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Christmas Miracles

Santa Claus in Gifts Distribution Center

Santa’s Christmas Miracle

Several years ago, The Atlantic published an article trying to calculate “Santa’s Christmas Eve Workload.” They came up with a “good list” of just over 526 million 14-and-under aged kids around the world who historically would be apt to “believe” in Santa Claus.

After running the numbers, they determined that on Christmas Eve, Santa would need to deliver presents to 365,000 kids every 60 seconds. That means that within every second, Santa would have to travel to 6,100 rooftops, climb down the chimneys, deliver presents, drink some milk, eat some cookies, climb back up the chimney, and get to the next rooftop.

No wonder “The Night Before Christmas” poem reads, “And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof, the racing and pawing of each little hoof.”

An article by the IEEE Central Virginia Section of engineers went a few additional “twinklings” further and pointed out more dramatic Santa miracles. If each child only received a medium sized Lego set, they calculated Santa’s bag of toys would weigh over 500,000 tons. They then figured out how big and strong Santa’s sleigh would have to be and how many reindeer he would actually need to pull it. A flight-less reindeer can pull 300 pounds on land, so they generously assumed a flying reindeer could pull 3,000 pounds. No doubt you’ve already done the calculations in your head, but to check your math, here is the answer: Santa would need 360,000 reindeer in order to pull a sleigh weighing 7 times more than the Queen Elizabeth cruise ship.

How’d you like that landing on your roof in the middle of the night? (Perhaps you should avoid telling this Santa story to children.)

At Christmas, we ponder the greatest miracle of all time — a miracle that makes Santa’s supposed feats seem rather silly. The Bible proclaims, “For a child is born to us, a Son is given to us. The government will rest on His shoulders. And He will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). The meaning and implications of this message — that God became man in order to save us — is beyond our capacity to comprehend.

It takes faith.

Faith is our part of the Christmas miracle. You see, there is nothing we can do to add or take away from what God has already done. The miracle of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection has already taken place. The only thing He asks us to do is the only thing we can do: believe in Jesus.

That is the real Christmas miracle.

Freshly Ground Heaven

COFFEE (n.) liquid that smells like freshly ground heaven.
PROCAFFEINATING (n.) the tendency to not starting anything until you’ve had a cup of coffee.
DEPRESSO (n.) the feeling you get when you run out of coffee.

I like coffee. A lot. Just black and hot. None of that iced coffee or latte stuff for me. Give me a deep, dark roast you can smell through thick walls. No sugar, no milk, just freshly brewed as coffee is supposed to be. (Latte, by the way, is Italian and means, “You paid too much for that coffee.”)

My only real exception to black coffee is Cuban coffee. It’s a liquid shot of dynamite served in tiny cups to keep you from exploding. Gloria Estefan describes Cuban coffee as, “Very powerful, very sweet, and a little dangerous — just like the people who drink it.”

My Grandpa on my Mom’s side was Swedish. My memories of him are few, but I do remember he loved coffee. His son, my Uncle Paul, insists my love of coffee is due to the Swedish blood running thick through my veins. It may be true. I do suffer from “depresso.”

I’ve never really concerned myself with any “how coffee is made” details. I’m just glad that after watching his goats get all excited from eating coffee berries, the 9th century Ethiopian goat-herder decided to smash some up and run hot water through them. The next thing you know, we’re drinking over 500 billion cups of coffee every year, employing over 25 million people, supporting a $100 billion annual industry (Business Insider), and offering PhD’s in coffee studies.

Not only that, but depending upon which scientific study you read, coffee is shown to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, anemia and even heart disease. On the other hand, a different study suggests coffee increases the risk of anemia and heart disease. It seems then, depending upon the genes God gave you, coffee can either be your medicine or poison. Guess you’ll have to figure that one out for yourself.

I couldn’t help but once again consider how incredibly amazing, creative, and full of potential God made us. When He created us in His image (Genesis 1:26), it was the most unique, creative, amazing, and loving thing in all of creation. God blesses us with his very own “personal touch,” creating us to resemble Him. That means we can reason and choose and possess unbelievable potential, grace, and love. “Anytime someone invents a machine, writes a book, paints a landscape, enjoys a symphony, calculates a sum, or names a pet, he or she is proclaiming the fact that we are made in God’s image” (gotquestions.org).

Just consider what man has done with the coffee bean. And with that, I’m going to fix another cup. After all, you may only need one cup of coffee to get you going, but just to be safe, I’ll have another.

Cliff Jumpers – Live

I tried to play football at South Miami High School. I was a quarterback who couldn’t run fast or throw well. But man, could I hold a clipboard.

