Friday, December 31, 2010

Auld Lang Syne

Growing up in the last half of the 20th Century I can vividly remember many of the 60 New Years Eves I have celebrated. They have ranged from quiet family get togethers, to parties (some family friendly - some not so much!) We have set off firecrackers as kids back in the 50's, attended concerts, and some Watch Night Church Services, youth lock ins in several churches. We have celebrated alone and with others, sometimes in restaurants, sometimes in friends homes. Linda and I observed New Year's Eve 2009-2010 as we drove back home overnight from New Orleans to Ashland, KY. We have watched the ball drop on Time Square, and seen the ageless Dick Clark host numerous "New Year's Rockin' Eve" on television.

One of the memories I have from childhood was hearing Guy Lombardo and his orchestra playing a tune entitled "Auld Lang Syne" as the revelers rang out the old and rang in the new year. As I got older, I heard people actually singing the lyrics of the song, but I confess that it was one of those songs that "you know some of the words". It had a haunting tune, but alas, the words were basically a mystery. I recently decided that before I check out of this life, it would be nice to learn a little more about the song - where did it come from? What did it really mean?

I learned that a poem by that name was written by Scottish poet, Robert Burns in 1788. Burns set it to the music of a traditional Scot folk song. The words "Auld Lang Syne" have been loosely translated into English as "old long since", "days gone by", and most popularly, "for old time sake". The song has become a staple to be played or sung on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, and has also become popular at graduations, funerals, or as a farewell or ending of other notable occasions.

There is some doubt if the melody with which we are familiar is the original tune to the song, but the tune we recognize is the most popular in Scotland, and around the world.

At this writing, the arrival of the new year 2011 has already been celebrated in New Zealand, and its arrival is moving quickly across the globe. So, as the remaining hours of 2010 quickly pass away, most of us will be thinking of the events of the past 365 days. Each of us have our own memories - to rue or to cherish. We have said goodbye to loved ones, and realize the transitory nature of our own time here on earth.

So in honor of the passing of the old year, and the coming of the new, won't you join me in singing the old song, "For Old Time Sake"? You know the tune, here are the words. C'mon. Sing along -

Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintance be forgot,and never brought to mind ? Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old lang syne ?

For auld lang syne, my dear,for auld lang syne,we'll take a cup of kindness yet,for auld lang syne.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup ! and surely I’ll buy mine ! And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes, and picked the daisies fine ; But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream, from morning sun till dine ; But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend ! And give us a hand o’ thine ! And we’ll take a right good-will draught, for auld lang syne.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Last Sunday of 2010

In the British Commonwealth, today is Boxing Day. It is a secular holiday that follows Christmas Day. No one seems to know the exact origin of the title (according to this article) but it generally seems to serve as a day of goodwill and alms giving. Not a bad idea, but those virtues really should be practiced 365 days per year.

The Christmas rush is over (except for the gift exchange forays to the mall).

Now it is the day after Christmas, and the beginning of the strangest week of the year. The week between Christmas and New Years Day always seems to be somewhat of a limbo week. It begins with the wind down from Christmas, and ends with the celebration of a new year on the calendar. In between are the days of Christmas break for the school kids, and for some of the adults who save that last week of the year to use up their remaining vacation time. Toward the end of the week Christmas decorations will begin to come down and be packed away again in basements and attics, waiting to come out again around Thanksgiving time of next year. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.

It was a difficult one for one of the families of our church, as their husband and father collapsed and died suddenly and unexpectedly as he was preparing to have Christmas dinner at his son's house. I got the call from the Cabell Huntington Hospital Chaplain about 3:00 PM on Christmas day, and immediately headed up I64 to be with the grief stricken family.

The whole episode brought back a flood of memories from seven years ago, when my wife's dear mother suddenly passed away on Christmas eve. Christmas has never been the same for our family since then, and I know that will also be the case for the Thacker family, as well as others who unfortunately have found themselves in the same situation.

