Friday, December 31, 2010

Halt

Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired.

HALT

Signs of weakness, signs of cracks in the facade, don't let these feelings go unnoticed or unchecked. This is a tough time of year but everything begins anew tomorrow. Hang in there. You're not alone.

Has the pressure of the holidays been too much? You're not alone.

Are you afraid of what the coming year may bring or regret the year gone by? You're not alone.

Are you hurting over the recent loss of a loved one or the reminder of those who have passed on before? You're not alone.

Struggling with your family? You're not alone.

If you're feeling these things. Don't try and white-knuckle it alone. Call a friend. Go to a meeting. Put the toast of champagne down. Most of all, remember, you're not alone.

If you need to, check out the following resources:
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
   his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the LORD say this—
   those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
   from east and west, from north and south.

 
Some wandered in desert wastelands,
   finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
   and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
   and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way    to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
   and his wonderful deeds for men,
for he satisfies the thirsty
   and fills the hungry with good things.

 
Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom,
   prisoners suffering in iron chains,
for they had rebelled against the words of God
   and despised the counsel of the Most High.
So he subjected them to bitter labor;
   they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
   and he saved them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom
   and broke away their chains
.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
   and his wonderful deeds for men,
for he breaks down gates of bronze
   and cuts through bars of iron.

 
Some became fools through their rebellious ways
   and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. 

 They loathed all food
   and drew near the gates of death.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
   and he saved them from their distress.
He sent forth his word and healed them;
   he rescued them from the grave
.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
   and his wonderful deeds for men.
Let them sacrifice thank offerings
   and tell of his works with songs of joy.

 
Others went out on the sea in ships;
   they were merchants on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the LORD,
   his wonderful deeds in the deep.
For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
   that lifted high the waves.
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
   in their peril their courage melted away.
They reeled and staggered like drunken men;
   they were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
   and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
   the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
   and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
   and his wonderful deeds for men.
Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
   and praise him in the council of the elders.

 
He turned rivers into a desert,
   flowing springs into thirsty ground,
and fruitful land into a salt waste,
   because of the wickedness of those who lived there.
He turned the desert into pools of water
   and the parched ground into flowing springs;
there he brought the hungry to live,
   and they founded a city where they could settle.
They sowed fields and planted vineyards
   that yielded a fruitful harvest;
he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased,
   and he did not let their herds diminish.

 
Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled
   by oppression, calamity and sorrow;
he who pours contempt on nobles
   made them wander in a trackless waste.
But he lifted the needy out of their affliction
   and increased their families like flocks.
The upright see and rejoice,
   but all the wicked shut their mouths.


Whoever is wise, let him heed these things
   and consider the great love of the LORD.
(Psalm 107, emphasis added)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Torn apart

One of the biggest movie hits over the holiday break has been "Little Fockers" the third in a series of movies offering a comedic spin on typical dysfunction. I haven't seen it yet, but if it follows the theme of the first two, it is likely filled with Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) bumbling around making a fool of himself trying to please his in-laws. What makes these movies so funny is that we all relate in some way. Truth is, we all have a little dysfunction.

Our quirks, our pet-peeves, our habits all rub someone the wrong way. Our loved ones have learned to put up with them, strangers may judge us by them. No one is perfect. But we have this nasty habit of focusing on ourselves, so someone else's peccadillo become more pronounced when related to our own. Grudges build. Differences divide. Until suddenly the relationship is considered "irreconcilable" and the relationship ends.

Too many relationships this time of year end in such a way. Two couples close to us are ending their marriages this season, two others are on the verge. This isn't unusual. In fact, the holiday season sees one of two annual peaks in divorces and breakups according to a recent study. I can see why, the stresses of the holiday season, the prospects of the coming year, the romanticized image of ringing in the New Year in slow motion surrounded by music, champagne in hand, and a kiss from a beautiful person you just met.

But the long term effects are devastating. There's the holiday shuffle, where you shuttle between families on Christmas Day to visit each of your divorced parents, in-laws, and new step families as they each fight over who gets the prime times of opening presents first thing in the morning or having dinner in the evening. Kids bounce from home to home on weekends, holidays, and birthdays to the point of not being able to identify which is truly "home".

