Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Another Year Passes

Tonight we say goodbye to 2008. I'm not sure if seeing the year pass into history saddens me or if it makes me glad. It has been a year with few major changes, positive or negative.

At the beginning of 2008, I believed that God was calling me to help with the planting of a new church. That has not come to pass. A number of circumstances came up which put that on hold indefinitely. God has also kept me in the current church, even though it is dying or dead. For some odd reason, there still seems to be a ministry for me there. I have no idea what 2009 will bring.

My duties as an educational assistant have changed. Instead of working in a single self-contained class, I now travel to a number of classes within the building. It makes the day go a bit faster and I get to work with a variety of students. I'm still coaching basketball, but this year it seems there is more teaching needed as far as skills go.

Our daughter, Jennie, has flown the coop and made her way to the left coast, where she is trying to leave her mark on the film industry. I'm looking forward to seeing how God works in and through her. Josh, our son, is halfway through his architecture studies, and is still enjoying it.

My beautiful wife, Jan, continues to minister in a Christian school, although this year her duties have increased. We are grateful that her parents are in town so we can see them and help them as they need it.

God continues to teach me, and strip ideas and beliefs from me that I don't need. I'm finding that I am being increasingly, as imonk so succinctly put it, "reduced to Jesus." I'm seeking to follow more closely the Rabbi presented in the Gospels, rather than than the one created by modern Christendom. I'm finding that the pursuit is a lifetime thing rather than a one-time "turning everything over to God". Actually, spending a lifetime trying to follow Jesus so closely that I am covered in the dust from his feet is not a bad way to live. There are days when I sense his presence right there with me, and there are days when I wonder where he is.

As I enter 2009 I journey down a back road that is shaded by trees that have grown over the road and made the path very dark. It's not scary. It's more like an adventure, like exploring a path that you know leads somewhere. The question is where? I don't have an answer. Only God does, and he hasn't chosen to let me know. So, I journey on, step by step, walking by faith and not by sight.

Maybe in 2009, the branches will part and a bit more of the path will be revealed.

Happy New Year everyone! May you have a blessed year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

TGIF

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas. It has been a busy, but nice week. Jennie came home from California and my sister and her family visited for a couple of days. We had a good time.

Here are the links from Christmas week, 2008:

Lindsey goes through a rite of passage. Mike Hollingsworth goes caroling in bars, and TSK writes about another famous Christmas Eve. Nakedpastor writes about a famous painting, while Jeff McQ tells us about his favorite, and un-favorite Christmas songs.

Scot McKnight is baffled. Josh wishes us a challenging merry Xmas. This is a great story. (HT: A Former Leader).

Only five days left in 2008. I pray that all of you have a very blessed new year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Sestina for Christmas

It's the time of year we call Christmas
A time we spend with friends and family
It's a time for us to worship
We worship a baby
Who was born in a stable
But do we worship the King?

The child who came was born a King
Do we just see a baby?
Who do we worship?
During the time we spend with family
In this season of Christmas
Who do we see in the stable?

It was strange there in the stable
Not the usual place for the birth of a King
But there was the baby
His mother welcomed him to the family
We call this Christmas
Who do we worship?

There is only one worthy of worship
He lay in a stable
Surrounded by his family
At Christmas
We too often forget the King
And focus on the baby

It is wondrous that he was a baby
Born in a humble stable
So we celebrate at Christmas
Who do we worship?
A King?
Or an infant in a human family?

Yes, part of a human family
Born a baby
In a stable
He is more. He is King
He is worthy of worship
At Christmas

As we celebrate Christmas, surrounded by family
Remember that we worship much more than a baby
Born in a stable. We worship the King!

Merry Christmas!

A Baby Changes Everything

Last night we were watching "A Home for the Holidays". It's a tv special about adoption. At the beginning, Faith Hill sang a song about the birth of Christ, and there was a recurring line that stated, "a baby changes everything".

To me, that sums up the message of Christmas. A baby changes everything. The world that this baby was born into was under the control of an oppressive empire. The people of God were in bondage and waiting for a redeemer to come and free them. Then along comes this baby, born into a working class family and placed in a feeding trough. What many of the folks at that time didn't realize was that the Redeemer had come. The One who would free them from bondage had arrived on the scene. Everything was about to change.

When Jesus began his public ministry and people began to follow him, most still didn't realize the extent of the changes that were coming. They didn't know that even their expectations had to change. They didn't see that the bondage they were under was spiritual and not just political. They didn't see that the Kingdom that was in their midst was a kingdom founded on love and grace, not on power.

Everything has changed. Because this baby was born in Bethlehem, because God took on humanity, we can now be saved from the oppression of sin. We can now enter the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom of love. Everything has changed because this Kingdom does not operate like the kingdoms of this world. This Kingdom turns things upside down, or maybe it's the kingdoms of the world that are upside down. Everything has changed because this Kingdom is concerned, not with serving self, but with serving others.

Everything has changed because this King will not die and allow another to take the throne. He has conquered death, and so His subjects will reign with Him forever in the new heavens and earth.

