Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas Season [4]

Merry Christmas everyone!

A year later I find last year's post comforting and challenging. There is comfort in the reality that the Christmas Season is truly a game-changer (e.g., the beginning of the downfall of Satan's kingdom). Yet there is also challenge because the implications of the Christmas Season call for a response. Quite often the response(s) it calls for are challenging.

So, as this year winds down and another is about to begin, let me ask you a serious question. Are you more in love with Jesus today then you were a year ago? Got an answer? Good. Now let me ask another question. What is your evidence?

Hopefully you can answer the initial question with a "Yes," and then give a few examples to substantiate your answer.

Ready for another question or two? How would people around you know that you are more in love with Jesus today than a year ago? What would their response be if someone asked, "Hey 'Steve,' you are good friends with 'Bill,' right? Is he more in love with Jesus today then he was a year ago at this time?" What would his answer be? What would be his evidence?

If you are like me, there are some things that come to your mind which can cast doubt on an initial "Yes" answer. If this is the case for you, please do not dismiss the doubtful thoughts. In light of the Christmas Season, please do the following...
A) Pray about the doubts. Is there validity to them? If so, there is no need to try and hide or deny them. This will certainly not be beneficial for anyone in the long run.
B) View these areas, if valid, as room for growth in your walk with God.
C) Confess these areas to God and seek help from others (i.e., confession both to God and community along with accountability).
D) Leverage this "most wonderful time of the year" (i.e., the Christmas Season) to your advantage and seek to bring about change (i.e., sanctification) in these areas.

The Christ Event (Jesus' Birth, Life, Death, Burial, Resurrection, and Ascension) was a death blow to the kingdom of Satan. He is now bound, and while this does not eradicate him, Satan has been limited. For example, his ultimate weapon of death now has an ironic (for him) twist. Every time a follower of Jesus dies, no matter how the death comes about, they go to be in the presence of God. What a beautiful victory! A victory that no doubt enrages the father of lies (Jn8:44), accuser of the brothers (Rev12:10), and deceiver of the whole world (Rev12:9).

However, my focus is not on Satan in this post. No, my focus is on you (and me). In light of the Christmas Season, what godly changes are in store for you this year?

For some, step "c" above would be a huge step. Quite often confession and accountability are not done well in Christian circles. Yet do not let this deter you. Rather, be a catalyst to bring healthy confession and accountability into your community. Furthermore, do not view changes in light of the Christmas Season as daunting...view them as exciting.

The most free, safe, secure, at peace, and full of joy we will ever be is in the middle of the Father's will for our lives. Yet do not make the mistake of defining "free" and the remaining descriptors above in the way the world views them. Remember, there is a ruler of "this world" - and he is not Jesus (cf. 2Cor4:4). Yet because of the Christmas Season, his days are limited.

Rather than suggest a list of godly changes for this coming year in light of the Christmas Season, I will suggest one - for everyone. This change is necessary if you are going to have long-term growth in your walk with God. This past week I was given a great reminder while reading Knowing God the Father Through the Old Testament by Christopher J.H. Wright. He basically said revivals for the people of God in the Old Testament revolved around the written word of God. His examples were the reforms under Josiah (cf. 2Kgs22-23) and Ezra (cf. Neh8).

I think you can see the connection for us between the word of God for Israel (the written word) and the Word of God for us, the fulfilled Israel, in the person of Jesus. Interestingly, Jesus also had a high view of the written word of God.

In light of that, read the Bible this coming year. You may be surprised with the changes it will help to bring about in you. There are many reading plans to take a person through the entire Bible in a year. You can choose from a chronological approach, one that gets you through the OT once and NT three times, and many others. I am going to follow a thematic approach this year.

Oh yes, and in light of the Christmas Season, do not delay this godly change another moment. Start reading in your Bible today...putting it off until the "new year" is not wise. Why put off growing closer to God?

Also, if and when you miss a day, do not get down on yourself. Simply pick it up the next day. Remember, God is a God of grace...He certainly does not want you "down on yourself" for missing a day in His word. He would much rather have that pain of missing propel you to not missing another day instead of it leading to a prolonged period away from His word.  

Oh yeah, last thing. I will encourage you to add a simple prayer in light of the Christmas Season for 2013; "God, give me a growing desire for Your word - to read and heed it." You will need strength that is not your own to read and apply God's word. The enemy, though defeated, is still strong and can deceive you. Yet the Spirit that lives within us is more powerful than him. Praise God for that.

In light of the Christmas Season, may you have a blessed new year in the eyes of the Lord!!!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Season [3]

The New Year getting closer every day. In light of that, along with the more important Christmas Season, here is a post from last year. Once again, in a few days I hope to revisit this post with some more thoughts. Do I agree, where have my thoughts changed, how has it impacted me, etc.?

Here is a post from 12/31/11 - Christmas or Christmas Season [2]

The old year is nearly gone and the New Year is almost upon us.  For many this conjures up thoughts of parties, a new beginning, bowl games, and resolutions.  I must confess, for the past several years (10 or so) I have not been a fan of “New Year’s Resolutions”.  However, in light of the Christmas Season I have started to think of them differently. 

A reason I have had an aversion to New Year’s Resolutions is simple; why wait?  E.g., in 2012 I am going to 1) lose weight, 2) get organized, 3) spend less & save more, 4) quit smoking, 10) spend more time with family, etc  I am not opposed to any of those things.  Yet in the past I would think, “If they are so important…why wait?  Why not start to change now…?”  Have you ever been around someone going on a diet – or gone on one yourself?  If so I am certain this is familiar, “My diet starts in three days (or next year)…so I have until then to eat whatever I want…”  Add into this way of thinking any New Year’s resolution and it can be twisted into a free for all time period because after all, "in 2012 I am going to do better."  However, after a week (estimates and statistics vary), three out of four New Year’s resolutions will have been broken (click on the 1/6/10 radio spot in the new window).  There are a variety of factors for why New Year’s Resolutions fail.  One is the simple fact that change is difficult.  Yet I wonder if a “last minute free for all” also sets us up for failure.    

Be those things as they may be; why am I having a change of thinking toward New Year’s Resolutions?  It is tied into the reality of the Christmas Season.  When our focus shifts from a day (or a few family gatherings) to a celebration of the Incarnation, and its implications, the stage is set for everything to change.  Indeed, it brings fresh meaning to “out with the old and in with the new” (cf. 2Cor5:17).

All that makes a New Year exciting in the minds of many needs to be brought under the Lordship of Jesus – the Christ.  After all, “New Year’s Day” is found within the Christmas Season.  Yet what difference does this make?  For starters, it ought to bring about a shift in some, if not all, of our resolutions.  Why not resolve to get to know a neighbor down the street (even next door) and begin praying – earnestly – for them to submit their life to Jesus?  Why not get accountability in this task of neighbor evangelism?  Why not, in light of the Incarnation, seek to live an incarnational life among people who really need to know God’s love?    

In other words, with a New Year nearly upon us, what changes for the sake of the Kingdom will you make?  Take some time today and reflect on the past year in light of the Incarnation.  What difference has it really made in me?  What would others say?  Have I loved those who are “unlovely” (e.g., a bad boss, an unfriendly neighbor, a social outcast, etc.) in the eyes of the world?  Have I loved what is unlovely in the eyes of God?  How has the reality of the Incarnation impacted how I have spent money?  Etc.

