengeful and brought more evil into the world. Others held even more tightly onto “their” stuff. But God came to be among us anyway.

When this young family was tired and weary God came anyway. When there was no room made for them God gave them a place where animals were housed. When business was going on as usual God sent an angel chorus to announce that this was a new day like there had never been. In the midst of everyday life God announces this Savior’s birth not in Jerusalem’s Times Square where all the rich and famous would see. No, the angels sang to lowly shepherds out in the field. Their response was to come and see what they had been told… they came to worship the King of Kings. Astrologers from the East had been following the sign of this birth for months now… and they were close. They too came to worship. In the midst of all this everydayness Christ was born in a cattle stall (cave). Yes, God popped-Up right in the middle of human life to birth a Savior for the world. Our response to God’s arrival is also to come and see, Come and worship the new born King.

Merry Christmas. May God pop-up right in the middle of your Christmas.

Dear Lord, Pop-Up in our lives… right in the midst of our everyday routine… Pop-Up in such a way that we can’t ignore you but that we will see your light and experience your redeeming grace. In and through Jesus. Amen.

BCC Turkey

383936_2438983145858_1485766825_nProverbs: 6:6-8 Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,  she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

This year for Christmas dinner Shirley was going to skip altogether or get just a little bit of turkey. Her thinking is that we really like ham better so why go with turkey that most of the time ends up kinda dry. But Abby, our granddaughter, likes turkey and wants turkey. So Mamaw, being Mamaw, has to get turkey for Abby.

Most of the major items of the dinner are being purchased at Harris Teeter. However, Shirley was not going to pay $3.00 a pound for turkey when the smallest amount offered was 8 pounds. That would be an additional $24.00 to the cost of the meal.

Soooooooooo, since I  wanted to try the deep fried turkey this year … Shirley looks around for turkey… even asking the question on Facebook. K & W says we have it but it is too late to order it… sorry. KFC says no, we don’t fix turkey. I guess they didn’t want to be known as KFT. Several suggested on Facebook that we go to Bojangles. Shirley called and off we went across town to the only store with 8 turkeys left…to be sold on a first come first serve basis.

We pulled in behind all these people who look like they are on the same turkey quest as we are. Shirley hurries into Bojangles and purchases the turkey. Coming back to the car she is almost dragging this huge frozen bird. We look at each other and I say: “That sure is a big bird. Yep,” she says. “How much did it cost?” $42.00 was her reply.

Steve & ShirleyI guess this year will be a Tennessee Ernie Ford Turkey kinda Christmas. He use to say that after the big meal we had turkey left overs for every meal until every last bit of it was gone. Turkey casserole, turkey sandwiches, turkey sausage, turkey biscuits, etc. We knew we were at the end when we had turkey ice cream.

I don’t think we will have turkey ice cream, but we gotta get $42.00 worth of eating out of that bird. Oh, BTW, did I tell you it was a cajun turkey? I’m sure that doesn’t mean it is from New Orleans but rather refers to the spices added to this old bird. Something needs to be said about this bird: It is big, costly, and has a bite. It better be juicy.

Perhaps the lesson learned is that sometimes when you try to cut corners or save money, if you are not careful, you may end up with a big old costly bird that will bite back.

Dear Lord, perhaps we have learned something good from purchasing a Big, Costly, Cajun Turkey this year. Perhaps next year we will plan better, order sooner, or do something altogether different. Thank you for continuing to allow us to laugh at ourselves when we stumble, fumble and fall. We know that it is in your grace and mercy that we are lifted up and held close. In and through Jesus. Amen.

P.S. A very special thanks to our Winston friends who dropped by today with goodies, laughter and fond memories. Some of the cookies are left…….. but not for long. Your friendship will last forever. Thank you dearly for thinking of us. You will never know how deeply we are touched by your thoughtfulness and care.