Monday, December 28, 2015

Messy Grace

Wouldn't it be nice if, when someone merely mentioned the name of Jesus, people became Christians with no baggage, no past and no consequences from their past? What if, at the very mention of grace, everyone became nice and neat and could simply take their place next to us in our favorite pew? Not our seat, of course. But next to us in a pew that miraculously and suddenly had room for one more.

Unfortunately, that is not the way grace, or pews for that matter, works.

I recently finished Messy Grace, by Caleb Kaltenbach, a book I believe should be required reading for every Christian. Oh, I suppose the ideas have already been recorded somewhere in a book that is considered required reading for Christians, but somehow many of us have missed the application of truth that the Bible offers.

Does it make sense if I say that Messy Grace is groundbreaking while not actually offering anything new? I don't mean that in merely the sense of 'there is nothing new under the sun' as we read in Ecclesiastes. I mean that Kaltenbach has literally taken the example of Jesus and the encouragement of the New Testament writers and applied it in the way which should be foundational for people who say they love Jesus.

Caleb writes that grace is necessarily messy, because it is the mixture of truth, something we often use as a weapon, with love, something we don't use enough of. To make matters even more sticky, he applies it in this book to the subject of homosexuality. But not simply the topic, but the people who identify as homosexuals.

He admits that people on both sides of this divide will likely disagree with him at points along the book, but thankfully, he wrote it anyways. I was thrilled that Caleb did not simply give us bumper stickers or new banners to wave, but gave us practical action points and plenty of opportunity for discussion.

Like many books, this one offers discussion questions along the way, making this a good group read. I received this book from my good friends at Blogging for Books. They don't tell me what to say, but simply ask that I say something.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Christmas Story is a Call to Action

This is something I shared with my youth group recently...because not even a Christmas party is an excuse to stop pursuing teens with the clarion call of Christ. 

I found a list of the "must-have" gifts for Christmas for the past 30 years. This is what had to share.

In 1983 everyone had to have a cabbage patch doll. In 1985 we just had to have an $18 Pound Puppy. In 1989 American households scrambled to get a new Game Boy, followed by the 1995 Beanie Baby craze, and the 1996 Tickle Me Elmo frenzy. In the ensuing years American consumers knocked themselves out to buy the following top yearly must-have Christmas gifts: a new iPod (2002), A Wii (2006), a Kindle (2010), the Angry Birds Board Game (2011), the Doc McStuffins doll (2013), and the Frozen Sing Along Elsa Doll (2015).

Not much over the past 30 years has changed. We’ve proven over and over again that we’ll buy lots of garbage in mass quantities. Except for the serious collector, most of us no longer have any of these items, nor do we want them. But, at least for a year, they were must have.

And if any of you have ever been Black Friday shopping, you know that getting a hot items takes planning, some dedication and focus, and maybe the shedding of some blood.

But I wonder where else in our lives we see such focus and dedication.

Casting Crowns has a song where they talk to Bethlehem as a city and asks them if they realize the King of the universe came into their city while they were sleeping.

Have we ever truly considered the kind of sacrifice Jesus made?

Maybe the first Christmas for Jesus was a lot like Christmas vacations for us. It all starts out pretty good. Some days of shopping and some more parties. Then we get to wake up on December 25 and open up gifts. That’s a good day.

Then we have another whole week of family, something we don’t always do well with. Yeah, we love these people, but sometimes 2 weeks with them pushes our sanity to the limit. Hear me clearly, it shouldn’t be like this.

Maybe we’d prefer to get the gifts and then go do whatever we want to do.

What if Jesus’ experience was like that? What if He looked past the scratchy manger, the smelly animals, and the smelly people? What if he enjoyed hearing the angels singing and the shepherds worshipping? Maybe He even enjoyed the wise men coming a few years later with gifts?

But then He endured a trip to Egypt. How fun are long-distance trips by donkey? What if He didn’t like being treated as a child? What if the pressures of being a teenager didn’t sit well with Him? What if He wasn’t interested in carpentry?

I haven’t even gotten to the part of His life where He started telling people He was God and they gave Him grief instead of respect!!!

At any point in time Jesus could has been uncomfortable or offended or sad. At any point Jesus could have decided that the whole earth mission was pointless and went back to Heaven.

But He didn’t. Why? I think John 3:16 provides our answer. ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.’

God loves us.

God understands that without Him, we die and live eternity without Him.

God wants us to be with Him. “Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” ~2 Peter 3:9b.

Have we ever had a focus like that? Have we ever wanted anything so bad, that we were willing to deal with discomfort and adversity in order to get it? Do we approach Jesus the same way He approached us?

God spoke with shepherds, led wise men on a long journey, made a mom out of a virgin and gave a step-dad the biggest responsibility ever. Why was God willing to intervene in all of these people’s lives? Because He loved a whole lot more people.

Are we willing to bring discomfort to other people? Are we willing to offend them if needed, with the bold claims that God loves us and sin exists in us, and these two are incompatible? Are we willing to embarrass ourselves and be counted in with people who are accused of being weak-minded, fairy-tale following fools?

Do we have the focus to remember the Christmas story during the dreary days of winter, the long weeks with tests and homework, when parents don’t get us and friends reject us? Can we remember that this story is not simply something we read before we open up presents, but an invitation, a call to action? 

