Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Kardashians or Wenceslas? You choose.

A little more than one thousand years ago a good man chose to walk through snow covered hills at night to give alms to the poor so they, the less fortunate, could celebrate the Feast of Stephen, a holiday meal served the day after Christmas. The man's page ran behind him struggling to keep up in the near blizzard conditions. It is said that the page was only able to keep up by following in the exact footsteps of the determinedly generous, Wenceslas. The bit of knowledge, or history, known about Wenceslas is that he may have been brought to Christ by his mother who secretly believed in Jesus while surrounded by pagans and taught Wenceslas when he was young. Due to the righteous acts of Wenceslas, his household, his servants, and eventually many in Czechoslovakia were brought to Christ.

Nine hundred years later, in 1853, a carol was written to celebrate the generosity of this man. The true story became legend, and that legend lives on in most Christmas music collections. 

Good King Wenceslas was actually a duke. He was declared a king/martyr/saint several hundred years after his death by the Roman Catholic Church. Wenceslas goodness was a tipping point in the middle ages conceptualization of the righteous king (rex justus), which means that kings are righteous simply because they are king. According to legend, Wenceslas was murdered by a jealous brother positioning for power. Wenceslas remains are said to be interred at the St Vitus Cathedral in Prague, and are sometimes available for view by the public.

If you are still reading, you may be wondering why I took the time to write a history lesson today, two days before we celebrate God incarnate. 

Men are remembered for many things. Some good. Some evil. 

In America, (and I will try to not sound completely snarky here) we celebrate men who can throw or catch a ball, and we celebrate and give magazine covers to young ladies who strip their clothes off while dancing with giant purple bears. We give our Sundays to football. We give our weekends to the box office. We give our attention to TMZ and whatever Brad and Angelina are doing for fun. We have a funny way of choosing what is important here in our culture. We celebrate and give attention to odd things. We celebrate the carnal and pay very little to the spiritual or eternal. 

In one thousand years, no one will care about the Kardashians. 

In one thousand years, when you and I are enjoying eternity, my hope is that no one remembers Beyonce. My hope is that those who remain are still singing about Good King Wenceslas, or telling stories about Mother Teresa, or going to worship the Christ on Christmas eve. 

Generosity has staying power.

Generosity is a momentary act that you may forget tomorrow, but has lasting impact on the world around you to change it for the good. There is no way of knowing how many peasants, pages, noblemen, were influenced by one man's acts one thousand years ago, but we do know that his life was so relevant to those people that he lives on in song today. If given the choice, I'd rather be remembered for being and doing good, not being popular. 

May we all choose to live in such a way to affect one thousand years in the future not just to gain attention in the present.
Do simple good things for those less fortunate. 
Be a Christian in deed more than word. 
Celebrate the good, pure, and Christlike.

"Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." -Matthew 19:21

"In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." -Matthew 5:16

Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent: In a death match between Santa and the Easter Bunny...

Santa wins every time. In our westernized culture, we have two major religious holidays. One celebrating the birth of Christ and one celebrating the resurrection. I love both! I love Christmas decorations and lights. I also love Cadbury eggs with their delicious gooey egg colored filling! Some Christians may debate which holiday is more significant. I'm sure Easter wins that debate when you consider our entire faith is built upon a Man resurrecting Himself from the dead. Without the resurrection, there really is no reason to celebrate, is there? However, I'll quote my husband here as I think he makes a good point. "You can't have a death without a birth."

Christmas is so much easier to celebrate. Generally, you'll be hard pressed to find someone who will refuse a gift even if it is another pair of gym socks from grandma. Christmas music brings joy to most. Christmas lights decorate the world, and when we look into the eyes of baby Jesus in the nativity scene on the corner of First Baptist Church, we are not demanded to consider life change, necessarily. Sure, we may feel a bit guilty for skipping out on the toy drive, but do we really consider what that little baby calls us to do with our lives for the rest of the year?

For the American world at Christmas, baby Jesus remains a quaint story of a poor man's birth from a teenage girl and a man who considered abandoning his mysteriously pregnant fiance. Baby Jesus doesn't really rub anyone wrong. Baby Jesus is frail, meek, and mild, and if you ignore Him, He disappears into a mess of tinsel, ivy, and Bing Crosby. Santa wins the fight. Baby Jesus is simply an ornament on the tree.

The name Jesus at Christmas may not upset many in this American culture. The name Jesus at any other time of year makes the world a bit uncomfortable. I don't know if you're like me, but saying Jesus in the workplace is hard (third commandment aside). Throwing that name out there changes the air and dynamic immediately. Am I the only one who notices this? There is definitely something strange about speaking the name.

