Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wishing you a more Peace filled New Year

There will be good times and there will be bad times.  As you know, life has its ups and downs.  There will be births and there will be deaths, joys and sorrows.  So, prepare yourself.  You will experience both highs and lows this coming year.  Still, you may have greater peace.  How?

First, accept the reality of your human condition.  We are finite, limited, and dependent creatures.  Humbly accept this truth.  Once you accept this, it is easier to welcome God’s oversight in your life.

Second, make peace with your Self.  Perhaps by now you have realized that you are not this great, wonderful, and perfect human being that you thought you were.  You have flaws, you’ve made more than your share of mistakes, and you have even hurt precious loved ones along the way.  You have many regrets.  Welcome to humanity.  This is normal.  The challenge is to dare to ask for forgiveness and to receive mercy along the way.  Embrace God’s grace for your fumbling, wayward, and rebellious mistakes and let God nurture an inner peace within you.

Third, make peace with others.  You too have been hurt, by others.  He, she, they are stubborn, blind, ignorant, foolish, selfish, inconsiderate, and more.  Remember the saying, “Be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet”?  Apply this, not only to yourself but to those with whom it is difficult to accept, tolerate, and forgive.  They too are a work in progress.  For your own peace of mind and heart, hand them over to God, let-go of your grudge against them—more inner peace.

And finally, make peace with God.  We’re used to blaming the person at the top for things that go wrong; we hold the boss, the manager, the owner, the president, the elected official responsible for everything that goes wrong.  “Fix it!  Correct it!  Make it better!”  We demand.  And we carry this attitude over to God.  “God,” we say in our hearts, “start doing your job and make this world a better place to live in!”

Turn this demanding attitude around.  Let’s not blame God.  God is not our enemy.  Neither is God responsible for human error, greed, pride, hatred, anger, and evil choices.  Rather, worship God as God.  It is we who are answerable to God, not He to us.  Make peace with God by embracing His love, letting His grace wash over you, cleansing you from all unrighteousness—even more inner peace.

Have a Blessed and Peaceful New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Don’t ask, Don’t Tell and the Christian

Paul the Apostle said in his letter to the church at Corinth: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons—not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world [my emphasis].”  A few sentences later he explains, “God will judge those outside [the church].”  See 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, 13.

In short, Paul is saying that Christians are not to assume or expect that people outside of Christ’s church will embrace the same high standards of morality as the church expected of its adherents.  There is nothing new under the sun.  The Roman Empire had its share of sinners, fornicators, idolaters, etc.  It’s the way of the world.  Followers of Christ however were expected to actually practice a higher moral standard and do so without demanding that those outside the church, Roman society as a whole, live by those same standards.  Why?  Paul made a distinction between the Christian community and the greater social/political community of Rome.

That being said however, anyone that did claim to be a Christian was to be held accountable to the Christian community to live by Christ’s standard of morality as in for example, “whosoever looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28), or as in “You shall Love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, strength, and… love your neighbor as yourself.”

“My Kingdom is not of this world.”  Said Jesus to Pilate, the Roman Governor who questioned him before having him crucified. 

“But our citizenship is in heaven….”  Said the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi (3:20).

“We’re in the world but not of the world.”  Ever hear that said?  The idea comes from Jesus when he prayed for his disciples just before he was arrested and crucified, as recorded in the Gospel according to John (17:14-19).

Clearly a Christian’s ultimate allegiance is to a Rule and Ruler that is above and beyond that of any earthly one.  That is, there is no present earthly Kingdom, Rule, Power, Authority or national entity that stands for, or represents the Rule of God here and now.  We have no Theocracy on earth.

So, what should be the Christian response to the removal of the “Don’t ask, Don’t tell” policy for the military?  First, the Christian community should humbly recognize that many of the old creeds, dogmas, and tenants of the Christian Faith no longer hold sway over many American citizens.  Indeed, Christians have to admit that there is even vehement division within the Faith Community itself let alone the greater population, over this issue.

Christians should therefore stop acting like bullies, pouncing on anyone who happens to disagree with preciously held Christian beliefs, values, and standards.  That is, it is not our place as Christians to demand or coerce others into accepting or submitting to our own faith-held values, convictions, or rules of conduct.  Paul himself was a Roman citizen but he never used his Roman citizenship as a vehicle to force other Roman citizens to submit to Christ’s rule over their lives.  He did however use his citizenship as a means to gain greater access to an audience to hear his message so as to possibly persuade them to accept Christ’s rule in their hearts and lives.  There is a big difference in motive, means, and outcome between these two approaches.