Another consequence is that the cycle repeats. One of the couples we know getting a divorce right now has parents who are divorced. Single moms beget future single moms. Teenage parents often become grandparents by their 40s.

I'm not intending to cast stones here. But highlight the reality of the world in which we temporarily live. Family struggles, dysfunction and division add another stressor to an already crushing season. It is a reality for many of us, yet we must persevere through into the next season of our lives.

"Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." (Mark 10:9)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Loss

The holidays are hard enough without having to deal with recent loss or the reminder of loved ones lost long ago. My mom lives in a retirement community and one of her friends was celebrating his first Christmas without his wife of many years. If that wasn't bad enough, he received Christmas card after Christmas card addressed to both he and his wife. My father passed away 14 years ago and we'd receive letters addressed to him for quite a few years after his death. Each one reopening a wound.

Others suffer the double-wound of losing someone around the holidays, making a harsh reminder every year. I know some who have given up celebrating holidays or birthdays on account of such loss. It is a painful reminder every year of fond memories that can never again be relived and of our own mortality.

Chances are, you've lost someone dear to you this past year. If not, you certainly know someone else who has. Either way, it is also likely that the holidays remind you of loved ones lost years ago. For me, Christmas the first couple of years we had children were hard because I wished my dad and my grandma could have been around to celebrate with us. Each year I remember on Christmas 15 or 16 years ago when a close friend of the family brought his newborn daughter, Erin, over to my grandma's to show her off. I remember my dad being playful in a way I hadn't seen since I was young as she sat on his lap. I always wished to share the same experience with my own kids, but that was not meant to be. I lost him in September, right before his birthday. No significant holiday reminder of his death, yet the changing season and the turning of the leaves every year reminds me of his passing.

Specific to the holidays, not a Thanksgiving goes by that I don't remember Jenny. She was a couple of years older than me and her little brother was a year behind me in school. But we lived in a small town, so everyone knew everyone else. An annual "tradition"after many of us went off to college would be to gather the Friday after Thanksgiving at one of the local bars to catch up with old friends from school. We'd all gather and figure out where to head next for some big party- either at someone's house, or at one of the many popular hangouts outdoors (I grew up in an agriculture community, so many families had plenty of land on which to find a spot for a party). Cell phones were just beginning to get broad use, so that sped up the process as the time spent at the bar was shared with time on the phone coordinating plans.

That particular year we started at the usual spot and when no one showed, we moved on to another bar. One of my friends was constantly on his cell trying to find where everyone was headed. After a few drinks and a couple of rounds of pool, his phone started to ring. "Have you seen Jenny?" "Do you know where Jenny is?" "We haven't seen her for over an hour." With each subsequent call, the mood shifted away from celebration towards concern. Turns out the popular place to party that night was at a dock by the river. She was there. She wandered off. She disappeared. Her body washed up a couple of days later.

I didn't stick around town to find out the toxicology report. But I recall that she struggled with depression and substance abuse. But most couldn't understand. She graduated top of her class. She was popular and beautiful. But there was something missing. No one knows if it was an accident or suicide, but now every year her family is reminded of her death with every turkey carved. Even though not being particularly close to her, ask myself every Thanksgiving "where's Jenny".

"We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope." 1 Thessalonians 4:13

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Anguish

It's that time of year to look back and wonder where all the time went. My family sent out a collage of pictures for our Christmas card this year, and as we went through our pictures we couldn't believe all that we did this year. No wonder it went so fast. Yet at the same time, I look at my daughter who turned three a couple of months ago and my son, who turns 6 in a week, and I still want to picture them as a newborn and a toddler. Other parents tell me how fast they grow up while they stand beside their teenagers. I guess I was hoping this phase would last longer.

As time has flown on by, it's also time to look back on the resolutions you didn't keep. "I could've done that one if only..." Where did the time, and our goals, go? My job also just had performance reviews. Another chance to look back at opportunities lost or goals not achieved.

Maybe that's not you. Maybe you can look back at your year satisfied at all that happened and in accomplishing all you strove out to do. But chances are, there is still some regret. At least one thing that you didn't do that you wanted to, or did do that you didn't.

So we look ahead to next year. What should we resolve? What should we strive to achieve? Where should we plan to go? If you look back at this past year thinking failure, there's added pressure to make up for it next year. If you look back with contentment, you may feel challenged to even come up with any goals for the coming year. For me, it's like a personal Bible study. Once I finish, I struggle coming up with "what's next."