Yes, the Christmas Season changes everything – even the approach a follower of Jesus ought to take with a New Year upon us.  Oh yes, and as far as a “free for all” prior to making a big change at the start of a New Year, this is still problematic.  Yet if a change is to be lasting it must be empowered by the Holy Spirit of God…and this takes prayer. 

So how about something like this?  View Advent as a time of fasting and prayer as we long for the return of Jesus.  During this time I am certain the Holy Spirit will reveal some changes God desires in your life.  Next, view the Christmas Season as a springboard to put these godly changes into practice.  This sounds a lot better than the typical approach to the New Year and resolutions.  And you know what?  I bet a lot of the things in a typical “resolution list” will work themselves out as byproducts of growing closer to God. 

Merry Christmas – and let our hearts turn even more to having the New Year honor the One who owns all of time anyway.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Christmas Season [2]

Merry Christmas everyone!!!

It is a year later, and I still like quite a bit of what I wrote last year. In light of that, I want to touch on the titles of Jesus - they are significant. Jesus cannot be dismissed as non-historical; there is simply too much evidence to do that. Similarly, Jesus cannot be left in the realm of history; what is written about Him will not allow for this either. Indeed, the titles ascribed to Jesus not only resulted in His execution, but they have implications for everyone, everywhere, at all times.

Historically speaking, and leaving out the "Christian answer" of why Jesus died (i.e., for the sins of the world), a person could not have made the statements Jesus made about Himself in the ancient world and expect to live. This is fact. Yet please understand, this fact does not negate Jesus' dying for the sins of the world. It is really a "both and" which paints a beautiful picture.

A portion of the beautiful picture it paints is how the God who created everything entered into space and time in a way never previously done. This entrance has HUGE ramifications...and this is a portion of what the Christmas Season celebrates.

The Christmas Season is a sustained celebration of the Incarnation; a joyous time of recalling how God "took on flesh" and dwelt among us; a season consisting of twelve days. Yet it seems our culture has a fascination with days. E.g., New Years Day, Thanksgiving Day, Memorial Day, a Wedding Day, and oh yes, Christmas Day.

Yet consider this. New Years Day quickly gives way to the regular work week as the "holidays" abruptly end. Thanksgiving Day gives way to, and is actually being taken over by, Black Friday. Memorial Day is conveniently "observed" on a Monday, no matter when it actually falls, therefore providing for the coveted three day weekend. The Wedding Day is smothered in unrealistic expectations by many, as minor details are meticulously planned and fretted over while the more significant days are always those which come after the "big day". Oh, and yes, Christmas Day - it has already come and gone.

I wonder, has the "Christmas Spirit" already gone as well? For some it seems the most lasting impact of Christmas is the increase to their mountain of debt...

It seems what is rightfully the Christmas Season, at least for followers of Jesus, has followed the path of other "big days" in our culture. It is merely a day. While it may be a special day for some, for others it would be better if it were closer to a weekend in order to provide for more time off from work. Not on the weekend mind you, but either Friday or Monday. After all, that would allow for this "day" to be a great benefit to us, right? And it seems that is where most of our efforts and focus go - to us.

The titles of Jesus, coupled with the Christmas Season, indicate otherwise; all attention and focus is to be toward Him. We can ignore that...but we should not be surprised when the elusive things of this world, like peace for example, remain just that. Oh yeah, we would also be dismissing one of the titles of Jesus (Lord) that got Him killed.

Until next time, Merry Christmas!!!

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Christmas Season [1]

NOTE: a few things a) this is a post from last year [12/29/11 to be precise], and b) like the previous posts on Advent, I am re-posting thoughts from last year and will comment on them (hopefully) within a few days. Has anything changed in my thinking? What have I done well, not so well? Where have I simply flat-out done horrible in making changes? Well...I may not share the last one with you all - but who knows, I might.

NOW...for last year's post 
Christmas Day has come and gone.  Since it fell on Sunday this year it allowed for families to have multiple “Christmases” on consecutive days (e.g., Friday evening, Saturday, Sunday and perhaps Monday if work/vacation schedules allowed).  I am certain these Christmas family gatherings were enjoyable for many; I am thankful for this.  Unfortunately more than a few gatherings were likely filled with stress and strife, but we will not focus here – yet.  Be that as it may be, unless you still have some family Christmas gatherings to go, it is quite possible the “Christmas Spirit” has been – or will shortly be – in decline.  Do you sense something wrong with this scenario?  After all, Christmas is (in the wrong way) built up for weeks on end.  Our culture seeks to trump up a festive and even family focused time – topped off with social gatherings, songs, drinks and oh yes…presents… and when all of that is “done” – what?  Well, we are programmed by culture to move on with our lives.  Again, do you sense something wrong with this scenario? 

If you if you have read recent posts on this blog you will remember Christmas is more than a day, it is an entire season.  The Christmas Season starts Christmas Day and lasts for 12 days with Epiphany attached to the end of it (January 6th).  At this point you may be wondering what this has to do with anything.  In other words, does it make any difference at all? 

Since the Christmas Season is just that – a season – and its focus is a celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus – not His birth so much – there are many of implications of this.  I want to be clear; I am not opposed to acknowledging/celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth during this time of year.  However, a celebration of His birth ought to have a longer lasting impact on Christians than it appears to have in our culture.  In order to begin to see some of this we will briefly look at what is used in conjunction with the name Jesus in the Bible.   

The name Jesus is used 917 times in the Greek New Testament (920 times in the English Standard Version).  Well over a third of those occurrences have a title attached to Jesus (e.g., Lord or Christ).  Even on the surface this seems rather significant.  Yet the significance grows when we acknowledge the gospels alone have 566 uses of Jesus’ name in them.  As you likely know, gospels contain a lot of narrative.  This means we quite often read phrases like “Then Jesus came from Galilee” (Matt3:13) or “And when Jesus entered Peter’s house” (Matt8:14).  While these are uses of the name Jesus, they are from the vantage point of telling a story.  Granted, these stories do in fact point to His identity.  Yet I want to look at documents, written to Christians, in light of the known/asserted identity of Jesus.  Therefore, we will set the uses of Jesus in the gospels aside for now. 

This means in the rest of the Greek New Testament Jesus is mentioned 351 times.  Of those 351 uses of Jesus’ name, 330 of them have some combination of (in Greek word order) “Jesus Christ,” “Lord Jesus,” “Christ Jesus,” or “savior Jesus”.  In other words, outside of the gospels, 94% (330/351) of the time the name Jesus occurs, a title is attached to it.  This is not only significant, it is astounding.  It is significant because when we realize the implications of those titles – well, Jesus changes everything.  It is astounding because what those titles claimed in the ancient world is huge.  Therefore, well – the identity Jesus changes everything.  [Note: I will have a more statistically detailed blog in the future.]

This is where the Christmas Season becomes even more important as we celebrate the miracle of the Incarnation.  When we realize Jesus is a Savior and Lord and God’s Messiah (THE Anointed One – Christ), it makes a lot more sense to celebrate a season and not simply a day.  Indeed, the implications of the identity of Jesus have implications for the lives of individuals as well as every culture in the world.  

There is no need for the “post Christmas blues” in light of who Jesus is!!!    

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Do You Hear What I Hear?

What is wrong with us? It is a rather common question in the wake of the tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary school this past week. Yet there are other common questions, or should I say statements, in the wake of the shooting as well. I will get to some of those statements below...

