Monday, December 22, 2014

Shepherd's Tale - A Christmas Story

Abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night and suddenly-----

The lights came on. The quiet night, their quiet lives were impacted with a Word from God. They were afraid. Natural reaction to the sudden and unknown, but soon they were reassured..."Fear not." How many times in the scriptures does God tell us to "fear not?" You would think by now we would have gotten it.

Then the message, the Good News, the Gospel. And fear evolved to wonder and anticipation. Let's go see - and they did. Wow! Just like God said - How many times has that happened in our lives? - they had been with Jesus; they knew He was the Son of God; they knew this would change their world - Emmanuel: God is with us - go tell the story; and they did; simple shepherds, the first preachers.

When they returned to their "abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night," things were different. God had entered their lives in a mighty way, and they had been with Jesus. Now they were shepherds "glorifying and praising God" They had visited the Christ Child.

So have we. Before all else this season, can we glorify and praise God for all we have "heard and seen" Him do. Christ is with us. Joy to the world -Emanuel

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Shepherds and Wise Men - A Christmas Story

The shepherds couldn't wash their hands enough to suit orthodox religiosity. Because of their constant care of their herds, they could not observe all the ceremonial hand washings and all the other rules and regulations required to be good and proper. These simple men were looked down upon by orthodox religious leaders.

Yet, it was these simple men that the coming of Jesus was first announced. And, I think about the wise men who had to come from afar whereas these shepherds were "in the same country." The wise men had to follow a star, but the second class citizen shepherds were honored with an angel of the Lord making the announcement. The "glory of the Lord shone round about them." The angel made the announcement giving clear directions to the Christ child. And a multitude from heaven had a praise service glorifying God. The shepherd had lots more than a single star to follow across a foriegn country. They got the message vividly, personally, and they were close enough to walk to see Jesus.

This is not to take away from the faithfulness and the arduous travel of the wise men, but they had much farther to come on many levels. They had so many other things that came between them and worship of the Lord. They had money; probably had influence. They lived in a different culture. Yet they set aside all that to follow what the Lord had put in their hearts and the star God had provided for them.

And I think about our culture, with all of our personal "stuff," both materially and personally that can come between us and Jesus. Perhaps, we too have far to come and much to set aside to truly worship our Savior "which is Christ the Lord." At this Christmas season I would hope we would listen: listen to what God has put upon our hearts and put aside all that would come between us to take the hard path to follow our star to go and worship the Christ child.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

No Room – A Christmas Story



They had traveled for probably a week or more, on foot or riding a donkey through tough terrain. She was in the last stage of pregnancy. Yet, when they arrived at their destination, there was no room at the inn for them to stay. The gift of love God was sending to earth was turned away, to be born in a stable. Everyone had been ordered to go to their hometown to be taxed, so the hotel business was booming. There was no room for the Savior to be born. However, the innkeeper did let them have the stable. At least that was someplace as crude as conditions might have been. But, all the rooms inside were already occupied.
A law of physics says that two things can’t occupy the same space at the same time. The only way for the family of Jesus to have a room would have been if one of the guests would be removed from their room. Are my rooms all filled? Are yours? The Gift of Love comes to our doors daily asking for room. Does He find the rooms filled with the things of earth? Will we ask some of room-filling guests to leave so Jesus might be born in our hearts? Will we let the Christ Child in to be born there, but to grow strong there, to occupy more and more rooms once filled with stuff. What is occupying the room Jesus should have to be born afresh each day in my heart? What keeps Jesus from booking my whole inn? And then, when the world comes knocking at the door, I can say “There is no room. They are booked to Jesus.”

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Believing in the Rest of the Best

Yesterday I didn't have a lot of time for my swim. My plan called for 1.2 mile swim but I wasn't sure I could get it all in before having to leave for another commitment. Going right at it, I struck a good turnover, hoping to hold that until I got at least a large portion of my swim done before having to leave. The pace continued. I never stopped; never slowed up, done. The 1.2 miles were covered and I still felt strong.

