Thursday, December 3, 2015

Christmas In The Dumps

"Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned."  (Matthew 4:15-16 NRSV)

The modern celebration of Christmas owes quite a bit to Charles Dicken’s short novel: A Christmas Carol.  Everyone’s familiar with the iconic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, the grumpy miser, who undergoes a change of heart and is reborn on Christmas day.  But also important is the unsung hero of the story:  Bob Cratchit.  If you think about it, Bob has plenty of reasons to be depressed and discouraged.  He has to work on Christmas Eve, and barely gets Christmas Day off.  He scrapes out a living, and can’t even afford a decent meal for his family on Christmas Day.  He has six kids, and they aren’t going to have many, if any, presents to open on Christmas morning.  One of his children, Tiny Tim, has serious and expensive health issues (with no health insurance) and the child may not live much longer.  And Bob works for one of the worst bosses ever, in a stressful and cold job, where he’s undervalued and over worked.  Bob has an amazingly bad life, and yet, with all these reasons to be depressed and discouraged, Christmas still blesses and enriches his life.

Christmas is for the Bob Cratchet’s of the world:  people who are having a difficult time with life.  As Matthew puts it, quoting Isaiah 9:2:  the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.  Christmas is for people sitting in darkness; people living in the region of death.  In Matthew’s day, these words were spoken to a demoralized nation living under the cruel and oppressive rule of Rome.  These people “who sat in darkness” are the kind of people we sometimes refer to as being “down in the dumps.”  And the hopeful words in Matthew reminded them, and us, that the birth of Jesus is especially for these hurting folk. 

Jesus comes to those having a rough time.  He is a light shining for those who grieve the death of a loved one, those struggling to make ends meet, those who are sick, those who battle anxiety and depression.  Jesus comes for the people who have the cards stacked against them, those who are on the outside, rejected and abandoned.  Christmas is primarily for people who are anything but “successful” by the world’s standards. 

Ironically, the people for whom the gift of Jesus was most given are often the people who have the roughest time with the Christmas season.  Many people experience this time of year as an annoying and distressing distraction.  So I think it’s time for the dump-dwellers of the world to unite and reclaim the holiday!  Don’t let the happy plastic people hijack your Christmas, or define its meaning for you.

If you’re sad and depressed, if you’re anxious and hurting, if you’re having a rough time, Christmas is your holiday!  Go ahead and claim it.

Of course, there is still darkness in the world, and many continue to live in the shadow of death.  Christmas doesn’t make the problems disappear.  But it does remind us that we don’t live in total despair.  There is a light shining.  The light is in Jesus.  And this light brings us hope and grace so we can rise above the problems and pain of life.  The light shines, even down in the dumps, and it’s there that we can best see it beauty.

So “Merry Christmas” to those sitting in darkness.  Christmas is for all of us, but it’s especially for you. 


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Who To Vote For

I’m going to tell you who to vote for regarding the upcoming Presidential Election.  But first you’ve got to put up with my political rambling.  Here is:

Every four years the American people begin a process which I’m very proud of, and which horrifies me at the same time.  We begin that process of nominating and electing the President of the United States of America. That process has now begun, and the news media is having its pre-election field-day, following candidates, analyzing polls, and dividing the American people into polarized camps.

I’m proud to live in a democracy, but I find the whole political process uncomfortable, and even distasteful.  And as we brace ourselves for the coming onslaught of negative political ads, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about politics and faith, and specifically how we as a family of faith can avoid being sucked into the negative atmosphere that tends to permeate political discourse.

While there are a number of Americans who seem to want politics discussed from the pulpit, I’m not a big fan of mixing Christianity and political ideologies.  So here’s why I think we need to keep partisan politics out of the Maple Avenue Pulpit.

1.  Churches that become political are in danger of losing their tax exempt status.  In other words, freedom of expression guarantees my right to preach political sermons, but doing so could jeopardize our congregation’s non-profit status.  Obviously this law isn’t enforced very often, and it’s easy to find congregations and clergy who ignore it with no bad consequences.  Still, I intend to respect this separation of church and state.

2.  We live in a politically diverse congregation, and I’m proud of this fact!  We have strong Republicans and we have strong Democrats.  If we start dividing up into political teams it would harm, or even destroy, our ministry together.  For that reason it is essential for us to focus on our life together above our political agendas.  In fact, I’m going to go so far as to say that our joint ministry is more important than our political agendas. 

