It’s Not Just a Hallmark Event

I love Christmas as much as the next middle-aged, menopausal, woman. But perhaps I don’t love it for the same reasons as most.

Christmas isn’t just about Hallmark, or gifts, or Black Friday, or Cyber Monday.

You know what I am going to say next…

It’s about Jesus.

But I am not even sure, when I mention His name, we are thinking about the same person. Yes, Jesus was born in a manger and it makes a terrific story, and a great nativity scene with cute little lambs, staffed shepherds, and mysterious wise men.

Here is what I celebrate. Jesus came as a baby yes, but He came to die.

That is the real story.

Humor me a bit with a long Scripture passage from the New Living Translation:

Christ Is Supreme

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation
16 for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead
    So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

All those inspired words are great, but I would like you to pay special attention to the last verse. God reconciled and made peace with us by means of Christs’ death on the cross. That is great news.

Why?

I’d like to give you an example from a sermon I heard from J D Greer. He asked the listener to imagine themselves with binoculars on a hill observing a terrorist camp. You knew their plan was to devastate thousands of innocent people. You watched them practice use of their guns, and even may have seen a form of torture, but when they all sat down to have lunch. One of the terrorists noticed his buddy didn’t have anything to eat. This generous terrorist cut his sandwich in half and shared it with his buddy.

In any other circumstance his act of sacrifice would be considered good.

But not in this situation. The over-arching-evil somehow negates the good.

The human race is that generous terrorist. The Bible states we are born in sin. Enemies of God. And He is just and right to condemn us because compared to Him, our meager good is like filthy rags.

And then God Himself comes as a baby to die on a cross.

That is the Christmas I celebrate.

I hope you do, too.

Over the next few weeks, on Fridays, I’d like to talk with you more about Jesus as a Prophet, Priest, and King. I hope you will join me in celebrating Christmas that is much more than trees or ornaments or presents.

Let us celebrate the real reason for the season.

How’s Your Voice

“All human beings have an almost infinite capacity to take things for granted.”

Aldous Huxley

If you can wade through the blow up Santa’s, 5000 different kinds of Christmas lights, and fake trees, you may be able to find a few token Thanksgiving items.

The Salvation Army even starts ringing the bell for the famous red kettle before the last Thursday in November.

But Thanksgiving is important. Not just one day a year, but every day, especially for followers of Christ.

Sunday, our pastor spoke from Luke 17. Ten lepers cry out to Jesus from far away. Grotesque, smelly, voices raspy and weak from the disease, they beg, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

And He does. In fact, He tells them to go and show themselves to the Priest, and as they obeyed, they were healed. Nine of the ten continued on their way, ecstatic over their physical healing. After approval from the High Priest, finally, they could eat a meal with their loved ones, sleep in their own bed, and worship in the temple.

Physically healed, they were satisfied.

Here is what Scripture states about one of the lepers,

“Then one of the, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Luke 17:15-16.

Turned back is another word for repentance in the Bible. Turning from our own way, we turn to Christ for salvation–for healing. This man knew there was more to Jesus than the healer.

Then, he cried to Jesus with a loud voice. Not only were his sores healed, but his voice became strong once again. With that new, strong voice, he began to praise God.

After he returned to Christ, he fell at Jesus feet gave thanks, and worshiped.

Christs’ response is surprising. He asks three questions of the crowd, pointing out that the man is a foreigner from the half-breed Samaritans. Jesus also notices that nine were healed and only one came back to give thanks.

But it is His last statement that is astounding. “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

All ten experienced healing in this life, but only one was saved for eternity.

How’s your voice? Is it raspy and weak? Is your body infected with sin. If so, you need healing. And the healer waits. John 6:37 states, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”

Some need physical healing, but all of us need spiritual healing. Friend, don’t let Him wait any longer, Turn back, repent, worship and be healed.

Those of us who have experienced the transforming work of the gospel in our lives, use your strong voice to praise. Give thanks. Don’t take that miraculous salvation for granted!

So duck under those fresh cedar trees, get to those Thanksgiving plates, and when you sit down to your meal this Thursday, really, really, give thanks.

A blessed Thanksgiving from a very very close-up shot of the Hyltons. (Couldn’t delete it…please don’t look at the wrinkles.)

Do You Think Siri Will Trust Me?

Image result for picture of siri the phone

 

I lied to Siri.

On several occasions.

I wouldn’t feel so bad if it was the Snarky Siri who would often take me out of my way to a destination. Or who made me feel foolish for asking her a question.