I was pale, skinny, and completely lost on the football field. I had never played before my 9th grade year and was far more afraid of our head coach than any opposing linebacker. It was on our high school football practice field I met Jonathan Scott. He looked like he could bench press 500 pounds. His robust laugh flew right in the face of danger.

We became close friends. His walk with Christ impressed me. It was real. He truly loved Jesus and it was hard to miss. Before practices and games he would even pray for his new friend, the pale and skinny QB who desperately needed courage…and much faster feet. Together, we survived on and off the field.

Today, Jonathan is the South Park Campus Pastor of Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, NC. He is a fabulous musician, teacher, preacher, motivator, father and husband. And now, on his own accord, he’s taken to putting to life to some of my blogs. And that’s just really cool. But more than anything else, John is my friend. That is a wonderful privilege and joy and one that will only last…FOREVER!

Cliff Jumping

AdobeStock_14254754_email650“Don’t jump,” the wise voice of sanity said in the back of my brain. It was quickly followed by my foolish voice of insanity which mockingly laughed and said, “You can do it. Jump!”

I jumped.

A moment later I found myself clinging to a Grand Canyon outcropping which stood out like a finger reaching far into the sky. It stood alone about four feet from where I had jumped and about three feet lower. To jump back to safety would require an Olympian long jump I was not capable of making. The drop on all sides seemed at least one hundred feet.

I was alone. The sun was setting. I was in trouble.

The Bible is full of stories of men and women who are in desperate trouble. More often then not, it is a result of their own foolish decisions. Like me, they “jumped,” knowing full well it was a bad idea.

So why do we still jump?

I came across an article written by my father many years ago titled, “How Forgiven Are We?” It seemed rather appropriate for all of us foolish and sinful “cliff jumpers.” In it, he takes us to Romans 7 and discusses our “unrelenting struggle between our spiritual desires and our desires that are totally contrary to God.” Paul says it this way, “…the trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself…” Sound familiar?

In my Dad’s article, he goes on to explain the incredible Good News of what Jesus accomplished at the cross for us – a full pardon “even for the sins we commit today.” Oh, that is Good News!

He then asked his readers to do something. He asks us to open our Bibles to Luke 7:36-50. In this familiar passage a sinful woman pours expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet. Feel the incredible emotion as “…her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair.”

Now, in all the places where the passage refers to “the woman,” insert your name. Dad said, “Open your Bible and read it aloud to yourself. Do it right now.” Bring yourself to verse 48. Here Jesus says to the woman and thus says to those of us who believe in Him, “_________, your sins are forgiven.”

What a beautiful Easter message! What a beautiful message for every other day, too. Our sins are forgiven! Complete and unconditional grace. “At the cruel cross,” my Dad explained, “the blessed Son of God received from His beloved Father all the judgment and punishment you and I deserve. There at the cross Jesus exclaimed, ‘It is finished.’ He completed all that was required for divine justice to forgive us completely and totally – no matter the depth of our sin.”

Back on that cliff…

My brother Gregg and a college buddy, Paul, were with me there in the Grand Canyon. They had ventured off to find some food and water while I foolishly jumped out onto the precipice. I’ll never forget my brother’s look of confounded wonder as they found me stuck on the cliff. Gregg has literally had to save my life more than once so perhaps this was not completely unexpected.

Risking his own life, Gregg leaned over the cliff with an outstretched arm as Paul held onto his belt and leaned back to create a fulcrum. Gregg looked at me and calmly and confidently said, “I got you.” In one motion, I reached out, grabbed his arm, and Gregg pulled me over the ledge to safety. He then whacked me over the head – followed by a long embrace.

Happy Easter…and happy Every Day…to all of us “cliff jumpers.”

Moses’ Logistical Issues

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There’s been a lot of talk about numbers these days: inauguration day numbers, immigration numbers, cost of a 60-second Super Bowl commerical number, and even the Dow Jones surpassing 20,000 number. We like numbers.

All this talk about numbers reminded me of a report I read a while back about Moses and the ancient Israelites. Bible scholars suggest that when you include all the men, women, and children who walked out of Egypt, there were some 2.4 million people (see Exodus 12:37-38). Now that’s a big number. You also need to consider they also took along “a rabble of non-Israelites along with great flocks and herds of livestock” (Exodus 12:38).

An apparent report by a Quartermaster General in the Army claimed that to feed that many people, you would need at least 3 million pounds of food and 11 million gallons of water every day. The report also claimed they would need a campground two-thirds the size of Rhode Island to pitch their tents, pen their animals, and roast marshmallows by the campfire. (OK, I made the marshmallow part up.)

Then there’s this: remember when the people of Israel were trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army? God tells Moses to “pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground” (Exodus 14:16).

