Fit!

Each fall I prayerfully choose a focus that will serve as a churchwide emphasis for the coming year. In 2021, the Northside Church’s theme is Fit! During our January Fitness Challenge, we are exploring how the Holy Spirit makes Christians “fit for service” mentally, fiscally, relationally, physically, and spiritually.

I selected Luke 9:57-62 as the primary Scripture for the series. The passage describes three would-disciples who wanted to follow Jesus. The Lord challenged each one’s reservations and conditions.

Jesus harshly told one man, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Christ’s response troubles me. I have never done any plowing. However, a cursory examination of my spiritual life would reveal times that I’ve looked backwards, sideways, up and down, in fact, any direction except forward. Words from an old hymn cut to the heart of human inconstancy:

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love.

I constantly rediscover the essential need for divine grace in my life. Although Christian disciples seek to make ourselves fit for service in God’s kingdom, we cannot succeed on our own. Thank God, we are not on our own! Divine power infuses our human efforts; and the first and last word of the gospel is always GRACE!

Join us onsite or online each Sunday at Northside Church as the Holy Spirit makes us Fit!

New Year’s Resolutions

New Years REsolutionsOn January 1, many of us made New Year’s resolutions. During the holidays, we overindulged in too much of too much. The birth of a New Year inspired plans of diet, exercise, and thriftiness.

Resolutions born at midnight on December 31st, however, seldom survive the first weeks of January. Habit is a hard master to overthrow. By mid-month, the new and improved model greatly resembles the old and not so improved model!

We can scoff at the idea of spontaneous resolutions leading to lasting change. However, we serve a God of fresh starts and second chances. Today can be different from yesterday; and tomorrow can be different from today.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul declares: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Our “re-creation” in Christ is both event and process as we grow into the image of our Savior.

Jesus began his ministry preaching the message, “The time has come, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the gospel.” The time has come for repentance rather than resolutions. This year can be new in more than name alone!

The Day after Christmas

Dec 26

Each year I share my one attempt at poetry entitled “The Day after Christmas.” It reminds us that Christmas is not only a day or a season but also a lifestyle. May we celebrate the good news of Christ coming into the world year-round. 

‘Twas the day after Christmas and all were asleep

The twenty-fifth had left them all tired and beat.

The stockings were slung carelessly on the floor

Stripped of their contents and of interest no more.

The children were exhausted, collapsed in their beds,

With visions of sleeping-in fixed in their heads.

And mama in her flannel and me with my mate,

Were in hopes that we too might get to sleep late.

When out in the front there arose such a racket

I sprang from my bed like a frightened jackrabbit.

I stubbed my big toe on the way to the door,

And set off the alarm system on the first floor.

The early sun’s light shone bright on the toys

Left in the front yard yesterday by my boys.

Then I saw a car splashing right through the muck,

A red, white and blue delivery truck.

My head was aching and my stomach felt ill,

As the postman delivered a hand full of bills!

The charges were listed in dollars and cents,

Payment would empty the United States’ mints.

Now, Visa! Now, Penney’s! Now, Macy’s and Rich’s!

On, Walmart! On, K-Mart! On Abercrombie and Fitch’s!

November and December we had a great ball,

Come January, we owe something to all.

I made my way through a maze of presents piled high,

Looked again at the bills and gave a great sigh.

Turkey bones roosted on the dining room table,

Yesterday we ate all we were able.

I tried to turn on the new espresso maker,

Complete with a digital, alarm clock waker.

My family stumbled slowly down the stairs

As cordial as a den of hibernating bears.

I bent down to pet our faithful dog, Carl,

But he snapped at my fingers and let out a snarl.

My wife dressed quite quickly and shouted to all,

“I’m going bargain hunting all day at the mall!”

The children slammed the door behind them as well,

Going to friends’ homes for Christmas show and tell.

And I collapsed in my brand new easy chair,

To see how my favorite football teams would fare.

