Thursday, December 24, 2009

With Apologies to Clement Moore

Twas the night before Christmas...

and all through my house not a creature was silent, not even my spouse...

There is no doubt that the Christmas season is hectic. Shopping, partying, shopping, special church services, shopping, cooking, eating, shopping, more eating, and even more shopping. It's no wonder that the days leading up to Christmas are among the most stressful of the year. How telling the comparison between our never slowing pace of life and the gentle simplicity of that night in Bethlehem so long ago. We all would benefit from such a simplicity in our own lives.

the children were nestled in front of the tube, where holiday specials turned them into boobs...

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, but do we know Jesus? My heart breaks over the absence of Jesus in our Christmas observances. Santa Claus has replaced the Savior and the only star we know anything about seems to be the one on the top of the tree. Is it any wonder that Jesus has become an afterthought in our culture when he's not even the center of our lives and homes?

And mom with the checkbook and I with some chicken had just settled down to count money with Quicken....

All I want for Christmas is the mantra for the holiday, and not just for children. Christmas has become a time of greed. But all our stuff won't make us any happier or solve any of our problems. We spend our lives in pursuit of things that won't give us true fulfillment while we ignore the one who can meet our deepest needs. What would happen if we used our wealth to help others rather than wasting it on ourselves?

When out on the lawn there arose such a noise that I thought someone was stealing my lawn toys.

But what to my wondering eyes did appear but a sky full of angels and light bright and clear.

They spoke out a message so simple and plain that it cut through the fog that clouded my brain...

Behold, I bring you good news of great joy...for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Christ the Lord.

The greatest news of all is that God Himself became one of us. The greatest gift that we would ever receive, the Son of God came to bring us back into a right relationship with God the Father.

That's what Christmas is.

Merry Christmas from my home to yours.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bah Humbug!?

I recently went with our church's children to see a Christmas pageant presented by a rather large church. This was the second year that I have been to this particular church to see their Christmas pageant. Throughout my years in ministry I have led numerous Christmas programs, some small, some not so small. I have been in large scale programs a number of times as well, so I feel that I can speak from an informed point of view. This particular pageant was visually and musically stunning. There can be no doubt about the talent and skill that was on display. They presented a wonderful program. But I was disturbed as I sat through the program and that feeling only increased as I considered what I saw and heard.

The program was divided into three sections: a choral opening was followed by a "traditional" program followed by a "spiritual" program. The opening portion featured a choral concert of traditional Christmas hymns such as "O Come, All Ye Faithful." This was a beautiful experience, although is was all too brief.

The "traditional" program featured what could best be described as vignettes built around secular Christmas songs such as "I'll be Home for Christmas" and "Here Comes Santa Claus." The amount of work that went into this portion of the pageant was obvious. This was the longest portion of the entire evening.

The third, "spiritual" portion of the pageant featured, for the most part, music that I was unfamiliar with. The centerpiece of this section was a recreation of the nativity. My son, who attended with my, noticed that the leadership took liberties with the biblical account by having the wise men come to worship at the manger. This was the shortest portion of the program.

Why was I disturbed by what I saw and heard during this performance? I have a very real problem with a church, which by definition is a body of believers who proclaim Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, placing a greater emphasis on Santa Claus and the secular than on the birth of our Savior. I am also disturbed that the leadership of the music ministry would be so disrespectful of the Word of God and present a decidedly unbiblical version of the events at the manger. These may seem like small things to be concerned about, but if you raise the water temperature one degree at a time you can boil a frog without him ever knowing about it. The church has lost its power and effectiveness one small step at a time through small compromises such as these.

What the world needs to hear at this time of year is not "Here Comes Santa Claus" or "Frosty the Snowman" but "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" and "What Child is This." Why would we sacrifice our message? We know the true reason for the season and we should be true to that message in all that we do.

May you know the very best of God's blessings this Christmas season.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Things that Last

The last few weeks have been very difficult. October was filled with the flu (yes, the swine flu visited our house) and November was filled with getting back on our feet and tracking down a diagnosis for a child's ongoing medical problems. Nothing occupies your mind and time quite like the illness of a child. So I haven't blogged, or done much else other than what had to be done, in a long while. But a trip home for Thanksgiving has brought me back.

I hadn't been home in seven years and felt a strong need to go home again, so I arranged to take a week of vacation for the Thanksgiving holiday. One of the things that I wanted to do on this trip was to go back and revisit some of the places I had lived during my childhood. My rationalization for this was the opportunity to show my children those places that they had heard their dad talk about. But there was a greater desire, a desire to remind myself where I had come from, to reorient myself once again with my roots. I needed to see whether I'd gone beyond the obstacles that populated my past. Had I made anything of myself?

One of the most shocking things about the trip was my discovery that many of my childhood homes (I showed my kids eight of them) had been torn down. The most disturbing absence was the one house that I lived in for two consecutive summers. I realize that houses are torn down all the time, but in our minds there is something permanent about the houses we grow up in and the schools we attend. To see those houses no longer there shook me, reminding me of the transient nature of the life I have lived and the unsettled nature of all of our lives. I believe that it is a sad truth that we all lack a basic sense of security in our lives.

On Sunday of our visit with my parents we attended church with them. This is the church that I grew up in, attending from the time I was nine or ten until I left to go to college. The buildings were the same, but I only knew (not counting my parents) two other people who attended that morning. That only seemed appropriate considering all the lost houses I had seen.

Then one simple statement reminded me of the things that truly last. That morning my mother introduced me as her "son." That may not mean much to you, I mean, mothers introduce their sons all the time. But let me explain...My mother is not my birth mother...she and her family took me in when I was sixteen and had been abandoned by my biological parents. Since that day she has never ceased to introduce me as her son and to tell everyone that my children are her grandchildren.

Those simple words reveal a truth that our culture has forsaken. Real worth and value is not found in houses or blood, but in the sacrifice that love willingly gives. My mom and dad willingly gave of themselves to take me in and give me a home. There was nothing that I could have done that would have made me worthy of such love and sacrifice. God exemplifies that love and sacrifice....For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son....I don't care to debate the theological implications of those words, but we cannot escape their plain meaning: God loved the world (that's you and I) that He sacrificed his Son for us! We didn't earn it, don't deserve it, and cannot change those facts.

I can never thank AJ & Shirley Munnerlyn for the love and sacrifice they extended to me....and I see in their acts a true reflection of the love and sacrifice of God for us all. That's the only thing that makes life worthwhile and the source of all things to give thanks for.

Thanks Mom and Dad.