Friday, December 19, 2008

Busy, Busy, Busy!

Bren and I have been very busy today. We're trying to get packed for our trip to Sweden and do all those last minute chores, go to the bank, and give blood! So far, so good! We made it to the Blood Connection and donated blood by noon today. We may not be able to give money to charities, but we can at least give something to help save a life. I think we have both given over a gallon. It makes us feel good to be able to do something for others at this time of year. By the time we take off on Sunday we may be tired enough to actually sleep on the plane!

Many thanks to D&V for sending some more OTC drugs our way. We are trying to clear up our head colds before we get on the plane. We want to be able to hold the grandbaby. (Bren is starting to grin thinking about it. She's had that funny smile all day! It's a little scary!)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Yuck! Now I've got it!

D&V warned us, but we went anyway. D had a scratchy throat and sinus probelems last week. V got them from D. Now I have the same symptoms on the brink of our Swedish trip! YUCK! The family that plays together gets the Creeping Crud together.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So Much to Do at Christmas!

It's been two days since my last post. I've just been too busy to sit a the computer for a long time! This past Saturday evening we enjoyed The Living Tree at Berea First Baptist Church. My sister SLF got tickets for Bren and me, and my parents. It was the 30th anniversary of their 1st performance of the Living Tree. Brend and I have sung in it three times,. and D & V joined us the last time we sang. It was very good, with some old favorites from the 1st tree and some new elements to spark new life.

We had a great time at our church, First Baptist TR, Sunday morning. Then, on Sunday afternoon we went to First Baptist Simpsonville to see their performance of We Come with Joy. Once again, an excellent performance. We were surprised to get to see D conducting the orchestra at the beginning and end of the secession. We were so proud! Also, the woodwind ensemble played his arrangement,"Christmas Winds" before the doors opened to the public.

Monday evening more family time! D and V had us over for chili, so we've had our traditional Christmas supper from a bowl together this year after all! After supper we went to CVS, where D&V were incredibly generous by stocking us with medical supplies. We're fixed for a while!

Monday afternoon I went to Gateway Family Medical Center and was seen by Jo Bradley, the FNP. She was so nice! She spent about an hour with me going over my diabetic problems, and I ended up leaving with over $300 in samples if it had been sold at the drug store! She also told me to go to Marrietta First Baptist and use their Family Life Center for walking. Brenda and I took her advice today. What a magnificent facility. Open to the public at no cost! For a one time fee of $10 you get a pass to the weight room, where they have all sorts of exercise equipment. It's like going to the YMCA for free! No excuses now! Maybe I'll get down to this size!

The following is a Christmas sermon given 0n Dec 17, 2002 by my late father-in-law, Rev. Bobby H. Belcher:


TEXT: Luke 2:10, Psalm 98

INTRODUCTION: One of our freshest and most invigorating Christmas hymns is also one of our oldest. “Joy to the World”, was written by Isaac Watts and first published in 1719. It is a free rendering of the last part of Psalm 98.(read the psalm)

Birthdays are always occasions for joy and celebration, and it is most fitting that the birthday of our King be characterized by the singing of joyful carols. Christianity is a religion of joy. While other religions have fine ethics and morality, only the Christian faith gives men something to SING and REJOICE about.

(I) HEAVENLY JOY OF THE ANGELS. (Luke 2:9-14) Usually celestial beings are not seen by mortal man, nor are they heard by them. But with the coming of Jesus Christ to the earth, the heavens could contain them no longer and the angels literally burst with joy. We do not understand all of the characteristics of angels or their creation or purpose. But we do know that they are representative of the population of heaven and as such, minister to God constantly. We know that they rejoice when a sinner is born into the Kingdom of God, and surely they must have rejoiced with great joy when the Redeemer Himself came to earth. Why should it matter to us whether angels in heaven rejoice or not? When we are terribly discouraged and it seems that we have no allies among our fellowmen, it strength the resolve and heartens the spirit to know that there are countless angelic hosts who rejoice at our smallest happiness and who stand ready at God’s command to help us in every difficulty. We do not know what kind of fellowship we will have with the angels when we are in heaven ourselves. But, surely, there will be a wonderful compatibility, for they seem to rejoice over the same things that give the deepest kind of happiness to mankind.

