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Archive for December, 2009

HALF WAY UP

My father once shared with me an account involving two young men, John and Wally. Each year the two young boys eagerly looked forward to the first camping trip of the year. They planned and talked about it for weeks in the spring as the snow on the high mountain north of the valley began to lose its covering of winter snow. They wanted to go up the mountain just as soon as they could. They knew there would still be snow in some of the shady areas but it would be hard and solid enough for them to walk on as they made their way through the tall, dark stands of timber.

So, the day finally came. The two boys were excited. They were finally on their way! Home was left behind as they struck out with their sleeping bags and camping gear over their shoulders and made their way along the narrow dusty road toward the mountain. This part of the hike was easy and after a time they reached the end of the narrow road and began following the winding trail as it moved up the lower portion of the mountain. Even here, the going was easy. It was not too steep and the trail was fairly wide most of the time.

After several hours they reached the “spring.” This was a location well-known by all those familiar with the mountain. Ice-cold water flowed from the ground with a truly mountain-fresh taste to quench the thirst of weary hikers. This was also the place where the hike became more difficult with the trail becoming narrow as well as beginning to climb steeply. It was a tough hike all the way to the top from this point.

John decided that they should spend the night at the “spring.” Wally was for moving on and camping at the summit of the mountain. John liked to think about sleeping where he could be lulled to sleep by the gurgling of the water as it flowed out of the rocks. Wally wanted to sleep where he could see the sun rise over the mountains come morning.

“It’s too windy up there in the morning,” protested John.

“It’s too early to stop here at the spring, Wally countered.

For several minutes they argued over whether or not they should spend the night at the spring or head on up to the top of the mountain. Finally, disagreement won out. Wally said he would go on up and sleep at the top. He would get to see the sun come up in the morning.

John was determined to spend the night sleeping under the tall cedar trees, listening to the water bubbling out of the ground and flowing over the rocks. He wanted to relax next to a campfire before getting a good night’s rest. He would hike to the top of the mountain the following day.

John watched his friend go plodding up the trail with disappointment. He had plenty of time before dark to cook his hamburger and bake his potato in the glowing coals of his small campfire. At dark, he made his bed on a nice level spot where he could lay and watch the embers glowing brightly in the fire. It was peaceful. In fact, it was wonderful! . . . . . But, he missed his friend, Wally.

Time passed. Darkness had enveloped the mountain. John was having difficulty going to sleep. It was too quiet. True, he could hear the gurgle of the flowing water coming out of the rocks, as it had done so for hundreds of years, to wash away down the hill on its path to the distant ocean. The cheerful little fire occasionally made pops and hissing noises. An owl hooted softly in a far-away tree. But there was no voice of a good friend; a friend who was absent and at the top of the hill.

John lay sleepless in his bed for what seemed hours. At last he could stand it no longer. Putting several pieces of wood on the fire to make it blaze brightly so that he would have more light, he got out of his bed, rolled it up, put his cooking gear in his pack, and hefted the load to his shoulders. He then extinguished the fire and, in the dark of the night, started up the trail for the summit.

John knew the trail from his many previous trips up the mountain. He knew that, from this point onward, the route was steep, narrow, and it zigzagged from one side of the slope to the other. This allowed an individual to climb what would have been an almost impossible route had it been a path straight up the mountain’s side. It was dark and he had to be careful to feel his way with his feet as he moved slowly along. He was soon panting from the exertion and he stopped to rest in the darkness among the tall trees.

That was when he heard the sound. From above him on the mountainside he heard a rock dislodged by some living thing. It came crashing down the hill toward him, unseen in the blackness of the night, and went by a short distance from where he stood breathing heavily, his heart pounding. He heard the rock smash into some brush down the mountainside and it became quiet once more.

Was it a deer or an elk that had dislodged the rock? Maybe it was a bear out on a late-night prowl of his mountain domain. Or it could have been any of a number of wild animals John knew inhabited this mountainous country.

His heartbeat had just about returned to normal and he was preparing to continue up the trail when he heard another noise. It was like a rustling of leaves and it was close to him. In fact, it sounded as if something was moving towards him on the trail. The darkness hid whatever it might have been. John’s heartbeat had abruptly begun to increase once more! Suddenly, he caught a glimpse of a figure coming down the trail directly towards him.

“Wally!”

“John!”

There, on the steep side of the mountain, two friends scraped out a level spot among the pine needles covering the ground, large enough for their two sleeping bags, lay down and in minutes were sleeping soundly.

Nothing quite compares with true friendship which develops between individuals. Nothing, that is, other than the friendship each of us can experience in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Proverbs 18:24 states, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

That friend is Jesus Christ. Do you know Him? He will meet you on whatever mountain you may find yourself struggling this week, if you will simply ask Him.

Prayer: Father, thank you for being my Friend—a true friend whom I can always count on and trust in. Help me remember that you walk each step of this journey through life close to my side. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

 

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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SOLO CAMPING

Say, now! This was livin’! I was practically a grown up man since I had officially become a teenager. Now I was out in the wilds—well, kind of “wild,” and all on my own. No one else was with me. I had left friends and family behind, placed a large pack on my back containing all the essentials for living in the great outdoors, and started walking east out of town along the railroad tracks, the late afternoon sun at my back. This was going to be a blast!