Yet first, in light of the tragedy and the generally agreed upon "holiday season" in which we find ourselves (yes, I know Christmas coming...but it is technically Advent right now), I want to ask us all a question in the spirit of a song - "Do you hear what I hear?"

So, do you? If you do not, my hope is that after reading this post you will.

What I hear is a bunch of people not listening to one another. In fact, that is one of the things (not everything) wrong with us. We do not listen well. This should not be a shock, especially if you have any interaction with children. How many times have you said something to a child (even your own), and then asked them, "What did I just say?", only to discover their response is, well, lacking? Indeed it seems poor listening starts at an early age. So parents, be parents and help your children learn the skill of listening well. Yet (cue the weeping and wailing now), in order to do this you will have to model listening well...including towards them.

However, it is not merely that we do not listen well. No, poor listening is a compound problem. In fact, as we chronologically age (notice I did not say mature; everyone ages chronologically, not everyone matures), something else is added to our poor listening skills - we become defensive listeners. What is a defensive listener you ask? While I am sure I will tweak this definition in the future, a defensive listener is one who quickly (sometimes immediately) either dismisses or becomes offended by a statement with which they do not agree. Yet not only do they not agree, they reinforce what they have previously thought - often emphatically. As you can see, this leads to a heightening tension and does nothing to work toward a resolution. Generally speaking, defensive listeners think what they want to think and will not consider other options. Tragically, sometimes defensive listening stops a potentially constructive conversation before it ever gets started.

If we are honest with ourselves, I am certain we will discover, we have all been defensive listeners a time or four in our day. Yet when will we mature and learn the skill of listening well? When will we be able to actually hear another side of an issue without a) conjuring up a rebuttal while appearing to listen, or b) exploding and/or retorting with our previous point of view? When will we be able to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe (I know it is a stretch), we may not be right - or at least that someone else has some valid insight and concerns? I cannot even count the number of times I have been involved in conversations where "defensive listening" was on prime display. Sadly, I have been the culprit more than once. Basically those conversations can be charted in a downward slope toward chaos, polarization, and isolation. This is unfortunate because it did not have to happen that way.

I am not saying you cannot have your own opinion. What I am saying is you need to work at hearing "the other side" of the issue. This is vital because it is quite remarkable what often happens to people when they "feel heard". Have you ever seen it? Facial tension will be released, sometimes shoulders lower a bit, the tone of voice softens, sometimes even tears flow because they felt, catch this, valued. We all like to feel valued, do we not?

Now, back to opinions. Take the outcry for and against gun control in the wake of the recent shooting (or whenever the next tragedy like this happens). Graphics like these are common place now.

Is this really constructive? I suppose it may conjure up a laugh by some who agree, or even (as disturbing as this is) an "Amen". But is calling someone stupid helpful? If anything, it is this type of speech that gives way to more defensive listening. Perhaps a person is uninformed, but the jump to stupid is a bit extreme. Now, consider this. Do people who agree with this picture really think the "founding fathers" had the type of automatic assassination-style weapons in mind when they were talking about the right to bear arms? I kind of doubt it. In fact, I think they would see the danger in having them at all. But let us not miss this fact, how could they have known? That technology was not available then! Are you still listening?

Simply consider and acknowledge the fact that we do not know for certain what they would think - they are dead! (And for good measure.) I understand there is a concern of a "slippery slope of no return," and "if certain guns are banned then what is to stop them from taking my hunting guns?", or whatever. I realize this is a concern; in fact, I think I understand it. Yet let us not miss this...that seems driven by fear. And is not fear a portion of the same argument by those calling for more gun control? Oh, I realize there is logic involved, but the "other side" employs it too.

Furthermore, this line of thinking (i.e., the "slippery slope") is similar to people who have questions about God, and are told not to question or doubt because "if you start down that road, who knows where you will wind up". I understand that - I really think I do. Yet it would be interesting to know how many people have left the Christian faith over that stance (like being told it when they were younger) vs. those who would have had their faith strengthened if they would have had someone walk along with them in search of answers...

Oh yeah, what other examples can I utilize in the outcry for and against gun control? How about this one:

Now, I do not know the truth of those statistics, but the map is to show where stricter gun control laws exist the number of deaths decline. My assumption is they are correct. Yet I will give some thoughts from a friend's Facebook post; in it he raised issues like...
***the guns were stolen
***he shot his way through the glass to get in; why not have bullet-proof glass in schools
***why not have safe/lock down rooms; for protection against knife wielders and weather
***why not have better climate control so windows do not need to be open
***and a few more really good questions...
Basically the post was saying, in a respectful way, there are many more issues than simply the guns to consider. This, and other tragedies, warrant an ongoing discussion, not merely latching onto a piece of the whole and refusing to let go like a proposed veracious dog.

Well, this is getting rather long, so I will wrap it up - I think. Defensive listening is not good, it only contributes to a lack of understanding, polarization, and isolation. What is the solution? Well, the Bible calls us to "be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19). It also warns us that "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). Are you still listening my Christian brothers and sisters on the "right" and the "left"?

Furthermore, I will add that the Bible also says "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion" (Proverbs 18:2), and in light of this warn my brothers and sisters in Christ. While the Bible says "the fool says in his heart there is no God" (Psalm 53:1), do not be uninformed to think this is talking merely about believing those words. What we say (believe) in our heart comes out in our actions (cf. Jesus in Mark 7:20-23). If "we," of all people, cannot seek to be peacemakers in situations where tempers rise and opinions are strengthened (due to defensive listening - cf. Prov18:2), then what does that say about "us"?

My concern is it shows we do not really believe in God - at least not the God of the Bible.

What!?!?! Some may retort... How dare you insinuate I do not believe in God!! But are you listening my brother/sister? The God of the Bible (not just our "right" or "left" culture-influenced Theology) also calls us to be peacemakers (Mt5:9). He also calls us to love our enemies (Mt6:43-48). In fact, He calls us to imitate Himself (Eph5:1).

I see nowhere in the Bible that says "thou shalt not infringe upon the rights of others to bear arms". Maybe it does, please enlighten me. Yet I am certain it does not give us permission to belittle and label others. In fact, we are called to love (Jn13:34-35), and that love leads to belief (Jn17:20-23), and that belief will lead to tragedies like whatever the most recent shooting is now decreasing...

Hmmm, in light of all of that; What is wrong with "us"?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Preparing for Advent [8]

Memories. We all have them.

There are some memories in which we relish, and we regularly enjoy reliving them. There are some memories that frighten us, and we would just as soon forget them. Yes, we all have memories.

Memories. They are interesting.

The good ones can make changing something that helped create those memories difficult, or perhaps even unthinkable. The affects of the bad ones may have altered the course of our lives in ways that make living difficult, and perhaps unbearable.

What do memories have to do with a reflective post on Advent? Quite a lot. Your current environment (life situation) is a factory for making memories (i.e., you live and have experiences = memories). Your current environment has been influenced by culture. Our culture does not celebrate Advent. Rather, it forces on people a Christmas shaped by, dare I say, capitalism.

Did you know there is the very real possibility several "black Friday" deals are frauds? Did you know people have been trampled and killed on "black Friday"? Now, I am not advocating for outlawing "black Friday" because without it Jdimytai Damour (the man in story #1 from the "trampled and killed" hyperlink) would still be alive today any more than I am advocating for outlawing "black Friday" in order to keep manufacturers from, well, doing what manufacturers will do. Yet the truth is, Mr. Damour died in a black Friday related event, and people may have bought a lot of "look alike" items this past black Friday, because of a condition of the human heart. The human heart has been corrupted by, well, a variety of things, but let us just call it sin.

