Seeking Divine Appointments in the Rush of Christmas

Christmas and homelessA friend of mine challenged me with a great question. He asked, “If Christmas is Jesus’ birthday why is it we spend all our time hunting for gifts to give to others?” He paused and added thoughtfully, “It would be a little like your friends insisting they help you celebrate your birthday, and then they bring a bunch of gifts to give to each other while never bringing one for you!” He asked the question sincerely. There wasn’t an ounce of Scrooge in his voice. And I confess the question got me thinking. Had Christmas simply become the greatest retail surge our financial markets feel? Could I find a way to give a gift to the Lord?

I pondered the characters that surround our manger scene. The shepherds didn’t have much, but they gave their worship to the Lord. The three wise-men were certainly busy, but they took years out of their schedules to find the newborn King and give their gifts. And of course the words of Jesus Himself haunted me, “. . . for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not take me in.” (Matthew 25:42) Could it be that we missed the meaning of Christmas because we were too busy preparing to celebrate?

When my daughter was six years old we had a doctor’s appointment in Philadelphia around Christmas time. But the doctor’s appointment was only the event God used to schedule a divine appointment He had for us. As we were returning home, Ashlyn spotted a homeless man sitting on a mattress along the curb. “Daddy, can we help him?” she asked. “No, honey, not today, we’re too busy,” my mind racing through all the things I had to jam into the days before Christmas occurred. “But daddy, it’s Christmas time” the little voice whispered from the back seat.  I looked in the rearview mirror, and saw the tears filling the corners of her eyes. I decided it was an appropriate time to rearrange my busy schedule. A stop at a vendor, a cup of hot coffee, a six-year-olds smile, and a pamphlet sharing how someone could be at peace with God brought a smile to the lips of a man who had no home. I rethought the meaning of Christmas.

Could it be that God has divine appointments for each of us this season? Opportunities for us to give our gifts directly to Him?  I hope this season you’ll be looking for them – those divine appointments with your name attached.

My first Father’s Day without my dad

2013-04-29 10.04.19This is my first Father’s Day without my day, but his influence still lingers. This is a source of encouragement for those of us who have lost our fathers, and a means of conviction for those of us who are fathers — there’s still time to influence those God has entrusted to us.

A year ago for Father’s Day I wrote a simple poem for my dad entitled Because my Dad. I share it this year with a larger audience to encourage you to do the same.  Nothing will encourage your dad quite as much as the realization that, in spite of his weaknesses or failures, we has left a lasting influence on his children.

Because my Dad

Because my dad enjoyed fishing, I enjoy it too.

Because my dad was a farmer, I am not afraid of hard work and long hours.

Because my dad was an educator, I find joy in seeing others learn.

Because my dad was outgoing, I am comfortable talking with strangers.

Because my dad loved to read, I have a lot of books.

Because my dad was a wordsmith, I became an author.

Because my dad was a story teller, I use illustrations when I teach.

Because my dad loved his kids, I grew up loving mine.

Because my dad didn’t run from challenges, I haven’t run from those I face.

Because my dad was faithful to his wife, I have been faithful to mine.

Because my dad was an optimist, I am hopeful about the future.

Because my dad introduced me to Jesus, my eternity is secure.

Because my dad is who he is, I became who I am.

Father’s Day, 2013

 

Remembering My Dad – The Top 10 Words

Flag covered coffinMy father was a wordsmith. If you ever read something he had written, you were aware of this. He always attempted to choose the right word for the right situation. As he aged I think this became one of his challenges in communication. Not just any word would do, he was after the best word.  Which is why he would often say I just can’t remember the word I’m after. My father also used a lot of words; he enjoyed conversations with people.

This is why it seemed appropriate to me to eulogize my father with a list of words. Over the weekend, I have reached out to family and friends and asked them to give me 3-5 words that described my father. I then compiled those words into a list. And here they are: in order of their frequency. A top 10 list of the words that describe my dad — Arnie Moser.

(10) Talkative

My Dad was talkative. Up until recently, I never knew my dad to not engage in conversation. He would do so with friend, family or stranger. He would simply start to talk. Even when he was listening in the conversation, it seemed like he was listening to engage in the conversation in some way.  And most of his conversations included a story of some type or an experience. If you spent much time with my Dad you know this to be true. Whether it was meeting Al Capone when he was five years old or having a conversation with Martin Luther King, my dad had a story; he became quite adept at telling them, because he was prone to repeat them on occasion.

(9) Prayer Warrior

A truth you may not know is that every morning we were prayed for (as were our kids) by name. And if you shared a personal struggle with my dad, you could be assured that it would be brought before the Lord during his prayer time with my mom that followed breakfast. I spoke to some of the Gideon friends who shared that rarely did my Dad miss a prayer breakfast. It might surprise you to know that even in his Senior years, if my dad was concerned about your relationship with the Lord, he would have done two things for you. First, he would have talked to you, but secondly, he would have talked to God about you. While I have been at that breakfast table and heard my name, and my kid’s names mentioned in prayer, I have also heard other names mentioned – those for whose souls my dad was burdened.

