Monday, December 22, 2014

So This Is Christmas?

I am sure you’ve heard the song by John Lennon “So this is Christmas and what have you done? Another year over; a new one just begun. Let’s hope it’s a good one with plenty of cheer.” We can always hope, can’t we? Or can we?
So this is Christmas. Have you ever said it with more disappointment than joy? “So this is Christmas?” Somewhere in a family gathering there will be a moment when hearts are torn because the place at the table is empty where a precious loved one had once been. Cherished traditions will be robbed of their joy. Where will we have Christmas dinner now that Grandma is no longer with us? How can we hang all the other stockings when little Mike won’t be here to enjoy his? “Joy to the World” was Dad’s favorite carol. How can we sing it without him? Will we ever have joy again? So this is Christmas.
Somewhere a police officer patrols the streets of a shattered city. His mind is not preoccupied with turkey and mistletoe, gifts and carols, or candles and lights on the tree. Every sense is alert. Every nerve is on end. Celebration is the farthest thing from his mind. Survival is his all-consuming thought. So this is Christmas? A hungry child shivers in the cold, waiting for a soup kitchen to serve Christmas dinner, the annual holiday reprieve from life as usual. For a moment, warmth and food will intoxicate his senses. Tomorrow, it’s back to the trashcans and cardboard shelters, back to hunger and homelessness. When will they ever stop wandering from town to town? When will his mom find a good job, so they can move beyond scratching out a meager existence? So this is Christmas?
Now how do we pay for everything? We charged and borrowed to buy Christmas, only to receive a termination notice two days before the holiday? Where do we find a new job? How do we meet all our financial obligations? So this is Christmas.  Do cancer and caroling go hand in hand? How does a broken body sing,  “’Tis the season to be jolly?” When fear and sickness sweep over you in waves, where do you find the voice to sing, “Fa-la-la-la-la?” So this is Christmas?
A Roman decree sends families scurrying back to their ancestral cities to register. Enrollment means “taxes,” and as we all know taxation without representation is galling. Taxation without representation is oppression and tyranny. The families who go back to their ancestral homes to register so they can pay taxes are an oppressed people, who live with cruel taskmasters and know the bitterness of Roman rule. Can anybody say, “Egypt” all over again? So this is Christmas?
A poor peasant couple takes shelter in a stable among the livestock of the household. There the woman labors. She pants and groans. Sometimes sharp cries escape her lips with the intensity of her contractions. The man waits anxious and submissive, watching, praying, doing all he can do to help the midwife and comfort his wife. A little, rough-splintered trough used to feed the donkey just a few hours ago, now stands filled with moldy, dusty hay, ready to receive a child. This is Christmas?
Depressing, huh? Our world, the biblical world, the human world; it is a broken place. The reality we experience day after day doesn’t change when we wake up on Christmas morning. The celebration of Christmas rarely heals any wounds or fixes any of the problems we have lived into this day or will carry with us out of it into our tomorrows. It was a cry of a fragile little baby breaking upon history’s scene. Strips of cloth are wrapped around his tiny body. His mother nuzzles him close for warmth and nourishment. Does the wonder of the picture still amaze you, or have you gone through so many Christmases that you have become deadened to the mystery? In the fragility of a tiny baby crying at his mother’s breast, where livestock nervously move about, and a weary peasant leans against the wall pondering how he will care for his family, the hope of the world comes. This is Christmas!
The hope of the world comes, and no one notices. The world is oblivious. Babies are born all the time, especially to peasants; and the setting is almost always crude. You’d think someone would explain to them how to keep that from happening until they had a little more financial stability. No one recognizes that hope has been born. The couple in the stable with their baby has some idea. Words of revelation have been given to them. Promises and visions and dreams have been communicated to them that this child is much more than He seems. This Child is God’s gift to humanity: a Savior, a rescuer, the hope, the peace, the love and the joy of the world. This is Christmas!
No one else has the foggiest idea, however. No one even notices the child is born. No king, philosopher, priest, or religious leader is aware. No one knows, until a group of angels break the tranquility of the night sky outside Bethlehem where shepherds are keeping their flock. As they fill the quiet, night sky with their heavenly glory, they announce a message, a word of revelation, tidings of great joy. “A Savior has been born to you!” Jesus is our Savior. He is also our Christ, our Messiah. He is the promised One, in whom all the promises of God are, “Yes!” Every promise for wholeness, every promise of taking up all our broken pieces and making something beautiful again are found in this one called “the Christ.”
If Jesus, the child that is among us is NOT an answer for our kind of world, He is no answer at all! Christmas becomes a charade. Jesus is a fake. The message of the angels is old-fashioned snake oil: high on promise, low on cure. If Jesus is not the answer for a broken world, we need to quit pretending. We need to stop playing the Christmas game, silence the carols, and throw out the gifts. We need to get rid of the nativity scene and make sure we throw the baby out as well. That is if Jesus is not the answer for our kind of world. But He is! Jesus is the answer for our kind of world. For our greatest heartaches, for our greatest sorrows, for all the situations and circumstances that cause us to feel so hopeless, Jesus is the answer. This is Christmas! This is why we celebrate.
The only question that remains is: “Have you taken the one who holds the hope of the world, and held Him in your heart this Christmas season?” No matter where we are in life’s journey; no matter how busy or complex our lives may seem to be; no matter how transfixed we have become with the darkness of circumstances around us, there is a child who comes to us this evening and invites us to experience a birth of hope, the upraising of peace, a love that is unconditional, and a joy that can’t not be obtained anywhere else. His coming is hope that transforms us, transforms life, and makes all things new. This Child’s name is Jesus, sweet, little Jesus boy, crucified and resurrected Savior, coming Lord and King. This Child is Christmas.