Yes I realize the concept of sin is an unpopular one in our culture today. Yet we cannot disagree that there is something gravely wrong with "us".

I plan to return to the aspect of memories and what they have to do with Advent. Yet between now and that time, after you finish reading this post of course, I encourage you to ponder that concept along with the above comments on memories. For now, I will return to this aspect of sin.

I return to it, in part, because prior to finishing this post I learned of a school shooting that has left 26 people dead, 18 of whom are children. Oh yeah, it is possible the gunman (or one of them) was the son of a teacher at the school. Undoubtedly the questions have been going for quite some time now, and will continue for quite some time into the future. How? Why? What could have been done differently? Are my children no longer safe at school? Etc.

Please understand, I am troubled by the heart hurts for the lives lost and the ripple effects this will have on many, many people. Yet please also understand, in relation to question number four above (i.e., Are my children no longer safe as school?), the answer is NO!

I want to be clear. This is not an alarmist call to home school your children or anything else that may purport to stop a tragedy like this from happening in the future (or at least keep your children safe). What this is, is a plea for us to wake up. There is something wrong with "us".

You can deny the something wrong is sin. That is your choice. But if it is not sin, then what is it? Advent, as a part of God's Story, reminds us this world is not right.

God's Story does not shy away from tragedies like today. This is so important because the cultural expectations of "Christmas" have been dashed for 100's of people today (not counting the 1,000's impacted in other ways today, or the millions around the world who are not able to "celebrate" Christmas in our culturally shaped way). Yet while "Christmas" may have been ruined for many...Advent can bring comfort because events like today will not have the last word!

Advent conditions us to long for the return of Jesus...and at His return there will be no more death (cf. Rev21). Advent reminds us Jesus gave up the "riches" of heaven and entered the "slums" of earth in order to show God's love to people - all people. Advent reminds us that sin, which has impacted every human heart, will only have a temporary reign. In light of that we say maranatha - Come Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Preparing for Advent [7]

OK, OK...technically these should not be "Preparing for Advent" anymore since we are two Sundays into the Advent season. However, this is a reflective series, so I am running with it. If you are new here it is reflective in the sense that I re-post an older post, and then comment on it later. I have done this cycle again - with comments, and again - with comments. This is the final re-post from about a year ago. I plan to offer comments on it in the near future. Where has my thinking changed? What needs to be more clear?

So without further ado, here is another post from last year. 
So how was Advent lost and Christmas distorted into a commercialized crock?  Granted Advent has not been lost for everyone, nor has everyone bought into the commercialization of Christmas.  Yet culturally speaking this is certainly the case.  This is vital to acknowledge because our culture impacts every single one of us. 

I want to be clear.  This is a struggle for me.  I have many good Christmas memories.  I enjoy being with biological family.  I enjoy a day off (sort of – if it falls during the week).  I even enjoy receiving (and of course giving) gifts.  Yet I cannot help but think Christians would really enjoy more people coming into the Kingdom of God.  I cannot help but think Christians would really enjoy seeing the bonds of oppression being broken.  I cannot help but think Christians would really enjoy seeing brothers and sisters around the world having provision for daily necessities in the name of Jesus.  I cannot help but think Christians would be overwhelmed with joy as the communities in which they live are transformed by the grace and love of God…  

With that stated (and many things being left out), I do not know the answer to my opening question.  However, I am quite certain it is tied to the economy.  I imagine most things in an affluent culture are.  The author of this post seems to think this is the case.  So what do we do?  I think pondering the principles and implications (which are more numerous than the few mentioned) of the previous three posts is a start.  There is certainly a need to evaluate and rethink what we do in light of what the Bible says.  This is necessary in being a part of a Kingdom which transcends and trumps all cultures. 

Yet as this is done, do not be legalistic.  When conviction comes to you that change needs to be made, seek godly wisdom in how to implement the change(s) in your family first.  As with any change, there will be a time of adjustment.  As your family changes, do not impose your change(s) on others.  Naturally this would be done with good intentions.  Sadly it often has disastrous results.  In fact, all legalism has disastrous results.  Yet by all means, share your new knowledge and some of the things it is leading you to do as you seek to follow Jesus more closely.  Yet do so with humility and grace. 

Please understand, this does not invalidate your change(s).  Neither does this say others should not make the same change(s).  What this does is acknowledge forced change is not lasting and godly change.  Our Christian walk is a journey and we are all at different stages.  I want to be clear again, this is not a call for complacency.  Rather, it is a call for grace and encouragement.  Changed lives lead to more changed lives as they are lived out in community.  However, simply telling others to change merely leads to closed ears and hearts.  For certain the miracle of Incarnation has shown us that… 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Preparing for Advent [6]

Nearly a year has passed, and I still agree with the basic thrust of the post. Yet I do not want to merely agree with what I thought a year ago. I want what I thought a year ago to have changed how I am living today.

So...has it? I hope so. Actually, I can think of many examples from the past year where it has. Yet I can also think of examples where it has not. Furthermore, I can easily think of examples where it has been challenged. Yet I should not be disheartened; the thrust of last year's post is constantly challenged in our culture.

We live in land of affluence. Since this is true, it has impacted everyone who lives here in one way or another. Therefore, we need to hear the words of God in relation to money. Jesus tells us the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things are what choke the life out of some who desire to follow God (Mk4:7,18-19). I think it is interesting that Jesus does not say the person falls away and does not follow God anymore. Rather, Jesus says they are unfruitful. This is tragic because an unfruitful life is an unfulfilled life. It seems some of the most miserable people are ones who desire to follow God...but cannot fully do so because their heart is given to something else - money (and all of the ways it is disguised).

I realize it is quite easy to say, "that is not me". But is it really not you? What would your checkbook ledger (or online bank statement) say? Jesus said if God does not have your money (which is really His money, but that is another issue), then He does not have your heart (cf. Mt6:21).

The pause you may have just had while reading this post is likely not as long as the pause I had while pondering what to type next... Choosing to focus on Advent and then the Christmas Season should force us to realize a few things.

For example, we should have a growing awareness that 1) this world, and certainly not the country in which we live (if you live in America like me), is not our home. This fact ought to help us look a bit more objectively at whichever culture a person may physically reside.

We should have a sobering awareness that 2) those who somehow had some insight about God's Messiah (e.g., Isaiah) had scathing words for those who oppressed the poor and took advantage of people.

Lastly (for here), we should have our eyes opened to how 3) people are oppressed and taken advantage of in our culture (and the world) all the time. The problem is, far too many Christians are caught up in partisan politics to realize the words of God are being lived out right out in front of us. And no, I do not mean some fanciful and inaccurate reading of the ends times or "last days". What I mean is there are rich in this country who live in luxury and self-indulgence and have defrauded their employees of wages (cf. Jas5:1-6). These employees may be geographically in the United States or half the world away in a developing country.

Hmmmm...well I am going to stop that for right now and maybe come back to it in the future. Honestly I am struggling with using "real life" examples of this because, well, just because.

In light of that, let us reflect on Jesus' first Advent. The King of kings and Lord of lords came to this earth and spent a lot of time with people; poor people, sinful people, rich people, prideful people, sexually immoral people, "you name it" kind of people - He spent time with them. Why? Because Jesus knew everyone is made in the image of God.

