Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"Deck the Halls...."

“…’Tis the season to be jolly….”  So goes the popular Christmas carol.  My observation and experience, as well as a good body of research, indicate that this is also the season for stress, sadness, and depression. 

In the Gospel of Luke, we hear the proclamation of the angel:  “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  So how does the joy get lost in the celebration?

It seems to me that when the Christmas season does not meet our expectations, it is often because we feel that we don’t meet its expectations.  Perfectly chosen gifts, beautifully wrapped and placed artistically around a fragrant, fresh Christmas tree.  A clean, beautifully decorated house filled with the aroma of spiced cider and freshly-baked cookies.  A cozy, glowing fireplace that mirrors the warmth of the season.  Christmas carols sung by the piano, in four-part harmony, of course.  Warm gatherings with family and friends, free of conflict and tension.  Days filled with smiles and laughter.  A Christmas letter with nary a struggle or failure.  Wonderful new memories to add to old ones.  And, finally, the boundless energy required to energetically and enthusiastically participate in all the festivities.

The first Christmas was anything but worthy of a modern-day Christmas card.  Jesus was born in a dirty stable to parents exhausted by a long trip.  The Promised Land had been overrun by the Roman Empire and God’s people were impoverished and oppressed.  My guess is that Christmas cookies were in short supply.  And yet the event was lit by the light of stars of heaven and announced by a host of angels. 

The good news ushered in by Christmas is that we no longer need to worry about meeting expectations.  The whole point of Jesus’s coming to earth is that we cannot meet expectations, most importantly God’s requirement of holiness.  Jesus came to save us from our sins and our sinful nature.  He came to redeem our fallen world that is reflected in jammed shopping malls, gifts that don’t fit, wrapping paper shredded by cats, Christmas trees that tumble into windows, burnt cookies, and the ache of memories of abuse and broken relationships. 

Jesus came to earth to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves: to make us right before God and to prepare us for an eternity in which all expectations have been met.  In the meantime, may the hurts, stresses, and frustrations of the season become a traditional part of our celebration as they remind us that Christmas is not about our meeting expectations but about Christ coming to meet all expectations on our behalf.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thought For the Day

Bearing fruit  means that we "learn the unforced rhythms of grace."   (Jon Walker)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Giving Thanks

November has arrived, and with it the holiday season.  As we approach Thanksgiving, we are often asked to “count our blessings.”

It seems to me that giving thanks—for anything—is good for us.  It is an excellent exercise for a child of God: it shifts our focus away from ourselves and toward truths that are bigger than we are.  It limits grumbling and complaining.  Indeed, the Apostle Paul repeatedly exhorts us to rejoice, to give thanks.  And while counting our blessings is a great start, I would encourage us to go a step further and focus our gratitude on the Giver of all good gifts and the Redeemer of all pain, suffering, and hardship.

I am truly grateful for my family, friends, pets, home, health, computer, i-phone…. It is appropriate for me to be so.  If I stop there, though, my attitude of gratitude will be precariously dependent on my possessions and circumstances.  Paul and other writers of Scripture urge us to rejoice in the Lord and to view trials and suffering as opportunities for God to do His good work in us and through us. 

Have you ever offered a special gift to a loved one as a gesture of deep love, affection, and esteem only to have the gift received without the personal connection that the gift signified?  Such a response is disappointing and disheartening.  The joy of giving is an expression of the joy of relationship, of knowing and loving one another.  Please consider with me that God gives us good gifts as a token of His deep love for us.  If we give thanks for the gifts without encountering the Giver in a deep and personal way, we miss the point and, more significantly, the opportunity to draw near to God in faith and praise.

During this wonderful season of thanks, may we count our blessings in our Daddy’s lap as we delight in Him and He delights in us.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Perisseia Cancellation

The Perisseia meeting scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 1, has been canceled due to ongoing difficulties created by Hurricane Sandy.  When West Windsor-Plainsboro schools are closed, we do not meet.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Lesson From the Olympics

London 2012 is now history.  Although I didn’t have the time and opportunity to watch as much of the Summer Olympics as I would have liked, I thoroughly enjoyed the events that I was able to view.  One of the special things about watching the Olympics is having my horizons broadened, to become more familiar with previously unfamiliar events.  I will confess that I didn’t even know that team handball exists!

There are many themes that run through the Olympic Games: talent, dedication, support, etc.  One theme that particularly struck me this time was the mental component of athletic competition.  While the world focused on the physical performance, the competitors needed to focus on the mental foundation of their sport.  This was perhaps most apparent in the gymnastics and diving competitions in which nerves play an obvious role, but mental preparation was surely a significant piece of every event.

It has occurred to me that we, as individual Christians and as the body of Christ, can learn from this.  It is easy to focus on performance in a culture that uses productivity to measure a person’s value.  Even in the church, the spirituality of believers is often evaluated based on church attendance, committee work, and “busy-ness” for Christ.  And yet the Apostle Paul, in one of the most famous passages of Scripture, reminds his Corinthian readers that all the “doing” in the Christian world is nothing without love.

