A Very Columbo Christmas

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I have a certain fondness for old TV shows. I love the way they feel familiar, the way they told great stories without huge budgets and special-effects, and I sort of love that I’m getting to the age where they all feel new again because I can’t remember how they ended.

columboColumbo has always been a favorite. Do you remember Peter Faulk’s shabby detective with his trademark cigar and raincoat? The character was unforgettable, but what really made Columbo stand out was the structure of the stories. Each episode began with the murder. As the viewers, we knew exactly whodunit and how. The thrill of the show was watching Columbo put the pieces together and solve the mystery for himself. During the whole episode we would be wondering, “What clues will he find that will give the murderer away?”

Columbo came to mind the other day as I was starting to think about Christmas. I find myself being envious of the Old Testament prophets and those who lived at the time of Christ’s birth. To them, it was all about the mystery. Isaiah had prophesied a virgin giving birth, Micah had told where it would happen, and Daniel had narrowed down the time. They lived in a time when they had to piece the puzzle together to arrive at the identity of the child. But what was mystery for them is history for us. Where is the joy of discovery in a 2000-year-old story?

I couldn’t help noticing something I hadn’t seen before. You see, the Christmas story isn’t just about something that happened 2000 years ago. It’s about my own story of discovery. Daniel’s timing reminds us that, at just the right time God’s grace entered my life to change me, to redeem me from my sin (Galatians 4:4-5). Micah’s prophecy of his humble birth reminds me that no matter how small or insignificant I feel, I have God’s attention (Romans 8:31). And Isaiah’s promise of a miraculous birth lets me know that through his power I have been born again (John 3:3).

Oh, and one more thing, The story of the Advent, of God entering this world through the incarnation of His Son, continues to be played out in the homes and hearts of all of those who call on his name. And in every life, we continue to live out “this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).”

That hope is the greatest mystery you will ever solve.

No . . . vember

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NovemberAny way you look at it, November is a pretty bleak month. For thirty days nothing much happens. There’s no sudden burst of colors like in October. There’s no anticipation of snow like in December (in fact, November snow seems to be more dreaded than anticipated). Thomas Hood, a British humorist once wrote:

No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –

This seems to me all the more reason to celebrate Thanksgiving in November. We don’t have the distractions of the summer, the changes of the fall or the busyness of the Christmas season to keep us from focusing on what we’re truly thankful for. It is completely up to us to fill the month with thanksgiving.

Paul tells us that thanksgiving is a gift that overflows out of our lives into the lives of others.

I’ve been looking at some passages in the Bible about thanksgiving. There are times in Scripture where we’re commanded to give thanks, to put the time and effort into recognizing that our blessings come from God and give him the credit and the glory for all that we have received. But I’ve also noticed something else. We’re not only called to be thankful, we’re called to bring thanksgiving into other people’s lives as well.

I’m not talking about the holiday, of course. There’s more to making people thankful than inviting them over for turkey, all the fixings and a big nap (though that’s not a bad idea either). In 2 Corinthians Paul tells us twice that thanksgiving is a gift that overflows out of our lives into the lives of others. That thought should inspire us to be all the more aware of the good that God has provided us and the way it can impact the people around us.

In [truth]2 Corinthians 4:15[/truth], Paul writes about the message of Jesus, the forgiveness of our sins and the promise we have of eternal life. Then he continues and writes, “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” The hope we have in Christ isn’t something we hoard away for ourselves, it should overflow out of our lives and burst into the lives of others, bringing them to that place where they truly know what they are thankful for.

Later, in [truth]2 Corinthians 9:11[/truth], Paul writes about the way we give of ourselves to others and to God. Not just our money, but our lives. He says, “Your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” In verse 12 he writes, “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God.”

In November everyone wants to know what you’re thankful for. There will be those who will commit to a month’s worth of Facebook posts, searching themselves every day for something else for which they are thankful. It’s a great exercise for us and it definitely can result in a more thankful outlook on life. But perhaps the greater question isn’t about what you’re thankful for but about who will be more thankful this month because of you?

How to Deal with Difficult Situations–Shawshank Style

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It never ceases to amaze me what people do to avoid an unpleasant situation. A few weeks ago, I read a news article about a man from Ireland named Patsy Kerr. Patsy’s unpleasant situation was that his wife snored. You might think that to avoid the problem he slept on the couch or invested in a really good pair of earplugs. But, according to the article, Patsy, in a burst of inspiration from the movie “The Shawshank Redemption,” chose to deal with his wife’s snoring by digging a tunnel under his bed and down the road to his favorite pub. It took him fifteen years before he managed to finish the tunnel and pop up for a pint while his wife slept.