(8) Hardworking

As long as I have known my dad he never feared work. My earliest memory of my father, was that he would go to school where he served as a guidance counselor during the day, and then come home and work as a farmer well into the night hours. In those early years when his energy level was high, he would even fit in building our first home in whatever spare time he could find. When we moved to South Carolina, my dad was in his 50’s; I’m sure he would have preferred to work as a teacher, but his age and his experience made it difficult to find a job. As one educator said to him, “I would love to hire you, but I can hire two teachers right out of college for what I would have to pay you.” So my dad did any number of jobs: working in a cabinet makers shop, pumping gas, and eventually starting a landscaping company. While others might have felt badly for themselves because they struggled to find the job of their choosing. My dad, just kept working. I never remember him bragging about his work ethic. I just recall him always working hard.

(7) Funny, Fun loving, Teaser, joker

Everyone who knew my dad well, Had a story about this side of him. Pranks were common, and occasionally they backfired, but that didn’t keep my Dad from doing them. He just learned which one not to do the next time. Even on his honeymoon with my mom he was teasing. These are his own words from his journal.

“One night for dinner we went out to this beautiful flower garden restaurant. While we were eating and older couple came in and did not say a word to each other the whole time. I looked at your mom and said, ‘I’ve heard everything you’ve had to say two times and I don’t want to hear it again!’ I was referring to that other couple, she thought I was talking to her about it. It was a little chilly for a while that night.”

As testimony to how long-lasting this quality existed for my dad, his siblings (in their 80’s) remembered his teasing when he was younger, and the same quality was remembered by his grandchildren upon his death. My dad never outgrew his teasing. But his smile, and the twinkle in his dark brown eyes, revealed it was never intended to hurt or bully, but simply to get you laughing and seeing the lighter side of life. Even in his 80’s he was still known to request a good-looking man’s discount (instead of the Senior discount) when he purchased something.

(6) Godly

It’s hard to imagine that when we get to the end of our life, this is a word that would make the top 10 list for any of us. I credit this to two elements in my dad’s life: his love for the Bible — and his consistent reading of it — and his spirit of contentment with the circumstances that God brought into this life. Regarding his love for the Bible, as a Gideon, he rarely missed a distribution. He looked for every opportunity to give the Bible away, and I think that had as much to with the fact that his first Bible was one that had been given to him as anything else. I’ll let him share it in his own words from. Again from his journal.

“I received my first Bible at the age of 22, that was the year I went into the service. My two sisters, Ruth and Girlie gave me a Bible when I left home.

I kept that Bible for about five years and never opened it. At a family Thanksgiving Day in 1952 a young lady, Alma Lou Anlicker, spent considerable time telling me about the claims that Jesus Christ had on my life. On Saturday I got that Bible out of the glove drawer where I always kept it and began reading it. I read that Bible from Genesis to Revelation in the next week. I did this in my farm shop when my folks thought I was repairing farm equipment.

After I finished that Bible I discovered a note penned on the back page, ‘Arnie, may this book lead you to a better life eternal.’ I was so amazed at that book. It told of every experience I had ever had. I knew I had to discover its author. I had to find out who wrote that book. I did find out!”

On my Dad’s contentment the journal had this to say:

“The legacy which I would like to leave for my family and any others of interest would be about my trip down the road of life. I would want them to see that I am completely satisfied with the die and lot that God has cast for me in this life. That is not to say that I’m satisfied with all that I have done. I’m simply saying that I have no quarrel with what God has given me. I would want everyone to know that I believe the Lord has blessed me far beyond anything that I deserved or would expect him to do.”

(5) Jocular, laughing, chuckle, grin

My dad loved to laugh. It’s the kind of thing that would prompt my 8-year-old to read from a joke book, and practice telling the jokes during our 16 hour drive to Florida just so that he could tell them to Grandpa. And while Dad was hospitalized in that visit with our kids, our son Asa stepped up to the hospital bed and asked his Grandpa the question, “Why do golfer’s wear two pairs of pants? Just in case they get a hole-in-one.” And there is my dad, in a hospital bed, surely not where he wants to be, but smiling, then chuckling, then laughing. And then telling his youngest grandson, “That’s a good one, I’ll have to share that with my friends.”

(4) Loving

The Bible says that greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. My dad had a unique capacity to love. He was often looking for the person who had less, he was burdened for them, and he was looking to share. He felt deeply the things that were bothering you. If you shared your struggle with him, you knew that he wasn’t going to be quick to forget it. He was going to carry it with him. It would worry him. Once when my brother-in-law was experiencing an especially difficult time in ministry, my dad drove the 4.5 hours north just to take him to lunch to affirm and encourage him in the work, then he turned around and drove the 4.5 hours back. He felt the difficulty of others strongly.

But he would also try to solve the difficulty. He would keep noodling over it in his mind. While never pushy or insisting that you do it his way; his thoughtful solutions always revealed that when you told him your problem, he went to work on solutions. And he wasn’t offended if you didn’t take his solution.

