Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Aftermath- Looking Ahead

Torn scraps of colored paper litter the floor. Boxes, bows and ribbons are strewn throughout the room. Debris from ripping through packaging material are all that remains. Toys are in the rooms. Electronics are being played with and gadgets are being tested. There is relative peace, because Christmas is over.

I remember as a child it seemed Christmas was over all too quick. All the anticipation and build up was over after just 30 minutes of unwrapping presents. The mysteries of what was in each box were revealed and the puzzle of figuring out what was in that odd-shaped package was solved. Now all that was left was the clean-up (and the playing with the gifts of course). I can remember some years feeling a let-down, as if the end was anti-climactic compared to the waiting.

Now this doesn't mean I didn't have good Christmases growing up. Just the opposite. I had parents who gave us not only what we wanted, but what we needed, as well as unexpected gifts to help us pursue our passions or hone our hidden talents. It's just there were times, especially when I got older, that it seemed the excitement far outlasted the temporary happiness that each gift brought. And now, as an adult, the aftermath of Christmas means bills to pay (though we are fairly good at not going into debt for Christmas) and paring down of older things to make room for new things. It means the taking down of decorations and the constant reminding of children to put their new toys away. It means getting back to work and back to routine. Usually by mid-January Christmas is a distant memory and life plows on, ever-faster; ever-relentless. Surely this isn't what Christmas is all about?

As I think about this, I think about the disciples and what they must have felt after Jesus ascended into heaven. The long-awaited Messiah had come, and for three years ministered to the Jewish people. Now he was ascending into heaven. No political kingdom had been founded. No government coup had taken place. Caesar still ruled, taxes still had to be paid and the Sanhedrin still ruled the Temple with a legalistic tyranny. I wonder, as they waited in Jerusalem for what Jesus had promised (see Acts 1) what their conversations must have been. They had been on an adventure for three years, now what? Was it over? What was next? Surely this was not what they had anticipated.

Oh to be there on that day of Pentecost! When the senses were brought to life with the sound of a violent rushing wind and the sight of a flame coming to rest upon each one in that upper room. Oh to be there when the Apostles began to preach in a myriad of languages and to see 3,000 souls immersed into Christ! What a fulfillment that must have been! The Kingdom had come, and it came with power.

You know, that same Holy Spirit works within the Church today. He still moves and compels the people of God into a life of adventure and fulfillment. That doesn't mean it will be easy, but it will be an adventure. So as you put away the tree and wrap up the lights, remember, Christmas has always been, and will always be a beginning of an adventure, not merely a fulfillment of ancient promises. God has more in store for you and I!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Marble

Our bedroom looks like the gift wrapping department at a major retail store. Ribbons, bows and paper cover every available surface. Unused boxes sit in the corner, open and waiting to be filled with a thoughtful gift. Scraps of paper, too small for use on a medium sized gift, but too large to be thrown away, litter the floor. The kids are constantly trying to find ways to sneak into the 'forbidden zone' in hopes of catching a glimpse of an unwrapped toy.

The living room shows the fruits of this gift-wrapping chaos. Beneath the tree, neatly packaged and decorated with bows of green, red, silver, and gold, are the presents. Some small, some large, and various ones in between. Since most of the wrapping goes on after bedtime, the kids have been greeted several mornings with another gift or two under the tree. Last night, as I went to place the latest stash beneath the boughs I saw a wadded up piece of newspaper. I picked it up thinking it mus be something the cats have been playing with. But inside I could feel something hard. I slowly unwrapped it to discover a marble.

Now I must pause to tell you the significance of this marble. This was not just any marble. This was Savannah's marble. This particular marble had been residing in the top drawer of Savannah's dresser for several months. The top drawer was a place of honor. It was a place of distinction. From the top drawer Savannah's favorite trinkets and toys resided in relative safety from curious sisters and clumsy little fingers. And it was from within this top drawer, that the marble had been taken from it's place of honor to be wrapped in a piece of torn newsprint, to be placed beneath a tree.

I went to Savannah the next day to ask why she placed her beloved marble under the tree. Her answer was reflective of the heart that is sometimes hidden by her spunky attitude, "I wanted to give you something for Christmas, but I didn't have any money, so I gave you my favorite thing."