The staff of the ER at the hospital were wonderfully kind and thoughtful to the family to whom I ministered. I am thankful for the dedicated health care professionals who sacrificed their Christmas day to be there for others in their time of need, and to deliver the precious babies who make their appearance on major holidays.

This is the last Sunday of 2010. Sorry for the cliche', but where has the time gone? It has been an eventful year at Westmoreland Baptist Church, with the September - December segment absolutely packed with activities. We have ratified a new constitution, which basically simplifies and redefines our Mission and our organizational structure. We have called a new youth pastor. We have lost several members due to death, and have gained several others - including a number of younger members, which is always encouraging.

Our final morning worship service for the year will be held this morning. I will be continuing my series of messages from John 1:1-18 as we explore more deeply, just exactly WHO Jesus is. This morning we will be looking at verses 4&5, and will focus on Jesus as the Life Giver and the Light Bearer. Praying that God will be pleased with our worship of Him today.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Morning, 2010

Sure is quiet around the house here in Ashland this morning.

Linda is sound asleep (as she should be). As usual, she has made our Christmas holiday a beautiful thing, and she is getting some well deserved rest.

A new blanket of snow has fallen overnight - and more is on the way. I'm sure all of the children waking up in our area this morning will be delighted. It brings back memories to me of special White Christmases long ago.

The aroma of the turkey cooking in the oven fills the nearly empty house.

Yesterday was a flurry of activity, as the last minute details were completed for the family celebration. Four generations gathered here in our home for our Christmas get together. The Christmas Story was read from Luke chapter two. Gifts were exchanged, stories told, laughter shared, and much of it was recorded on video. Then it was off to church for our traditional Candlelight Communion Service. Upon arriving back home, there was trash to take out, gifts to put away, dishes to wash, and the general cleanup that follows a family gathering. Linda began preparing the turkey, and then, finally - sleep.

Then comes the quiet Christmas morning.

There is nothing like Christmas morning to remind us anew that our nest is empty - and has been for fourteen years!

The quiet Christmas morning has become the norm for more than a decade. Gone are the days when we were awakened by our little boys who arose before sunrise and rushed to the living room to see what Santa had left under the tree. In those days, Christmas Eve was spent at Mom and Dad's house with my brothers and their families. Then on Christmas morning - after finding the surprises under the tree - it was off on the two hour ride to Pike County, Kentucky to celebrate Christmas with Linda's parents, brothers, her sister and their spouses and children.

The day would always be filled with joy, great food, and the sound of laughter as all the grandchildren played with brand new toys and had to try on the new clothing found in the packages piled high under the tree.

The day always ended too quickly, as we all had to be back to work early the next morning. Hugs were exchanged, goodbyes said, and it was back in the car for the long dark journey home with the two boys who were usually sound asleep by the time we had crossed Hardy Mountain.

It was a special time. The ritual was the same each year, and in the midst of those years, the thought that it would ever change never crossed our minds.

But it has changed, which is simply inevitable.

Children grow up and move away. Grandparents and Great Grandparents who once oversaw the celebrations have now left us. The family dynamic has changed. Loved ones pass away. Alzheimer's steals the memories of some, and the aging process takes its toll upon us all.

Somewhere along the way, our little children grew up and now they are the parents. One son and his family are 1,000 miles away, and they celebrate Christmas on the Bayou. The other son and his family, who still live close by, are tasked with splitting the holiday with two different sets of parents, just as we use to do.

It's the circle of life.

It could be depressing. In fact, Christmas is the saddest time of the year to many. I, however, can only feel joy and appreciation for the gift of living to see another Christmas. It's my sixth Yule season since the diagnosis of incurable metastatic colon cancer. It's my fourth "bonus" Christmas since I should have been dead within two years of the diagnosis. It's one more God given, undeserved blessing that I have to be thankful for. And I am.

Two months ago, I began my 61st trip around the Sun. It's been a great ride so far. I don't know if I will be here to see Christmas 2011. In fact, none of us know what changes may befall us and our families over the next 365 days. Fact is, we have no promise of tomorrow.

What we do have is today.

Make the most of it.

