The Real Nativity Story

    Here’s what you usually see and hear around Christmas time in our western culture attempt to depict the birth of Jesus some 2000 years ago:  Joseph and Mary showed up at night in Bethlehem in response to a decree to return to their family’s hometown for a census.  Mary was just about to give birth.  She is often riding on a donkey.  They went to the local travelers’ inn, but found no vacant rooms.  The innkeeper allowed them to make do in the stable with the animals.  When Jesus was born they wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in the manger – a feeding trough for the animals.  A little later, after hearing from angels about the birth, shepherds came to the stable to worship Jesus.  Three kings from a land farther east showed up and brought him gifts.  The shepherds left and went around telling everyone they could about what they had seen and heard.  It is usually not in the nativity story, but might be in some, that these kings, called wise men, were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod in Jerusalem, but to go home by some other route, which they did.

Some of that does not line up with the biblical accounts found in Matthew 2 and Luke 2.  Neither passage tells of an innkeeper nor is it clear that the inn mentioned in Luke 2 refers to an actual traveler’s lodge.  There is no mention of a stable, only that the baby was laid in a feeding trough.  The shepherds part is usually pretty accurate – watching sheep in a field at night, visited and informed by angels, going to find the baby, worshipping, and going to tell others about it.

The other visitors were identified by scripture as magi. They were likely then, not kings.  We don’t know how many there were.  The number three probably comes from the three gifts mentioned.  According to the Matthew passage they saw a “star” in the sky one night that they believed signaled the birth of  new king in the land of Israel.  They eventually sought his whereabouts by asking King Herod in Jerusalem.  He asked specifically when they had seen the star and later in an attempt to kill Jesus, had all the boys killed in the area who were two years old and younger – according to the time the magi reported having seen the star – apparently, around two years earlier!  When they found Jesus, he was with his parents in a house, not a stable.  The term for the child is not that used of an infant, but rather a young child.  They were  warned in a dream not to return to Herod as he had instructed them, so they went home another way.

So what really happened?  Well, we just don’t know all the details for sure.  It is clear, regardless of tradition, that the so-called wise men were not kings, did not show up at the birth, stable or otherwise, and Jesus was no longer a baby when they did show.  It is clear from scripture that the only ones we know for sure who did go to see the newborn king were shepherds after they heard from angels about the birth.  We know that Joseph did not find lodging wherever he expected to find it and when Jesus was born, he was laid in a feeding trough.  Was that in a stable made of wood or a cave that served as a stable or was it merely in the lower level of a house where animals were kept?  We don’t know.  So, questions arise.

Well, since you asked, here’s what I think:  Joseph and Mary did go to the local inn in Bethlehem, which they found full – no lodging room, no room in the guest chambers, no room in the inn – there is absolutely nothing in the biblical account that does not fit this scenario.  The “inn” can be interpreted this way.  IF it was an inn of this sort, it very likely would have been full.  After all, those who suggest the couple would have sought lodging among Joseph’s family, tell us they had no room in their guest chamber either!  It is more likely that an innkeeper could not have made room for them than for family not to have rearranged their sleeping arrangements! It seems to me that the whole idea of no room where one would normally hope to find room after traveling, is better suited to the traditional account.  And of course, where there’s an inn, there would be an innkeeper!

So, finding no vacancy at the inn, they were afforded makeshift lodging in the stable used by guests of the inn.  When Jesus was born, there would have been a manger handy.  When the angels told the shepherds they would find the baby lying in a manger, it would not take much to find him IF he was in the inn’s stable.  In a manger?  That would mean in a stable or the lower floor of one of many houses in town.  Much more logical that travelers would go to the inn and if the baby is in a manger, it would be in the inn’s stable!  Hopefully, that would be the case, since the angels did not tell the shepherds anything more specific to help them and if that is not where he was born, they would have to search every house in town!