Have you taken the one who holds the hope, the love, the joy and the peace of the world, and held Him in your heart this Christmas season? The Child is here, now that’s Christmas!!!   I love you and Merry Christmas.. Tommy 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fat Daddy Ministries: Ferguson: Rioting & Looting Keeps Christ in Christ...

Fat Daddy Ministries: Ferguson: Rioting & Looting Keeps Christ in Christ...: I have been asked by many my opinion and comments on the Ferguson situation as a father, husband and minister.  So I respond filled with ...

Ferguson: Rioting & Looting Keeps Christ in Christmas

I have been asked by many my opinion and comments on the Ferguson situation as a father, husband and minister.  So I respond filled with humility, honestly and no authority whatsoever. As a father, mentor, and role model to my son my honest reaction is simple. The lesson to be learned here is that if you hit anyone in the face that has a gun, the probability of getting shot is high. (get your “Guns don’t kill people. People with guns who get hit in the face kill peopleT-shirts now while my supply lasts.)  In all seriousness the genuine lesson is be involved in your child’s life. All children are gifts from God. We all can do a better job of being involved daily in cherishing, nurturing and protecting that gift. Not just when it’s easy or convenient. The true tragedy is no parent should have to bury their child especially if the circumstances surrounding their death could be avoided. The true tragedy is that a person who took an oath to serve and protect was responsible for taking another person’s life. What will never be revealed in the facts is the content of his heart. We will never know if he was a racist or not. We will never know if he acted out of anger or survival. Regardless of the outcome, I believe one day he will have to be accountable for his actions not in this world but in the next.
As a minister, I have been solicited by the president of my denomination to stand behind the protesters because we are a “church” or as they say a “movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.”  They have boxed it as either we are with the “hands up, don’t shot” club because that is what Jesus would do or we stand with the prejudice “pants up, don’t loot” Jesus hating crowd.  Is it possible to stand for justice but not support revenge? As people of faith shouldn’t we become the mediators, the movers towards reconciliation, and speak kindness, compassion, and unity. Or do we just jump on the side that is most popular. It seems the church has moved away from the teachings of Jesus and more towards social acceptance because we want to be liked by the popular kids. As a denomination we want to sit at the cool lunch table when in reality the people we are trying to impress aren’t even listening. So we breed alienation even within our own faith community. The leader of our nation has also taken sides. It seems both are fueling division and I haven’t figured out why. Maybe it’s just good for business, egos, or self-piety. The only ones that seem to be profiting are the media outlets and extremist groups.
I know to well what revenge looks like but what about justice. What is justice and what does that look like in the context of our faith. While I am for justice, it appears to me that the Ferguson situation is not about justice but about anger, revenge, and looting. I think there has to be a better way to say “I’m sorry” or “we need change” than stealing a 55in flat screen or running out of a Quickie Mart with a case of cold brews. Maybe justice is turning a tragedy into triumph by refraining from organized systematic violence. Maybe it’s listening instead of shouting. Maybe it is voicing our concerns in a civil effective protest.  I don’t know maybe justice is allowing people to make up their own opinions instead of being forced upon us by people in leadership positions and authority. Maybe justice is not creating an atmosphere of hostility, anger, and violence but one of compassion, empathy, and understanding. There is enough violence in the world, we in America don’t have to participate we have a choice and opportunity to rise above it.

