What Are You Going To Do About You?

 

 happy new year 

This is the New Year’s Day question that everyone should be asking. What will you do in 2015 that will make your life, your leadership, your relationships, yourself, better? What problems, addictions, disappointments, failures will you face and correct? What issues will you deny, disregard, and/or dismiss?

Perhaps you are approaching 2015 with COURAGE with every intention of being the best “you” that you can be. Your vision includes losing weight, living on a budget, getting more sleep, and spending more time with people you love. You might also be courageous enough to deal with some deep seeded hurt from your past or some big, hairy fears of the future before you. Regardless of the circumstances or details, this year will be different than the years before because you have decided to do something to make life better.

Maybe you haven’t given any thought to 2015. You are hoping that nobody mentions resolutions or asks you to make a list. Maybe you have resolved to change or improve in years past only to fail before the crystal ball ever lit up. The year 2015 will come and go, and whatever will happen, will happen. No planning necessary. Live carefree. Live every minute like it is your last and you want to soak up every breath, every gulp, every dollar, every everything you can eat, drink, see, taste or spend. Saving up for later and living in moderation is for fools! So you are approaching the New Year with a CARE-LESS view of your life. 2016 can’t get here fast enough!

If I could influence you at all with a guideline for 2015, it would be to do so with one word in mind – COMPASSION. As in, have some and get more. Have some compassion for yourself. Have compassion for your family or friends. Have compassion for those you don’t know. Have compassion for the events of the week where you have been wronged or wronged another. Have compassion for what will happen tomorrow that will offend, annoy, or disappoint you.

When we claim the compassionate fuel within us, we position ourselves to be a part of renewal. Maybe it is our own heart and soul that is being renewed from brokenness. Maybe it is the life of another that we share in the renewal of, but compassion makes healing, help, renewal possible. Without compassion the ways in which life has failed us/others will feed on anger, bitterness, even rage. Without compassion for others we greatly impair our ability to live a more full life. Without compassion we have no chance of having a better 2015 or any other year.

For whom and/or for what do you need to find compassion? Perhaps that is the better question to ask heading into a new year.  If you decide to live with compassion for others and for yourself in 2015, the year will be a year like no other. It just might be that missing piece to your life that you have always longed for. Instead of chasing things that will make you feel better about your appearance, your savings account, your self-interest, consider chasing character that God created us to be. Compassionate souls resist the temptation to let themselves get in the way of helping others and making the world better, because a better world for others is a better world for ourselves.

This could be the best year of your life. It is up to you. What will you do about you?

“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. ”       ― Frederick Buechner

 

 

A Christmas of Nothing

benediction pic

25Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.  (Romans 16:25-27)

In many congregations, the end of worship is signaled by the giving of a benediction. Sometimes those benedictions are very formal and are carefully structured to impart a theological message to a departing congregation. Sometimes those benedictions are very informal and almost an afterthought to the sermon or closing music. Sometimes benedictions are passages of scripture, snippets of a gospel song, or lyrics of a sacred hymn. Sometimes the benediction involves the raising of hands. Sometimes a wave or a finger pointing towards the door is shared to get people moving outward. The benediction – formal or informal, planned or spontaneous – is a sign that gathered worship has finished and now God’s people will continue their worship out in the open as they witness and serve.

This particular benediction passage may be my favorite (although I like the 2 Corinthians 13:15, 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, Jude 24-25, and Hebrews 13:20-21, too). It is encouraging, uplifting, and compelling to us as a people of faith. It makes clear that only God can strengthen us to live faithfully as kingdom witnesses. The gospel gives light to our darkness and purpose to our confusion, so that we are not overcome or defeated by our weakness, our trials, or our sin. Through Christ’s life and ministry, God spoke and everyone/everything listened.  Because He spoke we now live for the glory of the Lord as the church is God’s benediction let loose into the world.

The passage is not just a prayer or a closing thought. There is something essentially true to be found that cannot be overlooked. The gospel that has become known to us is not just for our information or for data collection. In other words, knowing and even believing that God has acted in Christ is not the destination of our faith. Obedience is the goal. Belief is the starting point – the spark that makes life in Christ possible. Our belief is a catalyst to our obedient behavior and desire to not only know the gospel points, but live the gospel truth in all that we do and in all that we can imagine for God. Right belief and right action (obedience) are joined together as a revelation of God’s grace at work in and through His people. Right faith without obedience is not (biblical) Christianity. Neither is right behavior without a devout faith an expression of (biblical) Christianity. They are twin truths/traits in our journey of faith, hope and love.

