Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New possibilities . . .

I don't know about you . . . (But then, how could I???)

Does the coming of the new year make anyone else feel like there are just a bunch of new possibilities that begin tomorrow, January 1, 2009, that were not possible yesterday, December 30, 2008??

You may have to read that 3-4 times for it to make sense. It didn't make much sense when I first wrote it . . . but you can probably get the drift of my meaning.

I have made a large number of pastoral-care phone calls today. And as I spoke and listened, I began to understand that most all of the people I spoke to, especially those who have experienced illness or a death in their family, responded how they feel that the new year will be different, more positive, with new possibilities, especially for healing and for personal peace.

I guess I agree.

And . . . where did this sudden rush or "new" burst of energy and suddenly clearer focus come from? I sure could have used it during Advent!

I had planned to use the week after Christmas to relax, rest up, maybe do some reading.

Instead . . .

-I have already pulled a new devotional book from the book shelf, and placed it in my shoulder bag, and will begin reading it tomorrow morning during my daily devotions.

-I have my study Bible already bookmarked to begin reading Genesis tomorrow.

-I am getting ready to call some friends with some new ideas for our joint activity in the coming year.

-I have cleaned out my files (throwing away most of what I filed in the first place) and have my year somewhat planned out for the things I know I will be doing here at the church.

-I have a new notebook ready for the writing of 12 new childrens worship songs.

-I called another nursing home to volunteer to sing on a regular basis.

Is it that the new year brings the hint of new possibilities . . . maybe to have one or more "do-overs" . . .

Or . . . does the arrival of a new year bring us a new, fresher sense of hope . . . that something in our lives, family, work, etc., in 2009 will be a little bit better than it was in 2008?

Hope is a good thing . . . for without it . . . we are lost. Better to have hope for a new year, than to have no hope, and be lost before the new year even begins.

Ever forward . . . ><>

Is December 31st really just another "Fat Tuesday"?

"Fat Tuesday" is the day before the season of Lent, just before Easter.

On Fat Tuesday, participants sometimes "indulge" in a habit or activity, which they plan to give up beginning the following day, when the season of Lent begins.

Lent is a period, where one often "does without" something, such as a food or drink they really shouldn't eat, or perhaps a destructive habit they would be better off not having.

Today is December 31, and here I am in my office, finishing off all the chocolate candy I was given by the sweet church members here . . . so I can start my New Years resolutions for 2009, especially the one about seriously reducing the amount of sweets I eat.

In fact . . I just now . . . (smack, smack) . . . finished off the last piece . . . (smack, smack).

Ever forward . . . ><>

Monday, December 29, 2008

One of our church families sent me this picture. Instead of setting up a Christmas Tree, this family built a very lovely Nativity scene.

Wow! This is what I call "Christmas Spirit!"

Ever forward . . . ><>

Friday, December 26, 2008

A New Year a coming . . .

Funny thing . . .

Huh?  Has anyone ever noticed how often I start my writing efforts with "Funny thing . . ."

Usually things that make me laugh . . . they don't make other people laugh.   My wife has lovingly suggested many times that I have a perverse sense of humor.

I need to look that up.

Anyway . . . funny thing . . .

After years of sharing, relating, and too often griping about how I usually am quite glad, even relieved, when Advent / Christmas is over . . . . when . . . "darn it" . . . I have a wonderful Christmas experience.

Our theme at the church this year for Advent was "A Simple Christmas."   We got our idea from the folks at the Advent Conspiracy website.  

For Advent this year . . . we encouraged everyone to:

-Worship more
-Spend less
-Give more of ourselves
-Love all 

And . . . wouldn't you know it . . . this year I had a very wonderful, and very spiritual Christmas.   
My wife and I chose to not share purchased gifts this year with each other . . . instead giving to each other the gift of our individual time and attention.   We gave small, but very personable gifts to our family members and a few friends  . . . and then sought out others who truly needed a special gift.   

