Monday, December 31, 2007

What I Believe About the Incarnation

We just had Christmas. We all know that. In fact, I am enjoying the recovery time that is necessary after Advent and the Christmas holiday. One of the things that is so important after Christmas, and this works in conjunction with the new beginnings that January 1 invites, is a time of reflection. I spend a lot of time reflecting on the last year. Did I accomplish all that I planned? Did I do all that I could? What are my plans for the future?

But one of the reflection areas that often gets overlooked is theological reflection. We say things at Christmas time that we say we believe, but do we understand them? There is the virgin birth, the miracle star, angelic appearances and the most important one, the incarnation, Emmanuel.

Our English word, incarnation, comes from the same Greek root that gives us carnival, carnivore and chili con carne. It means flesh, or meat. When we affirm our faith in the incarnation of Christ, we are saying that we believe that God literally became a human. The implications of this are mind-boggling and not to be forgotten or taken for granted. God, who lives in splendor, chose, of his own volition, to forsake all that glory, and become human. Philippians 2.5-11 gives us a wonderful summary picture of what this meant for God.

This also has significance when we consider the life and ministry of Jesus while he was on earth. We believe that Jesus was completely human, having voluntarily relinquished his claims to the throne of God. But at the same time, he was still God. He had the option at any time to re-claim his rightful position as the Almighty. Thankfully for us, he never did. This thought helps us and confuses us as we consider that Jesus often prayed. If he is God, who does he pray to? If he knows what will happen, why does he pray?

Finally, we need to consider the incarnation as it pertains to the crucifixion of Jesus. The law of the Old Testament makes it clear that sin requires a perfect sacrifice. Being perfect, and being God, allowed Jesus to become that sacrifice. He was able to take all our sins on himself because he was (and is) the holy and perfect God of the universe.

Jesus is God. God is with us. Emmanuel.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Being Content

So here it is. I have figured it out. Advertising, and all marketing for that matter, teaches us that we are unhappy. We may not know it, but we cannot be satisfied unless we have the latest gadget, wear the best designer clothes and wash with the best smelling soap. It is the job of the Madison Avenue gurus to tell us this. They want us to be happy, and to attain that end, they must show us how unhappy we are.

Now when we come to this realization, we grow unhappy. There are problems with this of course. It is impossible for us to ever be truly happy if we equate happiness with possessions or acquisitions. As soon as we acquire all the things that we are told will make us happy, there is a whole new series of advertisements for new gadgets, clothes and soaps. It is a never-ending cycle of chase the happiness carrot.

And so now, a few days before Christmas, the marketing has reached a fever pitch. And now we all realize, somewhat unhappily, that we will not receive every gift that we want. We cannot afford every item that will make us happy. What should we do? Can we ever be happy? Will we ever attain personal fulfillment?

There is a passage in the Bible that summarizes what is the best approach to this difficulty. Philippians 4.11 says, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." This is not a promise that we will get everything we want. It does not even mean that the one who follows God will have no problems in life. No, the significance here is much greater than both of thoughts.

When we find our life in Christ, we do not need to rely on temporal things to be happy or fulfilled. We can, and should be, content with the blessings of God and the things that he has given us. There can be no better Christmas than to be content with the things of God.

Merry Christmas to you!

Mary's Anxiety

It’s not fair!
Everything is wrong. I mean everything!
First, there is this pregnancy thing.
I’m worried about my baby.
I don’t understand what is happening to me.
This is a lot of trouble.
How do I know that was an angel
who told me about the baby?
How can I be sure this is the son of God?
Wouldn’t God have thought of a better way to do this?
Now there is this registration thing.
I don’t understand it at all.
Joseph says it’s another way to collect taxes.
I know they can’t get much more from us.
And the trip. O, the trip!?!
I am in no shape to travel, but everyone must go.
Will this hurt the baby?
Where will we stay when we get there?
What if the baby comes while we are away from home?
How will I care for him?
What will the baby wear?
How will I clean him?
How? How? Why?
It’s not fair!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Reclaiming Christmas

In the hubbub of the Christmas season, we sometimes lose sight of Christmas. Our tendency is often to over-react the commercialization and secularization of the holiday. But I believe that all hope is not lost. Christmas can be reclaimed by those who love the season and all that it represents. All is not well, but there is hope.

