Monday, November 30, 2009

Holiday Hangover (Part one of two)

Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas marathon begins. Each Christmas always begins with the gayest of moods. Eggnog coffees and shakes are offered at our favorite franchises, the radio stations start playing that joyful holiday music filled with a little drummer boy, and the miracle of a talking snowman. There is red and green with mistletoe on our doors, and evergreen garnishing our living room floor. The smell of cookies, the overstocking of the year’s most popular toy, bells ringing, and a large elderly man in a red suit adorning our town square with presents and “ho ho ho’s.” Then on January first we crash, and not just because we stayed up all night watching Times Square drop a fire hazard of a disco ball to join in with hundreds of strangers singing a song no one knows the lyrics to. We crash because the marathon is finally over. I call it the holiday hangover, a feeling that even the strictest of prohibitionists experience. Those eggnog flavored beverages have now become part of our expanding midsection. The little drummer boy’s “pa rum pum pum pum” has become permanently imbedded in our brain, our beautiful decorations have become a daunting chore that we must accomplish before we discover that it’s April, and our Christmas lights are still up. We must return all that does not fit us, suit us, or fancy us. We must walk in the stores trying to avoid making contact with the bell ringers who, like our creditors, are hounding us for our emptied pockets. The holiday hangover leaves us with big bellies, penniless pockets, and ritual resolutions that will be broken by February. The stores have gone from red and green to blinding pink and red reminding us that the Christmas marathon may be over, but there are still many other races to run.

I hope I do not sound too critical. But what I am looking for is a real Christmas season. Unfortunately when people talk about getting to the true meaning of Christmas, they mean that we need to buy neon red lights that say “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” or must endlessly debate and defend saying “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays.” While Jesus may be the reason for the season, we must remember that lights and possessions are not. So how do we justify our satiation for acquiring possessions simply because there is a scripture passage embossed on it? And who cares how people greet you? ‘Holiday’ actually means “holy day” so it’s perfectly acceptable to use this phrase instead of “Merry Christmas.” So how do we get at the heart of Christmas? How do we avoid the inevitable holiday hangover that leaves us with not just exhaustion, but a sense of meaningless tradition? What is the reason? What is the purpose? What is the answer? I believe behind the meaningless tradition of Christmas we can find a meaningful tradition in the advent wreath.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

fighting for peace...

  What does a handgun, a LGN-118 nuclear missile, and the children of God in Matthew 5:9 have in common? They are all called peacemakers. Is it any wonder we live in a time that is not aware fully of the meaning, or even feeling of peace?

The closest we can get to peace is by looking at a few passages given to us through Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God was called and prophesied to be the “Prince of Peace” in Isaiah 9:6. A prince he was for he repeatedly through the gospels talked about his Kingdom. Even the place of his punishment, the costly cross testified to his kingship (on the cross was posted This is the King of the Jews). However, his life and ministry did not contain any royal treatment. His palace was often the outdoors where he did not even have a place to rest his head (Luke 9:58). His high court officials consisted of fishermen, extremists, and small time tax collectors. And his treasury was banked rolled by a few faithful local women. Yet we see his power and influence has surpassed beyond that of any Caesar, dictator, president, or any other prince or artist formerly known as prince. Also his kingdom still continues, despite all the great powers that have come and fallen away.

A Prince, Jesus is, but a Prince of Peace. This title of peace explains why the only military attempt by Jesus’ faithful entourage was during his arrest when Peter with sword in hand mangled the ear of Malchus, the High Priest’s servant, which was condemned by Jesus (John 18:10). And the most violent we see Jesus was when he flipped tables and drove out animals from the temple (John 2:12-22). Peacefulness is not just something Jesus demonstrates through a virtuous demeanor, Peace is a central part of Jesus’ life, ministry, and purpose (2:14). Therefore, pursuing peace goes beyond merely a characteristic attribute (although it does include this), but peace is a divine, inspired, moving, and working reality of the Kingdom of God.

