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Monday, November 28, 2011


The turkey has been carved and every morsel of meat stripped from its carcass. We have dined on left over dressing, turkey sandwiches, and I guess we are destined for turkey soup. The Black Friday lines are gone leaving behind horror stories of pepper spray, shootings and muggings along with the happy shoppers who braved the wee-hour crowds and got the good deals. Bleary-eyed workers at Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy are beginning to catch up on their sleep. Across America, shoppers are turning to the blue glow of computer screens searching for the best deals on Cyber-Monday.

This weekend, a blast of fall blew copper colored leaves across the yard. Families scrambled outside their houses with giggling children. Mothers gave advice and helped as fathers struggled to untangle strings of lights that would adorn the roof and, in some cases, stretch across the yard. Up and down the street on which we live, rooftops came aglow with red, green, yellow and blue lights. Sunday evening we erected the Christmas tree in our front window. I will have to tinker with the lights to get them all lit, but it is a start. In a matter of hours, the season shifted from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

In some ways, Christmas is a unique American cultural holiday. Over the last two centuries our forefathers developed traditions that define the season: the Christmas tree, Christmas cards decorated with snowmen and snow flocked trees, eggnog, fruitcake, and, again, turkey and dressing. We have added electric lights that twinkle in the night; fairy tales with fanciful themes, Santa and Rudolph; The Grinch who stole Christmas; Miracle on Thirty-fourth Street and It’s A Wonderful Life. We have adopted A Christmas Carol from England and The Nutcracker from Russia. And, on top of all this, we have ratcheted up the commercial impact.

The church I attended yesterday lit their first candle for Advent. It reminded me that this season is not just American. The Advent, of course refers to the “coming” of Christ, the gift of God’s Son to the world. He came in much different circumstances, with none of the traditions we have added. And He came for all nations. As Zechariah predicted, ““Many nations will join themselves to the Lord in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you.” (Zech. 2:11).

Today, there are more Christians in South America, Africa and Asia than there are in the United States and Europe. Many of the trappings and traditions we enjoy at this season are unknown to them. But we share one thing in common, the “Advent” of God’s only begotten Son who has saved us from our sins.

I think I enjoy the American Christmas traditions as much as anyone. But, as the seasons turn, I hope I will not be distracted from concentrating on the single most important event in human history, God’s unspeakable gift in Jesus of Nazareth.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Make It Your Best Thanksgiving Ever

I took the title of this column from a Martha Stewart Living Magazine. Before you get the wrong idea, I have to explain that I don’t read or watch Martha Stewart, Oprah or Paula Deen, but my wife does. We have these magazines lying around the house and it is difficult to ignore what is on the cover.

So there she was, Martha Stewart, offering a perfect piece of pie while smiling a perfect smile with perfect teeth, wearing a perfect dress with perfect hair, surrounded by a perfect kitchen with an open window that looked out on a perfect garden. Like Oprah and Paula, every wrinkle and excess pound had been photo-shopped away so that she looked decades younger than her actual age. And, over her head hung the words, “Make It Your Best Thanksgiving Ever.”

Unlike Martha, when we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner we must show up with wrinkles, warts and all. We look our age. The kitchen is a mess with spilled flour on the cabinet and sinks full of dirty dishes to be cleaned up afterward. The food, of course, is great because my wife is a great cook: baked turkey, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, her famous dressing passed down from her mother, green beans, fruit salad, cranberry sauce, pumpkin, apple and pecan pie, for starters.

But, it occurred to me, when I saw that magazine cover of Martha Stewart, that Thanksgiving isn’t about the food or the perfect picture. Real Thanksgiving is about the heart. It is difficult for a heart that is not thankful every day to be truly thankful on Thanksgiving Day.

Which brings up another concern about this Thanksgiving. A few years ago the retail stores invented black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when one-day discounts lure mobs of hysterical shoppers into their stores before dawn. At first, I didn’t understand black Friday and, except for one occasion for which I repented, I have avoided it. But black Friday has begun to creep. This year, some stores are opening as early as 9 PM on Thanksgiving Day so that shoppers can shop all night. Really. Is this necessary?

The traditional American Thanksgiving was special because there was nothing commercial about it. All the stores were closed. Workers could spend the day with their families. No one had to shop for presents or send cards. All we had to do was enjoy getting together with those we love and be thankful. Even the homeless, the poor and prisoners could sit down to a good dinner. But, if black Friday continues to creep into Thanksgiving Thursday, our thankful memories of gathering around bountiful tables with family and friends might be replaced with frazzled memories of jostling strangers in the check-out line for the best deal.