Upon reflection, I felt a special thankfulness that I can do that. Ten years ago or more, when I swam my first mile, I had to stop and recoup several times. It was painfully much slower than my swim today. Amazing. I am over ten years older and can swim longer and harder now. God has been so good to me.

And it made me think. If my swimming can get better with age, if my best swimming years had been before me, then what else much greater can the Lord have in store for me? It might not be in the physical realm, but I believe God will keep His promises. And though this body will age, I will be thankful that, yes indeed, my best is still yet to come. My best swim, my best run, my best bike, or nothing compared to the rest of the best that the Lord has in store for me, through Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Be The Man You Have Always Wanted To Be

"Be the man you have always wanted to be," That is the wording of some spam sent to me, suggesting I get their product to pump up my masculinity, so to speak. I smiled. But something about the phrase made me think a little deeper. Am I the man I have always wanted to be? Setting aside the masculinity stuff, I pondered the question. I thought back over all I have done; all the places within and without that I have been, and the direction I am heading; the path I am on. Am I the man I have always wanted to be? Goodness! But I have taken a lot of wrong turns; done some things I needed a lot of forgiveness for. I have made enough mistakes and fallen often enough that I just have to laugh at myself. But, I have been forgiven and I have bee freed; picked up and set aright, and put back on course. Now, with most of my lifetime behind me, and my days drawing closer to the finish line. It brings forth the vision of me at the end of a race. It is night. Lights are beaming all around. I am coming down the chute toward the finish line. I am waving, smiling, and closer inspection reveals tears of joy are streaming down my face.

"I have finished my course. I have kept the faith. Now, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day:" II Tim 4:7-8

There have been many finish line moments on this course called life, and I am thankful for them all. Each adventure in faith has built upon the other, bringing me closer to God. And, one day when I find myself running toward that final finish line that looms ahead in the night, I know I have that "blessed assurance" that, thanks to Jesus, I am finally the man I have always wanted to be; the one He wanted me to be.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Come See Me

"Come see me” Nick used to say. He would look up at me with a smile that spoke of an admiration he had for me. It’s heavy to be looked up to. Sometimes it seems I can only maintain while fearing to fail and disappoint someone: or worse, turn them from the faith. I would hope that anyone who chose to look up to me would see my frailties and my scars too.

Nick was not the church favorite, but he was usually there willing to help. However, no one really wanted him to. I don't know, maybe Nick wasn't churchy enough or just wasn't part of the group. Nick was different. He was a Viet Nam veteran and the experience had taken its toll; his weathered face spoke volumes of the sordid life he had led. His family had more or less disowned him when he became a street person. Now he was living in a run down, falling down trailer back in the woods not far from the church. The road to his house was an adventure trek. Once I did try to go see him but it had rained and the road was downright dangerous. He had no electricity and no heat in his trailer. All he had was a vagrant dog that frequently went into a rage and chewed Nick’s arms up. He usually showed up at church with cuts, bite marks and occasionally bandages on his arms from the mauling of his dog.

I sat by Nick in church as much as possible. He wouldn’t tell much about his past but he seemed to enjoy hearing the Word from what he called “the Good Book.” And it always hurt my heart to hear Nick volunteer to do something then watch the smirks form in the corner of the eyes and lips of the members of the congregation. I wonder how I looked when he asked me to come see him?

I left that church and Nick - you might say. If there was one good reason to stay, it would have been for Nick. Once he called me – I am not sure how - and told me how much he missed me at church, and if I wasn’t coming to church could I “come see me sometime.” I didn’t. Nick died.

He was found dead in his cold, falling down trailer by a neighbor who had not seen him out in a few days. And I wonder, did his death even make a ripple in the church or community conversations? I wonder, how many others felt the guilt, the shame, the heavy heart of one who calls themselves a Christian and yet failed to love my brother as I could have. I can still hear him saying, “Come see me, Marvin.” One day, when I am called home - at the appointed time - I will come see him – finally.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hoeing Weeds

I have had a substantial garden for over 30 years. You might say at one time we practically had a truck farm, here. It is a lot of work but there is something about taking an area of brush and weeds and through care and cultivation, make the land say vegetables. This is not my concept. Henry David Thoreau in his book Walden tells of the experience of taking a weed patch near his cabin and making it say beans.