Either way, we place pressure upon ourselves. We may linger in our regret, or we may be afraid of the future. We may feel pressured to improve our health, our finances, our spirituality. We may have a monkey on our back we want to rid ourselves of, but then comes the follow up question of "how?". Maybe we look ahead and see open doors of opportunity, but are afraid of what's on the other side.

Pressure. Regret. Fear. Anguish.

Interestingly, an antonym of anguish is assurance whose synonyms are goals, hope, promise. At this time of year, the future is before us filled with hope and promise. But our reaction is literally the opposite. Why is that? Is it because our faith is weak? Do we lack in prayer? Do we forget our Creator who "satisfies our desires with good things" (Psalm 103:5)? Or maybe it just because we're too focused on ourselves.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:6)

This post is part of a Blog Carnival on the topic of Reflection. Visit Peter Pollock's blog to read more.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Hangover

The Monday after Christmas and all through the place, not single room was cleaned up, not even two-day old dirty plates. Boxes lay empty with wrapping paper strewn about. Kids play with new toys, while parents over instructions pout....

Saturday night, after spending the day running from family to family, we pull into our driveway exhausted. My wife looks at me and says simply, "that's it?" Christmas day for many just flies on by. Wake up early, open gifts. Help the kids put their toys together. Spend the day visiting friends and family. Eat, eat, and eat some more. The kids get loaded with sugar and new things to play with and are bouncing off the walls. Parents and grandparents toil the day in the kitchen preparing a nice Christmas dinner. Then stuffed to the gills, and with kids still wound up, you try and call it a day as you crawl into bed exhausted.

Ever heard the saying, I need a vacation from my vacation? We make ourselves too busy, wear ourselves out, and wonder why the holidays aren't enjoyable. Where's Jesus in the mad dash? Where is there time to slow down and actually enjoy the family you're taking the time to visit? Maybe it's just me, but every year Christmas gets more and more chaotic and less and less enjoyable.

I need a holiday from my holiday. I feel sorry for you who are working today. I should be, but I couldn't even get out of bed to get a post up in the morning. We have house cleaning, dishes, laundry, and picking up and finding a place for our children's new toys. I'm exhausted, still full, and incredibly impatient. If I actually had anything to drink, I'd say I was hungover.

That's how many get through the holidays actually. In an inebriated haze. The present cultural cliche is that moms slave away in the kitchen while the dads zone out in front of the TV watching the Cowboys and Lakers. Every family has the "drunk uncle". We toast champagne and drink eggnog (usually not the non-alcoholic version). Even the white elephant gift exchange I have at work involves volumes of alcohol. Of course everyone tries to trade for the "good stuff" while the white elephant cheap liquor is the gag gift. One of my co-workers this year got a 12 pack of Hamm's. Everyone laughed while jockeying for the Kahlua or Sam Adams. And at the end of the day after putting up with screaming kids, annoying in-laws and tacky gifts (the curse of the holiday sweater!) we finish the day with a nightcap.

And so we start the week hungover while making plans for staying up all night Friday to wake up feeling the same way New Year's Day.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The Christmas/New Year's week is insane. It shouldn't be.

How are you maintaining your sanity through the holidays?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Season of Reason



I get a kick out of these ads from Acura. I like the play on words. We can all relate to the examples of ridiculous traditions in these ads: gifts, lights on the house, gourmet chestnut roasters (ok, maybe not that one). So we are offered an alternative tradition- the new car wrapped in a bow in the driveway on Christmas morning. I'm sure there are some people out there who actually get a brand new car for Christmas. There must be to justify these ads every year. Most of us though would be lucky to get a brand new bike.

But "season of reason"? What's reasonable about a new car for Christmas? I heard an ad on the radio the other day to lease a Mercedes Benz. Only $3800 down and $639/month for two years. Merry Christmas, honey! I just signed us up to have over $600 withdrawn from our account every month! Aren't you happy? Oh sure, we get a shiny new Mercedes to drive around too that we have to give it back in two years. But only $600! What a bargain!

