Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Grinchiness Doesn't Have to be Terminal!

The Grinch WAS a horrible character!  He hated Christmas, but his worst, most terrible problem was his heart! Dr. Seuss says it was at least tthree sizes too small!

That's why he plotted and planned to get rid of the Whos' joy! That's why he sneaked into all the houses in Whoville and stole every present, every bow, every bit of Christmas food, every stocking hung by the chimney with care, every Christmas tree. He didn't get Christmas because his heart was just too small!

The heart of Christmas is Jesus. To really understand Christmas we have to embrace Jesus. It's a heart matter! Those with small hearts don't get Christmas either! 

Grinch is only a character in a book, but his tribe is alive and as well as a Grinch tribe can be!  All those who also hate Christmas want to do exactly the same as Grinch did!  They can't even stand for us to say Merry Christmas. And, the reason is exactly the same: their hearts are also too small!  Those who belong to the tribe of Grinch also try to steal Christmas. 

I think that the indomitable spirit of the Whos in Whoville came from knowing that Christmas is all about God coming to earth to call His people to be in His forever family!

Now, whether there are Whos or Whoville or even a Grinch (and they are all fiction found only in the pages of a children's book), there is something profound in this amazing story.  The Whos in Whooville knew (and so do we) that Christmas is not about stuff! Christmas is all about a Person – Jesus - Who put on skin like us and moved into our world (John 1:8).  Actually it was a colossal step down for Him as He is the King from another world, from outside time and space. He is the Creator. But, He was willing to take on our skin and live like we do so He could make a way for us to move into His world forever!
When people around us are Grinchy, they do their people-watching too. What do they see? What they need to see is Jesus? What does that mean? It means our doing what Jesus did when He lived on earth for a while: He ate with IRS types, played with children, made food for thousands of poor people, hung out with hookers, and touched lepers (and others) making them whole again.  Jesus made it look easy, but it’s most certainly NOT!  It’s hard to love the poor, the lame, and the blind and social outcasts and more!  The watching world is looking to see what we do. They don’t give a hoot what we say unless we do it too!

Grinchiness doesn't have to be a terminal condition. It wasn't for Grinch, and it doesn't have to be for his tribe.  Grinch's heart grew two sizes the day he discovered the Whos' secret - that Grinchiness doesn't have to be terminal but it is very serious.  The anti-venom for Grinchiness is Jesus who shines through you and me!  So, go find some IRS types, children, poor people, hookers and lepers to start hanging out with them. It will be hard! It will make you weary - guaranteed!  It will be costly and inconvenient!  It will also make your heart grow three sizes at least!
Jesus talked about a feast and party - not just at Christmas:  When you give a [party], do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a [party], invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed!  Your heart will grow, and you will push back the darkness of Grinchiness in the name of Jesus!

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Real Who in Christmas!

He’s green and he’s mean! He hangs out in a cave – a quite maleficent knave! He’s Dr. Seuss’s creation who tried to steal Christmas from the Whos in Whooville. He hates the Whos, and he detests Christmas!

You see, the Whos down in Whoville – as the Grinch looks down from his cave high on the mountain – sing and laugh and make other happy noises.  The Grinch hates happy noises! SO, he hatches a diabolical plan – to steal Christmas! Ah, then, all the happy noises and all the Christmas clamor will stop, Grinch reasoned as he schemed. So the curmudgeonly, reclusive Grinch plots and plans. Finally, Christmas Eve arrives, and Grinch whizzes down to Whoville stripping Whoville of every last present, Christmas decoration, and including all the ingredients for a Who Christmas feast.
But, Christmas morning comes anyway. There are no presents, decorations, or holiday foods! NOT ONE SINGLE Who sits down to cry. No! They all gather around in the center of town, join hands in a gigantic circle and begin to sing.
Grinch hasn’t stolen their Christmas at all! The Whos knew what Grinch didn’t. They knew Christmas is not about fruitcake or shiny balls and bows! Personally I suspect Whos and Whoville don’t really exist, but – on the off-chance they do – I think the indomitable spirit of the Whos in Whoville came from knowing that Christmas is all about God coming to earth to call His people to be in His forever family!
Here’s the thing: We can learn from the Whos how to attract Grinches to take a look at Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas! We can do without stockings and presents. We can do without feasts. What we cannot, absolutely cannot ever do without is Jesus! He came to be God-with-us, Immanuel!  THAT’s Christmas!

Friday, December 13, 2013

"The Ministry of a Messy House"

I used to vacuum my house every day - long, long years ago!  I got over being a neat-freak! I eventually got way over it!  I'm definitely a recovering neat-freak! Still not sure in my heart if that's a totally good thing!

Back in October my husband took a flying trip to NC to pick up stuff from our division of my parent's household possessions. I wasn't with him as I was in Europe touring ancient sites on a glorious gift of a wonderful journey!  I came home to a washer and dryer in the entrance to our home and all kinds of boxes, clutter, and old furniture in my den. All the furniture particularly needed a serious cleaning since the NC house has been closed for over 4 years. I'm still working through the process. It's a LONG way from neat-freak!

