A Pastor in a Santa Suit (my favorite Christmas Story)

There comes that time in every child’s life that they begin to really wonder if Santa Claus is real or not. For me, it was the Christmas of 1976. I remember it well and it has always stuck with me.

In the previous year, my parents had divorced. That can be hard for any child, but through many prayers, my parents got back together and remarried in the fall. At the time I had no real concept of money, economy, jobs and such. My dad had taken a job working at a gas station at night while looking for a better job during the day. Before the divorce, I remember living in a big house with three floors, a huge stairs case, fireplace and a big porch. We would decorate the house each year with big Christmas lights, a 4 four-foot plastic Santa and candles on the porch. We would sit our Christmas tree in the front windows, always on a spare tire, making it appear larger and giving room for all the gifts. Garland and tinsel ran down the banister of the stairs and stockings were hung on the fireplace mantle. Christmas cards that we received were hung around the double doorway leading from the living room to the dining room.

The tree was always a fake one, but once it was set up and decorated, everyone would ask if it was real, which I enjoyed. My mom always had to shape the tree before us kids could hang decorations. The thrill and excitement of going through the boxes of our wide range of ornaments, picking out our favorite, was always fun. The Snowman that we had to blow up, the little red and green elves, red, green, and gold glass bulbs that I would always admire my reflection in. We all had our favorites from old ones to the ones we had made at school.

The house was always filled with the music of Christmas. My dad was a true fan of music and it seemed Christmas just brought out the best stuff. From the Beach Boys to Elvis, Barking Dogs, Ray Stevens and Alabama, Jim Neighbors, and many others were always playing. Reminding us that Christmas was near.

Letters were written and mailed to Santa, telling him of how hard we have tried to be good that year. Asking him to bring us special gifts, promising to leave cookies and milk. Each night we would gather around the radio waiting for Santa to read our letters. I still remember how I felt when I heard Santa call my name as he read my letter. I would scream with excitement, “Mom, its Ho Ho”, my name for Santa since I began talking. “He said my name, and he’s reading my letter”. And seeing him in person at the local department store, actually seeing him and telling him what I wanted, it was all so magical to me.

We were born and raised in the church, so we knew the real reason for Christmas. Getting to celebrate our Savior’s birth at this wonderful time of the year was always a must. From our Church Christmas program, manger scenes and Sunday School lessons that reminded us of baby Jesus being born. It all came together to make such wonderful time.

But now, following the divorce, loss of a good job and trying to make things better, there was no big house with the stairs and porch. We lived in a small first-floor apartment. Us kids, four at the time, now shared a bedroom. It was small, things were tight but it was Christmas. I still remember dragging the Christmas decorations out of the small basement, hanging the lights, placing the Santa and candles in just the right spot. Setting up, shaping and decorating our tree, hanging the stocking and Christmas cards and of course, the Christmas music. Letters had been written and visits to Santa had been made. Church programs and Sunday School lessons had been performed and taught. It was Christmas and it was magical.

The school was now out for Christmas break; it was just a few days before Christmas. This year I really wanted a Stretch Armstrong. I had told Ho Ho and heard him read my letter on the radio. But I was beginning to have a little doubt. The magic and excitement were there, but I did really wonder if Santa was real. Some kids at school and church were saying that he was not real and even fake. Normally presents would start to mount under our tree weeks before, but this year there seemed to be a little less and there was defiantly not one that looked like a Stretch Armstrong. However, there was still some hope in this little boys heart that Santa would come.

I would normally end each evening at my mom’s feet, rubbing them for her, then doing our prayers together. I would secretly pray for my family, Santa and my Stretch Armstrong.

This night was no different. As we wrapped up watching some TV Christmas special, sitting at my mother’s feet rubbing them, getting ready for our prayers, something caught my eye outside.

At first, I thought it was a reflection of the Christmas lights on the windows or possibly the plastic Santa moving on the porch. But it was not any of those. It was Santa! I jumped to my feet in disbelief, pressing my face to the window to get a better view. It was he, the dark red suit, black boots, white beard and a sack on his back. Santa was walking down my street.