Spring had arrived and the itch to go camping had finally overcome me. With my parent’s permission (hey, I may have been nearly grown up but I was still respectful of my Mom and Dad, you understand!), I had walked the short distance to the railroad tracks near our home and began my long-awaited trek. Scarcely an hour later I had left the confines of civilization behind me and reached an inviting spot at the base of a hillside. The location was surrounded by tall pine and fir trees, with a slowly moving river passing by a short distance away. Oh, this was going to be just grand!

I took the heavy pack off my back and soon had a small piece of canvas stretched out on the ground with my sleeping bag laying on it. No tent for me—I was roughing it! As dusk descend on my little haven I built a small fire and cooked a simple meal. Later, I sat staring at the glowing embers of the fire as darkness settled in upon me. And with the darkness came all kinds of sounds, the kind of sounds that get your attention when you are out in the woods, all alone, at night, by yourself, with no moon, no one to talk to, and kind of wishing . . . . .

One of the grandest things about being a Christian, and part of a church family, is that we no longer have to be alone, by ourselves, with no one to talk to, “and kind of wishing,” . . . . . In Psalm 68:5-6 we find these words: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families . . . . . .” Hey! I like that

Prayer: Father, for the friendships and relationships that I am blessed to enjoy as a result of being a part of a church “family”. Thank you, Father. Amen.

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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A CHRISTMAS EVE GIFT

"Are you serious, Captain?" the lieutenant seated across the desk from me asked, as he looked at the man standing in the office doorway. "You want us to work Christmas Eve? You’re kidding, right?"

The short, stocky man with the graying hair, dressed in a winter sport coat and tie, pushed the glasses up on his nose and simply looked at the three of us who were seated in front of him, a hint of a smile, tugging at the corners of his mouth. This, along with his lack of response, said it all to those of us who knew him well and had worked for him during the past several years. He was, in fact, "asking" us to work on Christmas Eve!

"Is there any reason you would be unable to work?" he asked, as his eyes moved back and forth among the three of us. "Look at it this way," he said, "you three can use the time out on the street. I wouldn’t doubt that you are getting a little rusty spending most of your days behind your desks! And besides, I will be working right along with you!"

His last remark caused the three of us to glance back and forth at each other. "You’re kiddin’ me!" One of the men said. "You would actually go out on the street with us?"

Again, his lack of response to the man’s question, along with that hint of a smile said it all. Say, this was going to be a bit on the unusual side of things!

Christmas Eve had come. The city was crowded with people as they frantically took care of last-minute shopping. The activity involving the police department was at a high level as those employees working during the day looked forward to 5:00 pm, and being able to go home to their families to spend Christmas Eve. Yet, there were those who would have to work; an aspect of a profession knowing no such thing as "time off," whether or not it was Christmas Eve.

Only a few of the employees seem to realize during the afternoon, that several of the staff members in the Patrol Division were missing. But news travelled fast when, at 4:30 in the afternoon, those same staff members walked into the building. Sport coats and ties were gone, having been replaced by dark blue patrol uniforms!

More than a few questioning looks met us as we quickly descended the stairs and walked up to the closed door with the sign on it reading, "PATROL BRIEFING ROOM".

The captain looked quickly at each of us and asked, "Ready?" We nodded and he turned and opened the door, walking into the room where the patrol officers were being briefed by their shift sergeant in preparation for "hitting the streets" for the next 10 hours.

The talking stopped and all eyes in the room were locked on us as we entered and moved to one side, laying our notebooks, coats and other equipment on nearby tables. The captain stepped up next to the shift sergeant, who had become silent, a questioning look on his face. It was clear he was just as much in the dark as the officers seated in front of him. He too, was wondering what was going on.

The captain looked at the questioning eyes and said, "You can all go put your gear away and go home. Go spend Christmas Eve with your families. Merry Christmas!"

For a moment no one moved. "Get moving!" the captain stated, “We are going to cover for you tonight. Like I said, Merry Christmas!"

Seconds later the officers were exiting into the hallway, sounding almost like a bunch of young children as they talked excitedly about this good news—this surprise Christmas "gift", they had just received.

On that night following the birth of our Lord, the shepherds had, no doubt, begun an evening that gave no sign of being any different than others they had spent. But, in a single moment, that all changed.

In Luke 2:10 we read that the angel of the Lord appeared before them said, ". . . . I bring you good news of great joy . . ."

Those shepherd’s lives were changed forever! It is certain that they were never the same following the experiences of that evening.

What better time is there, than during the Christmas Season, to bring "good news of great joy" to someone? Who do you know whose life would never be the same after hearing such news? There are many “shepherds” out on the hillsides of life who have not yet heard, nor have they experienced the joy, of knowing Jesus. Who can you share the Good News with, this Christmas?

Prayer: Lord, I was once like those shepherds. Thank you for people who brought me the “good news of great joy.” Now, Lord, at this Christmas time, show me someone who needs to hear that same news, and give me the courage to share it with them. In Jesus Name I pray. Amen.

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™  Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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WAR AND PAPER ORNAMENTS

There was no way of getting around it. The holidays were coming! Oh my! If only a person could just go to sleep at night and wake up to find themselves in the new year! Then you would not have to go through the Christmas season alone. Not just alone, but so very, very lonely! It did not seem fair!

