Monday, November 29, 2010

Change for Christmas?

What do you want for Christmas this year? No really? What do you long for this year? Advent focuses on anticipating and preparing for the coming of Jesus, the Christ. This sense of anticipation and preparation covers all three dimensions of time. We look back to see and learn from the manner in which the first century people longingly anticipated and prepared for the first coming of the Messiah. We too long for One whom will arrive and change our current situation. We also look now for ways in which the Anointed might appear in our current circumstances. We look for Christ’s presences in our current situation, in our current pain, in our current joy. We also expect and get ready for a future manifestation of the Christ of God in a world that still needs comforting, healing and reconciliation. In a basic human sense we all hold and anticipation of Christ’s arrival to change our current situation, we look closely to see Christ presently in our current situation, and we prepare ourselves for God’s comfort, healing, and reconciliation. That is what most of us really want for Christmas.

As we read and recall the stories of Advent, we must not forget John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a man of passion and conviction, who was not afraid to speak the truth. Unfortunately, speaking the truth and popularity don’t always go hand in hand and John paid the price for standing up for truth. In the gospel of Matthew, Matthew often refers his readers to references in the Hebrew Scriptures to help them to make link between the “Old” and the “New” Testaments. During Advent, he identifies John with the “voice crying in the wilderness” foretold in the Book of Isaiah. Despite his strange appearance or maybe even because of it, the crowds are drawn to see him and are convinced by his preaching. Many choose to be baptized. Others are attracted too. We are wrong to suppose that all the Pharisees and Sadducees were hostile to the preaching of John and later of Jesus. Many were hostile but some were curious and tried to understand how it related to the scriptures and teaching they had grown up with and loved. John’s challenge to them is to change. Change their way of thinking, change their current attitude, change they way they treat each other, and change the way they behave inside and outside the church. When we reflect on what we want for Christmas, what we really want let us focus on what we need to change about ourselves to receive that gift. How can be the link between to “old” and the “new”? Christ is coming, are you ready for the change?

See ya in church but until then take care of yourself and one another.


Monday, November 15, 2010

The SKI Generation

I recently became aware of a new phenomenon that is slowing gaining popularity through out our culture. It began with the Baby Boomer generation. The Baby Boomers are those individuals who were born post WWII until 1964. The Baby Boomers overflowed the nurseries in churches throughout the country. These larger families resulted in the largest increase of church attendance in the history of Christianity in America. 1950- 1060’s was unprecedented for church participation, attendance, and giving. Evidence of this is all the churches that built large education buildings, which at the times were desperately needed. As a group, they were the healthiest and wealthiest generation to that time, and amongst the first to grow up genuinely expecting the world to improve with time. One of the unique features of Boomers was that they tended to think of themselves as a special generation, very different from those that had come before. This generation no longer was interested in church life, nor valued the benefits of a faith community. This resulted in a decrease in church participation. The small church movement of the 80’s -90’s targeted the Baby Boomers to attract them back to the church. As the Baby Boomers begin their “senior” years they have been credited of now becoming the SKI generation. SKI is an acronym for Spending our Kids Inheritance. Statics shows that those of the Baby Boom generation would spend the inheritance they received from their parents in less than six month. As the parents of Baby Boomers pass away, after their lifetime of savings would be spent by their children in less than six months. Now the spending trends of this generation as they age are now spending the inheritance of their children also. They are spending it on vacations, cars, homes, land, travel, hobbies and paying down their personal debt. Inheritance spent on a search for happiness?

My intent is not to place blame or beat up on the Baby Boomers. Not all Baby Boomers are the same. But when one looks closer at the Boomers, they wanted the same thing as their parents. Something we all desire. We all want a better life. Deeper for us than the pursuit of money, power and material possession, deeper than our desire for food and our need for self fulfillment, lies the richness we find in contentment with what we have. All that we have and are express the love of God for us in Christ. The things with which we have been blessed, the tools we have been given, draw us into holy living, living in godliness, faith, love and hope.