“Mom, it’s Ho Ho! It’s Ho Ho!”

We fought for a better view of the window as Santa walked down our sidewalk. When he made the turn up our walkway towards our apartment, I am sure you could hear the screams all the way to the North Pole. There was what seems like the longest sound of silence as we waited to see which apartment door he knocked on. Then we heard “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas Cline kids!” as Santa knocked on our door.

I could hardly believe it, Santa was right there in my house. We led him into the living room where he could sit. I was in awe as he began to call out my sister and brothers names. Each time pulling a present from is bag asking if they had been good this year. I watched in amazement, he was real. It didn’t matter what others had said, Santa was here. Excitement built as each child opened a gift from him. Then I heard him say “Jeffy, have you been a good boy this year?” I was speechless and could only nod my head yes. Looking into his eyes, seeing his white glove covered hands reach into his big red sack of presents, seemed to go in slow motion. He removed a present wrapped in beautiful red and green paper with a big red bow. As he read my name off and handed it to me, I couldn’t help to thank how real he was.

Ripping into the paper I began to see the box for a Stretch Armstrong. Wow! It was just what I wanted. We all had received something we had asked for. Santa has even had food for a Christmas meal and other sweets and goodies. He was real. There he was, in my house, in front of my tree and stockings, jolly and giving.

My parents chatted with him as we kids began to play with our toys and eat the goodies. I believe I saw tears in moms eye. We all seemed overwhelmed by it all. Santa was here.

My belief or disbelief of Santa started to rise just a little. I wanted to see the sleigh and reindeer. While everyone played and talked, I snuck outside on the side of the porch, waiting for Santa to leave. When he finally came out, waving goodbye with a loud Merry Christmas and walked away from our apartment, I followed him. I wanted to see his sleigh and reindeer. Even though there was snow on the ground, Santa didn’t get in his sleigh, instead it a big nice car that looked very familiar. When he got in, I stood behind a tree watching. As he began to remove his hat and beard I almost cried. But as I focused a little harder to see his real face, it began to look very familiar also. I couldn’t place it at first, but then when he smiled and I got a better look, I knew who it was. It was our Pastor and family friend from a little church we had attended. At that moment something clicked, I realized the real magic of Christmas. It was the best Christmas ever.

You might say Santa is not real, or that he is not the reason for the season, which he is not. But over two thousand years ago Christ was born in a lonely manger, a gift for us all. It was magical, glorious and real. Wise men sought Him, gifts were given and received. It was the first Christmas. We celebrate His birth this time each year, each with our own family traditions, ways, and beliefs.

As for me, I know Jesus somehow intervened that Christmas in 1976. Prayers were heard and answered. Christmas cheer was shared. I am thankful for what He did for me and my family that year.

And thanks to a Pastor in a Santa suit.

I will never forget.

Merry Christmas.

 

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I feel like a left behind Zoomer.

It has been just over two weeks since Christmas 2014 arrived. Hard to believe it was only fifteen days ago. We just put the last crate of Christmas decorations in the shed, the tree in the bag, stockings tucked away and the pine needles cleaned up. It is like we hit a switch and the season is over as soon as the last gift is open. All the preparation, excitement and build up to that day now seems long gone. Oh, how I miss it.

This past Christmas my sweet Anna really desired to have Zoomer, a robot, teachable, pet dog, for Christmas. After reading reviews, parents suggestions and debating among ourselves, Zoomer won. On Christmas day, one of her gifts was Zoomer. I must admit that after a few minutes of watching her play and the robot dog react, it was quite entertaining. But with in two days Zoomer laid still, unplugged, not being played with, and tucked under the tree, almost lifeless.

As the day the days went by and Zoomer just lay there, I began to think of how many times we as Christians might feel the same as Zoomer, left alone and forgotten. Almost as if our master has forgotten us or found better things to do, we lie in hopes of a soon return or touch of our master. Yet time seems to go on and there we still sit, alone, forgotten, and lifeless. Loneliness and doubt can hamper ones spirit greatly, but I don’t feel as if that is really the way God intended for us to live. There is so much more to life, His plan has never changed for us.