(II) THE HUMBLE JOY OF THE SHEPHERDS.(Luke 2:20) “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” The shepherds did not have the heavenly quality of the angelic choir, nor did they have the wealth and possessions of the wise men, but this did not keep them from expressing unutterable joy that they knew in their heats after seeing the Christ child. Poverty in worldly things ought to make us rejoice more in the gift of God’s heavenly things. The less we have of this world, the more room there is for God to give us heaven’s blessings. Those who cannot sing because they are poor or because they feel inadequate in the world, would probably not sing if they have all the possessions and abilities that others seem to have. The deepest joys of life often flow from the quietest and simplest streams.

(III) HONORABLE JOY OF THE WISE MEN. (Matthew 2:10) “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Men of science are not given to undue and overt expressions of emotion, but when these stargazers of the Orient saw the start of Bethlehem they “rejoiced with exceeding great joy..”

Two misconceptions about Christian father involve the intellect. ONE, IS THE BELIEF THAT NO MAN CAN HAVE AN ABUNDANCE OF KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM AND STILL BE HUMBLE AND GENUINE IN HIS Christian faith. This has led to much mistrust of those in high places of educational, scientific, and economic fields. Some of the most outstanding testimonies of the validity of the Christian faith are made today by brilliant, ambitious, and successful people in all walks of life. (Dr. Atkinson, surgeon of Irene, Wake Heart Center, Raleigh, NC)

The SECOND misunderstanding is that which believes that the GOSPEL STORY OF JESUS CHRIST IS TOO SIMPLE to interest or appeal to intelligent people. A new pastor in a college town found himself trying desparately to produce the kind of intellectual sermons that would appeal to the students and professors in his congregation. Finally, a professor called the new pastor aside and said quite gently, but plainly, “Pastor, when I come to church I do not need or expect to be intellectually stimulated or scientifically informed. I come here to feed my soul and to bathe my weary feet in the fountain of life. The story of Jesus Christ is the most appealing thing you have to offer to any of us from the pulpit.”

The story is told of a GROUP OF NOBLEMEN who were gathered together in London when the KING OF GREAT BRITIAN entered. They all knew him personally, yet they all honored him as their king. So, when he entered, THEY STOOD TO THEIR FEET, “take your seats, gentleman,” said the king. “I count you my personal friends.” And then jokingly he added, “I am not the Lord, you know.” One of the noblemen, a true Christian, spoke up, “No, Sir, if you were our Lord, we would not stand to our feet. We would fall on our knees.”

The loveliest thing about the Christmas story, IS NOT the simple faith of the shepherds who were keeping their flocks by night; NOT the singing of the angelic host, BUT it is when the WISE MEN found the baby JESUS and FELL ON THEIR KNEES BEFORE HIM AND WORSHIP HIM.

(III) THE INHERITED JOY OF THE SAINTS. In verse 10, the angels give the good news that the promised joy is to be universal and to be shared – ‘TO ALL THE PEOPLE,” Actually the JOY ITSELF is not promised directly to ALL THE PEOPLE regardless of whether they are Christian or not. It is the PROCLAMATION of the “good tidings of great joy” that is promised to all people. Then, whoever and wherever these people are who respond to the proclamation and receive the good tidings, joy shall surely come.

JESUS WANTS US TO HAVE J OY AS HIS PEOPLE. In John 16:22 He promises us, “Your joy no man taketh from you” and in verse 24, he promises again, “You joy may be full.” There seems to be two ideas concerning joy about which Jesus often spoke. He combines them both in John 15:11, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”

CONCLUSION: As we too often do with the singing of most of our hymns, we usually OMIT THE THIRD STANZA of “Joy to the World, The Lord is Come.” This third stanza admonishes us thusly –

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

It is only when we are WILLING to let sins and sorrows and thorns LEAVE our world and LET HIS blessings FLOW IN, that the curse of sin can be REMOVED so that we can really have joy. Are you willing to empty your heart of everything that is keeping you from these and receive today, the beauty and depth of HIS peace and joy?