 Jesus was willing to stand out for us, are we willing to do the same for Him?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas and Noise

Each Sunday our children collect change for missions. As we got closer to Christmas, the big bucket was emptied for year-end numbers. And this was how the great juxtaposition of Christmas and noise was about to be experienced. 

As our ladies played a special number on the piano and organ, our kids collected change. Except now, the change they collected was dropped into an empty bucket. Can you hear the change thumping and clanging against the empty bottom of a 5-gallon bucket? I could. 

The background to the noise was the playing of O Holy Night, a soft and melodic tune. Or perhaps the background to O Holy Night was the change being dropped in the bucket. It's kind of hard to say which was which now. 

But it was the familiar sounds of Christmas mixed with the familiar sounds of....noise. One might have wished us to plan differently and have the ladies play apart from the collecting of money. That would have been one way to go, I suppose. 

Yet I imagine the first Christmas was a strange mix of angels singing, barnyard animals mooing and bleeting, and....despite what the one carol suggests, even a crying baby. 

Can you hear it? It's the mixture of music and noise. It's the mixture of the heavenly and the earthly, the supernatural and the mundane. It's God meets Man in its most perfect form. 

It feels out of control. It looks messy. But maybe that was the point. If God came to Earth to show us His abundant love for each of us, then there was necessarily going to be a meeting of the perfect and the imperfect, of good and evil, of light and darkness. I don't think God got down here and was surprised by how messy the world is. 

Perhaps that is part of the lesson of Christmas for each of us. We can sing the Christmas carols. We can wrap gifts in pretty paper for friends and family. We can enjoy the most Pinterest-perfect Christmas goodies. But the news on Christmas Eve will still be bleak. The problems that existed before the Christmas season will still exist after. 

It's Christmas and Noise. 

But I have hope. I believe the sounds of Christmas, the true sounds of Christmas, will overcome the Noise. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Love Does Not Envy

Among the silly and insignificant things I post here, I also share the chapel moments I have with a room full of preschoolers. I'm honestly not sure why I go in with a plan, since I never know what's going to happen once I open my mouth. Herding cats might be more predictable. 

I'm taking them through 1 Corinthians 13 this school year. Here was the latest...

“Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy.”

I've always marveled at the transition between being thankful for everything we have on Thanksgiving Day, to shopping for all the new stuff we want to be thankful for on Black Friday. So I asked the children the following questions.

  • How many of you have made a Christmas list for your mom and dad?
  • How many of you are looking forward to seeing Santa?
  • What if you don’t get everything on your list? Will you be mad at Santa? Or will you be thankful for what you do get?
There is something that often happens around Christmas that is a problem for everyone; boys, girls, and even Moms and Dads. It’s called envy. That means that we want what other people have.

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” ~Proverbs 14:30

At this point I pulled out a regular egg, clean and white.

Let’s pretend this egg is what all of our hearts look like at first. Then we start to look at what other people have. We begin to want what they have. We become envious of what they have.

Then I pulled out an egg I had soaked in a glass of coke over night. 

Soon our hearts will begin to look like this second egg.

You know how too much sugar can cause cavities in your teeth? When we envy “stuff,” it can rot the attitude of our hearts, just as the cola will rot the eggshell. I let this egg soak overnight in a can of soda. If I had left it longer, the soda would start to eat away at the eggshell.

  • How does envy damage your heart?

The Bible also says that love does not envy. Because when we love God, we believe He will give us whatever we need. Then we’ll be thankful for everything He gives us.

“Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy.”


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Real Christmas Story

If I write a non-Christmas article in December, will I be ignored by everyone who started listening to Christmas music in October? If I write a Christmas-themed thought, will I be ignored by all those sharing the spirit of Grinch and Scrooge?

Silly me, forgetting that most people ignore me all year long. Why would December be any different?
As anyone who writes any article, blog, book, etc. can tell you, there is an attempt, perhaps assumed and unspoken, by the author to reach the reader. Right where they are. If there can be some magical connection point between those who are not even in the same room, then the goal has been achieved.

This is why many simply choose to write whatever is on their heart. If I share my heart in an honest and open way, the thought process goes, then whoever miraculously happens to be touched was likely at a point of needing that word. So cast a wide enough net and you may just snag a few more readers along the way.

Others will aim their writing where they think the need is at the moment. These authors are after the same goal, mind you; they simply come at it from another direction. They want to touch the heart of the reader.

And while comments sections abound, and the forms and abilities to contact authors are numerous, it can still cause a moment of fear to spread through the author, wondering what impact his words will make.

Obviously, I can't speak for any other author about their feelings, but if any of this is accurate for anyone else, it could also have been true for the Author who sent a Word 2,000 years ago. His omniscience aside, He had to wonder how people would receive His Word.

We can read that Word and know exactly what was on the Author's heart. In fact, we can also know that there would be many who would choose to ignore His Word, His heart, His calling.

And yet...

There would be others. Others who needed what He had to say and received it like a long drink after a tiring journey. Some who were convinced after a short time and others who struggled the entire way to belief.

Unlike many authors who may never fully realize what impact their writing has made, the Author knows. In fact, when the connection point between Writer and reader is made, that is when the real story begins.