What to do? My bride and I were in our old home state for the holidays.  She was off for the day with her sisters for a girls day out.  What to do?

Aha! The movie website was a quick touch of an app away.  Scrolling through the nearby theaters and the list of current movies solved my dilemma.  Nope, I have seen that one.  Again, that was one that we saw together.  Uh, nope, I am not into scary movies or raunchy ones either. Hmm, now there is an interesting one.

One swift click on my phone and I successfully bought a ticket for the earliest showing.  My GPS beeped, flashed, and then guided me safely to my destination.  The lights dimmed, commercials ran humorously, and then the featured event began.

The lead star was all talent. He danced, he sang, he charmed his way through life overcoming hardship, poverty, rejection, and despair. Love and dreams fueled his life.

He found others who were despised and disrespected.  His dreams found them all a new family, life and love that they could share.  When that world crashed and burned, they pulled themselves up and rebuilt an even better life.

It was a feel good movie from the start until the end.  The music was energizing.  Episodes of people’s lives were engaging.  Memories of The Greatest Showman linger for me.  I liked the movie so much that when my bride was free a week later, I brought her to the showing too.

However, I have read reviews of critics who did not like the movie. Their criticism centered on the “historical inaccuracies.” The movie portrayed P.T. Barnum as a folk hero of sorts, helping the oppressed, coming to aid of victims of racism, and giving a hand to the ethnic people marginalized by the community.  Critics claim that he was just the opposite.  He exploited the victims of race, prejudice, and abuse.  They say he did it all to line his own pockets.

Phooey!  I don’t know much about the history of this man.  But I liked the movie. Claims of racism sure seem to be subjective.  History not only stumbles over the truth about this evil, but contemporary people trip up also.  Just because we accuse someone of racism does not necessarily make it true.

Whatever history validates and whatever opinions fuel more arguments, I am left with the same conclusion.  I liked the movie. I liked it a lot!

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fullsizeoutput_1ad3Stepping off the carousel of life is risky. Who knew it was spinning fast? The stationary ground grabbed my feet. The abrupt change was startling.  Left knee smashed my right knee. Yeow! That hurt.  I stumbled but with cat-like reflexes, my landing was like sticking an Olympic gymnastics landing.

The spinning world of work, obligations, deadlines, and meetings faded away.  Family and friends came into view.  Our plane landed with a little bounce on the Oakland International Airport tarmac.  My bride and I gathered our belongs and stepped into a busting metropolis that many would find hectic, chaotic, and even unfriendly.  But, we grew up here.  It was familiar.  This was home.

A chance to catch our breaths came at the curb.  Our shuttle to the car rental pickup area was running slowly.  We cashed in on our first chance to run through the schedule.  It was like looking at our work planners.  There was tons to do just like our careers back in Houston.  The activities were just different.

Old friends from decades long ago were part of our Christmas season.  Relatives on the other side of the family were on our calendar.  Each evening we rehearsed where we would be the next day.  Soon we couldn’t remember where we had been or who we had seen.  Now, it was just about who we would see the next day and where we would meet them.

It was sheer fun!  Old friends had eyes that had not changed over the decades past.  Their smiles were filled with eagerness to share.  After all we had tons of moments to relive together.  Our miles apart had stolen those times to share together.  Introductions needed to be made.  Children and old friends needed their lives filled in and colorized.  There was an occasional pause when we told of sad news, deaths, or abandonment.  Why does life always have to include pain?

We talked on and on.  Time was no friend to these interchanges.  My watch reminded me that we had to be off to the next gathering.  We smiled. We frowned. We hugged and shook hands.  Promises to keep in touch flowed freely.  Hope made us optimistic.  Maybe this time we would keep those promises.

Old friendships never die. They never stay the same.  Over time life keeps on getting richer and richer.  Miles separate us but friendship keeps us together.

24129915_10154330375522614_4886734873588727424_nThe detour from our normal carpool route home was not much trouble at all.  It gave us a respite from the stressful torrential traffic escaping downtown Houston and flowing like an endless flood to our home in Katy.  My momentary duty was simply to serve my wonderful bride of 40+ years.

A second grade teacher is always on the look out for “stuff” to enhance the learning experience of these little tykes.  Colleagues are constantly sharing discoveries that bring vivaciousness into the classroom. Then it’s off to discover where to acquire the props, visuals, and inter-actives for my lifelong educator soul-mate.