But they found him.  Worshipped him.  Then left to tell everyone they could about all they had seen and heard!  And that’s where the nativity story ends.  The wise men story came later.  As much as two years later.  This we know by the Matthew 2 passage.  They likely were not kings, since they were identified as magi – astronomers, perhaps astrologers, eastern magicians of sorts, possibly teachers of astronomy, but certainly men who had studied the heavens watching and waiting for a sign that a new king was born in Israel.  We are not sure why they would know to do so or even care to do so.  I think through testimony handed down since the days of Daniel (check it out yourself).  Regardless, they traveled to Jerusalem to inquire of King Herod about the birth and where to find the baby.  He learned by questioning them when they had seen the star they believed had signaled the birth and later had all the boys in that region killed according to that time frame – two years old and younger.  So they arrived between one and two years after the birth.

The scripture says they found a young child in a house with his parents after being guided by that same light they had seen earlier.  So, not a baby, not a stable.  Yes, it could have been the same house Jesus was born in if he had indeed been born in a house owned by one of Josephs’ relatives.  But it also could have been such a house even if he was born in the inn’s stable.  Or maybe a house Joseph procured later.  Who knows?  Who cares?  It was a house.  The magi found them, worshipped him and presented him gifts.  Three different kinds of gifts – not necessarily just one of each and not necessarily one gift per man.  We don’t know.  So, we also don’t know how many magi there were.  I figure a whole caravan may have travelled to Jerusalem and then on to Bethlehem – remember it took a long time!  I doubt, though, that more than three or four went into the house with the gifts.  It doesn’t really matter just so you know that the Bible does not say “we three kings of Orient are…”

So, why do we include three kings with the shepherds at the stable?  A little bit of tradition and probably a whole lot of convenience.  It is hard to put two years into a short nativity play, even harder in just a scene!  Is it wrong?  Well, of course it’s incorrect.  Is it misleading?  Somewhat, but it gives you the opportunity to make sure your kids and others know the scriptures.   If misleading, is it then sinful?  Only if your intent is to mislead or obscure the truth.  Is saying 2 + 2 = 5 wrong?  Yes.  Is it misleading?  Yes.  Is it sinful?  I don’t see how unless you insist it is right and you intend to mislead others away from the truth.  Personally, I would try to tell the two stories as two separate stories, since that is what the Bible does.  In fact, that is what I did!  I wrote two separate children’s books – “Twas the Night Jesus Was Born” and “The Visit of the Magi.”  You can check them out and buy them at http://www.twasthenightjesuswasborn.com.

 

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Debunking the Nativity Story – or NOT!

There has been much written and much more said to try to debunk the traditional western version of the Nativity.  To be sure, some of it needs to be debunked – or at least understood for what it is, which is a modern, feeble attempt to portray the birth of Jesus over 2000 years ago in a land and culture far from our western experience.

The wise men were likely not kings, we have no idea how many there were, they did not arrive for a long time after the birth (perhaps nearly 2 years!), and they found a young child (not a baby) in a house rather than a stable.  We are not sure what is really meant by the word translated as “inn” nor whether the feeding trough was in a stable, a cave, a house, or where.

Many have proposed that Jesus was born in a house with Joseph’s (or Mary’s) family around him and the animals – therefore the manger – would have been a part of said house on the lower floor.  Archaeology and cultural studies show that this type of house was very common – people upstairs and animals on the ground floor.  If other family had come to Bethlehem for the census, then perhaps the guest room (in apparently the only house owned by a relative!) was too full for Joseph, Mary, and soon-born Jesus.  Mary would also have needed privacy and so, this narrative goes, the birth would have taken place on the lower floor – hence the feeding trough for a bed.  That would answer some previously unanswered questions, but it also brings up some more difficult ones.

Was there only one relative of Joseph, and none of Mary, who had a house in Bethlehem?  Why would anyone, much less family, make the new born baby sleep in a feeding trough!?  Why is there absolutely no mention of family in the only real account we have – Luke 2?  Luke said as he began his gospel that he set out on purpose to make an accurate account of what was fulfilled, even though many others and eye witnesses had made sure to hand down the information.  Yet, they all apparently chose or were instructed by the Holy Spirit  not to tell us about the family and house situation!  By the way, if my pregnant relative came to stay with me,  there would be room in my guest room!  Maybe I’m just way nicer than those first century families!