I wonder how many people go into significant debt just this season just for the sake of buying presents? I can relate. Since I've been married, Christmas has always been a checkbook killer. Sure we try and budget a certain amount for gifts, but we always seem to go over. Then we add holiday travel to our balance and after a few years we were surprised to find ourselves tens of thousands of dollars in debt. And we haven't even been married that long! (insert shameless plug for Dave Ramsey... but don't want to get off-point)

Here we are to celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus, the perfect gift from God. And the world encourages us to put ourselves in debt for the sake of things this holiday season. A gift that keeps giving, celebrated by people buying gifts that keep taking. Ironic? Maybe. Reasonable? Certainly not.

If you're like me and have a lot of last-minute shopping still to do, think about the gift we've been given in Christ. Think about how simple, how humble, how full of grace that gift was and continues to be. Then look at your shopping list and ask yourself if the gifts you're giving are as simple and humble. Are they given in grace, with no expectation for any return, or are they given simply because they're what the world tells us is the latest, coolest thing that we continue to pay interest on for the rest of our lives?

'Tis the season for reason.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Flashback Friday: Priorities

***Originally posted December, 2008. I'm reposting because I'm about to scoot to my kids' Christmas program at school, do some more shopping (ok, I still need to start!), and try and squeeze an almost full day of work in at the office. Sound familiar?***

There are only a few shopping days left before Christmas. You're likely going to brave the weekend crowds at the mall, scramble to find something off the shelves that have been picked clean, struggle to come up with what to get your in-laws, and all the while forget why you're doing this to begin with. Then you'll head home, look at the pile of dishes in the sink and think about the family coming over in just a couple of days and all the cleaning and rearranging of furniture that needs to be done before then. And if you're like me, you still need to get that last string of lights up on the house and decorate the tree.

Can you relate? Do you feel hurried, stressed, overwhelmed? Do you wish there was just one more week before Christmas? I do. But then I'm a lot like Martha, who in Luke 10 is described as being "distracted by all the preparations that [have] to be made." (Luke 10:40) But then we forget what we're preparing for. Yes, we want Christmas to be memorable for our children and we want them to have everything they asked Santa for (within reason). We want to be warm and hospitable towards our family and friends. But what about "the reason for the season?" What about Jesus?

Are we reflecting Christ when we lose our patience at the store? Do we show the love of Jesus to our children when we lose our temper as they try to get into every present that's already been wrapped and hunt for the ones that aren't? Are we really being a witness to our families when what's most important to us is getting everything done?

I write this for myself. My wife reminded me this morning that we needed to take time and get into God's word, lean on Him in our stress, and not be overwhelmed with our "to dos". I need to be more like Mary, who knew that "only one thing was needed." (Luke 10:42)

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"


"Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

To Keep It, Give It Away

Saturday afternoon, roughly 150 people gathered in a nondescript church building in an industrial area of Orange County to celebrate the recovery of 17 individuals who "graduated" our Chemical Recovery program. The setting was appropriate. A building that if you didn't know it, you would never guess a church met inside its walls. The building looked just like all the others in this industrial complex. In the same way, addicts blend in with the rest of the population. Unless an addict is suffering a physical response to their drug of choice, they look just like you or I. Some are powerful executives, some are homeless. Some have perfectly functional families, others have had their families torn apart. Addiction does not discriminate based on age, gender, race, or economic status. Regardless of circumstance, addicts cannot overcome without divine help. (Even AA requires the acknowledgement of a "Power greater than ourselves")

So we rejoice in the Lord when we see others delivered from their addictions. This day was filled with prayer, with song, with the preaching of the word, and with personal testimonies that didn't leave a dry eye in the place. The graduates came from every corner of the LA region (and even a brother from as far away as Bakersfield), represented every race and gender, every age, and every possible drug.

I want to share a couple of their stories.

One brother first used Meth at the age of 14. Just three years later he was arrested for am armed home invasion robbery, where he tied up an entire family with duct tape. He spent 8 years in jail. While in jail his brother sent him the book, Some Sat in Darkness, and his life was changed. "Finally I could explain what was wrong with me," he exclaimed. Out of jail and 10 years sober (8 in prison), he wants to start a Spanish-speaking recovery ministry.