Friday, December 12, 2008

Family fun!

We had the BEST time last night with our elder son and daughter-in-law D&V! We were celebrating a number of things, V's birthday, my birthday, belated birthday for D and Mine and Bren's anniversary in advance. And celebrate in style we did! D and V took us out to The City Range, one of the better steak places in G'ville. Bren and I both got prime rib, D got a specialty dish of blacken tenderloin medalions topped with crabcakes with a blue cheese sauce, and V had a marvelous burbon glazed salmon. You might say she had sauce in her sauce!

You might wonder how this ties into the Christmas traditions I have been posting. Well, the answer is simple. This is one of OUR traditions. On Christmas Eve our immediate family gets together for a Christmas bowl of soup. Nothing too heavy, since we KNOW we will be eating extremely well at our family Christmas Dinner. This year, since Bren and I will be in Sweden with our younger son's family, we celebrated early with D and V. Dand V made it feel like a Christmas celebration. We will be seeing them again in just a few days when we go to Simpsonville First Baptist for their Christmas presentation.

Oh yes, and Saturday evening we will be attending the singing Christmas Tree at Berea First Baptist, so we will get a lot of live Christmas music this weekend!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Pageant at Travelers Rest First Baptist Church

We had our Christmas Pageant at our church last night. It was quite nice for a church the size of ours. Our Minister of Music did not use a “store bought” program, but rather picked music for each scene from some old favorites as well as some newer contemporary tunes. Our Children’s and Youth Ministers wrote the scenes and directed the actors, so it was an effort of the entire staff.
After starting off with a sing-along with such classics as “Up on the Rooftop” and “Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer”, we quickly moved into the sacred meaning of the holidays. We watched as a family heard the Biblical story of Christmas as other church members acted out the biblical scenes.

One of the cutest parts of the pageant was when our children’s group, “Pocketful of Praise”, had their singing parts.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Just blog stuff and The Tradition of the Candy Cane

I am having so much fun with this blog! I didn't realize just how theraputic it would be for me to write all these things down. I hope I'm not boring anyone who might happen to come across the blog. Hopefully some of the information is useful. After the holidays I am thinking about a series of articles on diabetes, and maybe adapting some gourmet recipes for folks like me! That will give me two more things about which to write.

The Tradition of the Candy Cane

Did you know that the candy cane was created to honor Jesus? If the Candy is held upright, it is in shape of a shepherd’s staff, which the shepherd uses as he watches over his sheep. Jesus is our Shepherd. If the candy is turned upside down, it becomes the letter “J” for Jesus.

The Bible tells us that by Jesus’ stripes we are healed. Jesus was beaten and stripes were put on His back when He was crucified in payment of our sins. So, the candy cane was made with red and white stripes to represent the blood of Jesus that washed away our sins and makes us pure and white as snow. One bold stripe represents one God who is Father of us all. The three fine stripes represent the Trinity: one God, who has revealed himself to us in three ways: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

There are a lot of candy canes in the stores today made with different colors. But they are not TRUE candy canes unless they are red and white and have one bold stripe and three fine stripes. True candy canes are Christian candy because they tell the story of Jesus.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas in Sweden

Since we are going to be in Sweden for Christmas visiting with our new Grand Daughter, I thought I would share some of the Christmas customs I have read about for Sweden. I'm sure we are going to find these traditions vary when we actually get there, but it gives us a basis for comparison once we arrive. Oh yes, we will be visiting with our younger son and his wife as well as the grandbaby, and with the rest of our friends in Sweden! We will be in Malmo and Stockholm from Dec 21 through Dec 30. Got to find out about drinking Glogg! Anyway, here is what I have learned so far.

