Santa Claus & hurting children

The Question of a child

There are times a child sitting on Santa’s lap has a question about the reindeer, the elves, or Mrs. Claus. The questions are simply honest searches for knowledge as a child envisions the North Pole. They just want to know how it all works.  Simple answers will usually suffice the child’s imagination, but at times you get a question needing compassion and comfort.

One such child wanted Saint Nicholas to bring peace within her troubled home.  Looking deeply into this waif’s eyes I sensed a deeper issue.  I desired peace within my childhood home and related to her wishes.  The first thing I could do was hold her close to Santa’s chest and provide her a safe place.

The sincerity of her question seen in the moisture-filled eyes truthfully was not within my powers to answer her request.  The best answer I could give her was as a child she could model peace to the people in the room. Even Jesus used a child as a sermon illustration to a crowd of adults.

The Father and his child

In the Bible, the imagine of the Father and his children is a reminder of his desired relationship with believers. In the Old Testament, a person seeking to be a rabbi finds a teacher and ask to follow him. Teaching is done as an oral tradition.  Over and over the teacher instructs his disciple until he felt the student was ready.  He sends him into the world to instruct others in the same manner.

A rabbi in the book of Acts was Gamaliel the Elder, a doctor of the Law held in high regard by all Jews.  He spoke about not condemning the apostles of Jesus and was the teacher of Paul the Apostle. (Acts 5:34) It was Paul believing he was doing God’s work, persecuted Christians until he met Jesus on the Damascus road.

The Jews of the Old Testament said God is the Father of the Jewish people. The prophet Isaiah records in Isaiah 64:8 “O LORD, thou art our father.” It was Jesus teaching his disciples of a real and personal heavenly Father and his desire to have a relationship with us.

God instructs his child

God first brings the answer to the question of our lives–is there anything else? We struggle with status, wealth, health, and life in general. Malcolm Forbes said the one who dies with the most toys wins. But, what was lowered into the ground at this death measured the same size and the casket of a poor man.  Our Father gives salvation and then teaches us by his loving kindness how to make the best of this life.

God uses two kinds of people in our lives to be examples of self-controlled and godly lives. First, the person whose life with God is marked by trials overcome by faith. They learned to trust God one step at a time.  These living bibles model the life we are to live. The others are the negative example of the godly life.  We have an opportunity to compare and contrast the two and hopefully make the correct choice.

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say ‘NO’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ,” Titus 2:11-13

 

Santa Calls Out For Peace In a World of Strife

Christmas Carols of the Past

Listing to Pandora today I was amazed at the references to LORD, JESUS, GOD, and the what Jesus brings.  One name for Christ in the book of Isaiah is Prince of Peace. Imagine the fearful shepherds in the presence of God’s angel. The angel is quick saying don’t fear.  God”s peace is not the cessation of war but a restored relationship between two people–God and man. Many translate the pronouncement of the angel as “good will to all men.”  The Greek says “peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (NIV Zondervan 1984)  Peace comes to those whom his favor rests because our relationship is restored by Jesus Christ.

Peace during a contentious political season seems impossible.  People harming others in the name of their political candidate.  The name-calling, throwing of eggs, and physical contact reminds how far mankind has fallen.  Even computer programs have come to make judgments.  (My grammar program just showed me somewhere in the course of this discussion I have said something politically incorrect or offensive language.)

Christmas Carols of Today

In our culture speaking about Jesus, using his name, praying, worshipping, and acts done in the name of Christ is dangerous. The offensive, myopic, narrow-minded, or homophobic speech will not be tolerated, even though their speech is offensive.  It has even affected the music sung by children in schools, malls, and other public venues.  Adults feed the message we must be inclusive and so our Christian gospel judges people instead of bringing them together. So malls and other public places restrict the singing by choirs to secular music during the Christmas season. The music overhead no longer includes such songs as “God rest ye merry gentlemen”.  If you ever hear the song by Gene Autry “Here Come Santa Claus”, he speaks about God, say your prayers, and peace on earth will come to all if we just follow the Light.

Peace is removed from Christmas–the day we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace.

The world struggles for peace and but we have taken out the one who brings peace. We see hurting people with addictions; the insults of others; joblessness; and poverty. The Day has become a massive marketing event.and we call the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday as people madly rush the doors to get the best deals.  Christmas day many are grateful it is over and they can begin their normal hectic routine.

From the Word of God:

If it is possible as far as it depends on you live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

 

Let us make every effort to live at peace with others and we may find the very peace we need. 

Saint Nicholas

Trains, planes, & ….

Trains and the heart of children

What’s the fascination children have with trains? Can it be the immense size of the locomotive passing along the tracks in front of the family car? Is the sound of the train whistle miles away stirring their hearts? Perhaps a child dreams of unknown destinations as the train lumbers along.

