Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Celebration of Christmas

Last summer, Ken and I took our daughter Ruth to New York to see Aladdin on Broadway.  The movie had been a favorite of hers as a child, and it was great fun to enjoy it with her.  I approached the evening, though, with a bit of ambivalence.  I, too, loved the movie; would the Broadway production meet our expectations?

The show was good, really good; but it was not as good as the movie.  And of course there was the problem that since we had already seen the movie, knew the plot, and were aware of the happy ending to the drama, there was nothing new to look forward to.

Still, we had a marvelous time.  And although part of it may have been the excitement of seeing a live play on Broadway, for the most part I believe it was the transforming power of the play itself.  Despite the fact that this rendition lacked some of the magic spun by Robin Williams and that we already knew that Aladdin would get the girl and that Jafar would get what he deserved, it is a wonderful story of redemption. 

Seeing Aladdin on Broadway gave us an opportunity to relive the story, to immerse ourselves in the drama, and to appreciate the power of truth, grace, and redemption.  Sitting in those seats, we were able to live the story, again.

I believe that celebrating Christmas is much the same.  We know the story, complete with details.  Holiday celebrations often do not measure up to years past, our desires, or  another’s expectations.  And I have been told in the past by “mature” Christians that Christmas is the “lightweight” holiday, and that Easter is where our focus should be.  I beg to disagree.  While it is true that the celebration of Christmas has been diluted by hype and commercialization, it is, nonetheless, an opportunity for us to soak in the incredible truths of our need and God’s rescue mission initiated at the incarnation.

Yes, we know the plot and awful drama of the story, and its glorious end.  And we may not be able to celebrate as we have in the past, or as some would have us celebrate.  But each year the Christmas season invites us to partake anew in God’s infinite goodness.  God incarnate, come for us, each of us, as we are, today.  Such Love is worthy of our utmost attention and fullest response.  May we savor the story and celebrate its message truly, deeply, and without measure.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Serving of the Apostle Paul With Thanksgiving Dinner

This is the season of Thanksgiving.  Our thoughts quickly turn to our blessings: our family and friends, our homes, jobs, food on the table, peace and safety.  I am thankful for the seasonal reminder of the importance not just of giving thanks, but also of being a thankful person.  I have so much for which to be thankful.

From a Biblical perspective, few characters represent the giving of thanks as well as the Apostle Paul.  Paul continually gives thanks, in hard times more than good.  In his letter to the Corinthians (I Cor. 11:1), Paul urges believers to imitate him as he imitates Christ.  One way we can do that is to imitate Paul in his giving of thanks.  I believe there is a rich component of thanksgiving that Paul understood better than many of us.  One of the most noticeable features of many of Paul’s letters is not just the giving of thanks, but the giving of thanks for those who would receive his letter.  Even in the midst of conflict with them, even as these immature believers required correction, he gave thanks for them.

As we count our blessings and stoke the fire of gratitude this holiday season, I would like to invite all of us to pause and include one another in our prayers of praise.  In our frantic and fragmented world, it is easy to overlook the quiet folks with whom we worship week after week; it can be almost automatic to regard with anger or impatience those with whom we have had conflict or less than satisfying ministry partnerships.  To be sure, we are sinners, and the continual need for forgiveness is great.  I am not suggesting that we ignore our need to pursue confession, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  But even as we do that, let us consider one another as unique creations of our Lord, heirs of the kingdom with us, and worthy of appreciation. 

If we follow Paul as our thanksgiving model, we will thank God for one another and make that thanksgiving known to the body.  We can get extra “mileage” from our thanksgiving by thanking God and sharing our thanksgiving with others.  We then reap the multiplied blessing of offering thanks to God and encouraging one another.  And, like so many Biblical activities, it becomes contagious.  We grow from being a body with thankful members to a thankful body.  And that will require yet another helping of thanksgiving….

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Going Far

Contrary to what you might expect, my most-listened-to radio station is not a contemporary Christian music station.  When I get in my car, the radio is set to play classical music, courtesy of a local station.  You will undoubtedly be relieved to learn that my intention here is not to defend my taste in music or to persuade you to join me.  Rather, I would like to share with you something I heard on this publically-funded station.  During one of the inevitable fund-raising events, the speaker had this to say:

                        “If you want to go fast, go alone;
                        If you want to go far, go with others.”