If only you could have your husband home for one day. Just one day! Then it might not seem so difficult to get through the approaching holidays. But, you did not even know where your husband was, let alone have any idea when he might return home—or worse—if he would return home. Why did there have to be wars? Why couldn’t people and nations get along with each other?

Desert Shield, they called it. Oh, sure! The longer this military “action” continued the more it seemed as if the "shield" just might fail! And no one could give you any idea how much longer you might expect it to go on. When he had left, way back in August, your husband had told you to expect him to be gone a couple of months, at the very most. Surely, at the very latest, he would be home by Thanksgiving! And even that period of time had seemed like an eternity to have to be by yourself—to be alone!

All your family and close friends lived far away from the Air Force base where your husband was stationed, and where you made your home. Sure, there were the people in the church they attended with whom she was acquainted, and they tried to be supportive, but they were all so busy with their own activities and their own families—except Nadine.

Nadine was one individual who knew what you were experiencing! Her husband was one of those who was overseas with other Air Force personnel like your own husband, and she had been married for less time than you had. You and Nadine had begun spending more and more time together as you found you had so much in common. It was not quite so lonely as you shared with each other your concerns, the challenges you faced each day, and the worries over your husband. And then came that evening which had changed the entire Christmas season for you.

As you visited with Nadine that evening, each drowning in your own loneliness, a subtle change in the direction of your conversation began to occur. One of you mentioned that, if your husband did not happen to get home, you were thankful that you had been able to spend that very special weekend with him, several months before he left. Remembering that weekend stirred your hearts and minds and you both began recalling times that had been particularly meaningful to you and your husband.

At some point in the conversation one of you mentioned a Christmas with a large tree, covered with ornaments and lights, which had graced a corner of your small military housing apartment. Oh, that had been a grand Christmas tree! But you had made no plans for a tree this year. It just did not seem worth all the trouble where you were the only one who would see it. But, wait a minute! Maybe you should get a tree. Not a large one, but how about a "Charlie Brown" tree!

Suddenly you began to become excited at the prospect of purchasing a tiny, green tree. You would make sure it was not over two feet high. That is the kind of tree Charlie Brown would have! Decorations? Oh, you knew exactly what you would trim that tree with!

You would make your own paper ornaments. On each one of these ornaments you would write out a reminder of a special time God had blessed you and your husband with. In fact, as the days drew closer to Christmas, each time you thought of an occasion like that you would make a new ornament and add it to the tree. The number of those handmade ornaments grew steadily.

As you continued with your plans you were reminded of how good God really had been to you and your loved ones! Christmas did not have to be a dark, lonely time of despair. You determined you were going to make Christmas a time to look back on with positive remembrances, no matter what the future might hold. God was still in charge of your lives!

You also began to think of some of the other young wives who were alone. Many of them did not even have a church family to offer them support. You started thinking about what you might do to make Christmas a happy season for them, even during this time of such dreadful uncertainty and loneliness in their lives.

Ah, what about that young woman who was pregnant and had no one close to her? It was not long before you and Nadine had planned a baby shower for her. The group of ladies who gathered one evening shortly before Christmas shared not only gifts, but their love and concern for her. She was reminded in a beautiful way that she was not completely alone! Other people did care about her.

And then you learned about the young wife and mother who was experiencing a difficult time financially. You were not having an easy time of it either, but God impressed upon you to give her some cash. It would require that you "stretch" your budget a bit, but God had always been faithful and you were convinced He would be again.

As Christmas drew closer, you found that you were caught up in a renewed excitement directly related to two things: remembering the blessings God had poured out upon you in the past, and your experiences in sharing with others.

In Acts 4:32, we read, "The whole congregation of believers was united as one—one heart, one mind! They didn’t even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, ‘That’s mine; you can’t have it.’ They shared everything." (The Message)

Several months following the Christmas described above, the Air Force unit returned home from what had changed from Desert Shield to Desert Storm. Both husbands were reunited with their wives. God had been good to them, watched over them, and protected them

But you know something? God has been so good to each of us! Oh, don’t misunderstand me. Some are no doubt going through dark and difficult times in their lives right now but—even so, God is good to us and if we take time to consider how He had cared for us in the past, it paints the future with a strong tint of hope.

If we made paper ornaments to hang on our Christmas tree this year, each having written on it some way in which God has blessed us during the past twelve months, what would our trees look like?

And, would Christmas be any different if we very purposefully shared some of the many blessings God has given us, with others? Our Heavenly Father gave his only son, as a gift to all mankind! How can we show our love and thanks to God this Christmas, by sharing with another?

Prayer: Father, don’t allow me to forget all that You have done for me in times past. And Lord, help me to share with others you may “point out” to me at this Christmas season. Thank you, Father. Amen.

Pastor Bill

 

Scripture taken from THE MESSAGE. Copyright® 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2001. Used by Permission of NavPress Publishing Group, All Rights Reserved. http://www.navpress.com (1-800-366-7788).

