Saturday, December 29, 2007

Thoughts for the Coming Year

"An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up late to make sure the old year leaves." -Bill Vaughn

Does anyone actually keep their new year's resolutions? I have never been real big on this whole resolution thing, because I've always struggled to hang in there until February, let alone December. I guess it is a good thing that a brand new year causes us to take stock and determine to do better. So, why do we usually fail?

I heard someone say that the reason people like us so often fail to accomplish our goals is because we tend to set our goals too high and try to reach them too soon. I wonder if there isn't some truth in that evaluation. Maybe we need to discipline ourselves with baby steps before we can tackle the giant steps. And perhaps taking the long view can help our little steps still cover a lot of ground, moving us in the right direction. What do you think?

Well, I'm going to climb out on a limb and make a few resolutions of my own for the coming year, factoring in that none of us has any idea what 2008 will hold for us, our families, our work, even our world. But, here goes.

For the new year, 2008, I make the following resolutions:
  • I will use every day of my vacation time.
  • I will keep up my running and basketball, 3-4 times a week, and try to eat less like a hog and more like a bird.
  • I will have a real conversation with each person in my family every day it is humanly possible.
  • I will finally finish writing the book that has been on my list since 2002.
  • I will do a better job of mentoring and encouraging those I work with every day.
  • I will do my best to keep every promise I make, to live what I teach, and to practice what I preach.
  • When I blow it, I will be quick to fess up and ask forgiveness, and even quicker to forgive others.
  • I will do my best to keep my heart close to the heart of God, to know Him intimately, to love Him deeply, to serve Him faithfully, and to walk with Him daily.
Let's hear it for a great 2008! May the best of you be most of you in the coming year.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Remembering Christmas Morning

It was the only time my seven older siblings let me be the first in line, and I think Mom made them do it. Christmas morning all eight of us would wait at the top of the stairs all lined up, youngest to oldest. We waited while Mom saw to the last minute details and Dad shaved and dressed. It always seemed to take my dad at least two hours to get ready for the big day. Finally Mom would call, "Alright, you kids can come down now," and we all scrambled down the stairs and around the corner to the tree. In those early years before we got more civilized, Christmas morning was a ten minute tornado with wrapping paper and ribbons and cardboard swirling into huge piles.

Special gifts come to mind. I remember a favorite stuffed animal, a donkey that my sister Jean gave to me. And I remember my purple Vikings football jersey, my electric football game that Jim and John played with all day long, and my first new bicycle. And my brother Jerry's Hot Wheels and chemistry set. Then there was always a present for each of us from Grandma and Grandpa Barnes with new pajamas, always pajamas, but at least they didn't have big pink bunny ears like Ralphy's. More than the gifts themselves was the feeling of genuine love and joy that filled our home, around the tree and around the table.

Christmas morning. There's nothing like it. For a brief little window of time, we are all children again, we are all warm and safe and loved, our fondest wishes come true. Cherish the moment. Give love. Speak peace. Celebrate joy. Find faith to believe. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Wild Hope of Christmas

"To look at the last great self-portraits of Rembrandt or to read Pascal or hear Bach's B-minor Mass is to know beyond the need for further evidence that if God is anywhere, he is with them, as he is also with the man behind the meat counter, the woman who scrubs floors at Roosevelt Memorial, the high-school math teacher who explains fractions to the bewildered child. And the step from "God with them" to Emmanuel, "God with us," may not be as great as it seems. What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive year after year in a world notorious for dashing all hopes is the haunting dream that the child who was born that day may yet be born again even in us and our own snowbound, snowblind longing for him." (Frederick Buechner)

May that haunting dream come true for you this Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Be a Good Donkey, You Hear?"

Well, all the talk at church this week has centered on one crucial subject - the donkey. Tomorrow is the big Christmas cantata and dramatic portrayal of the nativity scene. And, unlikely as it might seem, Mary and Joseph will trek across our sanctuary on a real live donkey. No, this was not my idea. I am just the narrator, reading bits of the story between acts and anthems. Today we had our dress rehearsal. We all had to be there, in costume for a long, exhausting practice. Everyone was there, the shepherds, the angels, the chorus, everyone - except the donkey. That's what makes me nervous, the whole idea that what takes us three hours to rehearse a donkey can get right on the first try.

All week long I've been figuring the odds. What are the chances that in the middle of a major production before a packed house that a normal, red-blooded, Missouri donkey is going to do just exactly what it's supposed to do? And, even more critical, what are the odds that the donkey will not do what we do not wish him/her to do, related to the sanctuary carpet?

Our directors decided it was far too risky to use a real infant to play the part of Baby Jesus, so we have this plastic doll whose head seems a little small, kind of a premature Jesus. But, a live donkey - no problem. I really don't mean to be critical. I do appreciate the ton of work that has gone into this production and I'm sure it will be a powerful telling of the coming of Christ into the world. And for what it's worth, this whole donkey watch has added an element of mystery and excitement to a very familiar story.