The other night the musician who is playing Sunday at A Restoration Church, Pittsburgh, dropped by to pick up some music. I didn't know he was coming, and I cringed to open the door.  Every day my long list includes finishing neatening up especially the front hall and den. I'm down to only a dryer (which may end up wrapped as a huge Christmas gift with a Christmas tree standing on it - Hopefully NOT!) in the front hall and some stuff we dragged out of the laundry room. O, did I mention that we had to pull a lot of stuff out of the laundry room to get the old washer out and the new washer in?!

This morning I saw this wonderful quote from The Ministry of a Messy House by Amanda Robbie:  Somewhere in the space between totally cluttered squalor and neat-freak shininess, we need a place of Godly contentment. I'm putting Godly contentment on my list for today!

God, help me to find Godly contentment for my heart today (and in my house too)!!!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

When Angels Fold Their Wings ...

Christmas and sermons ... since I happen to sleep and do life with a pastor, I'm familiar with the holly and lilies crowd. There's one, at the most two, cracks at them a year. They only come Christmas and Easter.  So, the annual or biannual question is how to tell a wonderful old story in a new way.  And, for the rest of us we also hear the same wonderful old story in a new way!
Today we heard about angels and here's the shorter version:
Have you ever met an angel?  Do intelligent people believe in angels? We sing about angels at Christmas, but do we believe in angels?  Would we know one if one showed up?  What’s the angel side of Christmas?

There are 66 books in the Bible and more than half of them make reference to angels.  Angels are significant in the Biblical story.  Angels appear in Scripture as messengers, as protectors, and as watchers.   
Peter had a dramatic encounter with an angel recorded for us in Acts 12 when an angel sprung him out of the slammer!  Perhaps Peter was remembering his angel protector when he wrote 1 Peter 1:3-12:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

Peter says the prophets wondered about the meaning of their own prophecies: where Jesus was going to be born (in Bethlehem) or what it meant that the Messiah was going to come as a light into darkness. Do you guess Isaiah understood what he was writing about a virgin and a child and a son to be given? 

Peter says it’s not only prophets who wonder, who scratch their heads and ask:  Apparently angels also wonder and think about the real message of Christmas!

What do we know about angels?

·       Angels are God’s heavenly messengers.  That’s what angel means – messenger.  Angels go back and forth from heaven to earth carrying messages from God Himself.  Angels visited Abraham and gave him the message that he was going to have a son.  An angel actually burned Isaiah’s mouth in Isaiah 6 when Isaiah tells the story of God calling him to be a prophet.
·       Angels are God’s front line of defense for us earthlings.  The most important role of angels is to serve God by defending the people of God.  Unnoticed God has sent His angel messengers to stand guard over you and me as He works in our lives and in the world. 2 Kings 6 records the attack on God’s people in Israel by the Arameans. Elisha’s servant got up one morning and saw a huge army with horses and chariots surrounding the city where he and Elisha lived. He was terrified. Elisha told him that God had the situation in hand. Elisha prayed and asked God to open his servant’s eyes to see the spirit world reality. The servant saw that the hills were full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding him and Elisha to protect them. The Psalmist says God gives His angels the mission "to guard you in all your ways" (Ps. 90:11). When Daniel was thrown to the lions God sent an angel to shut the lion's mouths. (Dan. 6:22) 
  • Angels are God’s heavenly watchers. What are they watching? They watch what goes on in heaven. They watch us. Some of these angel creatures have many more eyes than we do. They can watch more than one thing at a time. They watch what God Himself is doing. In Genesis 1 God says,  Let us make man in our image ….  Angels were there. They eavesdropped on the whispered conversation between God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Angels wonder what God is doing and what’s going to happen.  It must have been an amazing conversation for the angels to overhear! Do you guess they hushed their singing for a moment so they wouldn’t miss a single word? 
Imagine the watching angels! Can’t you almost hear the rustle of their wings? God said, Go! Go to Bethlehem. Sing your hearts out in the Bethlehem sky announcing the birth of My Son, the King of Israel!  And they did!  Angels were there when Jesus was tempted in the desert and in the Garden of Gethsemane when God sent a solitary angel to minister to Jesus in His hour of anguish.  Don’t you imagine how the angels must have been peering down from heaven watching in horror as Jesus hung on His cross? They must have been ready to take off in a flash when God spoke the word. But the word never came because Jesus had to die to become the Savior of the world!  Angels were there and were the first to see Jesus rise from the dead on the first Easter morning. Angels were there when Jesus went back to heaven.

I think there's something else angels wonder about. I think they are totally puzzled and ask among themselves:  WHY don’t they (meaning us, the earth creatures) realize what He’s done for them?   That just might be the greatest mystery of all to an angel.

Holy, holy is what the angels sing and I expect to help them make the courts of heaven ring!

But when I sing redemption’s story they will fold their wings, for angels never felt the joy

That our salvation brings!   --Johnson Oatman Jr., 1894

The good news of Christmas is that God has done something for us earthlings that his extra-terrestrial creatures (aka angels) can only imagine.  God sent Jesus to take care of our biggest problem - sin - and Jesus did just that!  The good news of Christmas is that this is all true – every last word!  Jesus is real! God is real! Angels are real!  And it's really, really true that God loves you and me far more than we can possibly imagine!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

So, who was the bad "guy" in the story of the three pigs?  On the face of it, the standard answer is the Big Bad Wolf!  However, there is another perspective. It's a bit of a stretch. O, okay ... It's a LOT of a stretch! 