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NICKNAMES

As a small boy I found myself growing up in a situation which, to my young mind, became more humiliating as each year passed by. You see, I had been named after my two grandfathers, one whose name was William. My parents chose to give me that name as a first name. That was not all that bad because my folks quickly set that formal-sounding name aside and simply called me, "Bill." Now, that was even all right with me until an event took place which was to have far-reaching effects upon our family–and especially me!

My Mother had been raised in Southern California where she became acquainted with a young girl who was soon her closest friend. They were almost inseparable, from what I have been told, as they grew from childhood into their teen years. Finally, becoming adults they each married and began to go their separate ways. My Mother moved to Northern Idaho while her friend stayed in Southern California where she had married a young man who worked in the oil fields near Long Beach.

Well, she stayed in California for a time, that is. Then, for some reason, my Mother’s friend and her husband decided they would move to Idaho. Before I realized the major consequences their decision was going to have on my life, they had moved into a log home only a few miles from the small rural community in which we lived.

It soon became apparent that the friendship between my Mother and her friend still flourished and it was demonstrated especially at holidays, like Christmas, and on other special days throughout the year. I soon learned to expect that we would either spend the special day at the home of my Mother’s friend, or they would spend it at ours. This went on year after year.

By now you may be wondering, "What is so terrible about that? What is wrong with having a close friend live nearby? What in the world is wrong with getting together on special occasions with another family, such as this?"

Sure, you may be thinking something like that. But let me explain all this a little bit further. You see, my Mother’s friend had married a fellow who was nice enough, but he was tall. Oh, was he ever tall! In fact, I saw him a number of years ago and he was still tall! I looked up at him when I stood next to him. He was one tall man. In fact, he was a big man! A big, tall man! Oh, yes he was!

By now you may be wondering, "What is wrong with being tall, . . . . or big, . . . . . or big and tall? What in the world could be wrong with that?"

Well, I’ll tell you. His name was William. That’s right. Just like mine—William. And everyone called him, "Bill," just like I was called.

Someone is probably thinking, by now, "So what is wrong with having the same name as someone else?"

Well, it’s like this: He was big, remember? And I was just a young boy, at the time. That would not have been so bad but every time our families were together there began to be mix-ups with two Bills in the house. We would get ready to sit down at the table to eat and someone would say, "Why don’t you sit over there, Bill."

It never seemed to fail–I would head for the seat being pointed at and find it was the other Bill—the tall one—who was being addressed. I would be out in the backyard playing while the adults would be seated on chairs around the fire or at the picnic table and someone would holler out, "Bill. Come here."

Sometimes it was me they were hollering for and sometimes it wasn’t. It became very confusing and I am sure it was the cause of me getting in hot water with my parents more than once. I would be busy doing something any young boy might be doing and hear my name called and decide that it must be the other Bill who was wanted. That was not always the case and my Mother would let me know in no uncertain terms!

Well, the confusion was finally ended but at what I saw as great cost to me. It would have been a humiliating thing for any growing boy to have happen. The other Bill was given a nickname; Big Bill. And you can guess what I began to be called. Yes, that’s right—Little Bill! . . . . . Little Bill!

Now, when it came time to sit down at the table the directions were clear and explicit and we all knew who they were directed at. It was, "Big Bill. . . . You sit here. Little Bill. . . . You sit over there." Little Bill! Oh, me!

What made this even worse was that we would occasionally be in a public place, like a park or picnic ground, and whenever I was wanted someone would call out, "Hey! Little Bill. Come here!" It was mortifying for a young boy, let me tell you!

But, it got even worse. By the time I was in junior high school I was growing like a bean sprout on a warm spring day. It was not long before I was only a little shorter than "Big Bill." But, what did I continue to get called? How was I constantly referred to? You guessed it–Little Bill!

In the case of Mary and Joseph, the angel gave the name of the child to be born of Mary by the Spirit of God. The angel instructed Joseph that the child was to be called Jesus, a name full of meaning, the Greek equivalent of Joshua, meaning that Jehovah saves His people. We are glad that Heaven decided on that name, for it is full of significance to us sinners.

In Matthew 1:21 we find these words: "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

Jesus is many things to many people. I suppose we might say that he has been given many nicknames. I was reminded of this again recently when I read the following about Jesus:

To the artist He is the One Altogether Lovely.

To the architect He is the Chief Cornerstone.

To the astronomer He is the Sun of Righteousness.

To the baker He is the Living Bread.

To the banker He is the Hidden Treasure.

To the biologist He is the Life.

To the carpenter He is the Sure Foundation.

To the doctor He is the Great Physician.

To the educator He is the Great Teacher.

To the farmer He is the Sower and Lord of the Harvest.

To the florist He is the Lily of the Valley and the Rose of Sharon.

To the geologist He is the Rock of Ages.

To the horticulturist He is the True Vine.

To the judge He is the Righteous Judge.

To the juror He is the True Witness.

To the jeweler He is the Pearl of Great Price.

To the editor He is the Good Tidings of Great Joy.

To the oculist He is the Light of the Eyes.

To the philosopher He is the Wisdom of God.

To the printer He is the True Type.

To the servant He is the Good Master.

To the student He is the Incarnate Truth.

To the toiler He is the Giver of Rest.

To the Sinner He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.

To the Christian, He is the Son of the Living God, the Savior, the Redeemer and Lord!

