How Much Jesus

How Much Jesus?

This article appears in the December edition of Covenant Spotlight. It’s a great issue so check it out. 

It seems the world is having more trouble than ever accepting the babe born in a manager. We are feeling the effects. His followers are stereotyped, marginalized, intimidated, prosecuted and even persecuted. We shouldn’t be surprised.

The tiny one whose parents could not even get a room in an inn or give a clean place for his birth scares the hell (yes I said “hell” pun intended) out of most. Maybe it’s because like the Magi, deep down,  they recognize this child for all that He is.

They gave Him gold in recognition of his kingship, not just earthly but divine royalty. This little one possesses great power. He is ruler of the universe, a role hidden in a dingy manger and not fully realized until His final return, but ultimate ruler nonetheless.

They gave Him frankincense because they knew Him as priest, not just any priest but the Great High Priest who would advocate for lowly man with the Most High God. He would replace all the rituals and ceremony of religion with the reality of relationship. 

They gave Him myrrh because they foresaw Him as murdered sacrifice for sin. They recognized this child in His most mysterious yet most marvelous role of all, the greatest gift ever given by a God whose capacity for love is beyond our meager understanding.

If we are doing a good job of following, we are painful reminders of Him to a world that doesn’t know how much it needs him.

So let us not be too self-righteous when we hear “Happy Holidays” or Christmas described as an over-commercialization of an ancient pagan feast.  Unless we are prepared to receive Him as Emmanuel, and king and priest and bloody sacrifice for sin, we are no better than those who reject Him as babe in swaddling clothes. If we accept Him completely, we are glorious, if painful reminders, of who He is and that’s our mission.

Just how much Jesus are you prepared to accept?

Take Him all and be blessed and a blessing.

Five Things Christians Can Learn From Donald Trump

Among the many effects of the Trump Train, was the illumination of the great Christian divide. Conservative followers were willing to forgive  character flaws in exchange for social slide to the right. Liberal churches and their members saw Trump’s moral question marks as further evidence that Hillary was the right choice. Maybe both wings of the church can learn something from Trump.

a.  There’s a hunger for the message. Americans sense that America is no longer great; they yearn for a return to a perceived prior greatness. Trumps opponents fatally failed to recognize that hunger.

It will be great if America can become greater, whatever that means. Even if that happens, we won’t find the satisfaction we seek. Our hunger isn’t fueled by a national malaise, but a personal emptiness. Only Jesus will fill that. Without Him, hunger remains and the Word has an eager audience. 

b. It’s not you. It’s your message. Trumps opponents made the mistake of paying too much attention to Trump. He’s brash, inarticulate, obnoxious, with bad hair. It was never about him. It was his message.

It also wasn’t about Moses, or John the Baptist or Paul. We are all imperfect messengers. It’s always about the message, the God-man Jesus, who shines through the grimiest messenger. Are we worthy proclaimers of the Word? Of course not, and that’s exactly the point. 

c. Your past is past. Trump’s enemies thought his past bad behavior would doom him. What they didn’t realize was that we all have pasts we regret, things we wish we wouldn’t have said or done. We actually relate better to those with a past in some ways like our own.

That’s why the “biggest” sinners are the best witnesses for Jesus. The miracle of the new birth is most obvious, when the old person was the least worth. All have sinned and fallen short; some are just more dramatic. 

d. You’re not too rich. You would think that most Americans couldn’t relate to a billionaire. Donald Trump’s life isn’t much like mine or yours. That didn’t slow him down.

There’s world out there that needs Jesus. The greatest needs are among people very unlike us. Jesus is least known in muslim or hindu cultures among people who make less in a year than we do in a day. These differences seem insurmountable. They are not. We have Jesus to share and we are not too rich or too white or too American to do that. 

e. Talk to the People. If Donald Trump had relied on the professional “main stream” media, his message would have been dead in the water. He went directly to the people via social media and mass meetings. Unlikely spoke persons, like Diamond and Silk, helped pull and push the Trump train. People who had never voted before came out for Trump. It truly is a movement. 

Jesus’ plan was never to spread the word though media, professional speakers, or international denominations. It was always meant to be a person-to-person communication stream. Making disciples is a one-one-one enterprise. You don’t recognize the wonder of new birth until you know personally and intimately someone who has been reborn. 

