Winter Lights

 

It seems to me that people who leave their Christmas lights up all year get a bad reputation. You know; you might be a redneck if you leave your Christmas lights up until the 4th of Jue-Lie. ( that’s July for those of you who do not speak Red neck.) George Strait even wrote a song about the redneck ways of a man named Leon Dixon who leaves his Christmas lights up all year-long. Of course you know Leon spelled backwards is Noel.  It just seems like we think leaving the Christmas lights up too long is some sign of mental illness, or perhaps a symptom of laziness and procrastination. No decent disciplined middle class homeowner would disgrace the neighborhood and entire community by overextending the Christmas lights. Personally I am a Christmas guy. I love Christmas! I love everything about it! The cookies, the parties and gatherings, the music, and especially the lights. My study looks like it could be the Study of Pastor S. Claus complete with snowmen, and Santa’s, a manger scene, and two Christmas trees that you’ve guessed it… remain up all year long.  When I was growing up it was tradition for my Mom and Dad to load all four boys in the family car and drive around town and look at all the lights. Later when I had my own children we would travel to pre – casino Niagara Falls NY and Canada with my Brother, and Uncle, and their families to see the impressive Festival of Lights sponsored by those communites.When we lived in New England my father in – law would always take our family to Rhode Island to the Lasolette Monastery to see the light display  that covered the entire grounds of the Abbey. I love the Christmas lights.

Maybe it’s because I am somewhat of a redneck, or perhaps its simply because I come from the state of perpetual bleak mid-winter (Upstate New York). But I am in favor of extending the Christmas lights until at least the end of February. I also purpose that this custom be redefined from Christmas lights to Winter lights. Maybe its the depletion of commonsense resulting from vitamin D deprivation. Maybe it’s the eternal gloom of overcast skies and impending blizzard conditions of the state in which I live. Perhaps it’s the continual sub-zero  temperatures and windchill that has frozen my brian, and short circuited my ability to reason. Whatever the case may be my heart is strangely warmed as I drive through the oppressive  darkness of another Upstate winter night and am surprised by the encounter of the warmth and cheer of those winter lights. My heart fills with gratitude for those stallwart souls on my street with the intestinal fortitude of leaving their lights on well after Christmas. I feel a certain sort of kinship and solidarity with them as I drive past their homes and yards, that are still warmly beaconing the light of hope. I am especially grateful to the heroic homeowners off of route 13 between Ithaca and Dryden who have an elaborate light display in the spirit of Holiday Inn (the movie) for every holiday season. You are true Upstater’s, and I thank you for the warmth and cheer you have given to me and my family over the years.  We look forward to driving past your house and enjoying your creative genius.               Jesus said  “You are the light of the world a city on a hill cannot be hidden.” and “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” I’m not sure that leaving your Christmas lights up all year-long was what Jesus had in mind when he spoke these words. But the winter lights for me serve as a reminder that my life needs to shine even in the darkest and bleakest of times. We have an opportunity like never before in a post Christian generation to have even the smallest of lights add great luminescence. So as you drive past my house in the midst of the bleak mid-winter of an Upstate NY existence,  you can be rest assured that my winter lights will be burning brightly. “This little light of mine… I’m gonna let it Shine!”