Christmas in Sweden
Christmas begins in Sweden with the Saint Lucia ceremony. Before dawn on the morning of 13 December, the youngest daughter from each family puts on a white robe with a red sash. She wears a crown of evergreens with tall-lighted candles attached to it. She wakes her parents, and serves them with coffee and Lucia buns. The other children accompany her. The custom goes back to Lucia, a Christian virgin martyred for her beliefs at Syracuse in the fourth century. The Saint Lucia ceremony is fairly recent, but it represents the traditional thanksgiving for the return of the sun. Often she is followed by star boys, who wear pointed hats, and carry star wands.

Candle-lit processions to Church feature Scandinavian Christmases, where, in the home, it is mother who always lights the candles on Christmas Eve.

Christmas trees are usually found in Swedish homes two days before Christmas. Decoration may include candles, apples, Swedish flags, small gnomes wearing red tasseled caps, straw ornaments. The houses may filled with red tulips and smell like pepparkakor, which is a heart-star, or goat-shaped gingerbread biscuit.

Swedish Julafton, or Christmas Eve dinner may be a smorgasbord, or buffet with julskinka, or Christmas ham, pickled pigs feet,lutfisk, or dried codfish, and many different kinds of sweets. Risgryngrot a special rice porridge, has hidden in it an almond which as tradition has it the person who finds the almond in his or her bowl will marry in the coming year.

After Christmas Eve dinner, a friend or family member dresses up as tomte or Christmas gnome. The tomte, unlike Santa Claus is supposed to live under the floorboards of the house or barn and ride a straw goat. The make-believe tomte, wearing a white beard and dressed in red robes, distributes gifts from his sack. Many are given with funny rhyme that hints at the contents. In Sweden, Jultomten, a little brownie helps Santa Claus give gifts to the children who have been good. The julbok, which is the Christmas goat, is responsible for the distributing of the presents.

On Christmas morning, churches are lit up entirely by candles for the Christmas service.

From Mia
The Julbock (Christmas Goat) has nothing to do with the Tomte (Santa Claus)... He doesn't ride it. When Sweden was changing from goat to Santa they came together but that was more than 20 years ago. So it use to but no longer. And it was originally to honor the goats that Tor (an old God) used to pull his carriage. Today basically no one knows why we have them. Sadly and the Tomte doesn't live under a barn anymore. Now it is like in America, he lives at the North Pole. In the old days the tomte took care of the farm and lived there but then he had nothing to do with Christmas (then it was the goat). He was mean and hard to work with but he made sure there would be food on the table and looked after all the animals, IF the people on the farm took care of him and behaved well. No Christmas.

Balls of Glass are in our trees as well as Tinsels now but most of all: You've forgotten about the most Christmassy in Sweden Donald duck at TV at 15.00 on Christmas Eve. Has been shown on TV since 1960-somethink

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Jolly fellow in the red suit rides again!

I've had a great time tonight! I had a gig as my alternate ego. I spent about 45 minutes in character as Santa for one of my cousins. He has followed his late father's tradition of having a Christmas party on the Saturday following Thanksgiving for a good number of years. This time, though, due to illness we had to put it off until today. When I don the red suit I don't play a part; I AM Santa. And I am carrying on a family tradition too: My grandfather was the Santa for one of Greenville's department stores years ago when all the shopping was done downtown! It is so much fun watching people as they react to Santa Claus. Tonight I was Santa for children as young as six months, and as old as seventy five years. Once you start talking to the jolly old elf you become a child again yourself.

History and Legend of the Poinsettia

The following article is one from a gardening website. I liked the history of the poinsettia because Joel Poinsett settled in the Greenville South Carolina area back in the 1800's. It's great to have an Upstate tie to Christmas!

ps My friend the HVAC service tech was able to get our heat back on HOORAY!!!!

History of the Poinsettia
By Tamara Galbraith

That holiday superstar, the poinsettia, actually has its own holiday. By an Act of Congress, December 12 was set aside as National Poinsettia Day.