No, I fired her.

Now I have British Bobby, Siri. And he is amazing. Not only is he polite and accommodating, he has the coolest accent ever. I feel smarter just talking with him.

Here is the problem… I have somehow programmed my phone to keep notifications from me while I am driving. This is a public service, I might add. Driving hairpin curves at 60mph is not for sissies and not for someone who is trying to read a text. In that aspect, it is great.

But I can talk to my phone without looking at it and call someone. Sometimes it’s the only time I have time to talk. So, the other day on my way home, when I stopped for gas, I tried calling my daughter. A picture of a car showed up with two tabs. One said, CANCEL. The other said, I’M NOT DRIVING.

I thought about it for a few seconds, and before I knew it, I pushed the I’M NOT DRIVING tab. Technically, I wasn’t driving, but it is the first in several deceptions to British Bobby.

I feel terrible. I mean, he is so nice to me. He looks up words for me, does all my math, and gives me exact driving directions with a classy accent.

Also, I feel weird. I mean, I am lying to my phone.

Sure, I’ve had a lot of problems with my appliances. I hated my dishwasher and loved my refrigerator in Florida. I’m kind of afraid of Roger Rumba who joined us in North Carolina, and when it comes to computers and office equipment, let’s just say I have to disguise myself with my trademark plastic glasses and big nose to get them to work.

Then I have to get someone to help.

But I have never lied to them. Not until this week.

Do you think British Bobby Siri will ever trust me again? I mean, if I say, Please remind me of an appointment with the doctor next Friday at 3PM. Do you think he might say, Are you sure you are going to the doctor? Maybe you’re meeting some other phone, or going to the AT & T store Pauline?

That is the problem with deception. You have to keep it up.

Do me a favor will you? If Siri asks you if I’m honest please tell him or her yes, because they communicate while we are doing other things other than staring at our phone. And I wouldn’t want British Bobby to hear of my deceit. (I just asked him for another word for deception and he aptly suggested deceit.)

Isn’t he great!

I Stood For Him

The ER was uncharacteristically empty.  Perhaps four or five waiting to be seen for various maladies. My dad and I were guests because he fell backwards in a handicapped van and hit his head on the way to church.

We shared a cup of hospital coffee as the TV advertised a NASCAR race. I listened to the prayer and prayed silently.

I heard the National Anthem begin. I coughed. I glanced at my dad from my peripheral vision. He was bent over in his wheelchair like he always was lately.

I stood, grabbing my coffee as not to attract as much attention. Kind of like I just felt like standing and drinking coffee.

Truth is, I had to stand.

I stood because when I was in elementary school, he would occasionally sit in the back seat with my sister and me while traveling on our cheap 3-week vacation. We would playfully annoy him until, finally he would punch us in the leg to give us a charley horse. We’d squeal with painful delight.

I stood because when I was 17-years-old and ran into another car while in an ice storm, my dad only asked if I was OK when I called.  He then sat quietly in the back seat of the police cruiser while the officer took the information.

I stood because he and my mom stayed married for almost 60 years and because he served our country in WWII for 7 years.

I stood because he had no legs.

All through my life, Dad stood for me.

When I was little, he held my hand when we walked. He seemed larger-than-life, my perfect father. When I was in middle school, I noticed that he was sometimes wrong, and I was embarrassed when he wore The Salvation Army officer’s uniform, proudly, especially when he picked me up at school. In high school, he couldn’t do anything right and knew nothing about the real world.

When I’d moved out of my house the week I turned eighteen, to a different city an hours drive away, my parents ‘surprised’ me at my apartment. They found literature that confirmed I’d had pre-marital sex. My strong mother, who never cried, cried. My dad called me a name. I told them I wasn’t sure that I had the same values that they had.

A few weeks later, when my world fell apart, I showed up at a Salvation Army Camp, unannounced. Dad was attending Men’s Camp. He didn’t know I was coming. He saw me from the dining hall, and held his arms out wide. I ran to them.

He did the mountain of paperwork to enroll me at a small methodist college in Kentucky. He believed that being there was God’s will for my life. I didn’t quite fit the ‘southern bell’ stereotype and had trouble adjusting.

I was almost expelled my sophomore year because for a joke, my friend and I left an index card note on the desk of the head librarian who I’d worked for, which stated: “There is a bomb hidden in the library. Set to go off at 11PM! This is no idle threat! I have to, I will, I must, I have.”

