Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Advent Turkey

"Papaw, is it wrong to not like Thanksgiving?'' Reggie asked his grandfather.
"Well, I think that depends, Reggie, on why you don't like it or if its just certain parts you don't like. Tell me what's on your mind."
"I guess its just parts of it but some of the parts kinda take over the whole day."
"Like what, Reggie?"
"Like lunch, Papaw. We have to get up early to come over here to your house. Breakfast is usually just a piece of toast or cereal and Mom is yelling at us to hurry up or we'll be late. Then we get here and we don't actually have lunch 'til 2:30 and I'm starving and I don't like turkey."
"Well, that is a problem. I think I can fix a part of it. Why don't you and I split a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to tide us over 'til our 2:30 lunch. We'll just make that part of our tradition."
"That'll be great but it doesn't change all that other funny tasting stuff Mom and Gran-up expect me to eat. We eat that red gloop out of a can twice a year. I just don't like it."
"Red gloop?"
"Yeah, its some kind of berry stuff.''
"Oh, you mean cranberry sauce. I think Thanksgiving will survive without your eating the red gloop."
"And I kind  of like that smashed cornbread but that egg gravy is gross."
"I think you mean dressing and giblet gravy. I can take care of that one, too. That egg gravy is a bit much to look at. Anything else?"
"Naw, Papaw, if you can help with those things I'll survive Thanksgiving."
"Well, you need to do more than survive it, Reggie. I mean this is only your ninth Thanksgiving, I've been at this for  sixty-seven years and my ninth one was the worst one. I didn't think I'd survive that one but here I am and Thanksgiving has become about my favorite holiday despite egg gravy."
"You like it better than Christmas?!?"
"Why was your ninth one so bad?"
"I got confused about Thanksgiving and Advent-- know where we talk about getting ready for Jesus' birth and waiting on Christmas-- we light the Advent candles every year at church... all those things...
"Yeah, our family got to light the pink candle last year. It was kinda cool."
"I remember... well, anyway, when I was nine, the first Sunday of Advent happened to be the same weekend of Thanksgiving. I had a part in my elementary school's Thanksgiving play the Wednesday before. We dressed up like Pilgrims and Indians and animals and even food remembering the first Thanksgiving in our land. That all went fine, I was a talking Turkey talking about how thankful people were going to be to have a great feast. But disaster struck that Sunday. I was suppose to talk about the Advent candle of Hope, the first one. I had my two lines memorized and when it came time to talk and when I looked out at all those church people, I just froze. I couldn't remember a word. Finally, my mom gave me a hint and I remembered! Only problem was I remembered my line from school the Wednesday before and told the whole church that "at this special time of year, we all enjoy the Advent Turkey and all the blessings we have been given."
"You said Advent Turkey? Ha, ha, hee, hee ...what did  you do, Papaw?"
"Oh, the whole church started laughing. I was so embarrassed I didn't know what to do except cry. My big brother laughed at me all month. He still makes fun of me for that. But I'll never forget what the preacher did. He asked my family to do the Hope candle again at Advent the next year. I heard a few laughs, expecially from your great uncle Ned, but I got through it just great. Later at the kid's Christmas party the preacher called me over and told me he had an extra ornament to hang on the tree and asked if I would do it. I said sure and then he showed it to me. It was a turkey ornament. Before I could laugh or cry he stopped me and said, 'I know what you're thinking but I thought about what happened last year and I'm not making fun of you. It just that Thanksgiving with the turkey and dressing and pies makes more sense if we remember the things other than food that we should be thankful for. I thought of you and how you  put Christmas and Thanksgiving together accidently last year. So from now on, I'm going to hang this Turkey ornament on the tree to remind myself that the first thing I should do when I think of Jesus' birth is to be thankful. We don't have a thankful candle on the Advent wreath but now I've got an Advent Turkey to help keep me Thankful.

"Papaw, you made that up. I know you...but it is funny...an Advent Turkey...ha,ha,ha
"Reggie, we're getting ready to decorate the tree after the Cowboys game. But I want you to go look in that really old box of Christmas ornaments beside the tree. Unwrap the one in the brown tissue paper and tell me what you find........
"Papaw! It's true, its true!.....

Well, its Advent time again, Turkeys, so be thankful........