It's true. A baby changes everything.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Poem

People rushing to and fro
Traffic steadily building

Black Friday is going to save us all
Buy, buy, buy

Can't afford it? No matter
Take a year to pay the bill

It's your patriotic duty
Spend, spend, spend

What are we thinking?
We're missing something here

Do we have a clue?
Do we know what Christmas means?

The prophets knew
They predicted it

The angels knew
They sang about it

The shepherds and the wise men knew
They came and worshipped

Herod knew
He tried to have this rival killed

Christmas is a celebration because
The King has come

Yet we enthrone our own comfort
Worshipping the golden calf of Wall Street

We lust after power
Political, economic, social

We have forgotten something
We have forgotten this

The King has come
All the kingdoms on earth are His

The King has come
We are His

The King has come
Let us celebrate Him!


Friday, December 19, 2008

TGIF

I'm sorry there was no TGIF last week. The weekend was crazy busy and there was no opportunity to sit down and list the good links. Here they are for this week:

Todd Hiestand realizes the significance of Christmas. Alan Hirsch writes about Watership Down, and TSK thinks the Magi had mullets.

Brother Maynard reviews Dunn & Crowder and The Voice. I learned some things from The Inigo Montoya Guide to 27 Commonly Misused Words (HT: Brother Maynard). Here are some Spectacular Christmas Lights From Around the World (HT: Amy).

Women's Minstry Christmas Tea. Here's a good cartoon from Nakedpastor. Don't plan to be ignorant.

Are you "Christianized"? Brant Hansen has another blog post from Jesus. Grace takes the middle ground. Franklin is glad God won't go away, while John Armstrong has a five part series on the resignation of Richard Cizik from the NAE. Part one is here.

Mangerology from John Frye. Scot McKnight on conversion. imonk writes about Baptist additions to doctrine, and the Biblical command to holy joy. HOMEpdx could use some help. John Fonville writes on spiritual terrorism.

Dan Edelen has a good post on the parable of the two sons, and Josh wonders if there is a connection between hell and torture.

That's it for this week. I hope each of you has a very Merry Christmas celebrating the birth of the King.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Christmas Favorites

Amy has a Christmas meme of sorts over on her site. It's a good way to think back over some memories and favorite things about the season. Feel free to jump in and post some of your own memories and favorite things.

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate? Egg nog on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, hot chocolate the rest of the time.

2. Does "Santa" wrap presents or just put them under the tree? Our presents are wrapped. We enjoy the process of unwrapping. Of course, sometimes the wrapping consists of gift bags.

3. Colored lights or white? I enjoy seeing a lot of colorful light displays, but I also like the white lights. White lights seem more peaceful to me.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? Nope. No particular reason.

5. When do you put your decorations up? We used to put everything up a week after Thanksgiving. Now we get them up whenever we can find the time.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (including dessert)? I really enjoy all the cookies that are so prevalent this time of year. I like the fudge too.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? There is no one memory that stands out. I remember Christmas as a time of joy and love. My family was close and Christmas was always a good time.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I don't know. We always emphasized the birth of Jesus Christ. Santa was just something added on.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? We each open one gift.

10. Do you place a nativity set anywhere in your home? We have a number of nativity sets and we place them around the house.

11. Snow. Love or or hate it? I like snow for Christmas or at other times during the winter, as long as it doesn't stay around too long. We used to live in Cincinnati and grew tired of the snow. Now we live in the South and would like to see a little more.

12. Can you ice skate? Nope. Bad ankles.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? I've received so many wonderful gifts through the years, and no single gift stands out above the rest.

14. What is the most important thing about the holidays for you? The birth of Jesus, and being with family.

15. Do you mail out Christmas cards/newsletters? We send out cards every year, and insert a letter letting folks know what has happened in our family udring the year.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Reading the Christmas story on Christmas Eve, and having a big dinner with the family on Christmas Day.

17. What tops your Christmas tree? An angel.

18. Do you prefer giving or receiving? Giving. I love seeing other people open their gifts.

19. What is your favorite Christmas song? "Silent Night". I know a lot of people don't like it, and I understand the reasons why. To me the song speaks of the holiness of the birth of the Savior and King.

20. Candy canes. Yum or yuck? I love candy canes.

21. What do you want for Christmas? My two front teeth, or a hippopotamus. :) Really, I'm not picky. Just spending time with my family and friends is enough.

22. Do you attend a Christmas party? Usually a couple every year.

23. Do you dress up for Christmas Eve or wear pajamas? We go to a Christmas Eve service every year, so we dress up a little.

24. Do you own a Santa hat? No.

25. Who do you normally spend Christmas with? My family.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jesus

This past Sunday, our pastor was talking about everything being wrapped up in Jesus. Since then I've been wondering how true that is. Is everything really wrapped up in Jesus?

I know it should be, but when I look at my own life and the lives of those around me, I have to wonder. Is our life wrapped up in Jesus? Is the totality of our existence really all about him?