Secondly, we need to begin to live up to our own values and standards; I should say, we need to begin to live up to Christ’s standards as he both lived and taught them?  For example, are we the people of grace and mercy, love and respect, humility and compassion that Jesus modeled for us, truly pursuing a righteousness that “surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law” (Matt. 5:20)?  Or are Christians to act like and be viewed and experienced as nothing more than modern day Pharisees—holier than thou, quick to judge and condemn, and more eager to see the iniquitous burn in hell than to see a miscreant embraced, loved, and forgiven?  Remember that Paul would say that we are all guilty of iniquities and in need of grace.

Finally, it seems to me that Christians ought therefore to be the first to pave the way in showing respect, kindness, and grace to all people(s) with whom they disagree—as to beliefs, behavior, and lifestyle—even while holding true to deeply held Christian faith-values and standards of righteousness, justice, and holiness.  It can be done.  Christians have done so for centuries throughout the world and under many different regimes, governments, and authorities.   There is indeed nothing new under the sun.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

No Offense Intended and None Taken

Jesus, born of a virgin, Son of God, God becomes Human!

Get real!  Impossible!  Get your head out of the clouds and come back to reality.

But are such ideas, beliefs if you will, really all that ridiculous?  I’d say no more than the idea that there could be life on another planet in some far off corner of the universe, a belief and hope that many very astute scientists hope to one day observe.

Take the concept of God becoming human or in-fleshed (incarnate).  Is this impossible for God to do?  Of course, some might argue that it would be unbecoming of God, something that would be beneath God’s “Godness” to do, but that’s a different question.  The question is, is it impossible for God to become human as such?  If we say that it is, how can we know?  It’s not our place to say what God can or cannot do, or even should or should not do?  Only God can tell us.  And if God did just that through the person of Jesus, what then?

Same thing for the Virgin Birth.  Is it impossible for God to cause a virgin woman to conceive and bare a child without the input of a man?  Again, it is not a question of would God do such a thing or should God do such a thing but simply can God do so.  It’s really not so farfetched to say, yes, this would be something that God could do easily enough, if God so desired it.

In other words, to believe that Jesus is “The Only Begotten One, Son of God,” in and of itself, is really not that ridiculous.

Of course, many choose not to believe these things about Jesus.  They respect his person, His teaching, His life and impact upon the world, but as to Jesus being born of a virgin, being thereby the Son of God and Savior of the World; well, suffice it to say that it’s just too much for them to swallow.  But, hey, that’s okay.  Many believe and many don’t.  That’s the way it is and always will be.  Here’s the point: There is no need to take offense either way.

Dear non-believer, please allow those who do believe (these things about Jesus) to keep Christ in Christmas.  For, it is the very person of Jesus, the Christ/Messiah, received and believed on as the Son of God, born of a virgin, lived, died, and rose again from the dead on the third day, that brings energy, joy, light and life to the celebration of Christmas.  Without Jesus Christ there would be no Christmas in the first place (a thought I’m sure that many wish was the case).

So please allow Christians to say, “Merry Christmas!” not simply “Happy Holidays.”  No offense is intended and no offense need be taken.  Believers can respect non-believers and non-believers can respect believers by letting each have and own their preferred expression.  If you say “Happy Holidays” to me and I say “Merry Christmas” to you, do we not both mean good will and good cheer toward each other?

It’s all good.  Why become nitpicky and demand political correctness?  I say “Merry Christmas” and you say, “Well, thank you, and Happy Hanukah to you!”  Is there a problem?  We both are blessing one another’s celebration and that’s as it should be.  Is it not?  If you say, “Thanks but I am an atheist; I don’t believe in Christmas.”  I’ve caused you no harm, have I?  I haven’t hit, hurt, or wounded you by wishing upon you something you don’t believe in, have I?  The intent is still that of goodwill.  Is it not?

So you don’t believe; may I not still wish you a blessing from God?  So I believe and you don’t; may you not wish me a happy holiday anyway?  In short may we not wish each other the best out of who we are and what we believe?  To do so means that our good wishes for each other are truly sincere, for it comes out of what we really believe.  And what we truly believe shapes who we really are.