Whether we admire or abhor Donald Trump, we can learn from him. We have the message of the ages: Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Our history, our blindness, our imperfects and our misdirections aren’t enough to stifle the message. We can rely on the same thing Donald did, our availability in spite of our lack of ability. 

 

Counting Change

Recently in Youngsville, a business was giving away its product. This wasn’t a marketing scheme or ownership gone mad. The electricity was out and the computer based cash register wasn’t working. There was access to the cash drawer but NO ONE WORKING AT THE TIME KNEW HOW TO MAKE CHANGE. So the business was giving away product. 

I realize that the use of cash is way down. I don’t carry a checkbook anymore and very little cash. I use my debit card for everything. It provides a record of my expenses and is very convenient. There is obviously less need for cash handling skills. Nonetheless, shouldn’t everyone be able to make change.To my generation, this isn’t complicated.  There are videos online explaining how to do this. Really? I know the “younger generation” isn’t stupid they can do lots of things I can’t.

It seems that because it’s a skill that isn’t often used, why teach it. Similarly, schools are no longer teaching kids to write in cursive. People don’t write much anymore by hand. When necessary, seems like printing produces a more readable product. I wish they had come up with this when I was in first grade. I will never forget getting “all As and a F in writing.” 

Are there other skills we used to take for granted that are no longer taught because they are rarely used?  Here are some:

Opening a door for a lady – too sexist.

Standing when a lady enters the room – too sexist.

Tipping your hat to a lady – too few hats, maybe too few ladies?

Saying grace before meals – too fundamentalist.

Eating meals at a table with the family – too Norman Rockwell.

Saying, “Yes, mam” and “Yes, sir.” Too sexist in one case. Too militaristic in the other?

Reading a book – I mean a real book not listening to one or reading one on a computer – What’s a book?

Tell people about Jesus? There are many ways to God. It’s a personal thing. It’s none of my business. It’s embarrassing. They can hear about Him on TV. 

There are lots of things we don’t do any more. I’m not sure the reasons are good enough. What say you?

In the Moment

 

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. Proverbs 19:21; Man plans and God laughs. Yiddish proverb and the thirteenth studio album by American hip hop group Public Enemy

I gave much thought this weekend to living in the moment. It’s in fact, the only way to live. The past is gone and the future is unpredictable. Yet I waste much time regretting the past and worrying about the future.  I gave the matter much thought on an intellectual plane, until it was driven home by reality.

I had simple plans for Sunday afternoon, take a nap, watch the Saints while finishing up my Christmas cards. For Monday I was going to prepare for and have a meeting with a client. However, I woke from the planned nap with a burning fever and chills to the extent I couldn’t stop shaking. I could have cared less about the Saints or Christmas cards. I rescheduled my Monday meeting. These were not monumental plans, but they could have been. 

I don’t really think God was laughing at my plans. I do think my 24 hour bout with fever and chills was within God’s purpose. I think He was reinforcing my thoughts about the importance of the present. 

I waste the present. I have to do lists and stacks of to do projects. For much of my work life I operated with a touch-things-just-once rule. When I got a letter I dealt with it right then. I tried to answer questions during a phone call and not with a promise to “get back” to the person later. I have gotten out of that habit. Things in a to do list and in a to do stack become a cloud on our present. They stay in the back of our minds preventing us from enjoying the moment. 

I also find that I limit my presents. It’s so easy to get into habits and patterns. Doing the same things and having the same experiences each day. Recently I have been taking my grandson to school. He has to be there by 6:45. That means getting up early and leaving the house while it’s still dark. It also means being out and about when the sun comes up. I have totally enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the early morning. The dawning of the new day as the night gives way to day. It’s not a big deal, but it has been a fresh experience. A new present.

I don’t focus on the present. I live in a world of interruptions. Phones ring. My iPhone is constantly chiming or buzzing with emails or tweets or “notifications.” These external interruptions fight for attention with internal distractions: hunger pangs; what I need to do next, or tomorrow or next week; what I forgot to do yesterday, last week, or last years; will the Saints ever win again?; who needs to be added to my Christmas card list; what should I get Rosemary for Christmas? 

