Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reflections on a Year

Another year has come and gone. (That's kind of a lame way to start, isn't it?) It seems like the older I get the faster the years seem to pass, and 2009 was no exception. I've heard that the only thing that remains constant is change, and that has certainly been true this year.

As the year opened, Jan and I began going to a house church on Sunday evenings. The friend who I was going to help plant a church invited us to join him one night. There were about four or five couples there, as well as some children. We enjoyed the fellowship and continued to go every week. As time went on, my friend and his family never came back. Other folks came and went, and through this fellowship we began to help at a local camp that was getting started that summer. Now the house church has faded away, as an organized gathering, but we still get together with the host couple on a regular basis, sharing food, discussing spiritual things (sometimes), and serving some of the less fortunate together.

In June, we went out to California to visit Jennie. Josh had already driven out there, and he was out tour guide during the day. We saw where Jennie works and even "helped" during the filming of a short film. When we returned home, I finished my duties at the church we had been a part of for fourteen years, and we began to look around for a community of faith that would better fit what we thought "church" should be. At the same time the discussion about planting a church came up again, and within a couple of months, St. Thomas Community Church came into existence, meeting in a local bagel shop on Sunday mornings. God is working in our little community as we gather to explore God's story and our part in it, and how we can follow Jesus in our day-to-day.

As the summer went on, the school where Jan was teaching closed. As you well know, this is not a good time to be looking for work. Jan ended up getting a part-time position in an assisted living facility. God has continued to be faithful and provide for us, although things certainly are tighter.
My duties at the school where I work changed again. I'm now in a class for emotionally disabled students. It is more challenging than what I was doing before, and I realize more and more how dependent I am on God's grace. I'm still coaching basketball, and that is a highlight in my day.

In October, Jan's mom went to be with Jesus. All of the family came in during the days before she passed, and it was good to see folks we hadn't seen in a couple of years. It has not been an easy holiday season for us.

As I look back on the past year, I can see many things God taught me. Things about trusting him, about grace, about living in the moment. A couple of my paradigms have shifted, and a couple have been completely dismantled. (Someday, I'll write a post about those things) I think the biggest change is that I have learned even more that my schedule, and my plans, are not mine. I need to hold everything with an open hand, and allow the Father to do what he sees needs to be done. So, as one year ends and another begins, I continue to try and follow Jesus on this winding road he has called me to.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

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!

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Baby Changes Everything

One night last year we watched "A Home for the Holidays". It was 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.

Friday, December 18, 2009

TGIF

Today is not only Friday, it is also the last day of school before Christmas vacation. It's cold here in the sunny South, relatively speaking, and there's supposed to be a "wintry mix" hitting sometime today.

Enjoy the links:

Shaun Groves replies to those people.
An Advent confession.
New Year's resolutions.
Lessons from EPCOT.
The truth behind suffering.

Six floors of Sunday School?
Are you putting any of these on your tree?
Christmas vegans.
A good post from Bob Hyatt.
Live nativities.

What or who?
John Armstrong asks if we've missed Jesus.
Quotes on learning.
Scot McKnight found this article depressing.

This will probably be the last TGIF of 2009. Next Friday is Christmas Day and I'll probably not be blogging that day. Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Poem for Christmas

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 becauseThe 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!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

World Vision Wednesday

There are a variety of ways to give this Christmas, from gifts found in the catalog to giving to areas where emergency gifts are needed. To find out more about emergency needs visit this page.

Christmas Questions

Here are some questions posted on someone else's blog last year. Feel free to answer them for yourself, either in the comments or on your own page.

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. My parents used to hang it in the dooorway leading into the kitchen.

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 and pies 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? Celebrating the coming of Jesus, and being with family.

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

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.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jesus

Here is another post from Christmas past:

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.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mary's Song

This Christmas season, I'm reposting some things I wrote last year.

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?

Friday, December 11, 2009

TGIF

We had one fairly warm day here in the sunny South, but the rest of the time it's been colder than normal. According to the Farmer's Almanac, this winter will be colder and wetter than normal. I believe they might be right. The basketball team I coach is undefeated. I know it's only two games, but still.... We play tonight, so we'll see what happens.

Here's the good stuff:

Statistics and mustard seeds.
Interesting question.
Karl Barth meets the emerging church.
This is good.
Re: Tiger Woods.
Have you ever felt like this?
Looks like this might be a good read.

Just in case you haven't bought your Christmas tree yet.
Donald Miller's Christmas list.
Annoying gifts.
I know he's my son, so I may be biased, but this is good.
The mood of advent.
Entering the story.
How to avoid consumerism at Christmas. (HT: Scot McKnight)

Is Advent Biblical? (HT: also Scot McKnight)
Jason Boyett is not "standing" for Christmas.
Jonathan Brink on bottled water.
Table fellowship.
Have you been inoculated?
Brant Hansen sings.
The Road.

Have a blessed weekend and a good third Sunday of Advent.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

World Vision Wednesday

If you are still looking for that perfect give for the person that's hard to shop for, or the person who has everything, check out the World Vision Gift Catalog. There are many ways to give a gift that will "keep on giving."