This year . . . we quietly "gifted" several of the waiters and waitresses who serve us when we frequent certain area eating establishments.  

In particular . . . IHOP and Sonic.

Seeing someone's eyes light up when someone gives them a gift, when they would have never expected to get a gift . . .

"No thank you  . . . we don't want to order anything today . . . we just came by to give this to you . . ." (a nice card in an envelope with a monetary gift.)

Now I know how Santa Claus feels. 

Now the really funny thing .  . . after having had a pretty decent Christmas . . . I am actually getting excited about 2009!

Here we are, just days away  from a new year . . . and I find myself "creatively" contemplating some much needed "to-do's", prioritizing some personal goals, starting the planning for our spring "String Band" concert, daring to dream some interesting "what if's"  . . . and I am excited about it!

Hallelujah!  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Funny thing . . . 

Every forward . . . ><>

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Do you hear what I hear this Advent / Christmas season?

During the Advent / Christmas season, discussions often take place about the best Christmas gift one has ever received, or the best Christmas gift one has ever given.

Why do I believe that Jesus Christ is the best gift ever given?

As I understand scripture . . . Christ was sent to all of us . . . through the actions of a loving and compassionate God who placed His hand into the very fabric of human existence . . . and in doing so . . . gave each of us the "gift of acceptance."

At Christmas . . . it is NOT the loud, flashy commercials and Christmas advertisements I hear anymore . . . I can actually "tune those out" very easily it seems . . .

Rather, during Advent and Christmas, I hear the voice of God saying: through the hearing and singing of music, through the reading of scriptures, and when witnessing the charitable and compassionate actions of others . . .

-YOU are valued . . .

-YOU are included . . .

-YOU are wanted . . .

-YOU are precious to me . . .

-The gift of the Christ-child . . . is for YOU!

My most-most-most favorite Christmas song ever . . . sung by my favorite singer of all time, Bing Crosby, shares my feelings in words and music better than I can share through a blog entry.

The song is: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Eric Folkerth's Christmas meditation . . .

My friend Eric Folkerth is the pastor at Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas. His annual Christmas meditaion can be found here.

Eric makes me think . . . and sometimes causes me to think far outside the box my "reality" fits in.

I appreciate friends like that.

Every forward . . . ><>

On Christmas . . .

Perhaps, it is the combination of our current national financial situation . . .

Perhaps, it is the crushing cultural consumerism which weighs so heavily upon us before Christmas earlier and earlier and earlier each year . . .

Perhaps, it is because of the amount of money spent on Christmas each year . . . supposedly close to 480 billion dollars world-wide . . .

Perhaps, it is the knowledge, in comparision, that it would only take 10 billion dollars to allow everyone in the world to have clean water.

Perhaps, for many, Christmas is not "peace on earth, good will toward all men!"

My good friend, Floyd, and I have been having an on-going several month discussion on the topic of "what is worship?"

Today, in an email, I asked him, "what is Christmas to you?" Floyd responded back with a copy of this essay, which he wrote several years ago.

Let me tell you about my friend, Floyd. He is a good man, husband and father. He and I have been friends for longer than I can remember.

Floyd is also a deeply spiritual man . . . he is one of the smartest guys I know. What he shares below comes from a long and thorough throught process. Floyd thinks deeply about things before he speaks or writes. He is not trying to force his way on anyone. Neither am I (at least I hope not)!

Some may read Floyd's essay, and pass judgement that people "are not allowed to think this way at Christmas!"

My response, "and just how are we supposed to think at Christmas?

Are we instead to get ourselves in debt buying presents . . . and in doing so, have no resources to give to those who could really, really use the help?

Are we instead to decorate and store decorations that we will usually replace yearly because we see something new at the lawn and garden store?

Are we to expect gifts from everyone . . . thus cluttering our lives with more and more and more things we have to manage and take care of?

And, in the process . . . cover up the birth of Christ in the process?????