This observation stopped me in my thought-tracks, and I am grateful that I had not yet clicked the program off.  This insightful yet uncomfortable truth is extremely relevant to the Christian life.  Our God is a God of relationship, a three-in-one Triune God, and we are created in His image, for relationship with Him and His creation.  When Jesus became man and dwelt among us, He chose twelve men to accompany Him, and He sent them out in pairs to minister.

It takes only a quick survey of the Gospels to conclude that Jesus could have gone a lot faster without His disciples.  But Jesus came with a long-term goal: to establish His church on earth, and to reach that goal, He needed to go with the disciples (or, rather, He needed the disciples to go with Him).  After His death, resurrection, and ascension, it was those same disciples who, in dependence on the Holy Spirit, established the Church. Subsequent generations of disciples have followed suit, bringing us to today. 

We live in a very fast-paced world.  We are individualistic by culture—“If you want something done right, do it yourself”—and by sin nature—like Eve, we prefer to “do it ourselves,” to make choices that promote pride and independence rather than humility and relationship.   If the truth be known, I find this appealing.  I like to go fast, and as an introvert, I do not mind going alone.

But God wants more for us.  His desire is for relationship with us and relationship among us.  He is more interested in us going far—all the way to Heaven!—rather than fast—it is not that kind of race.  In order to continue the work began by Jesus and His disciples, we need to follow the model set by them.  It is essential that we abide in Christ, the Vine, and work together to prosper His kingdom.

We are now entering the Fall season, a busy back-to-school, vacation’s over time.  As God’s family, as members of His body, we often focus on Fall ministry plans and programs.   In the rush of a new season, it is easy to want to go fast.  This would be a good time to remember that it is more important to go far.  Together!

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Price of Freedom

I am fond of saying that bond-servants of Christ enjoy enormous freedom.  We are free from the opinions and expectations of others, even—or especially—of ourselves.  That is truly, wonderfully, Good News.  But as we have been reminded by our celebrations of Memorial Day and more recently, the Fourth of July, freedom comes at a price.  Generations of Americans have made incredible sacrifices to win us the freedoms we enjoy in this country.

To be sure, our freedom in Christ was purchased by Christ’s blood on our behalf.  It is not possible to overestimate the importance and significance of this truth.  We are no longer cursed, no longer under the doom of a penalty that we cannot pay.  But that doesn’t mean that we do not participate in the cost of our freedom.  If we are to fully realize our freedom in Christ and use it for His purposes and His glory, we must cede control to our Master.  It seems like a contradiction in terms, but bond-servants of Christ are only as free as they are surrendered:  If we are to enjoy the freedom from the pressures of performance and success and more significantly, freedom from self-rule, we must give up our desire for mastery over our own lives.

This concept is a hard sell in today’s culture.  It is widely said that rugged individualism built this country.  Success is defined by performance, which in turn is measured by how well we compare and compete with others.  Measuring up and looking good are often more valued than a character of conviction and integrity. 

Christians are no more immune to cultural norms than anyone else.  But!  We get to make a choice.  We can go along with our culture and pursue ephemeral success and even more fleeting pleasure, or we can recognize that Christ is a better master of our lives than we are.  As bond-servants of Christ, we place not only our allegiance our all of who we are in Christ’s arms.

We return to the matter of control.  Bond-servants of Christ have elected to claim Christ as their master.  As we seek to live as bond-servants, there are three stages of relinquishing control.  The first is to recognize and acknowledge that we have no control.  Even some non-believers get this far, though they often deny it.  We live as sinners in a sinful world; this is truly terrifying.  It is easy to want, sometimes desperately, to muster ways of protecting ourselves against the limitless threats of living in a fallen world.  The fatal flaw with this approach—and I’ve spent years trying it—is that it can never work.  We are simply not capable of controlling ourselves, let alone our world and those in it.  The choice before us is not whether to control or not, but whether we will recognize that we cannot control.  God is God and we are not.  God controls and we do not.