To begin with, the commercialization of Christmas is a sort of positive sign. After all, millions of people in America and around the world celebrate a holy day. Even if they do not recognize the spiritual nature of the holiday, they cannot deny origins of the Christmas observance. In addition, the traditions associated with Christmas all have their genesis in the story of Christianity.
  • Santa Claus is not only a character based on a Christian saint, Nicholas, he is also a sign of the desire of men and women everywhere to know God, the Father of us all and the ultimate Gift-giver.
  • Giving gifts reminds us of the gift given by God on that first Christmas day. Not only that, giving and receiving gifts reflects the graciousness of God and the fact that we are all given the desire to love and share with others.
  • The emphasis on lights and stars remind us of the darkness of the world around us and our desire to bring light into the darkness.
  • Family celebrations have become synonymous with celebrating Christmas. This reflects the gathering of the Holy family so long ago.

Be cautious with your Christmas celebration this year. Be careful to not allow it to become commercial, superficial or secular. Make certain that Christ permeates every part of your time of rejoicing. But above all, celebrate! Rejoice! Give! Love!

Mary's Lament

What am I to think? What am I to do?
Why is it now, God? Why is it from you?
When my life is just beginning, this signals its end;
No more time for myself, no more time for friends.
I’m still too young to be so old,
My years too few, my story not told.
And now that the spring time of my life is through,
I can do nothing but bring my grief to you.

What am I to think? What am I to do?
Why is it now, God? Why is it from you?
I am not ready, the problems must wait.
The cares of motherhood are much too great.
What do I know about caring for a son?
I am a child myself, I am too young.
I cannot do it, I cannot cope.
Where will I get help? Where will I get hope?

What am I to think? What am I to do?
Why is it now, God? Why is it from you?
I have kept myself pure all of my days,
I have always been righteous in all my ways.
But people will think things, they always do.
People will talk, regardless of the truth.
I cannot survive amid the gossip and the talk.
I need your help. Lead me as I walk.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

My Favorite Christmas Songs

I have said that I love the holidays and I especially love music. The combination of Christmas and song is a fertile area with lots of variety. I have made a list of my favorite Christmas songs, but there are too many. Therefore, I have divided the list into sacred carols and secular songs of the season. The songs appear in no particular order.

My Favorite Sacred Carols-
  • Joy to the World
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
  • Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella
  • Il est ne
  • Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
  • Once in Royal David's City
  • O Come, All Ye Faithful
  • Labor of Love
  • Messiah (all, or any part)

My Favorite Secular Christmas Songs-
  • Christmastime is Here
  • I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas
  • Run, Run Rudolph
  • Blue Christmas
  • Feliz Navidad
  • You're a Mean One, Mr Grinch
  • Happy Christmas (War is Over)
  • Same Old Lang Syne
  • White Christmas
  • Please Come Home for Christmas

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Some Problems I Have with Christmas

For the most part I join in with everyone else and enjoy Christmas completely. I like the lights, the music, the cheer, the warm feelings, time with family. I like all of that. I am not one of those Christian bah-humbuggers who gets upset and uptight about every little secular detail. In fact, I love the secular details. I think that it is a good sign when the world is looking to Christmas a time time of hope and peace.

But, I do have some pretty serious problems with the current celebration of Christmas.
  • Commercialization. From the evening news to our family celebrations, we are encouraged to spend too much money and to commercialize Christmas. If we do not spend enough money on gifts, we will certainly end up in economic recession. Not only stores and malls, but also restaurants, hotels, movies and more have become dependent on holiday spending. Heaven forbid.
  • Gift giving. We are told over and over again that giving is the purpose for Christmas. I give gifts. I love giving gifts to the people that I love, but I never want gifting to be the reason behind my celebration, or anyone else's for that matter.
  • Secularization. Too many people around us have no idea why we take the day off work on December 25. From our greetings of 'Happy Holidays' to Winter programs at our public schools, we are thoroughly secularizing one of the most holy of holidays. The nativity story and the redemption that followed must never be forgotten.
  • Selfishness and Insensitivity. I do not think that I even need to expound on this one. Avarice and greed are the top two guests at many Christmas parties. What did I get? Why didn't I get more? They could afford more than that. And more thoughts and comments just like these characterize the attitudes of a whole lot of people.

Mary's Prayer

Who am I, God?
I am just a girl.
I giggle, I blush, I gossip with my friends.
I am ordinary.
I don’t have money, or standing-
My family is not special.
I am from Nazareth,
a normal town.
Who am I?
Why did you choose me?

And now there is Joseph.
He is a nice man, but he is so old.
He is not glamorous, but he is good.
He is not wealthy, but he can provide.
I do not understand the future-
I do not know why I am promised to him-
But I will trust you.