Do you want some tangible ways to help people this Advent and Christmas Season? The Voice of the Martyrs is focusing on helping our persecuted brothers and sisters in Nigeria. World Vision has a gift catalog.   I am certain there are many in your community who could use financial assistance as well.

A wonderful thing about the above links is we can tangibly help people in a far removed place. Yet let us not focus on financial help (which is important) and neglect the help of conversation, hospitality, friendship - basically love in all its vital and varied forms. I am certain there are people in your community who need the love of God this Advent Season...and beyond. If you do not know where to look, consider the nearest Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army, or maybe even a neighbor next door.

Jesus came once and exposed injustice in a variety of ways. When He comes again He will do away with injustice once and for all. May we, as the body of Christ, grow increasingly adept at doing what Jesus did while physically on this earth as we patiently wait and long for His second coming.

Holy Advent to you.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Preparing for Advent [5]

Like two earlier posts, most of what follows is a post from last year, "Advent or Christmas [3]". Once again, the intent of posting this again is so we can work together, learn together, and fight together against being shaped by our cultureThere will be a follow-up post forthcoming. In the mean time, where has my thinking changed? What needs to be more clear? Once again, you can help me with those thoughts.    

The last post ended with a statement of how when we long for the return of Jesus during this time of Advent, it ought to reorient everything in our lives – finances included. 

Do you know what I find increasingly disturbing about this time of year? In our consumer oriented society it is easy to think some “may not have much of a Christmas”. Quite often those meant by the previous phrase are the ones pushed to the edges of society which includes – but is not limited to – the poor. One problem with this belief is its gross historical inaccuracy. It is foolish to think “the poor” and “the forgotten” cannot celebrate Christmas [see endnote]. It is true they may not be able to celebrate it in a culturally appropriate/normal way, but this is far different from thinking they cannot celebrate Christmas. Indeed, given the distinction between Christmas and Advent, “those people” are actually in a better position to appreciate Advent and therefore truly get the Christmas Season more than many others.  

Did you know the Bible indicates Joseph and Mary were poor? The sacrifice they presented for their purification in Luke chapter two was “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (Lk2:22-24). By reading in the Old Testament we see this was an acceptable offering for one who was “poor” (cf. Leviticus chapter 12, especially verse eight). Indeed, being “poor” did not stop them from experiencing the marvel of the incarnation. Luke also tells us shepherds were among the first to know of Jesus’ birth. While I cannot say they were poor – although the majority of people in Biblical times were – I can say shepherds were often despised by religious people. Why? They were looked down upon because their work kept them from participating in religious festivities (never mind the fact their work made many religious festivities possible; i.e., lambs to sacrifice). 

So the poor, along with those who were despised, overlooked, or taken for granted (however you want to say it) all got to experience the miracle of the incarnation. Granted, neither the shepherds nor Joseph and Mary knew the full implications of Jesus at the time. Yet do not miss this – the best news in the history of the world was made known to those among “the least of these” first. 

So what does this have to do with finances? It is easy to think, at least in a culture where Christmas has been commercialized into a “Christ-mess”, that without finances one will miss out on this time of year. Culturally there is truth to this. However, a hard truth is financial stability far too often leads to being comfortable and complacent (it can also lead to worry and greed – but that is another issue). When people are comfortable and complacent…there is not much urgency. There is not much longing for Jesus to return. I realize this is not a blanket rule – but our culture pretty much shows it is… 

So what can be done? Since God’s rule includes provision for everyone…Christians ought to be turning loose of finances (and using other means) to help “the poor” and “the forgotten”. This is a natural outflow of both Advent and the Christmas Season. 

Until next time, Holy Advent to you. 

Endnote: I am in favor of helping the less fortunate experience some happiness by being able to have and give gifts during this time of year. In fact, this is an overflow of Advent.While we long for the return of Jesus, when all needs will be met, we (the body of Christ) rise up to do our part in meeting needs in the here and now. Granted, Christmas gifts are not usually “needs” – but it is a way to show the love of God, which is a need. Plus, things on the Christmas list for many of “the poor” truly are needs – things like coats, shoes, even a job… In fact, some organizations (like World Vision and Christian Missionary Fellowship) have Christmas catalogues where gifts can be purchased for those in the two thirds world (commonly called in the past “3rd world countries”).  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Preparing For Advent [4]

Nearly a year later I still agree with the post. Yet after reading it again, and again, and yet again, I see it is a weightier post than I realized at the time. Indeed, it is too weighty for me to deal with adequately in a single post. Truth be told, I am likely inept to deal with it no matter the number of posts I would write.

If last year's post is read quickly, there is the possibility of seeing some sort of Universalism present; e.g., the entire last paragraph (not just the last sentence). Yet prior to that paragraph I mentioned "the deceased in Christ" as well as a "battle over the eternal destiny of humanity". Those are heavy words.

So what am I to do with that? For now I will answer in two ways; one towards The Church and another towards the majority of the people in this world, who are not a part of The Church.

First, The Church. Dealing with death is never easy. Yet I am convinced, and grow more convinced with every funeral I either attend or officiate (conduct), that allowing ourselves to fully experience everything associated with death (including anger, grief, and pain) is a good thing. How you may wonder? Well...

We usually experience anger when we believe something, particularly something that impacts us directly, is not right. The reality is, death shows us something is not right. When God removed Adam and Eve out of Eden, He also barred them from the Tree of Life (cf. Gen3:22-24). Yet one day (because of Jesus' second coming), those "in Christ" will have access to that Tree (cf. Rev2:7; 22:2,14,19), and death will be no more (Rev21:4).

As far as grief is concerned, those "in Christ" are now with the Lord (cf. Phil1:21-24; Rev6:9; 7:9; 20:4). This is not defeat; it is victory! What they had faith in and could only hope for has been confirmed in tangible ways - what a blessing. Indeed, a blessing that should comfort those of us left behind. Those who are with Jesus now are at no disadvantage (cf. 1Thess4:13-18), and for this we can be thankful.

With all of that said, we can and will still miss them (pain), but we can also be thankful for the time we had with them. It can be healing to ponder and be thankful for lessons the individual(s) taught us, how they encouraged us, etc. In fact, if we want comfort and peace in the midst of our pain, thankfulness is the path to receive it (cf. Phil4:4-7).

The reminder of death for us Christians is also good because it reminds us this earth is not our home (cf. Ps119:19; Phil3:20). It is quite easy for many of us to be comfortable in our culture. However death is a wake-up call from our comfort that impacts everyone. A growing awareness of Advent challenges that comfort - especially if (and when) it leads to complacency.

Now for the majority of those in the world, that are not in The Church. While this will be overly simplified, it is also true. Jesus did not leave the full presence of God to come to earth in order to help us become better people. Jesus did not come to clean up our morals. Jesus did not come to get us to tithe money to The Church. Jesus did not come so the Ten Commandments can be prominently displayed on a secular government's ground. Jesus did not come so that retailers will say Merry Christmas. Jesus did not come so that...well, I think you get my point.

Jesus came to establish the Kingdom of God, period.

What is the Kingdom of God? Think of there being no needy people. Think of sexual abuse never happening again. Think of isolation giving way to true, loving community. Think of people realizing they are loved by a God because of who they are, not because of what they do or what they could be one day in the future. Think of just about anything in this world that makes it difficult, hard, depressing, or whatever - Jesus came to establish a Kingdom to solve all of that.