I wonder; if God gave us "nicknames" based on the characteristics of our spiritual lives, what would our names be?

Prayer: Father, help my name to be one that is recognized by those around me as the name of a person who serves Jesus and lives a Christ-like life. Thank you, Father. Amen.

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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OL’ SPECK

My brother, Andy, and I had been having an absolutely fantastic day off from school as our small rural community found itself blanketed under a steadily increasing pile of snow. It simply could not have been a better week for two young boys. We had spent several hours outside tearing around in the snow, enjoyed a superb lunch, and even caught a nap in the living room in mid afternoon.

We had gathered our clothes from the racks they had been drying on near the old wood stoves in our house and were soon dressed up and headed back outside to enjoy all that white stuff again. We added some height to the walls of the snow fort we had built out near the street where we could hide behind its walls and not be seen by cars and the occasional log trucks passing slowly by in front of us. You needed something to hide behind after you had lobbed a snowball at a passing vehicle, you understand.

Finally, beginning to get a bit tired as the light of the short winter day began to disappear, we determined it was time to get inside and warmed back up once more. Besides, it must be nearly time for the Story Lady. With that thought uppermost in our minds we took the broom our Mom had left on the porch and dusted the snow off each other, went into the house and got out of our damp clothing. A short time later we were seated at the kitchen table, a cup of hot chocolate in front of each of us, and the radio on and tuned to KWSC, the radio station which broadcast from Washington State College at the time. We were now all prepared to listen to the “Story Lady” program for children that came on each afternoon during the week. This was long before anyone in our little town had a TV set. Radios were the accepted form of “wireless” entertainment during those days.

As we began to listen to listen to the “Story Lady” read the story for the afternoon, Mom was busy around us cooking the evening meal and our lips were already beginning to water as we smelled the aroma of frying chicken and gravy cooking for the mashed potatoes. Oh, boy, it was going to be a great supper time! You see, we didn’t just have fried chicken on Sunday—we sometimes had it on other days, as well!

After our dad closed up the little country post office we lived next to, where he was the postmaster, he came home and the five of us sat down for supper. Yah, I probably haven’t talked a lot about it, but my brother and I had an older sister. Anyway, we were all around the big oak dining room table and my brother and I had been the lucky ones. We had drawn the two long straws my mother held up so we got the drumsticks and our sister had to take something else. Drumsticks were what counted for two young boys, let me tell you! Oh, yes!

After supper was over Dad asked Andy and me if we wanted to go to the barn with him to take care of Ol’ Speck, our milk cow. It only took a few minutes for my brother and me to get back into our warm clothes and we headed out with Dad, one of us on each side of him as we stepped out into the dark night, the cold air just about taking our breath away.

Wow! It had really become cold. It wasn’t snowing any longer and the sky had cleared off so you could see the billions and billions of stars. Say, it was quite a sight, let me tell you. And you should have heard the noise our rubber boots made walking on that snow. It was a loud mix between a squeak and a crunch. You could probably call it a "scrunch!"

Well, we walked the several hundred yards to the barn. It was all dark and black and there was no sound coming from inside at all. Dad pulled the long wooden pin out of the latch, slid the bar back and opened the door. It was even blacker inside than it was outside!

You know, there is something about barns. I have been in quite a few of them over the years and they all are pretty much alike. The minute Dad opened that door the smell of the hay struck our nostrils. I always liked the smell of hay—even if it does make me sneeze. We stepped through the door and Dad reached to the side and grabbed an old beat-up kerosene lantern he had hanging there. In a few moments he struck a match and the warmth of its soft, yellow light began to spread throughout the barn. Then Dad closed the door behind him and it seemed as if the place began to warm up a little, though I really doubt that it did.

There was Ol’ Speck. She was standing right next to what we called the "feed trough." She knew that my Dad was soon going to be placing several pitchforks of hay in front of her along with a can of oats. Ol’ Speck was no dummy! She knew it was her supper time!

Before long she was sounding pretty satisfied as she grabbed mouthfuls of hay and began chewing away on it. Every once in a while she would swish her tail around evidently showing her satisfaction as there were no flies to be shooed away this time of year. Occasionally she would stomp a hoof and drag it around on the thick planks that made up the floor of the barn. As Dad sat down on a little stool and put the bucket beneath Ol’ Speck, the streams of milk began to flow. I pulled one of my mittens off and place my hand on her side. She always felt nice and warm.

It wasn’t long before Dad had pretty well filled that milk bucket and he patted Ol’ Speck on the back and scratcher her head a bit and we prepared to step back out into the cold winter night to head back to the house with the fresh milk.

In Luke 2:4-7 we find these words: “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in clothes and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

I wonder if that Bethlehem family might have shared their “room” that night with a cow like Ol’ Speck that stomped its hooves occasionally or made crunching sounds as it chewed on something its owner had given it for dinner. I wonder how cold it might have been in that stable. Do you suppose Joseph and Mary may have had a small oil lamp to offer at least a little light of some kind? Hopefully they didn’t have to deal with snow.

But you know something? The Heavenly Father took care of all the arrangements for the coming of the baby Jesus. He was watching over and caring for that little family in Bethlehem that night. He had planned ahead for them! And you and I have the privilege of knowing that it is the very same loving Heavenly Father who watches over and cares for us! And He plans ahead for us, too.

