The Pondering Pastor

These "Ponderings" originally appeared as articles in our church newsletter or bulletin or just as the musings of one bald pastor. I place them here to encourage you, my fellow blogite and maybe to help us all in our pondering.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The List

I DON’T REMEMBER WHEN IT STARTED, the making of the Christmas wish list. It may have begun the first time I got my little hands on the BIG Sears Christmas catalog. It may have even started early when my mom would dress me in my cutest clothes and take me to see Santa (most likely also at Sears.) I was told that Santa would ask me what I wanted and I had better be ready with a god list with which to fill his saintly ears. Whenever The List became a reality in my life will always be a mystery, but The List still exists for me and for my children.

The items on The List of course have changed over the years, thankfully even to include some less self-driven items, but each year I am “forced” to compile my wish list. Each year I am asked by family and friends, “Randy, what would you like for Christmas?” And now, that I am older and wiser (yeah, right) I respond with, “Oh, nothing. I really don’t care to receive any gifts this year.” I don’t know if I would call it a bold faced lie, but truth be known I’d be one sad puppy if there wasn’t a little something for me under the tree. And so, The List goes on.

Let’s be honest, gift-giving is a great thing, and it’s wonderful to receive gifts as well. For those of us who believe in the birth of the Christ-Child, Jesus, we know that all this giving finds its beginning in the giving that God did for us. The Scriptures tell us that, “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19), and it is out of that giving that we are moved to give. Even Saint Nicholas was motivated by the great love of God exhibited in Christ Jesus. And yet, over the years, this giving to others because of their great need has turned into the development of our list out of our great want.

I think it’s time to re-think The List.

Here’s my thought: let’s create a list of others. Those people around us who truly need to receive.

Each year we take time during the Advent season to remember God’s gracious gifts to us that came through the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. We remind each other of the gifts of hope, peace, joy, love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, freedom, healing, and The List goes on. My suggestion is to create a list of people around us (family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, street people, service personnel, etc.) have beside their names list the gifts of God that they need to receive.

Now comes the fun part. Make this list your prayer-action list. Begin to pray for each person on The List, bringing before our gracious heavenly Father the needs of those on your list. Then, and here’s the really cool part, begin to look for ways to meet those need in the grace and power that God, the Holy Spirit provides. There’s that mom with three kids who needs some peace and quiet – so take care her kids for a day. There’s the young man living under the bridge who needs to know someone cares – so provide him a meal and a blanket. There’s the widow who feels so alone – so write that letter of encouragement, and take a coffee break together. There’s that old friend who needs to know forgiveness – so make the call.

The List is not a bad idea. In fact, I think God had one from eternity past, and you are on it. (Ephesians 1:11-4; Colossians 3:12-14; James 2:5; 1 Peter 1:2) As followers of Jesus, the Son of God, let us give as we have been given, and spread the Advent truth.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Prison Bound

I’VE BEEN TO PRISON. Well, just as a visitor, but I have been there. In fact, I have been to one of the highest security level prisons there are; Pelican Bay State Prison, located in northern hinterlands of California. There is that old saying, “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t not want to live there.” Well, it’s not even a nice place to visit.

Pelican Bay State Prison is filled with some of the worst of the worst when it comes to criminals, and yet in the midst of that very dark place God is at work, and lives are being changed. They are changed because someone cares enough to bring God’s light into the midst of the darkness. Sometimes the light is brought through the preaching of the Word of God by a visiting volunteer chaplain, like myself. Sometimes it is brought by someone linking with an inmate through a ministry like Prison Fellowship, and sometimes the light is lived through the life of a correctional officer who is a follower of Jesus.

This Sunday we join with thousands as we remember the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. It is a time when we focus on the reality that throughout our world it is not only criminals who find themselves imprisoned, but there are thousands who suffer many forms of imprisonment simply because the bear the name of Christian. To us here in America these brothers and sisters are nameless and faceless to us, but they are no less our family. We may not be afforded the blessing of visiting them in prison, as we could an inmate in our county jail, but through the power of prayer we can still have an impact in their lives.

Let us therefore heed the Word of the God, from Hebrews 13, “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Not only today…but everyday.

Friday, November 02, 2007


SOME INSECTS ARE MEAN-SPIRITED. Yellow-jackets are one such insect. About a week ago I was involved in a 5k race to benefit San Lorenzo Valley Elementary School. The course took us on an out-and-back trip through Fall Creek State Park. As I started to head up one of the steeper grades one of the course volunteers alerted us to the presence of yellow-jackets. Needless to say, I didn’t stick around long to discover what kind of mood they were in. But, by the time I was on the return leg of the race the race officials had changed the course and were taking us down “let’s-break-an-ankle-hill.” Ah, such are the choices in trail running; yellow-jackets or broken ankles.

At the finish line the bites (stings?) were counted, and ice-packs were applied and the stories were told, some with tears, of the yellow-jacket encounters. What was interesting to me is that some got stung (bit?) and some didn’t. Often one runner was attacked, while next was not. What made the difference? Could it be the speed of the runner? (That wouldn’t be a fact in my case.) Could it be the color of clothing? (That didn’t seem to matter.) Could it be that the little nemesis had the ability to smell fear? (Then I should have been attacked, I’m always afraid when I race.) None of these things seem to make a difference. It all came down to: some got stung and others didn’t. No rhyme, no reason, just life.

As I contemplate the tragic fires sweeping over Southern California this week, I ask myself the question raised above. Why are some “stung” and others not? The fire destroys one home and leaps over the next. Some neighborhoods leveled, while others stand. Why? The choice of God? The results of living in a broke world? I don’t have the answer for that.

So, what are we to do?

Me? I weep for those who have lost everything. I celebrate with those who “made it through.” And, I pray for God’s mercy to fall on all of us…for we all need it…stung or not.