What we do not know would fill volumes.  What we do know fills only a few verses of the Bible.  We don’t need so much speculation that cannot be proven.  We need to recognize the facts and not pick on everyone else’s opinions, so long as they don’t obscure what we need to know.

Here’s what we know:  Joseph and Mary did not find normal lodging in Bethlehem, so the newborn Jesus was laid in a feeding trough.  There is no mention of any family around nor anyone else until the shepherds came from nearby fields to see the baby.  The sign given them for knowing they had found the right baby was that he would be wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.  Magi came nearly two years later, after having seen a light in the sky they believed signaled his birth, to a house to find a young child, and brought him gifts.

Just a side note – IF Jesus was born in one of the many typical houses of Bethlehem, the shepherds would have had to conduct an exhaustive search to discover which one.  IF, however, it was the stable associated with the local travelers’ lodge (the inn) and since they knew he would be in a feeding trough, it would have been a simple, task to find him.  Just sayin’!

Here’s what matters:  The Son of God took on flesh and was born to a virgin around 2000 years ago.  He came to save people from their sins.  There was then, and has been ever since, attempts to destroy him and why he came.  His name is Jesus.  He is God in the flesh.  He is the only way to a relationship with God the Father – through forgiveness of our sins.

Some of it depends on what you believe about the Bible.  If you believe what it says about itself – that it is the inspired word of God – then you must accept what it says and ought not be too concerned with what it doesn’t say.  It says he was laid in a feeding trough for animals because there was no room in some sort of place where guests typically lodge.  It doesn’t say what kind of place that was (the word for “inn” can be translated several different ways.)  It doesn’t tell us about anyone other than the shepherds coming that night to see this baby!  No family, no friends, no townsfolk, NO ONE, but shepherds!  Maybe others did, maybe they didn’t, but God didn’t say, so it must not matter.  It does  matter that shepherds came, worshipped, and left to tell everyone they could.

What matters most is the “Word” became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory and his coming changed everything!  It will change everything for you when you trust him!  Trust him – not tradition, not religion, not intellect, not your own abilities, not anything or anyone but HIM for your salvation and eternal destiny.  If you will be saved from your sin, it will be by his grace through faith in him (faith that he has given you to exercise) or you will not be saved at all.

We celebrate that at Christmas!  In lots of flawed ways because we are flawed people.  But it is better than missing it altogether.  Correct what you know to be wrong with your celebrations, but celebrate what you know is right!

By the way, if you’re interested in what I think the story should look like, read my article on the “The Real Nativity Story.”

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Rounding Third and Heading for Home!

(Softball is like life!)

My dad is an ASA (Amateur Softball Association) Hall of Fame umpire! I grew up in the 60s watching fastpitch softball in and around Decatur, IL. Many weekends every summer were spent watching the game. The past three years, my two brothers and I joined dad in watching the NCAA Women’s College World Series, played at the Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City. The first two years, we were at the stadium with several thousand others, but this year we joined the 90 year old at our sister’s house in Arkansas where, like millions of others, we watched the tournament on television.
On my trip home, I was mentally preparing the devotion I was to share at our church that evening and it occurred to me that softball (or baseball, if that’s your preferred sport) is a metaphor for life.