I held a glass of Alka-Seltzer firmly in my fist

Regretting last night’s snack I should have missed.

During halftime I arose from the recliner,

My team was ahead and the world seemed much finer.

Wading through the wrapping paper piled knee high

Something on the mantle piece caught my eye.

Half hidden beneath discarded ribbons and bows:

The manger scene had been placed weeks ago.

Carefully clearing the bright paper away

I witnessed the reminder of that first Christmas day.

The Christ child rested in a bed simple and small

Sent by God into the world to save us all.

Nativity figures of that first silent night,

Made it quite clear what had been lost to sight.

“A Happy Christmas to all!” is because of God’s son,

On the day after, our Christmas has only begun.

  

Online Christmas Eve Worship at Northside Church

Our Advent Worship Series recognizes that We Need a Little Christmas! This week we anticipate celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. With the shepherds, we travel to Bethlehem to behold what God has done!

Northside Church is offering three exceptional, online experiences for Christmas Eve. The Prerecorded Christmas Eve Services are available at www.NorthsideUMC.org/Christmas  beginning on December 23, including:

  • A Traditional Worship Service of Lessons and Carols features the Chancel Choir singing Christmas favorites. The service culminates in candlelight while singing Silent Night.
  • A Contemporary Worship Service puts a modern spin on traditional carols. This service also concludes with singing Silent Night by candlelight.
  • The Northside Express is new, animated experience for children of all ages. Participants will board a special train bound for Bethlehem to witness the Nativity.

May the Babe of Bethlehem bring Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love into your life.

Nativity Scenes

Eight Nativity Sets adorn my office shelves year-round. Each holds special meaning and memories in my life.

My sister gave me the musical, turntable creche from Berlin as a Christmas gift in the 1980s.

I presented the Department 56 set to my wife in the 1990s when our children were young.

I purchased two handmade sets of wood and clay on a mission trip to Honduras.

A local potter in Cartersville crafted a vase with the Manger Scene cut into the side.

A large, olive wood creche with fourteen human and animal characters came from a visit to Bethlehem in 2014.

A “Precious Moments Nativity” from a coworker presents a highly sanitized version of Jesus’ birth.

A smaller tableau of the Holy Family also came from Palestine during a 2019 Holy Land trip with Northside Church.

In contrast, the Gospel stories of Jesus’ actual birth are simple and unpretentious. A woman accompanied only by her husband gave birth and laid her firstborn in a manger.

In faith, the church points and declares,

“This is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.

Haste, haste, to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary.”

With the shepherds, magi, angels, and all creation, let us come to Bethlehem and join the Nativity Scene.

Family Christmas Traditions

This season I have been reflecting on childhood, holiday memories. Following my father’s death in November, I am the sole survivor of our nuclear family. It’s a sobering experience to become the lone repository of the jokes, stories, mores, values, and traditions that made us . . . US.

The holidays began with the selection of the perfect tree. We set out in our Ford Fairlane Station Wagon like characters from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The experience always mutated into a scene from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

Next came the decorating of the tree with the bald spot facing the wall. School-made ornaments made priceless by our hands adorned the branches. Trains of tinsel along with strings of popcorn and cranberries girdled the tree.

Our father worked as an executive with Sears-Roebuck on Ponce de Leon, and it turned out that Santa used the Sears’ catalog as well. My sister and I spent countless hours dogearing pages and circling gifts in The Wish Book for the Jolly Old Elf’s attention.

Each December we piled into the car to view the neighborhood Christmas lights. The short ride typically ended with the children squabbling while our parents scolded, “Don’t make me come back there!”

On Christmas Eve, stockings were hung by the chimney with care. We prepared a note to accompany Santa’s midnight snack of milk and cookies. Then we settled into bed while visions of sugarplums toys danced in our heads.

