Monikers and Meanings

baby-name-surprisedMost people who know me call me by the shortened form of my name.  Although my birth certificate reads, Stanley Lee Seymour,  most people call me Stan.   An etymological search of Stan reveals that it is Old English in origin and means rocky meadow or from the stony field.

Etymology, however, had nothing to do with the selection of my name.  Because my last name starts with an S, Mom and Dad thought it would be trendy for the first name of each of their children to start with an S.  My older brother’s name is Steve and my younger brother’s name is Brad.

Before he was born Brad’s name was going to be Stuart, but Mom was already having trouble calling Steve, Stan, and Stan, Steve, so Stuart became Brad.

Had Mom continued her practice of using an S in the naming of her sons, Brad would have been Stuart; and, his name would carry the idea of one who is a guardian or steward.

Here, in America, we seem to be more ambiguous than rigorous when we consider the meaning of the name written on the birth certificate that labels our children for life.

This has not always been the case. In the biblical eras, names were pregnant with meaning and often prophetic in nature. The best example is the name that is above all names and the Old Testament descriptor assigned to Him: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Little did Mary know the angelic proclamation and the meaning of her son’s name would be as full of pain as it was promise:  You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

When that babe lying in Bethlehem’s manger was named Jesus, it was not just a slip of the tongue or a casual moniker, it was a bold declaration: The Savior has been born.

May we all remember the reason for this season.

A Season of Lists

article_post_width_santa_naughty_listMost of us would find it difficult to manage the hustle and bustle of Christmas without the help of a few lists. These are scribbled on a piece of paper, written on a white board, or perhaps they pop up on a To-Do-List on your computer.

Lists are used to organize the events of our day and to lessen the stress of forgetfulness. Hosts pencil in names on guest lists; benefactors write gift lists; and wives scribble grocery lists to guide their husbands as they search for food items. Perhaps the most famous list is that naughty or nice one that’s frequently checked and monitored by old Saint Nick.

As I was rummaging through a desk drawer this week, I found a list that Mom and Pop had clipped out of a paper. It’s called the Ten Commandments For Right Living, and it offers some practical wisdom for life:

  1. Thou shalt not worry, for by so doing thou shalt relive the same disaster many times.
  2. Thou shalt not try to dominate or possess others, for it is the right of every man to govern his own actions.
  3. Thou halt not seek after fame, for unless God is glorified, greatness is a burden.
  4. Thou shalt not work for money only, for money was meant to serve. Money is a poor master.
  5. Thou shalt harm no other person, by word, thought, or deed, regardless of the cause: for to do so is to perpetuate the sorrows of the race.
  6. Thou shalt not be angry at any person for any reason, for anger injures most the one who is angry.
  7. Thou shalt never blame another for thy misfortune, for each man’s destiny is in his own keeping.
  8. Thou shalt relax, for tension is an abomination unto the flesh.
  9. Thou shalt have a sense of humor or thy years will seem much more tedious and painful.
  10. Thou shalt love the beautiful and serve the good for this is according to the will of heaven.

While I might take issue with the way some of these are worded, they do offer some good life principles. Most of the 10 can be summarized in one statement that Jesus made—The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

There’s an ocean of difference between “doing in” others and “doing for” others. Which “doing” do you do?

Happy Holidays?

Christmas-giftsWhile walking the aisles of a home improvement store, I was miffed by the sight of a wreath emblazoned with two words:  Happy Holidays. This frustrates me because it’s an impotent message that castrates Christmas of it’s substantial significance.

Christmas is not in need of some slick marketing campaign; it’s message might be centuries old, but it’s hardly antiquated.

The secularization of Christmas reminds me of the wise words of Benjamin Franklin: How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts!

The message of Christmas is filled with love and full of hope. God loved us so much that He gave us the gift of His son and as Phillips Brooks said in O Little Town of Bethlehem: The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

The hope of Christmas is not some neatly wrapped gift that is placed under a tree. It is the gift of Jesus—the baby of Bethlehem.

As the day of Christ’s birth draws closer, I encourage you to give some thought to these words of Peter: Prepare your minds for action, keep a clear head, and set your hope completely on the grace to be given you when Jesus, the Messiah, is revealed (I Peter 1:13).

Merry Christmas!

Christmas in Black and White

santaSeveral years ago Phillip Bump wrote an article for The Atlantic that examined the Christmas Eve workload of the jolly old elf.  Using data from the CIA, Bump focused his article on Santa’s deliveries to the world’s 526,000,000 Christian kids 14 years of age and younger.

To get a present to all of these kids, Bump determined that Santa would need to deliver presents at a rate of 22 million kids an hour for the 24 hours of Christmas Eve. If you run the figures on your calculator, you’ll find that equates to 365,000 kids a minute or about 6,100 a second.  Not to worry though, we are talking about Santa.

Do you remember your perceptions of Christmas and Santa when you were a child?  Did your eager anticipation of Christmas consume you?

I remember how quickly I would hurry home after school, so I could watch Santa’s Workshop in black and white on an old TV.  The days from Thanksgiving to Christmas would pass by with the agonizing speed of a turtle.

