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  • sonnyholmes

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Last year about this time we were leading our seventh trip to Israel, our first in December. We were all excited to sense the joys of His birth in the month that most Christians celebrate it. Since every previous trip had been memorable and totally unique, we anticipated great things. Little did we know there'd be 20 inches of snow in Judea that week. We made a snow man at the Angel Hotel in Bethlehem. Fughedaboutit!

Which means it was cold there too. Really cold. When we stopped at the southern most Jordan River baptismal site, the water temperature took our breath away. On our way into the alcove for our worship time, our sweet friend Alice Caldwell slipped on the Jerusalem stone walkway and broke her collarbone. On our first day we were learning that this trip would be more unique than the others because it was going to be more weird that any time before. Still, a group of us went into the mighty, cold Jordan River to be symbolically baptized in a site approximating the place of our Lord's baptism. Register this scene: rain, sleet, snow, and the coldest water you can imagine.

Then, as a gift from above, as we were driving across the Jordan Valley, minutes after our cold baptism, this double rainbow appeared, the one pictured above. It was totally unexpected, another anomaly in what was already something of a bizarre trip. In two days we had seen summer heat at Ben Gurion Airport, rain and cold traveling up to Bethlehem, a blizzard, freezing water, a slippery deck, and now a double rainbow.

The trip was awesome in every respect. We visited sites and locales we'd never seen in our previous seven trips, enjoyed incredible times of sharing and worship with our travel partners, and experienced the singular joys of walking where Jesus walked. Looking in the rear view mirror, however, I've reflected on the double rainbow. Was there a message in it? Of course, the answer for me is affirmative. So, what was is about, at that strategic time and place. Here it is. Drum roll please. It was to remind us of His promises.

Let me confess that I'm somtimes a promise slacker! My OCD self always has plan B or C, an escape hatch of some sort, or more than anything else, a way to justify living by contingencies just in case His promises don't work out. I mean, there's always the chance I might have misunderstood Him, or figured it wrong. So, Mr. Promise Slacker occasionally needs a reminder that His promises are sufficient and I don't need a work around if His promise doesn't happen, like now. I think the rainbow was a reminder.

Yesterday I noticed something in Scripture that I hadn't picked up before. In Luke 1 Gabriel spoke to Mary about the birth of Jesus. David Sons, Teaching Pastor at the Church at Cane Bay reminded us in a grat message that the angel made ten promises to Mary. The text is most remembered for one great phrase---"For nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37). OK, Mr. Promise Slacker, notice the word "nothing".

Here's the deal. Gabriel also told Mary that Elizabeth would give birth to a child, John the Baptist. So, Mary went to visit. Now, get this. Based on God's promise, the entire section of Scripture closes with, "And Mary remained with her about threee months and returned to her home"

(Luke 1:56). Young Mary trusted God's promise to the point she stayed with Elizabeth.

It was just a rainbow. No, a double rainbow. But, on the heels of a winter nightmare, poor Alice's collarbone, uncertain travel plans, and a bunch of cold people, it was a reminder we needed. His promises are real, everyone one of them. It's because "...for He who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23).

WOW!


  • sonnyholmes

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December 7, 1941, in President Roosevelt's words, "...a date that will live in infamy". The picture is the USS Arizona Memorial, one of the places constructed to remember the 2,403 Americans who died that day.

Even though the human mind is wired to remember negative events more than positive ones, we have a tendency to forget truly signifacant historical dates and places. So, in perpetuity, memorial stones and edifices were constructed to help people remember those things that may naturally slip from memory.

It was a threat to God's chosen people too, to forget. So, Moses wrote, "Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children---" (Deuteronomy 4:9). In fact, if I could title the Book of Deuteronomy it would be "Don't Forget". Much of the great instruction in the final book of the Torah is aimed at their self- absorbed tendency to permit the might yacts of God to slip to the edges of history.

History is re-written every day. The important people, dates, places, and events of our short history are re-arranged by the revisionist spins of every contemporary culture. What was traditionally significant in my history classes are typically sidelined today. There's a whole new set of politically correct epochs that have moved up the historical date-line. Some of the things that defined my generaitonal cohort have been eclipsed by more current headlines. Perhaps it's a natural shift that us old geezers lament. But, we must learn, un-learn, and re-learn our ability to record history. We don't have to live in the past. We must, however, remember it.

