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MY CHRISTMAS PRESENT SURPRISE

Mrs. Greenbean has told me that I can’t receive the mail or be near any parcels which arrive for the next several days.  The reason for this, she says, is my Christmas present is on the way and I would know what it was just by looking at the box.  I’m not much of a snooper on things like this, but my curiosity is definitely piqued.  The only clue I have to work with is my wife said (or was it my oldest daughter who said it?) it was, “Something you’ve always wanted.”

Well, that narrows it down.  My first guess, then, was that it was a cheese wheel.  I have always wanted one of those.  She said that wasn’t what it was.  This means that my Christmas present is a genie in a bottle.  That is the only other thing I’ve always wanted.  I have been thinking about my three wishes ever since I was a little boy and saw Barbara Eden on television.

  1. Wish Number One:  Every time I reach into my pocket, may there be a new $100 bill.  Admittedly, when I was boy, it was a $5 bill but, times have changed and so have my needs.  I devised this plan based upon two problems.  If I asked for a set amount of money, it might not be enough to do things.  With this plan, I can always get more.  It also solves the problem of storage.  A set amount of money could be stolen or lost on devastating investments—like retirement funds.  But this way, I just pull it out when I need it.
  2. Wish Number Two:  I wish for the ability to travel through time without having to worry about any annoying causality problems.  As a historian it would be fascinating to me to see key moments in history as well as everyday life in the past.  Imagine having a cup of coffee with Abraham Lincoln before he was anyone important or chatting with Hemingway about bullfighting?  That’s the kind of stuff I would enjoy.  The only problem is language.  To visit the past, say, Rome—one really would need to master classical Latin or learn Chinese to see t he emergence of the Han Dynasty.  I wonder if this second wish could have an addendum about languages
  3. Wish Number Three:  It is tempting to be swayed by silly Disney films and make my third wish to free the genie.  My old friend Chuck always reminds me, though, the ancient literature says repeatedly “Fear one thing—the Djinn” so I will refrain from unleashing that type of devastation upon the planet.  So, my third wish is I that I have top-secret security clearance as an agent of the FBI.  I’ve waffled in the past on this—sometimes the CIA or The Texas Rangers (not the baseball team, but the totally awesome law enforcement agency) or even Interpol.  But I’ve decided in my fantasy it would be easier to live the life of a top-secret agent and keep my calling as a pastor if I stay domestic with the FBI.

 

In the unlikely event that my Christmas present is not a genie in a bottle; then I will let you know what kind of cheese it was.  Until then, all of us should be working on our three wishes, just in case our special someone gives us what we’ve always wanted.

IN(DEBT)ED

Yesterday I was listening to NPR—which is a sin in some camps but I still love it—and there was an amazing piece on the Debt Commission and their upcoming recommendations to Congress and the President.  The reporter for the piece was Mara Liasson.  As a note, she’d better watch out because I think she sometimes works for FOX and I don’t want her to get Juaned.

The piece (http://www.npr.org/2010/12/02/131747243/Debt-Commission-Recommends-Shared-Sacrifices) was short, but poignant and interesting; in a human nature kind of way.  In summary, it put forward the notion that everyone agrees the national debt must be curtailed, but no one really supported any specifics to stop the spending.  It would be as if everyone knew that the car needed to get an oil change but the people in the car couldn’t agree on where to do it, how to pay for it, or what time to schedule it.  As a result, the car will eventually stall.

The best summary of the situation was not by an elected official but by a business person:

Mr. DAVE COTE (CEO, Honeywell): We’re being watched by countries who consider us past our prime because we can no longer rally as Americans to accomplish the tough things. As a country, we need to stop the demagoguing, where everyone just runs to their neutral corner and yells and screams at the other guys.

    

Now, here is what interests me.  I see the same instinct in families, individuals, and churches.  People recognize that their spending is out of control but there is absolutely no will-power to make the changes necessary to stop it.  A family, for example, sees the need to stop credit card spending and makes big decisions to get out of debt but then instead of eating what is in the fridge for dinner they decide to ‘splurge’ and go out to eat.  How do they pay for it?  What’s in your wallet?

This Sunday I am scheduled to preach on Jesus and the issue of poverty as a part of my Advent ELEVATION sermon series.  One of the things I hope to point out (SPOILER ALERT) is that money is never the real problem nor is it the real solution.  Money is really only a symptom.

Our nation’s debt is parallel to most folk’s personal debt problem.  It’s not an issue of how much is coming in but of the inability to make hard choices and prioritize spending.  The root of the problem is undisciplined living. 