I find that more and more and more people are thinking this way about Christmas. And I think that is good.

I don't want to rebel . . . I am not trying to be a Grinch . . . I just want to find more and deeper meaning . . . in the knowledge that in Christmas, God places his holy hand into the very fabric of humanity . . . as an act of His compassionate grace . . . and gave us through the birth of Christ . . . the greatest gift ever . . . the gift of acceptance!

There are people it seems, who want to know what happened to the "child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

There are people it seems, who want to know why we have replaced "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays."

There are people it seems, myself included, who are asking . . . "Where is the peace!"

So, read on . . . and if you wish to respond in a thoughtful manner by leaving a comment, then do so.

Ever forward . . . ><>

On Christmas

I hardly want to think about it yet. But the time is very close when we all must. Christmas. The time of year when pastors work the hardest. When there's the most depression, the most family conflict, the highest number of suicides. Joy to the world.

I found a great arrangement of the song, "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear," which I wanted the band I’m in to perform. Not only is it beautiful musically, setting the song in a minor key, but it includes a verse you hardly ever hear. For most Christmas songs, you know, we only have one verse memorized. But I find this verse very moving:

And ye, beneath life's crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way, with painful steps and slow:
Look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing!
O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!

It moves me because it speaks to what I wish Christmas could be for me, and never will be. It never will be, because all of my immediate and extended family, and in fact everyone else I know, are caught up in the traditional American Christmas. I don't like it, and haven't for a long time, but I also don't want to be the bad guy and spoil everyone's fun. So I go along.

But if I could do Christmas my way, there would be no decorations or colored lights. No frenzied season of party after party, with vast amounts of food and meaningless presents nobody really wants or needs. No shopping season in the crowded stores, the consumerism that is pretty near the opposite of what Jesus stood for, culminating in an orgy of stuff and boxes and wrapping paper on Christmas morning.

Christmas for me would begin with a season of prayer and study, to learn all over again why God would do such a thing as become a man. The day itself would also be a day of quiet contemplation and prayer, mixed with wonder at the glorious smallness of what happened. The smallness of a baby's cry in a lowly stable in a tiny town in an occupied country, and yet the sky above filled with angels. The Lord of the universe born to a dirt-poor teenage girl, attended by shepherds, and yet the news of his birth shook the houses of kings.

Christmas my way would be a time to stop all the activity, and think and wonder about these things. A time to be at peace. A time to rest beside the weary road, and listen for the angels.

May we all find some peace.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Don't postpone joy . . .

John Mason's "Nugget of the Week" which I received by email today . . .

Ever forward . . . ><>

My wife and I decided to have a cup of coffee at the local IHOP. Inside, we were greeted by a very friendly, happy, smiling waitress. It didn't take us long to notice that she only had one tooth. On the top and in the middle.

I thought, isn't that interesting? Here's a woman with one tooth, yet she works in a job that requires a lot of up-close people contact. She's smiling, doing a good job. Then, I noticed a button she was wearing: "A smile is a gift you can give every day."

What a profound scene this was. So much so that I complemented her on her button and sincerely told her she had a nice smile. I wondered if anyone had ever told her that.

When she returned to our table she told me that her father had done the calligraphy on the button. She said, "He had his fingers cut off in an industrial accident, and then decided to pick up calligraphy after that!" In fact, his writing was now better than before the tragedy.

Perhaps only a woman raised by a fingerless dad who does calligraphy can choose to smile even though she has only one tooth...

Enthusiasm makes everything different. You can't control the length of each day, but you can control its impact by adding fun and enthusiasm. When you have enthusiasm for life, life has enthusiasm for you. William Ward said, "Enthusiasm and persistence can make an average person superior; indifference and lethargy can make a superior person average."

Don't postpone joy. Instead, be like the Mona Lisa- she keeps smiling even when her back's to the wall. If you find yourself dog-tired at night, it may be because you growled all day. Learn to laugh at yourself. A person with a great sense of humor may bore others, but he rarely has a dull moment himself.