We found the store.  It was still open.  The Texas cool breeze was kicking up.  I zipped up. Then, I opened the car door for my wife.  He arm slipped around mine. We huddled against the cooler temperatures and trotted into the store.

She as on casual exploration.  Like many teachers, she was into browsing not only for her objective but also ready to pounce on any other curiosity along the way.  I was content.  That night I was just the chauffeur.

Wandering the aisles was just a time-filler.  When I fancied a longer look at something, I did. Often I would just stroll the aisles.  The SALE sign, however, drew me close.  I didn’t make it that far.

A smile arrested my attention. Automatically, I stopped and turned my head.  It wasn’t a mistake.  I smiled back.

With gentle hands, I lifted that creature up close to my face. It was the most adorable puppy in the world.  Carefully, I turned him around and around.  Soft, cuddly, and pleasurable.

Of course, the price tag was missing.  I carried my new friend to a salesperson. How much? Let’s check.  He was no help. I went back to the display counter and found his twin.  The price is the price. Sold!

At the register, the fast-moving clerk paused to hold the puppy and express her feelings, “Awww…” Snapping back into reality, she smiled, complemented our choice, and went back to ringing up our total.

The walk back to the car was my chance. “Here, this little guy is for you.”  I passed the cutest puppy in the world to my bride.  Her look was delight with wonder. “Just-because” I grinned, “Just because.”

That’s what love its.

uber lyftMy travel tastes are simple, uncomplicated, and straightforward.  Diva-stuff has never entered my mind and never sits well in my soul when it happens on those very rare moments.  Separation from people is not my gig; rather, identifying with the common person is my arena of comfort.

Travel makes me face the discomfort of figuring out how to get from point A to point B without any glitches.  Usually, public transportation from the airport to the hotel works.  If the hotel has a shuttle that is one step better.

Simple isn’t in the city planning schedule of the older cities of our nation.  Hotels don’t always have a shuttle to the airport either.  That’s a mystery!

Enter the private shuttle car service.  Some like the first and largest of those services.  I have looked at the competitor and much more preferred their business model.  When my assistant suggested that I try a phone ordered service for my trip back East, I hesitated.

In my office I am one of the least techie types. This new transportation option would depend on my smart phone skills.  With a smile I let my assistant put that feature into my travel plans.

My personal faith is locked into the sovereignty of God.  After all, if he is god, then he must be all-powerful and exclusively determinative over all matters.  I might as well learn to put that conviction into faith practice with something as simple as my transportation challenges in a distant city.

My assistant even gave me a link for an online tutorial.  Again, the techie option was necessary.  After viewing the online introduction, I downloaded the app and practiced.  She came in to check on my progress.

Smiling, chuckling, and grimacing I was off to the airport for a rendezvous with my responsibilities.  On the curb of the airport pickup area, I sent my request for a ride.  Just like the tutorial, I received a response, affirmation of the driver, his picture, and a real-time map of his en route travel to my pick up point.

We had a great conversation, discovered many common interests, and arrived safely at my destination.  “J” was a refreshing part of my stay in the city of business.  Now, I’m a veteran of private shuttle car rides.  Me, Mr. non-techie simple kind of guy, is hip with the transportation style of the modern age.

IMG_0488My email box showed that I needed to give some attention to incoming messages that had been stalled in quarantine.  Some inquiries were sales calls.  I didn’t to see those.  But, then, Dan has sent me a message.  I wanted to see what was up with him.

My email filters require that I click on a delivery option if I saw that a legitimate message had been tied up.  A simple click sent that message on its way to my mailbox. There was even a beep when it was delivered.

Dan wanted to know if I had any interest and time to come down to the radio station and record some Christmas 60 second Gospel presentations.  I wrote back immediately and agreed to make room in my calendar to record these moments.

I opened my Bible on my computer.  It was time to start a file for five 60 second talks for a clear Gospel presentation.  This was the fun part.  Christmas verses in the Bible are great reminders of the miracles that are a part of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah 9.6 speaks about the birth of a child, the son who is given as a gift from the Father.  He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  These are majestic and grand names.

The story of Mary is etched in inspired Scripture found in Luke’s Gospel.  The virgin gave birth to a son.  This miraculous conception was not impossible but historic so the Son could be born to die for all the world.

Micah 5.2 reveals the prophesy of Jesus’ roots out of Judah and His destiny to rule over Israel.  God makes a promise to ancient Israel and fully intends to keep it.  His character requires nothing less.