Fever and chills reminded me to be “in the moment.” Now if I can just figure out how to do that.

My Fitness Tracker

I have a new fitness tracker. It is with me 24/7, when I sleep, swim or shower. It tracks my heartbeat, my steps, the flights of stairs I take, my sleep, my burned calories, the calories I ingest (if I’m honest with it.) It reminds me to move, to sleep, to wake, to eat, to stop eating, to answer my texts and emails. It is changing my life.

It doesn’t do things for me. It just makes me aware. Being aware reminds and motivates me to do things. It’s great. It helps me focus on important things like activity, nourishment, and rest. 

I need trackers in other aspects of my life. I need a fiscal tracker. One that makes me aware of what I am spending and not spending, earning and not earning. I need a social tracker that makes me aware of the people around me. I need to know what they need, what they are wanting, what are their dreams, their fears. If I was more aware wouldn’t I act differently?

I need a God tracker. I need to know about Him. I need to be more aware of His presence. His desires for me. His warnings when I drift. His smiles when I take the right steps. It would be great to always know that He’s there, that He cares, that He moves and acts on my behalf. I should know these things. I should be more aware, but I am not, not always. When I am …I am motivated, encouraged, chastened, changed. 

God give me a heart that tracks yours, a spirit that follows yours, a body that is yours. In Jesus Name I Pray.

 

No Shades of Grey in Marriage?

In a recent conversation with my grandson, he said, “There are no shades of grey in marriage. That’s why the groom wears black and the bride wears white.” It took a few moments for the profoundness of that statement to sink in. There really are no shades of grey in marriage, or are there? Confusion on this point has been the source of much misery for generations.

In marriage there are roles. We have greyed those roles. It has led to confusion and disintegration of the marriage institution. For years, husbands tried to be wives and wives to be men. I’m really not a chauvinist. I am not fighting women in the workplace or equal pay for equal work. I am saying that God created them man and woman and not something in between. He made them different because different talents are required to raise healthy kids and to live healthy lives. He never intended that one sex raise kids and the other make a living. It was always supposed to be a team effort.

For centuries, families were teams. They made a living making a product or raising a crop along with the kids. The industrial revolution took men out of the house and left women to raise the kids. In America, World War II changed all that. The absence of men forced women into the workplace, and they liked it. When the war was over, women didn’t want to return to house sitting and families soon got used to two incomes. With both parents out of the house, and hired help raising the kids, the perceived need for marriage faded. At first divorce rose dramatically. Eventually fewer bothered to marry at all. 

in 1970, 70 percent of adults lived with a spouse. Today it is closer to half. Women have been most negatively impacted. Eighty-six percent of fathers still live with a marriage partner, but only 68% of mothers. Nearly one in four mothers live with no partner, married or otherwise. Viva the sexual revolution and women’s liberation. Freed to raise children alone while making a living. Ladies, how does freedom feel? 

It’s obvious that men and women are physically different, but they are also psychologically and even spiritually different. One is not better than the other, just different. God made them different because different talents, emotional makeups, and even spiritual attitudes are necessary to form well-rounded kids. 

Maybe the pendulum is swinging. Technology is now allowing more workers to work at home at least some of the time. It’s not as necessary to “go” to work. This is freeing many to have both a work and home life.

I see more younger people choosing marriage, waiting to have children until there is a two-person team available to meet the task.  It’s not, however, the pairings of the fifties and sixties. Mom isn’t alone with the kids all day and dad doesn’t come home to watch TV and ask “What’s for supper.” I admire young men taking active roles in the home, changing diapers and picking up around the house, but more importantly spending quality time with their kids, allowing their wives to have a life outside the home while still being a mom. Maybe Hollywood wasn’t totally nuts in the 50s and 60s.  They perhaps sensed a problem. Maybe it took a radical swing of feminism to let us move to a more rational center where men are men, women are women and both have a role in raising God’s little gifts. 

It’s just sad that a couple of generations of children had to grow up without two functional parents or that many parents, most of them women, had to make do on their own. I pray both for those damaged by the long failed experiment in single parenthood and those motivated to do it better as a team.  God bless you all.