As a child, I thought Christmas would never come; and, truthfully, I gave very little thought to its significance.  The desire that I had for the brightly wrapped gifts carefully placed beneath the bright lights and icicles hanging on the Christmas tree, had little to do with the Christ of Christmas.

So, what is Christmas?  It certainly isn’t big box stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, or the pushing, shoving, and elbowing of frenzied shopping.  Christmas is the birth of Hope.  It is a time to step away from the hustle and bustle of the mobs and the malls to find a moment of solitude to reflect on the miracle of the manger.

Christmas is that day long ago when Jesus stepped down from the glories of heaven to be born in a lowly manger; to live a sinless life; to die the death of the cross; to rise again on the third day; and to return to heaven to intercede on our behalf.

The essence of that babe from Bethlehem is summarized by Paul in the colorful language of I Timothy 3:16:

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:  Jesus appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

May you have a Merry Christmas is my wish for you.

What Did Mary Know?

maryHave you ever taken a moment to consider the momentous thoughts of Mary? I have, and I do, whenever I read  Luke 2: “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

When Mary pondered the magnitude of the angelic message, and the adoring words of the shepherds,  did she fully comprehend the magnificent meaning of that first Christmas?

When she gazed into the eyes of her innocent son, could she mentally grasp what she would emotionally gasp 30 years later when he took on the sin of the world?

How could she know that the son nurtured in her womb would have such a significant future and manifest awesome and miraculous power over creation?  Did Mary have an aha moment when Jesus changed the water into wine at the marriage supper at Cana?

Was she pleasingly puzzled when her son had a leg up on the religious charlatans of the day and healed the legs of a crippled man?

When Mary saw a crowd of hungry faces suddenly satisfied by a sack lunch that was multiplied 5,000 times, did she realize that her son could also satisfy the spiritual hunger of the world?

When her son of a carpenter was dying an excruciating death on a wooden cross, did her anguish confound her comprehension of God’s ultimate plan?

How fast did her heart beat when she heard that her three-days-dead son had removed his grave clothes, rolled away a massive stone, run off a squad of soldiers, and became the resurrection and life to all who would believe?

There are some things that I ponder in my heart:
• How could Jesus understand everything, but be misunderstood by most everyone?
• Who was his best childhood friend? Could it have been a boy named Judas?
• What did he and his cousin John (later called the Baptist) talk about?
• Did his brothers and sisters see him as unique or annoyingly odd?

I wonder, Mary Did You Know?

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving: A slice of Americana

macySince it began in 1924, Macy’s gift to New York City has become a time-honored tradition.  Macy’s miracle of 34th street is a festive celebration that runs for 2 ½ miles.  Some 3.5 million people will line the parade route to watch this amazing display of giant balloons and unique floats, and another 50 million will watch it at home.

For many people, this is the image they have of Thanksgiving, and it is what they think of as the start of the holiday season.  My thoughts are a bit different.

While I do think of the Pilgrims, the inaugural feast with the Indians and the giving of thanks.  This year, I find myself thinking of January 6, 1923, the year before Macy’s began their parade.

A record of the event was recorded in the pages of Eureka’s newspaper, The Democratic Messenger on January 11, 1923:  Harold Seymour, age 17 and Berta Hughes, age 18 were married by Probate Judge S.L. Chase in Reece, Kansas.

Harold and Berta would move a little east and a little north to Sallyards, a town that is now barren foundations, railroad tracks, cattle, and the Kansas wind blowing across the Flint Hills and through the Bluestem grass.

The white house where Harold and Berta lived is my slice of Americana.  My first memories of Thanksgiving are framed inside this house.  I can still smell Grandma’s cherry pie and chicken and noodles.  I can still see that big smile that lined the wrinkled face of Grandpa Seymour.

Even though I’ve forgotten the name of the songs, the vivid memory of Grandma sitting at the piano is fresh in my mind.  As she played, the family sang, and the clearest voice was Dad’s—a voice that was silenced by an untimely death 50 years ago.

Even though my grandparents, parents, and all but one uncle and one aunt are gone, I still have my slice of Americana.  Every time I pour myself a cup of coffee and eat a slice of cherry pie or dig into a heaping helping of chicken and noodles, I remember what I can’t forget, and I give thanks.

What are some of your memories and your slice of Americana?

Holiness and the Grace of God

isa6-holiness-e1361342892229The subject that seems to be the focal point of many Christian authors is grace.  Walk down the aisles of Barnes and Noble and look at the titles on the book shelves, and what do you see?  They are lined with rows of books that outline and discuss the subject of grace.

Evidently, grace sells.  But at what expense?  Does this emphasis on grace debase our perception of the Holiness of God?  If we give too much attention to the grace of God, do we lessen our comprehension of His holiness?

Notice the admonition of the Psalmist, and his focus on the holiness of God:

  • Psalm 29:2: Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
  • Psalm 96:9: Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth.

Read the sixth chapter of Isaiah, and you will have a better understanding of the power of God’s holiness.  When Isaiah witnessed the glory of God, he saw the sinfulness of man—and he repented.

