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!!!