Prayer: Thank you, Father, for the great love you continue to pour out on people around the world today—just as you did 2000 years ago. Thank you for the plans you have for each one of us. Thank you for loving us so very much. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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It was winter time. My brother, Andy, and I had been having a wild day in the several feet of new snow which had fallen over the past few days. We had just been downright ecstatic that morning when we got up and found that school had been cancelled for the rest of the week! Hey—alright! Now we could really get to work on building some snow forts, or maybe like the last year our Dad just might be talked into helping us build an igloo—a real igloo—out in the side yard next to our house.

My mother helped my brother and me get on our long johns, our wool pants, flannel shirts, sweaters and our winter caps with the big ear flaps which were held down by a strap that went under our chins. We then put on extra wool socks, our heavy shoes, and then buckled on our black overshoes. The final thing, after Mom made each of us put a wool scarf around our necks, were the warm mittens over our hands. Hey, we were ready!

And let me tell you, I was really ready. I had gotten dressed a good deal ahead of my brother and I had already started to sweat from all the clothing I was wearing in the house as we stood in front of the old wood heater, looking through the thin layers of mica at the flames dancing inside.

Finally, my brother was ready and we headed for the front door. The first thing we found was that we had to take a mitten off to open the slick, shiny black doorknob. Then Mom said to “git going!” and we went running out the door. Within seconds both of us had dived into the deep, soft, powdery snow and begun to roll over and over. We stood up laughing at each other, covered in white from top to bottom.

I leaned over and picked up a large handful of snow and started trying to make a snowball. My brother saw what I was doing and he took off running. I tried to throw the snowball but the snow was so dry I had been unable to pack it well and I ended up with a handful of snow blown back into my face. My brother ran up a little hill (really just a large pile of dirt that we called a “hill”) that was close beside our house and he let out a yell as if he had just been attacked by someone or something and fell backwards off the hill into the soft powdery snow.

Oh, let me tell you, we were having fun. We hadn’t been outside very long before our cheeks were bright read and we had both worked up a good sweat. And when you sweat you get thirsty, right? And when you are thirsty and have all that white stuff around you, what do you do? Sure! You begin eating snow.

Well, I could go on and on about the fun we had that day the school closed down. A little before noon our mother started rapping on the big picture window in our house until she got our attention. Then she motioned us to come inside. We found her waiting at the front door with a broom. Hey, you probably know what for. We were told to use it on each other—to clean the snow off each other, of course! It does seem as if Andy would get just a little bit carried away with the swats he was giving me on the back now and then, though!

Well, it wasn’t long and we were seated at the kitchen table with a hot bowl of soup and crackers in front of each of us. Say, I don’t know when hot mushroom soup has ever tasted so good. Our outer clothes and our mittens were draped around the living room stove and the old wood cook range in the kitchen in an attempt to get them to dry out. In fact, steam was starting to come off the mittens which were on a rack back of the stove. And we still had a half a day to go.

Mom had some music playing on the radio that was out on the kitchen table. We boys did not always appreciate the kind of music our folks listened to but a person had to admit, it was kind of comforting at times. In fact, after mushroom soup, a warm room and with that music, a young boy could almost be convinced a snooze would be in order. Say, now, there were some might good things that could happen when school was canceled because of snow!

You know, it speaks of snow in the Bible in a number of places. In fact, listen to these words from Psalm 147, including portions of verses 1, 16, 20:”Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! . . . . He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes. . . . . Praise the Lord.”

I suspect that young boys and girls during Bible times enjoyed the snow just as much as my brother and I did. I am not sure they ever got to “skip” school because of snow (they were probably home schooled, you understand) but I think they still enjoyed it immensely.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your awesome creation, the seasons of each year and especially winter, when children of all ages can enjoy the splendor of snow and the reality that our Lord sends it upon the land where it brings with it an extraordinary beauty, a quietness and a sense of peace. Thank you for caring for us, Lord. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pastor Bill

 

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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That scrumptious Sunday dinner was beginning to wind down. My brother and I ate rapidly because our afternoon was just getting started. We were headed for the hills—okay, how about the “woods.” That’s what we called it when we went to the mountains east of our little town. And we were on a mission! Well, kind of like a mission. You see, our family was heading into the woods with our old Chevrolet truck to get trees. Now, I should probably tell you, that truck was quite the thing. It was old. How old? It was old enough that it had a small hole in the center of the front bumper. Some of you already know what that was for, don’t you? Sure, it was for the crank. But some of you are thinking: “Crank? What’s a crank? Isn’t that the old guy that lives next door to Grandma and Grandpa?”

Well, stick with me a bit. First off, cars and trucks weren’t quite as dependable at that time as they are now—and that included the batteries. Trucks, and even cars during those days, usually had a crank that was carried along, often under the seat. You didn’t start that truck by simply inserting the key into the ignition and turning it. In fact, I don’t know that this old truck even had a key. Nor was there even a button on the dash like Popular Mechanics magazine may have been talking about at that time that all the really “modern” vehicles had. No, what we called the “starter” was on the floor. Sure it was. You got into the truck, turned a switch on the dashboard to the “ON” position, and then you took your foot and pushed on the starter, which was located on the floor. It took a pretty good hard push, too, before you would hear and feel the starter begin to turn, and therefore the engine would begin to turn over. And if the charge in the battery was weak and didn’t have a good charge? Hey, that’s where you got the old crank out, put the end of it through the bumper and felt your way along with it till it engaged the hole in the wheel on the front of the engine made for it, and then you put your muscle into it—and I mean put your muscle into it—throwing your weight into turning the crank and starting the old truck. And I should tell you that we used that crank quite a bit, too, from what I remember.