Come to think of it, God took the big gamble on that first Christmas sending His Son, our Savior into the world by way of a penniless teenage girl and her bewildered husband. I guess if we are going to tell that same story, there really should be some kind of risk involved. We'll take our chances. "Nice donkey. Be a good donkey, you hear?"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The One Word We Need

"I remember sitting parked by the roadside once, terribly depressed and afraid about my daughter's illness and what was going on in my family, when out of nowhere a car came along down the highway with a license plate that bore on it the one word out of all the words in the dictionary that I needed most to see exactly then. The word was TRUST. What do you call a moment like that? Something to laugh off as the kind of joke life plays on us every once and a while? The word of God? I am willing to believe that maybe it was something of both, but for me it was an epiphany.

"The owner of the car turned out to be, as I'd suspected, a trust officer in a bank, and not long ago, having read an account I wrote of the incident somewhere, he found out where I lived and one afternoon brought me the license plate itself, which sits propped up on a bookshelf in my house to this day. It is rusty around the edges and a little battered, and it is also as holy a relic as I have ever seen." - Frederick Buechner

Need a word today, a little encouragement to deal with what lies ahead? Well, here it is - TRUST.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Christmas Is Coming, Ready or Not

Is it still Christmas if you never have time to decorate? Suzanne's been swamped and I've been tied up most every evening. What happens if Christmas comes and all the tinsel and lights are still in the box? Well, hopefully we will find the time to get our house in the spirit of the season. As of now the pilgrims and pumpkins are still hanging around.

It's snowing like crazy outside, so winter isn't waiting for us to catch up. I picked up a couple of CDs of Christmas music to help spark the yuletide fever, Josh Groban's Noel, and an older one by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. (I sound just like Josh in the shower, and TSO is like listening to Handel on speed.) Here are the words to a Christmas song I'll bet you've never heard, but maybe we all need to hear. See what you think.

Christmastime

Santa Clause is coming and the kids are getting greedy,
It's Christmastime.
They know it's in the store because they seen it on the T. V.
It's Christmastime.
It used to be the birthday of the Man who saved our necks,
It's Christmastime.
But now it stands for Santa Claus you spell it with an X.
It's Christmastime.

I got to buy a present, can't remember who it's for
It's Christmastime.
I'll see you in an hour when I get back from the store.
It's Christmastime.

What about last year, baby?
It's Christmastime.
What did you get me, baby?
It's Christmastime.

(Words by Larry Norman)

Let's you and I make a pact together. When this Christmas is over, let's try to have something more to keep than just unpaid bills and more stuff we could live without. Let's focus on the One who came, the One who saved our necks, the One we cannot live without.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

You Never Know Until You Try.

It was the biggest project of my young life. I was a pretty typical sixth grade boy, looking forward to junior high and the chance to play football on a real team with uniforms and everything. This was long before the coming of youth football, peewees and mighty mites. My experience was pretty much just sandlot football games with my brothers and the kids in the neighborhood, but that didn't keep me from dreaming of huge crowds and Heismans and Super Bowls and even the hall of fame. If you're gonna dream, might as well dream big.

So, as a budding Vince Lombardi, I decided to organize a football club for all the sixth graders in our little town that wanted to learn about football and get ready for junior high competition. I wrote down my plan on a couple of pieces of notebook paper, and the school secretary, Mrs. Sloan, was nice enough to type it up for me. Then I drew up a flyer for the newly created Phantom Football Club announcing the Saturday afternoon of our first meeting and inviting everybody to participate. The principal even let me go around and talk to each class and pass out my flyers.

Soon the big day arrived. We were having our first meeting of the Phantom Football Club in the vacant lot beside our house. I had one ball and one tee and that was it - no plan, no help, no adults, no equipment, no first aid kit, just me and my football. My mother told me not to get my hopes up too high for that first day or I might be disappointed. My brothers assured me that I was an idiot and no one would come.

Well, much to my surprise and shock, just about every kid in the county showed up that day, maybe 60 or 70 sixth grade boys! (As my mom remembers it now, more like 200 showed up.) Being the expert and the leader of this near riot, I had us all just choose up sides and play a football game, about 35 on each side, with everyone playing all the time, tackle of course, only sissies play touch. Within ten minutes my mother was running a M.A.S.H. unit in our kitchen, patching up the bloody mouths of two or three boys who had braces, putting ice on all kinds of bumps and bruises and bloody noses, and trying to put broken glasses back together. There were torn clothes, ripped jackets, even pulled hair, but the game must go on. After three hours we all looked like we had been attacked by wild bears. Mothers came by to pick up their boys and not too many were smiling as they left.

As you might guess attendance at the second meeting of the Phantom Football Club the next Saturday took a dramatic drop to about eight guys, pretty much the same guys I played football with all the time.

So, what did I learn from this football fiasco? Well, first I learned to be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. And, seventy boys on the same field with one ball is not a football game. It is civil war. I also learned that even good ideas need help, maybe a little planning, and some preparation. And last of all I learned that this whole coaching thing is a little tougher than it looks. To this day, I have always had great respect for those who coach, especially those who coach kids.

Have you ever jumped in over your head? Ever try something new that succeeded beyond your wildest expectations? What about being caught totally unprepared and unequipped to handle some new challenge?