After days of no playtime, new commands or cuddling Zoomer, I started to hear strange sounds coming from the living room. When I got closer, there was my Anna, the master and her robot dog having a blast. As she spoke to it, it was as if Zoomer had been waiting forever to hear the words of his master. He seemed thrilled to be in the presence of her again and just begin to come to life. Isn’t that what we are waiting for, the call or voice of the master?

They that wait upon the Lord, shall renew their strength, another scripture reminds us that HE has not left us or forsaken us, that HE is closer than a brother. What a thrill and excitement when we feel the masters touch, hear HIM call our name and assure us that everything is all right. I just want dance, shout and delight myself in HIS presence. HE never left us, nor turned HIS back on us. HE was always there. Giving us life, speaking our names, and directing our paths.

Be encouraged today, no matter where you are, HE is there. The master, our savior, my sweet Jesus will never leave us.

Would love to hear more feedback or thoughts from you guys, feel free to comment.

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An Open Letter from a Apostolic Believer (Why I Believe)

Sometimes I might feel hesitant to voice my opinion or beliefs. Or even my real feelings or convictions on certain matters, afraid that I might offend someone. Nor do I want to cause an argument. But I must ask myself, am I to stand there and be weak as hear I everything that someone has to say that goes against my values, beliefs and the Word of God? Should I stand there and just shake my head like I agree? Should I worry that this person might be a family member, someone that I am trying to invite to church or used to attend church? Just where do I draw the line? How long do stay silent for the sake of peace? I honestly don’t think much longer.

Maybe a few explanations will help you understand me more. I was born into an Apostolic Family. I was told that my great grandfather Alonzo Day, who I am named after, was a man of prayer. I heard stories from my uncles of how they would sneak out to the woods and would find him bent over a tree stump praying, crying out to God. I was told he could not read, but would memorize scripture in order to preach. He was married to a great Apostolic Lady, my great grandma Day. One thing that sticks out in my mind the most about grandma Day is that she prayed. She taught her son Johnny to pray. I have also heard stories of how uncle Johnny would call out our names, my name, before the Lord every night before he went to bed. It was these prayers that saved me.

My mom took me to church when I was just a baby. I was told I cried the whole time and would not calm down. Finally the minister came down and took me in his arms and continued preaching. I didn’t make a peep. As a child, I rarely remember missing church. I loved the worship, prayer, the preaching and feeling God. I loved my Sunday School Teachers, Youth Leaders and Pastors. I made some of the best friends in the family of God.

I was taught that there is One God, and His name is Jesus and that we baptize that name. We must have the gift of Holy Ghost by evidence of speaking in tongues. We most be holy, and separate as the scripture says. We must repent of our sins. We must tithe to our church. We need a pastor and need to submit to him, as the Bible says. I was taught that a man should look like a man and a woman look like a woman, just as the Bible teaches. I was taught that the “old man dies” and we are “born again” through Christ when we receive the Holy Ghost. I was taught sin is sin and that I was a sinner. I was taught that Jesus died for me while I was a sinner, and just not me, but all of us. I was taught that I needed a relationship or walk with the Lord. That takes prayer, Bible reading and discipline. I learned to forgive in order to be forgiven, to love my neighbor as myself. I was taught that homosexuality is sin, as well as lying, fornication, stealing, cheating, and the list goes on. Paul says it this way: 1 Cor. 6: Or do you not know that the unrighteous[b] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[c] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Did you catch that? Paul goes down a list of ones that will not inherit the kingdom of God. But in verse 11 he says “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” We all were sinners. Some of us of the worse kind. Such were some of you.

I guess this is my point. There are three types of people that I come in contact with. Those that are living for God, the Apostolic way that I was taught. I pray your walk will only continue to grow.

The second being those that are on Paul’s list. And such were some of us. Most of you know me. Knew me when I wasn’t the Christian man that I am today. You could tell stories, make jokes, bring up the past, cast stones, point fingers, make fun, or whatever it may be. We all know where I have been. I am not proud of it, more ashamed of it then anything. But I found mercy and forgiveness at an altar. My sins were forgiven and washed away when I was baptized in Jesus Name. If He can do it for me, HE can do it for you.

