Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas

In the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13 is known as the “love chapter.” Someone has created a special Christmas version (author unknown) of this chapter. I share it here, as it provides practical insight into how we can love, specifically at Christmastime.

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny ornaments, but do not show love to my family, I’m just a decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the tree with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir’s cantata but do not focus on my love for family, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child. Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband. Love is kind, though harried and tired. Love doesn’t envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way. Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust, but giving the gift of love will endure.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Under the Sun

I’ve been in a small group Bible study the last few months and we’ve been reading through and discussing the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.  I’ll tell you this, it’s not a pick-me-up read.  In fact, when you read through it you may be surprised that this stuff is even in the Bible.  Ecclesiastes has a very pessimistic approach to life as characterized by a couple of repetitive phrases found throughout the book.

“Vanity of vanities,” is one of those phrases.  The word “vanity” is found over 35 times!  That’s a lot given the length of the text.  Vanity is not a word we use all that often, so some translations have chosen other encouraging synonyms like, “meaningless”, or “useless” or one of my favorites, “nothing but smoke”.  To add to that, another popular phrase the author uses to describe life is “chasing after the wind.”  Have you ever tried to chase the wind?  Take my word for it, you’ll never catch it.

One verse that pretty much sums up the theme of Ecclesiastes is this one: “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14, NIV).  Doesn’t that put a smile on your face?  Who let this crazy talk into the Bible?

We’ve tried to make sense of this enigmatic book and have found that the key to understanding this less than enthusiastic approach to life is found in yet another repeating phrase found in the book.  It’s right there in the verse just referenced.  Perhaps it stood out to you. If you miss it then Ecclesiastes is a one-way trip to depression and despair, and I’m pretty confident that’s not God’s destination for us.

The key phrase is “under the sun”.  It’s found almost as often as the word “vanity.”  So, what is the author getting at with that phrase “under the sun”?

I think the phrase calls us to consider our approach to this world.  It causes us to wonder what the meaning of life is if there is nothing but this “under the sun” existence.  Now, of course, we know that there are lots of things above the sun – innumerable stars, other galaxies, planets, and who knows what else – but since Ecclesiastes is in the Bible it’s best for us to think of some spiritual interpretation of “under the sun.”

We’ve concluded that this key phrase is calling us to consider life’s meaning if what we see and touch and hear is all that there is.  It’s an approach to life that believes there’s nothing more to life than atoms, and molecules, and DNA.  It’s asking us what the meaning of life is if there is nothing above the sun – not stars, galaxies, and planets, but God and eternity.  If “under the sun” is all there is then don’t we all have to agree that life is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 

Ecclesiastes is primarily a description of life without God.  It leads us to despair only to point us to a better way of life.  A life lived in awareness of things we cannot see.  A life of hope and meaning because there’s more to this world than what’s “under the sun.”  Ecclesiastes whets our appetite for what is real and eternal -  the above-the-sun God who turns meaninglessness into meaning and despair into hope.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Repentant Repo-man

Repo Man Helps Pay Off Bill for Elderly Couple's Repossessed Car (ABC News)
I’ve never had anything repossessed but I imagine it must be quite a dispiriting event.  For whatever reason, an elderly couple in Illinois, Stan and Pat Kippling, recently had their car repossessed by Illini Asset Recovery co-owner Jim Ford.  I’ve never had to repossess anything either, and that is not a job I envy.  The repo-man is not the man you want to see knocking on your door.  But this repo-man added a surprising twist to what usually is a sad story.

After repossessing the car, Mr. Ford decided to call the bank to see if he could somehow pay off the couple’s debt.  What tug at his heart-strings was that the elderly couple reminded him of his late grandparents.  He knew their financial struggles with their increasing medical expenses and a fixed income, and assumed that this sweet couple was handed the same fate.  Repo-man set up an online fundraiser and in less than eight hours he had enough money to pay the car off. 

Many of us have had that sinking feeling when we’ve gotten in too deep.  We open the bills and wonder how we’re going to make the next payment. Imagine having a bill you had no possible way to pay off?  If you’re having trouble thinking of one, let me remind you that all of us are in that exact situation.  All of us have incurred a spiritual debt that we can never pay off.  All of us are on the repo-man’s list.  All of us deserve to have him knocking on our door. 

All of us deserve that, but then again this story of ours has an even more surprising twist.  Our compassionate God has decided to pay off our debt through the blood of His one and only Son.  Deserving of death, he has given us life.  Lost in despair, he has given us hope.

The Bible uses many words to describe what God has done for us, and one of those words is “redeemed.”  It essentially means that God has paid a ransom on us, or has lifted a debt we owed.  We have been released from a debt that we have incurred and that we could never repay.  The repo-man has come but God has intervened to come to our rescue.

The apostle Paul knew what it was like to be in serious debt.  He was a persecutor of Christians and even oversaw the execution of the first Christian martyr Stephen.  After he converted to Christianity he wrote extensively about redemption and grace and forgiveness.  And even though his sins may have been more obvious and despicable than many others, he also knew that all of us were in the same boat – waiting on the knock on the door from repo-man.  That is until God stepped in.

In one of Paul’s letters Paul reminds Christians of our good fortune and gives thanks for God’s compassion.  He wrote, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7-8a, NIV)

God has paid our debt and no debt is too great for Him.

When repo-man turned philanthropist Mr. Ford returned the car to its owner, Mr. Kippling, he replied it was “just like hitting the lottery.”  Imagine the relief Mr. Kippling felt.  Imagine the joy.  Imagine the gratitude.  That’s what Paul felt as well, and that’s what all of us can feel knowing that the debt has been paid.