Today I Thought I saw Jesus

Rider's

Today I thought I saw Jesus
May 28, 2009 at 12:26pm
John Cramer II
May 16th 2009
Today I thought I saw Jesus. He was sitting in front of the South Shore Mall, seated on a park bench enjoying the warm spring sunshine and watching people as they hustled in and out of the mall parking lot. Occasionally he would speak to a passerby only to be largely ignored. I sat two floors above at a small bistro table in the food court sipping an elegant gourmet coffee. As I sat there in the warmth of this beautiful day, my eyes were continually drawn to him. What if this really was Jesus? Should I go and approach him, should I strike up a conversation with him? Naw, it couldn’t be him; must be some escapee from some sort of institution. Yet he really looked like Jesus. He was wearing a blue plaid flannel shirt, and painter pants. His feet were shod with worn work boots, his hands were calloused from the toil of manual labor. His hair was long and black and cascaded down upon his shoulders his beard was full but trimmed. He was drinking a bottle of water. I must confess I watched closely to see if the bottle would become empty, and then miraculously refill, or perhaps would turn to wine as he drank from it. Eventually he emptied it and placed in into a bag with other empties that he was evidently recycling, (Which I am relatively sure he would do ). I watched him for about 20 minutes, all the while trying to figure out if this really could be the Son of God in the flesh. And then he did something unexpected that totally changed my perspective of him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, put one in his mouth and lit a match to it. He smoked.
Now I knew in that one instant that this wasn’t Jesus. He smoked. Jesus would never smoke, everyone knows that. I have been taught all my life smoking is a sin, Jesus could never smoke. But what if Jesus smoked? I know I’m bordering on heresy here. But what if Jesus Smoked? We are so engrossed in the religious ideals that have been passed to us from generation to generation by the institutional church, that we have some preconceived ideas of what Jesus would be like if he were among us today. But what if Jesus smoked? Just the thought of it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t it?
We have so enshrouded Jesus in the piety, and sublimity of his deity, that sometimes we miss out on the frailty of his humanity. It most often escapes us that he came to the common man. He came to the poor, the broken and the oppressed. He found fellowship with the publican and the sinner. He was at home with those at the public house, as he was in the temple courts. He was constantly accused by the religious leaders of his day of being a common sinner. We all know that bad company corrupts good character. Jesus really should have paid more attention to that, but he didn’t, maybe because of those to whom His father had sent him. Jesus said: I did not come to the righteous but to call sinners to repentance. He also said it was not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick. I know; I know, somewhere in the religious community there are those who are screaming at me right now that Jesus was without sin! He would never defile the temple of God with the evil weed of tobacco, especially in these days when we know it is so harmful and addictive. Perhaps that is true… and perhaps that is even what I believe is true. But what if? What if these standards only apply to a society that values the temporal and material over the eternal and spiritual? What if the worldly standards that dictate our measurement of value and success, have skewered our perception of righteousness and effected our convictions? What if the measure of a man’s life is measured in quality of life rather than quantity of life? What if the standard is, about how we invested in other’s, rather than investing in ourselves? What if the temple we were entrusted with was the one being built one living stone upon another not one of flesh and blood, one that is eternal and spiritual, not one that is temporal, brief, and wasting away? What if God’s standard of righteousness had more to do with how a man is on the inside a quality of heart, not based upon the external appearances. What if success was measured by God as faithfulness and obedience rather than wealth and influence? What if statistics didn’t tell the real story of God’s people? What if appearances were deceitful and God really cared about what goes on in the heart? What if the Father was more concerned with how we cared for other’s eternal destiny, and He was less concerned about how we cared for our own? I believe that life is not simply about longevity but about faithfulness.
Neil Young once said in one of his songs; I’d rather burn out … than to rust. Too many of us end our lives rusting away in comfortable, dormant rest while the remainder of the world goes to hell around us. I say; Amen Neil. Let me burn the candle at both ends. I want the Father to literally wring me out to get the very utmost from the moments I live. I want him to make me effective in reaching the lost, to remove the barriers and hindrances to my witness to them. I want go to the ones that he would go to. I want to find the ones he would seek. I don’t want to miss him when he comes.
Today I thought I saw Jesus… That is until he smoked…
But what if Jesus smoked? … It’s something to think about.
Jesus I hope we won’t miss you when you come. I hope we are among the people you would walk in the midst of. I hope we are found investing our lives in the things you would invest in. I hope we are working for the things you would work for. I hope I don’t miss you when you come. You know today I thought I saw Jesus … and really what if I did? I could have sat with him and talked at his feet just like the disciples did. Boy, oh boy, then for sure I would really believe right? Sure, that is until I saw Him smoke… and then everything would change.
Lord change my worldview to your world view, my values to your values. Help me to see people the way you see them. Help me not to miss seeing, and knowing you when you come. Fill my heart with your compassion help me to see you among the people you have called me to. And help me never to forget to ask the question… What if Jesus Smoked?