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sitting Room Only--- John 5:1-16

In just a glance you could probably see it but by really looking, gazing deeply into the faces in those crowds,  like Jesus did in Matthew 9:36, you begin to really notice it. Beyond the poverty, disability, and their unsophisticated ways and you see humanity, you see hurt, you see hope, and you see people, like all of us, who need Jesus.

The porch at Bethesda in John 5 was a place like that-- people hurting, disabled, fearful, and yet hopeful that an Angel of the Lord might bring healing to the nearby waters. "If I can get there first," was their only hope, or so it seemed.

We don't look for angels to stir the waters in our lives much anymore, maybe we should. We look for stirrings in our lives in different places now. We look to be stirred by work, reality TV, sporting events, by lotteries, fishing, golf, vacations, whatever.... But like the lame, blind and paralyzed on Bethesda's porch you have to get there first, just ask Ranger fans or Alabama fans. You can get five numbers right but it takes six to win the jackpot. You can make a million bucks for your firm this year and the boss has forgotten by next year. So for people on Bethesda's porch or in Wal Mart or in front of the TV, they are waiting, looking, hoping for a stirring in their hearts, their lives. But the hope is fleeting because the world tells us you have to have great timing or great luck and come in first and first doesn't last long. There is always another game, another sale, another deal, another season, another show and we have to line up again and again, maybe even for 38 years, and hope for first.

But angels don't show up regularly and its hard for crippled humans, whether of body or soul, to move quickly to stirred waters. So for those who rarely or never come in first, Jesus shows up at last, and He's coming to a well near you, probably the one in your heart.

And Jesus shows up asking questions: 'do you want to get well?' The cripple at Bethesda's porch answers that the only way he knows isn't working. Jesus would ask us the same thing--do you really want to get well? Yes, but what I've learned to do, tried to do, and joined others in doing isn't working. We tried making more stuff and became addicted materialists. We tried more work and became workaholics with big mortgages, two marriages and distant kids. We tried self-reliance and became so independent that we lost that part of humanity called community. We tried more leisure and got lazy. We tried to live for ourselves and found ourselves crippled with addictions, syndromes, disorders, greed, empty thrills, inequalities and injustices.

So whaddaudo?

Listen. Listen to what Jesus tells all those faces in the crowd: "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." "Come, follow me." "Don't be afraid, just believe." "Everything is possible for him who believes. "Woman your faith is great, your request is granted." "Your faith has saved you, go in peace."

It is true what Dr. Charles  Poole once observed, the porch is never empty. It is SRO. But when Jesus shows up hope and healing, peace and salvation do, too. And be certain of this, Bethesda's porch still exists. You see it in line at Wal Mart, lining the halls of nursing homes, standing in line for a bowl of porridge in a refugee camp, filling stadiums, sitting in hospitals and clinics, and waiting for God knows what in front of countless electronic screens. All these faces in all these crowds have this in common: they, we all need Jesus.

But how does Jesus get to all those porches? Don't worry, He's there. His Spirit is there, His church is there. In fact, maybe the world and the church would be better off if we quit worrying so much about getting the crowds to church and took Jesus to Bethesda's porches. Then all those faces in all those crowds might see something of Jesus in our faces, and we certainly would see His in theirs.

"And remember the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God."
                                                                                                        Jean Val Jean--Les Mes


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

An Open Back Door II

Last time up to blog the Rangers had a chance, the Cowboys were a .500 team, and Kim K was still married. Things change. But for the church, often times the changes bring opportunities that we never could have imagined. I am calling these back door opportunities when the front doors of accepted morality, dialogue, political influence, church status, and the given-ness of the relevancy of Christ and His church are closing in our culture. Rejoice! The church has great opportunities for the true power of the gospel and authentic faith in the True Savior to shine like stars in our darkening skies (Philippians 2:15). Back door friends are often the closest anyway.

I had mentioned last time opportunities in the Arts, in the area of civility and manners, and  by genuine relationships in an electronically connected world but one in which people are more disconnected than ever.
Here are a few more back door opportunities........