Monday, December 7, 2009

Musings

The last few weeks our community has been looking at the first six chapters of Genesis. We 're approaching the Bible as God's story, and looking at God as he is revealed through each part of the story. What we have seen so far is a God who goes by different names - Elohim in some parts, and Yaweh in others. We've seen a God who feels, who cries out in anguish after Adam and Eve eat the fruit. A picture of God has emerged that is passionately in love with his creation, and seems to change somewhat after punishing those who disobey him.

As we have gone through this story so far, I have started to wonder about a few things. In my journey, I have gone from being certain about what Scripture teaches about God and his dealings with men to having questions, from holding a tight systematic theology to realizing that things just don't fit into a nice neat package. Some who knew me back in the day would say that I have slipped into near heresy, at least. Others would say , "Well, he never was that good of a student anyway." That's fine. I can live with that.

Maybe the Calvinists and the Arminians are right. Maybe God is sovereign and in control, yet at the same time gives us free will. Maybe God is unchangeable and changing, responding to the different things his creatures do. Maybe God's purpose for his creation will be fulfilled and people can hinder that purpose, at least to some degree. Maybe God is all-knowing and in some sense learning as he goes along.

There are a number of things that are seeming contradictions in God and how he deals with what he has created, yet somehow fit into his eternal purpose and nature. I'm not sure at this point in life that any of the systems we have come up with over the centuries have a handle on this whole idea of God. I've come to realize that God is far bigger and wilder than what we can even realize, that there is no box in the universe large enough to put God in. I don't think God wants us to understand him or figure out everything about him. I think rather, that God wants us to know him, to have a relationship with him based on his love toward us and our love back to him. He wants us to experience him as a loving Father, not as a subject to be dissected and studied. Jan and I have been married for twenty nine years, and while I know her better than I did when we first met, I will never know everything about her. But, my love for Jan grows stronger every day as I spend time with her, rest in her love for me, and seek to serve her and love her. I believe that's the kind of relationship the Father wants with us.

I am comfortable with the questions. I don't have to be absolutely certain about everything. Actually, I'm looking forward to being in the Father's presence and being amazed at how everything worked out.

Friday, December 4, 2009

TGIF

Another week has come and gone. Basketball season is in full swing, and the days and evenings are packed full of activity. There are two weeks left before Christmas break, and then I'll have two weeks to relax with family and friends.

As is my usual practice, here are the links:

Imperfect love.
Shane Claiborne in Esquire (HT: Brian McClaren)
What Scot McKnight thinks of The Manhattan Declaration.

Did Jesus ever go to England? (HT: Scot McKnight)
Does anyone remember this?
The Gospel in all its forms.

Heretics changing the world.
God's best bit of multi-media.
The reconquest of creation.

Camels and needles.
Putting Satan back in Christmas.
The Abominable "O Holy Night."

Eggnog!
Unifying faith and praxis.
Have a merry fair trade Christmas. (HT: Tim Hill)

Good thoughts on the season.
Evangelicalism and special seasons.
This is a good song.

Faith or fear?
Kansas Bob on eschatology.

This Sunday is the second Sunday of Advent. Remember the anticipation of the Jews that the Messiah was to come, and our own waiting for him to return.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

World Vision Wednesday

This past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, so this is a bit behind. You can download an Advent guide from World Vision here.

Yesterday was World AIDS Day. There are many ways to help some of the least of these whose lives have been impacted by this disease. Find out here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Little Girl

Twenty five years ago today, on a cold Saturday in Cincinnati, a little girl came into our lives. She had given us a bit of the warning that she was coming the night before, at a basketball game. That would prove to be foretaste of what was to come.

We learned quickly that this child would be different than her brother. She was always an active girl who would sing herself to sleep at night. Fiercely independent, this little girl and I locked horns a few times, although she was always "Daddy's girl." As she grew, I knew that this bent would serve her well through her years.

As she grew into her teenage years, I had the joy of coaching her on the basketball teams at school. That experience bonded us closer, as we spent a great deal of time together. I watched, and ached, as she went through the usual high school stuff of trying to figure out relationships and dealing with friends who weren't always the best. (What is interesting is that those friendships have continued through the years) I watched this daughter figure out who she wanted to be and how she wanted to relate to others. I saw her develop into a beautiful young lady. When she went to college, I cringed sometimes at the decisions she made, but I always felt proud of her, and I knew that the questions were eventually going to lead her to a faith that was real and was her own.

Now this girl is on the other side of the country, and sometimes it's hard to see what life throws at her and not be able to be there. I know that her heavenly Father loves her even more than I do, and that he is shaping her into the person he wants her to be. In all, I am confident that God is going to continue the work that he has begun in her.

Happy Birthday, Jennie. I love you, as I always have. You are a blessing from God and I am so thankful for the privilege of being your father. I pray God's grace and blessings be yours in abundance.

A New Morning

It was quite definitely early morning now, not late night. "I'm so cold," said Lucy. "So am I," said Susan. "Le...