The second stage is to accept that we have no control.  At this point we are definitely heading into the territory of Christianity.  Rather than denying our lack of control or fighting to regain it, a bond-servant of Christ accepts it.  Indeed, a lack of control, though often uncomfortable, is irrelevant to a bond-servant of Christ.  Our Master has control, and that reality overrides our discomfort.  And by accepting that our lives are not under our control, we are better able to focus on our Master’s business and take joy in participating in His kingdom’s work.

Finally, we can rejoice that we have no control.  As we come to know our Master more and more deeply, we are able to more fully appreciate His power and goodness, mercy and grace.  We can appreciate the truth that our Master is a wiser, gentler, and more gracious master of our lives than we could ever be.  The desire to control our lives becomes less tempting, less appealing as we taste and see that the Lord is a gloriously good Master.  As we recognize that control is a burden that only the sovereign Lord of the universe can bear, we can walk before Him in freedom and delight.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Praise To The God Of Redemption

When the mountains fall and the tempest roars
You are with me
When creation folds still my soul will soar
On Your mercy

I'll walk through the fire with my head lifted high
And my spirit revived in Your story
And I'll look to the cross as my failure is lost
In the light of Your glorious grace

So let the ruins come to life in the beauty of Your Name
Rising up from the ashes God forever You reign
And my soul will find refuge in the shadow of Your wings
I will love You forever and forever I'll sing

When the world caves in still my hope will cling
To Your promise
Where my courage ends let my heart find strength
In Your presence

I'll walk through the fire with my head lifted high
And my spirit revived in Your story
And I'll look to the cross as my failure is lost
In the light of Your glorious grace

So let the ruins come to life in the beauty of Your Name
Rising up from the ashes God forever You reign
And my soul will find refuge in the shadow of Your wings
I will love You forever and forever I'll sing

"Glorious Ruins"
Matt Crocker and Joel Houston
Copyright 2012 Hillsong Music Publishing

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Fruit of Relationship

A year ago, the arrival of a tiny puppy into our household rocked my world.  My entire summer was devoted to caring for and learning to train our new Australian Labradoodle.  The ensuing months continued to be puppy-centric as we persevered in the process of helping our doodle become a member of the family.  Lucy is now officially a dog.  Although there is undoubtedly a good bit of training work still to be done, she has indeed become a member of the family.  There are moments when I miss coming home, scooping her out of her crate, and holding her against my chest like a baby.  On the whole, though, I so appreciate the relationship I have developed with her that I would not choose to return to puppyhood even if I had the chance.  I love where we are, right here, right now.

When a man and woman fall in love, the wonder of the relationship and the excitement of infatuation dominate life.   Research by Christian psychologists suggests that this period is important for the bonding that will lead to a lasting marriage.  But it is also well understood that a couple cannot live in a newly-in-love state on a long-term basis.  Eventually, the honeymoon will be over.  Maturing love begins.   It is then that marriage partners can begin to enjoy the deepening of their relationship as they live life together.

It seems to me that as brothers and sisters in Christ, we can learn from my experience with Lucy and my observation of marriage relationships.  The beginning of relationship is special, sometimes seemingly magical.  But if we don’t move forward into a maturing relationship, we will become increasingly disappointed by and frustrated with our relationships.  As we worship together, pray together, work together, and grow together, we will inevitably go beyond the newness of relationship to the nitty gritty work of becoming one in Christ in spite of our sin and brokenness.  This work may not always feel as good as new relationship felt, but it is well worth the persistent effort that mature relationship requires.

We are now in full summer.  The new, fresh, glorious days of spring are now past.  While Spring was a treat after the winter we had, we have moved on to the fruit-bearing season.   In spring’s place is the season for mature fruit.  The bounty of fresh produce available is a testimony to God’s creative energy as well as a blessing to us.  And the fruit we enjoy now was not available in the glorious days of spring.  May we see our relationships with one another in a similar manner.  Summer is the season of barbeques, pool parties, and walks in the park.  We have lots of opportunities to pursue fellowship with one another.  These relationships may not be as exciting as they once were, but now we have the opportunity to experience the richness of shared experience and the fruit that the Lord is producing in, through, and among us.