Trouble is, I forgot to wait for my old boss to get the note, and laugh with him. Next night, the library closed early. The bomb squad was waiting outside.

Dad thought that maybe I might need a lawyer, as he and his friend joked that I was the new Patty Hearst. Instead, I received disciplinary probation and was allowed to stay.

He stood when I made it through college, a little wiser, a little humbler. I moved to Florida, got married to a professional fisherman who stumbled through asking Dad for my hand. My dad, Major Ramon Wert married us. He also did the pre-marital counseling. His advice to Tom, “Don’t let her boss you around, and,” he added, “cut your toenails.”

He and mom were assigned to the Evansville, Indiana Salvation Army City Command. Dad ran into some problems of his own. Stress problems, health problems. I flew to see him when his world fell apart.

Mom and Dad retired early and moved three miles away from me in a mobile home park on Tampa Bay. My daughter was barely walking. A few years later, my son was born, and we spent lots of time with Grandma and Grandpa. They were precious years.

Six years ago, Mom and Dad moved in with my family of four. Over the course of those years, Dad lost both legs to diabetes. I didn’t know that day in the emergency room, that Dad only had a few months to live. I couldn’t remember the young, strong, compassionate man from years past. He’d become my responsibility.

I was tired of standing.

But I stood that day while we listened to the NASCAR race, while waiting in an almost vacant emergency room.

As Veteran’s Day approaches, I remember my father, an 8-year veteran that always stood when he heard The National Anthem, and I miss him. He stood with me when I was young, I stood with him when he was old, and now, I stand alone.

At his funeral four months later, Ray’s family and friends met to commemorate his life. The Salvation Army tags death as, ‘Promotion to Glory.’ And so it was for him.

I listened as one after another spoke of the man I’d forgotten. He played hooky at The Salvation Army School for Officer’s Training to go fishing. He took boys with absent fathers fishing and hunting. He visited people to share the love of Jesus even when they threatened his life.

My brother-in-law, Randy spoke eloquently for our family. “I’ve never known Ray’s three daughters to agree on anything. But yesterday, as we spoke of Dad’s life, they all agreed that if he were here, he’d say, ‘See, I told you I was sick.’”

And then we all stood for the playing of The National Anthem.

Marital Bliss?

The waitress arrived at our checkerboard-sized table to take our order.

“We are celebrating a very special occasion. My husband and I have had 27 years of marital

bliss….”

“Don’t say it Pauline, it’s getting old,” Tom mumbles into his water glass.

I couldn’t help myself, “27 out of  35 ain’t bad!” Then I through my head back and laughed heartily. A few seconds passed while I regained my composure.

“You know, Pauline, you are the only one who laughs at it,” Tom added.

My daughter and her husband smiled politely. Who knew thirty-five years ago we’d be sitting in a French bistro, in Bethesda, Maryland, celebrating our anniversary with our almost thirty-year-old daughter and her husband.

“Hey Tom, Sarah and David both got the same tattoo on their wrist in honor or their first anniversary. How about we get a tattoo together tonight?”

My spouse shook his head. “Not me. I don’t want someone using a needle on my body. Although after 35 years, it’s probably safe to have PAULINE tattooed on my arm.”

I couldn’t stop laughing. In fact, as I write this, it makes me chuckle.

The thing about marriage is—it isn’t safe. You open your heart, home, and bank account to someone, with no idea what the future holds.

For us, the future held ups and downs financially, owning a business, raising teenagers, caring for aging parents, watching them die, and becoming grandparents. Recently, it included changing careers, moving to the country, starting a farm, and finding jobs that paid actual money.

It seems as if nothing we have done is safe. I’m kind of glad about that. Taking risks can make life tense, but it also makes it interesting. And challenging.

The fact is, almost anything worth doing is risky. Like having kids. Who knows how they will turn out? My daughter and her husband are buying a house—that’s risky. They could just rent an apartment their whole lives and depend on the landlord to fix anything.

How about driving on US 19 in Pinellas County, Florida? You definitely take your life in your hands when you pull out there. My children think it’s risky riding with me. Maybe they’re right.

Life is a risk and needs to be lived.

One thing I know isn’t risky. It is a sure bet—the gospel.

1 Corinthians 15: 1-5 states:

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the
Scriptures…”

People spend billions of dollars on insurance for stuff that will get old or obsolete or rust or die. But the gospel is free and eternal and good.

The best, even.

So the gospel isn’t risky, marriage is. Tattoo’s are—but I still want one.

Maybe on our 50th.