While I will defend The Church because She is the bride of Christ...if somehow the church has hurt you I am sorry. Please forgive us. Will you at least be open to hearing the words of Jesus? Will you at least consider the fuller picture of what God desires?

I am convinced that many things for which people, maybe even you (who range from apathy to even hostility towards God), are passionate about fall under the umbrella of God's Kingdom desires. If only somehow The Church could help them, or you, realize this. Are you concerned about poverty? So is God. Are you concerned about the AIDS epidemic? So is God. Are you concerned about just about anything that could be put in the blank? So is God. Perhaps you could help the The Church become more well-rounded so those areas of justice are handled by the body Jesus left behind on the earth to do the Father's will (The Church).

With that said, this is a reason why Advent is so important. The first coming of Jesus (His first "advent") guarantees His second coming. While the Kingdom of God is present on earth now (thanks to the implications of His first coming), it will not be fully present until His second coming. What a glorious day that will be. Yet how glorious it also is to be working towards that day as we realize and take to heart the fact that The Church is the answer to the Lord's Prayer (cf. Mt610 - bringing heaven (God's presence) to earth in tangible ways).

Until next time, Holy Advent to you.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Preparing For Advent [3]

Like Preparing For Advent [1], most of what follows is a post from last year, "Advent or Christmas [2]".  Once again, the intent of posting this again is so we can work together, learn together, and fight together against being shaped by our cultureI plan to do a follow-up post early next week.  Where has my thinking changed?  What needs to be more clear?  By the way, you can help me with those thoughts.    

OK, now here is the post from last year 
With a very basic groundwork of Advent and Christmas in place, let us begin to look at some implications.

Quite often the holiday season (if I dare type that) is a difficult one for people.  Although our culture seeks to trump up a festive and even family focused time – topped off with social gatherings, songs, drinks and oh yes…presents – a variety of things make this season a difficult one.  A major difficulty for many during the holiday season is the unfortunate reality of death.  Have you ever lost a loved one?  Did you miss them the first time the holidays (or any special day) rolled around?  Sure you did.  In fact, you likely still miss the person even if it has been 20 years, or longer. 

So how can a focus on Advent help?  It can help because Advent reminds us this world is not our home.  This world will pass away and our sojourn here will be revealed as extremely short.  There ought to be no denying this world is a mess.  Horrific things happen here; people are oppressed and abused, forgotten and ridiculed, even murdered and worse.  Yet Advent reminds us none of those occurrences will have the last word.   

Let us move back to the reality that the death of loved ones often makes this time of year difficult.  Advent reminds us one day there will be no more death (Rev21:4).  Advent reminds us our King, Jesus, will one day return and everything will be made new (Rev21:5)!  We, along with our deceased loved ones in Christ, will receive resurrection bodies!  Indeed, the faithful in Christ on earth will meet the deceased in Christ who are currently with Him, and we all will come back to this refined earth together (cf. 1Thess4:13ff; 2Pet3:8-13).  At that point we will then, and forever more be, in the presence of God!! 

The truth and focus of Advent helps to take some of the sting out of missing a loved one.  Granted, grief is still real and memories will bring a mixture of happiness and sorrow.  Yet the neglected Christmas story of Revelation chapter 12 reminds us there is a cosmic battle raging all around us.  This battle is over the eternal destiny of humanity.  We will not get this message from the commercialization of Christmas in our culture.  Quite the contrary, our culture wants to lull us into complacency and put forth comfort after comfort, luxury after luxury, until we are so inundated with them that if we miss one we feel less fortunate and deprived. 

While we may still miss loved ones, a focus on Advent – longing for the return of Jesus – tempers this grief.  In fact, it gives us hope because one day things will be made right.  One day loved ones will be reunited (and the oppressed and abused will be healthy and whole, the forgotten and ridiculed will have God wipe away tears from their eyes as they realize – for the first time perhaps – they have worth and value) – what a glorious day it will be!!  The worth of Advent is immeasurable for the Christian community.  Indeed, Advent’s worth is immeasurable for all humanity.  As we long for the return of Jesus it ought to reorient everything in our lives; one of these areas is the realm of finances. 

May you continue to experience a Holy Advent.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Preparing For Advent [2]

It has been nearly a year.  What do I think of the post now?  I still agree with it.

For quite some time I have told people that "if Christmas is true, then it impacts everything."  Stating something as fact is one thing; living out the implications of a fact is quite another.  This is why learning new things (which in this reality are anchored in the past) to assist us in the process of living out a believed fact (or truth) is so important.  For this reason I continue to reflect and seek to grow in my understanding of the importance of Advent.  Indeed, I have learned more about Advent in the past two to three years than I ever learned in all my previous years combined.  Granted, that may not be saying much because I still have a lot to learn about Advent, but I do want to be obedient with what I know.

With that said, it is likely a bit ambitious for me to expect drastic changes out of people based on what I am writing.  I realize when we hear something new there is often a time of incubation before change takes place.  Yet this even assumes whatever new thing we heard was not immediately dismissed.  With that said, I think I would be extremely pleased if people would a) not simply dismiss what they read here and in other posts, because this will hopefully open the door for them to b) acknowledge this is an issue, which will open the door further for c) God to bring about more lasting and godly change.

I do not know where you are at in that continuum.  I am in the "b" and "c" areas myself.  In fact, this seems to be the essence of the Christian life.  We acknowledge our need to see and conform to things from God's vantage point, and the change He brings about in us is what will last and bring Him glory.

With all of that said, can we consider the following?  The next time you hear an account of people seeking to bar a nativity scene from a public place, or a nativity scene is labeled as offensive by others,

or something similar to these, please do not be duped into believing that keeping an inaccurate nativity scene in a public place will bring about change in people.  Similarly, it seems to me, a clerk not saying "Merry Christmas" to you falls into this same category.

I realize God can work through a variety of means (including questions that may be spurred by a nativity scene).  In fact, I am grateful for this reality.  The truth is, I am often amazed He works through me at all.  Yet what is our purpose as followers of Jesus?  Is our purpose to fight for our right to display or say something no matter what the cost?  Or is our purpose to love people with the love of Jesus?

The Biblical answer is clear.  We are to be compelled by the love of Jesus to love others - no matter what.  Unfortunately the cultural truth is also clear.  We are indoctrinated to fight for our rights, and to defend free speech, and to not be silent, and...  It is sobering for me to reflect on how much "easier" it is to settle for the cultural way.

I understand that many may now be struggling with this post, if you were not already that is.  In light of this, I simply want to refer us back to the "A, B, C's" above.  No one benefits from simply discarding this post.  You do not benefit if I am right, and I do not benefit if I am wrong and you can help me see my errors.  I do not have it all figured out - not by a long shot.  Yet I have struggled for some time now in seeing the fruitfulness of some of the cultural fights many Christians either pick, or find themselves fighting.

Jesus did not force truth on anyone.  In fact, when doling out a much needed truth for our culture to an individual who rejected submitting to it (cf. Mk12:17ff), Jesus let the guy walk away.  Yet Jesus still loved him...  How can we do the same?