Reflect on the birth of the Savior. Enjoy whatever the day brings you. Be with family if you can. Do a good deed or say a kind word to someone who needs it. Have a good meal. Watch some football, or a rerun of one of your favorite old Christmas movies. Reflect on your blessings, and celebrate the day.

After all, "It's A Wonderful Life".
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Letter to My Youngest Grandson

December 6, 2011

Dear Asher,

This past Sunday was one of the most special days of all my 60 years on the planet. It was my joy to have the privilege to baptize you, my youngest grandson.

Many people wonder if it is appropriate for a young boy like you to be baptized. After all, you are still very young. You don’t know all the doctrinal jargon that we Christians throw around so easily. You are clueless regarding church and denominational politics. You don’t know a Southern Baptist from an American Baptist, from a Free Will Baptist, from a United Methodist. You have no personal position on the Calvinist vs. Arminian debate.

You haven’t studied theology, but you have grasped the greatest theological truth that is possible to understand. That is that, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Jesus said “Suffer the little children and forbid them not to come unto me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

I am thankful that you have come to Jesus at such a young age. You have come while your heart is tender and open to the love of Jesus. You don’t carry the baggage of the years of the effect of the human sin nature, which many folks have to forsake when they come to Christ. You may not be able to recite the definitions of such spiritual terms as redemption, adoption, grace, and faith, but you (and all other children) most certainly live each day under the basic concept of faith. After all, you know what it is to totally depend on someone else to provide you with food, clothing, shelter, and protection.

That’s the way it is with God. We must depend wholly upon Him for all our daily material and physical needs – and for the spiritual and eternal needs as well. You have wisely made the decision to come to Him. Are you old enough to understand the total impact of the magnanimity of your decision? I will let the theologians debate that point. But there are some things about your decision that I do know to be true.

I know that you were blessed to be born into a Christian home. Your mother and father both know Jesus as their Savior, and they have told you and your brother that story since you were born. They have also sought to live their faith as role models for both of you. They have made sure that you have been in church all your life. In that setting you have been exposed to the Gospel message thorough your home life as well as the church setting. You have had dedicated teachers and children’s ministers who have also taught you about Jesus, reinforcing what you have been taught at home.

All four of your grandparents, and all of your living great grandparents are also people of faith. Having a godly heritage does not translate into spiritual virtue for you, but it does give you a tremendous opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus, and to see Christian values modeled in the lives of the people you know and love. You have been taught the value of the Bible as God’s word to us, and you have learned many Bible verses by memory from Sunday School, Upward Basketball and Soccer, and AWANA. Since “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God”, I was not terribly surprised when you responded to the invitation to come to Jesus when it was given at the crusade back in October.

Your parents were not there that evening. Your brother did not try to influence you, neither did your Mamaw or me. (you were not even sitting with us at the time) I have to believe that the Holy Spirit moved you to respond, and I am so glad you did!

In the past few weeks, your parents, your Sunday School teacher, and your children’s minister have talked to you and questioned you about it. All are satisfied that you have the basic understanding of the Gospel message necessary to accept Christ as your Savior.
So, since baptism is the first step of obedience to Christ, and it is the true public profession of faith in Jesus, your baptism was scheduled.

What a wonderful night it was! All four grandparents were there to see you publicly follow Jesus in baptism. Your brother, Will, was there too. Mom and Dad were there with their cameras to record the moment. Your whole church family was there and all the AWANA kids came into the sanctuary to see you be baptized.

In my 40 years in the ministry I have experienced the joy of baptizing several hundred new believers in Christ. Being able to baptize my youngest grandson was one of the most special times at all.

So now you are a follower of Jesus. You are the third of our four grandsons who have made that step of faith. Each of you are now being taught what it means to follow Jesus.
Listen closely to your parents, your teachers, and your pastor as they share the word of God with you. Always be faithful to study your Bible and pray, and gather into God’s house for fellowship with other believers, and to learn the principles of discipleship.

