Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Are you pulling?

My daughter and I went for a picnic a while back. We brought the two miniature dachshunds with us. The day was sunny and warm; a perfect day for a picnic. Sasha and Lucy were excited to get to go with us.

We found a table in the park that happened to have a post nearby to which we could attach the leashes. As we ate and talked, I noticed that Sasha, the older of the two dogs, was exploring all the area her leash would allow. Lucy, on the other hand, pulled her leash tight and sat there looking at us.

I continued to look over at the dogs occasionally, and while Sasha was always on the move sniffing some new weed or something, Lucy kept her leash pulled tight. She didn’t seem to care what was within reach.

I suddenly realized I am sometimes like that. Though I don’t wear a leash, I know there are limits and boundaries in life, and I am the kind of person who sometimes pushes at the edges of them.

What’s more, I know that God has set limits and boundaries for us. Not to punish us or keep us from enjoying life, but for our own good. As I look back over my life, I have to admit that some of these limits I have pushed and stretched at, too.

The thing that struck me about Lucy, though, was how much time and energy she was wasting just sitting there, pulling at the leash. Sasha was sniffing and hunting and discovering with reckless abandon. Lucy just sat there.

Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. All the abundant life God wants us to enjoy is within our reach. Why pull and press at the boundaries?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Holiday Confusion

Forget the gifts you got but really didn't want. Stop shaking your head about the gifts from a friend who you thought knew you, yet the gifts imply you've never met. The most perplexing thing that happens this time of year is the NFL Playoff Picture.

Yes, Virginia, the Cowboys are still alive! The phrase, "If the season ended today" ought to be stricken from the language. The season didn't end today. It ends Sunday.

Yet, for at least two weeks sportscasters and other prognosticators have been laying out various possibilities for the playoffs. If this team wins, those two teams win or tie, and this other team losed by more than 10 but less than 20 points, then YOUR TEAM is in! I got through two semesters of college calculus without thinking this hard.

Isn't it nice to know that there is something that isn't variable; that does not depend at all on what anyone else does?

God's grace, forgiveness, and promise of healing are more sure and certain than heat in August. God's love for us and over of salvation through Jesus are not dependent upon anyone else's wins, losses, or ties. In fact, the offer isn't even dependent upon your own actions. it is all at God's pleasure.

Isn't that good news!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Thoughts for Christmas

My brother-in-law died sixteen years ago this week. Mike had only been my brother-in-law for 2 years. He died at 41 of a rare form of lung cancer. No, he had never smoked. He worked in the furnace room at a ball bearing plant. He left behind a widow and three sons, the oldest of whom was 6.

Mike was an interesting man. He had served a stint in the Marines, then come home to work at the factory. He kept a perfect yard and a meticulously clean house. When they hosted the family Christmas, every breakfast dish had to be washed, dried, and put away before a present could be opened. The family budget for groceries was meager, but they made it.

Since I was the preacher in the family I was the obvious choice to perform the funeral. I was fresh out of seminary and had never done a funeral, let alone one for a family member who, as far as I knew, had little to do with church or God. What would I say?

I thought a lot about Mike’s life. He was a gentle man more than a gentleman, and as trustworthy and reliable as the day is long. The quality I found in him that I actually found myself envying was his satisfaction with what he had. Mike worked hard and was frugal. He didn’t seem to have much. On the other hand, he also didn’t seem to want much that he didn’t have. As far as I could tell, Mike was happy and content with the little he had.

Saint Paul wrote a long time ago that he had learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself. I didn’t really learn what this meant until my first funeral, as I reflected on the too-short life of a brother-in-law.

And couldn’t many of us use a good dose of contentment this time of year?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

To Worship or not to Worship...

What is the world coming to? Even the New York Times is dismayed at the fact that some churches have decided not to have services on Sunday since Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year. A lot of folk are up in arms about this, suggesting that these churches have given in to the commercialization of Christmas.

I have to admit that I quickly jumped on that bandwagon. I was shocked and appalled that a church would cancel services because the regular day of worship coincided with a holiday – especially when that holiday was Christmas! I have read many of the articles and blogs on the matter. I have received more than my share of emails. It seems there are folk who felt the fabric of our society is threatened because churches, especially large churches, are forgoing worship services on Christmas Day.

I am still not sure I can make sense of it, but I have come to this realization: everything in the world does not have to pass muster with my own personal preferences and understanding. Dare I declare apostate those who refuse to gather on Sunday, December 25th? Not a chance. Ought I give my brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt that they have thought through the issues and have made a careful and thoughtful decision that takes into account they people they serve? Would I not expect that consideration of them?

Even if we cannot pull together “Peace on Earth” or “Goodwill to all” this Christmas Season, do you suppose we could at least take the day off from criticizing and condemning one another?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Just when you thought it was safe to impose democracy on a nation….

With the Iraqi election tomorrow, security is high. I heard a report this morning that a truck had been stopped in Iraq trying to smuggle false ballots into the country on the eve of their historic election. The truck had crossed the border from Iran.