One of the single most powerful things you can do to have influence over others is to smile at them.

You are never fully dressed until you wear a smile. It's the best face-lift!

A smile is an asset; a frown is a liability.

Some people grin and bear it; others smile and change it.

Smiling-being happy and enthusiastic-is always a choice, not a result. It improves your personality and others' opinion of you. Both enthusiasm and pessimism are contagious. How much of each do you spread? Our attitudes tell others what we expect in return. A laugh a day keeps the negative away. You can succeed at almost anything for which you have unlimited enthusiasm.

-John Mason, from the book Imitation is Limitation

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fabulous 50's Christmas Songs

This list is from our band brother, Russ Logan, brother of noted bluegrass fiddler Tex Logan, who wrote Christmas Times A Coming with Bill Monroe.

Russ' late brother, Homer, was a great Country Western and Bluegrass fiddler in his own right.

Of course, we think that Russ is a more than a mighty fine mandolin and guitar player.

Ever forward . . . ><>

A Holly Jolly Christmas - Burl Ives
Away In A Manger - Loretta Lynn
Christmas Alphabet - The McGuire Sisters
Christmas Country Christmas - The Statler Brothers
Christmas In My Hometown - Sonny James
Christmas Song - Alvin & The Chipmunks
Christmas Times A Coming - Bill MonroeAnd The Bluegrass Boys
Christmas Waltz - Frank Sinatra
Christmas Without You - Kenny RogersDolly Parton
Frosty The Snowman - Gene Autry
Grandma Got Run OverBy A Reindeer - Elmo & Patsy
Hard Rock Candy Christmas - Dolly Parton
Hark The Herald Angels Sing - Nat King Cole
Have Yourself A Very Merry Christmas - Rosemary Clooney
Home For The Holidays - Perry Como
Its Beginning To LookA Lot Like Christmas - Bing Crosby &The Andrew Sisters
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - Jimmy Boyd
Its a Most WonderfulTime Of The Year - Johnny Mathis
Jingle Bell Rock - Bobby Helms
Jingle Bells - Roy RogersMost Interesting Middle!
Jingle Bells - - Jingle Bell Piggie
Joy To The World - Nat King Cole
Leroy, the Redneck Reindeer - Joe Diffie
Let It Snow - Andy Williams
Lets Put Christ Back Into Christmas - Tammy Wynette
Little Drummer Boy - eil Diamond
O Christmas Tree - Nat King Cole
Please Come Home - The Platters
Pretty Paper - Roy Orbison
Rocking Around The Christmas - Autry
Rudolph The RedNose Reindeer - Unknown Group
Santa Baby - Cynthia Basinet
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Bing Crosby
Santa Claus Is Watching You - Ray Stevens
Silver Bells - Bing Crosby/Peggy Lee
Silent Night - Dean Martin
Sleigh Ride - Johnny Mathis
The First Noel - Andy Williams
Up On The Housetop - Gene Autry
White Christmas - Bing Crosby
White Christmas - The Drifters (1954)
Winter Wonderland - Brenda Lee
Christmas With Elvis

Whie Christmas . . . as sung by The Drifters

This song came out in 1954.

I was born in 1957.

I was robbed!

Click here for very enjoyable version of White Christmas as only The Platters could perform it.

White Christmas . . . as only Bing Crosby can sing it . . .

Listen to White Christmas here.

I personally do not like snow all that much. No doubt Doodlebugmom will have a comment or two about that!

Anyway, we don't usually have anything close to a White Christmas down here in the Great State of Texas.

But, I have always loved the song . . .

Lake Charles Adult Mission Trip in Feb. 2009 . . .

You are invited to join a conference-wide United Methodist Volunteers in Mission team to Lake Charles, LA, February 9-13, 2009.