Now there is a promise-
not an ordinary promise, but a prophecy.
I have doubts, but I trust you.
Do your work in my life.
Mold me into the shape that you desire.
Use me for your purposes.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Spectator Sports, Cheaters and Original Sin

I have never been athletic, but I have always been a fan of sports. I love major league baseball and amateur basketball. I was, at one time, the ultimate spectator, a true fanatic of my favorite basketball team and baseball in general. I could talk for hours about the joy of being in a big league ballpark. The huge stands, the weird food, the huge, beautifully manicured field, the men who excelled at a boy's game were all too good for me.

My basketball team had a bully for a coach, but he was on the right track. He played fair. His players played hard. They gave the game their all. They won a lot more than they lost. The players were smart and articulate. They studied hard and attended class. If they did not, they were benched, or worse. Best of all, my team did not cheat.

But then the world changed. It must have. That is the only explanation for the cataclysm that followed. Baseball players began hitting home runs in bunches. Way more than ever before. It was unprecedented. Records were falling right and left. One season two very likable players hit 69 and 66 home runs, both breaking the previous record of 61. What fun! But then too soon, another player, one that was not so likable, hit even more. 73 home runs in one year. Something had to be wrong. We all thought it. And then we began to question all the records, all the players, everything.

The coach of my basketball team lost his job. He was replaced with a barely competent basketball man. Then he was replaced by a fine coach, but get this, a cheater. Heaven forbid! We do not allow cheaters on our team. We are against cheaters. We do not cheat. Until now.

And the baseball players? Last week we learned that they cheat too. They are all cheaters. Dozens of our heroes have taken drugs so that they can grow bigger, run faster and hit the ball farther. How can I be a sports fan when they all cheat?

But what have we learned from all this? Can we grow from this experience?

All people are bad! This is a foundational doctrine of Christianity. Theologically we call it Original Sin. This doctrine believes that every person has the tendency, even the desire, to sin. We all want to do what is wrong. If that seems difficult for you, think about this:
  • Look out for number 1.
  • Watch your back.
  • You only go around once, so go for the gusto.
  • You deserve a break today.
  • I'm too sexy for my shirt.

All of these are expressions of the practical side of Original Sin. Every human is selfish. We are born selfish. We are always looking out for our own interests and desires. I believe that sin equals selfishness. That is, every sin that you or I commit, we commit simply because we are selfish. This is why Jesus taught the value of looking out for your neighbor and loving others. It is hard to be selfish when I am loving someone else.

What is happening in sports- and baseball and basketball are no different than all other competitive sports- is a manifestation of the reality of sin. So, do we condemn these players and coaches, or do we pray for them?

30 Days a Year

I share what I have 30 days of the year;
I dig in my pocket till it hurts.
I give to my neighbor to bring him cheer,
But I do it only 30 days a year.

There is no way to give love a season,
We cannot say that Christmas is the season
To care.
God's gift did not end at Christmas time.
His gift still gives and it is yours and mine

He gave us His wisdom, His thoughts and His prayers,
And He did not quit giving when He died.
He is giving and loving, and He still cares;
Even after Christmas He's still there.

Monday, December 17, 2007

My 10 Favorite Books of 2007

It's the end of the year (sort of), and time for me to reflect on what has been good and bad about it. Over the next several weeks I will be posting some of my favorites of the year. Each of my favorites of the year have several qualifications, though.
  • My favorites of 2007 do not necessarily have to be from 2007. It just means that I have experienced them for the first time in 2007.
  • My favorites do not mean that they are the best of the year. I am not a critic. I am a fan. Therefore, the entries that make my favorites list move me somehow.
  • To the best of my ability, I do not allow my favorites to be influenced by anyone else. Critical acclaim and popular status mean nothing to me if I do not enjoy the product.

Next week you will get to read my list of favorite albums of 2007. For now, you get the 10 Favorite Books of 2007 (in no particular order).

  • Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace, Walt Wangerin
  • Sex God, Rob Bell
  • O Shepherd, Where Art Thou, Calvin Miller
  • Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut
  • Chazown, Craig Groeschel
  • Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
  • If It Could Happen Here, Jeff Patton
  • Lisey’s Story, Stephen King
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick
  • The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield

Angel Song

At Christmastime there is so much talk about angels...
Angels in the outfield
Angels on my shoulder
Angels with dirty faces
Angels, second class,
That we forget the message of the angel of the Lord;
Good news
Great joy
Peace on earth
Glory to God
A child is born.
We hear so much about spirit...
The spirit of Christmas
The spirit of giving
The spirit of the season
The spirits of Christmases past, present and future,
That we might forget the original Spirit-
The Spirit that came upon Mary
The Spirit that caused Elizabeth's child to leap
The Spirit that empowers us.
Christmas is to remember the message-
Not the angel.
It is to receive the Spirit-
Not some spirits.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I Remember Christmas

I remember snow at Christmas
Frost on the window
Icicles on the barn
Wading through slush in the driveway
There was a chill in the air
Filled with the scents of pine
And freshly baked cookies

I remember lights at Christmas
Glistening with the colors of the rainbow
Brightening trees, homes, shrubs,
windows, doors
Reflecting in eyeglasses, windows
and frozen ponds.

I remember crying at Christmas
Crying with joy at family reunions
Thrilling at wonderful gifts and
Marvelous meals
Crying in sorrow for family members
Who are not here this year
Sorrow for children with nothing to celebrate
Sorrow for families who do not know how to celebrate
Sorrow for families who do not know to celebrate

I remember Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Golden Compass Furor

I have not seen this movie yet. I don't know if I will. The trailer and publicity information makes it seem like several other movies that I have already seen (Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter). I am not sure that I can handle one more fantasy story in which children are the victims of adult misdeeds, as well as the victors over the very adults who are evil.

But there is a furor over The Golden Compass that I would like to comment on. Many religious people are encouraging other religious people to boycott this film. The story goes that the author of The Golden Compass book, Phillip Pullman, is an atheist. His intent in writing the book (two sequels followed forming the His Dark Materials trilogy) was to discredit God. I do believe that Pullman is an atheist. However, I am not convinced that his intention is to create doubt about the existence of God.

One of the biggest controversies surrounds the idea that each individual has a personal demon. People are encouraged to get in touch with this demon, to learn about him/her and to have a relationship. On the surface, at least, this does seem very harmful. However, I would advise caution in jumping to critical conclusions.
  • First of all, take care to not get yourself, or anyone else into spiritual hot water, but do your own research. If it is important to know the information, read the book. Go see the movie. But be sure that you do it with a critical eye and a skeptical mind.
  • Secondly, be careful not to boycott or forbid people from seeing this movie. Reverse psychology is a powerful principle. I always want that thing that I am not supposed to have.
  • Third, do not make it a bigger issue than it needs to be. Do not call attention to something that many people are not interested in talking about. If the people you know do not anticipate a danger, it could be that they are not in danger. Your initiation of the conversation will only bring the controversy to light.
  • Fourth, remember that it is a movie. It is based on a fiction book. This means that it is being marketed as not being true. Most people are smart enough to know that polar bears do not talk, wear clothes or wage war. Do not give the story more consideration than it deserves.


The violent sound of snow crunching beneath my feet.
The grimy slush as it melts on the street.
The pelting of tiny, frozen bombs of sleet.
The sudden, sliding loss of footing, landing on my seat.
The gratuitous good will of the people I greet.
The artificial concern of everyone I meet.
The life-fog that comes from my body's heat.
The rock-frozen ground that signals summer's retreat.
The naked trees that are proof of fall's defeat.
The sun that mocks me while giving no heat.
The freezing, frozen drops of rain that become a solid sheet.
The still, silent air where the cold is indiscreet.
The dagger-like icicles that the children eat.
The snowball- now a weapon, but later a treat.
The snowfall- so massive, universal and complete;
Yet snowflakes- so delicate, so unique, so neat.
Faith for the warmth of spring is no small feat.
A hope for color against colorless life competes.
This is winter.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Anti-Crisis

Many people of all works of life go from one crisis to another. We put out this fire only to learn that another has ignited over there. We do not have time to be concerned about what is important, but only about what is urgent. There is only enough energy to deal with this crisis, right now.

But as our lives grow ever more complicated, we find that we merely move from one crisis to another. There is never a break. There are problems all around us and they all seem to need our attention. At the very least, we feel as though an informed person should have an opinion on each global and national crisis. And those crises are in addition to the mundane personal ones that no one else knows or cares about. At times we are tempted to believe that life was better for our grandparents, or for the Amish. Simpler lives definitely seem better.

There are two things to say about that. First of all, simpler probably is better and healthier for everyone involved. There is less stress and competition when we are not consumed with the latest technology, communication or fad. When we learn to be content with less, we will be even more content all the time.

