Sunday, May 31, 2015

Christmas Lights

                I have always been rather frank about the fact that Christmas is not one of my favorite holidays.  I love the reason of Christmas, but all the pomp of it makes me rather …well…grinchy.  I have always been a “rather have the cake without the icing” type of guy.  

                Exciting, right? 

                One of my favorite (oh, if there were only a sarcasm font) festivities is dragging out all of the decorations.  There are so many organizers out there now that most things can be pretty easy to get in order and hung without too much effort.  

Then there are the lights.  

Whether the outdoor or the tree lights, they never stay as organized as you put them away.  Some methods work better than others, but the point is that Christmas lights are notoriously tangled.  It is an odd phenomenon.  You put them away organized, you come back and it is a tangled mess.  Just one year ago (roughly, if you take them down in a timely fashion…but that’s for another time) you painstakingly organized them and put them away in a fashion that they should easily come unstrung and easily hung.

I find so many things in my life are the same way.  I get something taken care of and believe that it should be ok now, only to find out that a short time (in my estimation) later it is a tangled mess again.  I have found this to be true in leadership, relationships, work, and so on.  I am not saying it is the fault of someone else (unlike with Christmas lights, because I think we all would agree there has to be tree light gremlins tangling the lights in the attic!) it is just what happens when a matter is neglected.  

Think about it physically, just because I exercise for a day doesn’t make me healthy.  In fact, if I exercise myself to health but do not continue, I will become unhealthy…a tangled mess, indeed. 

We would readily admit, I think, that the same is true spiritually.  You don’t stay on top of the proverbial mountaintop without consistent connection to God.

Now, think of this when leading your family.  How often do we take time to invest in our family?  I am not necessarily talking about all the “stuff” we do for our family.  I am talking about the quality time.  Do we begin our time with our spouse in marriage and everything is wonderful, only to not spend time with them and wonder why everything seems…tangled?  Do we start off well with our children, but find ourselves several years down the road…tangled?

What about how some of us who are leaders lead?  Do we lead and not pay attention to some aspect of how we run an organization, church, business for quite some time and when it become tangled begin to blame others instead of saying to ourselves, “How much time have I really invested here?” 

We always seem to come back to the place where we believe we have left something organized a while ago and wonder, “How did this get so tangled up?”

Christmas light leadership will lead us to a place of tangled messes in our marriages, parenting, leadership, and a whole host of other things.  It basically comes down to this, neglect leads to disorder.  Think about it…

Neglect leads to disorder.

Don’t let those vital areas of your life (spiritually or physically), responsibility, and concern become neglected.  We may not like it, but it is true.

Are you confused?  Seek God.  Don’t forget we have an enemy that wants to terrorize and kill us (I Peter 5:8).  Do you feel disconnected from someone?  Maybe there is someone you need to invest more time in.  Is there an area at work that isn’t going well?  Find the place that has been neglected and channel some energy in that direction.  

Don’t get caught off guard like I do on the day after Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday) when I open the lid to the tote with Christmas lights wondering how this mess got here.   

Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you, which was bestowed on you through prophetic utterance with the laying on of hands by the presbytery. 15 Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.      I Timothy 4:14-15

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Visit (pt1)

                I have to be honest.  I have found this journey a little difficult at times.  It is still early on, but there are so many perspectives that I had not taken into view.  As I study, a bit ahead of where we are on this blog, I find myself veering wildly back to what I have always known and not taking time to stop and soak in the peripheral matters.  A quick example of this would be if you had ever fallen asleep on a road trip.  You may wake up as you arrive at the destination.  “We’re here!”  If you were a child, you are just happy to be where you were headed.  If you were the adult you may have realized that you used a certain amount of gas, the drive was rough as it had been raining most of the way, you narrowly avoided a few accidents, there was a beautiful scene as the sun set, seeing those three deer in the field,  a semi truck flipped over, etc etc etc. 

                There is a lot going on in the story of Jesus.

                The more I find as I begin to unpack, the more I realize that I am the kid sleeping in the car. 

                I am not sure exactly what the night of Christ’s birth.  We certainly know there were visitors, but as I mentioned before, it probably didn’t look quite like the scene that we have derived from Francis Assisi’s nativity.  The magi didn’t come to see Christ for a few years after His birth.  The Shepherds were alerted via angel announcement.  Both were miraculous.

                I wonder, when Mary and Joseph heard how the shepherds and then the magi were led to Jesus, what that must have been like.  

                First, the shepherds, they were never considered to be high class.  Certainly, it would seem that it was a life that could support your family.  Finding a job as the temple shepherd, as it would seem these shepherds were, would be a good shepherding job.  However, the hours weren’t great, as we see these gentlemen watching sheep at night.  Think about that, watching sheep…at night.  Having to stay alert and awake to watch sheep and make sure nothing harmed them.  Pretty exciting stuff there…but when something exciting did happen, it was highly dangerous.  It was dangerous for the sake of the wellbeing of sheep.

Ironic that Christ was embarking on His dangerous mission for His “sheep”.