And one thing that I have found is that the same moist, fertile, and loamy soil that can grow great vegetables, is an equally great medium to grow weeds. So, a part of gardening is hoeing and pulling weeds, to relieve the competition for space, light, and nutrients from the purposed plants I want to grow and bear fruit.


Life can be like that. We can turn areas of brush and weeds into fertile areas of our lives through cultivation, hoeing and pulling out the competing weeds. Once pulled or hoed, the weeds will try to come back. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” The price of becoming who we are, is perpetual cultivation; hoeing and pulling the weeds of our lives; the doubts, the fears, the indulgences, the weaknesses that crop up, stealing our light, our spirit’s nutrients, and occupying the time and space we would have used for growth.


The scripture says, -----let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets us and run the race that is set before us.” (Heb 12:1) Sounds like hoeing weeds to me: Hoeing and pulling from all from our lives that slows our growth from running the race God has set before us.

Friday, September 5, 2014

An Answered Prayer: Nothing I Asked For - Everything I Hoped For

Soldier's Prayer




"I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all people, most richly blessed."

{found on page 536 of The War Between the States}

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Overcoming the Love of the Plastic Easter Egg



The baby bird was barely alive. The children felt a need to take it inside, give it water, and try to nurture it back to health. The baby bird died. The children were very sad and couldn’t understand why it had to die. An adult put the baby bird in a one half of a plastic Easter egg . “We can close the egg up and bury the bird right here in the flower garden,” the children were told.

“Bury him in my plastic Easter egg?” the child asked. Can we take him out of the egg, and bury him in something else so I can have my egg back?”

We have all the sounds and symbols of compassion down pretty good. And we can be moved with pity – that is - unless it were to cost us something: unless it costs us one our plastic Easter eggs. A child’s plastic egg viewpoint might be understood, but could it be we are more and more becoming more in love with what we have that is plastic, more impressed by our own bells and whistles than loving our neighbors as ourselves. Do we ever really deny ourselves anything. What plastic Easter egg am I willing to bury in the spirit of love and concern for others?

Denial-less love: is it love at all? Or, is our love a ruse we unconsciously perform to maintain the illusion of our own goodness? Oh yes, we have such compassion. We love so deeply and truly – that’s the spin. But do we really only love until it might cost us something? Can we truly love, and not want our plastic Easter egg back? I think we should: with God’s help, I think we can.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Praise God for the Bloom



The time of the bloom when a rush of nature’s beauty bursts forth. The preparation through youth and inexperience culminate in the bloom of life. That special time when health and vigor peak in our lives: when the petals of our flower open to consummate in beauty and ultimately bear fruit, then wither to die, leaving a seed of legacy, bearing bloom instructions for the next generation.

As an aging-up athlete and child of God, I can see this in myself. As my bloom fades into history, I can look toward others just blooming and appreciate - live the bloom vicariously within, and praise God for the bloom, the fruit.

For now, I am an old dead plant, stiff, and brown, standing against the winter in life, as if to say I am still sturdy. I bloomed in my time. My empty seed husk bears witness my life bore fruit in due season. And, my life is still speaking, still growing my legacy in that I am still standing; still remembering my bloom-time; counting my blessings; praising God for the bloom; praising God for the withered plant, the seed of hope, and the revelation of eternity through life and death and resurrection to eternity through Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Hundred Years Old

Ellen Dittfurth – Age 100

Born 7/18/14 – a few weeks before World War I and about six years before women had the right to vote. She was the oldest of three children born to James and Abigail Thompson. Her father was an accountant and part-time preacher.
Ellen used to recall how she loved to go on trips with her father to hear father preach. Ellen finished high school in Cold Springs, Texas, valedictorian of her class of twelve.
During the depression her father had a job in a bank in Shepherd, Texas. Ellen often helped her father in the bank and learned her bookkeeping skills through this type of unpaid apprenticeship.
One day the bank in Shepherd was robbed and Ellen’s father roughed up. The robbery had a telling physical and mental impact on her father, who recommended to the bank that they allow Ellen to take his place. She did and became the breadwinner of the family during these hard times. Her father died less than a year later.

