"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Eve Communion

As I sat in the Christmas eve communion service this past Saturday evening, I watched people go down the aisle to receive the elements.  There was the older woman pulling an oxygen tank behind her; the man with a debilitating disease who was being carefully monitored by his young wife; a sister-in-law who had managed to leave her ill mother long enough for this moment; and another woman, a friend, who reached out to offer a hug and who herself, within hours, would be the victim of a fatal heart attack.

I'm not sure if it was the brokenness of the body or the love for it that overcame me.

But I wept.

Just an ordinary moment....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Merry Christmas! Or is that Happy Holidays?

A number of years ago, an "evil" establishment popped up in the town where I lived.  Evil in that it sold BOTH hard liquor and pornography.  A little known fact is that on several occasions, after dark, a petite spit-fire of a woman named Mrs. Mary would take a bottle of wine and walk around the building anointing it while praying -- cursing the evil therein.  Is it any surprise that before too long, the place burned down and was never rebuilt?  I have to admit, I applauded Mrs. Mary for her efforts and her boldness.  Oh, to have such conviction ... and FAITH!  But over the years, my thinking has developed a little bit as I have thought about this story.  (And it's indeed a true one.)

Could it be as Dr. Leonard Sweet shares that too many Christians want to change the world, not because they love the world but because they hate it?  That was a life-shaping thought for me.  How many times had I ridden by establishments, palm readers, night clubs, stripped joints, etc, and "cursed" the place.  Maybe I hadn't asked God to burn it down, but I had requested it be no more. 

More recently I was touched by something Nancy Heche shared in her book, The Truth Comes Out.  (You might recall that Nancy's daughter Ann had a highly publicized lesbian affair with actress Ellen DeGeneres.)  Nancy related her hard and stubborn heart toward her daughter ... until the last verse of Acts 3 jumped out at her.  When God raised up his servant [Jesus], he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.  Did you hear that?  God's blessing is what turns us from our ways to His ways.

The Greek lexicon says this about the word "blessing."  "To bless is to ask God to interfere, to take action in one's life, to bring them to the desired relationship with Himself so that they are truly blessed and fully satisfied." 

Instead of offering blessings, I'm afraid we get caught up in the lover's quarrel of which Dr. Sweet spoke.  And it becomes more and more evident every year.  If a particular store won't recognize Christmas, well, then we'll just take our business elsewhere.  If they call their pines "holiday trees," then we get back in our cars and go to the next place that actually sells Christmas trees.  Or worse yet, if an employee wishes us a happy holidays, we respond with a haughty, "Merry Christmas." At least I know I have.

Listen, I wish everyone understood and appreciated the meaning of Christmas, but the truth is we live in a society where that's no longer the case.  And, yes, I'm aware that these same people are more than willing to receive our monies.  But what would happen if we began blessing instead of cursing?  If we began offering Christ in the person of our presence rather than avoiding altogether?  What if we extended grace?  What if we really loved the world instead of hated it ... and asked God to bring the heads of companies as well as their employees to a desired relationship with Him?  What if?

Frank Laubach, a missionary to Muslims in the Philippines back in the 1930's, wrote in his book, Letters by a Modern Mystic, these words. "Clearly, clearly, my job here is not to go to the town plaza and make proselytes, it is to live wrapped in God, trembling to His thoughts, burning with His passion. And, my loved one, that is the best gift you can give to your own town."

Sounds like a wonderful Christmas gift to offer all those with whom we come in contact during this special holy-day season.

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Voice in the Desert

I've seen him more times than I can remember to count.  For years now, he has carried a sign and shouted in a loud voice with a long drawl that winds its way through moss laden oaks and time worn squares of Savannah.  Whether he's denouncing communism or predicting the end of the world, I truly cannot say, because like most who encounter this self-proclaimed prophet, I go out of my way to avoid him.

The 2nd week in Advent draws our attention to another somewhat like the man forementioned ... yet very different.  His name?  John the Baptist.

I have to admit I have an affinity for this one who is so unique ... so strange.  I was first introduced to him when I was a child in Sunday school.  After all, he was the one who baptized Jesus!  The one who wasn't worthy to tie Jesus' sandals.  The one who proclaimed, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  The one who had his head chopped off and served on a platter.  (Okay, so that last one probably wasn't offered in my Sunday pre-school literature.)  But more recently, I was re-introduced to this fiery character by a former pastor who was also magnetized by this unique individual.

Mark's gospel doesn't begin with an annunciation to Mary or with shepherds abiding in the fields.  It doesn't have angels shouting in the heavens.  It simply says, The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Song of God.  As it is writen in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way." And, bam, John, the first real prophet in Israel in some 400 years shows up on the scene.  And what an appearance he made!  He was dressed in a camel's hair cloak tied with a leather belt around his waist.  His hair and beard had never been cut, and living on a diet of wild honey and locusts, he must have been as skinny as a rail.  This is the one the Lord had chosen to announce His coming?  Surely he looked more like a cave man than a prophet.  But indeed he was, and people flocked to him.  And that's one of the differences right there in the street evangelist and the character in Mark. 

Another way they were different is that street evangelists seem to plant themselves in your way and dare you to get out of it.  Not John the Baptist.  One had to GO to the DESERT to find him.  And go they did.  In droves.  Through rocky crevices and down bandit infested trails, they traveled by foot and mule to see this one who seemed from another planet. 

And that's what amazes me so about all of this; something of which I've never thought before now.  The "beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ" did not have its inaugural in a church.  Only those who were willing to enter the wilderness got to experience first the freedom of which John proclaimed.  And for someone that's been living in some barren land lately, that's huge.

As one author put it, "The good news is always beginning somewhere in the world, for those with ears to hear and hearts to go wherever the way may lead." 

Heard any voices lately?

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gift Giving

When I sat down with my list last night, I was feeling pretty smug.  After all, here it was Dec. 3, and except for just a few gift cards, all my Christmas shopping was done.  Three good weeks of just enjoying the season without all the distractions.  And then it hit me: the real gift giving is not to be found coming from the purse at all -- but one that originates and comes from the heart. 

And so my Christmas list grows.

Time ... given to the lonely and hurting.

Tolerance ... when I want to be angry and lash back.

Peace ... during moments of frustration.

Forgiveness ... when evil is done toward me.

Compassion ... for the less privileged.

Gratitude ... for each blessing that comes my way.

Grace ... for every negative comment or attitude.

Somehow I think this list might be the more costly. 

May we all find joy in our gift-giving this season.

Just an ordinary moment...