That is what Mr. Cote was trying to say about our nation.  We’ve lost the will-power to make the hard choices and do the right kinds of things.  Now for the bow-tie finish where it all comes together.  Perhaps our nation’s incredible, lamentable and unprecedented financial debt is a symptom of our incredible, lamentable and unprecedented spiritual apathy.  Maybe it’s just me, but I think there is definitely some kind of connection there and that is before I ever get started the strong New Testament connection between “debt” and “sin.”  I’ll save that for another day.

WHY I LOVE ADVENT

Yesterday our church (www.fbcpo.org) started our annual journey through Advent.  I freely confess Advent is one of my most favorite times of the year.  So often we confuse Advent with the season of Christmas.  The two are designed to be separate.  Advent prepares us spiritually for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter.  Through the years there are five things that I have come to particularly enjoy about the season of Advent.

  • Prophecy—The first Sunday of Advent usually carries a heavy emphasis upon prophecy.  Jesus Christ came the first time, according to Hebrew Bible prophecy, and he will likewise come again.  I like this emphasis because in my usual teaching and preaching ministry I really do not spend much time on the subject because it is never one of those ‘urgent’ issues.  However, the sacred time of Advent brings the issue to my thoughts ever year and I am blessed because of it.
  • Candles—Advent is observed with the lightly of candles.  I love ‘smells and bells’ and am kind of a closet Episcopalian on this particular issue.  Baptists—my particular tribe, are not usually much of a aesthetic group of people but this time of year even the most practical and functional folk will give in to the ritual and beauty of a candle.
  • Scripture—It is impossible to properly observe Advent without a strong dose of Scripture.  Indeed, the whole season revolves around the lectionary.  I am celebrating this year by translating the gospel readings from Luke from Greek into English.  When I finish each week, I may post my translation here on the blog.
  • Focus—Advent’s key job today is to take our mind away from the slavish service to the marketplace and focus us back onto the real emphasis of Christmas.  My perception is that this is why the observance of Advent is making its way into many non-liturgical Protestant and free churches.   It is truly sad to me that our sacred time has been hijacked by people hocking electronic gadgets.  If it were not for Advent and the traditional focus of this time of year; it would likely give up on Christmas and just let the heathens have it.  In the midst of the pagan abuse, Advent keeps me grounded on the gospel.
  • Climax—As a storyteller nothing is as thrilling to me as rising action that culminates in a dazzling climax of action.  This is what Advent does with the Christmas narrative—it provides the rising action.  Without this sense of dramatic unfolding the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day events are a little flat.  It’s like skipping the whole book and just reading the last chapter.  You might know what happened, but you don’t necessarily know why or why it is significant.

NO THANK YOU–THANKSGIVING 2010

This morning as I arise and look out the window of my study over snowy, picturesque, and beautiful Puget Sound there are many things which come to my mind that I am thankful for:  Jesus’ love for me, my superhero wife, kind daughters, and this delicious cup of coffee that is bringing joy to my heart.  But the things I’m thankful for would be an easy, albeit long, list. 

What about the thankful negatives?  The thankful nots?  Now that is something to work on.

  1. I am thankful that I do not live in an oppressive land.  Today many of my brothers and sisters in Christ will wake up and not have the kind of liberty to gather, pray, worship and serve the way I do.  Would I still have a thankful heart toward God if I lived in such place?  I hope I would.  I think I would.  For now I think it is sufficient to say I am thankful I do not.
  2. I am thankful that I do not have to worry about providing food in a primitive way for my family.  I do not have to milk cows and make butter, I do not have to butcher the hog myself, and my wife does not need to spin yarn to make my clothing.  Sometimes we romanticize the pioneer trail or antiquity as wonderful.  I however, will celebrate and thankful that I do not live in those by-gone days.  I have electricity, running water and 7 supermarkets within three miles of my home and that is good.
  3. I am thankful that I am not one of those famous celebrity people.  I cannot imagine how terrible it would be to never have a moment of privacy and to always be the subject of someone else’s thoughts.  I value too much my privacy, independence, and freedom to ever want to be celebrity.  That is why I think being a writer is the best—you can be famous for your written work but most people still would not recognize your face or your voice.
  4. I am thankful I do not have a job I hate.  In fact, I do not have a job at all—I have a calling.  Sure, there are times when being a pastor is skullduggery and tedious.  It is also true that there are times of great stress and pain.  But the truth remains, I love my work and am energized by the basic functions I perform—study, preaching, teaching, writing, pastoral care, and leading.  I am thankful I do not have a job I dread!
  5. The ultimate no thank you?  I am thankful I am not an atheist.  Of all the people in this world to be pitied, the atheist is the most pitiable.  Who does the atheist thank on Thanksgiving?  Where does her soul find rest?  Why does he, like insane people, deny the truth painted in the very sky and in our eternal soul?  I understand other religious structures—I don’t agree with them, but I understand them.  What I cannot understand is how anyone could look at the world and think it was by random accident.  Someone holding that belief is truly irrational and must have a miserable existence.