I am ready to draw the line. I will concede black Friday in hopes it will pump life into our economy. But I hope we will make this Thanksgiving, and every Thanksgiving, the best ever by being truly thankful with those we love.

Friday, November 11, 2011


11-11-11, a unique date that occurs only once every century. Today, approximately fifty-seven thousand couples will tie the knot according to David’s Bridal, the nation’s largest bridal retailer. It is Veterans Day, a day to honor those who have served our country. At precisely 11 AM a wreath will be laid at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. To previous generations, it was Armistice Day, commemorating the signing of the peace treaty between the Allies and Germany at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

It is a unique date to me for another reason. One hundred years ago today, November 11, 1911, William James Waters Harper and Fleta Hamilton stood before a Baptist minister near Hillsboro, Texas and repeated their vows. They had six children. One of those children, their fourth child, was my mother. Tomorrow more than fifty of their descendants will gather near Hillsboro to celebrate their one-hundredth anniversary.

Will Harper and his bride were “share croppers.” They never owned any land and had few possessions. They rented the black land that they farmed and prayed that it would rain. When it did, they harvested bumper crops of corn, maize and cotton and bought the things they needed and a few things they wanted. When it didn’t, they went in debt and stretched what little they had as far as it would go. They survived the Great Depression, two World Wars, raised a family and lived to see a man standing on the moon, (though they always doubted whether it was true). They started their marriage farming with mules and depending on a rickety windmill to water their stock. Fleta wrote a weekly column for the Itasca newspaper and served as mid-wife to the migrant workers who worked in their fields.

When we gather we will celebrate family, five generations of family in one room. Some of us will reflect on the first memories we shared as children. Some of us will introduce ourselves to one another for the first time. But we will all share the bond of family. No other social unit transcends the centuries and culture more than the family. No families are perfect, starting with Adam and Eve who suffered the tragic conflict between their sons. But the family has remained the essential unit for nurture, instruction, admonition and comfort. The Psalmist writes, “But He sets the needy securely on high away from affliction, and makes his families like a flock.” (Ps 107:41).

We will celebrate faith. Those who knew and remember Will and Fleta Harper remember them for their faith. Christ was at the center of their home and local preachers were often at their table. Most of their children and many of their descendants have lived faithful lives in service to Christ. They bequeathed to their family the great legacy the Apostle Paul cited when addressing his young student, Timothy: “For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.” (2 Timothy 1:5).

11-11-11 will serve to remind us of those who have gone before: the veterans who gave their lives for our freedoms and the little known men and women, like my grandparents, who bequeathed to us the treasures of family and faith.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Life with Buddy

A couple years ago we adopted a dog. Well, I guess “I” adopted a dog. Across the years we had pets, mostly mutts and strays that wandered into our lives. They helped us raise our kids. After our kids left home, along with their pets, the house was quiet. I guess it was a little too quiet. I missed having a dog. Like the kids, I had to convince my wife that I would feed him and take care of him. She finally gave in.

We found Buddy, a Corgi rescue who was lost and starving on the streets of Fort Worth. When we first saw him he was skinny and sick, but we instantly liked him. He soon won my wife over and now he is “our” dog, healthy and happy. That was two years ago. Buddy and I have bonded. He goes with me just about everywhere I go. And, along the way, he is teaching me some things.

Buddy is teaching me to trust. Whenever I get in my truck he jumps in and takes his place, ready to go. He doesn’t know where we are going or what we are going to do. But he believes that if I am driving it is okay. I need to be more like that with God. I always want to know where we are going, when we are going to get there and what we are going to do once we arrive. I need to jump in the truck with God and give him control of my life.

Buddy wants to be with me. He doesn’t care if he is at the lake running, splashing and rolling in the mud, sitting in a chair next to me on the patio or in my study lying at my feet. He just wants to be where I am. He even follows me from room to room in the house. I need to spend time with God like that. What made the early disciples different was the fact that they lived with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

Buddy follows me. Whenever we go for a walk in an open field I let him run free. But he keeps an eye on me. He has developed a radius of his own, about thirty yards from wherever I am. Within that radius he feels comfortable exploring smells and marking trees. Occasionally he gets out of eyesight. But, when I call his name he comes running. Not real fast, but as fast as he can. After all he is a Corgi. It reminds me of what Jesus said to His disciples, “Come, follow me!” “My sheep know my voice.”

And, he is teaching me patience. He will wait on me forever. If I am writing, he lies down, rests his head on his paws, keeps one eye on me and waits. If we are walking and I stop, he sits down with his tongue hanging out and waits. If I go to the store in cool weather, he waits in my truck until I return. Buddy never complains about waiting on me. He never gets in a hurry. Maybe I should be more like that with respect to God and those I love.