Monday, December 29, 2008

Brewing Change

I rarely go to Starbucks, but recently I did. I usually don't pay too much attention to what is on the cups, or the little sleeve that keeps your hand from getting hot, but this time it caught my eye. A simple design with the phrase "Do something good every day." The coffee company is a partner in the (red) campaign- a movement that a number of companies have joined in helping to raise money for aids research. 

As Christians, we are called to live a life that is different, so that we cause the world to become different. Christ's instructions for his disciples and the people he interacted with were in contrast to the ways of the world. One way that we can be successful in this call to a different life is by being intentional about serving others. The American dream seems to be all about making life better for "me" and "my own". But we are called to something better, something different- maybe if more people stopped looking out for #1, we would end up with more people looking out for us than just ourselves.

So this week, look after the needs of someone other than you. Go "do something good every day" because Christ did something incredible for them. 

"Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Philippians 2: 3 (NIV) (bold added)

Monday, December 22, 2008


A few days ago I was filling up my car with gas. Now that it's winter, the roads seem especially dirty, so I used the complimentary window cleaner at the pump. I washed the front windsheild, and began to squeegee it off. I couldn't quite reach all the way across the windsheild, so I began to walk around the front of the was about then that I felt a strange sensation- my feet were getting wet. I tried the little tiptoe out of the water backwards...but that doesn't work when the water is ankle deep and you're already a good five feet into it...Naturally, I got a little irritated because I was driving home and still had a good hour to go. But the only person I could really get mad at was me and my lack of observation.

Sometimes we get so caught up with what we're doing that we forget to pay attention to what's going on...and it gets us in trouble. We may think we're getting a lot done and doing a lot of good, but being overly focused on a task results in being less aware of things outside of the object of your attention. As a person disciple of Christ, it is your responsibility to spread the good news. Interestingly, the most distracting thing for us can often be ministry- we get so focused on what we're doing that we neglect our relationship with God... and the ministry we do turns into busyness. Not only our ministry can get in the way, our daily lives can too. However, it's much easier to admit that we've lost focus due to work, school...etc. But being too busy doing ministry to have time for God is much more difficult to notice.

Be careful not to let the things you do (in life, and in your ministry) become more important than your relationship with the God who sustains you. Continue to seek God daily through prayer and study.

"He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe." Proverbs 28:26

Friday, December 19, 2008

Not-so-Christmas Classics Part 3

Click here to read Part 1. Then, read Part 2

"Christmas List" by Simple Plan- a punk-ish band that really took off in '02-'03. Most of their songs are dealing with relationship problems, but their lyrics can be funny (although, sometimes inappropriate). This one made me laugh the first time I heard it as it describes the true meaning of Christmas (at least to some)
Click here to listen/watch...or just watch the embedded version below.

First off, the song is just catchy. You can help but to tap your foot or bob your head (if you're might even be tempted to do both at the same time!) Now, as for the lyrics that get the point across:

"Christmas, so don't stop spending"
This really addresses the main problem that we should have with Christmas as it exists in our society- it has more to do with consumerism than it does Christianity. When I was young, I had no problem churning out a list of "needs" but I grew up in a world where it was Ninja Turtles, or GI Joes for boys, and Barbies or My Little Pony for girls... Every time I go to Wal-Mart, I am amazed at the toy aisles. I don't feel old, but I do when I think "I remember when there was a toy aisle, singular." It can't be easy being a parent of a young child today- it seems there are so many things that kids "need"...But even adults get sucked into this time where we try to express our love by how much we spend. I've already given a shout out, but I want you to be sure to check out Try to make this Christmas more about spending time with the ones you love.

"No matter what I get tonight, I want more"
The lyrics continue to poke fun at our insatiable need for things we don't need at Christmas. I've already addressed this, so I won't go on.

"Give me a time machine to take me straight to midnight, I'll be alright"
This is perhaps my biggest problem with the way we approach Christmas. As children, it's a waiting game and time seems to move extremely slow...think of the conversations on Christmas Eve- "Can we open one gift tonight?" This proves our lack of patience as children. As adults, we wait for that week off from work. We wait for the holiday traffic to be over. We wait for our Christmas bonus. We wait for the bargains on the 26th... But we forget to wait for God. We forget to give our attention to God instead of all of the things we do that keep us busy.

These songs help to keep me refreshed at the holiday season because they aren't worn out, and offer a reminder as to what this time is all about. Are there songs that you know of that aren't classics, but have a message that others need to hear at this time of year? Please share them by commenting.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not-so-Christmas Classics Part 2

This is the second part in a 3-part series on Christmas songs that are worthy of a listen, but you might not hear them on any radio stations during the time from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
Click here to read Part 1

The second song is "The Rebel Jesus" by Jackson Browne. Click here to watch/listen, or just watch below

For most of us, this song may be quite convicting. The first thing that catches your eye is probably the title. It refers to Jesus as a rebel. Sometimes we think too much of Jesus as a guy that was always hanging out with sheep or children, and we forget all the trouble he stirred up. The truth is- Jesus probably wouldn't fit in at most churches today...but anyway... Here are a few thoughts.

The song starts off cheerfully as the lyrics paint a picture that we're all familiar with- the shopping scene and the scene at home on Christmas. But then it takes a turn...

"And they fill their churches with their pride and gold, as their faith in Him increases, but they've turned the nature that I worship in, from a temple - to a robbers' den" This is in reference to Matthew 21: 13 (Jesus is quoting Isaiah & Jeremiah as he drives the merchants from the temple) These were strong words from Jeremiah, Jesus, and now Jackson... as Christians, we have two options of how we react- 1) get defensive and decide he doesn't know what he's talking about (not unlike the Pharisees), or 2) use this as a reminder of what the temple or church is really for- a house of prayer and worship.

