"I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands." - Psalm 143:5

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Home for Christmas


 

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She peered from her dingy apartment window, wiping the frost with the sleeve of her sweater so she could see more clearly. A light snow was falling making the city streets outside her old brownstone a clean carpet of white. Sally was eagerly awaiting a delivery from the local grocery store containing the simple items for her dinner tonight. It was Christmas Eve and Sally wanted to celebrate this special time, at least in a small way. Over 90 and in failing health, it was to be a bittersweet celebration for sure. A few years ago her husband Samuel became gravely ill. To her great sorrow, he faded quickly and went home to be with the Lord on the eve of his favorite day—Christmas.

Sally loved her “Sammy”, so it was hard imagining celebrating tonight alone. He was so alive around Christmas and always seemed his happiest around the holidays. Every Christmas Eve he would sing, laugh—sometimes scooping her up from her chair for a dance. He would put on a Santa hat and say, “Come on sweetie, I saved a dance for my best gal!” Afterwards they would cuddle-up on the couch, sip tea, and read the story of the Savior’s birth. When midnight came they would run to their small tree, and like giggling children, rip open all the gifts.

The crunch of snow and the sight of a tall figure coming down the sidewalk carrying bundles snapped her back to her vigil. Sally watched the trudging shape come up the stairs and ring the bell to her apartment. Drawing her sweater around her neck to guard against the cold, she opened the door and let the familiar face inside. It was Manny, a young man in his twenties or so, who had been delivering her groceries for a few months now.

“Mrs. Hamilton, how good to see you! Merry Christmas!” Manny said with a booming voice.

“Merry Christmas Manny, come in, come in.” Sally said excitedly.

“Shall I carry these to the kitchen?” Manny asked.

“Oh, please do, please do, I’m so wound up, I need to start cooking right away!” Sally replied.

Manny carried the bags into the narrow kitchen, where Sally began to unpack her goodies. She place the items, a small ham, some potatoes, a can of green beans and a box of Earl Grey tea, on her small kitchen table

With a hint of tears in her eyes, Sally mused, “My Sammy sure did love his spot of tea.”

Sorrow threatened to swallow the moment and her thoughts filled with emotion. How could she celebrate after all these years of placing Christmas in the shadows? She decided that she must, this Christmas seemed fresh and ready to embrace again. Besides, her heart sensed the Messiah's presence more than ever and she could always celebrate Him.

Dabbing at her eyes with her apron Sally soon looked up and hesitantly asked, “Manny, would you like to have dinner with me?”

“Why, I would love to Mrs. H,…absolutely love to!” Manny replied cheerfully.

The two of them set about fixing the meal, laughing, singing, and even enjoying a silly dance to Jingle Bell Rock playing on the radio. Soon the kitchen was warm, filled with a wonderful aroma and alive with memories. During dinner Sally told story after story of her husband Sammy and the love he had for Jesus.

Sally became quiet and Manny could see the pain of loneliness in her eyes. They were sipping their tea when Sally asked, “I’m so tired Manny, will you help me to the couch?” Manny helped the weary Mrs. Hamilton to the couch, laying her head gently on a quilted pillow. Covering Sally with a blanket, Manny then pulled a small box from his jacket and said, “It’s almost midnight Mrs. H, this is for you …Merry Christmas.”

The package wrapped with golden paper and with a bow of the purest white surprised Sally; she had never seen a more beautiful package. Taking the gift from Manny, Sally was momentary speechless. With childlike excitement, she started to open the present, pausing when she saw the prize within. Inside was a golden key with a small note that looked like an invitation. On the inside it read.

To: Sally Hamilton, a key to your new home.

“Manny…what does this mean?” Sally asked.

“Mrs. H.” Manny said. “You have been such a servant all your life, giving so unselfishly, that my employer wanted to give you something special this Christmas.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand, your employer Mr.Reynolds is giving me a house? Sally asked.

Manny, smiling now said, “No Mrs. H, I work for someone a bit higher than Mr. Reynolds. Anyway, I’m just a messenger and I’ll be announcing your arrival there soon.”

“Manny, I still don’t see…” Sally wondered out loud.

“It’s simple, you have been faithful Mrs. H, and the Lord wants you home with Him.” Manny said.

Her eyes widening a bit, Sally whispered, “You mean…I’m really going… oh, I can hardly keep my eyes open, what is happening to me Manny?” Sally asked.

Manny replied softly, “It’s time for a homecoming Mrs. H…Sammy is saving a dance for you”

They were quiet for a few minutes when Sally spoke in a hushed voice and asked, “Am I going to see my Sammy when I open my eyes Manny?’

She was already home when he answered, “Yes Sally, and so much more.”

The End

Jay Cookingham © 2002

 

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

What Child is This?


 

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It was just another cry from a newborn, his cries already muted by the sounds of animals sharing his birth place. He was one of the many little Hebrew lives entering the world that night, just one of the ones born in the cold to poor, struggling parents, on a journey not of their choosing.