Secondly, although it seems trite, there is a solution to our problems. Jesus is the Anti-Crisis. He promised in the Bible to provide comfort, encouragement and strength to his followers. He also promised never to leave those who follow him. We never need to face any problem without his power and stability.

I do not want you to get the idea that Jesus will make your problems go away. There was never an indication by Jesus that his followers would be exempt from troubles. In fact, just the opposite seems to be true. He promised that people would hate, ridicule and persecute us because of our faith in him. Jesus did not promise wealth, health, prosperity or safety for those who followed him. He said that there would always be poor people among us. And although he definitely was concerned with healing the sick, there is no reason to believe that we will never be ill.

I believe that I will still have problems, even though I know Jesus. However, I know that I have a friend who will go through every problem with me. I do not have to be too discouraged. I will not be lonely. When my crises come, I know the Anti-Crisis.

If Joseph and Mary Came to My Town...

Who are these young people?
Unattractive, unmarried, unclean?
Homely, homeless, humble?
What do they want?
Why are they here?
We did not ask them to come.
He, the common laborer-
He has nothing to offer her or her unborn child,
He has little to offer our town.
She, the pregnant teen-ager-
She got what she deserves
She should have been smarter, or at least more careful.
They will, no doubt, be a burden.
Society will have to support them.
Clothe them.
Shelter them.
And they will be ungrateful.
They will bring an undesirable crowd
There will be loud visitors late into the night.
There will be more unemployed riff-raff.
Where will it all end?
There will be a baby...
A child who is innocent,
Who has done nothing wrong,
Who needs someone to care.
I will care and love and give;
For the baby's sake.
For my sake.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

In a Week or More

In a week or more it will be Christmas,
I forget how long.
But all that comes to me now
Is an Easter song.
About a man who died for our sins;
about a God who enters in;
about a Temple veil that rends;
about a man who did no wrong.
In a week or more it will be Christmas,
I forget how long.

The Way People Are

Especially at Christmas time (but all year long, in reality), people can be grouped into one of four categories. This is not to say that people need to be labeled or stereotyped, but there are certain characteristics that are true of most individuals during the holiday season.

Before we get to the grouping, let me further say that not everyone fits into every category, and there are some fortunate individuals who fit into none of them. These lucky souls are the ones who are extremely lucky, blessed beyond measure, or wearing rose-colored glasses so that they cannot see the reality of the world around them and their own situation.
  • There are harassed people. The harassed people are those who have set a standard that they cannot meet. They are trying to live up to expectations that are beyond their grasp. These people have over-extended themselves and now are in trouble because of it. Harassed people are also those who are subject to discrimination and prejudice of all sorts. They are too young, too old, too disabled, too black, too female, too foreign... Perhaps you feel like you are harassed.
  • There are helpless people. The helpless people are truly victims in our society. (This is distinctly different than those who choose to be victimized by their circumstances.) These are men and women who work hard, or would work hard. The cannot get a break from community, family, government or church. (These are not people who take advantage or "play the system.") Perhaps you feel like you are helpless.
  • There are hopeless people. Hopeless people have just given up. They think that there is no point in trying anymore. There is no way out of whatever situation they are in. No one cares. There is nothing I can do. What's the use? Perhaps you feel like you are hopeless.
  • There are hurting people. People who are hurting are those who have experienced one or more of the other problems. They might be afflicted with personal issues, health problems, relationship difficulties, job loss or food insecurity. These people are so discouraged that hopelessness would be an improvement for them. Perhaps you feel like you are hurting.

At Christmas all of our problems are aggravated. Our loneliness is emphasized as all those around us celebrate with family and friends. Our poverty is accentuated as our culture teaches us to want and to give more and more. We are reminded of our hunger as large family meals are prepared at all the neighbors'.

But no matter how harassed and helpless, not matter how hopeless and hurting, Jesus loves you and God has not forgotten you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ministry Values

There are certain values that I hold in ministry. These are things that I intend to accomplish, but more importantly, these are the beliefs that under gird what I do and why I do it. And although this is a somewhat fluid list- things are added, items are changed, rankings vary- it serves as the foundation for my life and ministry.