3.  Our ministry is more important than political agendas because we seek first the kingdom of God…not the kingdom of Democrats, or the Kingdom of Republicans, or the Kingdom of Independents.  The Christian faith must always rise above our narrow political ideologies, and whenever Christianity becomes entangled with a particular political stance it gets dragged into the political mud.  Jesus was not a Republican, and neither was he a Democrat.

4.  Because we’re rising above politics, we need to respect each others political views.  We are citizens of the United States of America and we have a duty to be politically informed and vote our conscience.  But whenever I come to believe that the person on the other side of the political fence is just crazy, doesn’t make any sense, and doesn’t need to be heard, I’ve destroyed any possible dialogue and unfairly demonized that other person.  In a church we need to operate under the assumption that all sides of a political debate have some valid points to make and are worth considering.  In a church, we don’t always agree but we always respect one another.

I do have political opinions and I have no problem sharing them--especially if you ply me with coffee and ask me privately.  I’m sure the same thing is true of most of our members.  But in a church we operate by a different set of rules than others in the world, and we must always resist the temptation to get sucked into political divisiveness.

So here’s where I tell you who to vote for.  After careful consideration, vote for the person you think is best qualified to lead our country.  I’ll respect you and your decision, and I hope we can all do the same for one another.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Spending Your Way To Happiness!

We recently got a new TV to sit in our living room.  It replaced our old television set dating back to the Cretaceous Period.  Of course, buying the set, getting it home, turning it on, watching some shows, was all enjoyable.  Even exciting.  But in the end of the day, does that TV make me happier?  Does it bring more joy to my life than the other set?  And what makes us happy in the long run anyhow? 

 I think it’s interesting that recent scientific studies have attempted to answer these questions, and have led to some fascinating conclusions.  Some of the studies have also confirmed what religious folk have been saying all along.  You can read several summaries of these studies online.

Here are some of their findings regarding money and wealth. 

1.        People who don’t have enough to live a decent life, are not as happy as people who do.  In this sense, money does buy us happiness!  But after saying this, when we have enough to be comfortable, more money doesn’t have much of an effect on our happiness--if any at all.  We think it does, but it doesn’t.  
2.       Materialistic people are less happy than non-materialist folk.  It seems that when we spend our energy trying to get more wealth, we’re actually spending our time focusing on what we don’t have instead of enjoying what we do have.  Happy people enjoy what they do have.

3.       Spending money on experiences leads to more happiness than spending money on more stuff.  People seldom look back on their lives and fondly remember their big screen television.  They remember the good experiences they shared with people they cared about.  If you spend money on a meal with your family and friends you have the happiness of looking forward to the meal, the happiness of the meal, and the happiness of the memories from that meal.  
4.       Besides experiences, spending money to help others also promotes happiness.  People who use some of their wealth to help other people and make the world better tend to get more joy out of living.  Even children are happier when they share their things with others.

5.       Related to the finding above, volunteering at tasks to help others also tends to make people happier.  Volunteering also strengthens our mental health, and help us live longer, reducing our risk of early death.  And it  gives us a greater sense of well-being and decreases depression.

So if you want to live a happy life, join Maple Avenue, where you can do all of the things above! 

I do wonder, when I look at the longevity of our congregation, if these findings don’t play a role in that long life.  Most of us have enough money to be comfortable (point #1), and we try not to be materialistic (point #2).  We are actively sharing experiences (point #3), helping others (point #4), and volunteering (point #5).  We’ve got most, if not all, of the 5 findings covered.  And since another study suggests that happy people live longer, I understand why we have a congregation full of long-living people!

I may enjoy our television set, but it doesn’t really make me a happier person.  The things that do make me happier are the time, energy, and resources I can share with the people of Maple Avenue and the world around me.  The things that do make me happier are the experiences I share with my friends and family.  Those are the things that truly make a lasting difference in the end.  Maybe money can help bring us happiness if we spend it on the right things.  Let’s spend it on the Kingdom of God.