Another brother is a successful Korean businessman. His career required him to base himself in Korea, leaving behind his family in LA. His addiction alienated himself from his family and eventually he saw that he could not maintain his lifestyle. He returned to the US to reconcile with his family. They wouldn't. His minister recommended he go to this recovery group. He didn't want to, but did anyway. He didn't want to follow the directions given him, but he did anyway. He didn't want to be open, but he was anyway. Eventually, he broke free from the slavery of his addiction, became reconciled with his family, and wants to start a Korean-speaking recovery ministry. (I chuckled inside at the consistent theme) Not only that, but he wants to go back to Korea and start this ministry there.

The Twelfth Step of AA is to "...carry this message to alcoholics." To spread the word of recovery. In other words, to keep it you have to give it away. Paul was thinking along those lines when he instructed to "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." (Romans 12:15) In sharing with others' joys and sufferings, we do more than sympathize or empathize, we spread the love of Christ and participate in the rejoicing in heaven where "there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." (Luke 15:7)


This post is one of many, part of a Blog Carnival being hosted by Peter Pollock. This week's theme is "Rejoice". Be sure to visit others' entries to appreciate the diversity of thoughts and opinions present in the Body of Christ.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Where to Now?

Continuing our discussion on Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity with Glynn Young and Nancy Rosback. Melissa at In Silence, Humming Softly has also joined the discussion so be sure to check out her thoughts as well. This week we're on Chapter 18, the final chapter of the book. You can check out Glynn's thoughts here and Nancy's will coming later here.

I'm struggling to come up with a reaction to this final chapter of Mere Churchianity that would also be a standalone post. Maybe I'm being sentimental, now that this discussion is drawing to a close, though I have some follow-up thoughts that will come later. I guess I just don't feel resolved. Sadly, Michael Spencer's life was cut tragically short. In fact, he didn't even live to see his book on the shelves. He was struggling with his health as he was making the final touches on this book with his editor (as described in the epilogue). Maybe he knew his time was short, so he got in what he could. The last chapter does seem like a compilation of "these are the other topics I wanted to cover, but ran out of time" as he listed out a series of questions or objections one might have in response to his book. Personally, after spending chapter after chapter describing (very well, I might add) what is wrong with the Church, I don't see much offered as solutions. And my nature is to want a quick-fix, five-part plan with vision statements and mission goals- the very things Michael pontificated against.

But maybe the story is meant to be left unfinished. Our walks with Christ and our eternal destiny are known only by one, and it not us. We look for answers in this world, hoping that everything will wrap up nicely in a bow. But from our mortal perspective our life, our faith, and our eternal purpose are uncertain. I'm not comfortable with that. And if I take away anything from this book, maybe it should be that I can't control everything (or anything for that matter). I cannot control my church. I cannot control other brothers and sisters in Christ. I cannot control whether someone I am reaching out to accepts or rejects the message of the Gospel. I cannot control whether mainstream Christianity will ever mold into "Jesus-shaped spirituality". I cannot control the reactions of the readers of this blog. I cannot control...

But I can control my relationship with Jesus. I can control my thoughts and attitudes to be Jesus-focused. I can control my prayers and with whom I choose to share in fellowship. In other words, I can control my own spirituality to be Jesus-shaped and strive to surround myself with others who share the same passion.

Hah, I guess I have post for this chapter after all.

*************** 

I also want to share some excerpts from this chapter that I think are worth reflecting on:

First, it is worth noting that Jesus' condemnations of the Seven Churches in Asia found in Revelation came only a generation after Jesus' death. In other words, it didn't take long for these early churches to become "church-shaped" instead of Jesus-shaped. Michael reminds us of Revelation 3:20, "I stand at the door and knock..." The implication is that for our churches to return to being Jesus-shaped, we need to invite Jesus back in as the focus of our church. Ironically, Michael follows up with the admonition to "pursue Jesus-shaped spirituality [that] won't take you to a building with a sign out front." (pg 210) In other words, "go and do" to seek Jesus-shaped spirituality. However, I think the lesson we can draw from Revelation is instead to "stay and invite" Jesus in to where we are. That may be too passive, and I see Michael's point, but I think Jesus-shaped spirituality is not a matter of going to find Jesus, but of inviting Jesus in. You could argue that the former is divisive and rebellious in the context of organized religion while the latter is individualized and subjective.