Peace wasn’t easy for Jesus to do. In fact peace became a very violent endeavor. Jesus had a price on his head for his message of peace, a price that ended up being thirty silver coins collected by Judas Iscariot (Matthew 26:14-16). The disciples who carried the message of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 28:16-20) all also met similar fates (except perhaps John who was most likely in exile on Patmos). Pursuing the peace of God often means we become confronted with violence, but never do we confront with violence. So what does this mean for us?

We have our rights as citizens, we have the right to fight back to defend ourselves, we have the right to defend our country from ‘outsiders’, we have the right to preserve our lives according to the preamble to the Constitution of the United States. But what country, state, nation, province, city, kingdom, territory, or common wealth do we belong to? What is our first priority? Is it to city, state, or country? Or is our first priority to the Kingdom of God, to the Prince of Peace? How does this change our understanding of the “right of life and the pursuit of happiness.”

Again I do not know if I can provide all the answers, but these are the questions we need to ask and consider. If Jesus, the Prince of Peace is our Lord, that means he is our King, and we are now living according to the Kingdom of Heaven. How important is our life in the pursuit of peace? What about when our family is threatened, what about when our country is attacked? Where is our loyalty? Are we preserving the pursuit of happiness, or are we pursuing the Peace of Christ? What about Afghanistan, what about Iraq, Iran, that rundown neighborhood? The Prince of Peace was called the Christ which means messiah and a messiah is a liberating king. What is the Prince of Peace liberating us from?

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. - Mark 8:35

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In the beginning...

Ok, so this may not be as tremendous as the account of the creation of everything in Genesis, but getting me to blog and on a regular basis is pretty miraculous. So why attempt the seemingly impossible, what’s the point? It could be that I feel my writing and insights are so valuable that it needs to be shared as widely as possible? Unfortunately many people approach their writing with this attitude, which is why there is garbage upon garbage of writing out there. My writing is not that stellar, and my insights are anything but ground breaking. It could be that I am trying to fit into the "evangelical" mold. I am a young white male, drive a conservative gas sipping Yaris, have a goatee, and my book shelves are littered with emerging church literature; I do seem to be one blog away from perfecting the stereotype. However, I do not consider myself an 'evangelical' mostly because I am not quite sure what it means, and I know those outside of church culture at best have a vague misunderstanding of the term. I could be writing to fill my time and give me a sense of purpose, which is why many people find themselves writing. But once again my life is anything but slow. As senior pastor of an urban Indianapolis Church looking to grow and be effective, my days, nights, and weekends are packed full of trying to share the word faithfully to the Lynhurst Baptist congregation and the entire community. Not to mention consuming joy to read, and my beautiful wife. I am filled with an idea of purpose, a purpose that serves a God and a world that is much bigger than me.

So back to the original question, why am I blogging? If nothing else our life and the Christian faith is entrenched in community. Not that this blog is supposed to take place of real authentic community, but it is more about how we do approach our community that we are in. Let us just get down to it; I do not have all the answers. Sure if you ask me a deeply ‘religious’ question I can come up with a pat sound answer. But if the Christian life truly is all that it is supposed to be, it goes beyond the best answers that I or even any one theologian, pastor, evangelist, or author can respond to. So this blog is not about answers, though there may be some on the way, but it is really about questions, and asking the questions together. Life is difficult whether you believe or not, Jesus did not come to make our life easy, or even completely understandable (don’t believe me?...look at the disciples). It’s a struggle, with many questions and uncertainties. Let us then stop pretending that we have it all figured out, or that everything is simple all the time. This believing in Jesus thing is so big, it is so important, it carries so much weight we need each other along the way. We do not get the luxury of having all the answers, we just get one big answer, and that is Jesus, and that’s good news. The rest is trusting in Him, and working with each other. In short this blog is about what we run into. Since I am writing it there will be a lot of dialogue on my part, but join in. I do not expect thousands to read regularly, but that if just a few in the church (locally and universally) and those in the community (locally and universally) join in together for mutual questioning we will be on our way to mutual sharpening.