Monthly Archives: December 2015

“Most People Are Wimps These Days!”

Christmas Taradiddle 2017
“Most People Are Wimps These Days!”
Sometime between Thanksgiving and January 5, thousands and thousands of North American families will pack into their warm cars and drive a few miles to select their spruce, pine, or fir tree at the Boy Scouts or Lion’s Club rented parking lot. Hundreds of nearly perfect trees will be propped up on makeshift stands for easy selection. These recently cut trees release a pine odor that is unique to Christmas. Parents and grandparents will plop down $50-$150 for a tree that will hold its needles for three to four weeks. What a bunch of wimps! For us old timers, such a process is markedly anti-climatic and anti-traditional. For the others, the Christmas holiday ain’t what it ought or could be.
I lived in the early 1950’s when men were men, and boys were men. Christmas was notably dufferent back then because of the location, the availability, and the cost of trees. During my childhood, the first Saturday of December was marked on our 16 x 24 inch Burlington Bank and Trust calendar. The free gift from the bank provided adequate space for families to record all important events—whether the weaning of calves, the God’s Portion Sale of the local Church, or a host of birthdays and anniversaries. Few families failed to have a date calendar hanging somewhere in their kitchen. Mom always scribbled “Falling and Decoration of the Christmas Tree” in the area under the first Saturday after Thanksgiving. No other activities could “trump” this family tradition.
November was reserved in part to verbalizing our dreams of how we would find something even prettier than previous years.
We would go over as many creeks as necessary to look for the “perfect” tree. An artificial tree was not an option. My Dad, my sister, and I made the foray while Mom stayed home making a variety of cookies and keeping the chocolate and/or spiced tea hot for our undetermined return to the home fires.Temperatures in southeast Iowa usually hovered close to or below freezing during December, and snow often covered the ground. There was about a 35% chance of snow in early December according to historical weather records. My sweet dishwater blond sister was three years older than I. No one could call her a tomboy. In fact, I always thought of her as a bit prissy. So, while I would dress in five buckle overshoes, overalls, a thick-hooded wool coat, gloves, and a pilot cap. Carolyn would wear her loose top rubber boots, snow pants, fuzzy white coat, mittens, and a beret with earmuffs.
Scan 36
Our annual hunts had many similarities year after year. My mother scanned the countryside frequently throughout the year trying to spy an ideal tree. Unfortunately, we could only consider wild cedars since spruce, fir and pine were not native to Iowa. These “nicely-shaped” trees could only be spotted in the yards of other families. I would have snuck in during the night to steal such a tree, but my legalistic Mom vetoed that idea. Christmas tree farms were non-existent. The wild cedar trees belonged to the general populace–first come, first serve. Unlike in the deep south of United States, Iowa cedars were seldom perfectly shaped; instead, they were scraggly and never a deep green. Unless, considerable rain fell during the summer, some of the boughs were often more tan than green. Consequently, it took a lot of walking and patience to find an acceptable tree. Usually, we would have to go deep into the timber to find an area that had not been picked clean by other families on the prowl.
If we had not spotted a tree that was close to the road during the summer and fall, Dad would hook our B John Deere to a hay wagon—load a saw and a double bitted ax, his two energetic children on the wagon along with one or two dogs, and head out for an area of the farm that he deemed most hopeful. Every thing usually went really well as long as we rode toward the timber toward the back of the farm on the wagon.
The problems began when we had to leave the wagon. We walked when we reached a point on the farm where the tractor and wagon could not proceed because of creeks or fences. Carolyn’s boots were inadequate to keep the snow from falling inside and eventually causing her to cry about her feet getting cold. I suspect the “few” snowballs I threw at her caused some additional discomfort. Simultaneously, our hands would chill to near freezing. And both my sister and I would beg Dad to build a fire. That never happened.
Scan 68
My sister, though an above average athlete, never perfected the dynamics of climbing over a barbed-wire fence. She approached the effort as a combination of climbing Mt. Everest and escaping over a prison wall with three strings of barbed wire at the top.
I would step onto the second barbed wire with my right foot while holding on to a fence post, quickly step two wires higher with the left foot, then swing my long right leg over the top wire without touching, balance there, put my weight on the right leg, swing over the left leg and attempt to jump to a perfect landing on the other side of the fence. More often than not, I landed on my bottom in the snow.
Carolyn, on the other hand, had much shorter legs, less balance and limited agility. (At least that is the way I perceived it.) Plus, the fear factor doomed her to failure before she began. She grabbed the barbed wire to begin the ascent and immediately got her mittens tangled in a barb. The thorn-like barb would puncture her flesh. She would fall back to the ground and the fussing would begin, followed by “I can’t do this!”
Dad would tenderly urge, “You need to learn to do it sometime. Try again.” The next effort usually resulted in her reaching one wire higher up the obstacle when again she would stick herself with one or more barbs, and she would climb back down, pouting pathetically.
Finally, she would reach the top of the fence, get a straddle the fence and then her foot would slip off one or other side and she would lean precariously while screaming “HELP” wildly with the top wire firmly sinking its barbs into the insides of her legs. Dad would rescue his sweet little angel and I would get up out of the snow where I had been rolling in laughter.
But, sooner or later, we would find a candidate tree, and a decision had to be made by unanimous vote. I chose to endure a bit of discomfort (often two or three hours) in order to find a tree that was greener, balanced, and definitely tall enough to reach the ceiling of the living room. I can’t remember a single year that Dad didn’t have to fall the tree in the timber and then cut off a few feet at our house because we had insisted on a tree that was a couple of feet too high.
Sooner rather than later, Carolyn was voting yes to every tree we considered.
Dad would then saw down the tree and we would let Carolyn yell “timber” to help her forget her wounds. The return to the tractor and wagon resulted in a few more outcries of helplessness. And, then, when we reached the tractor, we would take turns warming our hands through our gloves on the muffler of the tractor. I remember so well the care that had to be taken to get our gloves warm enough to remove the chill but no so hot as to burn our hands.
Home always looked and felt so good. Mom had warm molasses cookies and piping hot chocolate ready for us before we would size and decorate the tree. And, since Carolyn had been given the task to yell, “Timber,” in her deepest voice; as the youngest child, I was allowed to finalize the tree by placing the angel.
From that moment, the attention shifted from the Christmas tree to guesses about what we would find under it on the Christmas morning.