The Quartermaster report said that if you tried to cross the Red Sea double file on a narrow path, it would take 35 days and nights to get everyone across. But Exodus 14:21-22 says,“…the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!”

For the people of Israel to walk across in one day, the Quartermaster report stated, God would have cut a path through the Red Sea at least three miles wide allowing the people to walk across 5,000 abreast.

Now there is no way my mathematically challenged brain can figure out if any of this Quartermaster report stuff is correct. But it certainly brought a greater understanding that food, and water, and armies, and Pharoahs, and logistics, and oceans, and whatever other troubles we may be facing, are not problems for our God. He may not answer or move in a way we want or even expect, in fact I would suggest He usually doesn’t. But He is always in control. He is never caught off guard. He is always up to some much bigger plan than we can see or understand, and He will always accomplish His purposes.

How do we respond to such wonder and amazement? The Psalmist David gives us an example, “You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord. You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand” (Psalm 139:4-6).

Inaugural Observations

inauguration-celebration-american-flag-capitol-in-backgroundI had to grab a few things late last night at one of those 24-hour grocery stores. That concept seemed strange to me until I found myself roaming the aisles close to midnight.

I grabbed what I needed and was heading to the checkout when I noticed a man about my age shopping with his son. His son, I guessed, was roughly the age of my youngest son and all seemed normal at first. Then it became apparent the son had handicaps which required constant attention and care. I suspected the father was purposefully shopping with his son late at night to avoid crowds.

I couldn’t help but just observe from a distance. Their walk down the grocery store aisle was extremely slow. Every few steps, the father would have to stop and adjust his son’s position so they could keep walking down the aisle. With each adjustment, he would gently reposition his son and smile. Then they would slowly move forward again. I was amazed at the father’s tenderness and patience.

I suspect the very last thing they were concerned about was the inauguration. Certainly decisions made by government officials could impact their lives. Regardless, this father seemed committed to tenderly care for his son, no matter what comes out of Washington or anywhere else.

As I observed, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my Heavenly Father’s love and care for me. I often feel so spiritually handicapped, so lost, and in constant need of adjustments. You would think the Father would be completely exasperated and worn out caring for me. But He’s not. “See how very much our Father loves us, for He calls us His children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

The presidential inauguration is tomorrow. To say the least, it’s going to be very interesting. But our trust and confidence is not in governments. Our trust and hope is in our Heavenly Father. And just like the son being tenderly led through the grocery store by a patient and loving father, “You, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).

Inaugurations will come and go until the end of the age. But God’s faithful love endures forever. Take a moment and read Psalm 136 and be reminded. It will help put concerns into proper perspective.

Writing Stories

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View from the outdoor cafe

I’m sitting at an outdoor coffee bar that serves a lot more than just coffee. It overlooks a sports arena, downtown buildings, and a commuter train railway. There is also an airport close by. A few minutes ago an airplane flew past while at the same time a train and a bus rolled along. Everyone is going someplace.

It’s interesting to observe the mix of people in this place. There are all shapes and sizes and I count at least six different nationalities. Most seem quite happy. I suspect the median age is late 30’s and I suddenly realize I’m pulling the curve up instead of down.

Most conversations I overhear seem pretty light. If I had to guess, I would say there is one budding romance across the way. They are all smiles and laugh even if what was said may not have been particularly funny. A trio of ladies have gathered for drinks and are swapping stories about their respective “crazy” day. An elderly man is by himself staring into his glass deep in thought.

I wonder what their stories are?

We all have them. We’re all on a journey. All of us are hopeful our story comes to a happy and peaceful conclusion. We’re all writing stories.

I can’t help but wonder how God’s eternal and perfect plan—His story for us—is possibly taking place at this exact moment in each one of our lives. There just seems to be too much going on, too many  details, too many people, too many possible outcomes. How can it be that God is in control and that “…every day of my life was recorded in His book and every moment laid out before a single day had passed” (Psalm 139:16)? How can this be true right now, right here in this coffee bar?

I know God lives in eternity and is outside all of nature’s laws regarding time and space. It is difficult to try and comprehend. My Dad loved to tell me that this meant “God has all the ‘time’ in the world to focus on me and me alone for my entire life—every moment of every day.” That both thrills and terrifies me. But I do believe that in some mysterious God-ordained-free–will way, we write our story with uncoerced choices which fit exactly into God’s eternal plan. 

Maybe David was sitting in a coffee bar (circa 1000 BC) drinking a strong black coffee (no way King David drank lattés) thinking about some of these things. Why does the Almighty God–with that kind of power and ability–unconditionally love and care for someone like me? Why would he even care about my story and even desire that “through his mighty power at work within me, accomplish infinitely more than I might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20)? It’s too outlandish to imagine.