The-Shawshank-Redemption-stillNow, before you get any ideas about digging your own tunnel, you should know that this “news story” turned out to be a bit of Irish blarney—it didn’t really happen. However, I think it struck a chord with those who thought it was true because they saw themselves in Patsy’s efforts. We waste a lot of energy trying to avoid unpleasant situations. Metaphorically, we’ve all dug our own holes to hide in—and we’ve been digging some of them a lot longer than fifteen years.

  • A friend says something that hurts our feelings, and, instead of talking to them about it, we dig a hole and avoid the hurt.
  • Someone close to us gets caught up in a sin that’s leading them down a wrong path and, rather than confront them, we dig a hole to hide in and pretend we don’t notice.
  • Sometimes, it’s even ourselves we’re hiding from. We realize we’re in way over our heads and instead of asking for someone else to help, we dig a pit to hide in . . . and then wonder why no one seems to notice or care.

The truth is our avoidance expends far more energy than simply confronting the issue head on. In addition, it’s negative energy—and nothing positive can come from it.

I think part of the appeal of the Patsy Kerr story is we want to believe that if we dig our hole deep enough for long enough we will be rewarded with something pleasant on the other end. If we put enough effort into our avoidance we’ll be rewarded with what we want. We’ve fooled ourselves into believing that avoidance is blessed, but the Bible never rewards those who refuse to lovingly confront.

In Matthew 5:9 Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” not “Blessed are the problem avoiders.” His brother James said, “If anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). There’s no promise of reward or blessing in digging a hole. There’s no one waiting there to hand you a drink and show you a good time.

It’s just a lot of blarney.

You’re Behind on Your Sun Tax!

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Get your checkbook ready. You owe Angeles Duran some money.

Angeles DuranBack in 2010, Duran filed a claim of ownership for the sun. That’s right, this 53 year old woman went down to the local notary office and got the official stamp on her ownership of the sun, the giant ball of gas that’s been warming and lighting our planet since creation. She now claims that you, I and everyone else on earth now owe her back taxes on our use of the celestial body.

Now, I’m no lawyer, so who am I to dispute her legal claim? Instead of arguing with her rights I’ve decided to file a few claims of my own. Consider this your notice of my claim of ownership of air. That’s right; every breath you take you’ll be owing me! In addition to paying my back taxes for breathing I’ll also be collecting commercial use from airlines flying their planes through my air. I’ll have to sue Michael Jordan for copyright infringement from the name “Air Jordan.” Oh, and I’ll be charging a lot of people a cleaning fee for befouling my air. I’ll probably start by suing Taco Bell for that.

Of course, the only real hitch in Angeles’ claim of ownership of the sun is that the original owner is still around. Psalm 74:16 says of God, “Yours is the day, yours also the night; you have established the heavenly lights and the sun.” Considering those words were written thousands of years ago, Angeles might have trouble collecting her back taxes. Continue reading

My Imperfect Prayers

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I suppose I would have to call it a routine. It was predictable. You could set your watch by it. It happened every afternoon this summer. I would come home from the office, drop my bags and Connor would put his shoes on and take my hand. There was no time for me to rest or take care of anything else. It was time for us to go to our local convenience store for a snack. He would even tell me with his iPad, “The Junction. The Junction. The Junction.”

imperfect_prayersWhen you find out you’re going to have a son there are all sorts of things you imagine doing—fishing, camping, watching action movies together. When you find out your child has autism—the kind of autism Connor has—those are stolen from you. Interaction is limited, activities that require concentration are gone and deep conversation is completely lost. And so, instead of fishing or watching movies we would take our daily walks to our local convenience store (The Junction), have a glass of tea and a snack and maybe stop at the park for a quick teeter-totter.

I discovered that it didn’t matter that we couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. All that mattered was I got to spend time with my son doing what he was capable of doing. He was happy to build a routine around me and include me as an important part of his life.

Sometimes I wonder about how God hears my prayers. Do they sound routine as I say the same words over and over again? Does he get tired of the predictability of the time I spend with him? Does he regret that I’m not capable of more interaction or attention?

Or is God’s love for me anything like my love for Connor? Does he so love who I am that any moment we spend together is precious to him—no matter how clumsy the words or how repetitive it seems?

Connor and I would sit for a half hour or so at The Junction, slowly nursing our iced tea and quickly eating our cookies. We would hold hands, hug and tickle each other. We would laugh, smile and occasionally he would just cry. All that really mattered was we did it together.

Jesus said to his disciples in Mark 6:31, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” That’s all, just rest with me. He doesn’t call me to eloquence or to know all the right words, just to know the right place to find my rest.

What’s he saying to you?