Who do those Iranians think they are meddling in a sovereign state’s election? This isn’t the first report I have heard; I am sure you are aware of others, too. Iran has been trying to influence and manipulate the direction Iraq moves for years.

Can you imagine a nation doing that? What does sovereignty mean if not that a people has a right to self-determination? How can a nation be expected to survive, much less become the nation we want them to become of there are other nations out there trying to influence them?

Do you get the irony of ANY American complaining about things like this?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

One Good Blog Deserves Another

Johnny Brower is a friend of mine who also blogs. One of his latest, about treating the Bible as an "Instruction Manual" is well worth reading.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Hangers On?

Can I share a problem with you? I know; this time of year we don't want to think about problems. We just want to think about getting everything done so when Christmas day gets here we can all join with family and friends and act happy.

As I emptied the dryer this morning, I was once again confronted with the fact that I have more shirts than hangers. Since I don't ordinarily have all my shirts clean at the same time, it is not usually a problem. Today; though, all my shirts are clean. For right now, some of them are laid over the back of a chair instead of being hung up. Please don't tell my mom.

Like I have many times before, I made a mental note to buy some hangers. (I wonder where I have left all those other mental notes?) Then, it happened. One of those radical thoughts I only like when it calls for someone else to change!

I realized that I have shirts I haven't worn in over a year. Even so, I keep them, hung nicely in my too-large closet.

What if, instead of getting more hangers, I gave away some shirts?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Whose Christmas is it?

Christmas belongs to Christians. Even “Xmas” is of Christian origins; “X” is the first letter of the word “Christ” in Greek.

There is an awful lot of fuss this year about whether or not it is Christmas time or the Holiday Season. According to some, there is a huge movement to secularize, or make unreligious, the whole time of year.

Some of the debate seems fair to me; it is a bit extreme to try to sterilize from public discourse all reference to the generally Christian heritage of the United States. It is clearly unfair to public school students to attempt to deny them the freedom of religious expression.

What concerns me, though, is the great indignation many seem to have brewing over stores and corporations that have chosen to “de-Christianize” this time of year. Some preachers are calling for boycotts of such businesses.

In American society Christmas has increasingly meant more about shopping and gathering for parties than it has meant the birth of Jesus. This is sadly almost as true in the church as outside it. Since Christmas in our society is mostly about commerce and sales, it seems to me that Christians don’t have much ground on which to criticize or condemn businesses for doing what they think will most help their sales. If that means calling it “Holiday” instead of “Christmas,” so be it.

On the other hand, perhaps the trend toward the secular has crossed a line for Christians. Perhaps we are indeed tired of the commercialization of Christmas. Perhaps we have finally collectively come to the point of saying “ENOUGH!”

Or perhaps we really aren’t upset that Christmas has become all about spending money. Since the outcry is about buying from certain stores rather than buying as a whole, I think we are more concerned about cultural clout than keeping the holiday about Jesus

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Do THEY think this way about US?

Remember the exciting days of the early 70s, when the Nixon presidency was collapsing? If you don't, surely you at least remember the interesting years of the Monica Lewinsky scandal in Clinton's presidency.

One of I'm sure many things these two eras share in common was the too easily bandied-about cynical assessment of the situation: "They all do that; it's just that this time someone got caught."

In fact, we don't just say this of our presidents; many tend to qucikly slough off almost everyone's moral lapses.

Perhaps you have been following the story of Jimmy Finley. I worked an Epiphany with Jimmy about 3 years ago and enjoyed getting to know him. I was totally surprised by the allegations that came out last Friday.

In discussing the situation with a friend, the old "they all do that..." came to mind. I have been reading into the emergent church movement (is it a "movement"? That's a question for another blog...) One of the things I appreciate about that line of thinking is it is taking seriously the perceptions within our larger culture of such things as "Church" and "Christianity."

Right or wrong, fair or unfair, those of us who call ourselves Christian must take such perceptions seriously.

When an unbeliever or unchurched person reads the latest account of alleged pastoral misconduct, do they shake their heads and say "they all do that..."?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Isn't Christmas a holiday?

I just don't get it. Oops, I think it is my gen-x-ness showing through again.

There are an awful lot of people growing concerned, even irate over the replacement of "Christmas" with "Holiday" in a lot of public and corporate settings. There are even groups "organizing" not to shop at stores that call the time of year "Holidays" instead of Christmas.

O, that life were so good I had nothing better to deal with than whether WalMart and Target called the season "Holiday" or "Christmas."

ISTM (which is online lingo for "It Seems To Me") that Christians ought to be more concerned about other things than what some corporation chooses to call the time of year. Or are we really so simple minded that, like Steve Taylor sung 2 decades ago, "We'll only drink milk from Christian cows"?

Should not we be more concerned, say, not to give any financial support to corporations that pay their CEO's more than 300 times what the lowest ranking employees make?