God has chosen to give us what we need and not what we want. God gave Christ for us and to us. He delights in providing for our every need and for those of our families, friends and neighbors. He makes provisions for the great and small, the rich and all the children of the world.

True living isn't about what we own or the wealth we amass. Paul tells us, in I Timothy 6:6-19, riches are uncertain. True living, though, is about placing our trust in the God who richly provides all things for our enjoyment. Sun and rain, air and water, food and clothes are for all. For us, the good race of the faith is run in pursuit of treasures in heaven. It is there, Paul assures us, that we inherit the life which is the true life. The life we all truly desire. May each of us re-evaluate our spending, as we invest in love, friendships, and influence the lives on the ones we love. That's is a inheritance worth leaving and worth spending. I ponder exactly what inheritance am I leaving for my children. Where are my riches and what I am leaving behind?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Cup is Overflowing

There are brief moments in life that change our perspective and outlook on life. We all share brief moments that just sticks with us forever that changes ones moral compass in life. These are life changing moments that are really insignificant to the rest of the world. It happened to me on Bike Day. It was Bike Day at Abby’s daycare. We were a struggling young, broke family. When I say our family was broke, I mean counting out change to but food broke. We had a dose of reality that children were way more expensive than we figured. Kellie was trying hard to raise two kids, Abby and myself, and times were tough. Our marriage, our relationship with God, our finances, our sanity, everything was stretched passed the limit. Every aspect of life was at the breaking point. To top it off it was Bike Day. I got an old bike that Abby’s grandmother had bought her at a yard sale and we headed off to school. Abby arrived at school with the excitement of a four year old on Bike Day. With this old used, too little, scratched, beat up bike in one hand, and Abby holding on to the other, we head into to the school. We opened up the first door and there in the entry way were lined up beautiful shinny new bikes. Areal bikes, princesses, Disney bikes, all types of shinny new bikes as Abby’s face lit up like the fourth of July. She looked at the others bike and then looked at hers as I sat it down besides the others. She did not say a single word, but I stood there and watched as excitement, awe, enthusiasm all drained from her face. She looked again at the others bikes and then back at hers. She then paused and looked up at me, with those beautiful eyes, and said, “Its ok Daddy, I love you.”

My world with those words came crashing down. No father felt as low as I did at that exact moment. I kissed her bye and left. She be-bopped on in and joined her class. Instead of driving to work I drove to Target. I sat in my truck, tears rolling down my face waiting for the store to open. I was devising my plan on how I could steal my baby girl a bike. That transformation on her face was etched into my conscious. As I waited for the store to open, I kept looking at the clock, the store was suppose to open at 9:00 it was already ten after and the store was not yet open. As I pondered why the store had not open on time, I recalled her words. Simple words all fathers hear from their toddlers. “It Ok, Daddy, I love you.” She loved me, not a new bike. She loved me despite my ability to get her a material possession that others had. God granted me the serenity to see that I possessed the most precious gift of all. I had a daughter who adored me, who looked to me for protection, guidance, understanding, love, self image, and security. She looked to me for how to navigate in the world.I was her hero and I was about to steal her a bike? She didn’t need a new bike, she needed a new father. Call it a mystery, call it God’s intervention, call it coincidence, but I thank God for whatever reason Target did not open on time that morning. I left a different person. I left with my cup overflowing.

In the familiar song of David, Psalm 23 we are reminded that God anoints our heads with oil. It is a phrase we hear but I am not sure we all know the true depths of its meaning. God told Moses to make special oil and anoint specific things with the oil. The oil was to be used sparingly. When the items were anointed with the oil, they became holy. The ordinary becomes holy. It means they are set apart from the rest. It is called kadosh, in Hebrew by anointing with oil takes something plain and ordinary and makes it Holy. Those who are anointed with oil become an offering to God. This Holy thing becomes an offering to be used by God. God chose in Jesus Christ to anoint us, you and I, make us Holy and to be used to glorify God. Anointing with oil also had another purpose as a healing agent. It was used to remove the dangerous influences on us in our life, those things that are harmful or cause disease. Oil was used for medicinal purposes to heal us. God heals us, sets us apart, and makes our lives Holy.