Watch Night Service

100_3299

           Among my most prominent memories of New years celebrations as a child was the dreaded watch night service. My grandfather Collins Cramer pastored a country church in the backwoods of southwestern Pennsylvania. To say they were a conservative holiness church would probably be a vast understatement by todays standards. The congregation was primarily made  up of farmers and coal miners, with a bus driver or two thrown in for good measure. They were simple people, with simple tastes, and simple faith.  Their dress was just on this side of the Amish as far as style goes. The men in their sunday finest wore dark suits black, or dark navy blue and dark gray with the appearance of an occasional brown suit for the more liberal male congregant.  My Granddad being a snappy dresser often preached in a navy blue pinstripe which was quite daring. The women wore their hair up in a bun, and wore long sleeve dark dresses with hemlines to the mid calf. Some of the more adventurous women were bold enough to have a white collar covering the neckline, with matching white gloves which were quite stylish. Dark plain shoes with a wide low heel were standard footwear apparel. This was the standard dress code for a conservative people. I say this with no disrespect but with fondness of memory. Although these gentle folk were strict in apparel and practice, there was a genuine desire to live a life that was pleasing to God. They were willing to err on the side of caution ,and perhaps surrender their liberties rather than risk falling out of favor with God.

Each December 31st the congregation would gather for the watchnight service. Which for an 8 or 9-year-old boy amounted to an almost intolerable marathon of having to sit still from about 8:00pm until after midnight. However the evening was not without its entertainment. The opening act was usually a hymn sing fraught with Christmas carols which I dearly loved. The hymn sing was for me the highest form of entertainment. it was more like open mic night at the improv than a church service. Anyone and I stress anyone … regardless of talent could sing a special, and I use the term special very loosely. There were some like my Uncle Perry and Aunt Lola who actually were very talented. And there was usually a Cramer family group which consisted of My Granddad and Grandmother , My dad and his brother, Edward and my Mom and Aunt Roberta, who was my uncle Edward’s wife. They could actually sing parts and their offering was usually musically sound, As were most of the specials, but there were a few that were not so much. However the bible does say make a joyful noise unto the Lord, and it was joyful!  I always enjoyed those specials all of them.  The specials were followed by first sermon. This was generally preached by either my Dad or my Uncle both of whom were elders in the Church of the Nazarene. First sermon was followed by testimonies, and readings, and second sermon which was preached by my Granddad. As good a preacher as my Granddad was; I was usually sleeping by the end of his sermon. I remember one year I fell asleep with my head on a hymnal for a pillow. Now, I don’t know if Jacob drooled on the stone he used for a pillow at Bethel, but I do know I drooled on that hymnal. When I awakened the whole side of my head was covered in slobber, and I was half deaf from the drool bubble in my ear.

What happened next is to me is the highlight of the entire evening. Adults, children, everyone, would gather around the altar to bring in the New Year in prayer. The sentiment was that this could be the year that Jesus returns and we want to be prepared. This could be the year that Jesus returns and there are so many who are not saved. So many in our families that do not know Christ. So many of our neighbors who are not prepared to meet God. We want to be prepared! We want to be found at the work. We want to be found in the harvest fields. We want to have the heart of God, and be not willing that any should perish, but all come to repentance! The prayers were anointed! The prayers were impassioned! The prayers reached to the heavenlies, because the prayers were loud! Deafening actually, for they all prayed at the same time at the top of their lungs!  I could never figure out why they asked someone to lead out in prayer because you could never hear what the leader was praying over the din of all the other prayers being offered. I guess it was the job of the one leading to set the tone. Whatever it was it was glorious! I will never forget those prayer meetings! I will never forget those watchnight services. what a way to bring in the New Year! You can have the ball dropping in Times Square New York City, New York. Give me a little White Church in the backwoods of southwestern Pennsylvania with a handful of Saints gathered around the altar praying the glory down!

As the years have passed Watchnight services deteriorated into game nights and parties, and slowly we lost the spirit of them and they faded away almost altogether. Perhaps it is not the watchnight service that we have lost as much as it is we have forgotten how to pray. Forgotten how to pray until the glory fall, until we break through to the heavenlies. forgotten how to pray until we approach the throne of God and touch the hem of the garment of the One who gave all for us.  If on this New Years Eve I have one prayer to offer in resolution for the coming year, it is that God would rekindle within me and my people the passion for prayer that I witnessed so long ago around that old wooden altar, in that little country church in the backwoods of Southwestern Pennsylvania.