Here’s my take on that:
The crowd, whether at the stadium or at home with their televisions, just watches. They don’t play the game because they are NOT on the team. They will never make it to the dugout (or clubhouse if you are the MLB fan), because that is reserved for the team. Only the team gets to go there! The crowd may enjoy the game – cheering on the team, second guessing the coach and players, criticizing the umpires, etc. – but they’ll never get into the dugout because they aren’t on the team! The dugout (or clubhouse) represents heaven. The vast majority are only spectators. They enjoy watching the game and might even talk a good game themselves – even critique God and Christians (the Coach and players) – but they will never get to heaven because they are NOT on the team! Jesus said in John 14:6, that He is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him! He told a religious leader (recorded in John 3) that he had to be born spiritually, from above, or he would never see heaven. The Bible clearly, repeatedly, explains that God’s “dugout” is only accessible by the team and one only gets on the team by grace through faith – confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior!
Sadly, most of the world will never choose to join the team. However, even that is not the end, nor even the immediate goal. It is not enough just to be on the team! It’s not enough just to be guaranteed a seat in the dugout! The team is there to play the game – even to win the game! And to win the game, you must score runs! Someone has to eventually cross home plate! The more, the better! If no one scores, the team loses! Oh, the players are still on the team – still have a place in the dugout – but they lose the game! You have to score runs. You have to cross home plate!
But to do that, you have to make it to first base. That is not enough, but you have to start with that. You have to get to first base, then second base, then third base, and only then can you head on into home and score. In softball, the bases are but little square pads in various places on the playing field, but what are the bases in life?
I think first base is personal growth. Remember, only those on the team can actually expect to reach even first base. You must take some responsibility for your own spiritual growth. Read and study the Bible, pray, and worship. Learn more about God and how you should live. All these things you can do for yourself. Learn, grow, start becoming the player God wants you to be. That’s first base and you must get to first base or you’ll never score! You cannot stay on first, but you must  get there! You have to move on. Nobody wins if you never leave first base! You must get to second base!
Second base, to my way of thinking, is corporate growth, or church growth – involvement with the others on the team. There is no such thing in the Bible as a “Lone Ranger” Christian – and even he had Tonto! No ‘lone wolves’ – no ‘go it alone’ Christianity. The Bible speaks of believers as a family, members of one body – Christ’s body, and even as the bride of Christ. Never complete when alone. Always in conjunction with the rest of the team. The New Testament says over fifty times to do specific things for one another. So, second base consists of our involvement with others on the team – group Bible studies, prayer meetings, mission trips, and fellowships, for example. Being involved in VBS, church camps, work days; singing and praising the Lord (congregationally, in choirs, anything but a solo means you’re working with others!), helping neighbors and others in need. Too many ways to mention – so many ways to be involved with others. YOU need the church and the church needs YOU! Church involvement and interaction is second base. In order to score, you’ll have to get to second base.
But you can’t stay there, either! No one scores by staying on second! You must get there, but you have to move on to third – and you can’t skip ANY bases! Third base is leadership. That can be many things. Preaching, teaching, leading worship or prayer groups, witnessing, and on and on. My point is that you must move on from just involvement with others to, at least in some areas, actually leading the others. On third base, YOU are the teacher or YOU are the witness, the deacon, the trustee, the choir leader, etc. You’ll still be a learner, a team member, a disciple – but you’ll also become a discipler!
However, in life, as in softball, you don’t score a run by staying on third base. Oh, those dreaded words from the announcer at the close of an inning, “…and one man left on base.” It means someone COULD have scored, but didn’t. Games are lost with someone left on third base!
So, what, you may be wondering, does it take to score? If personal growth is but first base, church involvement is second base, leadership is third base, and getting to heaven is the dugout or clubhouse, then what does it take to cross home plate!? What scores a run and wins the game?

Becoming like Jesus! The real goal of the team is to win the game. Scoring runs wins games. Team members score by becoming like Jesus. Romans 8:29 tells us that. This is a made-for-softball paraphrase, but it says that God chose some to be on His team in order to become like His Son, Jesus! In Philippians 2:5, Paul tells us to have the same mindset as Jesus. In 1 John 2:6, John wrote that those who are really on the team are to live like Jesus. I can’t yell it loudly enough from the stands or even from the coach’s box as a pastor – “the goal is NOT getting into the dugout! (That was guaranteed when you joined the team!) You have to score! The goal is to be like Jesus!”
You cannot get into the dugout (heaven) from the stands. You sure can’t score (become like Jesus) in the stands. You have to join the team and play the game. You cannot score if you don’t reach first base. You also can’t score unless you advance to second and third! And even then, you keep going. But what else is there? What have we NOT covered on the other three bases?
It could take a whole book, not just a blog, to cover it all! It could take a lifetime of learning and doing to understand it all. But to point you in the right direction, let’s think about Jesus. Become like Jesus. In character, attitude, world-view, values, love and wisdom, and so much more! It’s not so much about doing, though Luke said of Jesus that He went about doing good (Acts 10:38). Jesus did good, because Jesus is good! Try to be like Jesus. He did personal growth, so you must, too – first base! He was involved with others, so you must be, too – second base! He taught, led, and discipled others, so, again, you must aspire to that as well – third base! THEN, do whatever else it takes to score – to be like Him! Don’t just try to do like Him, but be like Him!
Maybe you’ll run across home plate as you score. Perhaps it will happen so easily that you can just trot on across the plate. Maybe you’ll have to slide or maybe you’ll fall and have to crawl the last few feet! But whatever it takes – score!

