Friday, December 18, 2015

Christmas - God's Personal Invitation

Have you ever shown up at someone’s front door for a party and as soon as you’re greeted by the host you realize you weren’t invited? The tongue-tied greeting gives it away, and soon all doubt is removed when the host hollers back to the kitchen to see if there’s enough food for another guest.  Awkward! 

Or how about you show up at the restaurant where you’ve overheard a group of co-workers conspire to have lunch and when you walk up to the table you see there are no empty seats.  A well-intentioned invitee asks the table next to them if that extra chair is available and they squeeze you in between two other people whom you can’t believe were included over you.  Embarrassing!

It’s painful not to be invited.  And even if you've never suffered the embarrassment of showing up uninvited it’s agonizing to be asked by a friend why you weren’t at the lunch, the party, the wedding, the celebration and your only honest yet heartrending response is, “I wasn’t invited.”  We all long to be invited and when we are not we often look to disparage the inviter.  We accuse them of snobbery, elitism, ignorance, or just being too big for their britches!  We argue ourselves into believing that we wouldn’t have accepted the invitation even if they had hand delivered it themselves.

God has been and can be accused of many things, but no one can bring the charge against him of not inviting.  Without doubt, his invitation comes with some terms but the invitation is open to everyone and this is no more evident than in the life of Jesus.  In fact, Jesus is accused of being too open as he invites and accepts invitations from people whose names were never found on invitation lists.

Throughout human history God has been inviting us through prophets, priests, and preachers but the birth of Christ, Christmas itself, perhaps is the most compelling of God’s invitations. You see, Jesus didn’t come to earth on a vacation.  Who leaves a perfect paradise for a fallen planet?  Jesus didn’t come to earth on a fact-finding mission.  Do we think God doesn’t know what’s happening here?  Jesus didn’t come here to judge us.  We do a pretty good job at that. Jesus came here to invite.  Jesus came here to let us know beyond any doubt that God finds no greater joy than having you at his party.  And to make that perfectly clear he didn’t just send prophets, priests, and preachers - he came himself.  This season every time you look at a nativity scene you’re seeing a personal invitation.  The divine hand made human extending itself to all of us.  A poignant reminder that you are indeed invited to the grandest event the world will ever know.

No more awkward greetings.  No more scrambling for an extra chair.  In God’s kingdom you’re always welcomed with enthusiasm and there’s always a seat just for you. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Brewed, not rushed

I'm told that smells have the power to evoke powerful memories and one of those smells in  my life is fresh brewed coffee.  Every morning of my high school days started with my dad drinking his morning cup of coffee and, although I don’t drink it, the smell always reminds me of those mornings.

My dad had one of the oldest drip coffee makers known to mankind. In fact, it may have been the original.  As I remember it, the coffee grounds would be placed in an upper chamber and boiling water would be poured in and slowly the water would seep through the grounds and collect in the lower chamber as coffee.  It may have taken a while for the process, but for him it was well worth the wait.

I often wonder how my dad would take to these modern cup-at-a-time-in-a-minute coffee  makers we have today. He would likely say something like,  "Son, it takes time to make a good cup of coffee.   Trying to make a cup of coffee in a minute just doesn't work."  And, " You might have a cup of brown water there but is it really worth drinking?"  I suspect he would ask for his old drip coffee maker. 

Now those modern cup-at-a-time-in-a-minute coffee makers may do the trick and my father's response may be way off base, but his logic may still be true.  Some things need to take some time.  Some things need to percolate.  Sometimes when things are rushed the results may be less than ideal.

James, the brother of Jesus and author of the New Testament letter that bears his name, reminds believers that there are at least two things that are better when not rushed.  He says, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."  Speech and anger should never be rushed into.  They need to be brewed not hurried.

My experience and observation prove that to be so true.  The words I would like to retract are most often words that have rushed through my lips rather than having spent their proper time in my mind.  Anger has been destructive when it is reactive rather than thoughtful.  James would later say in the same letter that an untamed tongue has the destructive power of an uncontrolled fire.

The smell of coffee reminds me of those cold New England mornings and the time it took my dad to brew himself a good cup of joe.  It also reminds me that some things take time.  That smell reminds me that words and anger are two of those commodities that really aren't worth the effort until they have had ample time to percolate.  James' words ring true: Be slow to speak and slow to become angry.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Religion and Politics

Don't you just love this season?  I'm not talking about fall; I'm talking about election season.  Polls, debates, policies - they all just add up for a fascinating combination of mudslinging, political mumbo-jumbo, and image control.  I wouldn’t call myself a real political person, but I must admit there is something about this cycle we go through every four years that intrigues me.   It's also interesting to observe how Christians perceive this process in differing and even opposing ways.

Some Christians stay completely out of it.  The kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world are two separate entities.  Neither Paul nor Jesus ever encouraged political action, accept to submit to the authorities, so why should we be the least bit concerned about laws and offices.  Let the people of the world take care of those insignificant details while I dedicate my full attention and allegiance to the eternal kingdom.  Real change and transformation has never been an act of government, it is solely an act of God.  It's not that they don’t want a better and more spiritual world, they just don’t think the governments of this sphere are truly capable of bringing that to pass.

