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Celebrating peace

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Why I’m rejecting mainstream Christmas

I love Christmas. Though I cringe at cheap sentimentality, there is a sentimental chord in me that is easily struck during the holiday season. I love singing Christmas songs and watching old classic movies. I love drinking coffee and tea out of red Starbucks cups. I love making gingerbread men and hanging old crusty ornaments on the Christmas tree. I even love waking up early to sit in the living room all disheveled, watching my family dump out stockings full of silly things like toothbrushes and oranges. But in recent years, as I’ve begun to spend more time reflecting on the holiday and taken the time to question the traditions many of us hold dear, I’ve found myself feeling like somewhat of a Grinch.

It’s not that I have a heart that’s two sizes too small or that I’m against a good, jolly Whoville celebration. In fact, I think the idea of celebration is right-on. It’s vital that we pause from the monotony that defines our lives and take time to remember that we were made for peace, not chaos. That’s what celebration is supposed to be about. For Christians, celebration—particularly the celebration of Christmas—is a reminder that we are part of a larger narrative. The story that you and I live is incomplete without the story of the virgin birth; it is incomplete without recognition of the fact that we were made to live in the peace the Christ child came to bring. Because of this reality, we are part of a grand story, and we each have a role as an agent of peace—we have been entrusted to live out the peace of Christ in a broken world.

And this is where I get all Grinchy about Christma
s. I find myself wanting to reject all that Christmas has come to stand for, because in modern-day America, this holiday is anything but peaceful. And in many households, it’s far from celebratory. I don’t think I need to go into details. You’ve seen the chaos in your own lives and witnessed your neighbors and coworkers on the verge of breakdown. We think we are celebrating, but when Christmas is over, we are left exhausted and empty. The things we thought would bring us joy—be they parties, gifts, or traditions—ultimately fail to satisfy. We work hard to make Christmas perfect, but it never really is.

Ironically, the answer to truly celebrating at Christmas time comes in actually embracing that which we work so hard to forget during this season—our imperfections; the fact that, on our own, we will never have peace or satisfaction. Inviting this reality into our holiday season allows us to acknowledge the role that the grander narrative of Christ’s love plays in our lives, and it frees us from the oppressive ways the world tries to celebrate the season. Let’s face it, the pressure to give and receive the perfect gift is burdensome, and the anticipation that often accompanies this holiday can leave us trusting in the world’s system for joy and hope, rather than relying on the Prince of Peace.

To live as agents of Christ’s peace, we must reject the mainstream approach to Christmas. And I’m not referring simply to the “worldly” approach. I’m talking about stepping back and examining the way in which we as Christians celebrate the holiday season. We talk about the true “reason for the season,” but often, we celebrate like everyone else—maxing out our credit cards, worrying about who we should give to, and hoping that Santa won’t forget us. I’m suggesting more than a simple shift in rhetoric, something deeper than making sure we say “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays.” I’m suggesting that we, as Christians, use the way we live and celebrate to tell the world a different story—a story that speaks of peace rather than chaos, of love rather than greed.

There are many ways to do this at Christmas time. My church is participating in Advent Conspiracy, which encourages Christians to redistribute Christmas funds by donating the money they would have spent on gifts to building wells in Africa. This is powerful on several levels. For one thing, it allows us to give creative and relational gifts to our friends and family members that are often more meaningful than anything we would have purchased. It also allows us to give something to Jesus, the one who told us that what we do for the least of these, we have done for him. What a powerful way to spread the message of peace.

I recognize that its Christmas Eve already, and you’ve likely purchased your gifts. Nevertheless, it is not too late to celebrate differently. Be creative, think of ways that you can spread the message of Christ’s peace this season. Give of your time. Do a favor for each of your family members on Christmas day. Focus on putting the needs of others before your own. Truly recognize—with your heart, not just your words—that joy and satisfaction do not come from receiving gifts or pulling off the perfect holiday meal. Read the Christmas story and let its truth sink deep into your heart. Embrace the fact that you are part of a grand, beautiful narrative.

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called; Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Written by liferenewed

December 24, 2009 at 8:42 pm

The power of Pentecost: reaching beyond barriers

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On the day of Pentecost, all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. And every one present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:1-2&4

As the precursor to all the Acts that the disciples did in Jesus name, Pentecost demonstrates the importance of truly seeking God. Jesus told the disciples that they would receive power and then be his witnesses. It was not until they took the time to wait on God’s gift that they would truly be ready to do his work. Yet I know I am often guilty of getting too busy to seek God and consequently, I end up relying on my own power to do his work. When I do so, I am not only selling myself (and God) short, but I am also inviting frustration. Have you ever wondered why you are not a more effective witness for Christ? Why you never seem to be able to find opportunities to live out his call in radical ways? I have asked these questions and become frustrated with my shortcomings. But the truth is that on my own, I will always fail. In my own power, there are things I am not strong or courageous enough to do. Pentecost should serve as a reminder that—if we want to have the power to be witnesses for Christ—we need to take time, just as the disciples did, to seek God’s counsel and supernatural strength.