Christmas morning dawned bright with wonder. When we opened the door to the living room, it felt like a Polar Express had magically transported us to the North Pole. We fell asleep exhausted that night, already anticipating the next Christmas a long year away.

We cannot travel back into the past. However, we can make memories with our loved ones in the present. May God grant all of us a grace-filled Advent and Christmas season, full of laughter, love, and joy.  

An Early Christmas

Dec 25

A Hallmark display recently caught my eye. A sign above the holiday greeting cards declared, “Christmas is December 25th!” Who knew?!? This is certainly helpful information!

Granted, Christmas Creep causes the holidays to arrive earlier each year. Retailers anxious for holiday sales rush the season. In September, Costco erected a Winter Wonderland of snowmen, penguins, and trees. Amazon launched Prime Days for early shopping in October. Sirius/XM radio premiered its holiday channels on November 1. And we are the midst of 40—count them, 40—new movies on Hallmark’s Countdown to Christmas and Miracles of Christmas.

Personally, I have always resisted the Hallowthankmas madness, choosing to observe the day after Thanksgiving as the advent of the holiday season. However, this year I have experienced a Scrooge-like change of heart.

2020 has been a rough year: global pandemic, political polarization, racial unrest, social distancing, and economic challenges. To add insult to injury, A Charlie Brown Christmas will not be broadcast on network TV for the first time since 1965!

Therefore, this year I have decided to celebrate an early Christmas. I’m decking the halls and listening to holiday music. Eight Nativity Scenes adorn my office with a plugin, bubbling, candle ornament. I’ve been sipping eggnog since mid-November, and if I had some chestnuts, they would be roasting on an open fire!

I’ve also changed my Advent sermon plans. The revised Worship Series is entitled, “We Need a Little Christmas!”

Oh, I fight the occasional urge to say, “Bah, humbug.” I’m a recovering Scrooge with occasional lapses. However, life’s too short to miss the advent of the Holy Day Season.

Christmas is December 25th this year. But why wait? Start celebrating an early Christmas today.

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Teach Us to Number Our Days

Although 2020 has been filled with crises and challenges, the months have provided unexpected blessings. The pandemic has taught us that health is fragile and life is transitory. Therefore, we should note what is important and ignore what is trivial. However, this fleeting lesson is soon forgotten.

I invite you to join me in a spiritual experiment. Commit Psalm 90:12 to memory. For the rest of the year, begin each morning reciting the verse. May God grant us the grace to number our days so that we might gain hearts of wisdom.

Psalm 90: A Prayer of Moses, the Man of God.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust,
    saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.
Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—
    they are like the new grass of the morning:
In the morning it springs up new,
    but by evening it is dry and withered.

We are consumed by your anger
    and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath;
    we finish our years with a moan.
10 Our days may come to seventy years,
    or eighty, if our strength endures;
yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow,
    for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
11 If only we knew the power of your anger!
    Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.
12 Teach us to number our days,
    that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

13 Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
    Have compassion on your servants.
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
    that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
    for as many years as we have seen trouble.
16 May your deeds be shown to your servants,
    your splendor to their children.

17 May the favor[a] of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands.

Augmented Reality

In 1990, a Boeing researcher named Tom Caudell coined the phrase “augmented reality.” In layman’s terms, it is technology that superimposes computer generated graphics over a real world view.

Military Jet HUD

One example is the Heads Up Displays used in advanced aircraft, which display critical information on the airplane’s cockpit or the pilot’s visor. Car manufacturers make similar tech available in automobiles. For instance, my GMC Yukon features a HUD with a windshield display for the speed limit, current speed, radio selections, and more.

The Christian faith graces believers with an augmented reality. Our spiritual faith is superimposed over the physical world. It enables us to distinguish between the important and the unimportant along with the eternal and the temporal. Such information guides our steps and informs our actions.

Although we are citizens of both heaven and earth, our ultimate allegiance is pledged to God’s kingdom. We live in an augmented reality that reveals what is truly real.