So, when a Christian says “Merry Christmas” to you, remember that we say it simply out of our firm belief in Christ.  Thus, we are saying it with sincere interest in showering you with a blessing of goodwill, wishing you the best as we’d hope you’d wish for us.  So, don’t take offense if we exuberantly wish you our best wishes out of our belief.  If you don’t believe, you don’t believe.  No offense intended, and hopefully and graciously may none be taken.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bad Year for Christmas?

Lower wages, higher expenses, job insecurity, and your family has downsized from a two income to a one income household, and not by choice!  Money is tight, anxiety is high, you’re barely making ends meet, and here comes Christmas!  It looks like it’s not going to be “a good Christmas” this year.  What to do?

Two simple but not very acceptable options come to mind: (1) reject Christmas altogether or (2) close your eyes, avoid reality, and spend, spend, spend—providing that your credit limit is not already maxed out!

Underemployment means little money; and “no job” means no money.  That’s reality.  But must that reality change the Christmas experience?  Is it possible to celebrate and have a good Christmas even when you’re broke?

How about a third option?  How about returning to the heart of the Christmas celebration with a devout celebration of faith, food, fellowship, and fun?  You may not be able to do much about your empty pocket book.  But a change of heart, soul, mind and spirit, costs you nothing and is far more enriching than anything you can buy at the mall. 

Start by turning Christmas back into a Celebration of Faith.  Take your family to any number of the various musical, dramatic, and liturgical Christmas Services that churches within your community present at this time of year.

If you’ve not been to church in years, go with an open mind and most especially an open heart; relax and enjoy the service, take it all in.  And here’s the challenge, while doing so, seek God and ask for a spiritual awakening.  What a priceless gift that would be to receive!

If you are a regular church goer, participate whole heartedly sing, read, pray, worship—celebrate the birth of Christ, the gift of salvation, and the Faith.  Make it as meaningfully applicable to you and your family’s circumstance as possible.  Seek a change of heart and attitude; re-connect with your spiritual riches—“blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit….”

Secondly, do not be ashamed to celebrate Christmas at whatever economic level you can afford, but do celebrate.  Start with what you have and where you’re at.  Consider what you do have and what you can afford, ignore what is beyond your means.

Food is festive!  So then, while sticking to your budget, make or buy special treats and delectable dishes that you and your family will enjoy eating together.  Get the kids involved in cooking, baking, or buying these treats.  Let the food itself be celebrated as a family gift.  Eating a celebratory treat with plastic fork on paper plates can be as delightfully tasty as eating off gilded china with silver spoons.

Thirdly, deliberately connect with others of a kindred spirit.  In church language it is called “fellowship.”  Seek the company of likeminded souls and invite that company over to celebrate with you (or accept their invitation to share with them), a simple, humble Christmas celebration that is truly honest in its gratitude and humble in its simplicity but is nevertheless sincerely celebrative.  That is, share.  Pass the spirit on.  It cost nothing to be kind and polite, throw someone a smile, or offer a helping hand.

And finally have fun.  Be inventive.  Find a way to enjoy not only what you have, but also a way to enjoy it with others, having fun as you do so.

In short, when it comes to celebrating Christmas, attitude is everything.  One’s spirit and mindset—the heart—makes all the difference in the world.  Children pick up on this immediately.  If you have a woe is me, poor us, self-pitying attitude entering into Christmas, so will your children.  There is no place for self-pity in a Christmas celebration, for it ignores the greatest gift of all—“For unto you is born this day, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  (See Luke 2:10-11.)

Your attitude, undergirded by your actions, will demonstrate to your children that Christmas can still be enjoyed and appreciated even when there is very little under the tree.  (The animated story of The Grinch Who Stoled Christmas makes this point quite nicely; don’t you think?)  Don’t focus on what you don’t have or can’t get.  Rather, focus on what God may want of you and for you.  Use these difficult times to ignite or reawaken a spiritual vitality, a renewed hope and faith, faith that can move mountains. 

Jesus said of Himself, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  (See Luke 4:18-19.)  Perhaps this is the year in which God’s favor shall shine upon you.

p.s. Wellspring Church of Skippack’s Christmas program is December 18, Saturday, 6:00 p.m.  All are welcome.  Many other churches in the area also have excellent programs.