You will probably make some mistakes along the way. But you have made the right start. Just know that Jesus is all you need. He has saved you from the penalty of sin, his is presently saving you from the power of sin in your life, and one day He will save you from the very presence of sin. Listen to what He says to you through His word, and follow where he leads you through His Holy Spirit. When you do that, you will not go wrong!

I very proud of you, and I am thankful that one day we will be together in heaven – forever.

Love always,Papaw

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Silly Season Has Arrived

The calendar says December 1st. Thanksgiving is a week old memory, and the first snow has fallen here in the Tri-State area. We are now fully immersed in the annual Christmas rush, and the accompanying "Silly Season" is in high gear.

Never mind the overnight lines at the shopping malls preparing for pre dawn Black Friday hand to hand combat. Forget the frustration of endlessly circling the lanes of the various parking lots, knowing that in the unlikely event that a parking place might open up, one of the half dozen vehicles in front of you will most certainly take the spot.

Learn to deal with the fact that an unending stream of television commercials will admonish you to purchase your "holiday gifts" from the sponsoring businesses. Holiday Gifts? What holiday? President's Day? Memorial Day? Ground Hog Day? Perhaps Christmas! Who knows? Nobody ever really specifies which holiday is being touted.

Know that office Christmas parties will produce the usual cheese balls, finger foods, mistletoe sprigs, women with Snowman and Santa Claus sweaters and ornamental earrings, and boorish behavior from some guy who has obviously sampled way too much of the spiked Egg Nog!

Traffic on the city streets will become more intolerable as the calendar moves ever closer to the 25th. Staid, otherwise dignified neighborhoods will become luminescent battlegrounds for would be Clark W. Griswolds to outdo one another with garish light displays, rivaling the candlepower of the lights at a night game at Great American Ball Park.

Expect nerves to be frayed, the item you are specifically looking for to be sold out, endless lines at cash registers. Sales clerks will be harried, and your fellow humans (who for the previous 11 months have just been regular folks) to become mindless imbeciles, capable of doing just about anything.

Case in point.

Our church secretary just returned from making our church's "Mothers Day Out" ministries' deposit at the local branch of United Bank. (I thought seriously about not mentioning the actual name of the bank, but realizing the ridiculous behavior of the employee - the thought passed).

As Sonia sat in line at the drive through window, simply wishing to drop off the deposit and get on to the post office and then pick up a bite of lunch, she began to wonder why the customer in front of her was taking so long at the window. The business transaction seemed to have been completed, yet the car remained immobile, and an animated conversation continued between the driver of the vehicle and the teller behind the bullet proof glass.

Eventually the teller shoved the little drawer out - you know- the one you put your deposit in (no loose change, etc) - and the driver was trying to cram something into the drawer.

As she looked closer, Sonia identified the nature of the object that the driver was trying to send in to the teller.

In her own words, it was "A little wiener dog wearing a sweater".

Friend, feel free to draw your own conclusion as to why an individual - any sane individual - would try to send a Dachshund into a bank through the drive in window. I am coming up empty on that one...

Anyhow, as 'Sonia relates the story, either the dog was too large to fit, or put up enough of a struggle, that the teller was unable to retract the drawer after several tries. But as we all know, there is more than one way to skin a cat (or a wiener dog for that matter).

The teller disappeared from the window, but the car stayed parked in its place. Soon, the little side door of the bank building opened, and the teller emerged, propped the self locking door open, and came to the driver's window to spend a few minutes petting Fido.

Soon, the teller returned to her post, and eventually the brain dead motorist pulled away from the window and entered traffic. Hopefully the driver made his or her way safely to their destination.

Thankfully, no would be Bonnies or Clydes took the opportunity to bolt into the bank through the propped open door, robbing the place, or taking hostages.

No harm done. A few minutes of time wasted. A traumatized wiener dog. And some frustrated bank customers who probably wished they had just parked and gone inside to transact their business. Just another event verifying "The Adkins Adage" variation to "Murphy's Law" - "Anything stupid that can happen at Christmas time - will!"

Silly season is here. Be prepared for more strangeness.

'Tis the season...