In God’s Peace;

Friday, July 31, 2015

A Mile Past Splat

One of Jules Feiffer’s cartoons has a woman approaching a wise man, asking him “Whither?”  The wise man points to his left, and says “Thither.”  So she disappears in that direction, only to be met by a loud “SPLAT’.  She returns banged up, and asks again, “Whither?”  The wise man points once more to his left and says “Thither.”  Again she disappears off screen only to be met again by another loud “SPLAT”.  She returns even more disheveled, asking for a last time “W-W-Whither?”  The wise man points to his left, and says “Thither.”  “No, no, no, no, no, no,” she screams.  “Why Thither?” 

The wise man replies:  “In life there is only one thither…and it’s a mile past splat.”
Whatever thither your life takes, that thither will run through SPLATS.  And this is why we can’t let SPLATS detour us in our journey through life.  If we do, we’ll never get any where.  And it’s also the reason we must have faith that there is a better life beyond the SPLAT, and we must have determination and courage to face those SPLATS. 

But here’s where we have a significant advantage over the woman in the Feiffer cartoon.  We don’t have to face the SPLATS alone.  We can face them as a community of faith.

Harold Blake Walker describes an important lesson he learned from a Wyoming cowboy, who learned it from Hereford cows.  Winter storms tend to take a heavy toll on most cattle.  When the wind is blowing and freezing rain assaulting them, most cattle will turn their backs to the storm, drifting in the direction of the wind, until they reach a fence or other natural barrier.  Then they pile up, and die.  Hereford cows, however, are much hardier.  These cattle face the wind together and head into the storm side by side, and when they can go no farther, they stand shoulder to shoulder facing the storm’s blast together, with their heads down against the onslaught.  “You almost always found the Herefords alive and well,’ said the cowboy

Face the storms, and face them together.  For me, the saddest thing about the woman in Feiffer's cartoon was that she was trying to travel through the SPLAT by herself.  That’s something nobody should ever have to do. We travel together, facing the storms together, and making it beyond together. 

This is the way of the church.  God beckons us forward, Jesus travels with us, and the Holy Spirit empowers us.  And traveling together there’s no SPLAT we can’t get through, as individuals, and as a community of faith.

In Christ;

Monday, June 22, 2015

Living With Apes

When I was young, one of the books I read and loved was Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.   The book was published over 100 years ago in 1914, and was followed by 25 sequels.  I thought Tarzan was one cool dude, and I was apparently not alone in this assessment. He has been a popular figure known the world over ever since he swung onto the world stage.  And he has moved into every branch of our culture.  He’s in comic books, songs (remember "Guitarzan"?), been on the radio and even had his own TV show.  According to the Internet Movie Database there are 200 movies with the word “Tarzan” in the title.  So why have so many people over the past 100 years found the character so fascinating?

I suspect it has something to do with being an outsider longing to find a place in the world.  Tarzan is an outsider.  After being orphaned as an infant, he’s raised by apes, who become his adopted family.  But he’s different from them and never totally fits in.  In later books written by Burroughs, Tarzan settles with Jane in London and adapts the thin veneer of civilization, but even here he never fits in.  He longs for the jungle and his jungle family.  He is still most comfortable sleeping in trees and eating raw meat.  Eventually he returns to the Jungle.  He is devoted to Jane in both worlds, but he himself is never totally at home wherever he is.  So it makes sense to me that young people struggling with their feelings of being “different” (and what young person doesn’t feel this way) would read a book about a similar outsider and find it meaningful.

People long to fit in.  People want to belong.  And yet, people are all different.  No one entirely fits in anywhere. And this tension between wanting to fit in and being different makes a lot of people nervous about congregations.  Churches have frequently expected folk to meet cookie-cutter expectations, wanting everyone to look, think, and act alike.  And people who attend these congregations usually become experts at pretending like they are the same.  But in reality, we’re all different, even when we pretend otherwise.  And this is why one of the most powerful gifts a congregation can give to others is the gift of accepting them in spite of differences. 

I celebrate Maple Avenues willingness to share this gift.  We expect you to be nice, and to respect others, but we don’t expect you to be like everyone else.  Whenever somebody walks through the door of a church for the first time, they can’t help but wonder: “Will people here welcome and accept me?”  I believe the answer to that question at Maple Avenue is “You bet!”  It doesn’t matter how you’re dressed.  It doesn’t matter your past.  It doesn’t matter your ethnic background.  Other congregations may reject you because they don’t like who you are, but we’re glad to see you here!