The date marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who is credited with introducing the native Mexican plant to the United States. During Poinsett's appointment in Mexico, he wandered the countryside looking for new plant species. In 1828, he discovered a beautiful shrub with large red bracts growing next to a road. He took cuttings from the plant and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina.
Years later, William Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, was asked to give 'Euphorbia pulcherrima' a new name as it became more popular. At that time Mr. Prescott had just published a book called the Conquest of Mexico in which he detailed Joel Poinsett’s discovery of the plant. So, Prescott named the plant the poinsettia in honor of Joel Poinsett’s discovery.
We're not sure what Mr. Poinsett would think of the latest trend in painting the colored bracts of his beloved plants with various shades of blue and layers of sparkles, but holiday shoppers certainly seem to dig them. Whatever the case, Poinsett's introduction is now a tradition that brightens the holidays every year.

This next article is another part of a program I used at one of my churchs that explained the traditions and synbols of Christmas.

The Tradition of the Poinsettias

The poinsettia has become the traditional Christmas flower. Although it is treasured in all parts of the world as a symbol of Christmas, it can be traced back to an old Mexican legend. A poor peasant girl going to her church to visit the manager scene on Christmas morning was broken-hearted because she had nothing of beauty to offer the Christ Child. On her way, she picked some weeds from the side of the road and, as her only possession in the world, laid them at the feet of the statue of the Virgin Mary. Miraculously, they were transformed into the scarlet brilliance of the poinsettia we know today.

Monday, December 1, 2008

What a Day! and The Story of Christmas Candles

What a day it has been! Our heat has been out at our house and I've been having to build a fire to warm us up. The fireplace works great, but it keeps the back part of the house cooler than I want it. And the old saying is true: If you use your fireplace you warm yourself twice, once getting the wood together, and secondly, after you get the fire going! I've called a friend who is a HVAC service tech, but he is having to get a part for the gas-pac so I guess we won't have central heat until tomorrow. On the bright side, it will keep our gas bill down!

My bookloving son and daughter-in-law would have enjoyed the treasure hunt Bren and I had this afternoon. We were looking a some second hand books to see what treasures we could find. I managed to get hard-cover copies of five great cookbooks by Jeff Smith, "The Frugal Gourmet." I also got a copy of Burt Wolfe's Eating Well. If the kids behave I might just let them look through these!

The Tradition of the Christmas Candles

Long before the celebration of Christmas, candles were used to signify Christ as the light of the world. In medieval times, there was a charming legend, which said that on Christmas Eve the Christ Child wandered throughout the world, looking for places where he would be welcomed. Those who loved Him, hoping that he might find their homes, placed lighted candles in the window to invite Him in.

No one, of course, knew for sure how he might appear. Perhaps he would come dressed in the rags of a beggar, or he might come as a poor and lonely child. Might he come on the form of a disabled person who was put out to roam the streets of the city or the lonely footpaths of the countryside?

So, it became customary for devout Christians to welcome into their homes all who knocked on their doors on Christmas Eve. To turn away may have meant the rejection of the Christ Child, who had come in an unfamiliar garb.

During the Advent season, we remember that the Christ Child is wandering along our streets, looking for homes where he will be given warmth and shelter. The candles in the windows of homes and churches symbolize to all of our community that Christ is our guest. Here is a place where there is room in our hearts for him.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's almost CHRISTMAS!

I have always enjoyed the Christmas season. We have so many different traditions to celebrate. Over the course of the next few days I will try to share some Christmas symbols with you. A lot of the information that Iwill share I've garnered from many different sources, and I have used this information to create a "Hanging of the Greens" program that I have used during my time as Minister of Music in various churches across North and South Carolina.

A Christmas tree, Yule tree or Tannenbaum (German: fir tree) is one of the most popular traditions associated with the celebration of Christmas. It is normally an evergreen cone bearing tree that is brought into a home or used in the open, and is decorated with Christmas lights and colorful ornaments during the days around Christmas. An angel or star is often placed at the top of the tree, representing the host of angels or the Star of Bethlehem from the Nativity story.

The Legend of the First Christmas Tree:
The night of the Savior's birth, all the living creatures, both flora and fauna, came to Bethlehem with gifts. The olive tree brought its fruit and the palm its dates. But the little fir tree had no gift and was so tired it couldn't resist when the big trees pushed it into the background and hid it from view. But then a nearby angel took pity and commanded a cluster of stars to come and rest on its delicate boughs. When the Baby Jesus beheld this lovely lighted tree, He smiled and blessed it, declaring henceforth that fir trees should always be filled with lights at Christmastime to please little children.

