Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas is OVER...

There is often a big letdown after Christmas. Family members go home, messes must be cleaned, tree disposed of, and decorations taken down and packed up. Even worse, gifts of the wrong size must be returned, weight gained during feasting must be lost, spoiled kids coming down from sugar-highs must be reprogrammed, and credit cards bills must be paid. Days get dreary. Many people begin to struggle emotionally. Mental health experts tell us depression rises in the months following Christmas. An ABC News story last year said that depression cases have increased recently due to the sluggish economy.

How can we keep the after-Christmas-doldrums from happening? Answer: HAVE A PURPOSE.

So many preparing for Christmas surrender their own desires, give gifts, and love people (even some who are hard to love).’s all over.

You see, before Christmas, we had some purpose. For those experiencing the blues, now there’s none. Even through the hustle-bustle last week, there was joy. Music. Satisfaction of seeing people open a gift you gave. Reconnection with family and talk about Christmases past. Cards from friends. After Christmas, the joy can be extinguished like the holiday candles.

It’s pretty normal to experience the after-Christmas-downer. But it's NOT good to let meaninglessness rule our whole lives. yet so many people live like this all the time. They need to have purpose.

But instead, what do they do to cope?
Some HIDE in alcohol (or some other substance), in their work, or behind a mask.
Some QUIT. They give up on their marriage, or their dreams, or give way to bitterness.
Still others REBEL. “Forget God,” they say in their hearts. And they follow the world or their flesh.

May I offer a suggestion? GET PURPOSE. Know your part in THE Story God's telling (read previous blog).

Question: What is MY part in God's Story? How do I begin to find it?

The answer is found in Romans 12.

In the first 11 chapters of Romans, God reveals (through Paul) his story of humanity’s lost-ness and God’s plan to redeem us. It has been called the greatest theological work ever written. Then comes chapter 12. That’s where we are shown how to live in RESPONSE to God’s Story. So here lies the key to understanding our part:

In short, we are called to surrender ourselves, give gifts, and love people radically. Just like we did, in a lesser way, before Christmas.

Don’t believe me? Look for yourself...

1. Surrender yourself (vv. 1-2),
Romans 12:
1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

In case you didn’t catch it, we are called to surrender. See ourselves as sacrifices, and worship God by pursuing holiness. Not letting the world mold us, but letting God change us. THEN we will be able to know his will- SPECIFICALLY.

It all starts with surrender.

2. Give your gifts (vv. 3-8)
3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment (this is good for us in the ME generation. We tend to excel in self-esteem). 4For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5so we, though many, are one body in Christ...6Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Here’s the point: Take an honest look at what you have to offer. And starting with the body (the church—we are NOT Lone Rangers), give from what God has given us. Give your gifts!

3. Love people radically. (vv.9-21)
9Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

All of these are in the context of Christian community. We are to radically love our brothers & sisters. How? Start by being with them. Small groups are important! Then we can show love in the ways listed.

But Christian friends aren’t the only ones we are to love radically. Listen to how we are to treat our enemies...
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals (of conviction) on his head." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Did you get that? Genuinely love other Christians like family, and love your enemies...even when they hurt you! Love everyone. Overcome evil with good. That’s radical!

Before Christmas, I bet you were doing all this in a limited way...
1. surrendering yourself, 2. giving your gifts, 3. loving people radically. And it gave you purpose. And you were happy. You hummed carols. You longed for when they would see what you bought for them. You had times of joy thinking of warm memories. You made memories.

DO THAT WITH YOUR LIFE. Be a "Romans 12" Christian. Be a Christian.

THEN you’ll be on your way to knowing YOUR place in God’s Story. That’s what I’ll be talking about Sunday Jan. 2.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Traditions of Christmas

I read an a great article this morning and I've been thinking about it since. It is about how all the traditional elements of Christmas that we celebrate today came about in history. Things like December 25th as the day we celebrate, candles, Christmas trees, caroling, and the like.

Here's the article:

One thing I've been thinking about is this: rather than rejecting outright all things "extra-biblical" (as the Puritans once did, not allowing the celebration on the 25th), Christians have REDEEMED many different traditions, feasts, and festivals of different cultures (both Jewish, Roman, and Barbarian), making them a part of our Christmas festivities today. I love this! Isn't this what we are supposed to do as Christians? Overcome evil with Good? Several years ago I read a book called, Christ and Culture by Richard Niebuhr. In it he shows the different ways Christians interact (and have historically interacted) with the world's culture around them. He categorizes them in the following five ways;
Christ against culture
Christ of culture
Christ above culture
Christ and culture in paradox
Christ transforming culture.

Niebuhr gives specific examples of different groups within Christianity and how they interact with our world.
It seems regarding Christmas, the "Christ transforming Culture" has prevailed. I'm glad. Christ came to transform humanity, once created good and made in his image, now corrupted by sin, back to himself. We who have been redeemed, are on mission with Christ to redeem others.

Today and tomorrow, work to redeem the culture and traditions in which you find yourself interacting. When people are engaging in celebrations that may not bring glory to God, think of how you can redeem it. Overcome evil with good!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

THE Story

The Christmas story (not the movie, but the real account of Jesus’ birth) is quite a tale. Think about hearing it for the first time, as did the Herdman kids in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Who could come up with such a story? But the nativity alone is incomplete. It is only a part (albeit an important part) of the greater narrative that starts before time itself.

History is going somewhere. Evidence for this abounds. Other stories lend evidence of this in the way they resemble “the grand original story” of God. Through the centuries many have recognized that human myths, literature, movies, and other expressions of narrative, both secular and religious, are mere reflections of God’s story. “Even Pagan stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien (famed writer of Lord of the Rings) said, “are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through...real things" He believed that history truly is “His-story,” the literal Meta-narrative that God is telling. According to Tolkien, “We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.”

If you want some resources to explore this idea further, let me offer a few:

Epic by John Eldridge. This little book is awesome. You can read it in an hour or two and you will not be sorry. In it you will see that you have a key role in this story God is writing.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones Don’t miss this opportunity to walk through the Bible with your kids in a way that shows God's master plan for all creation. The artwork is excellent, and the way God’s story is told is incredible. I wish this book would have been around when my kids were small!

Tolkien: Man or Myth by Joseph Pearce. This is for you who love all things Tolkien. Pearce unveils Tolkien’s core convictions and the world in which he lived in order to help us understand what ideas might really be behind his great stories.

Pick a good movie. So many...Robin Hood (2010 with Russell Crowe), Avatar, King Arthur, The Matrix, Gladiator, Harry Potter, Braveheart, The Lion King, Star al. This Christmas break, take a night or two, make some popcorn and watch a good movie (age appropriate) and then TALK to your kids about how it reflects THE Story. So many of these movies are our day’s “myths” that reflect ideas from THE Meta-narrative, THE Story God has written, and is still revealing around us as history unfolds.

And the whole thing hinges on a baby.