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Enter and Sign in, Please…

Those of us who grew up at Forsyth Baptist Church in the 60s shared several “dads”.  They all took turns teaching us, leading in our church activities – we called them ‘socials’ back then – and helping us grow in our faith.  Many of them – probably most of them – are gone now and another went to be with Jesus yesterday – Scott Spriggs.  Besides being a teacher and a deacon of the church, Scott led the music worship for years.

A couple of other staples of growing up in a small mid-western town in the 60s were Halloween traditions and a tv game show called “What’s My Line?”  Believe it or not, these all tie together!

On the game show, a panel of celebrities questioned various contestants in order to try to guess their occupations.  The host would call the contestants to the stage and instruct them to “Enter and sign in, please.”  They would write their names with chalk on a blackboard – I know, the 60s, right!?

At Halloween, we would dress up and go from house to house throughout Forsyth for Trick or Treating and fill up our goodie bags with tons of candy and other treats.  We would also carry a concealed weapon!  A bar of soap.  The “trick” of the season was to soap windows without getting caught.  Nearly everyone would try to chase you off before you could do much soaping.  A few really meant it, but I think most enjoyed the chase as much as we did.  At the Spriggs’ house, however, Scott took a different approach.  He would greet us at the front door, point to the big picture window next to it, and knowing we were armed, say, “Enter and sign in, please!”  Which I did – though I was too smart to sign my own name!

When I heard that Scott had passed away, I pictured the gatekeeper of heaven (though I really doubt one exists since trusting in Jesus is the only way in) greeting Scott and saying, “Enter and sign in, please!”  Scott would reply that there was no need to guess his “vocation” (see Eph. 4:1ff) – it is no secret.  I am sure that Scott sang that old song a time or two at church – “It is no secret, what God can do.  What He’s done for others, He’ll do for you.  With arms wide open, He’ll pardon you.  It is no secret, what God can do.”

There is no need to bid Scott an “RIP”, because that’s part of what heaven is all about!  So, I’ll just say, “Thanks for all you did and see you later!”

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Happy Anniversaries!

I’ll have two anniversaries this month!  The first and longest-running is Jan. 17, which this year marks 42 years of marriage!  It has been a good run so far – I think we’ll just keep going!  “For richer – for poorer”, so where’s the “richer” been?  “For better – for worse”, it’s mostly gotten better through the years!  “In sickness and in health” – we’ve both been mostly healthy until recently.  And that brings me to the second anniversary.

Two years ago on Jan. 19, I walked into our local hospital with upper chest pains.  It didn’t seem too serious, but enough so to have it checked out.  Tests showed something amiss with my heart and blood pressure, so I was sent on to a bigger, better-for-heart-treatment hospital.  A heart cath the next day showed multiple blocks in a few arteries.  I had had no heart attack as yet, but three days later I underwent a triple bypass!

These past two years have been a whirlwind!  I think they may have been the busiest two years of my life!  They were filled with exercise, increased travels, and increased work load – both physically and spiritually (I am a minister and a writer).

I am quite sure that when I got married, I was not ready for all that we would experience over the next 42 years!  No one could be.  I am equally sure now, that I would not have been able to do all that I needed to do these past two years, if not for the bypass.  Many thought at first that perhaps the heart thing was God’s way of slowing me down for health reasons.  Turned out, He was fixing me up in order for me to do even more!

I think maybe that was what the marriage was, too!  He was fixing me up in order for me to do even more!  You know – two become one… two heads are better than one… there is power in numbers… strength in unity…  that’s all been true and very necessary!  AND a good strong heart helps make both anniversaries keep on going!

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In Defense of Trunk or Treat

Do churches really condone going around dressed up like ghosts, witches, monsters, devils, and all sorts of evil characters?  Is it another case of “if you can’t beat’em, join’em?”  Are churches simply compromising with the world in order to attract a crowd?