You diminish the beauty of His holiness and you cheapen His grace when you fail to give appropriate attention to your sin.  Grace is God’s righteous response to the unrighteousness of man.  To fully appreciate His grace, you cannot depreciate the magnitude of your sin.

When Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy, he gave a balanced assessment of grace and sin:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.  And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

When you get to the place to where you can recognize the prevalence and power of sin, you are at at the point where you will begin to recognize this this truth:  “. . . the grace of our Lord is exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.”

A Christmas Riddle

images (1)Is the myth of Santa a riddle or a taradiddle?  The contrasting stories I saw yesterday certainly paint different pictures of old St. Nick:

  • Story #1: Georgia Church Posts Message Saying ‘Santa Is Satan’
  • Story #2: Secret Santas in Massachusetts Pay Thousands of Dollars to Close Out All Layaway Orders at Three Toys ‘R’ Us Stores
  • Story #3: Ho Ho No: School bans Santa from winter concert
  • Story #4: Santa and his elves wash windows at Mission Hospital

It seems that people have different opinions of the red-suited giver of gifts.  Is he the demon or the delight of December?  Is he charming or harming to our children.  Is he innocent folklore or a fatuous troll?

A Pew Research survey released in December of 2013 found that Santa is not just a childhood fixation:

  • 69% of parents with at least one child under age 18 said they planned to pretend that old St. Nick would visit their house on Christmas Eve.
  • 22% of parents who don’t have kids that believe in Santa still expected to participate by gift-giving in Santa’s name.
  • 11% of people who don’t celebrate Christmas still planned to get a visit from Santa.

Frank Riga, emeritus professor of English at Canisius College, says the myth of Santa Claus can enhance creativity and imagination in children.

Our focus needs to be on more than Santa and enhancing creativity and imagination.  A new survey (Pew Research) suggests that most Americans report a belief in the biblical Christmas story as historical events that actually occurred. Nearly 75% of Americans believe:

  • Jesus Christ was born of a virgin
  • Angels appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus
  • Wise men were guided by a star and brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus
  • 80% of the adults in the USA believe the newborn baby Jesus was laid in a manger.

What will be your main focus this Christmas season?  Will it be the red-suited Claus or the angelic clause?

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”         Luke 2:10-12

Like A Satin White Snowflake

sad-snowmanWhen I walk down the street or press my way through a busy mall, it seems people are as adrift as a satin white snowflake that’s blown by a fierce wind.  They participate in a vigorous celebration of an annual winter holiday that is a time of jubilation, but they have never experienced that infusion of joy that Peter described as being “unspeakable and full of glory (I Peter 1:8).”

Paul wanted the saints at Ephesus to embrace a joy-filled relationship with Christ, so he prayed for them to “have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

The joy and fullness of Christ is the essence of the incarnation, and as John said:  “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth . . . and of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace (John 1:14, 16).

When I observe people today, I wonder if their holiday happenings are a celebration of this grace and truth or an aberration of its substance.

When you look at the faces and into the eyes of the people you meet on the street:  What do you see?  Is it a lighthearted twinkle or a heavyhearted wrinkle?   Is it the glad refrain of the fullness of Christ or is it the sad disdain of the world’s dullness?

What’s the difference between the two?  Isn’t the incarnation the demarcation of wholeness and hole-ness?  Christmas is a contrast between the love of God and the lack of the world. Paul captured this in his letter to the Colossians:

  • In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9).
  • In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1:19).
  • In him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).

The joy, peace, and fullness that you hunger for will never be found in a neatly wrapped package beneath a tree:  It is only found in the baby who was born on Christmas day.

Peace On Earth

Christmas Bells 11516When Jesus came to this world, it was not to address the peccadillo needs of a few, but to fill the chasm of sin that separated man from God.  He did not come to just please the whims and fancies of the human race, but He came to pacify of the righteous demands of a holy God.

His coming was full of promise; yet, the people to whom He came rejected Him.  John said:

He came into the world—the world he had created—and the world failed to recognize him. He came into his own creation, and his own people would not accept him. Yet wherever men did accept him he gave them the power to become sons of God. These were the men who truly believed in him, and their birth depended not on the course of nature nor on any impulse or plan of man, but on God (JB Phillips)

Whenever I read the verses above, I am intrigued by four words:  “the power to become.”  When people accept Jesus, not an idea nor a philosophy, but the person of Christ, they receive “the power to become” a child of God.  This spiritual transformation is the real hope of the Christmas story.

At this time each year I see people go to great expense to decorate their house–to transform it from the ordinary ho hum to an extraordinary display of flashing lights; yet they still miss the meaning of Christmas.  While they are willing to pay homage to a diorama of Christmas, they fail to worship the Christ of Christmas.

Longfellow wrote the words to the song I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.  In the third stanza of the song, he stated the condition of mankind without Christ:

 And in despair I bowed my head:

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

As you celebrate Christmas this year, remember peace on earth is only possible because a piece of Heaven was born in a manger.