Christmas is all about the Christ child.  He was born as the answer to all man’s trouble with sin.  In time Jesus would die for the sins of the world.  He will pay the price for our transgressions.  Then, once made savable, we can then by faith accept Him as our Savior.  What a gift! That’s the heart of the Christmas story.  Merry Christmas!

No one in town believed the weather report.  How could it be? Snow in Houston?  Give me a break!

Michigan was our home for eleven years.  Snow was our staple.  It was never a matter of whether it would snow.  Rather, it was just a matter of how much would fall and when it would start.  Most important was when it would melt and how soon could we expect to thaw out.

Tuning up the snow blower was a date on the calendar.  Checking on the snow shovels was an annual event.  The clothes hanger by the garage door was now filled with winter clothes, mittens, scarves, and woolen knitted caps.

My neighbors waved when I changed the oil in the  snow thrower.  The spark plug was clean.  There was no reason to change the air filter.  Fresh gasoline was the last chore in preparation for Old Man Winter.

Soon my wife and I would trade that Michigan unspoken look, “Yep, it smells like snow.”  Sure enough, like we were dubbed with the gift of prophecy, the snow flakes began to fall. We loved the beginning of the snow season.  It was in the middle of this arctic blast that we began to long for the warm rays of the sun. Don’t tell me that we don’t know snow.

But, here in Houston, Texas? Ha!

Travel up the elevation scale and you might be able to catch a lonely snowflake on your tongue.  But, take your time.  5,000 feet might just be a start. Were our meteorologists just pumping up the wish list?

2017 was already a banner year.  We survived the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.  The Astros thrilled us with their first World Series Championship.  Could this be the first year that we experienced snow since moving to Texas? Whoa!

We drove home after another 14 hour day.  It was half past nine.  The headlights captured a familiar but out-of-place sight.  They were dancing in the beams, appearing out of the night sky.

They splashed on the windshield.  The splat was a memory of winters long long ago.  It was snowing!  It was snowing in Houston, Texas!IMG_0469

 

IMG_4026It sure is easy to join the Snarky band wagon these days.  Complainers to the right of me.  Complainers to the left of me.  Into the Valley of Negativity charge the in-search-of-light brigade.

Critics are loud and forceful.  Every one of them is convincing in a pushy sort of way.  It is reminiscent of the slick car rental salesman trying to sell you their bargain insurance that you really don’t need. “Boo!“ to those who use deceit to take advantage of others for selfish gain!

People of faith, those who want to follow the Savior, get sucked all too easily into the morass of the world of criticism.  But, has the real badge of faith been dulled and forgotten? The Savior wants us to be known for our love not our well-articulated feisty opinion.

If I want to hear any vitriol about our current POTUS, then all I need to do to get an earful is travel to a Blue state and join in a conversation or two.  However, if I want to hear complaints about the last President, then all I need to do is listen to folks in a Red state.  What is nearly impossible to discover are a large number of those who represent the Savior who can honor both men.  Isn’t that sad?

After all, the Bible says, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.” (1 Peter 2.17)  The context of this exhortation for believers living in difficult times is clear from the previous verses, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to the governers … For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.” (1 Peter 2.13-15)

In a day when the world is pushing people to take up the banner of one side or the other, Christians should hold up a different flag.  We can live on a higher level for the world’s sake.  Let’s show them a life that really can love and do good in difficult times.

At the very least let’s not add to the Snarky mood with sarcasm, cynicism, or criticism.  After all, if we have decided in advance that anything said or done by a certain individual is going to be awful, that is the old definition of prejudice.  I have had enough of that ugly evil dynamic in my lifetime.  Haven’t you?

 

If I could go back in time to the first Easter, I hope that my choice would have been to go to the tomb early on Easter Sunday.

Walking the typically rocky road with home-made sandals, I know that I could have felt my heart pounding.  It would have been so loud that I couldn’t hear the women talking about the predicament of moving the stone.  Knowing what I know now, but keeping it secret from those in that day, I would be straining to look ahead.

Maybe the sight of the absent soldiers would have confirmed what I know.  They had been blown on to their backside and been terrified that they would be executed for failure to do their duty.  All they had to do was keep Jesus’ disciples from stealing the body.

Yet, a power so great as to knock these professional soldiers out-of-the-way, disintegrate the Roman seal on the tomb as if it was never placed there, and then to move the stone out of the ditch in one instantaneous episode took place in a blink on an eye.  Like frightened children the soldiers reported to their authorities and rehearsed the lie that they were told to give.  That was better than execution or imprisonment to them.