Maybe.  But then, maybe not.  I can’t speak for all churches.  For that matter, not everything that calls itself a church is in fact really a church.  All I can really speak for is my church and those I’ve heard from personally on the subject.  And we are NOT interested in Halloween!  That’s right – we are NOT interested in Halloween!

However, the kids in our neighborhood are.  Their parents and grandparents are, too!  And WE are interested in  THEM!  They need to hear that God loves them and so do we.  They need to know that in a world filled with hate, fear, and harm, there are those of us who still provide love, peace, and safety!

We don’t think that hiding inside our churches and ignoring the world teaches that.  So, we line our parking lot with cars and vans filled with goodies and prizes in a fun and safe environment and invite them to come and enjoy!  Poor kids get more candy than they can afford.  They learn there is no difference between them and those who “have’ already.  They learn the truth about God’s love, that it is given unconditionally to all who will just reach out receive it.  They learn that you don’t earn love, it is just offered.  They learn that our church people care about them and that they are welcome at our place.  They are invited to come back and learn even more.

That all sounds like good stuff to me – not evil.  It does NOT sound like we even condone the evil.  It is all around us.  We can’t ignore it.  We must not hide from it.  We don’t approve of it.  We shun it.  We will fight it when we can.  But sometimes we fight it by just out-playing it.  We overcome it with good.  The only way to dispel darkness is to shine light.  That’s what we do.  And the world sees that with us, there are no tricks – just treats!  And so it is with the God we serve!

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Who Is This Man?

The following is an essay I submitted to a magazine in Aug. ’16 for a contest of articles about ‘Life Changing Experiences’. I never heard anything from them, nor have they posted a list of winners’ names like they said they would or responded to my email, so I guess I didn’t win and am free to publish this elsewhere:

Life seemed to be moving along pretty well for my wife and me as we turned the page from 2015 to 2016.  We lived in central Illinois.  I was 61 and working at being the husband of one, father of two, grandfather of five, and pastor of many.

We had already made some plans for the next several months that would keep us happily busy.  The small church that I pastor was making plans to purchase property that would require renovation, so I knew the summer would get very busy.  Meanwhile, a few trips had been planned.

My wife and I had been blessed by friends with a free week in a condo in Florida in May.  My two brothers and I planned to spend the first weekend of June with our 88-year-old father in Oklahoma at the NCAA Women’s Softball World Series.  I also had plans for the next week to go to the mountains of Peru on a mission trip with a young lady from our church, who is like a daughter to me, and another local pastor and his daughter.

It seemed to me like all was set – life was good.  Now, to be fair, three or four times in the fall of 2015, I had some slight concerns.  For no apparent reason, lasting no more than a couple of minutes each time, I experienced a tightening in my upper chest and a burning sensation as I breathed through it.  Since I had no other symptoms, no real personal medical history, and no history of heart disease in my family, I wrote it off as being a little overweight and 61 years old. However, on Tuesday, January 19, another episode occurred that did not end in a couple of minutes.  The pain persisted despite my efforts to ease it.  In fact, it got worse.  I even began to get a little nauseated.  I decided it must be something more than old age and weight, so I drove myself to the hospital just one block away.  As I walked into the ER, I called my wife who was visiting family several miles away.  By the time she arrived, nitro and baby aspirin had eased my pain.

Our small hospital had done its job and test results showed something was going wrong in there.  They sent me on to a larger hospital in Springfield, IL known for its heart care.  A heart catheterization the next day revealed several blocks in three arteries, including five in the one they call “the widow maker!”  Too many to stent, so the doctors recommended a triple bypass!

That’s right.  Me – the guy with no medical history, taking no medication, with no real problems.  I didn’t even have a doctor!  On Saturday, they cut me open, sawed through my chest bone, took a vein out of my right leg for the new bypasses, connected me to a bypass machine, shut off my heart, built three detours around my blocked arteries, restarted my heart, wired my sternum together, and stitched me back up!  On Sunday, I was up walking.  On Monday, I was in a regular hospital room and on Wednesday, I walked down the stairs of my home to my bedroom suite where I soon ate supper while watching TV!  Amazing!