I do not believe that this list is somehow inspired or necessary for all Christians, or Christian leaders. I think that God works in each believer to manifest himself in their lives in personal, unique and specific ways. So, this should not be a standard that anyone uses to measure their own life purposes or values, but rather, an encouragement to evaluate and develop their own.
  • Leadership Development- This is becoming more and more true in my life. Every thing I do and think is about recruiting, training and sending leaders.
  • Fellowship Evangelism- I believe that all Christians are called to do the work of evangelism. I further believe that the most effective way to do it in our current culture is through fun. Spending time with people, sharing your life with them and caring about them is the best way to make disciples.
  • Authentic Relationships- This is very much related to leadership development and fellowship evangelism. Relationships with all people must be real. It is not enough to know people for the sake of evangelism or leadership. You must know individuals and care about them individually.
  • Radical Creativity- Just because something has always worked does not mean that we should continue doing it. If a thing isn't broken it may not need to be fixed, but we might be able to make it work better. It is always open season for new ideas and new ways of doing things.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Christmas Message

Christmas is almost here, and there are hundreds of solicitations come to us all the time. People want our money. Benevolent organizations want our time and resources. Everyone wants something, it seems. And actually, this motivation goes both ways. It is the end of the year, a time when we are thinking about saving as much on our taxes as we can. Not only that, but it is the time of giving. We want to share in the ways that we have been blessed.

It seems to me that all of these actions and attitudes are motivated by selfishness. Everyone is trying to look out for him or herself. We want to get what we can get. The spirit of altruism seems to be dead after all. So let me put your mind at ease. I do not want anything. I am not asking you to give or serve or help. I am only asking you one thing: Would you please have a great holiday season? Let God’s great gift bless you this Christmas and into the New Year. May you live in the fullness of God’s grace and in the peace of his Son, Jesus Christ.

My 10 Favorite Movies of 2007

It's the end of the year (sort of), and time for me to reflect on what has been good and bad about it. Over the next several weeks I will be posting some of my favorites of the year. Each of my favorites of the year have several qualifications, though.
  • My favorites of 2007 do not necessarily have to be from 2007. It just means that I have to experience them for the first time in 2007.
  • My favorites do not mean that they are the best of the year. I am not a critic. I am a fan. Therefore, the entries that make my favorites list move me somehow.
  • To the best of my ability, I do not allow my favorites to be influenced by anyone else. Critical acclaim and popular status mean nothing to me if I do not enjoy the product.

In the coming weeks you will get to read my lists of favorite books and albums of 2007. For now, you get the 10 Favorite Movies of 2007 (in no particular order).

  1. Stranger Than Fiction.
  2. All the King's Men.
  3. Notes on a Scandal.
  4. The Departed.
  5. The Last King of Scotland.
  6. Marty.
  7. Blazing Saddles.
  8. Across the Universe.
  9. Babel.
  10. Infamous.

I have written on this blog about several of these films. If you are interested you can check those reviews.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Winning the Merry Christmas War

It was one year ago that all the USA was in an uproar over the so-called war on Christmas. Some department stores and media outlets were instructed to wish patrons "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" so as to not offend those who are not Christian. Retailers were sure that this was the sure way to increase sales. By being more politically correct, they would do better business and not offend anyone.

But the plan seemed to backfire in a big way. Word got out that Christmas was out and Holidays were in and that was all she wrote. People who have not attended church in years were offended at this affront to one of the most sacred days to Christians. After all, the name Christmas celebrates the mass for the birth of the Christ.

And now, one year on, we seem to have a little of the same problem. The clerks in the stores that I have visited seem to be suffering from the fallout of Christmas 2006. They hesitate about wishing me a Merry Christmas. They are a little worried that they will offend me, or at the very least, get in trouble with a supervisor. How sad. Even if they wanted to be jolly, they cannot.

So, for the next few weeks, I am implementing a plan that will hopefully bring cheer and good tidings of great joy to everyone I encounter (whether I am merry or not). My goal is to wish every bell ringer, every stock person, every greeter, every cashier, every package wrapper, every manager and supervisor a Merry Christmas. I am not going to wait for someone else to greet me first. I will take the initiative and wish others well.

I am going to smile until me cheeks hurt. I will not be called a Grinch or a Scrooge. I will be a smiling mirth-spreader. I will not be offended when someone, no matter who they are, does not wish me 'Merry Christmas,' but I will be offended if I do not. I am going to be "Merry Christmas Boy."

One more thing that is a little related: What is with the greeters at Wal-Mart? At the Wal-Mart where I do business, the grouchy greeters outnumber the friendly ones 10 to one. This too is very sad. Most of the greeters do not even look up except to make sure that you are not shop-lifting, or trying to get away with something. They have a very boring job, and it shows. Most of the time my shopping experience is already ruined before I even get into the store.

