Monday, November 28, 2016

Be a real Scrooge this Christmas

I hope you enjoy this blog from my friend Garret Lee.  (I posted it last year but it deserves a repeat)

Be a real Scrooge this Christmas..
I agree with him... 

An Overplayed Carol
By Garrett A. Lee

Card players warn against “overplaying your hand.”  This is when you are dealt a strong hand, and, rather than settle for simply winning the round, you go for bonus points—only to end up losing the round after all.  What was a strong hand for normal play, was not strong enough for bonus play.  It was overplayed.
I suggest there is a tendency at Christmas to overplay a popular literary hand: Charles Dickens’ classic story, A Christmas Carol.  This cherished tale is so ingrained in American culture we overplay its message (even more than we over-play its myriad media adaptations).  The fear of “being a Scrooge” who doesn’t “keep Christmas,” drives us to distraction and obsession.
Keeping Christmas isn’t what it used to be, though.  We start sooner, wear out quicker, spend more, and enjoy less.  By the time Christmas Day arrives, many are ready to be done with it.  The celebration takes priority over the thing celebrated.  Expectations and obligations have grown “link by link, and yard by yard….It is a ponderous chain!”  We can become so bent on keeping Christmas we end up not having Christmas at all.
We have overplayed our hand.
Dickens dealt a very strong hand when he penned his “Ghostly little book.”  It was a time when many London industrialists and businessmen were taking oppressive advantage of the under classes.  Children, as well as adults, were forced to work twelve hours or more a day in unfit conditions and for meager wages.  Many employees were even denied Christmas Day as a holiday.  Dickens, a social activist, saw this as the ultimate exploitation of the poor. A Christmas Carol  was created to highlight these evils; and, of all his writings, none other have affected more social change.  The Christmas card trumped the business suit.  It was a very strong hand indeed.
Over the ensuing sixteen decades, we have overplayed its revered message.  Dickens’ message was that we really are to be our brothers’ keepers, not merely keepers of Christmas.  He used Christmas as a tool to affect the culture; we have let the culture affect Christmas.  Whatever the culture identifies as Christmas, we must keep—and keep up with—lest we be labeled a Scrooge.
As American society has grown wealthier and more materialistic, we have become more like Old Scrooge than we care to admit.  We see less and less reason to let a good holiday stand in the way of good commerce.  We have played Dickens’ hand so well, that Christmas has become a greater source of business than Old Ebenezer himself could ever have conceived.  To Scrooge, Christmas was an intrusion to commerce, but to the executive today it is the critical figure of the annual balance sheet.  The prize turkey was to Bob Cratchits’ family the ultimate Christmas gift; now Christmas itself is the ultimate golden goose.
At the beginning of the Carol, the miserly Scrooge berates Christmas as an unprofitable, costly waste.  Nephew Fred’s classic speech (which never makes it in its entirety into the movie adaptations) follows:

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited [economically], I dare say,” returned the nephew: “Christmas among the rest.  But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in all the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them  as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”   

Maybe it’s the Victorian English, the antiquated phrasing; or perhaps it’s just our short attention spans.  All we hear is, “Christmas is a good thing, even if it’s expensive.”  That’s good as far as it goes.  But Fred’s discourse also includes two primary reasons Christmas is good.  
First, Christmas is good “due to its sacred name [Christ] and origin [religious observance of His birth].”  This is assumed to such degree that Fred doubts it possible to separate any part of Christmas from it.  Yet Western culture has labored hard to do just that.  Though A Christmas Carol is a secular story, in the mid 1800s even a secular story could accept this religious basis, and even vague references to the Christ Child of Christmas would not be wasted on most readers.  Such reference today, however, is easily removed altogether and not missed.  In a morbid twist on the old adage, we throw out the Baby and keep the bathwater.
Secondly, Fred notes Christmas is good as the unsurpassed time of year when people care for others across all socioeconomic levels and collectively take notice of the needs of the less fortunate.  Traces of this still play out today.  Many still attempt to “make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.”  But it is often very slight and more often short-lived generosity.
If we are to stop overplaying this hand, we must become Scrooges all.
“Christmas a humbug!  You don’t mean that, I am sure?”  Not at all.  Most commonly overlooked when thinking of Scrooge is that A Christmas Carol is a story of redemption.  Scrooge repents!  The image of Scrooge we usually hold onto is the “clutching, grasping, wrenching, covetous old sinner.”  But by the end of the tale, remember, he is the model of keeping Christmas.  He sends a turkey to his employee.  He pledges an unspeakable amount for the poor.  He attends Christmas church service.  He accepted his nephew’s invitation to Christmas dinner.  He raises Bob’s salary.

“Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world….And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”  

Repent the humbug, and be a real Scrooge this Christmas.  Downplay the tinsel and gold, and buy a scuttle of coal for a Cratchit near you.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Chase a lion? or do nothing?