The women were shocked to see the stone moved away.  Their confusion would have been my excitement.  Hearing the angel conversation would have thrilled my mind.

All the theology that I have learned would be validated through a few words.  As the women wondered what to do, they may have asked me what we should all do.  That’s when I would have let some of today’s Bible knowledge leak out, “Let’s go tell the disciples what we have seen!”

On the jog back to the gathering, I would have left the women, “You go report what we saw.  I’ve got two disciples on the road to Emmaus that I need to see.”

“What are you going to say to them?” they would have asked in surprise.

“I want to hear what their companions will be telling them,” I would smile.  “Don’t worry what anyone else says.  I believe what y’all (Texan for “all of you”) believe.  HE HAS RISEN!”

We loathe hurtful people.  We have a particular distaste remembering when hurtful people turn their hate on us.  What normal humans relish in being reviled?

Maybe for you it was during a family gathering and the whispering started when you walked into the house.  Small groups of people stopped their conversation.  Some stared at you with that smile of mockery.

Or perhaps it was at the office.  Across the way near the water cooler three co-workers were whispering as they stole a glance or two in your direction.  When you stared back they acted as if nothing was happening.

Worse yet, possibly it was at church when you were tortured with piercing words.  They made you the victim of their gossip.  To top it off they had the audacity to consider themselves and their fellow slanders the righteous ones.

Anyone who has led or anyone who has tried to accomplish anything knows what it is like to have a chunk of their heart torn out by those who practice hate.

What if that pain in your past could be removed as if it never happened?  If a wave of a hand could make it all disappear, scars and all?  Jesus did that for us when He died on the cross.

We needed miracle in our lives.  The pain was so excruciating that we sinned in response.  We traded insult for insult.

Now, tired and weary of the pain we looked for redemption.  Jesus gives it to us through His sacrifice on the cross.  The guilt and pain are placed on Jesus.

He takes it all and pays the price to get rid of it all forever.  Do you feel the relief?  But, there is more!

He not only made our hurt from others disappear it was so powerful He took away the act of the gossips go away too.  All of the world’s sins were taken on by Jesus on to Himself as He died on the cross for them all.  That is a good sacrifice.  That is why the Friday commemorating Jesus’ death is called Good.

While the Savior hung on the cross, people mocked him.  They spit on him.  They threw things at him.  He felt the hate for us.

He was beaten with angry hands.  A whip tore his flesh.  Worst of all the Father abandoned him because that was the price of sin.  He felt all this for us.

The darkness of separation from the Father did not last for the Son.  It was over.  Jesus declared, “It is finished!”  Good words on our Good Friday.

This is almost incomprehensible.  I actually am living and I am 65 years old.  For many years I will openly admit that I thought that this was not just a number, this was a symbol for OLD.

There was plenty of warning for this landmark in life.  The US mail service started it.  In each of my daily deliveries there were invitations to join old people’s groups.  Retirement plans, parties, investments and “special” products took up most of my mailbox space.

Maybe being frugal was finally an asset.  Discounts were mixed into this onslaught of advertisements.  Businesses wanted to attract loyalty to the almighty discount for Seniors.

The Feds were in on this too.  They kept sending reminders of Social Security.  The not so subtle message was work longer before drawing on your retirement funds.

Clearly they were running out of money and wanted to kick the old people can down the road before paying up.  OK.  I’ll work a few more years longer.

Uncle Sam doesn’t know it but I love doing my job.  Every day it is not about how to survive on a fixed income but on how I can make a difference in the lives of other people.  In fact I am privileged to make an eternal difference in the lives of other people.

I get to expand the everlasting news in the lives of people with the hours that I put into my daily job.  Calling it a “job” is a misnomer.  It is a ministry where I have the joy of teaching truth and loving well.

That’s the motto of my occupation.  I teach the Bible.  No it’s not old worn out religion.  It is lively and delightful joy.

Jesus Christ is at the center of all that I do.  He is not fiction or imaginative “good luck”.  Instead, He is the real deal.  Jesus brings love and forgiveness into the lives of people.

My “job” is to pass that good news on to as many people as possible.  Retirement is not in the picture.  As long as God gives good health, I will keep on doing this “work”.

Maybe it’s this life that keeps me feeling young and going strong.  Even at 65 I have my eyes set on making the next 5 years the best years of my life.  Want to join me?

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