When Mary encounters Gabriel who proclaims she is to give birth, she questions how this is to be, but she yields to the supernatural witness of the gospel quickly and submits in a humble, obedient way (Luke 1:26-38). Her life and body are no longer her own, for they belong to God. Her future, her family, her wedding is no longer hers. They are God’s to do with as He pleases. Yes, this is a scary thing for her to consider. Yes, this is different than the ideal plan for her. Yes, this promises a difficult season ahead for her and Joseph (hopefully). But the promise of God’s presence and provision get Mary’s full buy-in to believe and behave in concert with God’s activity in her life and world. If the Holy Spirit could conceive the Messiah in her virgin womb, then He could certainly help her through what would lie ahead for her even if Joseph bailed out. Mary’s faith was full of both knowing and doing. She knew God was good for His word AND she knew that knowing that was not the end of her encounter. She had to act in obedient faith and go where God was leading her.

It is better to go through struggles/challenges/failures with God than to go around all of that without Him. Every week, the benediction reminds us that God is not planning to wait in the sanctuary for us to return next week. He will not be hiding in safety from the scandal or scoundrel that pursues us. He will be going ahead of us into the world to help us live out the ways He has called us to live. Nothing is impossible with God and our faith – both through knowing and doing – propels us to walk with Him in every season of life – good, bad, and ugly.

If that is true – and I believe it is – then our Christmas season is full of potential. Not for gleaning the biggest haul under the tree or in our stocking, but by embracing a God that is not limited in how or where He can work in our life. God is at work in us and as we believe and act in obedience we are joining Him in His work. Our view of the world should always be through the lens of a saving/helping God that is never far away and is never indifferent to what we are facing. We are participants in a Christmas miracle that shows up and passes out good news and great grace in us and through us. We are participants in a Christmas about nothing but a God that creates, redeems, and gives care to us. We are in for a Christmas of nothing but God with us – in a manger, on a cross, from the tomb. We are witnesses at a Christmas of nothing but the one, true and living God reminding us that it really is all about Him. We are the benediction of God at a Christmas of nothing but good news, glad tidings, and joy to the world.

You Are As Slow As Christmas

nativity

I’d bet you have thought that exact thing about someone this year. It is a saying that had way more meaning to us as children when we longed for December to come so we could leave school behind, get presents and play in the snow. But alas, time would drag by and August felt like a year to us!

Children take this way of framing time into adulthood. From time to time we either are designated as “slow as Christmas” or we give that illustrious title to others. Speed up, hurry along, and get going because you/we are holding others up!

The greatest sin in life today seems to be going slowly. We don’t drive slowly. We don’t move slowly in the supermarket with our push carts.  We throw away slow computers and change internet providers if a faster one is available. We primarily eat fast food because slow food is for suckers.  If friends are too slow, we leave them behind because we are going places. We reject slow at all costs and think that is the way to get ahead in life. If you are slow in life, you’re likely alone most of the time because the crowd has left you behind. Slow is stupid, old school and boring.

We are especially uninterested in a God who is slow. But that is how He comes. Slow as Christmas. And we can hardly stand it sometimes.

This Advent passage (2 Peter 3:8-15) reminds us that God operates on a longer time frame than humanity, but is, nonetheless, working from the same agenda that we do. God and all His children in Christ are at work bringing salvation to the world. It is slowly making its way through the centuries capturing all who repent and believe, and chasing those who are pushing ahead and running through life. Unfortunately, many of us are too busy and going too fast to catch a glimpse.

And while the world is busy chasing it addictions and obsessions, something wonderful sneaks up on us. Not in a spooky or creepy way, but in a real way. In a beautiful way. In a “Jesus way.”

Just when we think God is too slow to match up with our lives and schedules, we find that He has managed to catch up. In reality we sense that maybe He was there all of our lives – even longer – but we just didn’t notice.

When we were chasing life as fast as we could, He was there.

When we were pursuing that pretty girl/boy in romance and sexual desire, He was there.