My goal of being Merry Christmas Boy will apply to the greeters in every store as well. I am going to smile and be friendly regardless of the attitude of the greeter. I will wish them Merry Christmas until December 25 and then I will continue to greet them in the most friendly way that I can muster. I will bring joy to people as much as I can.

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Chumscrubber

To begin with, I do not know what a Chumscrubber is. Within this movie the Chumscrubber is an animated character on a television program that is important to a couple of the characters in this movie. Other than that, he seems somewhat inconsequential.

At its core, The Chumscrubber (the movie) is about suburban teens struggling with drugs, peer pressure and their parents. It is about parents who want to live their own lives and have their children take care of themselves. It is bleak to say the least, but entertaining and possibly informative.

The cast of The Chumbscrubber is impressive. Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, Allison Janney, John Heard, Carrie-Ann Moss all take turns as the variously interested parents. Close is grieving the loss to suicide of her son. Janney is trying to keep her vitamin supplement business going. Fiennes is trying to hold on to his sanity while maintaining his position as mayor. Heard spends the movie as the sheriff trying to get to the bottom of the pseudo-kidnapping of his his pre-adolescent son.

The Chumscrubber is entertaining, but it is not fun. It is always informative, but it is not pleasant. Although the marquee stars of the film are all in the adult roles, the movie is really about the teens. They are dealing with issues of acceptance, drug use and abuse, ethics and more.

Jamie Bell plays Dean, a teen-age slacker who uses drugs out of boredom. Dean realizes too late that his dealer, who commits suicide at the beginning of the movie, is also his best friend. Because he does not know that the dealer is his friend, he is surprised when the other drug-users turn to Dean to replenish their supply of pills. These drug-users devise a plan to kidnap Dean's younger brother, but inadvertently swipe the wrong Charlie.

Meanwhile, the adults are all in their own world of weddings, funerals, business, gossip. They are too self-absorbed to see that anything is amiss. How sad.

It is easy to look at this film, or any of the dozens that are like it, and deny its assertions. Adults are really not like this. Parents are more active in their children's lives. That may be true, but it does not diminish the dangers that are brought up. All of these scenarios are not only possible, they are true. These stories are played out in suburbs all across America every day.

So, what can we learn? Pay attention. Look around you. See the pain and hurt that is taking place everywhere. This week another young man took a gun and killed some innocent people, presumably because he felt alienated and alone. He had been fired from his job and lost his girlfriend. It would not have been hard for someone to befriend him. It would not have been hard for someone to make a difference for him, and for the others who were lost this week. Who can you make a difference for?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

With Apologies to Dr Coleman

I believe that it was in the 1960's that Robert Coleman wrote his classic book, The Master Plan of Evangelism. That work, foundational as it is for evangelism, discipleship and leadership training, has varied in its influence on my life and ministry. Right now, I cannot think of doing ministry any other way. It is the most practical and effective model for ministry development.

It is based in the ministry pattern and strategies of no less than Jesus himself. I have tried to adopt this way of developing leaders into my own work, in and outside the church. The mission trips that I have led have been built on these principles.
  • Potential leaders need to experience the ministry to which they are being called. They should know the ministry from the inside. It is best if a ministry leader is first a ministry recipient.
  • From those who are involved in the ministry, leaders are recruited. Potential leaders should be men and women (and young people) who exhibit the fruit of the ministry and passion for it.
  • Leaders must be trained for ministry. Basic discipleship, leadership principles and fellowship basics need to be foundational to this sort of training.
  • This step is the most crucial. New leaders must be given the opportunity to lead while still under your supervision. They need to be given tasks to complete, studies to lead, program to oversee, etc. All of this should be completed while above the safety net of your supervision.
  • Finally, these new leaders need to be given assignments for ministry and deployed to do the work. The most frustrating thing is to be excited about a project, prepared and trained to complete, and then to be left with no responsibilities. Put your people to work.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Raising Up Leaders