All across Israel, an ordered census drew people to distant towns and faraway villages. A census of numbers, not the value of lives, mirrored the soul journeys of thousands searching for more. The cruel political climate is as dark as the night and the spiritual landscape, darker still. There seems no journey away from this oppression, no passage of freedom that affords an opportunity to breathe unhindered. This night poses questions from hearts chained and bound by a force more domineering that the oppressors now ruling this land.

Why was this child born?

Why this couple?

Why this little backwards town?

Why now?

What child is this?

Into poisoned humanity a son is born, a baby wrapped in fragileness and vulnerability but with redemption blood flowing in his veins. He is a message of hope to a world looking for something or someone to put it out of its collective misery. This baby, needing the protection and nurturing of Mary and Joseph, is born for a world needing him. Needing light to dispel the darkness that seeks the souls of humanity, love to collect hearts back to the Father, peace for the minds overwhelmed by strife and forgiveness to free all corrupted by sin’s disease.

When Jesus came, redemption came and courageously reclaimed sons and daughters for the Kingdom. Messiah came, deliverance came, the Good News came, and life more abundantly came. Born of a virgin, God imparts Himself into humanity and births new life for world looking for a way to live again. Immanuel…God with us, always with us.

What child is this?

This, this is Christ the King…my King!

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

 

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Dream Coat


 

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It wasn’t technicolored or fancy looking by any means, it was a simple grey-black winter coat and it was just his size. He was the younger of two boys, maybe six to seven years old, with eyes as wide as saucers. Accompanied by an older woman of a different ethnicity, they all had come to a local coat drive hosted by the Hyde Park Methodist, a church that graciously allowed people from my church to help staff the event.

It was near the end of the day and most kid’s coats had been chosen by the early crowd. His other brother ( I assumed) had found one from the slim pickings and the woman was working on the gray coat, trying to get the zipper to work. All the while the little boy was looking on with those big saucer eyes.

It was the eyes that got me.

I went over and offered my help to fix the zipper (which seemed way beyond my skill-set as time past by) while she looked for a coat for herself. The minutes piled on themselves as not one, but two zippers evaded any attempt to follow the path of least resistance and behave like normal zippers do. I was sweating; the boys have been at the bin holding free stuffed animals and now were back, holding a monkey and a Winnie-the Pooh.

Now I had eight eyes watching me.

I wanted desperately for that little boy to have this coat and the underneath my breath prayers were as fervent as any I’ve prayed…I wanted God to heal this zipper…now!

The little boy never said a word…he just keep looking, waiting and silently hoping.

I started to choke back tears over a used, hand-me-down, grey winter coast…and those beautiful eyes.

In those eyes, I saw myself.

When I was around eight, I remember walking into a huge building, full of strangers and somebody handing me a coat and boots…just my size. I remember being somewhat stunned and confused…more than likely my eyes were as wide as saucers, trying to take in all the events happening around me. The eyes of that little boy took me back in time and helped me see this day in a whole new way.

The woman came back (good naturedly) laughing, seeing that I was still trying to compel this stubborn fastening device to submission and quite innocently said…”Maybe, there’s a third zipper?” I thought to myself, “What coat has three zippers?” This coat didn’t look like the kind of coat that would have three zippers if such coats existed! Hesitantly I started to look the coat over for the elusive third zipper option. To my surprise, near the top, hidden under the collar, was the treasure we hoped to find. I pulled the zipper into place, zipped up the coat perfectly, hive-fived the woman all with laugher erupting from both of us.

The young boy, handing his stuffed animal to his brother for temporary safe keeping, put on his coat and smiled. A huge smile now competing with his eyes for who would win for being the largest expression on his happy face. I was smiling too… my prayers were answered and today a coat became more than a dream. It was a promise from Father God and His provision.

As they left, the little boy turned to look at me with those same eyes…

I was fighting back tears and thanking God for an amazing grey colored dream coat, complete with a third zipper.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

God Bless you all and I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What Did You Expect?


 

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You find yourself, at age 58, pretty comfortable in your own skin. You’re taking some risks, stretching in areas unfamiliar to you. “Not bad for an old guy” you think and that brief thought puts some swagger in your steps.

Yet swagger, like comfort… is very temporary… I believe a better word would be fleeting.

I read this quote yesterday and it disturbed me, souring the milk of swagger in me.

“He was swimming in a sea of other people’s expectations. Men had drowned in seas like that.” - Robert Jordan, New Spring

Any husband, any father, any man following Christ, who is committed to those callings will feel the weight of other people’s expectations. It’s in our job description, to evaluate and examine expectations, and then pray to determine how to deal with them. All of this challenging the man you are and the one you want to be. Yet, I find grace to stay afloat and the ability to surf above the waves of what is expected of me by others.

So where’s the sinking feeling from? What caused my swagger to float away like “Wilson” in the movie Cast Away? Like a lifeguard blowing their whistle, the answer is a powerful warning to keep from drifting into danger. It’s not other people’s expectations threatening to drown me.

It’s my own.