                A normal, mundane night and all of a sudden a bright light with angels and singing…tell me that you wouldn’t find that scary.  They had no way to explain it away.  It was an angelic announcement of the birth of the Savior.  These looked down upon people were the first to hear the announcement of the Savior.  This all is recorded in Luke 2.  They went to Bethlehem.  It shows that Bethlehem wasn’t some large metropolis, because these shepherds found Jesus without the use of any crazy technology.  They must have walked into town, saw a bit of a ruckus and realized that must be where a baby has been born.  

                Think about it.  You hear the angels proclaim.  You decide to go and check it out.  Surprisingly, or maybe not, what they said was true.  How could you deny that this is indeed the Messiah? 

                Often times as I read this, it is so static.  I get to the destination that Christ was born and shepherds were involved and I lose the wonder of what happened.  The perspective of the shepherds is just one angle, but how wonderful it must have been to be in a field, or on a hill, and the sky burst open with the celebration of the angel’s song.  The angel’s announcement and then the physical confirmation as they walked into the tiny town of Bethlehem and found the Savior was indeed born as they laid their eyes on this newborn child.   I mean, what did these guys say to their wives when they got home?  Did they grab their families and come over the next day?  Can you imagine their child’s face as they shared this story?  

                What a tremendous happening…and how often I miss it as a sleeping child on a road trip, I arrive at the destination without taking in all of the scenery, the details, and the conversation along the way.  May we never lose our wonder.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Back Room

                As we open up the dialogue today, I want to begin to unpack the birth of Christ a bit.  We can see the Joseph and Mary are travelling to Bethlehem for the purpose of the census (Luke2).  Anyone that has been around a woman that is pregnant or has been pregnant themselves would know of the limited mobility when one is in the latter stages of that condition.  In the midst of that, Mary endured.  The almighty being woven together with in her as she rides with the faithful Joseph to Bethlehem, which fulfilled prophesy by the way (Micah 5:2).  

                If we start with the image of Mary riding the donkey as Joseph walks alongside on their way to Bethlehem, it would behoove us to backtrack just a bit to see what has happened.  The angel announces the arrival of Christ through Mary to both Joseph and Mary at separate times (Matthew 1 & Luke 1).  The announcement took place in Nazareth which is the place where the decedents of King David settled.  The word Nazareth itself means “Branch Town”, which is important because of yet another prophecy (Jeremiah 33:15).  

                This announcement was very important for many reasons, but I would like to key in on one angle in particular.  We see engagements in our modern western culture as a promise to get married.  The engagement can be broken with, depending on the individuals, little to no repercussions save a bit of emotional distress.  In the culture that we see Christ being inserted, it would carry a great deal more weight.  To break an engagement would be much like a full blown divorce, and in Biblical culture, would carry much more scandal than it would today.  

                The announcement, however, meant the Joseph had a profound role to play in this process.  I suspect that for the normal Jewish male at this time (and for the vast majority of us today) finding out our fiancĂ© or wife was pregnant with a child when it is not possible that the child could be ours would cause us to react very swiftly and in a fashion that would cause a finality to the relationship.  The visit from the angel legitimized the pregnancy, which kept Joseph in the relationship with Mary and the Son of God, whom Joseph was called to care for.

I always kind of wondered if Joseph ever resented being in this situation.
                None the less, Joseph dutifully did as he was supposed to.  There is no evidence of Joseph resenting the situation, in fact, he may have been overjoyed with the fact that he was chosen.  We do see in he was considered a righteous man and wanted to deal kindly with Mary (Matt 1).  I just inject the thought because it crosses my mind when I look at this narrative.  Maybe I speak out of my own weakness and misunderstanding.  As we take these facts to rejoin the image of Mary on the donkey and Joseph leading her along, they see Bethlehem in the distance.  

                Now, the normal custom was if you were traveling “home”, as we see Joseph was doing (Luke 2) you would stay in one of the guest rooms at a relative’s house.  So, where does the inn keeper come in here?  There are some interesting facts to take into account as we peel back what we see happening in the Bible.  We see that the word used for inn (Katalyma) is the word used for a guest room in a home, not a “hotel” room (pandoxion or pandocheion).  Basically, there was no room in the family home for them so they were sent to a back room where the beasts of burden were kept.  Since they did not have automobiles back then, it would almost be as if Christ was born in the garage.  There were animals involved, but it was probably not the nativity scene that we have grown accustomed to thanks to Francis of Assisi.

                I wonder what that scene looked like as Joseph began talking to his relatives about a room and they said all that they had was room in the proverbial garage.  “Mary is pregnant and you are going to put us up in your garage?”   I am sure, being wearied from the travels he agreed to “crash” there.  I sit back and admittedly speculate as I process through this story.   I can also imagine after making sure that Mary was settled in, he walked outside and wept a bit.  If I put myself in his shoes and I had the Christ coming and I was to provide for Him, a pregnant wife that I loved, and just being weary from traveling, and the weight of all of this upon his shoulders, I could see a tremendous amount of stress rising within him.  That’s just me and maybe Joseph was a stronger man than I am.  

                Suddenly, possibly as Joseph is collecting himself and preparing to wind down for the night he hears, “Joseph!  He is coming!”