The 23rd Psalm–David’s Best

IMG_0831This Psalm used to be one of the most memorized chapters of the Bible. It was probably the only chapter that most Christians knew by heart. I love it because it teaches us about the nature of God. I suspect that God revealed these truths to David while he sat alone at night tending his sheep.

Here is what I have learned from David’s reflections.

God is a personal caretaker of all who listen for His voice.  “The Lord is my shepherd” (vs. 1)

God is the great provider of our needs.  “I shall not be in want” (vs. 1).

God is a divine and perfect leader. “He leads me beside still waters” (vs. 2)

God provides constant opportunities to renew one’s faith.  “He restores my soul” (vs. 3)

God is always around interacting in our life. “For you are with me” (vs. 4).

God ultimately wins. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (vs. 4).

God is intent on us reaching the highest ethic possible. “He guides me in the path of righteousness” (vs. 5).


God is good and loving. “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life (vs. 6).

God is eternal. “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (vs. 6).


We All Have Plenty of Pain–Can We Turn It To Gain?

Pain or Gain? Snippet #1
Every human being endures a variety of pains or suffering in his/her life. And, only to a limited degree, does right living endorsed by the discipline of the Christian faith shield us from certain types of suffering. Helmut Thielicke, a noted theologian, says that one of the greatest defects of many Christian leaders is their erroneous teaching that the faithful will not suffer. That is a ridiculous myth. Everyone will suffer–the key is learning to do what is necessary to transform pain into gain. And, everyone would love to know how to do that. Scripture and other sources of wisdom can help. But for today–expect to suffer, but don’t always think that pain is your fault!