Adult Jesus demands a presence of mind.
Adult Jesus calls the world to repentance.
Adult Jesus reminds us of a higher standard of living.
Adult Jesus causes uncomfortable questions about death, the afterlife, and hell.
Adult Jesus brings on anger for those who don't want to submit.
Adult Jesus brings on guilt for those who don't want to change.

Speaking the name Jesus in some environments can get you fired, will cause you to lose friendships, can make relationships uncomfortable, can make families stop talking, and can bring your own life under scrutiny. In the political environment around the world, speaking Jesus into a conversation is inappropriate, even offensive. Who am I to bring up a particular standard of living, of faith? Everyone is OK with whatever they believe. Wrong. I'm here to tell you that if you buy into Christianity, you buy into a standard of living and a God who blatantly states that no one comes to God the Father except through Jesus (John 14:6). Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. If you don't believe that, you are not on the same page with the Savior you claim to profess.

Baby Jesus is much easier. Santa wins.

Friends, if we claim to be Christians we cannot shy away from adult Jesus. I'm not calling you to stand on any corner and intentionally hurt your chances for the next promotion. I am calling us all to hear the conscience God gave us, to act on the Holy Spirit when He nudges us, and to boldly speak the name of Jesus into our world at work, in our family, and in our neighborhoods. We are the only chance the world has to hear about Him. No more excuses. No more avoiding discomfort. No more Christ denials, because that's what it really is when we refuse to bring Him into the conversation--denying Christ for the sake of our own comfort.

Yes, Jesus calls us to change.
Yes, Jesus brings on our guilt.
Own it.
Yes, Jesus saves us from our sin!
Wear it.
Admit to it!

Jesus came to save this world. He came so that your neighbor could have life, your boss could have life, and your family could have life.

Thank God He came to remove our sin from us! Speak the name. Share Him. If you don't, who will?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent: How He Came.

Through the labor cry of a teenage girl, this is how He came.
Tiny babe, red fingers curled, this is how He came.

In stillness of a lonely night, this is how He came.
Under only candlelight, this is how He came.

No throne, no royal story, this is how He came.
No nursemaid, no cradle, no earthly glory, this is how He came.

Angelic choir for shepherds' joy, this is how He came.
God Creator, fragile boy, this is how He came.

How He came!
How He came!

Let the whole earth see how He came!

History changer, heart transformer, this is how He came.
Dismissing wealth and political charmer, this is how He came.

Kings question his royalty, this is how He came?
Pharisees question His deity, this is how He came?

Wise men sought the Story, this IS how He came!
Faithful men see Him in glory, this is how He came.

Knight without armor, His word a sword, this is how He came.
Humble status but still The LORD, this is how He came.

Tiny Baby, Triumphant Savior, this is how He came.

How He came!
How He came!

Let the whole earth see how He came!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent: In our dirt.

You can tell a good teacher when you see them get down on the floor with their students and joyously mesh playtime and learning time. One of my dearest friends is a kindergarten teacher and from the first time I met her, I knew Jennifer belonged in a class room. She has this amazing ability to talk to children in a way they understand. Her playful spirit, contagious laugh, and abounding energy have a way of capturing the attention of room full of germ laden noise makers. Where she is right at home in a class room, you'll find me in the corner...hiding. She gets on their level immediately and opens their little eyes to all sorts of adventure... even if it is math. She is simply amazing.

I feel that teachers must be humble beings to go to no end to reach a child.  I've known, personally, teachers who take pay cuts and pay for school supplies out of their pockets for the sake of the students in their class rooms. My friends who work with disabled children clean up messes that some of us would never dream of touching. Actually, I feel quite humbled thinking about them and my cozy desk job.

God incarnate is probably one of the most difficult concepts for a skeptic to grasp. Before we even discuss the sacrifice of God's only Son, we must accept that The Almighty God intentionally chose to visit an inhospitable environment. More so, Creator God who knew His creation dropped Himself into a time period before public sanitation, refrigeration, and modern medicine.

Why? Why would a God who sits on a throne on high leave his station to join the slaves in the poorhouse? 

God in flesh is approachable. 
God in flesh is a walking visual aid. 
God in flesh is touchable and audible. 
God in flesh is a walking proof of eternity. 

God came in a form we could see and understand to get on our level, to educate us, and to reveal His wild unmatched love for us. He did not come to understand us. He came because he already did understand. Our Creator knew we needed a form we could touch. He knew that the sacrifice of animals hurt but not nearly enough. He came to silence any doubt of His love for His children. 

Phillips Brooks, preacher and lyricist of Oh Little Town of Bethlehem said this, "The incarnation is the supreme assertion that only through the highest medium, which is humanity, can the highest messages be given to mankind."

The Word became flesh and made his home among us. 
He walked in our mess and in our dirt.
Holy God was willing to leave glory to reach our hearts.