Perhaps an increased awareness of and appreciation for Advent can help.  In fact, I know it can.  In Advent we increase our awareness of and longing for the coming of Jesus.  We anticipate and long His 2nd Coming where things will be made right (rather than anticipate gifts on Christmas Day morning - which is what culture indoctrinates us to do).  It should not surprise us people will do things to offend Christians, or to snub God.  Yet we should not forget they are deceived (2Cor4:4).  In light of that, it seems responses flowing out of love are in order (cf. Rom12:14-21).  I guarantee you more lives will be transformed with the latter than without it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Preparing for Advent [1]

Most of what follows is a post from last year; "Advent or Christmas [1]".  My intent is not to simply have you read something from the past.  No, I intend to learn along with you and fight against being shaped by our culture.  
So, here's the deal: 1) please read this post from last year.  The good news is this time the post on Advent is not in the middle of it (12/16 or so last year), but prior to it even beginning!!!  It is kind of like a head-start on Advent.  But what is Advent you might say?  Please read on...  2) I plan to post follow-up thoughts to each of these "old posts" as I re-post.  Where has my thinking changed?  What needs to be more clear?  By the way, you can help me with those thoughts.    

OK, now here is the post from last year 
Have you ever been upset about something and even “fought” for said thing, only to later learn you were either all worked up about nothing or worse yet, wrong?  Take the uproar caused by some (well meaning) people who will fight and even boycott a store which does not say “Merry Christmas” during this time of year.  While there is validity in trying to “keep Christ in Christmas,” unfortunately the whole thought process is standing on a faulty foundation.  In other words good intentions can be misguided, even harmful. 

Speaking from a historical vantage point, we are in the season of Advent.  Advent begins the Sunday closest to the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, which is November 30th, and lasts four Sundays.  This year Advent stretches from November 27th until December 24th.  Christmas Day begins the Christmas Season, which always lasts 12 days until the 5th of January (the 6th being Epiphany).  This means Christmas is more than a mere day.  This makes sense as the implications of Christmas impact everything.  We all know a mere day can be easily lost in the shuffle of the busyness of our lives.  Yet the Christmas Season is a celebration of the Incarnation – a history altering event!  This also means saying “Merry Christmas” is not technically accurate until the 25th of December, but do not worry – you can keep saying it past the New Year! 

A variety of questions may come into one’s mind right now.  A few of them may be: Why does this matter? Who cares? How did this happen? Can we do anything about this? Should we do anything about this?   

Firstly it matters because ignoring history is not wise.  While we should not be shackled by history, we should at least allow it to inform us.  Better yet, we should seek to make use of the godly principles we can learn from it.  Our forefathers (the saints who have gone on before us) were wise in establishing a Church Calendar.  Sadly, many outside of the more “liturgical churches” ignore it.  For Christians to ignore history is unnecessary and dangerous – even foolish. 

Secondly, Christians ought to care about the Advent and Christmas distinction.  It is HUGE.  The word Advent is a Latin translation of the Greek word parousia (parousiva), which basically means coming or presence.  In other words, the focus of Advent is on the first and second comings of Jesus.  Obviously these are vital to the Christian faith, yet they also have implications for everyone – regardless of religious beliefs.    

Thirdly, we ought to do something about it.  Unfortunately far too many Christians have been duped by culture.  We have become placated with less than the gospel message.  This time of year is full of good intentioned Christmas stories and Nativity scenes.  The efforts behind these are noble, and all of them can be a vehicle through which God works.  Yet a focus on Advent helps us to remember things are not as they appear.  The Christmas story told by the writer of the Gospel of John makes this very clear.  Yet if you turn to John you will not find it.  No, to read his account you need to turn to Revelation chapter 12.  Indeed, thing are rarely as they seem to be…  

I plan to have a succession of posts fleshing out the importance of this distinction in applicable ways for us.  In the mean time “Holy Advent” to you and yours.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


For many the countdown has been on for, well, maybe about 11 months now.  Finally it is only a few days away…  Actually, that is incorrect.  It is now way less than 24 hours away.  No, the “it” is not Thanksgiving Day (although I did intend to write and post this earlier in the week).  The “it” is perhaps the most unholy of days – black Friday. 

It is no longer enough to get up way before dawn the day after expressing thanks for all of our “blessings” to go out and get more of these “blessings” at a reduced price.  That way of doing things is soooo 2000.  It is not enough anymore to be camping out for days (or even a week) in advance of the biggest shopping day of the year.  That, by the way, is probably soooo 2010. 

Come on now, this is 2012, and the way we roll is by starting black Friday on, uh, turquoise Thursday.  Oh, I mean Thanksgiving Thursday.  Now before you get riled up about this intrusion on a day of thankfulness, you will be pleased to know (depending on the stores you choose to visit) that you can eat your turkey (maybe for breakfast) before heading to stores that will open at 3:00pm or so.  Yet some will open at 9:00am, or earlier. 

I could make this longer, but I will refrain.  Yet I will admit I am using some strong words and being a bit sarcastic as well.  However, my next sentence will be neither sarcastic nor an overstatement.  Our culture (for years and years) has been leading people on a way one path to hell. 

If we do not take the time to ponder the results of actions, or listen to others telling us something that seems brash, or ridiculous, or something that is obviously wrong because I have never heard that before, then we may wake up one day and wonder, “Where did things all go wrong?” 

I am not against saving money.  I am not against giving gifts.  I am not pleading for the government to pass a law against “black Friday,” or anything like that.  I simply want us (especially if you are a follower of Jesus) to think.  What does all of “this” really get us?  For some it gets a pressure of feeling they “have” to go out on Friday (or Thursday) and get great deals for gifts for their kids…because after all money is tight…and the kids really need this stuff – or we really want to give it to them – and we can save a lot of money (and who doesn't want to see their kids "happy"?).  Stop.  Just stop, please.  Do we realize where that is going to lead? 

Now specifically for followers of Jesus, we need to acknowledge the fact that we live in a materialistically driven culture.  We must wrestle with the truth that what keeps many from God (or stagnant in their walk with Him) is money (cf. Mk4:7,18-19).  I am not anti-money.  I cannot be because God is not anti-money; He owns it all anyway.  Yet what I am “anti” (right along with God) is what it does to people.  Indeed, I know what it can do to me.  Yet sadly, I am not even fully aware of that - because I am blind to so many things.    

I am also “anti” how black Friday and the like overshadow Christmas; or how somehow people think they are preparing for Christmas by saving a lot of money.  Christmas is not a day, it is a season.  Yes, Christmas is an entire season preceded by another season – Advent.  We will have more on Advent later; perhaps on the most unholy day of the year. 

What If We Shared Our Stories

What If We Told Shared Our Stories? 

Isolated. Ashamed. Guilty. Confused. Angry. Alone.  Those and many other words are how many of us have felt, at one time or another, in our lives.  For some, “at one time or another,” may be right now.  Why does this happen?  A simplistic answer; a War is raging and our only enemy (Satan) wants us to feel trapped in those ways.  We must never forget Satan is a liar (Jn8:44), a murderer (Jn8:44), an accuser (Rev12:10), and deceiver (2Cor4:4).  Satan does not play; he works, distorts, and connives for keeps.  What he wants to keep are the souls of people.      

This is where the beauty of God's Story comes in.  God's Story does not ignore pain and heartache.  God's Story looks our fallen world (all of which is under the influence of Satan) right in the eye and says YOU WILL NOT HAVE THE LAST WORD!!!  Because of this fact, our broken stories (the sum of our lives to a given point) can be redeemed – all because of God's Story (see “the bottom” for a bookend approach to God’s Story).  Make no mistake about it, when our stories are redeemed, they need to be shared. 