Tarzan never quite fits in.  But wherever he goes, he is a blessing.  He never fails to come to the rescue of those who are in trouble.  He has a unique set of talents which he uses to make the world better.  And I think the same can be said of each one of our members.  I even believe it’s true of visitors who walk through our doors.   

You probably know why I’m talking about Tarzan.  We are currently hard at work preparing for our summer musical production of Tarzan!    We have an amazingly talented cast, and I think it’s going to be well worth seeing.  And at this musical, as with everything else we do around here, you, your friends, and your neighbors are always welcome.


Yours in Christ

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Ideal Couple

 Years ago a British television company held a nation-wide competition to find ‘Britain’s ideal couple.’  After their extensive search they settled on a nice pair of lovebirds who were engaged to be married.  This couple was interviewed numerous times happily sharing their secrets to a successful relationship.  A television program about the couple was produced and the day before it aired, the situation changed in an unexpected way.  The young woman was smacked in the face by her fiancĂ© at a concert.  This, coupled with her discovery that he was already married to a woman named Barbara, prompted her to call off the engagement.  Still, the program was broadcast as planned.  We are talking about British television, after all.  (Information from Cannibals in the Cafeteria and other Fabulous Failures, by Stephen Pile).

So where do you find the “Ideal Couple?”  I’m not sure you do.  Of course, I’m speaking with some experience here.  Patsy and I are preparing to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, and by the time you read this we may have already done so.  But I don’t really consider us to be an “Ideal Couple.”  I’m certainly a flawed husband, and I chalk up our years of marriage to finding a good partner who’s much better than I deserve.  Marriages, like any relationship, are seldom ideal.  We make them work by working to make them. 

This means that most marriages don’t succeed because the people in them are perfect, but because both parties involved are committed to something bigger than either of them.  It could be the marriage itself, it could be family, it could be faith.  But when two people are committed to something both hold important, they have a good reason to work and live together.   While there are no worthy ideal couples, there are couples who pursue worthy ideals.

All of this is true of churches as well.  If you’re looking for an “ideal church” I don’t think that Maple Avenue is the right choice for you.  We’re full of imperfect people, struggling to live our faith, sharing our life together sometimes successfully sometimes not.  We can step on each other’s toes and rub each other the wrong way.  We don’t all like the same things, we don’t vote the same ways, and we enjoy different kinds of food and listen to different kinds of music.  Yet, here we are, working together in ministry and service.

We’re not together because we’re ideal people.  We’re together because of the ideals of Jesus Christ.  We believe in loving and nurturing others, as he did.  Like him, we build relationships through shared meals.   And through our own unique encounters with his risen presence, we have been healed and made whole. 

I’m thankful for my 40 years of married life, not because it’s been ideal, but because it’s been meaningful and a blessing to me and others.  And I’m thankful for Maple Avenue United Methodist Church for the same reasons.

I’m a less-than ideal husband, working as a less-than-ideal pastor, in a less-than-ideal congregation.  All of this is happening in a less-than ideal neighborhood located in a less-than-ideal city.  And if you’re a less-than-ideal person who would like to associate with other less-than-ideal people as we pursue the worthy ideals of Jesus Christ, we’re glad to have you on board!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Noticing The Good Stuff

Dan Kennedy of Salt Lake City was driving to work a few months ago (March 31st) when a large orange plastic bag fell off of the Brinks armored truck in front of him as he traveled westbound on I-80, near Salt Lake City.  Afraid that the bag would create a safety hazard he pulled over to move it off the road.  That was when he discovered that it contained about 75 pounds worth of U.S. currency.  The currency was packaged in smaller steak-sized packages of  fifty  and one hundred dollar bills.  It was never announced how much money was in the big bag, but one of the small packages alone looked like it had around $22,000 in it.

He tried to chase down the armored truck, but wasn’t successful.  So Kennedy took the bag to work, and immediately called the police.  The bag was returned, unopened, to the Brinks company, which was very glad to have it back.  So glad, in fact, that they sent Kennedy a reward check for $5000. 