This brings us back to the Olympics.  In order to perform as well as possible, each athlete needed to combine mental focus with physical performance and to maintain the mental focus even while competing.  If we are to glorify God in our Christian activity, we need to ground that activity upon a spiritual focus and maintain that spiritual focus as we serve.  As bond-servants of Christ, our eyes are to be on our Master and our hearts are to be set on doing His bidding.  If we do not follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, all of our doing, our activity, our performance, will come up empty; we will not glorify God. 

I know that this is “Christianity 101,” so to speak.  I do not wish to insult anyone’s intelligence or commitment.  I have experienced in my own life, however, the temptation to use “auto pilot” at times, to perform without maintaining a dependence on Christ.  Jesus likened our need to depend on Him to a vine and its branches.  In John 15, Christ tells His disciples that He is the vine and that they are the branches.  The only way to bear fruit is by maintaining the life-flow of that connection.  Without the vine, the branches wither; without Christ, His disciples can bear no fruit.

When an Olympic athlete loses focus, he or she loses a chance at a medal.  Christians have infinitely more at stake.  God’s desire for His children is to produce fruit that has eternal value.  May we encourage one another to maintain and deepen our mindset of complete, continual, and utter dependence on our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Process of Becoming

To Consider:

 In order to become who God created us to be, we must first acknowledge and accept who we are.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Perisseia, Fall 2012

Communication: The Power and Peril of Truth

“We have to work on our communication.”  Such is the human condition.  Godly communication—the bedrock of healthy and constructive relationship—is not easy.  As sinners in a fallen world, there are any number of obstacles that must be overcome if we are to communicate well and build intimate relationships that glorify our Lord. 

The women of Perisseia--Windsor Chapel's women's growth group-- will spend several weeks this Fall examining communication in general and the role of truth in Godly communication in particular.  We will work together to discover how to apply truth to the relationships in our lives so that they fulfill God’s purposes and enable us to bless and be blessed.

All women are invited to participate in this eight-week series, September 20-November 8.  Meetings are on Thursday evenings at Windsor Chapel in the Chapel House, 7:00-8:30 pm.  No commitment or preparation is necessary—please come when you can and as you are able.  For more information, please contact Cindy Bills (clbills@verizon.net; 609-275-8557).

Friday, September 7, 2012

Thought For the Day, and Beyond

"You can't make it all right.  Neither can I.  But God can, in ways we may not be able to guess."

                                                                                       Madeleine L'Engle

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Family Therapy

Being immersed in a counseling ministry, I was recently pondering the concept of family therapy.  Family therapy is a common strategy counselors and therapists use to help the members of a family resolve issues and restore relationships.  It is a powerful activity that can’t help but please God. 

The family therapy that I have been thinking about, though, is not the family therapy that I’ve just described, that most people would envision at the mention of the term.  It is what happens in the local body of believers.  We are the body of Christ; we are a family, and it is here that God offers His own version of family therapy.  Like any family in this fallen world, there are conflicts and hurt feelings among us, but the truth remains that we are a family. 

Please consider what God’s desires for families: to be a place of safety and nurture, a place to discover identity and purpose, a place to grow and learn, a place to take risks.  But families are not places.  They are people.  We are blessed to be a part of God’s family.  I would like to challenge us to use this God-given blessing to further God’s purposes and bring Him glory, to actively engage and participate in family life. 

What does it look like to engage and participate in the family life of the body of Christ?  There are two sides to this coin: there is the providing side and the taking side.  The providers offer the benefits of family to others, to be that safe and welcoming person, to recognize and affirm gifts, to encourage in times of success and failure.  The takers soak up the safety so that they can heal; they grow to become who God has created them to be; and they take the encouragement they need to persevere after experiencing failure or in challenging times. 

Before you start to wonder if you are a provider or a taker, I would like to suggest that each of us needs to be both.  There is a give and take to family life that makes God’s work in us and among us possible.  At times, we may need a safe place to heal from abuse or simply to soak in unconditional love and acceptance after a difficult week at work.  At other times, God may use us to be the one to offer unconditional love and acceptance, to listen supportively as a brother or sister pours out the pain of a bruised heart.  What is so cool about God’s economy is that each side of the family coin is a place of redemption.  One is not better than the other.  To be needy is not to be inferior.  When a provider and taker interact, both are blessed.

Family life within the body of Christ is always at the core of God’s kingdom work.  September, though, is especially meaningful.  September is something like January.  A new school year is not unlike a new calendar year.  It offers a new perspective, a fresh start—and numerous choices.  As we choose among ministry options, I would encourage us to do so as members of a family.  Our choices can reflect a “We’re in this together” mindset.  We can encourage one another to use gifts and make choices that stretch us and reflect appropriate boundaries.  We can also take risks and make less secure choices knowing that it is safe to fail.  May this Fall season be a celebration of God’s work in us and through us as the family of God.