What if we told our stories?  Well, at the least, it would seem a lot of people should realize they are not “the only one” or any other lie like that.  Yet what if we moved beyond telling our stories to sharing our stories?  I am making a distinction because it seems to share one’s story is to open yourself up in such a way that you are willing to walk with and help others.  Somehow your unique past intersects with their unique past, and when this happens God is at work. 

Make no mistake about it, being able to tell your story takes guts.  It is not easy to admit to secret sins, or being a victim of some sort of abuse, or any other aspect of your story.  More people ought to tell their stories because it is a step.  It is a step because, while being able to tell your story takes guts, being able to share your story takes grace.  It takes grace because only God can bring redemption into someone’s broken story…and by His grace your sharing can be a vehicle through which He does just that.      

The bottom line is this.  Things like drug abuse, sexual abuse, materialism, the burden of crushing debt, and any other sin issue you can think of are well known (e.g., “told” stories).  While the deceiver will do his best to keep people thinking “they are the only one who struggles with _____,” or “they are the only one who has been impacted by ______,” I think somewhere, deep down inside of people, we know that is not true.  For example, a person cannot rationally think they are the only person who struggles with an addiction to pornography; my goodness, simply look at the sheer volume of pornographic material available (or read the papers when a “sex scandal” breaks out).  Yet the enemy can twist things in our mind to where we are duped into shamefully thinking this…

This is where sharing our stories come in.  I think if more stories were shared then there would be a lot less isolation, shame, guilt, confusion, anger, and aloneness.  Instead there would be communities (which make up The Church) of broken people who realize their God is a God of grace and no “story” is beyond repair.  Indeed, many more would acknowledge their need for help and say, “take my broken story and give me a new one”.  This new story would be the same in many ways, but with a twist – the twist of redemption and therefore purpose.  And this is a way “heaven” is brought to this fallen earth…  

“The Bottom”
Here is a link to a recent sermon at New Life Christian Church.  In this audio you will hear an individual share part of his story which includes being abused sexually as a child.  Sexual abuse is far more prevalent than many realize.  Yet our God is a God of redemption.  May God give us the grace, strength, and compassion to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those impacted by past abuse. 

Here are some “bookends” of God’s Story.  It begins in a garden (Gen2:8,9,10,15,16; 3:1,2,3,8,8,10,23,24) and ends in a garden (“paradise” cf. Rev2:7 – the same Greek word underlies all of those uses).  It also has the tree of life in the first garden (Gen2:9; 3:22,24) as well as the redeemed garden (Rev2:7; 22:2,14,19).  We must not forget, the only way the second/redeemed garden is possible is because of Jesus’ obedience in another garden – Gethsemane (e.g., Mk14:32ff) – which led to a cross and an empty tomb.  Praise be to our marvelous God!!!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

It's Only Two Months Away...

Once again a large gap of time has occurred between my blog posts.  While it happens with some frequency (OK, a lot of frequency), it is not something I do intentionally.  In many ways, this phenomenon is similar to a compound issue we all face in our lives.  I.e., time continues to march on and if we are not intentional we may look around at our present circumstances (now or at some point in the future) with bewilderment wondering how we got "here".    

To illustrate what I mean, as of today we are two months away from Christmas Day.  I have heard many statements and seen many Facebook posts wondering where all the time has gone.  I too can be amazed at how quickly time passes.

As we know, shortly after Christmas Day is New Year's Day, and for some the accompanying New Year Resolutions.  How did those pan out for you this year?  I hope well, if you made any.  Yet to stick to a Resolution one needs to be both intentional and persistent.  If one is not, they will continue to be shaped by whatever they were trying to overcome that led them to make the Resolution in the first place (e.g., not content with their "here" - present circumstances - and therefore a desire to change it).

So, what does inconsistent blog postings and "Christmas" quickly approaching have to do with each other?  Simply stated, if you are not intentional, you will be shaped by whatever is around you.  This "whatever" can be political ideologies, ways of viewing finances, ways of viewing other people, and a variety of other things.  This does not mean one will automatically be just like their surrounding environment.  Yet if one is not, some intentional decisions were made.  For the follower of Jesus it is sufficient to sum up these "shaping things" (the "whatever" above) as the world.  And here lies a subtle, and deadly, danger...  

With "Christmas" bearing down on us, it is alarming how shaped by the world many of us are when it comes to what we expect, or think of, when it comes to "Christmas".  In light of this, I will be posting some blogs (via editing or re-posting previous ones) dealing with Advent and the Christmas Season.

Why am I doing this?  Again, if we are not intentional we will be shaped by the dominant voices around us.  In this case, how culture views "Christmas".

Why am I doing this two months before Christmas Day?  For the follower of Jesus, the importance of "Christmas" starts with the anticipation of Advent.

My hope is this can be an assistance for us to consider a broader view of "Christmas" and focus on its implications.  After all, if Christmas Day is true, it impacts everything.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Heavenly Man" - Ch3 - Our Work & God's Power

Another chapter and once again more miraculous events transpire in the life of Brother Yun.  Again, while the miraculous – or at least the obvious movements of God if it be improper to label some as “miraculous” – are exciting, there are also several concrete things we can both learn and apply to our lives from this chapter.  Among them are a commitment to God’s Word (memorizing and sharing it), seeking the Holy Spirit, obedience when God directs, as well as the undeniable truth that our Theology (which is, perhaps in more ways than we realize, impacted/shaped by the songs we sing) ought to impact our lives..

These themes are important because in this chapter the “miraculous” happens (or God simply moves) in relation to what His people do.  It is relatively easy to pray and hope for “miraculous” things; it is quite another to live your life in such a way that God will “show up” in order to validate His people and therefore glorify His name.  

An amazing example of this (our work and God’s power) occurs after Yun had his long sought for Bible.  He read it daily, in spite of having only a third grade education, until he had read it cover to cover.  Yet God did not miraculously enable him to read despite his low literacy skills.  Rather, Yun had to look up most words (which are made up of characters in the complicated Chinese language) as he progressed through the Bible.  Then after having read through the Bible he started to memorize a chapter a day; after 28 days he had memorized Matthew.  Next he read the other three gospels quickly and then started to memorize the book of Acts. 

All of that is “our work” – what we can do.  Sadly, too often it seems we think we “own” the Bible just because we have purchased it, have received it as a gift, or can put it down and stop reading whenever we want.  Yet more accurately the Bible is the subject and we are the object…it pokes and prods our lives and we are to conform to it.  This is made abundantly clear in what happens a bit later in the chapter. 

Basically, Yun is told by God to go and be His witness.  God directs Yun to people who had been praying and fasting for him to come after they heard how he miraculously received a Bible.  They wanted Yun to teach them, but he did not know how to preach.  So Yun did what he could; he recited Scripture – as in the whole book of Matthew.  Yun did what he could, and what did God do?  After Yun recited all of Matthew, with his eyes tightly shut, the Holy Spirit led him to sing Scripture-based songs Yun previously did not know.  After finishing and opening his eyes he saw the people kneeling in repentance with tears running down their cheeks.   That is clearly the work of God…yet it came about as a man did what he could. 

As far as songs influencing our Theology, we will cover them in the next post.  Until then, may continue to grow in our understanding of how to appropriately handle God’s word.