You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. When our cup overflows, the vessels of our lives can not hold all the blessings God has in store for us. It is superabundance. God is able to do more than we can ever ask for or think of. God will accomplish more with us than we could ever imagine. God’s grace, mercy, a life with God will never run out. We have an unlimited supply of God’s blessing only if we desire to drink. The more we drink he more we want, and the closer we get to a right relationship with God. The more right relationship with God, the more we want.

Want does that mean for our life and our church? You may be asking. I thought this was about stewardship. It is. Stewardship begins we realize we are anointed by God, by the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. We are set apart from others to connect people to the love of Jesus Christ. We a little old ordinary church, a little life, with all our problems, worries and concerns becomes God’s Holy offering. When we acknowledge our anointing, we become like no other church, no other father, mother, grandparent, child, old adult, young adult, Elder, deacon, whatever we are in life. Even with all our flaws, frailties, uncertainties, pain, and anxiety. We realize we can do more than we have ever imagined. We might be at the lowest point in our lives and realize what’s truly important. We may think we are broke but our lives re4ally filled with riches beyond measure. We may begin to live not in the moment but in the longevity of our lives. We may realize what we are to others is more important than our current situation. We may hear the words of one who loves us, say I love you Daddy. We may realize God anoints our head with oil, and yes, our cup is overflowing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

“The Words We Learn as a Child”

As a child most of us learned the 23rd Psalm. I can recall as a child in Sunday School proudly standing in front of the church, in my “Sunday’s best”, my hair slicked down, with the sense of importance, as my voice much louder than the rest, announcing to the congregation and the whole world: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want..” Once a memory verse as a child, I now repeatedly use these exact words from my childhood in funerals as words of comfort in times of pain. When we really look at the Psalm of David, we find nothing but words of comfort. Comfort at times of uncertainly, uneasiness, and uncomfortable situations. In the seasons of congregational life, there is no other uncomfortable time for many than stewardship time. Some minister’s veer from preaching or focusing on stewardship because it can be interrupted the wrong way by a few people. They avoid addressing it because we do not want the appearance of “all the church wants is your money” syndrome. This week, we at FCC will begin a time of reflection, prayer, and focus on stewardship. Stewardship is more than filling out a pledge card, writing a check, or paying your way. Stewardship is a vital part of our relationship with God and one another.

The Psalm of David recalls that “God will anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” When we recognize that our God anoints our head with oil, which simply means God will bless us, heal us, and pours out his blessing upon us our faith is strengthened. Stewardship is about recognition of the great things God has done for us. Our life might have some rough spots, we might be financial strapped, but if we pause and look at the totality of our life, we will see God’s many blessings. In acknowledgement of the blessings God has bestowed upon us, we then realize our cup overflows. Our cup overflows in so many ways we don’t realize. Our cup overflows with friendships of people in our faith community that have lasted decades. Our cup overflows with generations coming together in unity to worship. Our cup overflows with opportunities to reach out to a community in Christ’s name with Centralia Group Workcamp. Our cup overflows with comfort and support in the prayer shawl/quilt ministry. Our cup overflows with young people who although they may be loud and make a mess; they bring us the sounds of hope for a vibrant future. There are thousands of ways our cup overflows so we must respond. We must be willing to sacrifice something for our relationship with God. When we realize our cup is overflowing, we must be willing for the sake of our relationship with God to do more than we have done in the past. Take time today to count your blessings. Some may be out in the open, some may be hidden, but acknowledge how God has anointed your head with oil. Then we can begin to explore what true stewardship is all about our lives will be transformed as: surly goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life…
See ya in church, count your blessings, and take care of yourself and one another.