Several years ago, I climbed into one of these iron horses with a friend in South Carolina. Hugh, the superintendent of a short line, shocked me as he placed me in the engineer’s seat. You can imagine my joy as his instructions allowed me to move the beast in the yard.    The proverbial “knock-me-over-with-a-feather” comes to mind!

As a child, I had an American Flyer train and the stunning lines of those trains ended when the business closed.  I watched trains circle the eight-foot by four-foot layout. Houses, people, buildings, and cars completed a child’s world with Donnie Dixon alongside.

Bring a child the gift of discovery

Newer electronics eclipse the toys of yesteryear.  A grandson received a stuffed animal searching to locate the on-switch. Children have lost the ability to imagine and these toys lose appeal as some believe penmanship lost its purpose.  This year help Santa to give just one gift of discovery for a child and help them learn to dream.

 

 

 

Kids and childlike memories

A Vision from the Past

Watching children at the Columbia children’s museum I remember the first years of our daughter. In the middle of the museum, a two-story image of a young boy fills the room and children climb up and slide down the slides encircling him. I focused on the slides and remembering the day Stefani celebrated her third birthday. It was the same day my doctorate was conferred but, we wished to celebrate her birthday at Chuck E. Cheese. We drove down the road from the hotel pulling into the lot without telling her where we were going.  The laughter and smile on her face started a special day for the entire Mentzer family.

After we shared the pizza, drink, and cake, we played the machines winning little trinkets from the tickets. Suddenly, Vicki cries out from across the room, “Steve, where’s Stefani?” Panic crept into our hearts and though a child cannot leave without parents, we searched the entire restaurant looking for our precious Babygirl.  Suddenly from above, a small voice calls out, “Hi Mommy! Hi, Daddy!”  Somehow, she climbed in the overhead tubes sitting at a window and looked at her bewildered parents.

 

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

 I Corinthians 13:11

A Certainty for the Future

Stefani has grown too tall to climb in those tubes which encircled the room at Chuck E. Cheese.  She has grown into a beautiful young woman who loves the Lord and is a gem to her parents.  Once she had a duck costume for a dance recital and would wear it till we took it away.  It is in mommy’s cedar chest we are saving for her.  Likewise, God expects us to grow, mature and leave those things we no longer fit the image of a Christian.  God expects his children to grow, mature and leave behind things like hatred, malice, evil intent and many others.  This future can be called a certainty because God continues to discipline those he loves.  This is not chastisement like a spanking but the intent of the father to grow us and mature us into the image of the Son.

 

Paul says in this passage of Scripture he put off the childish ways.  Similarly, we must put off the things in our life which reflect immaturity instead of Christian maturity. I hope we get rid of everything that stands in the way of our maturity–beginning with self.

The Quiet Life

The Beginning of our Ministry

I sit here in our quiet studio surrounded by toys, packages, six-foot soldiers, and sense the presence of God. In the quiet studio of the business and ministry, I look back to why we dedicated this business to him several years ago. We were praying with our attorney because his newborn grandson went to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburg and decided God want us to minister to children in hospitals.   We developed a ministry plan to accomplish the vision God gave us which included Santacallsforyou.com.

 ‘He says, “Be still, and know I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. ‘

Psalm 46:10-11

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passage says the first part refers to the enemies of God who should cease their efforts to thwart his plans because he is God and nothing can stand against him. Their fruitless struggles are waged against the One who will be exalted among all the nations. Lifted up by his people we also proclaim he is LORD Almighty.  The God who makes a promise is also the one who keeps them and so his people can be still in the face of those who still struggle against God.  If we trust God was the one who established this vision in our lives then the difficult times provide a place and time for quiet because God will be exalted.

What does it mean to be exalted among the nations? Scriptures say every knee will bend and every tongue confess Christ is Lord and Matthew 5:16 reminds us to do good works so others will give praise to our Father in heaven. As we begin this work we will give others the chance to praise our God and Father. Why? Every boy growing up wants his friends thinking his dad is special! One time Stefani told me her friends said I was “cool!” As we grow in this new venture we want others to know how wonderful is the God of Jacob, Steve, and Vicki

QUIET ON THE SET!

We have seen movies where the director yells out, “Quiet on the set” as they begin filming because the only dialogue to be recorded is that from the actors. We will need quiet during our video-conference calls between Saint Nicholas and children too.  However, the hearts of Steve and Vicki can be still before our great God because he is our fortress.