"Oh Christmas Tree"
1. O Christmas tree. O Christmas tree,
Thou tree most fair and lovely.
O Christmas tree. O Christmas tree,
Thou tree most fair and lovely.
The sight of thee at Christmas-tide
Spreads hope and gladness far and wide.
O Christmas tree. O Christmas tree,
Thou tree most fair and lovely.
2. O Christmas tree. O Christmas tree,
Thou hast a wondrous message.
O Christmas tree. O Christmas tree,
Thou hast a wondrous message.
Thou dost proclaim the Savior's birth,
Good will to men and peace on earth.
O Christmas tree. O Christmas tree,
Thou hast a wondrous message.
3. O Christmas tree. O Christmas tree,
You glow with Christmas brightness.
O Christmas tree. O Christmas tree,
We sing with joyful lightness.
The radiance of this happy night,
To all of us gives hope and light,
O Christmas tree. O Christmas tree,
You glow with Christmas brightness.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thanksgiving part II

After a magnificent meal on Thanksgiving day, I've had a chance to do some more reflecting on things for which I am grateful. In spite of a rough year financially, Bren was able to go back to school! She is working hard at getting her associates degree at Greenville Tech, one of the great things in South Carolina. I am thankful that I live in such an excellent part of the Upstate. We can be in the mountains in a matter of minutes or at the beach in just a few hours. South Carolina has it all! ( Of course, I am just a little prejudiced, being a native born son!) I am grateful for some of the fun traditions we have here: the family dinner at major holidays, friendly rivalry between some of our schools: Clemson and USC, Furman and The Citadel, and the old time Parker High versus Greenville High game. Of course that last one is just a memory, but for graduates of those two schools before the 1970's, those games are still fresh and the fun is in talking about them.

I'm thankful that I can still learn something! Our eldest and his wife have taken up the hiking bug, and I've been following their progress with great interest. They have even found a place here in Greenville County that I didn't know about. Just recently they went hiking at the Conestee Nature Park. With that name I would have thought that it is located downstate, but it is right here in Greenville County. I guess us older folks will have to go take a look at the place and do a little non-strenuous hiking ourselves. We have a good number of parks available to hike in our here. Table Rock (pictured), Paris Mountain, Jones Gap, and Pleasant Ridge just to name a few. The last three are in Greenville County.

I am especially happy to have found an old friend on FER and I have been friends ever since elementary school, sharing many,many experiences. Somehow we lost touch over the years, but now we get a chance to share again. God is good!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Things for which I am Thankful

At this time of the year it is good to pause and reflect on things for which we are thankful. Even though the times have been very tough for us economically this past year, we DO have quite a few things for which we are grateful.

Let's begin with the big one: We are so thankful for our family.

We have a new granddaughter! Our first grandchild is a very special gift from our younger son and his wife. She was born in Sweden in October. We will see her for the first time at Christmas. Her other set of grandparents are flyig us to Sweden for the holidays! We are so grateful for our friendship with them!

This year our older son and his wife gave us the present of a special family vacation to Tybee Island GA. Without their help we would not have been able to go on vacation this year. They have been very good to my wife and me this year, helping us out when they could, and just generally brightening up some tough times.

We can be thankful for our parents too. Even though they are getting on up there as far as age is concerned, they are as youthful as ever in their attitudes. They have helped us out when we would have been without transportation more times than once. And they have helped to keep our spirits up also. My wife's sisters and mother helped her go on a cruise this fall so they could have some family time together. Her sisters are trying to support each other more than they have in the past and it is allowing them to grow closer together.

We are especially thankful for our church family. Yes, I said family. Not church friends. Our church is a very friendly church, and they have taken us in and helped us several times. They have helped with the support of cash, and prayers, and even once, new glasses after mine broke. That's not just friends, that's family.