The Shepherd bank finally had to close, and Ellen went to work as a waitress in the café across the street. There she met a handsome young man named Louis Dittfurth, who was working in the area cutting and hauling logs. She said she just knew that he was the one she wanted. So, she asked him out on a date. She was the one with a vehicle, and they went to the Fat Stock Show and Rodeo in Houston. They were married in the summer of 1941.

December 7, 1941 the young couple had gone squirrel hunting. In the peaceful East Texas forest they first heard the news of Pearl Harbor on the car radio; an event which would change the direction of their lives. Louis was called into service in the US Army. Exactly two years from Pearl Harbor Day, their first child, Marvin, was born. During the war Ellen lived in Laredo, San Antonio and Tennessee as she and her young child followed Louis around to his stateside duty stations. He served in the European and Pacific theatres of the war and when it was finally over, they settled back in Cold Springs where Louis went back to hauling logs for the local sawmill. They also lived in Corrigan for a while before moving back to Cold Springs. During these times, Ellen gave birth to her two daughters Shirley Marlene and Joyce Ann.

Looking for a better future for themselves and their young family, they moved to Houston when Louis went to work as a Houston fireman. At first, the family had to live in a rent house on a rough side of town. When Louis worked nights Ellen slept with a bayonet and a machete next to her bed. On one occasion when Louis was working nights, a man banged loudly on the door. Mother got out of bed with the bayonet in one hand and the machete in the other, and went to the front door. There she shouted loudly and waved the machete menacingly. The man left.

Within a year or so, they bought a small new home in a better part of town, and Ellen got a job at a milk distribution company as a bookkeeper. She worked there many years, and when the company was going under, she was the last employee kept working before the doors closed.
When Louis retired from the Fire Department, they moved to Madisonville, Texas. There Ellen became involved in her church and other civic organizations. She was one of the founding board members of the Sonshine Center, which is still doing good work for the needy in the area.

When Louis was diagnosed with cancer, Ellen became his caretaker. For the next five years she dutifully cared for her ailing husband until Louis passed away in 1984. In 1985 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After surgery and recovery she began to travel . She has been on many cruises; she has been to Hawaii, taken an RV trip to Alaska, and has been to Branson many times. However, she always maintained that her trip to the Holy Land was the best.

Throughout, she has always loved to fish. When her son Marvin and his wife Pat bought a place on a small lake, she was always ready to go. After she fell and broke her hip, recovery and rehabilitation was done with the hope that one day, she could still get in the boat and fish She did. And, for several more years she fished. She said once that the fishing she had in her later years was the very best of all.

After a second hip surgery in her mid-nineties, she had complications and did not fully recover. Since then she has been confined to the Assisted Living in Madisonville, Texas. Nevertheless, she is still smiling, she is still a loving person, and if you ask her if she is happy, she will say yes, and that God has been good to her.

Friday, April 25, 2014

If Only for the Moments

Moments: would I do it all over again? The long rides, sometimes very hot, humid. Try to dry off, get the bike loaded, and get in the truck: air conditioning. Ah, thank you for auto air conditioning. It is hard to stop sweating; drink, drink. How nice. My wife has a small towel on top of some ice in a small cooler. Does that feel good on the back of the neck or what. And the cold recovery drink in there is sooo good. Call home, she answers, will be ready. A shower feels like heaven. She has a meal for me, good but can't eat it all. So tired, go to the bedroom all made dark and cool beforehand, lay between fresh cool sheets and sleep like death.

Such a blessing to have that kind of love and support...so many days, so many times she was there, propping me up when I was coming down. What she got out of it for herself? Not much. And I wish I could have finished this, completed this ironman, if only for her. She made me a visor to place on my office wall. It reads on the bill; "Marvin MY Ironman." Wish I could have made it true. But we have the journey behind us to reflect upon as I am doing now. The moments bring a slight smile and a warm feeling. Of course, I would do it all over again, if only for the moments.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Life Cannot Be Sealed Up in a Tomb"

It is not just about the cross but also about the tomb. Easter morning the tomb was empty. He was not there. "Because He lives, you shall live also." Do we? Or, do we call our lives hard names, and stay in the safety of the despair of our tombs and try to call it life?