Second, Michael's response to the question, "Are you antichurch or antidenominations?" Is worth its own post. And I may go there at some point. But I want to at least quote part of his response. "It doesn't take a scholar to understand what the New Testament says the church is supposed to be doing. If a church isn't supporting and growing disciples, isn't crossing cultures with the gospel, and isn't encouraging and producing Jesus-followers, I believe you're entitled to look for a different form of community that is doing these things... Denominational labels will tell you very little about whether the people in a congregation are all about Jesus or are blissfully disconnected from him... I want every Christian to find a Jesus-shaped community that is doing what the New Testament says a church should do... Christians follow Jesus into the world as disciples on the mission Jesus gave us. The best churches facilitate the mission of Jesus and grow Jesus-followers who pursue that mission." (pgs 212-213, emphasis added)

Finally, Michael closes with a terrific description of Jesus-shaped spirituality accomplishing the above. First, a warning from earlier in the chapter, "You may find yourself far outside the doors of many churches and thrown in with whomever the scapegoats of the hour happen to be. (interesting choice of words since Jesus is literally the ultimate scapegoat) You should expect to be called liberal, emerging, naive, rebellious, and unsaved...Your faith will likely be questioned, and you may experience moments of suffocating doubt and discouragement." (pgs 210-211) So what do we do? "The Jesus-shaped life is found where Jesus would be found... talking to a single mom... going to India... working in an inner city... leading a worship service...taking in foster kids... counseling... pray[ing] with anyone who asks... starting a church... volunteering to teach... Stretching the influence of the gospel outside the comfort zone of the usual. Being a witness to the church of what Jesus would be doing... And finally, when we come home, we will find that Jesus has made us like himself, and yet, amazingly, we will have remained in every way ourselves." (pgs 219-221)

I pray that each of us, through our own unique experiences, may one day stand before our Lord Jesus-shaped, shaped by Jesus.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Flashback Friday: What was Old is New Again

***Originally posted December 17, 2009. Reposted because A Charlie Brown Christmas aired this week. I'm a sucker for Charlie Brown holiday specials, but especially this one. You think the "war on Christmas" is bad now? You should've been around when this special was first aired. And there's a link buried at the end of this post that is worth clicking on as well. The outrage wasn't limited to Charlie Brown, it also extended all the way to space with the Apollo Program.***



"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

We're at the heart of the Christmas season, which means we're in the thick of the "War on Christmas" and are inundated by the overreaction to this "war". For some reason we think our circumstances are unique. We look around and think our culture's morals are worse than they have ever been. And we are hyper-sensitive to criticism or even just contrary opinions. And for some reason, the image we often portray is that of the 1950's white picket fence America where 'Christians were Christians, and non-Christians were too." But not long after this utopia was the upheaval of the 1960's. Darn hippies.

Tuesday night ABC aired A Charlie Brown Christmas, the second-longest running Christmas special on Network Television (beat out by only a year by Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer) which first aired in 1965. I'm not ashamed to admit we bought the box set of Charlie Brown holiday specials a year ago and we've already practically worn them out. My children are quick to run up and press play after any movie finishes, but sometime the menu screen isn't the 'top menu' but is the menu for Special Features. These Charlie Brown DVDs are an example of this. So they come running in wanting me to fix it, because what 4 and 2 year old wants to watch a "making of..."?

The first time this happened I was surprised as they were talking about the negative backlash they received for having the nerve to quote scripture (Linus' famous reading of Luke 2). Producer/director/and snoopy actor Bill Melendez tried to talk Peanuts creator Charles Schulz out of including the scripture. CBS executives were hesitant to air it. And the public response was as expected.

This was in 1965. It could be argued we have much greater freedom today when we televangelists can be found on multiple channels, political pundits on both sides of the aisle who aren't afraid to reference their religion, and movies such as The Passion of the Christ being commercial successes. Yet we still feel this insecurity whenever anyone has a different opinion than what we consider "mainstream Christianity" which some of us believe should dominate our culture and every facet of society.

For those of you fighting in the latest go-around of the War on Christmas, hearken back to 1965 (or 1968) and remember than "nothing is new under the sun."