Kennedy was surprised to receive the check, remarking that he was only doing what anyone else would have done, and it never occurred to him to do anything else (see here for story)

It’s always nice when good things like this make the news, because by and large the news is full of bad things.  Bad things are news-worthy.  Bad things draw people’s attention.  Bad things make us buy newspapers, and watch television shows.  This probably isn’t going to change anytime soon, but because we are so quick to notice the bad things, the good things often fly by invisibly.  And it’s important for us to periodically notice some of the good things.

So this month I’m spending time noticing the good things.  I’m noticing the people who work hard to provide a free community meal once a month.  I’m noticing the leaders who organize our summer musical, and the individuals who share their talent in those musicals.  I’m noticing the folk who show up early Sunday morning to look after the numerous details that everyone takes for granted.  I’m noticing the young people who are helping with our Youth Sunday this week, and who are part of our church family in many important ways.  I’m noticing our committed daycare staff, and the energetic and creative children who are part of it.  I’m noticing the people who generously support our ministry, and those who donate things when they’re needed.  I’m noticing people who have “small jobs” that make a big difference.  I’m noticing those who go out of their way to talk to visitors and guests, making them feel welcome.  I’m noticing those who have been loyal members of Maple Avenue for many years, and those who have recently become part of our family. 

I’m noticing you.

I want you to know that I’ve seen the good things that others do in our community, and it fills me with a sense of pride and gratitude.  I notice, but even more importantly, God notices.  And I hope you notice as well.

Thank you, and God bless!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Serpent Egg Or Easter Egg?

I saw Ingmar Bergman’s movie The Serpent’s Egg  over 35 years ago, and most of it was entirely forgettable for me.  It’s not one of Bergman’s better movies, and there’s not much I do remember about it.  It concerns two circus performers who are stranded in Berlin in 1923, and while they’re there they witness the anti-Semitism of the culture, the desperate financial problems of the people, and Hitler’s first steps in his rise to power.  As German society races in the wrong direction a main character explains what’s going on:  

“One day you can tell all this to anyone who is willing to listen. No one will believe you despite the fact that anyone who makes the slightest effort can see what is waiting in the future.  It's like a serpent's egg.  Through the thin membranes, you can clearly discern the already perfect reptile.”[1]

That’s the image that stuck with me.   I’ve seen many “serpent’s eggs” in my life; situations where I knew trouble was growing.  I could see it forming behind a thin membrane, and I knew that it was only a matter of time before the trouble hatched fully formed and ready to release its venom.  

And depending on who you’re listening to, our present world is littered with a variety of serpent eggs, hidden around every corner and in every crevice.  The collapse of civilization is imminent, just awaiting the election of the opposite political party.  Terrorism, including bioterrorism, and cyberterrorism, are never far removed from news reports.  Climate change is a hot topic along with the resulting rise in ocean levels and other scary repercussions.  Pollution is increasing making safe water and safe air harder to find.  I could go on, but you get the point. There are plenty of serpents taking shape in our midst if we look for them.

I don’t want to minimize the numerous real dangers we face, and there are plenty of growing problems we really do need to address.  But there has to be more to life than our fear of death, destruction, and emerging serpents, and Easter points us to that something more.  

Imagine what it was like being an ordinary person in Judea back in Jesus’ day.  You were a conquered and occupied people, living under the yoke of Rome.  Every attempt at resistance was met by brutal and excessive force.  You worked hard all your life, often going without food and other necessities.  Many of your family died before adulthood, and you yourself were likely to die at an early age.  Sickness and disease were rampant and most major diseases had no effective treatment or cure.

If we think our world is full of serpent eggs, just try living awhile in the world to which Jesus ministered.  And it’s to these people who lived in darkness that there came a great light:  Jesus shared that world, suffered with those people, and ran afoul of the same oppressive Roman regime.  The serpent bit him, and he died.

Only that’s not the end of the story.  He rose from the grave, to bring new life and victory to all those who follow.  In the face of all the serpent eggs that littered the landscape, God gave us an Easter egg that overshadowed them all.  And through the thin membranes, we can clearly discern the already perfect Christ-won victory within.

Too many people go through life engaging in a serpent egg hunt.  Instead, we’re looking for God’s Easter eggs!  And we celebrate the brightest and clearest of them all:  Jesus Christ, crucified, dead, and risen from the grave. 