Oh, the wildflowers of Easter I see on my bike rides, the peaceful feeling of a run well done, the rhythmic power of some good swim strokes in the soothing medium of water, the little children with their Easter baskets, the vibrant green grass, the singing birds, and the eternal Hope in my heart, which says "come on out, you are free from the law of sin and death, come on out to embrace the life I have called you to. I have paid the price; I have rolled your stone away from the tomb."

He is alive, and because He lives, I shall live also.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Credible Witness

The other day I was tilling the garden. My 7 year old granddaughter came out to the garden and began to follow me as I tilled row after row. She made large steps to step in the imprints that my feet made in the freshly turned earth. She was trying to walk in my steps. My first thought was how scary that was that she followed me so closely. What an awesome responsibility to provide a credible witness for a young soul to follow to Jesus.

As we walk through this world and call ourselves Christians, we can leave imprints in the soft earth of fertile minds and hearts. Will they follow in our steps? Have we shied away from the heavy responsibility of being credible witnesses for our Savior. Will others see our witness and want to follow where we have tilled. It occurred to me that, indeed, I want to be the credible witness for my granddaughter. I would like her to continue to be lead to follow where I tilled. And, if I am to be a credible witness that others might follow my footprints to Jesus, then I must follow the right footsteps myself. I must align my stride, my gait more closely to that of my Lord. I must follow in His steps. So, I pray; open the Word, and look for His footprints to follow.

I Peter 2:21: For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, the ye should follow His steps.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Learning to Love as Jesus Loved.

My granddaughter didn't feel well so I put her to bed, covered her, and lay beside her to comfort her. I told her I hated to see her feel bad and wished she felt so much better, "because I love you."

"I know," she said as she smiled warmly.

"And I will always love you until I die. And when I die I will love you from heaven. I will love you forever."
She snuggled closer, and I thought. I would die for her if I had to.

Then the epiphany: That is how Jesus loves: now and forever. That is what Jesus did. He died for me. How I love my granddaughter, is a small sampling of how Jesus loves me: now and forevermore. And I felt so honored that I had sampled just a bit of learning to love as Jesus loves.

But, it is easy to love my granddaughter, or members of my family. But it will be a difficult step in learning to love as Jesus loved. Things start coming apart when I try to love them that curse me, and pray for them which despitefully use me. On my own I can't do that. I must have the Holy Spirit to show me the way. Learning to love as Jesus loved is too big for my finite mind. All I know is I have to humble myself and pray - pray that I may learn to love to those who don't necessarily love me; learn to love more fully; learn to love as Jesus loved.

Luke 6: 28 -- "Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you."

Monday, February 10, 2014

Building a Fire

The fire had almost burned down while I had been out for my run. We put some fresh wood on and watched it smoke and smolder on the coals but it really provided little warmth. After a time I took some paper and stuffed it on the coals. The paper ignited, flames licked the smoldering wood and then the wood caught fire too. All the other fire joined in the flaming. We had a fire; we had warmth.

Sometimes our world is like that. Cool, with lots of smoke and little fire; no warmth. And when we are surrounded with like people as ourselves, we produce a lot of smoke but little warmth. We need something to elevate the temperatures of our lives so they burst into flame. We need Jesus. When we ignite Jesus upon our smoldering lives, we can catch fire too. We had the capacity already. We had laid there almost hot enough to come to flame but we couldn't do it on our own. We need Jesus to bring out what is already there, ready to burst to flames; to give light, to share warmth, the warmth of the Love of God to a cold and shivering world.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Beautiful

As I write stories of my life, there are common threads that seem to reappear. One of them is beauty. So many times my heart and soul and mind have been thrilled by the beauty of God's world. Sunrises, sunsets, dense fogs, violent storms, beautiful flowers, beautiful moments of inspiration permeate the tale of my life. And when I experience beauty, I find I simultaneously experience God. At the end of it all though, I have found, is that experiencing God is the most beautiful of all.