 

 

 

 

Black Friday

If you are up and about to read this post, it’s likely you are getting ready to take part in Black Friday. Back in 2011, I wrote about Black Friday. Things have changed in five years. Black Friday has moved online, but for some there’s still nothing like going out and shopping when it’s still dark. As a public service I offer this list of the times various stores open today. Check it out. You don’t want to be wasting time waiting for a store to open when you could be spending money somewhere else. 

Here are some tips from Consumer Reports for handling Black Friday. 

1. Start early. Ah, remember when Black Friday simply meant checking the ads in the Sunday circulars to see which local retailers had the best deals? Things sure have become more complicated. Not only has Black Friday morphed into a whole month of deals and savings, but online retailers also regularly update prices throughout the event.

If you oversleep on Friday, remember there is always Cyber Monday, which now stretches into a week of online specials.

2. Do your homework.  Here’s some help: Dell’s electronics deals, plus TV sales at BJ’s, Kohl’s, and Sam’s Club.)

You’ll find tons of leaked ad scans on Black Friday-focused websites such as bfads.net, bestblackfriday.com, gottadeal.com, and theblackfriday.com. Some of these let you filter your searches by product category.

3. Compare prices. If you spot a great deal at one retailer, check out some of the comparison sites, which include FatWallet, PriceGrabber.com, PriceWatch.com, Shopping.com, and ShopZilla to make sure you can’t do better elsewhere. (Don’t forget Google Shopping and NexTag.com.) There are also a growing number of apps, such as ShopSavvy and BuyVia, that let you scan bar codes to compare prices, get discounts, and score coupons from local retailers. (See tip No. 6, below, for additional shopping apps.)

Even Pinterest has price-drop alerts that will monitor items you’ve pinned on certain websites and email you with the price differences when they go on sale. But be forewarned: Direct comparison shopping isn’t always easy, or even possible. For instance, large retailers apply their deepest discounts to sets with a unique model number, which makes it hard to be sure that you’re doing an apples-to-apples comparison.

4. Be loyal. Stores often have loyalty programs that offer sales and promotions to their members first, then let them earn rewards on what they buy. Sign up for Black Friday shopping alerts about upcoming promotions, coupons, and discounts. In some cases, you can even learn whether products you want are in stock or eligible for a buy-online/pick-up-at-store option that saves you on shipping charges.

5. Get social. The Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of your favorite retailers are a great way to find out about deals and promotions. Those retailers will often reward customers who “like” them or follow them with special alerts to Black Friday discounts and incentives. And, of course, texts, tweets, and social media posts are an easy way to share Black Friday shopping intel with your friends.

My best tip is to STAY HOME AND PULL OUT YOUR COMPUTER. It’s hard to beat what you can buy online. Just wait for delivery and stay in your PJs. Then you can spend Black Friday, munching on left overs and making turkey soup, and maybe rereading some of my old posts. 

 

Still a Tiger Fan, How ‘Bout You?

Taven Bryan

Photo by Tim Casey
The Florida defense smothers LSU tailback Derrius Guice on the goal line as time expires to preserve Saturday’s 16-10 win
 

Recently I proclaimed that I believed I was becoming a LSU Tiger football fan. Of course, I made clear at the time I was still, primarily a Florida Gator and UL Ragin Cajun. So I know you will forgive me if I have a brighter smile and a happier attitude than my LSU Tiger friends. 

I confess I didn’t watch the game yesterday. I was making a flower bed for my wife. I won’t deny that I listened to the last quarter while consuming a couple of cheese burgers at Judice Inn.  I stopped breathing for the last two plays of the game when the Tigers couldn’t score. I won’t deny I nearly wrecked as I was headed home when the game ended. I am, after all, a fan. 

I will be cheering loudly next weekend when the Tigers take on A and M. and in any bowl game they may play in.  I know most of you won’t care about Florida/Florida State Saturday night, but it’s a huge one for me. 

Admit it. Won’t you at least be silently hoping Florida pulls the upset of the year when we take on Alabama in the SEC championship game in two weeks? Come on. You can admit it. 

So forgive me if:

  1. I wear orange and blue to church today and often for the next couple of weeks.
  2. I don’t ever erase the DVR recording of yesterday’s game or watch Sport Center all day. 
  3. If I have a silly smile for quite a while.

I am, after all, a Gator first. Nobody’s perfect.