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Secret Ingredient

Years ago we had a member of our church who would occasionally cook a spaghetti dinner for everyone in the church.  It was just his way of sharing a talent with others, and everyone agreed that he made great spaghetti.  It was delicious, best in town.  He ended up giving me a spaghetti-making lesson, and that was when I discovered his secret ingredient.  He always added this to his sauce, and it made it something special.  This is your lucky day, because now I’m going to share that secret ingredient with you! 

The secret ingredient?  Bacon.  He’d chop it up in small pieces, and add it to the hamburger.  Of course, bacon makes anything taste better, and I can testify that spaghetti sauce is no exception.

Life is full of “secret ingredients,” things that are often unnoticed and unappreciated, but still make the world better.  And in some ways, I believe that Maple Avenue United Methodist Church is a “secret ingredient” in Terre Haute.

I am a fan of our congregation!  I say that because I believe the fellowship we have here is something special.  We have a very dedicated, hard-working group of people who enrich our community and congregation in numerous ways, and I’m continually being blessed by the things they do.  We make our neighborhood and our town better.  But I’m afraid we are still something of an unnoticed and unappreciated part life. 

For example, I think we do an amazing job with anything musical, including our cantatas.  We have orchestras, beautiful voices, and exciting productions; and every year when we do our Easter and Christmas cantatas I think “This is so good, why isn’t this worship service standing room only?”  We draw good crowds, but if people knew how great our cantatas were, we’d be overflowing.

So I’d like to encourage you to do what we usually get in trouble for doing.  I invite you to share a secret with everyone!  And here are some ideas to get us started. 

1. Support our ministry in whatever way you can.  Some can support it with generous gifts, some can’t.  Some can give time and energy, some can’t.  But regardless of what you can or cannot do, you can always keep us lifted up in prayer. We are all blessed in different ways. Share the gifts and graces God has given you.

2.  Use the telephone to stay connected.  We have people in our congregation who make numerous phone calls during the week, checking in with others, wishing people “happy birthday,” letting people know they were missed on Sunday and making sure everything is alright.  I have come to appreciate this as an unnoticed and valuable ministry.  So I thank those phone friends, and encourage others to help keep us connected in similar ways. 

3.  Visit us on line.  If you’re not on line, don’t worry about it.  But for many many people the internet is a good way to spread information.  Start by visiting our web page and our facebook page to keep up with what’s going on.  You can only share with others the things you know about.  (And a special thanks to James Muncie for maintaining our web and facebook pages.)  You also might want to check out my blog.  That’s right, I’m blogging now.  I’m a blogger.  Just saying the word “blog” makes me feel young, modern and cool.  It’s only my Newsletter Column, but it’s better than nothing.  I think. 

4.  “Like” us on Facebook, and then check back to “Like” and “Share” the events we have posted.  This helps us get word out to an even bigger audience when anything’s going on.    

5.  Pick up extra copies of our Newsletter, and share them with friends and neighbors.  We always keep extras in the office, and we can make more if we run out.

6.  Personally invite friends and family to come to church with you.  Sit with them.  Introduce them to me!  We have some special services coming up.  The Daycare Kids will be joining us on Palm Sunday (March 29) and they’re always fun.  This is also the Sunday of our Easter Egg Hunt for young people (bring your kids and grandkids) and our Choir’s Salad Luncheon Fundraiser (Daycare Families eat free, courtesy of the Daycare).  Then the Cantata will be on Easter (April 5th).  In other words, there are plenty of good reasons coming up to invite people to join you at church.

7.  Use your own creativity and come up with new ideas.  I’m sure there are plenty of things I haven’t thought of that you know about.  I don’t have all the answers, but when we work together, pooling our ideas, trying different things, good things happen.  Share your ideas.

I don’t want Maple Avenue United Methodist Church to be the best kept secret in Terre Haute.  We have something to offer even better than bacon. Help us get the word out.