Now, before I let them do all this to me, I asked the surgeon about my recovery time and those three trips I had planned, especially the one up in the mountains.  He said if I spent six weeks after the surgery doing what I was told, then I could do whatever I wanted.  I said, “Let’s do it!” – and we did!

My wife asked me why I thought I would be able to change my diet and exercise regularly, when I had never done so before.  I was a “meat and taters” kind of guy.  I hate all vegetables.  I used to be fairly active, but I’m 61 now!  My answer was that I had too much to do to let this stop me.  Not just those trips, nor even my work as a pastor, but much more.

I was determined to take Melissa, my spiritual daughter, to Peru on her first mission trip.  We had hoped to go the year before, but the trip had not materialized.  I would not disappoint her again!  The new church building meant far more than just new “digs” for the church.  It meant expanded ministry potential in a new neighborhood.  That would require my help and good health.  I write the materials for our children’s ministry – so many depend on me!

I also write children’s books and my hope for them is to broaden my sphere of influence so I might somehow touch many more people.  I had received my second book two weeks earlier and had just sent number three to the publisher a few days before the surgery.  There would be book signings and book orders and who knows where it all might lead.

Then there were my regular ministerial duties and my family to consider.  No, I had too much I wanted to see accomplished before I leave this world and apparently, I might not get it done unless I began to eat right and exercise.  So, I must.  The decision to have the surgery and make the changes was that simple.

The surgery went well and recovery progressed nicely.  As soon as I could do it, I started the daily walking routine and when the time was right I went through the cardiac rehab program.  I did make all those trips, plus another to Arkansas just six weeks after the surgery. I only missed two Sundays at church and began resuming pastoral duties and ministries right after that.  I later joined our hospital’s wellness center so I could continue to exercise and build up my strength.

Now, fast forward to August.  I have lost 40 pounds!  I exercise nearly every day and often twice a day.  I have NEVER been an early riser, but now I exercise for over an hour, fix and eat breakfast, and get ready to face the day by 7:30 in the morning!

I am not yet operating at full strength, but I am progressing.  My ministry “plate” is full, including becoming the Team Leader to facilitate more trips to Peru.  I’ll be going back this October and then twice a year for the next several years.  I still hate vegetables, but I am eating some!  Mostly, I have cut out and cut back on lots of things that are not so healthy.

Sounds good, huh?  Well, mostly it is, but there are some drawbacks.  The weight loss has led to having to buy a whole new wardrobe!  The recovery time has prevented the extra work I usually do to supplement my income – house painting and helping a local funeral home.  Book signings and sales have slowed as well.  Lots of out-go and less income!  Balancing the budget has become tougher.

I am still not fully recovered so I am somewhat limited on some things.  Mowing and weed-eating hurts.  It is hard for me just to supervise work and not join in.  It’s even harder for me to let the women do things in my place, like carry the heavy stuff.  The Peru trip was harder on my muscles than I had imagined it would be, so I have stepped up the workouts.  I don’t sleep as long or as restfully as I used to.  Did I mention I hate vegetables?

I am not sure, even after several months of adjustments and changes, where this is all leading.  I look in the mirror and ask myself, “Who is this man?”  He’s a thinner, healthier me, but is it really me?  HE gets up early, works out, and eats differently.  HE takes medicine every day – twice a day.  Some things I used to do – this guy can’t.  HE’s even trying to learn Spanish!

And now to really confess – there are times I just sit and try not to think.  I get overwhelmed easily.  It takes longer to do some things.  I wonder if I can keep this up for another twenty years.  Sometimes, I wonder if it’s worth it.  A couple of times, I broke down and cried.  Other times, I fought it off.  Sometimes I cry out to God and He always gets me through it.  He gives me strength and help, but so far, not so many real answers.

I look for answers, but keep going.  I am sure the reasons will come when I really need them.  As for that man in the mirror?  I try to remember that God is not finished with him yet.  I may struggle to know just who he is, but whoever he is, he is not yet who he will be when God is done with him!  I guess I’ll just have to stick around and stick to it and wait to see who that is!

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