By the way, as I think back on that old truck it reminds me of the turn signal. And it did have one. Pretty modern and “up town,” right? Well, hardly. It was a long piece of metal, shaped kind of like an arrow someone would point with, and it hung from the corner of the cab, on the outside, behind the driver’s head. Sure, some of you folks know just what I am talking about. You can remember reaching up over your head next to the door and pulling on the cable, or chain to make that signal move so that people behind you knew which direction you were about to turn. If any of you don’t know what I’m talking about, go ask your Grandma or Grandpa, or maybe your Mom or Dad. See if they can’t describe it to you.

Say, here I go again, getting way off track. Anyway, we were headed for the woods on a mission of sorts. A mission to get Christmas trees—lots of trees. Christmas trees for nearly everyone in our extended family, or so it seemed. And we were going to get tall trees, short trees, and trees in between!

This had become an annual event in our family. I had concluded that there must be very few trees fit to serve as a Christmas tree in the state of California. I had determined that fact because most of the trees we were cutting were for relatives and friends who lived in Southern California. For a little more than a dollar or two each, my parents would wrap freshly cut white fir trees securely in burlap bags (gunny sacks to my brother and me), attach mailing labels on the outside, and they would be hauled to the railroad stop in town where they would be shipped out along with all the other items the Postal Service was handling. When the relatives received the trees they would unwrap them, shake them a little bit to allow the branches to fold back out, and before long have one of the best looking Christmas trees on the block decorated cheerfully in their living room. They always seemed to appreciate the trees.

But that Sunday afternoon trip was more than just getting the relatives a Christmas tree. We always found one for our own family, too. My Mom and Dad, with plenty of helpful advice from my brother and me, would search through the forest until we found a tree that we knew would be just right for our living room. It had to be tall and bushy. In fact, we usually had to cut a portion off the bottom to get it into our living room, and sometimes even a piece off the top so a star could be placed at the very top of the tree right against the ceiling. We liked big Christmas trees!

While my parents were looking for trees for the relatives, cutting them and dragging them to the truck, my brother and I would be scouting around for our own trees. You see, each year when we went on this tree-cutting trip we found our own trees which went in our bedroom. Since we were each determined to have our very own tree, and we slept in the same room, our bedroom had two trees each Christmas. Each was decorated in a wild sort of way and even had lights on them, as I remember. Now, these trees we picked for ourselves were never more than 2-3 feet tall. We liked them a little on the small side so we could get both of them in the room, for one thing.

It seemed like it was no time at all before the old truck was loaded with trees and it was time to head back to town, driving a bit slower as we bounced over the rough mountain roads, getting home just about the time the late winter sun was sinking below the horizon. We “men” unloaded the trees, standing them up in a corner of the yard alongside the house. They were going to be making some folks mighty happy before long. Mom stoked up the two wood stoves in the house and before long we were pulling off our mittens, stocking caps, boots and heavy clothing we had been wearing to keep the winter chill away. And then, before we headed out the door for church once again, it was time for hot chocolate. And it wasn’t the “instant” kind, you understand. They did not have instant hot chocolate in those days, as far as I can remember. It took time to heat and prepare but hey, was it ever good—lip-smacking good! And then, like I said, it was off to church again. We had church on Sunday nights in that little town—hard wooden benches and all. But those church benches being hard didn’t stop two young boys from catching some much deserved rest after a hard day getting the Christmas trees in.

You know, those trees no doubt helped some of our friends and relatives have a happier Christmas. But have you ever thought of trees being “happy”? In Psalm 96 beginning with verse 11, we find these word: “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth.”

Almost sounds as if creation was getting ready for Christmas!

Prayer: Father, help us to see a fresh, new reason for praise as we look at creation all about us. You have blessed us with so much and yet we often fail to really see it and understand all that You have done for us. Thank you, Father. Amen.

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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SUNDAY DINNER

It was Sunday. I imagine, as I think back upon it after all these years that it was probably in early December. My mother had hustled my younger brother, Andy, and I out of church and the two blocks up the street to our home. My brother and I enjoyed going to Sunday school and church. Other than “regular” school it was the main source of social activities for us. In a community which probably could boast of 100 people on a good day, the small white church we attended was typical of many small towns across our country. It had a steeple with a bell in it. That bell did not just set up there idle, it was rung several times each Sunday, announcing that Sunday school was about to begin, and later, the morning church service was ready to start.

The church was painted white on the outside, like any good country church would have been during those days, and when you stepped inside you found yourself in a small sanctuary with a wood floor that slanted downwards toward the front till it became level a few feet before the altar. I wonder, how many times over the years I heard a penny, nickel or dime dropped onto the floor by some little urchin at the back of the sanctuary, and then listened as it rolled all the way to the front, coming to a stop against the altar. That always seemed to happen during a moment of silence or at some particular point in the pastor’s sermon where it was sure to cause a disturbance and gain the attention of the entire congregation for a few moments.