4. Marriage-- many couples from young to old are now co-habitating. Gay marriage in many opinion polls is accepted by over half the populace in our culture. In light of the mindsets that have called into question the validity of marriage, in practice if not in sentiment, the church has a great opportunity to show the beauty, strength, stability, and benefits of marriage lived out in commitment to God and to one another. Kim Kardashian's 72 day marriage shows what's wrong. Marriage was based on feelings of love and the desire for the fairy tale romance. Christian marriage is based on commitment to God, His truths, and a commitment made by husband and wife to explore life together. In this marriage you are free to discover more about God, yourself, and your spouse. This "till death do us part" commitment frees, stabilizes, secures, and develops its lovers.  Grace abounds, faith grows, and in this commitment is found the soil for true, growing and abiding love. It takes more that 72 days to explore and develop this kind of love. The church has a great opportunity to show it in the lives of Christ's followers. And it doesn't cost $10 million but is worth far more.

5. Consider the back door of faith. Our culture is continually placing its faith, demonstrating its faith in politics, politicians, government programs, Wall street,  new business models, fame, fortune, and consumption of food, drink, entertainment, sports and other lesser gods to be disappointed, disillusioned, and increasingly dysfunctional. How about the church comes along and demonstrates solid, intelligent, compassionate faith in Christ? A faith is only as good as its object. The object of the church's faith is Jesus Christ. It may not always be as flashy, as profitable, or produce cuddly feelings but its Object, Jesus, brings to those who trust Him what they truly has been searching for--joy, hope, peace and love lived out in meaningful,  purposeful,  and what He called abundant living. In the light of this world's instability, sentimentalism, and emotional radicalism, this door is always open.

6. The Values door--Each of the values I list probably has three more to go with them and these values aren't always accepted in our society at all levels but the church can be the guardian and demonstrator of: courage even in the face of ridicule, persecution, misunderstanding, bullying, peer pressure and marginalization. Joy--so many people seek happiness and miss it because it is circumstantial. Joy in the midst of pain or suffering or even in the routines of daily living, points to a more noble calling. The deep, seated peace of knowing that God is in control and will take care of you for eternity brings rest and peace. It shows up as joy for it emanates from within. Peace, in the face of fear, fidelity to truth in a world of compromise, honesty when its easier to cut corners, self-giving, self-sacrifice, commitment to all things excellent, noble, trustworthy and the whole Philippians 4:8-9 thing will stand in sharp contrast with lesser offerings from lesser motivations.

7. The door of risky compassion. This compassion, or love in action, is propped open by sacrifice, generosity, and abandonment of control of the outcome. The church may start a ministry and it may fail. The church may start another church and it may not grow to self-sufficiency. So be it. The church risks because the church loves. Hope and love always have an element of risk. Instead of gambling or riding roller coasters, try starting a church for people who don't like church, or addicts, or prostitutes. Talk about thrilling! The church that does this will lose money from time to time, but never will they lose their investment.

8. A gentle knock on the back door of Biblical literacy will be answered by some. The church has a story to tell. It is the gospel story. We need to learn it well and share it often because so many on our world have no idea what truths are contained in the Bible that can bring them to Life. Our culture at one time knew about Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, Daniel and the lion's den, being poor like Job and what it meant to be in the fiery furnace. I'd be willing to bet the church can find a way to get the truths from those stories out there again.

9. Justice, Justice. Justice! Learn it, live it by word, deed, calendar, and wallet, and demonstrate it.

10. There is a back door into people's lives opened by Christians living lives of assurance and persuasion. With assurance of the future and being fully persuaded that God is present in each encounter, meeting, person, transaction, and adventure, in order to share His life with His children, our relationships and work are thus transformed into venues of sharing His grace and Sovereignty with all.

( Two more and I'll quit. This is turning into a book.)
11.There is a Power door. The church can demonstrate what Tullian Tchivdjian (Billy Graham's grandson) calls non-power. This is surrender to God's Sovereignty and His control. It is what Robert Capon called left-handed power (think Jesus, creator of the universe, dying on a cross)--not a power of physical, military or financial might, but one which allows truth to seep in slowly and deeply into the soul where it can change a rebellious sinner into a lover and follower of God.

12. A door called desire. I believe many would follow a church or a Christian who's desire was truly to be with Jesus and to abandon every thing in body, soul, mind, and spirit that either hampered one's relationship with Him.

Add to this list, subtract from it but by all means go to the back doors in the world and knock. Knock and the doors will be opened.

Knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door, and the world's too for that matter.