Southwest Louisiana, still recovering from Hurricane Rita in 2005, needs our help more than ever as they deal with the effects of recent hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

The cost for the trip is $200, plus meals on the road. The registration deadline is January 5, 2009; please see the attached registration form for more information.

Jennifer Bellamy
Director of Humanitarian Services
Central Texas Conference UMC
464 Bailey Avenue
Fort Worth, TX 76107
817-877-5222 ext. 37, 800-460-8622, 817-338-4541 (fax)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour

I am watching less and less and less and less and less and less and less and less television these days.

Did I tell you that I was watching less television these days?

I am listening to a lot of radio . . . in my car . . . and on   Music mostly, and the occasional NPR show or two.   Seems I have been drifting back to folk music, and happily so.   The problem is what I call folk music, and what you would call folk music, may not be the same.  But not to worry, folk musicians have been arguing that point among themselves for years.

Although I haven't heard it on the radio yet, I have have gone to the Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour web site and listened to past shows from their archives section.

Folk singer and tree-hugger Michael Johnathon developed and hosts this weekly broadcast from the Kentucky Theater.  Their 500th broadcast was back in September.

Check it out.

Ever forward . . . ><>

Monte Montgomery - Wishing Well

My other favorite guitarist . . . Austin, Texas' own Monte Montgomery.

I think "Wishing Well" is his best song . . . 

Ever forward . . . ><>

Living life one day at a time . . .

I just guess I have a thing about believing in people.   Especially those who make major mistakes in their lives, or choose self-destructive paths, who then go on to learn deep and profound lessons from the consequences of their choices, and who then move on to help others in the same predicament they once were in.

Joe Walsh is one of my favorite guitarists (the other is Monte Montgomery).  The Eagles are also one of my favorite bands.   Joe's song, One Day at a  Time, has a very good message, especially in admitting when we need to, that we just might be the cause of the problem we find ourselves dealing with.  And after doing so, admitting that we need help from something bigger than we are.

AA calls it "acknowledging a higher power."

I call it . . . God.

Enjoy . . . and then ponder for a while the really important things.

Every forward . . . ><>

Saturday, December 13, 2008

With all my thanks . . .

Just wanted to take a moment to thank Charles, Frank, Gary, Russ, Sean and Stu for doing double duty this week, as members of our 1st Church String Band had a busy week.

Russ and Stu were able to make it to the Mimosa Manor Nursing Home in Keller with me this past Wednesday.  We gave the folks there a good Christmas music show which included lots of opportunity for singing along.

This past Friday . . . Charles, Gary and Stu joined me at the Botanical Gardens in Grapevine for a Christmas concert for the Grapevine Housing Authority tenants Christmas party.   This was by far one of our best audiences ever . . . lots of people singing with us.

Tonight, at our Las Posadas service . . . Frank and Sean joined me as we provided music as Wren lead congregational singing.  A unique worship experience held in both English and Spanish.

The entire 1st Church String Band will provide music before and after worship services tomorrow, December 14.  

Thanks guys . . . I appreciate you all.  

Ever forwards . . . ><> 

I Can't Help Falling In Love With You . . .

One of my favorite songs . . . one that Arlo does well, especially when he adds his unique storytelling.

Great tune . . . great words . . . a great song.
I guess, as I get older . . . that folk music is my first love, especially for playing on the guitar. Bluegrass (Houston style) is a close 2nd, as is 50's, 60's and 70's rock and roll.
We all have what we like best.

Ever forward . . . ><>

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is "character" the real foundation of all worthwhile success? . . .

On Thursday mornings at 6:30 AM, I met with a group of men who gather at a local restaurant for breakfast, fellowship and Bible study. We are currently working together through the book of Acts.

I find real value in meeting with these guys each week. My week doesn't feel right when I am unable to attend. I am honored to meet with them. I am blessed to call them my friends.

When I arrived at my office . . . I opened my email and saw that my weekly "Nugget fo the Week" from author John Mason had arrived. I believe I see in each of the guys who participates in our breakfast / Bible study the type of character which John Mason speaks of below.