I suppose, in looking back after all these years, that the floor and the pews are the two main things I remember about that little church. The pews were made out of wood and had no cushion of any kind. Let me tell you, now, they made it difficult for a boy to get a decent bit of a nap during the pastor’s sermon unless you were really worn out from a good SS class.

Well, I am getting off track here. Let me get back to my story. Mom and my brother and I had hurried home, like I mentioned. My Dad, who did not attend church with us, had the long oval-shaped table in the dining room set with dishes and silverware upon a blue and white checkerboard pattern tablecloth. I would not be surprised if we could have smelled the sweet aromas coming from our kitchen long before we entered the house. A mouth-watering meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, and sourdough biscuits browned just right and hot out of the oven was about to be placed on the table.

My brother and I needed no urging from Mom or Dad to dip some hot water out of the boiler on the wood range in the kitchen, splash it into the metal wash pan, and quickly give our hands a washing. Sometimes we even used a bit of soap that our grandma had made! That stuff could clean your hands in a snap, let me tell you! And you “felt” clean after using it.

Dad placed the last of the piping hot serving dishes on the table. A thin curl of steam was drifting upwards from the hot mashed potatoes and, on looking closely; the same was true for all the other bowls and dishes on the table it seemed. It appeared as if all that food was just crying out for two hungry boys, fresh from napping through the last half of the friendly pastor’s sermon, to “dig in” and savor every single bite before it cooled. And my brother and I seemed to take full responsibility to insure that none of this bounty was wasted.

Say, now. What a meal that was! It was not unusual for us to be joined by extended family members or friends for Sunday dinner—they all knew about the meals my Dad prepared. And then the “old” folks would sit around the table long after the plates had been scraped clean and the food had been cleared away, just talking—just visiting, telling stories, and enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company. Those were really good times.

You know something? I believe that Jesus enjoyed the dinner table during the time when He walked upon this earth. In reading through the Gospels in the New Testament you find numerous occasions when he was seated at the table with folks, enjoying their company and, no doubt, some good food. He dined with all classes and manner of folks and the people must have appreciated that. He also used the occasions at the table to share significant teachings as well as to give some of those closest to Him important instructions. In Acts 1:4 we find these words: “On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’”

Those instructions, and that promise, and the impact it continues to have on the lives of Christians, was given at the dinner table! Aren’t you thankful for the dinner table? The next time you sit down at the table, whether it is with few or many, please try not to rush—take time to enjoy the company of the others present as well as the food set before you. Listen to what folks are saying. And don’t be afraid to share with them, either.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for the example of the “dinner table” you have given us. Help us appreciate its significance in our lives as we begin our meals with prayer and close them with wonderful  and unhurried fellowship. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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SHOWER OF SPARKS

A loud “pop” over our heads made all of us turn and look towards the top of the tall white pine tree. A shower of sparks was falling toward us from the high tree top which had been set afire by lightning during the previous night.

Someone yelled, “Look out!  Run!  Watch your heads!”   I was already bounding away from the spot near the base of the tree where I had been working with the others, trying to dig a fire line to help contain the small blaze.

I took several long leaps and dove beneath the shadow of a large fir tree, its branches drooping close to the ground.  Holding my metal hard hat tightly onto my head, I watched as sparks and burning embers from the tree top landed around me on the ground and in the branches of the nearby trees.

Oh, boy!  Now our job was going to become even more difficult.  There was no doubt that the flaming material from the tree top was going to spread the fire to an even greater area as more of the heavy carpet of dry pine needles and grass covering the ground ignited.  Looking cautiously out from beneath the branches of the tree I was under, it appeared the sudden “spark shower” was over.  It was time to go back to work.

Taking our shovels, I and several other men quickly began an attempt to cover the dry ground around us where the hot sparks and burning embers had landed, throwing dirt on them in an effort to extinguish them.  More than once I found myself brushing at sparks that frequently continued to drift down from the burning tree top to land on my arms or shoulders.  It was not long before I found I was not always quick enough.  A spark would land on my shirt, burn through it until it touched my skin, and I would let out an “Ouch!” as I slapped at it with my gloved hand.

Have you ever been around someone when they seemed to be having one of those days where, with unpleasant regularity, they sent a “shower of sparks and burning embers” flying towards all those who were around them.  Some of the sparks may have “burned” you, leaving an unpleasant sting that did not heal quickly.

In the Bible, in the New Testament book of James, we find these words: “. . . . Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire. . . .” (James 3:5-6)

It is not pleasant to be around the person whom we might describe as having a tongue such as the writer of James describes.  Yet, we must examine our own conduct, insuring that we are so very careful that we are not the source of a shower of sparks which can do irreparable damage to those around us and with whom we come in contact.

With God’s help, we can be known as a person whose words will encourage and lift up those with whom we come in contact.  Let each of us strive to be known as individuals from whom there is no danger of a damaging shower of sparks!

Prayer: Ah, Lord. Please help me to speak words that encourage, lift up and bring healing to those around me. Always, Lord, always. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen.

Pastor Bill

Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™   Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

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