Pain or Gain? Snippet #2

Pain and suffering are part and parcel of the human predicament. Focusing on the possible futility of life because of pain and suffering played a part in the birth of nihilism–the unfortunate philosophical position that life has no meaning. The nihilists get lost in the quandary of their suffering and consider life not worth living. The good news is we can find a resting place through our faith while suffering.

Pain or Gain? Snippet #3

The German and Danish words for crisis are angst and angustia, which mean “to be in a squeeze”. Pain puts in the squeeze. The word distress appears 229 times in the Old Testament. In fact the Jews have always been surrounded with suffering. Why should the followers of the most famous Jew be any different? Jesus endured the weight of the world’s sin upon his shoulders. Can you imagine the suffering the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life? It was as bad an end to life as anyone can imagine. Yet, in a matter of 72 hours the angst of pain transforms supernaturally into eternal hope. Now that is going through pain to arrive at perfect gain.

Pain or Gain? Snippet #4

Life is not always a bowl of cherries. Erma Bombeck wrote “Sometimes it is the pits.” Babies get a simple sample when they pass through the birth canal under incredible physical duress, are thrust into an environment where they nearly catch a chill, get their butt slapped by a doctor 40 times their size, have to lay in wet and dirty diapers, sometimes suffer diaper rash, get fed when someone else is ready, have to eat spinach, and sooner or later fall out of bed. They face all of that with little understanding of the word HOPE. But, they make it. I have learned that despite some bad moments, days, and months, the future has incredible possibilities for love, joy, and peace. I plan to hang around for the gain even in the face of pain.

Pain or Gain? Snippet #5

The anatomy of pain and crisis is not easy to summarize, but the crisis of the crucifixion of Jesus outlines a helpful insight to approach pain and grief. The Lord was aware that he was in crisis from the time he arrived in Jerusalem and handled it with the dignity and spiritual stature that we would want to emulate. We have to believe that Jesus walked so boldly through those days of pain because he had one eye focused on the future victory of the resurrection and eternity while the rest of his body endured the pain of the present. Although no pain compares to the burden of dying for the sins of world, any pain we might face is lowered by focusing on the reward of eternal life.

Pain or Gain? Snippet #6

We can identify eight clear stages of pain and suffering.

  1. There is the build-up toward the crisis. (We can see many crisis approaching.)
  2. There is the tremendous weight of the emotional, mental, and physical pain of the crisis.
  3. There is our reaction to the crisis whether depression, anger, denial, shock, immobility, disbelief, lashing out, etc.
  4. There is trying to understand and interpret the meaning of the crisis or pain.
  5. There is an opportunity to not bear the weight of the crisis alone. (Think about who is best equipped to help.)
  6. There is a time to learn and grow from the crisis. (It is actually an opportunity to grow closer to God.)
  7. There is a time to decide upon our response to the crisis. (Try to find scriptures that identifies possible responses.)
  8. There is an opportunity to turn God for hope in what may seem hopeless. (The suffering and then risen Lord reminds us that “Because He Lives We can Face Tomorrow.”)

Pain or Gain? Snippet #7

Here are four concrete ways to deal with a crisis.

  1. We are adequate to face every crisis if we keep up our stability, endurance, faith, and hope. We need to review every crisis in the light of those four resources.
  2. It is ultimately your choice to decide how you will respond best to a crisis. No one should rob you of making that decision.
  3. Hope remains the best aid to enduring a crisis. If we can keep focused on the future that always includes God’s power to give us the maximum victory, there is no way to lose.
  4. Any crisis is best met by taking the crisis to God in solitude and then quietly wait for the healing and strength of Jesus to fill your mind, heart, and body.

The words of the hymn “Trust and Obey” summarize it well.


Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.


Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.


Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.


But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.


Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet.
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way.
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.


Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in You.” (Psalm 84:11-12)