"We guard our world with locks and guns, and we guard our fine possessions, and once a year when Christmas comes, we give to our relations, and perhaps we give a little to the poor if the generosity should seize us, but if any one of us should interfere in the business of why there are poor...they'd get the same as the rebel Jesus" This is the sermon within the song- we spend so much time taking care of our own possessions, and taking care of our family, that we forget who we're supposed to be looking after- read Deuteronomy 15: 1-11. Browne's use of the word seize- which means it's forced out of guilt, is a great description of how our attitudes seem to be when people are in need. Here's a great video about how much Americans spend on Christmas versus how much it would take to supply the entire world with access to clean drinking water. Work for social justice. Be generous with the blessings God has given you and God will bless you for doing so.

"So I bid you pleasure, and I bid you cheer...from a heathen and a pagan, on the side of the rebel Jesus." This part raises the curiosity as to what Browne's religious views are. Was he just being humble- referring to himself as a pagan/heathen instead of just calling himself a sinner for dramatic effect? I found this on another blog (click to read about Jackson Browne's religious views).

Look for Part 3 of this series to post on Friday, December 19th.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Not-so-Christmas Classics

"The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my line - only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. John 10:17-18a (NIV)

This week will feature a series of Christmas songs that aren't the classics we all know and love, but each of these songs is great for it's own reason. I'll post a link to a youtube video of the song and have a few comments as to why it's a great song, and worthy of a listen at this time of year.

Today is "Welcome to Our World" by Chris Rice. Watch, Listen, Read, and enjoy!

In addition to having a beautiful melody, it's an amazing lullaby...and yet the words are humbling as the writer declares that this little one is a much bigger deal than we could ever truly comprehend. A few thoughts on the lyrics of the song:

"hope that you don't mind our manger how I wish we would have known but long-awaited holy Stranger make yourself at home"
Sometimes we fail to prepare for Christ. And not just at Christmas. We fail to prepare for worship...probably weekly. Before a weekday starts, you probably gather your things and make sure you're ready...but how often do you connect with God before you go to worship? How often do you fail to prepare a place for God in your life...and give him whatever room is left- the manger?

"so wrap our injured flesh around You...rob our sin and make us holy"
The vivid description reminds us that we are in need of healing, and that Christ's sacrifice was both necessary and intentional. The word "rob" drives home the fact that the sin did not belong to Christ-He took it from us. How often do you ask Christ to rob your sin?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Get Uncomfortable

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you." Romans 12: 1-2 (The Message)

This is a longer scripture than usual, but it's a greaty passage. Like many passages, it seems to communicate a different message every time it's read/studied. I've recently been reading through "With God in the Crucible: Preaching Costly Discipleship" by Peter Storey. The book is a collection of Storey's sermons during the time when South African churches began speaking out against apartheid. Many of the sermons really bothered me- they described what was happening in the community, in the country, and in the church. Sometimes, Storey's calls to action bothered me- mostly that Storey called Christians to demand that the government dismantle the apartheid system...without reverting to violence. Storey's calls were not all that unlike the calls of Martin Luther King Jr. in the U.S. during the Civil Rights movement.

The message of most of the sermons was simple and repetitive- apartheid is wrong, everyone knows it but won't change it, so the church must bring about change in a peaceful manner so that others don't try to change things violently. Storey even criticized the churches of America for being comfortable in their faith/religion. Our first reaction to this criticism is to become defensive- because we tithe, we volunteer, we even pray for our church! But the truth is that we have become comfortable. We have learned to like our little Sunday school discussions, we like a sermon that's uplifting and feel-good, we like our choirs to sound nice, we like our bathrooms clean...the list goes on.

There's nothing wrong with these things specifically. However, the problem develops when we get so comfortable with our own surroundings that we no longer realize how much God has blessed us by having a relationship with God through Christ. The 12th chapter of Paul's letter to the church in Rome urges the congregation to be different. He tells them to be radical- be different than the rest of the people...strive NOT to fit in!!! But we don't like that...because we know the saying- the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. Storey's sermons in the forementioned book stretch over a decade. We usually know when things need to change, but we don't always want to pay the cost it takes to change it. That has to change. We, the church, need to be the first to demand change when things need changing...we need to be different, for the sake of the world.

Are you comfortable in your faith? Do you find yourself concerned about little things in your church? Maybe the problem isn't the church- maybe it's your perspective... start looking for the things that are wrong in your community, in your city, in your country, in the world. Actively pursue change for the better. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world..."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Be Prepared

It's the holiday season. That can mean only one thing- company. But before that company comes, there's a lot to do. The house must be cleaned- the kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms... food must be purchased, favorite holiday treats must be made, decorations must be pulled out of storage and displayed...what am I forgetting? You tell me.

Many of us take great care in our preparations for company- maybe we have that relative that comments if things aren't spotless, maybe that treat that everyone likes is really time consuming (but you make it anyway), or perhaps we're just over-occupied with making sure everything is "perfect."

With all of these preparations to make, I wonder if we take time to prepare for the coming king? I wonder if we take time to take the good news to others during the holiday season? I wonder if we take time to think about how we're celebrating something so incredibly amazing that it caused many to stop what they were doing and worship?

"The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told." Luke 2: 20 (NIV) (bold added)

How are you preparing for Christ's arrival this Christmas season? Here's a tip- it's hard to prepare to welcome the Messiah when you're busy shopping or preparing for company. Don't let this Christmas come and go without taking time to realize the enormity of the season. Prepare your home and heart for the company of Christ.