The story is so familiar isn't it? God, who has no use for money, went into his 'top drawer' to pick out His most valuable possession to give to us. This gift did not come wrapped in the fanciest, most colorful of garments, adorned with gold and silver, but it was wrapped in the swaddling cloths of a poor Palestinian maiden. Nor was it put in a place of honor. In fact, this gift would not be placed under a tree, but upon one. And through the whole story we hear God revealing His heart to us, "I wanted to give you something, so I gave you my favorite thing; I gave you my Son."

As I hugged Savannah, I couldn't help but smile because with her child-like heart she showed me once again, what Christmas is all about.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


It's that time of year again. Many of us are pulling boxes out of closets and bins out of attics. Fragile decorations are placed carefully around the house and evergreen trees decorate the interior of our homes. Light strands are untangled and tested. Wreaths are dusted off and hung up proudly. Reds and greens are splashed everywhere. All in preparation for Christmas.

And that doesn't include the presents. Stores are staked out and reconnoitered for the appropriate gifts. Websites are assaulted daily by frugal shoppers in search of the best deals. Gift wrap, ribbons, bows, bags, and tissue paper litter our floors and tables. The sound of tape tearing and scissors snipping fills the air as mundane boxes are transformed into beautiful packages. All in preparation for Christmas.

And did I mention the food? We mustn't forget the food. Hams are glazed, turkeys are basted and potatoes are mashed. Gravy bubbles, casseroles steam and rolls rise in anticipation. And then there's dessert. The mouth waters as it thinks of all the cookies, pies, fudge, and dare I say it, fruitcakes that will be baked. Kitchens will be filled with laughter just as sinks will be filled with the dishes that bear witness to the feast that will be enjoyed. All in preparation for Christmas.

And then there's John the Baptist. Yes you heard me right. Don't back-up and re-read the previous paragraphs. I didn't forget to type a few transitional sentences. And, believe it or not, I didn't jump tracks. If we are talking about preparations, we can't neglect this wild preacher whose radical wardrobe of camel hair was rivaled only by his strange diet of locusts and wild honey. Yet he is described as a 'voice in the wilderness,' and as one who would go before the Messiah. One who would 'prepare the way of the Lord.' So he did. He went; he proclaimed; he prepared. His message was profoundly simple yet simply profound, and it only consisted of one word: 'Repent!'

Repent. A change in direction. An about-face. When we hear this word we must be careful not to make the common mistake of thinking that the word merely means to stop doing something. It involves much more than stopping. It involves turning. Turning requires volition. Turning requires initiative. Turning requires a change in goals. No longer are we enticed by the worldly riches, but by Godly treasure. No longer do we face our self-serving motives and desires, but we face the glorification of God in our lives. Our feet no longer carry us away from God, but toward Him; toward His love; toward His grace; toward His plan for our lives.

This was John's message to Jews awaiting the Messiah. It must be the Church's message. If you want to see the Messiah, repent. If you want to see salvation, repent. If you want to see mercy, repent. As we prepare to celebrate His coming, let us not neglect our preparations for His second coming. We need to be a voice in the wilderness. We need to 'prepare the way of the Lord.' We need to proclaim the Good News. All in preparation for Christ.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Gospel According to Jesus by Chris Seay

Okay, I'm going to be honest, this was a tough read for me. It's not that it wasn't well written (it was) or that it did not have some unique aspects (I enjoyed the interviews at the end of each chapter), it 's just that this book travels down the same road as several others I have recently read. Essentially, it's a book on discipleship. After reading Stearns' 'The Hole in Our Gospel' and 'Starving Jesus' by Gross and Mahon, and 'The Christian Atheist' by Craig Groeschel, this book struggled to keep my interest.

Seay begins with the fact that the term 'righteousness' is widely misunderstood in Christendom and that we mostly relate it to behavior modification. He then argues that to achieve righteousness we must live as Jesus lived (i.e. become a disciple of Jesus). He gives a chapter on what we were created to be (image bearers of God) and why we fail at this (because we are sinful), and then he spends the rest of the book on how we can live in relationship with Christ. At the end of each chapter he interviews some well known church leaders on how they accomplish this in their lives. Personally, I got more from the interviews than any other part of the book.

The book is written with a somewhat 'anti-establishment' voice that is common to many young writers and ministers who are trying to shape the Church into an effective institution for post-modern culture, yet he doesn't try to purposefully offend anyone. His call to live in relationship rather than with regulations is spot-on. If you haven't read any books on discipleship, this would be a good start, although there are several others that I think share the same message much more effectively.