Yours in Christ;

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I Smell A Rat

Last Month (December 2014) there were several news reports of a woman in Florida whose house had been invaded by 300 rats (see here, for example). It all started in 2012, when her three pet rats escaped and began following the Old Testament command to “Be fruitful and multiply.”  Now, several years later, these faithful little creatures had obediently multiplied into an estimated 300, all living under her roof.  They were in every room of the house, in the cabinets, in every nook and cranny, and along with the rats came their smell, their droppings, and their damage.  The woman said:  "I didn't think of it as a big deal or a problem. I still don't, but it really got out of hand." Rescue workers were busy trying to trap all the rats (alive) so they could be placed in a good home.  

Now I’m not against pet rats.  They’re great company for people who want and love them. But like any pet, they need to be cared for properly.  They need to have clear boundaries and appropriate limits.  Let them run free and unchecked, and they will soon take over your home in very unhealthy ways.

And it seems to me that this is the case with many things in life.  A lot of things are fine in controlled moderation, but let them run wild, and you’ve got a problem.  There’s nothing wrong with eating, for example, but if you stop eating to live and start living to eat, you end up with some weighty problems.  Any addiction can ruin your life.  Candy is perfectly legal and cocaine very illegal, but both can kill you if you’re hooked on them. 

Unchecked emotional and spiritual issues are frequently sources of danger.  Infestations of anger, bitterness, envy, and a whole slew of inner pests have brought down many a strong person.  Even human beings (including family and friends) may become so inappropriately demanding that they literally take over your life and drain you of your time and energy, eventually killing you with stress. 

This is why I think it’s good to spend some time every year engaging in spiritual pest control.  It’s good to look at the “rats” in our lives, identify the things that may be growing out of hand, and then act to bring those creatures back in check.  Some need to be exterminated; some need to be controlled, and some just need to be placed within proper boundaries. 

Frequently people do this at the beginning of every year with New Year’s Resolutions, and the entire season of Lent (this year starting on February 18th and leading to Easter) is traditionally a time for Christians to practiced inner spiritual fumigation. But whatever your excuse, I invite you to do a self-pest-control inspection. 

Jesus told a parable about a foolish person who built a house on the sand.  “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!" (Matthew 7:27 NRSV).  The same thing happens in the end to the foolish person who doesn’t deal with termites, mold…and rats.

Yours in Christ;

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Most Important Person in the Bible

OK, so I'm getting this up a bit late!  Here it is anyhow.  
            A Sunday School teacher shared with her class the story of the Birth of Jesus, how Gabriel had appeared to Mary, how Mary had faithfully agreed to have the baby Jesus, how she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, how Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn.    After telling the story, the teacher asked, “Who do you think the most important woman in the Bible is?”  Of course she was expecting the kids to say “Mary,” and was therefore surprised when one of the students answered “Eve”.
            “Why do you think Eve is the most important woman?” asked the teacher.
            “Because,” said the student,  “Eve has two holidays named after her:  Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve.”
            While we may not all agree on who the most important woman in the Bible is, most of us would agree that Jesus in the most important person.  The Christmas season is a time to celebrate his birth, and remember his importance.  He is the Messiah, to which the Scriptures point and the King of Kings who stands above all earthly kingdoms.  But Christmas also reminds us that Jesus didn’t come for his own sake.  He came for the sake of others.  He was born for you and me, he lived for you and me, and he died for you and me.
            As significant as the well being of Jesus was, he considered our well being to be of greater significance.  As precious as the life of Jesus was, he considered our lives to be more precious.  Jesus was truly important, but it’s ironic that he was important because he considered others to be more important.  He told his disciples:  “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NRSV) 
            During the Christmas Season, it’s easy to become so focused on the person of Jesus that we forget about the generous and loving Spirit of Jesus.   We admire him, but not his teachings.   His figurine sits at the center of our nativity set, but not at the center of our life.  We put him on a pedestal, without bothering to put him in our heart.  And in spite of all our words about “putting Christ back into Xmas” and how “Jesus is the reason for the season”, we forget that – in a real sense - we bumbling human beings stand at the heart of Christmas, and we bumbling human beings are the reason for the season.  If we didn’t need a light in our darkness, the Light of Christ would have never been given.            
            Who is the most important person in the Bible?  In a sense, you are.  And I am.  And our neighbor is.  It’s for our sake that God gave the marvelous gift of Jesus Christ.
            This Christmas may we do more than remember Christ.  We have an important part to play in the holiday as well.  May we gratefully embrace his love, and share it with others. 

Merry Christmas