The third are those that have walked it, believed it, preached it, lived it, taught it and claimed this Apostolic Faith. And such were some you…

It grieves my heart when I see and hear that friends or family have walked away from this great truth. I wonder some days how I have made it. How I survived war, drug addiction, depression, and spiritual attacks. Why is my marriage still together? Why am I blessed? It is because of this Apostolic Faith. Prayers from churches, pastors and their wives, family members and friends have lifted me out of the lowest of lows. Why would anyone turn from this awesome message? Run from God’s protection and favor? What makes an Apostolic believer change? What makes a pastor or preacher stop believing this message? What changes their views so drastically? Again I turn to Paul’s writings. Galatians 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!

Paul says any other Gospel. Nothing has changed. There is no new religion, or freedom. There is only one Gospel, one faith, one baptism. One Truth.

EPH. 4:4-6 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

 

And such were some of you…

So maybe now you know where I stand. I don’t hate anyone. I may disagree with your ways, and wonder why you have chosen the path you are on. I might not agree with your lifestyle, but I will not pray for you less. If you haven’t experienced this Apostolic Faith, I pray you come to know Jesus the way I have, has a deliver, healer, provider and friend. To my family and friends that no longer go to an Apostolic Church, I am grieved and have many questions as to why. Our pastor at the beginning of the year said God spoke to him that this would be a year of restoration. I believe that. I am praying for. May God continue to draw you and your ears and heart be open.

They are just kids….Right?

I apologize for such the long break, sometimes life gets busy. But during this time I have had a chance to see God really do some great things in a group of kids. During our Kids Church (B.I.G.) on Sunday mornings my staff and I like to encourage the kids to worship. Normally we will start with what we refer to as a warm-up song, something that gets them moving, out of their shell and also to burn off a little extra energy. From there we will lead them in worship, using songs that they hear during our adult services. We use tracks, videos, live music and even a Capella.

They really worship, lifting their voices, hands and hearts to the Lord. We shout, cry, dance, clap our hands and do our best to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. They watch the adult staff, as we worship and they follow suit. Many times during worship the presence of God moves and they are taught to respond. I believe they are beginning to know what it like to feel God and what happens when we respond.

During our Sunday Night Celebration services, there is usually thirty to forty kids sitting up front waiting for service to start. Once worship starts, they begin to worship, singing, praising and dancing before God. I have heard a few times from others that these kids are just playing, or even mocking. Some have said they are just kids, they don’t really know what they are doing. To others, it just strikes a nerve, how could parents let their kids behave like that.

I guess my first question would be if our eyes were on God and we were worshiping as well, would we see them? Maybe the focus is on the wrong thing. Second, are they really playing? For the most part, they are not. They are doing what they have been trained to do, respond to God with praise and worship. Is that really so bad?

It was during these worship services that I saw a kid that said they haven’t seen their dad in years, begin to worship and cry before God. Another that has had thoughts of suicide, another that is tormented by nightmares, and another that has been bullied all week begin to pour theirs hearts out during worship, responding to God and God responding to them.

The Bible says to train up a child, teach them, instruct them, be an example to them. Life can be hard, even for a kid, but there is a God that loves them and cares for them. The same as He loves and cares for me. Why wouldn’t we want our kids to know and feel this same God? Let’s train them up, let’s be an example to them. Keeping our eyes on God, as they follow us.

At the Year’s End or Your Wit’s End?

In just a few hours from now my family, along with my church will be gathering to praise out the old and praise in the new year. We will worship, have communion, hear an on time Word from our Pastor and pray the New Year in. I am looking forward to what lays ahead for 2015. As I speak and see post of friends and family it seems that others are ready for this year to end. It seems that there have been many that have seen their share of problems and trails.

This year has not been easy for me, or my family. There are times when things just don’t seem fair. Why should I have to explain to my child why we can’t purchase this or that? Or why we can’t go here or there? Is it fair that when I leave my home I feel overwhelmed, and that I just want to run? I find myself driving, crying and end up in the church parking lot, sobbing, and the only words I can say are Jesus, help me.