The Fear of a New Direction

 Which way should I go?
When I was a young boy in Orlando, we would build forts in the woods beyond our home.  Of course, if you were part of the gang, you knew the pitfalls and traps we laid out for those who would dare trespass into our lair.  We had sticker bushes tied back so if you walked down the path and tripped the string, you got brushed with sharp points.  We dug holes and filled them with the stuff in the backyard if you owned a dog (no further picture needs to be shown) and sharp sticks in them as well.  It is amazing I grew up to be a minister!  However, if you knew the path, these would be no problem. We know the stories of men who would rather drive around for hours instead of stopping and asking for directions.  We also know the joke that heaven will have fewer men than women because most men would not stop and ask directions to heaven.  I even argue with my GPS on the dash of my car, resisting its instructions and tempted to toss it out the window.
Our plans meet headlong into reality
We all have expectations and plans for how we expect our life to go.  We plan our weddings, college, and a career spanning decades with the plan to retire to sunny Florida.  But things sometimes get in the way.  Children, sickness, financial woes, and business failures can cause us to have to re-direct our plans and courses.
In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.  Proverbs 16:9 NIV

God has a greater purpose and if we trust him and not fear his decisions we might find ourselves doing things which would seem impossible.  My goal from college was to complete graduate school and work to earn the designation of CHA or certified hotel administrator.  I would travel the world and manage some great hotels.  And then God showed up one year after college and I knew I needed to be doing something for him.

The fear of God changing my plans kept me arguing with him for three years.  In four weeks I will have the chance to do something I never thought possible–pray before the West Virginia Senate.  Fear has a way of keeping us from great opportunities.  Heroism is not about extraordinary men and women doing heroic things but ordinary men and women doing their best in the face of great obstacles.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.
Proverbs 19:21 NIV

Do I Really Matter–The Fear of Insignificance

Searching for my significance 

When I was in high school I pledged for a club called Civitan.  Civitan was THE club at Oak Ridge High School and our pledge class had nearly thirty pledges which eclipsed most of the other service clubs entire roster.  We were a service organization to help our school community and the surrounding area around Oak Ridge.  For a kid who felt like a fly on the wall, if I got into Civitan I would be considered one of the “ins” instead of the “outs”.  One of the activities we needed to do to show our commitment to the club was to sell Krispy Kreme donuts and I thought if I sold a bunch they would think I would be an asset to the group.  I went out the weekend before and sold sixty dozen donuts.  When I turned my order in, the club president asked who sold the sixty donuts and I proudly raised my hand.  When pledge time was over, I got my gold and blue Civitan pin and now I had gained significance.  But this feeling did not last very long because others did not think I was so significant.  My gold pin didn’t mean much to parents, teachers, and other kids.  To them, I was still Steve. 

Do I really matter?

In the 1 Corinthians 12:14 passage in The Message, they use the word significant to describe how each member of the body of Christ is important.  In fact, Paul said God has arranged each part of the body of Christ exactly as he chooses.  I am not significant because I have a certain role/responsibility as a pastor/chaplain, but I am significant because I am an equal part of the entire body of Christ in its creation.  John says to us who have believed:
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:12 and 13 (NIV)
By God’s personal will, he has “born” me and I am his.  I really do matter to him as a loving father to his child.
And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.
Matthew 10:30-32 (NIV)

Even though I have significantly less hair than in high school, I know God does care for me–a matter of significant importance to him.  You see, God pledged his Son for my redemption and Jesus paid the cost which is significantly more than a box of donuts.

Why Does Evil succeed?

The age old question for those who follow after God and his Son is: “Why do evil people thrive and succeed and the righteous seem to suffer?”  As a new believer in my twenties, I found Psalm 37:4 and it told me to delight in God and he would give me the desires of my heart.  But in the verses preceding this one it says:

Do not fret because of the wicked; do not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.

How does a believer trust in the Lord and the good living as secure people in a crooked and perverse world?  As I was driving and praying on Sunday I noticed on the left side of the highway as I headed north a bunch of dark storm clouds approaching over the Ohio hills.  On the right side of my car over the state of West Virginia, a blue and cloudless sky. It was if God was reminding me like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress by  John Bunyon, we travel the same road towards the Celestial City we call Heaven.  Like Christian, when we get our eyes on different circumstances and evil people, we lead ourselves farther away from God.  The answer is knowing where to put my eyes.  The God who stirs up the whirlwind is the one who sends the gentle breeze soothing a sweat-filled brow.  The God who sends the tumult of a storm is the God sending gentle rain waking sleeping plants from their winter’s nap.

If we focus on the actions, activities, and successes of those who flaunt God’s reign, our attitude becomes angry, bitter, and maybe even jealous of their success.  We wonder why God allows them to prosper and the righteous to suffer.  In doing this, we forget what verse three says:  Trust, Do, Live and Enjoy!!! Those who practice evil will dry up like the spring grasses of Israel hit by the dry winds which shrivel up the grass and flowers.  If we trust in his provisioning, does it REALLY matter what the evil person gains?  If we are doing good for the purpose of the Kingdom, should it PREVENT our joy by continuing to follow his plans?  If we are envious of the successes of evil ones, are really ENJOYING the life he has for me?