Pentecost is also the reversal of the tower of Babel. When man tried to reach God in his own power (by building a sky-scraper to heaven) God confused the languages, making it impossible for all men to communicate on the same level. But when the disciples came together and simply waited on God, this confusion was reversed by the power of the Holy Spirit, whose special language brought together those who were estranged by the barrier of language (see verses 7-12). Once again, we see the theme of God’s power–it is only with his help that we can reach through the barriers that divide us from others.

On this Pentecost, I would like to challenge us to look at our Christian witness through fresh eyes. If we were truly living through God’s power, how would our interactions with the world around us differ? What barriers could we break through if we were seeking God’s strength to communicate and reach out to the broken world around us?

This is the question posed by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, in an article discussing Pentecost and Shavot, the Jewish festival from which Pentecost takes its roots. Waskow points out that “both of these festivals look beyond the narrow boundaries of nation, race, or class,” and his analysis of Ruth’s story is spot-on for our society today. As you seek the power of the Holy Spirit in your own life, I encourage you to read Waskow’s article, and ask God how you can live out Shavot in your community.

Written by liferenewed

May 31, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Words — to live by

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Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am.
-John 12:26a

To those of us who call ourselves Christians, the words of Jesus are familiar. We’ve read them, sung them, and memorized them. We’ve made them into greeting cards, bumper stickers, and slogans. We’ve claimed our favorites, such as “I will be with you always,” and made them into life verses. We’ve taken the most powerful and condemning and used them against our enemies. But somewhere along the way, the radical words of Christ lost their true meaning. We’ve made them what we want them to be—cute, pithy sayings that make us feel good and, occasionally—when we’re in the mood for change—bring a slight challenge. Granted, the words of Jesus can bring encouragement and positive challenges, but if this is all we see them as we are missing the point. Jesus did not come to give us a pat on the back or a dagger to throw at our enemies. He came to give us someone to follow. He came, as he says later in John 12, to be a light. And if his life—the things he did—is the light, then his words are the instruction manual that reveals the point and purpose of that light and helps us to follow the light so that we can “become children of the light” (John 12:36). This means that his words are more than simple sayings, they are life-changing instructions that he meant for us to take seriously.

Jesus communicated the serious nature of his message through urgency and directness. He tells us that we must walk in the light now—while we still can—and makes it clear what will happen if we reject the message of light: “But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken” (John 12:48). In the verse prior, he defines reject, speaking of “those who hear me but don’t obey me.” Jesus expects that we actually live by the words he spoke. He expects that we put into practice the concepts that he taught. Grab a red letter Bible and read through the gospels. You may be surprised at what Jesus had to say and, if you’re like me, saddened by how little we live up to his teachings.

I think that all too often, Christians focus only on the beauty of Christ’s salvation, and forget about radical transformation. Christ did come to bring salvation, and don’t get me wrong, salvation is beautiful. Yet when I look around me I find that many Christians define salvation only as believing in Jesus, as being freed from and forgiven of sins. They feel that once a person has accepted Christ, he will have eternal life, and they seal the deal there. Yet Jesus says that we will be judged based on the words—the truth—that he spoke. These words came directly from God his father and what’s more, Jesus tells us: “And I know his commands lead to eternal life” (John 12:50a). Jesus does not say that believing he died leads to eternal life, or that forgiveness of sins leads to eternal life. He actually defines salvation prior to his death, focusing on following him. Jesus’ definition of salvation is more complete and comprehensive than the one most of us subscribe to. It involves discipleship, it involves becoming a child of light, and it means taking his words seriously. This encompasses belief in his death and forgiveness of sins, but takes it a step further, tapping into the way we live—asking that we live as he did. But we can’t do this if we do not know how he lived or what he said. And claiming to know is not enough. Many Christians claim to know but—as has been pointed out—don’t live in it. They choose the words of Christ that they like, but don’t take a close look at what Jesus true point was in those red letters.

When you look closely, Jesus point was that following him makes life messy. In John 15 he tells the disciples that the world will hate them if they truly follow his teachings. When was the last time you felt hated because you lived by the words of Christ? My personal goal is to re-discover the words of Christ, and then to set them into motion in my life. Words have meanings and when Jesus spoke, he had a point. I want to learn what his point was—not what I want it to be, or what popular opinion says it should be. My prayer is that God would help me to live as his disciple, even when it the world begins to hate me. And if I am living by the words of Christ, eventually, they will.

Written by liferenewed

August 17, 2008 at 5:31 am