But He does. And so David had to say what I’m feeling at this moment, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand” (Psalm 139:6).

I need another strong black coffee.

Award Winning Book

Fun summer reading. “Monkeys In My Coconut Tree” by Ed Thompson, is a compilation of fun, easy-to-read stories of fun, family, and faith. It was a Reader’s Favorite 2016 Silver Medal Winner. So come on, check it out. Read some of the reviews and download your copy by clicking HERE. (Also available at Amazon.com, iTunes and others.)

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Moses & Baseball

 

IMG_1312“Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.”  —Yogi Berra

Realizing my youngest son, David (then 9), was excelling at baseball, I decided to move him to a more challenging baseball park in Miami called Tamiami. Instead of the popular “draft” where the talented players are spread out over the various teams, coaches handpick their young baseball players and bring them to the park to battle it out.  

David was the only “American” on the Tamiami All-Star team filled with second and third generation Hispanics. To be fair, all the boys on his 10-and-under All-Star team were  born in America. They embraced their Hispanic heritage and cultural diversity, but were proud Americans grateful to live in the USA and the wonderfully diverse city of Miami.

Tamiami baseball is well known for being “over-the-top” competitive. And just to prove it, in our very first Tamiami game, the team mom from our team got into a fist fight with the team mom from the other team. I knew right then and there it was going to be a very exciting season of baseball.

And it was. Despite all the fist fights (and there were many), the constant heated quarrels over the “real” age of some of the kids (just about every game), and some umpires who performed their own little dance move with every strike-three call (one umpire called himself Michael Jackson), it was a great experience. David’s final game that year was played on TV as the Tamiami All-Star team won the Pony League World Series in Dallas.

David learned the fundamentals of the game of baseball from passionate Hispanic dads. Lessons he is no doubt taking with him now in his first full professional year in the NY Mets farm system. Not only that, but his Spanish improved dramatically.

In many ways, the passion David’s Hispanic coaches used for teaching him the fundamentals of baseball is what Moses was getting at when he said, “Teach [God’s commands] to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up…so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 11:19-21).

And who doesn’t want to flourish?

Most of us have a hard time truly believing God gave us the Ten Commandments for our benefit. But unlike baseball where breaking the rules may cost you the game, we are all in the middle of the great “game” of life where the stakes are so very much higher. So if you’d like to know why Moses said obeying them will help your life flourish, my Dad just so happened to write a short book explaining just that.

You can find it here at Amazon or on our ministry website at LOGOI.  

The GREAT Listener

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My son and daughter-in-law went away for the weekend, so I got to babysit my grand-dog, Luke. Luke is a beautiful and lovable German Short-Haired Pointer with piercing light brown eyes and a wonderful soft coat.

But of course, he’s nuts.

To babysit this dog, all you have to do is turn on a light that throws some sort of shadow on the wall. Luke will then sit there and stare intently at the shadow as if he’s certain it will jump off the wall at any moment and he must be ready to pounce on it. His focus and patience are amazing. Bumping the light so the shadow moves causes Luke’s muscles to quiver and his ears to peal back with excitement. This routine can keep me—I mean him—entertained for hours.

He also eats rocks.

But my grand-dog is a great listener. There’s been much on my mind lately and over the weekend, Luke and I had some long talks. There were no judgements or wary glances or hints of ridicule or condemnation as I rambled on. In fact, he didn’t say anything. He just looked up at me with his kind eyes and listened.

What a good friend.

I’m not a very good listener and need to learn from my grand-dog. I usually begin offering my “wise” counsel and advice before others have even finished their sentences. The classic Bible story in the book of Job tells of three well-meaning friends who offered advice without really knowing or in any way truly comprehending what Job was feeling or what was taking place. Most think the best advice they gave was when they just sat next to Job in silence.

I’m uncomfortable with silence.

No doubt, that’s part of my problem. If there is a gap in the conversation, I feel it’s my job to fill it — even if I have nothing to say. I remember a friend’s anguish as he quietly told me of his son’s drug addiction. His heart was breaking and he didn’t know what to do. He just needed to talk it out a bit and have a friend listen. He took a breath and left a vocal pause and I jumped in and began spewing meaningless advice without knowing anything of what he was experiencing or how to help.

I was just like Job’s friends.

Thankfully, the One with all knowledge is the best listener of all. He knows how to listen. And thankfully, He loves to hear everything that’s on our heart and mind. He doesn’t even mind if you ramble on and on. And unlike my grand-dog, Job’s well-meaning friends, or me, He has the power to answer our prayers according to His perfect will (1 John 5:13-15). I suspect that’s why the Psalmist said, “I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen…” (Psalm 116:1&2).

What a GREAT friend!

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