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

One of These Kids is not Like the Others

From the latest Family Christian mailer:


Sarah Palin, present poster-child of the politicized American Christianity (TM) persecution complex. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, perhaps the 20th Century's best example of faith under persecution who was imprisoned and later hung for his convictions. (I'm still trying to wrap my head around how Sarah Palin is an example of "faithful perseverance")

On the surface, they are both very similar. Both are tied to movements that insist Christianity should oppose cultural and governmental moral decay. However, that's where the similarities end, unless you liken our current administration to Nazi Germany (and those who do, really, really need to brush up on their history). Christians in America are under no threat of imprisonment or death for our beliefs. Our government is not conducting a systematic slaughter of a specific segment of our population, which would be worthy of opposition. And no, I'm not going to relate abortion to the Holocaust; a person's choice, whether we agree with the laws allowing it or not, is still the decision of the individual, independent of the government. And no political leader is elevating themselves as a leader of the church, which would also be worthy of opposition.

Wait. That is happening, albeit subtly. This advertisement demonstrates it. Here is a potential presidential candidate being promoted by a Christian bookstore. She's not the first. I've seen books by Gingrich, Bush (Sr and Jr), and Huckabee displayed right in front next to Joel Osteen (if that's not a clue, I don't know what is). Yet I've never seen any books by Jimmy Carter, President Obama, or others from the Left side of the aisle promoted in such a way. No, they're not leading any church, but they are leading public opinion, especially those on the religious right.

I strongly believe our convictions should guide our politics, whether it's Left-leaning Social Gospel or Right-leaning Family Values. However, our politics should not shape our convictions. While the secular world argues to keep faith out of politics, I argue we need to keep politics out of faith. And that includes bookstores.

"Jesus said, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.'" (John 18:36)

Monday, December 06, 2010

Who Shapes You?

Continuing our discussion on Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity with Glynn Young and Nancy Rosback. Melissa at In Silence, Humming Softly has also joined the discussion so be sure to check out her thoughts as well. This week we're on Chapter 17, the penultimate chapter of the book. You can check out Glynn's thoughts here and Nancy's here.

This is it, this is the home stretch. Only one chapter to go. For the past 16 chapters of Mere Churchianity, Michael Spencer has described symptom after symptom of what is wrong with the Church in America today. Now we're getting into the nitty-gritty of what to do about it. I've been worried while going through this book by an undercurrent of go-at-it-alone Christianity since the target audience are those who have left the Church physically or spiritually. I'm grateful for this chapter to put those worries to rest. In this chapter, Michael gives a simple description of what Jesus-shaped spirituality is: it is personal and communal, it is mentored, it is saturated in the Scriptures, it grows in the context of service and the Gospel, it is found in relationships.

As I was reading through this chapter and pondering what to write about this week, I couldn't help but think of those in my life who have shaped my spirituality (hopefully to some degree to be Jesus-shaped). I felt it appropriate to lift them up before the Lord in thanksgiving. Most of these names will not likely mean anything to you, but that's ok. Some are heroes in the faith. Others are brothers and sisters I fought beside through different spiritual battles. Still others are those whose subtle influence have directed my spiritual course. Off the top of my head, I'm certain this isn't an exhaustive list. Collectively, they have brought me to where I am today.

Obviously my family, especially my dad and grandpa for their tired service to the church, my sister's example of "live to serve", my mom's patience, and my grandma for being the most loving person I've ever known. Fr. Bauer, Mike and Matt, Justin and Bart, Ryan and Kevin, Fr. Roger and Fr. Carl, Joe, Rob, Matt, Jesus, Justin (again, just at a different stage in life) and Justin, Jeff, Jeremy and Paul, David, Jim(!), Steve, John, Flavian, Roel, Rama, Brandon, Sam, Brent, Rob, Steve, Wes, Amy, Alyson, Glenn, Tim, Morris, Shawn, Josh, Bob, Fred, Steve, Neil, Luke, Dave, Jon, Todd, Lathan, Chris, Lorenzo, Marion and Tommy, Fred, Ivan, Kenny, Fabian, Glynn, Jay, Duane, Kevin, Bridget, Ryan, Dusty, Peter, Michael, Jason, and of course, my wife.

My spirituality would look differently if not for these people inspiring me, challenging me, and/or simply befriending me. I could not have ever had a relationship with Jesus alone. I cannot continue to have a relationship with Jesus on my own. These friends, family, and brothers and sisters in Christ have helped me to "Follow Jesus in the Life I Have".