Thirty years ago my desire was to be the only Mentzer family member to graduate college.  I had no awareness of His plans for me.  If I had just kept my eyes on the financial rewards of the unbelievers around me, I would never know the joy of serving him.  My desires have changed from personal desires to what he desires.  I am not going to worry about the storm clouds which will come because I am trusting in the one who controls it all.

Do You Hate Dirty Windows?

Traveling around as a chaplain I find dirty windows get on my final nerve.  There have been times I have pulled over in a parking lot to clean the streaks, filth, or road grime which accumulated on my windows.  When sunlight hits the window at just the right angle it adds to the glare and distorts my vision further.  During the winters we struggle with a brine solution the road departments place down to help with clearing snowy roads. It gets splashed on your windows from the vehicles in front and you go through gallons of washer fluid keeping the windows clear.  I have tried a myriad of cleaners and solutions to get them as clean as possible.  I have used baking soda or soda pop to neutralize the road acids. I have made solutions of ammonia, vinegar, Dawn and newspapers to get them clean.  Of course, I have purchased the stand-by Windex or other glass cleaners, but still, the windows remain streaked.  Nothing I do gets them completely clean!

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Matthew 6:22-23 NIV

Jesus sandwiches this passage amid his teaching on the Mount.  The listeners are common people with the common concerns of daily life. Food, shelter, clothing are just some of the problems on their minds.  Now fast forward two-thousand years and our needs have not changed much.  We strive just like those Jesus taught for these and even more and as we strive for more and more our eyes become cloudy.  Our eyesight changes from healthy to unhealthy as we changed the direction of our eyes.  It becomes a slippery slope when the peace promised by the angel over Bethlehem disappears as we seek things and not Him. Jesus asked those to consider the darkness which comes from unhealthy eyes.  In John 1:5 NIV, John tells us that God is light and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.  As our eyes become unhealthy, what happens to our view of God?  Our thoughts of God, faith, Jesus, church become clouded from our dirty eyes.  The distortion increases until we can no longer see clearly.  Peace is replaced with strife, confusion, and dismay as the things we seek cannot fill the hole in our souls like God did. The solution to the problem of our streak-filled windows (eyes)–the right cleaning solution–pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, just like others who have a pure heart.

“In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

2 Timothy 2:20-22 NIV

We need to pull over, stop and change directions! We may also need to change posture from standing to kneeling as we turn back to HIM.   Focus on what God has called us for–to live unparalleled lives in him.  He has called the weak things of this world to glorify him by actions, words, and worship.  The things which distort our vision may be the very things we need.  But, do we need God more?

My 60 Year Inventory

Well, today I am sixty years young and I wanted to review my life and see what God has done over these many years.  Reflections help remind us not only of our missteps but also our triumphs. So, here goes!

Today, I have more hair than when I was born. The Bible says God knows the number of hairs on my head and I realize since my 30’s God knew subtraction since my head looks like the bottom of a newborn baby.

As a child, my friends consisted of kids in my neighborhood: Donnie Dixon, Holly Whitmore, Vicki Trumble, Theresa McGovern, and a few more.  Then school started and friendships increased.  Those friends have moved on or moved away yet I have a Friend who is closer than a brother.  I met Jesus in the back of a Chinese restaurant in Norfolk, Virginia when I was twenty-six and he is still with me thirty-four years later.

Though I was not able to start college till I was twenty-seven, God led me in ways I never expected.
Since my first job was washing dishes I found myself was drawn to the hospitality industry and it was here I got my Bachelors degree. Waking up a year after graduation, I sensed “I need to be doing something for God”.  I went back to graduate school to work in Christian camps or retreats but a friend shared God had a call on my life.  For three years He did not relent and I surrendered to pastoral ministry and had the pleasure of serving God’s people for twenty-six years.

Once a loner, I now have an extended family of brothers and sisters in Chris.  Two of those are Vicki, my wife of seventeen years and our daughter, Stefani. God did not stop there and gave me a mother-in-law and sister-in-law to care for since Vicki’s dad had passed away.  Caring for them fulfills a promise I made to care for my own mom but was unable by the time she had passed away.  With both of my parents gone I have a woman in my house who spoils  Stefani and made sure Stefani never had a babysitter.  She has infused Stefani with her life and love and Stefani is richer because of it.

I have had my heart broken and I have done the same to others. To those, I am grievously sorrowful. I, like David of the Bible, have those sins before my eyes.  While I cannot forget them I know he has forgiven them.  The angst we feel because of what we have done gives us cause to stop and think before we go down that same road.

This inventory does not mean the end of my life but a poignant reminder He will still be with me the rest of my life and beyond.  Vicki and I have a new ministry and future plans to travel.  No matter what, God will be with us.  Happy Birthday to me.