(3) Devoted

My Dad’s Gideon friends used the word “devoted” to describe his commitment to  distributing Bibles. I though perhaps I could use the word “devoted” to describe his love for learning — how, without a high school education, he went on to complete his undergraduate degree in English, his Masters of Education, and was twelve hours into his work on his doctorate of education. But the more I thought about the choice of the word “devoted,” I realized it was impossible to separate this word from his love and care for my mother. To be devoted to something or someone, you must be committed from start to finish. Here’s the start of his love for her. In his own words from his journal.

“One look was all it took!! Seriously, I had known your mom for two years…I had met her at Camp Mack…Whenever she was in a group I always saw her and usually managed a little conversation with her. We were both at a wedding where we spent several hours in my car in broad daylight talking. That weekend led to some letter writing and several trips to Indiana.

One night I left her at Goshen College and was driving home to Iowa. I was reliving the time we spent together and the nostalgia of that time. Suddenly I said, ‘You know you’re in love with that girl.’ So I stopped at the first telephone and called her in Goshen. I told her, ‘He lives, and I’m to tell you I love you!’ Her answer after a long a long pause was ‘I’m stunned!’

One thing I’ve always remembered about the old church in Leo, Indiana was the front door. I walked in that door single, and came out a married man! All day long that day, I kept thinking: Arnie, if you don’t get out of here soon, you’re going to be married. Sure enough! I was standing in the front of the church. Your mom came in with a big smile on her face. Her dad said, ‘Her mother and I do.’ The preacher said some things. I said some things. Your mom said some things. Sure enough, I ended up married to the prettiest bride I had ever seen at a wedding.”

But to be truly devoted, you must be devoted from the beginning to the end. Which reminds me of as conversation I had with him just 14 days before he died. I had traveled down to see him a final time. The kidney failure, and the toxic nature of his blood had made it very difficult to for him to concentrate; most communication was done through pointing or one word. So as I took him out one afternoon for a stroll in the wheel chair, I was commenting how he had taken such good care of mom, providing the perfect place to live, where mom would be comfortable, how it was located across from my sister, to which he responded with a full sentence, “And I got her a really nice car too.” From beginning to end, my Dad was devoted to my mom.

(2) Fishing

My dad loved to fish. Vacations were set up around fishing opportunities. Purchases of boats were set up around fishing opportunities. My dad’s fishing revealed another aspect of his personality – his optimism. Even if the fishing was poor — like the time we went all the way to Canada, and only caught one fish — it didn’t discourage him from wanting to go again. He was sure it would be better the next time.

The only thing that my dad enjoyed more than fishing for fish, was “fishing for men.” A phrase that Jesus used when he called his first disciples. A word picture reminder that if you threw out the gospel, you were sure to eventually hook somebody with the truth that God loved them enough to send his Son to die in their place. I once thought that my dad was uniquely gifted at it, but I’m not sure any more. I just think that he did it so often, that sooner or later he was going to hook somebody. I have a memory of a flying into the Atlanta airport with my family. As we were loading the luggage in the car, a homeless man approached my father looking for some money. My dad reached into the front seat pulled out a New Testament, and tucked a few dollars in it. Then he opened up that Testament to the back and began to share the Gospel with the man. As cars honked and people hollered, my dad took a few minutes to share Gospel truth with a homeless man in Atlanta.

(1) Faithful

Talkative, praying, hardworking, teaser, Godly, laughing, loving, devoted, fishing, and the number one answer on the top 10 list of words when people remembered my dad was the word faithful. In the Bible this word is best remembered in the parable Jesus tells about three stewards. The master responded with “well done, thou good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the master.” The wise stewards understood three things that the unwise steward did not.

1-They understood that what they had been given was not their own. They invested on behalf of the master, they didn’t spend it on themselves.

2-They understood that the opportunity for investing was limited. The window of opportunity would one day be shut. Now was the time, you couldn’t procrastinate if you wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, you needed to pull the trigger on the decision.

3-They understood that they would one day be held accountable. They were looking for the Master’s words: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.”

My dad understood these three truths. That’s why he is remembered as faithful. His life was not his own. The window of opportunity was limited. And he would be held accountable. That’s why on 1:40 on the afternoon of May 7, when he took his final breath on this earth with the hint of a smile on his lips, while he could no longer hear or words, there’s a good chance he was hearing these words: “Well done good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over little I will make you ruler over much. Enter into the joy of the Lord.”

– Read at my Father’s funeral on May 12, 2014

Safe in the Storm

front cover proof safe in stormIn John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Hopeful passes over the final river without difficulty, while Christian fights to keep his head above water. Nevertheless, both reached their final destination. God is taking you on a journey. Your path may be darker than others’, but it is doable. Not because of your strength, but because of his power. Not because of your plans, but because of his wisdom. not because of who you are, but just because he loves you too much to leave you where you are. As you trust him, you can remain safe in the storm.

Taken from Safe in the Storm: biblical strategies for overcoming anxiety, p. 58. Published by Biblical Strategies. Available through Amazon.com.