I am indeed blessed by each of them.

Ever forward . . . ><>

Living a double life will get you nowhere twice as fast. Character is the real foundation of all worthwhile success. A good question to ask yourself is, "What kind of world would this be if everybody were just like me?" You are simply an open book telling the world about its author. John Morely remarked, "No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character."

Would your reputation recognize your character if they met in the dark? Desire what Psalms declared, "Create in me a pure heart, Oh Lord, and renew in me a right spirit."

To change your character, you must begin at the control center-the heart. A bankruptcy of character is inevitable when you are no longer able to keep the interest paid on your moral obligations.

Never be ashamed of doing right. Phillip Brooks said, "A man who lives right and is right has more power in his silence than another has by his words."

Live so that your friends can defend you, but never have to do so. Consider what Woodrow Wilson said: "If you think about what you ought to do for people, your character will take care of itself." You're called to grow like a tree, not like a mushroom. It's hard to climb high when your character is low.

The world's best sermon is preached by the traffic sign: Keep Right.

-John Mason, from the book Know Your Limits Then Ignore Them

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Built an "altar" lately . . . ???

Editorial Note: Funny thing . . . what follows comes out of my current email discussion with my friend, Floyd, about worship . . . and out of an email I am currently composing about pastors writing blogs. I share this so you can sense, in part, the context of my thinking.

I have just finished my second reading of the Gospels for this year . . . this time using the ESV translation (English Standard Version) which my dear friend, Floyd, introduced me to a year or so ago.

For those who would be curious to know . . . I am going to use the ESV as my first Bible of choice through the end of 2009. I am praying/waiting for an ESV New Testament and Psalms to be printed, that I can carry in my shoulder bag, that usually goes with me about everywhere I go these days.

Next . . . I plan to read Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus in the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament, a prominent theme is the building of altars.

Mark Batterson in his blog recently wrote the following about altars. . .

One of the greatest dangers we face spiritually is learning how and forgetting why. That is why God is always telling us to build altars. Altars help us remember what God doesn't want us to forget.

Hmmmm . . . what altars have I built over the course of my life?

Are any of them still reminding me of something God doesn't want me to forget?

Are any of these altars still standing? Or has culture knocked them down?

This is good food for thought . . . and a helpful lense through which to begin my reading of the first three books of the Old Testament.

What exactly is it . . . that God doesn not want me to forget?

I would be curious to know what you think about this.

Ever forward . . . ><>

Monday, December 1, 2008

My introduction to Gadow Guitars . . .

Took a short break this past Thanksgiving weekend to travel to Marshall and Jefferson, Texas with my wife and two of our dear friends. Stopped in the Band Stand Music store in downtown Marshall, and was introduced by the staff there to Gadow Guitars.

My good friend Sean introduced me to P-90 pick-ups a while back, and we built my Hotrod #2 with them. This particular Gadow felt like several PRS I have had the chance to play at a couple DFW area Guitar Center stores. However, the neck on the one I am playing in the picture felt a little different . . . a bit fuller from front-to-back is the best way to describe it. Didn't cause the ol' thumb on the left hand any problems. The P-90's on this guitar had a "crunch" that I liked very much, sort of a late 60's early 70's sound. The same guitar comes in a semi-hollow, but I didn't see it in stock.

I liked the guitar very much. Less than $1,000 from a company based out of North Carolina with excellent customer service, or so I was told.

By the way . . . who combed my hair that morning??? Who dressed me for that matter???

What was I thinking???

Apparantly I dress down for vacation (or days off as well). For those who want to know. . . that is my favorite shirt in the whole world that I am wearing in the picture. A denim shirt on a cold day . . . ahhhhhhh!

Guitars and denim shirts . . . I think I feel a song coming on. Wonder if Willie Nelson, George Strait, Monte Montgomery or John Mayer have already beat me to it?

Ever forward . . . ><>