Some Christians get right in the middle of it.  One way we can be the salt and light of the world is to enact change through the political process.  We have not been called to retreat from this world, but rather to engage it.  Sure, we are all citizens of the eternal kingdom, but we are also, albeit temporarily, citizens of our respective locales and our voices need to be heard.  It's not that they think government is THE answer but it is AN instrument of God to bring about righteousness and holiness.

I tend to believe this qualifies as one of the disputable matters Paul talks about.

In recognition of that, allow me to remind you that there is not only an important election next November, there is one this November.  There are several state and local propositions that will be decided this Tuesday and, if you are so inclined, you get to have a voice.

In any case, enjoy the season be it fall or election season - or both!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Our Battle of the Axe

This week is a special week for Sherman and Denison high school football fans.  It's the annual Battle of the Axe.  (If you're not from Denison then just think of your high school's biggest rivalry and you have an idea of what I'm talking about.)  I'm not sure of the origins of the rivalry and why an axe is emblematic of that rivalry, but the occasion prompted me to do a little search through the Bible for any references to axes. (I'm a preacher, that's how my mind works!)  I thought there were and lo and behold I discovered  "Ax" is found 8 times in the New International Version while "Axe" is found 11 times.  I have no clue why there are two spellings of this word, but that is for another time and place.  Anyway, my search revealed no mention of Bearcats and Yellowjackets, but one reference especially seemed relevant to Christians like you and me.

Solomon, or whoever wrote Ecclesiastes, makes several observations about the world we live in and one of them has to do with an ax.  Ecclesiastes 10:10 says," If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed, but skill will bring success." (NIV)  I like the New Living Translation that reads, "Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed." I also like the New Century Version's rendering:  "A dull ax means harder work. Being wise will make it easier."

I've probably swung an ax fewer times than I've been to the Battle of the Axe but I have had some experience with dullness (no pun intended).  A blade, whether it be on a knife or a saw, makes work so much easier when it is sharpened rather than being dull.  Sharpening a blade may not seem to be accomplishing anything but it really does.  It makes the work we do easier.

Some people see going to church, listening to sermons, singing religious songs, and all the other things we do when we get together on Sunday as a waste of time.  Au contraire!  Worship and Bible study is kind of like sharpening our axes, and as we get sharper we'll find our job, whatever that may be, a little easier the rest of the week. 

The Battle of the Axe may be this Friday in Texomaland, but really every week is a battle and every week we need to be as sharp as possible!  I hope when you go to worship you leave a little sharper than you were when you came, because let's face it, most of us can't afford to get any duller!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Lesons from a Yard Sale

A couple of weekends ago my wife and I decided to put some things out in the front yard and have a yard sale.  You learn a lot from having a yard sale.

Lesson #1:  I have neighbors!  I already knew this of course.  I see people, the same people, driving up and down my street and walking into houses near me, but I sadly confess I have not been the neighbor I should be.  It seems we've become pretty adept at holing ourselves up in our air-conditioned and entertainment equipped homes that we can easily forget there are real people living all around us.  As we sat outside in our front yard people from up and down the street came by and said hello.  We may not have sold a lot, but we did get to know some new people.  I learned it's hard to love your neighbor when you stay safe and protected surrounded by your walls.  I might need to let some walls down and step outside a little more.

Lesson #2:  Kids are the best shoppers.  When a car would pull up and kids would shuffle out we knew we had a sale.  There was more than a fair share of kids toys that our high school boys were willing to part with, so we had plenty of bait for eager children.  It's so fun watching them rummage through the well-worn gadgets and doohickeys that entertained our kids for years but now were ready to serve that same purpose at a new address.  And what's so refreshing about watching those kids is that it really didn’t matter that there was no fancy packaging or recognizable labels.  Kids, and it seems the younger the better, are not impressed with labels and tags.  I suppose we learn that deceptive lesson as we get older, but isn’t it wonderful to see kids finding joy in simple things.  I think that may have been something of what Jesus meant when he told us to be like little children.   If we could see the world through their eyes we may find ourselves less bothered by appearances and more amazed by the simple joys all around us.  

Lesson #3:  I have a lot of junk.  For the last several months my wife has been boxing up our potential yard sale items.  The evening before the sale we carried the dusty boxes down from the attic and early Saturday morning loaded it all on the tables.  I guess everyone's yard sale fantasy is for someone to come by and offer you an outrageous amount of money for all your stuff and you can run off to the bank and take the rest of the day off.  That didn’t happen.  In fact,  the crowds were slow to appear and the tables remained full.  Sure, some things sold but sales were not near as swift as we had hoped.  At one point my wife said to me she was amused at the thought of how delighted she would be if someone would just give us a dime for that thingamabob that at one time we couldn’t live without.  Isn’t that strange?  Things that we once thought would make our life complete we would gladly part with for ten cents.  How has stuff managed to deceive us so completely and clandestinely?  Sitting at that table eager to part with my "treasures" the words of Jesus rang so true:  " Life does not consist in an abundance of possessions."

It was a good yard sale.  We met some neighbors, were entertained by some kids, and cleaned out our attic.  But more importantly we were reminded of how temporary stuff is and encouraged to set our hearts on things that will last.