This time of year we hear a lot about Jesus, how he came to be born as a human, how he came to save us from our sins. Is there more? Is the Christmas story only one of God coming to earth, being born in a stable, and dying on the cross so we can go to heaven? I think there's more, but we have a tendency to pick and choose the parts of the story that make us feel good.

Some like the story of the little baby lying in the straw, with the shepherds and animals gathered round. They like the idea of peace on earth and good will to others. Add the ingredients of the American cultural Christmas and you have the makings of a nice holiday that makes most people feel rather good about themselves.

Some go a little further and emphasize the story of this little baby growing up and then dying to save us from our sins.They like the idea of avoiding Hell and going to Heaven. Couple that with a certain prayer to say and a set of propositions to assent to and those who have done that and are "in" can feel superior to those that are "out".

It's easy to forget about the three years that Jesus spent walking this earth teaching his disciples about his kingdom. It's far too convenient to focus on the beginning chapters in the Gospels and ignore that this child was born to be King, that he was the Messiah promised throughout the Old Testament, that he is Lord over all creation. It's also easy to concentrate on the final chapters of the Gospels and ignore that Jesus taught about the present reality of his kingdom as well as the future fulfilment.

Both extremes forget that, as Lord and King, Jesus calls us to move beyond the baby in the straw. He calls us to not be too preoccupied with the future. The King of Kings and Lord of Lords calls us to follow him.
A disciple follows his rabbi, his master, with the goal of becoming like him and being able to go make other disciples that will also become like the rabbi. An ancient Jewish saying stated that disciples should be covered in the dust from the feet of their rabbi.

Getting back to the idea of being wrapped up in Jesus; that is how our lives should be lived. To be wrapped up in Jesus means that we seek to live every moment in his presence, and seek to do every action with the same attitude that our Master has. We should strive to follow our Rabbi so closely that the dust from his feet covers us, so that when people see us in our day-to-day they see Jesus. It is not as easy as worshipping a baby in a manger. It is harder than agreeing to a set of beliefs or saying a certain prayer. It will cause us to lose our life. But, Jesus said that those who lose their life for his sake will find real life in him.

The world, and the church, needs people whose existence is wrapped up in the One who is setting all things right and who is coming again to finally bring his kingdom once and for all.

Friday, December 5, 2008

TGIF

I had a rare evening free, so I went to Books-a-Million for an hour or so. The shopping center was packed! I guess one advantage to having something going every afternoon and evening through the week is that I don't have to deal with all the holiday shopping traffic.

It's been unseasonably cold here in the sunny South. I think someone went north and brought the cold weather back with them. What has been warm is the blogosphere. Here's a taste of what's out there:

Dan Edelen writes about "persecution." John Fonville has a good post on the nature of the Gospel.
Here's a good poem from Jamie Finch. Julian Newman has some thoughts about partisan prayers, while Ben Girdler prays with eyes wide open.

Todd Hiestand has some good advice for leaders. Tony Jones is blogging from the Great Emergence National Event in Memphis. I hope he doesn't get BBQ all over the keyboard. imonk may have touched a nerve with this post. Check out the comments.

Scot McKnight thinks we should all use fountain pens. John Frye starts his own movement. Grace wonders if we're making disciples or converts. Are we bored?

Naked Pastor has an idea for churches.

In all the hustle and bustle of the coming weeks, don't forget those who have nothing to give.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mary's Song

The other day, I was thinking about the song of Mary in Luke 1. It was actually a pretty subversive thing to say in that day. I was wondering what Mary's song would sound like in the 21st Century.

Who would be the rulers in today's world? Who would be the proud? Who are the rich? Who are the humble and the hungry?

What in our consumer driven culture could the song speak to? What would Mary have to say to the Church?

What does it mean today that the King has come and is coming again? What would happen if those of us who say we follow this King lived as if we really did?

Just some questions rolling around in my head.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Happy Birthday, Jennie

This is a couple of days late due to too many things to do in too little time.

Twenty-four years ago, on a cold December morning - the only kind of December morning in Cincinnati - a baby girl joined our family. We named her Jennifer. Little did we know what we were in for.

We welcomed an individual who was happy most of the time, who sang herself to sleep at night, who awoke with a smile. We also learned what it was like to deal with a very strong will. We prayed that that strong will would be used for good and not evil. :)

As the years passed and we learned more about this girl, and she learned more about us, we grew to love her more and more each day. Although there were moments of conflict, we were thankful for the joy that she brought to us. I think we learned to squeeze a little more fun out of life ourselves.

This little girl grew into a teenager, and the relationship deepened and matured. We knew that the time was coming quickly when she would make her mark on the world. Through high school and college, she matured and began to seek out her path.

Now this little girl is a lovely young woman. She is full of questions, as all young adults are. Some of them I can answer. Some, only God can answer. I firmly believe that her Father will draw her close and let her know how much he loves her.

Jennie, I can't begin to tell you how much Mom and I love you. You are a true blessing from the Father. We are proud of you.

Weekend Wanderings

Weekend Wanderings will be away for the next two weekends. We're heading out to the Left Coast to meet our new grandchild, who is expect...