Merry Christmas!

We’ve had a quiet morning, but we’re getting through fairly well. I finally remembered send the exchange students their Christmas cards earlier this week, so they should arrive at their respective locations mid-January. Later on my little brother will arrive and we’ll all share a big Christmas lunch and have the leftovers for dinner. We’ve already worked our way through the Chocolate Chip cookies and are down to about a dozen of both other kinds of cookies. We’ll likely get them all eaten up today just in time for the cutting of the pies. It may be a small Christmas, but we’re making up for it in other ways – namely my Green Bean Casserole. Now where did those ingredients run off to?

Rechurchlessness

So there comes a time when it becomes necessary to take stock of one’s church and how much progress has been made since day one. Have I continued to study the Word at the same rate as before I joined this church, am I studying it more or less? Have I coninued to pray at the same rate as before I joined this church, am I praying more or less? In the same way, Have I grown in my faith? Have I grown in my friendships? Have I grown more patient, kind, gentle, generous, etc? When I ask myself these questions, I discover that my old good habits (studying and blogging) ceased, and my prayer plateaued, while all other things just didn’t get started at all. Since I don’t feel that I’ve grown in this church or attached to this church or it’s people, it makes the decision to leave it a necessary one.

In all the time I spent there, I never found anything for me. My first problem is that the denomination of that church doesn’t agree with a few things that I personally believe. They said “We believe what’s in the Bible.” But their actions stated: “We have our own interpretations, and although Jesus had the utmost respect for women, we teach what Paul wrote.” People, it cannot be done both ways. Who is your risen savior? Jesus or Paul? Who set the example by deed and word? Jesus or Paul? Two thousand years worth of progress have passed since Jesus set Mary and Martha straight on chores and yet churches of this denomination are reluctant to let women aspire to lead like Phoebe because it just isn’t their place – unless they lead in the kitchen or nursery. Why oh why aren’t I sufficient in your eyes to humbly walk up the aisles and collect the offering?

The other thing that particularly bothered me was that the morning Bible study consisted of reading out of a popular book by the pastor of a southern church who traveled the world only find out that he was so rich that he couldn’t worship God with the proper motives, so he suggested that everybody live as if they made only fifty thousand a year and to give the rest away because the American Dream was destroying Christianity. Never mind the fact that if this isn’t our toughest Christmas this year, it’s a close second. What’s wrong with studying the Bible? The old book of red letters? Tell me about the Early Church, I want to know who were the disciples of the disciples and who were their disciples. How did The Way turn into the orthodox church? Do you know any of these things things? Could you tell me?

One last thing was that a sermon suggested that the problem with the church was that the people were so alike that it make it difficult to bring different people into the fold. Practically everybody agreed that there was a problem that needed to be dealt with. Then … nothing happened. Nothing changed. No difference whatsoever, and the problem didn’t even solve itself. It was natural to come to the conclusion that this church wasn’t quite ready for my ‘guess what, it’s pretty much 2011.’ views or for my continued attendance because eventually I’d want to burst their bubble and then where would we be? Square one. Unfortunately for us, all of the churches in this area are either of that denomination or a more strict one. In short, I really don’t think it’s possible to find what I”m looking for. So would you settled for moderately happy, or continue to seek out something wonderful?

Countdown to Giving

You’ve seen this scene played out countless times. The man of means has just realized that there is a need in his community that he could easily fill. His free-spirited girlfriend says, “Why not give this guy the things he needs, It’s Christmas.” So there is your happy ending. The Scrooge-type learns to let go, and he gets the girl. The girl gets her long-lost love back and she gets the opportunity to make up for lost time. And the guy that would have done without won’t have to this year. So what’s the problem with this Christmas move? Other than the fact that it’s almost the same as all other holiday films, they use the ‘It’s Christmas!’ line. Giving and Christmas go way back, but we would be doing a grave injustice if we only gave during Christmastime.

When was the last time you heard, “Why not give this guy the things he needs, it’s Thursday.” “Why not give this guy the things he needs, it’s an odd day.” “Why not give this guy the things he needs, it’s a cloudy day.” Why not give this guy the things he needs, it’s February 8th.” “Why not give this guy the things he needs, it’s …” So you see, we don’t need an excuse to give, we don’t need to announce what we give, we just need to give because that’s what God has moved us to do. It’s not about giving more than Mr. and Mrs. Jones, but about responding to the call in your heart.

 

Service with a smile

Mark 10:35-45, “35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

   36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

   38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

 39 “We can,” they answered.

   Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It seems that our competitive nature spills over all aspects of our lives. We compete with our neighbors for the best houses. We compete with our co-workers for the best check. We compete with our fellow students to get noticed. We compete to be the best at sports, employee of the month, and all-around number one. We even have been known to compete when we give to charities. Even so, churches rarely compete to be the greatest servants of God. What would it be like if each and every Christian didn’t just bring their Bible to Church on Sunday, but ate, drank, and slept the Word of God, applying it to almost every aspect of their lives? Would it change your life or have no discernible impact?

Mercy: Has the Price been Paid?

James 2:12-13, “12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. “

Matthew 5:7, “7 Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.

“Mercy is a quality involved in acts of alleviating suffering or distress, or in showing restraint towards those whom one has the power to punish or harm, whether justly or unjustly, often motivated by the emotion of pity.”

On Sunday mornings I go to church earlier than I would like, so I spend my free time reading my Bible. I came across James last week. I like to read James because the Spanish half of my Bible calls it Santiago and it just rolls off of the tongue so smoothly. San-ti-yah-go. See? Anyway I came across the passage about Mercy triumphing over judgement. Sometimes I wonder about mercy and how to go about showing it. One author asked the same question and this what he wrote down: (From Something called The Merchant of Venice)

“On what compulsion, must I (show mercy)?”
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show like God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

It seems that we live in a world full of front page news-worthy crimes and that is only the tip of the iceberg on crimes in general. I wish I could tell you that it’s always best to show mercy, but then there are those crimes where it is just too hard. Then the Bible gets right there – judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. I have to ask myself, when was the last time that I showed mercy? When was the last time I took pity on another? Do I get a free pass because I can’t afford to give? Will I be shown mercy when I need it most?

When it comes right down to it, the reason for the season, is mercy. Jesus excelled at showing mercy to the ill and those of ill-repute. Why do I have such a hard time? Am I much better? Certainly not! The only remaining conclusion is that I am simply out of the practice of showing mercy. I never thought I would aspire to be like Zaccheus the tax collector of Luke 19, But it’s a start until I learn to show mercy like Jesus did. It’s not as if I’m an outright mean person who would sooner talk down than lend a hand, but I don’t put myself in a lot of positions where I’m called to show mercy. It’s not like there is a homeless man down the street or petty criminals who have wronged me and are in need of some mercy. Perhaps that is half of the problem. A “If it’s not in my back yard, then what am I to do about it?” Mentality. Do Christians lack a certain amount of mercy? What can a church do to help its members be more merciful? Do you aspire to be more merciful, more like Zaccheus, or more like Jesus?

Little is Much

Sorry for the absence, I’m trying unsuccessfully to sort a few things out. Some of it is due to writers block, some of it is coming to the realization that it is yet again December and it will (yet again) be a tough Christmas. You know those Christmas movies? Every single time there are people that go all out in the decoration of their home or office space, whichever it may be. They have garland around each and every window and door, Santas and snowmen on every table, there are candles and potpourri on every shelf, there are stickers of snowflakes on every pane of glass, etc. there really must be hundreds of dollars worth of decoration. Then I sit back and remember Christmases past. Even looking at my previous Christmas posts, it hasn’t been easy for us. Retirement, unemployment, moving out, moving in, unexpected expenses, among other things have made us re-think how we do Christmas.

I was chatting with a computer game player online and soon the subject came to expected Christmas gifts. They were hoping for a Tablet, one of those computers you can draw on with a pen. I said it would be nice if I received two pairs of jeans that fit me. They then asked, “Why do you expect so little?” I was bothered by that question. Am I really poor? I don’t think so. One reason is that we don’t qualify for most welfare programs, so we have to get by without them. This would be third tough Christmas in a row. No lights on the outside of the house, no real tree on the inside of the house,  and no decking of the halls either. Another reason why I don’t think that I’m poor is that we manage to have our needs met and just enough left over for the luxuries – you know the things that you could technically live without but you would rather have if you could get away with it, like the the internet and a decent computer.

“Why do you expect so little?” Two pairs of jeans is twice as much as one pair of jeans. Sure it’s not like the gifts of years past, toys and movies and music and video games. It’s better than nothing though.
“Why do you expect so little?” Maybe it comes down to faith, I’ve grown so used to having a small Christmas, that it takes a fair amount of faith to make up the difference.
“Why do you expect so little?” Maybe it’s because I recognize that I can’t take it with me forever. Things break, wear down, or outright fail if they were poorly constructed. What does it matter if you get something expensive or really nice? It will eventually end up in the garbage dump.
“Why do you expect so little?” Because, I have so much just waiting for me on the other side of eternity