Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Hard Rock Christmas

Our family enjoys the Hard Rock Café. When we travel we try to visit a Hard Rock Restaurant. We have eaten in the Hard Rock Café in Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Memphis, Las Vegas and Orlando among others. The food is not that great: It is a little expensive and not that different from a dozen other places that are more economical. Molly likes the Gift Shop. There are all sorts of key chains, t-shirts, posters and pins reminding you how great the Hard Rock Café is. I love the memorabilia. In Memphis we saw guitars from Johnny Cash and Elvis as well as handwritten lyrics by Bob Dylan. In Las Vegas I was able to pose with wax figures of KISS in all their glory and original costumes.

But maybe the best thing about Hard Rock Café is their Mission Statement: “Love All Serve All.” I am sure that it is just a marketing tool for the multi-national corporation that is Hard Rock, but “Love All Serve All” sounds pretty Christian. And even if it is not Christian, I have a hunch that if we take it seriously we can see that it is a pretty “Christmasy” thought.

I am proposing that we all celebrate a Hard Rock Christmas this year by loving all and serving all. Here is what I mean by that:

  • Love everyone. Remember that every person, even the unlikable ones, is created in God’s image. He has asked us to love everyone. The least we can do is love the people who are around us. Open your heart. Accept others. Love them.
  • Care for everyone. Although this may seem a little unusual, or difficult to comprehend, it is not hard to be concerned for people. You will be surprised at the extent to which people around you will tell you their needs and concerns. All you have to do is be interested and express concern for others.
  • Listen to everyone. There are dozens of people in your life who are lonely. Be available to them. Be interested in their lives and what they care about. Give them someone that they can talk to, no matter what.
  • Pray for everyone. Make a list of people who are close to you. Note those you work with, worship with or commute with. Pray for missionaries and the people they minister to. Pray for those who are hurting, hungry, ill, poor or lonely. Prayer is the first step toward putting your caring and love into action.
  • Serve everyone. Loving and caring are just a few short steps from serving. When you care for someone, when you love them, and when you pray for them, you will find very soon that you want to do things for them. Send a card. Prepare a meal. Make a call. It is not as hard to serve others as you might think.

Several years ago I became friends with one of the greeters at Wal-Mart. We would chit-chat as I entered or left the store. During bad weather I walk in the store for exercise. She and I would have daily talks about weather, how busy the store was or what I was shopping for. She learned that I was a pastor and sometimes I introduced my family. Then one day our relationship changed. I got to the store and said, “Hi. How are you today?” Julie said, “My husband died suddenly last week. I am so upset.” In an instant our relationship changed. I was able to listen to and pray for Julie right in the entry of the store because I had let her know that I cared about her.

This Christmas you can do the same. You may not be Hard Rock Café, but you can Love All and Serve All.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Gifts and Objects

Recently I have come to truly appreciate the online community of social networking. I have connected with old friends from high school and college. I have met new people with similar interests and hobbies. I have networked with colleagues and associates in ways that were previously impossible.

I have a Facebook page and a lot of friends. I keep a MySpace page, although I am much less faithful to it than I used to be. I also blog (as you well know). All of these things have been good for me. It lends some discipline to my life. All of this online activity has had a further, and unexpected, positive effect on me as well. It has caused me to expand my ministry.

Several weeks ago a friend from high school emailed me and asked for me to pray for his ill father. Just a couple of weeks ago another friend- this time from college- contacted me to ask that I pray for his wife who was going through a cancer scare. I think that this sort of "prayer requesting" is a great use of new social media. And when someone makes this sort of request of me I do not feel used or taken advantage of. I truly believe that that is why I am here.

You see, I believe that people are gifts to be cherished, not objects to be used. Our world has too often turned that around. We use people to our advantage. We get what we can from them and then we move on. We resist making any sort of emotional attachment so that the separation that is bound to come will not be painful.

We see this in the high divorce rate. Individuals within a marriage use one another and then leave. It is a commitment-phobic world that we live in. We know that someone will use us, so we work really hard to use them first. This is all so wrong!

You and I ought to work to change this. We should cherish people, all people. We need to love and value others whether they help us or not. Whether we can use them, or get something from them, we are to be gracious, loving, forgiving and accepting to people.

I am going to cherish as many people as I can today. How about you?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Weekly Prayer Thought

The LORD bless you and keep you;

The LORD make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;

The LORD lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”’ Number 6.24-261

Many worship services are concluded with those words. This is the benediction that God instructed Moses and Aaron to leave with the people. You have heard these words before. Perhaps you have spoken them to/over a loved one.

A benediction is a blessing that one Christian leaves with someone else. You see, Christians are blessed by God, and are encouraged to be a blessing to others. One way that we can do this is by praying for others. It is important that we do not forget to lift up our friends, family members, co-workers and brothers and sister in Christ up in prayer. Another important aspect of our prayer for others is blessing them. That is, we are to declare the blessing of God on other people.

For some this is a difficult thing. Who am I, some think, to confer some special spiritual blessing on someone else? The Christian is supposed to be humble, after all. We should never be so audacious, we think, as to think of ourselves to be spiritually superior than others. However, when we are in Christ, we are empowered by him and filled with the Holy Spirit. We are given authority to act on behalf of Christ himself.

Here is the good part: When a Christian confers a blessing on another- whether they be Christian or not- God confers the blessing. It is a mystery of the Christian faith. It is a miracle of the work of God.

So when worship ends, and I raise my hands to the assembled congregation, and I look at those who are seeking the face of God, and I make eye contact with those in need, and begin to say those words, "May the Lord bless you..." I know that he does. He has blessed you. He has blessed me. He is blessing us.

The Practices of the Christian Faith: Thanksgiving

In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5.18

The American tradition of celebrating Thanksgiving is not a Christian holiday. Thanksgiving has its roots in the Christian (puritan) celebrations of the earliest settlers to the American continent, but it was not until the presidency of Abraham Lincoln in the 1860’s that Thanksgiving was made a national holiday. There is not Thanksgiving on the Christian calendar. And yet the Bible enjoins us over and over again to be thankful.

You see, being thankful is something that we are to practice all the time. We are not to limit our gratitude to God to a particular season of the year. We are called to thank God at all times, in all situations. Of course, it is easy to make all these statements. We know intellectually that these things are true. However, in practice, an attitude of thankfulness is not as easy as one might think.

Since thanksgiving is required, let’s consider some ways that we can learn to be thankful.

  • Make a list of things for which you are thankful. Begin with some simple things like family, home, food, shelter, friends.
  • Practice being thankful. Recognize that we can be thankful in everything. God has given us all we need to live, to grow and to thrive. Thank him for all these things.
  • Learn to thank others for all that they do in your lives. There are people who care for you, love you, look up to you, and whom you look up to. Be sure to thank them all.
  • Tell others about what God has done for you. Be thankful and let others know that you are thankful. A spirit of thanksgiving is contagious. When you share your gratitude with others they will get grateful.
  • Commit yourself to being more thankful every day. Decide that each day this week you will express thanks to one person. Next week thank two people each day.
  • Spend time each day thanking God. It may just be a few minutes, but make it a priority to share your gratitude with the Lord.
  • Look for things to be thankful for. Pay attention to the little things in life and be grateful for them.
  • Realize that everything in your life comes from someone or somewhere else (God). Any good thing that happens is from Him. This will help you develop an attitude of thankfulness.
  • Gratitude should be a discipline for Christians. That means that we should not only think about thanksgiving in November. We should cultivate an attitude of thanksgiving. Each of us should learn to be thankful in every part of our lives. I am going to be more thankful during this Thanksgiving season. I hope that you will join me.