When we were making money and climbing the ladder, He was there.

When we were high on ourselves and clueless to everything/everybody around us, He was there.

When we were “playing church” and fooling them all, He was there.

When we were devastated by the events of life and sure nobody cared, He was there.

He was there. Patiently waiting and working. Lovingly letting us try it all, but hoping we would develop a taste for life in His kingdom. Saving us. Keeping us. Helping us along. He was there. And He is here even now. Still waiting. Still longing. Still hoping. Still saving. That is who He is. That is why He came. That is why He will keep coming again and again.

God is not slow. He is at work. He works in patient, deliberate ways so that the work He is doing meets us at the most critical point in our life. Don’t be fooled into thinking He is absent, and don’t be tempted to try and run. His promise will prevail, and our best work will be wasted. Our world will pass away, but Christmas proclaims that His kingdom is never-ending.

He ain’t slow. He’s our savior.

Advent 2 / 2 Peter 3:8-15

8But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. 11Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. 14Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

How to Get the Cyber Back in Your Christmas

cyber monday

It is Cyber-Monday! By now you are likely well acquainted with what that means. Millions of people are shopping like crazy online for the best deals on Christmas gifts. Today is the day to get the best deal of the year (supposedly) on TVs, tablets, phones, etc. We just know that somewhere out there is the perfect gift for Aunt Peggy, and we want to get it for 50 cents on the dollar. So we will frantically surf and troll the internet believing that in the land of “Cyber” we can get just what we need to check off our shopping list and complete our obligation of buying for others. Over $2.5 billion dollars will be spent today on swag to give away on the 25th, proving again that nothing says “I love you” like a discounted gift!

Today we are hunters. Looking for something. Looking for anything that will help us wrap up our holiday shopping as quickly as possible. Get it done and get it over with by December 1st so we can focus on the food, decorations, and traveling of Christmas 2014. The quicker and cheaper we can get it done, the happier we (think) will be. Cyber-Monday will grow into cyber season as we continually look for that perfect gift, that perfect holiday memory, that perfect holiday picture, that perfect holiday experience that we have been seeking all of our lives. The one that will make right the holidays that disappointed us in the past. It’s out there somewhere. We are willing to search the world over to find it and are likely to pay any price to grasp it. But the Christmas season is likely to come and go without many of us finding what we are really searching for.

The idea of a cyber-Monday may be the most ironic event of the Christmas shopping extravaganza because, if Christmas says anything to us at all, it says that we don’t need to hunt. Spending 40 days on a journey to complete a gift list is not our purpose in life. Great deals, “on time” shipping, and no hassle shopping is not the reason for the season. Stay with me; I am not talking about shopping or jolly celebrations any longer.

Christmas at its core is a reminder that God has come in Christ to rescue and redeem the world. The distance from heaven to earth has been bridged in the incarnation. Christ has come and time, space, and purpose have been reset for all mankind. Our need to search and search for meaning has been solved in the Messiah. Prophecy from ages past has been fulfilled and then placed in us to preserve through the ages. God is not “out there somewhere” waiting for us to find Him. He is here; and He is close; and He is real.

God coming to us changes everything. Our recognition of His closeness confronts any addiction to shopping for Him in cyberspace.  We couldn’t find Him out there even if we were bent on trying. We don’t pin God down or prove His place in our world. He does that on His own. We are free to enjoy Him forever. No need to conjure up a new tradition or a new take on Christmas. No need to protect Christmas from secular attacks. Just soak in the season and be renewed for living in faith, hope and love. Give up on searching for God and let Him find you (You might be surprised to hear that He already has!).

God is not something we find or something that we purchase. He is something that we receive freely and fully. He is something that becomes our everything. He is the Savior of the lost, Sanctifier of the sinful, Sustainer of the weak. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is Jesus in a manger, and He is Jesus on the cross. He is the Spirit blowing over chaos in Genesis, and He is the bright and morning star of Revelation. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And He is Christmas!

Don’t bargain for a Christmas that is less than what God is offering. Reflect on the life God offers us in Christ. Be content in His mercy and grace for your life and situation. Make justice and joy your favorite words. Make peace your best buy for others. Make hope your recipe for something sweet. Let love live in you and through you for others.