Just suppose that Mr. Wolf has the best of intentions and is only trying to visit his new neighbors........  I said it is a stretch!

Well, I was teaching a class today on persuasive writing. I was trying to think how to make it interesting and the pigs seemed like a good idea. There's the standard same old, same old story of the pigs who set off to make their fortunes, meet a man with straw and a man with sticks and a man with bricks. Each pig chose a different building material for his new house, and they went to work constructing their domicile. The way the story goes is that Mr. Wolf creeps along, spies the new construction and starts dreaming of ham sandwiches.  He does his best to make his dream come true by huffin' and puffin' and blowin' two houses in. Brothers Pig 1 and 2 end up at Brother Pig 3's door escaping by the hair of their chinny-chin-chins. 

Then, there's another angle on the pig story. What if Mr. Wolf isn't predatory at all but rather just a friendly neighbor who wants to borrow a cup of sugar?  O, I forgot....Mr. Wolf also has a terrible head cold so he sneezes a lot. How can he help if the sneeze comes on just when he's trying to get into a pig house?

Well, that was my challenge to the class. Persuade me!  Write an essay. Have a topic sentence, 3 supporting points and a conclusion. Take the side of the pigs or the wolf or another original angle from the story and do your persuasive best.  I haven't read the essays yet, but the students seemed totally engaged and were working industriously.  We'll see how persuasive they are!  The jury is still out on that!

That started me thinking about persuasion and perspective.  The way we see a situation makes all the difference, doesn't it?  There are the half glass people - some see their glass half full, others see their glass half empty.  It is a matter of perspective. The truth is that most of us can talk ourselves into a lot of different ways of thinking depending on how we choose to look at something.  The sad fact is that we make assumptions based on what we know or think we know that may or may not be reality!  Then we make a judgment based on our assumption.

My husband and I flew to South Carolina last week. In the Charlotte airport going through security a family of two boys, mom and dad came up behind us. The mom was quiet and sticking pretty close to one son. The dad was trying to manage all the luggage and get everything lined up and taken care of.  My husband likes to talk to strangers so he struck up a conversation with Dad.  Meanwhile the son hanging close to Mom started getting pretty agitated. I don't know if he is somewhere on the autism spectrum or not. It looked like he might be. That's not my point here. My point is about perspective and persuasion.

I wasn't chatting with the folks behind us. I was watching the people around us. It made me very sad. Obviously this little family had some challenges in getting through security and to their plane. The only friendly face this family saw - as far as I could tell - was my husband's. The more agitated the son got, the more people stared. It kind of made me sick before it made me sad before it made me mad until I got sad again!

We live in a "Three Little Pigs World"!  We think we know how "the story" goes and that's how we see the world around us. And, yes, the Big, Bad Wolf probably really is big and bad! BUT there's always another perspective. Maybe Mr. Wolf has just gotten very bad press all these years. Maybe he's just a good neighbor like State Farm - not likely but maybe!

What about that family in line behind us? I don't know. They were flying to Boston and we were bound for Pittsburgh so we didn't see them again. I hope they got home okay. I hope they saw some other friendly faces along the way!  I hope they didn't meet the "Big Bad Wolf" in just about everyone they encountered.  It's certainly worth thinking about! 

Sometimes we need to think outside the box. Sometimes we need to put ourselves in another person's shoes and wonder what it would be like to be that other person!  Sometimes - like my students today - we need to be challenged to see through another lens, another perspective!  It matters!  It matters a LOT!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Happy Birthday, King!

Happy Birthday, King!  
I have a good friend who is Thailand tonight. She has gone to be an English teacher. The last few days have been dangerous as there is rioting in the streets. School has been cancelled but teachers still have to show up.
The King’s birthday is Dec. 5th.  So, in honour of the occasion, there is a cessation of hostilities.  On Dec. 6th it may be back to fighting. But, for now, there is “peace” because the King has a birthday.

From what I understand King Bhumipol Adulyadej of Thailand is a “good guy.” He is the longest reigning living monarch on the face of the earth at this point in time.  Apparently his people love him, and he has done a lot to strengthen his country and his people.  He has boldly fought the dragon of opium replacing the scourge of opium with coffee, other crops, and commercial flowers. The Thai people don’t call him “The King” but rather “My King” much like we would say “my grandfather”!  King Bhumibol is the deeply loved grandfather of modern Thailand.  That’s why all sides are taking a break from their fighting to honour the king on his birthday.  When December 6th dawns, the fighting may start again, but – for now – fists and triggers are at rest.

It is December. Advent began on Sunday, Dec. 1.  This is the season we remember the birthday of the greatest King who ever lived – King Jesus!  He is the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6).  He came to dispel darkness and break the chains of slavery and restore brokenness. He does that one heart at a time!  Happy Birthday, King Jesus!
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.   –Isaiah 9:6, NIV