My own interpretation of “how things should be”, these imaginary water wings that I rely on to keep my swagger afloat. I find myself struggling against the riptide, clinging to the raft of how I should act, (as a husband, father, brother, pastor) and where I should be in my walk, in my relationships, in my career and so on. The truth is…these weights dunk my head under the water more than anything else. I often fail in living up to my own expectations and the gurgling sound you hear is my pride.

I think (selfish) expectations are assumptions gone wild. They move you from reality to likelihood, a place full of suspense and potential but sometimes built like a shady real estate deal. Promising one thing but delivering an uninhabitable piece of property you never wanted (or expected).

You think you know…then He shows you. As always… it comes down to my heart.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

My heart needs something beyond expectations… even great expectations… it needs hope in Father God and Him alone. When I live in the reality of who He says I am, my expectations drift away from my spirit and I find myself filled with assurance of becoming all He wants me to be.

“For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.” Philippians 1:20

All my expectations are in Him!

 

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Killing Lions – A Review

 

 

_200_360_Book.1331.cover Many of us are hunting mice - while lions devour the land. - Leonard Ravenhill

In the book Killing Lions: A Guide Through the Trials Young Men Face, John Eldredge (Wild at Heart) is joined by his son, Sam, for a conversational journey of what it takes to become a man. II bought this book for my sons (I have five) but found it revealing my heart as I read it through several times (I’m a fast reader). I grew up without a strong father influence in my life and many of the questions Sam poses resonated with my heart.

Dealing (father and son together) with subjects such as relationships, money, getting married and life calling…each chapter was a picture of how to coach your son’s heart through each stage of life. A beautiful example of how simple conversations can create opportunities to impart and impact as fathers.

I appreciated the honesty and openness of John and Sam as they challenge each other’s view and the way they loved each other through these times. The powerful moments are when they acknowledge their absolute need of God to teach, guide and rescue their hearts…wonderful moments indeed.

Disclosure: While I received an advance copy of this product free, I have purchased a few copies to give to other fathers and my own sons.

 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

This is Love

 

 

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Hang with me…this will be tough at the beginning…

This was going to be easy, the knife was sharp and I was all alone deep in the woods, no one would find me for days. I had run out of oxygen, I was drowning in despair and looking up from below the surface. My time had run out and I couldn’t fight back anymore. The years of abuse had piled on me, pinning me behind the line of scrimmage of hope… far from finishing the game on a good note.

I was tired, so tired of being without… without having the right clothes, the right looks, the right friends, the right family and the right to be happy. So I filled my emptiness with the self-medicating drugs of the day, each drink, each toke a reminder of what a loser I was. I was looking for numbness and all I got was a double shot of awareness.

I was a deadman walking

My commitment to Christ at age seven seemed so distant to the heart that sat on rock waiting to for a blade to bleed out its life. The wondering of “where were you God” had long past me by, like a far-off dream tugging on my sleeve but easily ignored.

I drew the knife from its sheath, the chill of the blade giving me Goosebumps, and went to make the first cut…before I could; I heard a voice… it said…

NO

It was as if the whole universe shook; my universe anyway, with the power that only a Messiah can speak with. I stood, my head spinning around like a crazy man, looking for someone…anyone…because I thought no one was watching.

He was…Messiah was

That seventeen-year-old started a new journey that day, it wasn’t easy but he faced the abuse, the mistakes, the false identity and the true enemy with renewed faith. For years after my suicide attempt, I thought “Wow, I should be dead”…how wrong I was. The truth was that I should be alive… for that is what Messiah wanted for me… life.

After all…This is love!

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10

 

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Tugged

 

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I seriously doubt my leadership ability at times and wonder about how uninspiring my message can seem. Strange… isn’t that a pastor’s job? To be inspiring and lead a great charge across the landscape of the enemy, winning the battle and the day?

Perhaps not…

I fret, pray, dream, sweat and lay awake at nights just pondering the effectiveness of my life and the impact it has on others. I dive into Scripture, talk to men far wiser than I and wrestle with questions like a cage fighter on steroids.

My heart seems in a perpetual state of being tugged.

That’s the haunting reality of being a visionary…pulled in one direction…tugged in another. Trying your best to submit to Father God’s leading at one moment…possibly running away in the next. We visionaries can be a chore to understand and deal with, we often see things that are…well, not there…yet. Which means we may get annoyed that others aren’t as excited about something that seems so real to us but may be as faint as a mirage to them.

This is where faith needs to step in…and helps me understand the tug.

“To the best of my understanding, faith is trusting God enough to obey what He has said, and hope is having the confidence that God will do everything He has promised. One pushes you; the other pulls you.” Erwin McManus

This push me, pull me, tugging sensation is the tension of following Christ, abandoning my selfish desires and pursuing His and His alone. It’s the leading of the Holy Spirit, placing us, positing us and aligning our will with the Father’s. What we see…or don’t see is not as important as what we know.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

That’s the substance that a visionary like me needs…how’ll about you? Where has faith tugged you lately?

 

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