Yes! I want this year to end! I want the yoke to break! The pain to stop! I want my faith back! I want a miracle! I need Jesus! Am I the only one? I feel as if I am at my wit’s end. And just what is a wit’s end?

In Psalms 107, in verses 24-26, it talks about sailors going out to sea, and the sea starting to get rough, the storms and waves beating the ship. They were fearful, troubled, in verse 27 it says they reeled and rowed, trying to fight the storm. Stumbling like drunken men, at their wit’s end (their wisdom failed them). The Bible allows us to know it will rain on the just and the unjust; the storms are going to come, no matter what. We will reach our Wit’s End. Just like the disciples, while Jesus slept in the bottom of the boat, the storms came, they fought the storm, they lost, and they reached their wit’s end. They thought they would not make it, but finally, someone said, let’s wake up Jesus.

We all know what happen after that, HE spoke Peace. My friend, Jesus is in the boat, in the storm, with you at your wit’s end.

So you may be at the Years End or at Your Wit’s End, but stop fighting the storm, wake Jesus and let Him speak Peace into your New Year. Happy New Year!

Would love to hear more feedback or thoughts, feel free to comment.

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Do You Hear What I Hear? Then Respond!

One of my all-time favorite Christmas songs has to be “Do you hear What I Hear?” right up there with Holly Leaves & Christmas Trees by Elvis. Sitting and listening while our Kids choir sang their rendition, I felt as if I wanted shout it to the mountaintops! Not that I was feeling overwhelmed with Christmas joy, but it was the mere fact that I know someone, more than a few someone’s, I had sent a text to and had failed to get a response in over twenty-four hours.

I must admit, in times past I have not been the best at returning calls, e-mails, or text in a timely fashion. But I have tried to improve, and I believe I have. With today’s technology, is it really possible not to respond to a message in a timely manner unless otherwise just being rude? Be honest, there is voice text, for driving, reminders to hit, you can scan thru them while in your study (bathroom), if nothing else respond with “K” or “np” to let the other person know you received it. Respond, is it really that hard?

Like any leader, sometimes this seems like this can be the most difficult thing to ask of your followers. Why is that?

I can’t help to wonder if the Lord feels the same at times. Is He looking down just ready to scream, Respond! Do you hear me? Can you see what I am doing? Just respond! Jesus tells us more than once, that if we have ears, then use them. If we can hear or see what the Lord is doing, all He wants is for us is to respond. If there is going to be a good relationship, there has to be good communication. There has to be sending forth, receiving, and responding.

Rather you’re a leader, a follower, or maybe somewhere between, work on your response. Let your ears be open to hear, eyes open to see, and respond like never before. You might be shocked at what takes place. It’s called conversation.

Would love to hear more feedback or thoughts, feel free to comment.

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If You’re going to Do It, Do It Right the First Time. A Life Lesson from My Dad.

My oldest son Nate has recently just turned ten. Being the wise and knowledgeable father that I am, I felt it was time to give him a job at the church. I want him to learn at a young age that there is more to ministry then just speaking behind a pulpit. We must first serve. His job is to clean the pulpit that our pastor preaches from each week.

I had the woman who normally cleaned it train him, I made another staff pastor aware of his job and duties to make him accountable. I want him to be consistent, faithful, trustworthy, and build memories from what he is doing and be told to do. While watching him on week, I found myself telling him something I have told him many times before, “Nate, Do it right the first time.” I must have told him time this in the last 3 years a hundred times. I have explained that it saves time to do it right the first, that you only have one chance to do it right. If you’re going to do it, do it right son.

I was really not for sure where I got that principle until tonight while in a text chat with brother and sister. As we begin to share our favorite Christmas stories, family traditions, songs and gifts given and received, I heard the words or maybe I saw the actions of my Dad, If your going to do it, do it right. We did Christmas right. At times we had a lot, at others we didn’t. But we did it right. We kid’s never knew. Why, because he never let us know.

We live life once, for the most part we get one chance to do it right. If we have messed up there is a God that loves us and forgives us and I am thankful for that. I am also thankful for a lesson learned long ago, so however you do it, do it right. So why no do it right the first time.

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