The Reagan, Thatcher, Pope John Paul II Journey with Gov. Mike Huckabee, was a primer in this regard. Part of the journey was in Krakow, Poland with another few days was in London and a final stop in Los Angeles, California. Eoth place defined the special balance of remembering the past and aiming at the future. This was especially true, at least for me, in London. It's a thoroughly modern, ceomtemporary city. I counted a Starbucks in almost every block. Then, historical markers were everywhere. Right outside our hotel, a very historic building on the Thames River, equipped with every modern convenience, was a life-sized statue of three sailors. There were memorials in just about every locale. They were stunning reminders of things that had shaped them as a nation.

The Tower of London was particularly moving. In the moat surrounding the Tower, 888,256 ceramic poppies were displayed, one poppy for every British death in WWI. These had been donated by British citizens. It was a visually beautiful reminder of the lives given in support of their nation. It was among my most precious moments.

So, it's December 7, 2014, seventy-three years since that date that will live in infamy. The ranks of Pearl Harbor survivors are thin indeed. But, it's a date I would like to remember, and tell it to my children and grandchildren too.


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  • sonnyholmes

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Thirty-four years ago Harriet and I decided Friday would be my day off. Back then many of my ministry friends reserved Monday as a day away from the rigors of ministry. But, after active Sundays, Monday was a down day for me. We decided Friday would be the best day to step away from the usual routines for personal rest, leisure, and family time. There were occaional adjustments for emergencies, weddings, and church functions. But, Friday was the day!

As we adjusted to that schedule, we had to learn about Saturdays too. When I was a banker and hospital financial administrator, Saturdays were the yard of the month club, college football, time out with friends, and all the other routine, necessary motions of a day off---household chores, errands, car maintenance, groceries, laundry, etc. . After being called to a local church we had to realign Saturdays and learn the rhythm of church life. Saturday became the preparation day, and not in the way most people think. Most of my sermon and teaching preparation was always completed on Thursdays. The Saturday preparation grid was more personal. We learned to lay low on Saturdays, to calibrate the day to prepare us physically and emotionally for the Lord's Day.

Suddenly, thirty-four years later I'm retired and everyday is Saturday. Now, we're un-learning the habits developed in thirty-four years of church ministry, and re-learning the metrics of a totally new life schedule. One of the most recent un-learnings has been adjusting my personal relationship to the clock, calculator, and calendar (three points, wouldn't you know?). As an achiever, those three handy tools were the stuff of every day. You know, I still wear a watch. But I haven't used a calculator or calendar since October 31. In retrospect, I wish I had learned separation from these tyrants years earlier.

At the center of this re-learning is a constant: the Sabbath. Now, I'm no deep theologian and can only argue the edges of Old Testament law. But, for me, the Sabbath is a biblical concept more than a day of the week. In thirty-four years of pastoral service we've attempted to step away from the motions of life for quiet time with Him. Yes, of course, there was always a daily devotion and worship tiime, at least most of the time. There were many interruptions, some legitimate, others bogus. Still, a Sabbath day was usually factored into the plan of every week. It didn't always happen as planned. But, we knew to at least include Sabbath planning in our personal spiritual development.

Today ministry expectations are extremely high, often unreasonable. For this reason many pastors and church staff members are constantly on the treadmill. The time commitments and church activity calendar often preclude a Sabbath time for the pastor or his family. As a result, many are running on empty. That so many churches don't provide for the personal spiritual development of their pastor, staff, and families is an indictment of our work-based system today, a theological error. Surely Jesus didn't intend for the individuals following in his steps to be automatons running on cruise control most of the time.

One day he saw the fatigue and stress weighing on his disciples. Mark recorded, "And he said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while'. For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure to even eat" (Mark 6:31).

It's a good word for these times, when 1,700 pastors are leaving the ministry every month. Many of them are stretched beyond their personal physical, emotional, and spiritual limits. So, here's a thought. If you're a church leader or member, insist that your staff and their families can step away from the mission grid on occasion. If you're a pastor, associational or denominational leader, teach the Sabbath every time you have a chance. If you're an active or retired pastor, embrace a pastor or church staff member and encourage them to step away for spiritual, physical, and emotional recover.

It's another constant. Learning, un-learning, and re-learning.


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