In summation: I strongly feel this is a terrible, incomprehensible tragedy. I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child to a violent death when it could have been avoided by both parties. I do not know Michael Brown or the true content of his character but I do know the color of his skin. I do know that not all black guys are criminals but some of them are.  I do not know Officer Wilson or the content of his character but I do know the color of his skin. I do know not all cops are racist but some of them are. I believe that everyone should have the opportunity to express their feelings, frustrations and anger but there also needs to be a time we all stop and listen to each other. It’s not in the looting, violence, and destruction of the innocent that brings about change. That just brings about more violence, division, and anger on both sides. Justice is found in compassion, empathy and unity. So being a minster and father I pray. I pray for peace. I pray for understanding. I pray that no one else will be hurt or injured. I pray for more two way dialogue and less shouting. I pray for all our children and that we treat them as the precious gift they are. I pray for the world we are creating for them. I pray we can constructively look at the problems that face our children everywhere. I pray for our leaders that they will realize change can be found in unity not division. I pray we can turn this pent up hostility into positive actions that help those that are truly in need. I pray we can turn our energy off Ferguson and onto keep Christ in Christmas. To keep Christ is Christmas is doing what Christ instructed us to do: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwelcome, love your enemies, and treat people the way you want to be treated. That is how we keep Christ in Christmas. But many times rioting and looting a flat screen seems a whole lot easier.  Then again I may just be another jaded, uncool, old fat preacher man.. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Top Ten Things....

As a society we love to count and rank things. We are constantly counting how many people are at this event, that event. We rank people in political races, athletes, books, and so on. I turn on ESPN daily, to check the rankings and comparisons. Television shows, bookstores, and Internet pages are covered with “Top Ten” list. Although we don’t publicize it we too have top ten lists of places we like to eat, songs we like to listen to, even top ten people we like to be around.  It is part of our human nature to compare, or keep track.
We even do that in church. We all have our top ten moments in the life of our faith community. Some are positive memories some are not so pleasant.
And I think if we read the Bible carefully, we find that there are certain stories or characters in the Bible that just stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of importance or impact. One such story that should stick out to us is the stories of the Exile. It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of the Babylonian exile for the people of God. The fall of Jerusalem fundamentally challenged the predominate view of the Promised Land and Israel’s place in it. The destruction of the temple led the prophets and priests to think in new ways about how God is present with the people and what authentic worship of God, when things are going very badly looks like.  The people lost everything. Their homes, jobs, money, church, and were driven out of only life they new. They were totally defeated and destroyed. King David’s royal line prompted the people of God to lament their circumstances and vehemently protest their current situation. They looked inward, outward, and upward for explanation and answers to painful questions about the nature of suffering, hope, and divine presences. I wonder if for any of us this sounds familiar.

As devastating and traumatic the situation is there is still a word of hope. Jeremiah begins to tell the people to take a deep breath, settle down, and begins to tell them what the future will look like. For one thing, hopeful expectation looks to the future by understanding the past and the present. The odd thing about hope is that is never ignores the past or the present; rather, hope pays close attention to life in honest and open ways. Hope doesn't need to be kindled on bright days, but on stormy days and during dark nights. If fact, hope is a truthful commentary on the here and now, a prophetic thought that looks to a new dawn, but it is no sugarcoat fuzzy feel good notion.