This is a post from February 2014. It was good so I decided to share it again as I am wrapped up in NaNoWriMo.

Today I listened to a young man, Jacob Salem, from Olivet Nazarene University preach. I enjoyed it. What caught my attention was not the running leap from the podium, but the scripture he used. 

Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion. (II Samuel 23:20, NIV)

I do not know if he has read the book "Chase the Lion" by Mark Batterson, (I haven't yet either) but wether he did or not the question both ask are basically the same:

Do you trust God enough to chase you dream, even if it looks crazy?


Are you?

The sermon caused me to think back to all that surrounded the publishing of my first book, The Bee in the Blackberry Bush

When began to to chase this dream in July 2012, I set aside the facts:

I was no expert in writing
English was my worse subject growing up
I had no talent in art (I can not draw a strait line with a ruler)
I did not know any illustrators
I had no money to pay an illustrator
I had no money to pay an editor
I did not have a good name for the story
I did no have money to pay a publisher
I had no experience in book design 
I did not know any translators (this comes into play later)
I had no money to pay translators
I had no platform

In spite of that what has happened. 

The Bee in the Blackberry Bush is published in print in 3 languages, 2 in Kindle format. The title was give to me by Garrett Lee who also edited the book for me. Garrett's brother Don is an excellent illustrator and both brothers donated their services(This was Don's first published work, WOW he has a future, hire him). I learned how to self-publish for next to nothing. I learned how to design a book(this is harder than it looks). Two great people took up the challenge of translating the book into their own languages. Update: At this time I have published two more books and have helped other get their work published also. I know of at least 7 book which are in print because I helped encourage or actually formatted the books.

How did all of this happen? I chased the lion.

I can not promise this will happen for you but if you do nothing; nothing is what you will have.

UPDATE: Thanks to Mark Comb of there is a new cover for my book: 

* I am not endorsing Mark Batterson and he is not endorsing this blog.
He has never heard of me, I'm sure.

Monday, November 14, 2016

When "Building" Christ's Kingdom is failure.

I wrote this at the beginning of 2015 and though my word for this year has changed the truth in this post is still true. I think 2017 I might take "building back as my word for the year." CSA

I have said my word for 2015 is “building.” I think about building the church, building my credibility and trust with the people of Tell City and of building relationships with people. 

However, before all of those, I need to build my relationship with Jesus. 

Oswald Chambers wrote, “The greatest competitor to Jesus is service for Him.”

This is a reminder that even though we may do work for God it is not to be our primary devotion. Our devotion has to be to Jesus Christ. 

I have seen a number of stories where a person gets caught up doing something for someone else. Then by get caught up doing that thing (whatever it is) and end up breaking the relationship they have with that very person. 

How many people have said, “I worked hard so you could have all of this.” 
Only to hear the other person say, “I did not want all of this. I only wanted you.”

Jesus does want us to work for him, but first he wants us to be in a committed relationship with Him. 

If we build the Kingdom but do not know the King then we are a failure in what Christianity is about; knowing Jesus.

Chambers, Oswald. My Utmost For His Highest. Uhrichsville:Ohio. Barbour Publishing with permission from Discovery House Publishers, 1935. January 18th entry. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

It's Tough Being Poor (Rich?)

Which is harder being rich or being broke(no money)?

Normally I would say poor. I was recently asked if I knew of an agency that could help someone with a specific need. I did know where they might be able to turn only to find out the agencies to help with that specific need were out of cash. 

I could honestly tell them there was nothing else I could do. My thought was immediately was if I was rich I would have been glad to help them. I dreamed of a moment of life after we have paid off all of what Dave Ramsey would call stupid tax. No, we wouldn’t be rich but funds to help someone I knew really needed help might be there. 

After a minute of regret, another thought came to my mind. What is someone came to me in need(not this person) and I had helped them once before and now they were in a mess again. Yes, I would have the money but now I have to struggle with the choice of maybe either enabling them, or causing them to look to me rather than to God to be their source. If I needed to say no then it would no longer be because I seriously didn’t have it, but I couldn’t do it in good conscious. Yes, I would do it, no matter what they might say, but then they might never look at me the same way or they might blame me. I would know I did what was right, but a friendship may be broken forever. 

Yes, its hard being broke. It's hard having to pass on chicken breast to buy legs and thighs because it will go farther. It's hard negotiation with hospitals and doctors to pay off the balance from the accident. It's hard sitting back in pain when you know you need to see a doctor but don’t want to take the money out of your families minuscule budget. It's hard seeing friends in need and knowing there is absolutely nothing you can do.

However, being rich is hard and I think it would be much harder. It's tough to stand by and do nothing because, in the long run, it is the right thing to do. Then again, struggling for the long game is always harder, that is why most people never do it.  