Here are some traits to instill in your children, and others that you lead. For leaders to be effective, they need to possess the following traits:
  • Intelligence- This does not mean that they necessarily have to excel on aptitude or intelligence tests, but rather that they are proficient and equipped in their particular area to do the work, planning and thinking that are required.
  • Quick thinking- The ability to decisively think on one's feet is more important than ever, and getting more important every year.
  • Global thinking- Leaders of the future (and today's leaders) must be able to see and think beyond their own personal context. The whole world needs to be considered. Always be looking for the big picture.
  • Good communications- Expressing your views in effective ways and by appropriate means is more important than ever, but being able to hear and understand the views of others is also very important.
  • Articulate- The ability to express your thoughts is crucial.
  • Sense of humor- Humor will be able to diffuse tense situations and make communicating easier in many settings.
  • Flexible- There may be more than one way to accomplish a task. Not only that, you may learn that the task should not be accomplished. Flexibility, along with a willingness to be corrected, is a necessity for today's leader.
  • Integrity- Although it may not be very popular, the morals of a leader are very important. Always be committed to doing the right thing. Always.
  • Empathy- Good and effective leaders will be filled with concern and emotion for those that they lead.
  • Self-awareness- Be sure that you know your strengths, weaknesses and beliefs. A good leader will know what s/he is capable of, and what s/he should not even think about.

Here are some beginning points to help you develop these traits in yourself and in others.

  • Encourage them to develop their knowledge in their areas of interest.
  • Reward curiosity.
  • Encourage adventure and create opportunities for many different experiences.
  • Support and encourage critical thinking.
  • Expose them to various opinions and ways of thinking.
  • Encourage and support risk-taking.
  • Remind them of their uniqueness and what makes them unique.
  • Encourage productive and substantive debate.
  • Build courage and self-esteem.
  • Model integrity and character.
  • Allow them to be tolerant of diversity.
  • Create and expose them to good role models.

This information is adapted from the article, Raising Up Leaders, by Charrise McCrorey in the October 2007 issue of Michiana Family Magazine.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Church Complaints

I recently read an article that summarized most of the complaints about church that I have ever heard. I forget where the article came from or who the author was, but he/she hit the nail on the head. Church people (these are not necessarily the same folks as Christ-followers of Christians, but they can be) are notorious for their unhappiness with the church that they are attending (or not attending).

One problem with this is that these complainers are unhappy with everything. They are aggravated that the church is too hot, but as soon as the air conditioning comes on they are chilled. The Sound system is turned up too loud one Sunday and the next week they cannot hear anything. You get the picture. The same people have opposite complaints.

Well, here are the official complaints from the afore-mentioned article (by the way, I have heard all of these in my churches and from some of the same people).
  • The service is too traditional, or it is too modern. Worship style (music) has become the most controversial issue for local churches in the USA. The truth is that you cannot please everyone with your music selections or instrumental accompaniment. Some will be offended if it is too casual, but if the service is too formal it is not like "home."
  • The sermon is too theological, or it is not theological enough. There is no way to win this argument. You are either preaching down to people, or preaching over their heads. My compromise has been to make sure that everyone understands most of what I say. I sometimes do not get to say everything I want to, but I want everyone to get what I say.
  • The people are too cold, or they are too cliquish. We want the church to feel like a family, but we do not want people to put us on the spot. We want to feel warm and fuzzy, but we don't want to share anything too personal.

My father told me years ago that the only way I would ever find a perfect church was to start my own. The problem would be when someone joined my perfect church they would probably mess everything up.

The church is the body of Christ, the family of God. It is not perfect, but it is becoming what he wants it to be.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Profane Bumper Stickers

What is it with the bumper stickers, t-shirts, truck decals and such that are obscene? You have seen them. You know what I am talking about. Everywhere you look a particular brand of truck "su**s", or "s**t" happens. What have we become? If I see the word a** (be it smart, cheap or dumb) on one more shirt I may scream.

But what is at least as troubling as the profaning of our culture, is the acceptance of it but the rest of us. We look the other way. We shake our heads in disgust. But, we don't do or say anything. It is time that we started speaking up when we are offended. Take a stand when someone uses inappropriate language in your home, workplace or school. Begin to make a difference.

Think about the children around you. They cannot attend a movie where that language is used, but it is on the bumper of the car in front of you at the traffic light. How do you explain "f*** you" to an eight year old?

Here's an idea: Do not laugh the next time someone tells a joke with offensive language. Encourage your local businesses to not sell the decals, signs, shirts and other items with obscene language. Then, begin to improve your vocabulary and encourage others to improve theirs. There are much better words, more colorful and cultured, to say the same sorts of things.

I don't want to be a redneck, if being a redneck means that coarse and profane talk become funny to me. I don't want to live in a redneck society if it means that I am constantly, and without warning, subjected to profanity of any type.

I can't change the whole world, but I can do something about my part of it.