We see this clearly in the story of Jeremiah. God says, “I have actively watched over you, my child, but not always in the ways you might have hoped or thought.” He reminds us that things are not always the way we want them, the way we like them, but he is still watching over us. The promised good times that are just around the corner do not erase difficult past. Hopeful expectations means admitting that our present condition needs redeeming and that we alone are powerless in making that happen. Even in the midst of great evil, plucking up and breaking down, being overthrown and destroyed, even in the midst of all that, God is still present and at work.

It is awesome to be reminded that no matter what is currently happening in my life, God is still there and still active. But God is not done yet. Destruction, defeat, pain and evil are not the last words. Notice the powerful verbal images to describe the future: sow, build, plant, and forgive. These are all words of great anticipation pointing towards the future, a new beginning, a new chapter in your life. Hopeful expectation understands that the future begins by digging a hole for planting a seed by saying, “I forgive you.” Yet hope, and all the expectation and anticipation it carries, never gets ahead of itself. Strong trees don’t grow up in a year; trouble relationships don’t heal fully overnight, new habits are not formed in a day. No.. a small and vulnerable beginning is a common theme in all these verbs, and that is just how God works. That’s just how about all of our top ten biblical stories work also. If we see nothing else here, we see that hopeful expectation never lets go of the possibility that salvation and redemption can come to us in the most unexpected ways: on an ark, in a basket floating in the weeds, in exile, in a stable, on a cross, out of a tomb, or in a small committed faith community who dare cling to hope. 
Hang on to hope, take care of yourself and one another.....

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The day I Almost Became a Criminal.....

There are brief moments in life that change our how perspective and outlook on life. We all share brief moments that just sticks with you forever that change our 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 my daughter’s daycare. We were a struggling young broke family. When I say our family was broke, I mean counting out change to buy food broke. We had a dose of reality that children were way more expensive than we figured. My wife was trying hard to raise two kids, our daughter 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 our daughter’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 school. We opened up the first door and there in the entry way were lined up beautiful shinny new bikes. Pretty bikes, princesses, Disney bikes, all types of shinny new bikes as my daughter’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 open yet. As I pondered why the store was not open yet, I recalled her words. Simple words all fathers hear from their toddlers. “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, 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 call 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. 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 my life? 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 love of Jesus Christ.  When we acknowledge our anointing, we become like no other person, 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. 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, February 10, 2014

Fat Daddy Ministries: Life's Scale

Fat Daddy Ministries: Life's Scale: There are defining moments in our life when we have to make a conscious decision on what to keep and what to hold on to. Dr. Fred Cradd...

Life's Scale

There are defining moments in our life when we have to make a conscious decision on what to keep and what to hold on to.
Dr. Fred Craddock tells a story of one of his schoolmates who spent many years ministering in China. He was under house arrest and the soldiers came one day and told him that he could return to America. The family was celebrating.
The soldiers said, "You can take 200 pounds with you." They had been there for years! Two hundred pounds! They got the scales and they started the family arguments-two children, wife, and husband. Must have this vase...Well, this is a new typewriter...What about my books?...What about our toys?
They weighed everything and took it off, weighed it and took it off, until at last they had it right on the dot: two hundred pounds. The soldiers asked if they were ready to go and they said, "Yes." "Did you weigh everything?" They said, "Yes!"
"Did you weigh the kids?" "No," we did not. "You will have to weigh the kids."
In the blink of an eye, typewriter, vase, books, all became trash. Trash. It happens. Treasures become trash when we have to weigh everything and we can't keep it all.

When the values in our life begin to shift, things of greater worth begin to surface. We've all had to trash things that were once of great value. We have tearfully and reluctantly taken things off the scale in some defining moment-cherished ideas and plans, crumbling relationships, pride of mind and body, financial gain. There are things tangible and intangible that has to go when life calls on us to "weigh your kids."