Saturday, November 5, 2016

David and Bathsheba, and the Dye Job

Recently I looked at some pictures my wife took and posted on Facebook. I was not at all pleased. First I thought I reminded that I needed to lose weight but since I am slowly trying to change my eating habits I grudgingly accepted the picture represented who I was. The other thing that bothered me was that most of my hair has gone white. 

Curious enough if it was all white I wouldn’t have had a problem with it. I usually dye my hair white at Christmas so I can play Santa Clause for the senior adults at the local nursing homes. It's fun and I don’t have to promise to bring any presents. However, my hair was (notice that word, was as it isn’t now) about 90% white with  my mustache being about 70% black. The distinguished salt and pepper were gone and now instead of looking like a distinguished 49 years old (which I am) I looked more like a regular 65-year-old. 

What could hurt I could spend a $1 at the Dollar Tree and add a little bit of distinguishment (yes that isn’t a word but it will work for today). I added the touch of black and my wife hated it.
So the next morning I took the little bit of color lightener that I had left over from Santa last year and tried to take it out. It worked, kinda. The result was a reddish dirty brown in most of my beard. This was worse. So it was either spend the money and buy more lightener and do it right or add the black back in for now.

You got it. I took the cheaper route.

I tried to add in the black dye to the place that was brown. Yes, it covered the brown but now my wife said it didn’t look right with the rest of the beard. So back to the bottle (of colorant, not liquor though some might think I was when they see me next). I colored my whole bread. 
It actually did not look too bad, other than the fact I didn’t recognize the guy looking back at me in the mirror. However, now my wife pointed out that the bread was a different color than the rest of my hair. There isn’t much but it bugged her. 

I got the razor to shave it all off and my wife reminded me that I grew the bread to be Santa. Then she said, “I don’t know why you messed with it in the first place.”

I resisted the urge to tell her that her pictures made me look old which would have made for a very bad day. Besides I knew the truth, vanity. 

Vanity is not a good thing actually its a sin. I am not saying we shouldn’t try to look good, we should look our best. This wasn’t that it was me not accepting who I was and being a little vain. 
Little vain? I had gone from adding a little bit of color to know dying all of my hair a different color. Everyone would know and there wasn’t a way to hide it. I had tried but every action just made it worse. Instead of accepting what I had done at first and doing what it took to make it right, I keep trying to take the easy way out. And now I don’t see myself in the mirror and everyone is going to have a little laugh at my expense.

Unfortunately, not all cover up jobs end with that little bit of cost. 

When we look at what happened when David tried to cover up his sin we see far worse actions and circumstances. 

David was supposed to be at war but he stayed home. He spotted a woman bathing and instead of stopping he went ahead and sent for her. Then came the news she was pregnant. The attempt to cover up the pregnancy by getting her husband to come home and sleep with her. That not working David sent her husband off to be killed in battle and married his wife. (2 Samuel 11-12)

Every step David took to cover up pulled him in deeper. Even after it was all done and David repented the consequences cost David three sons, several wives to being raped by a son in public no less, and nearly the loss of his kingdom. 

All of this because he tried to cover up his sin. I know most of us would say we would never go that far. Most of you won’t literally kill a person to hide something, but most aren’t above lying and cheating to do so. 

My story and David’s is a reminder that trying to cover up a sin or mistake will take you to places you don’t want to go. The first step to change is admitting the truth, not covering it up. This is true in our spiritual lives even more than it is true for addicts. We have to be willing to see ourselves for who we are and not try and hid it.  

Oh, and be kind. Don’t laugh when you see me or do, better to laugh than cry.


Friday, November 4, 2016

Does Adversity Reveal Who we Are?

Okay, I know I am supposed to be concentrating on NaNoWriMo but I was couldn't leave this alone. I wanted to comment on it. CSA

I don’t know who he is but Author Golden was reported to have said (twitter so take that for what it is) “Adversity...Tears Away from Us All but the Things That Cannot Be Torn, so That We See Ourselves as We Really Are."

I started to agree that this is true. Adversity can strip away everything but the things we truly hold to dearly. The problem with this is not everything we hold to dearly is really who we are or have anything to do with reality.

Case in point: In the show American Idol people try to win a recording contest by singing their way to the top. The problem is that some people face the adversity of the judges when they say things like, “You can’t sing” or “That was the worst performance I have ever heard in my life.” Some people begin to argue and tell these people who are professionals in their fields that they don’t know what they are talking about. They will begin to insult the very people they were trying to convince just moments before they deserved a chance at a recording contract.  

So where does this lead us?

I believe it takes us to the truth that adversity doesn’t reveal who we really are but does show us what we really believe and really hold on to. Unfortunately that may have nothing to do with the way things really are. 

Just to give credit where it is due, @JohnSparks is the guy who sent out the original tweet and he asked if we agreed. You see my answer but do you?