Traditions and Remembering

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The Nutcracker ballet holds a special place in our family.  Many of the familiar music pieces were used in Susan and my wedding.  Little did we know that our oldest would be a ballerina and perform in the Nutcracker for the past 8 years (see above picture for a glimpse!).  You see, the ballet has become more than event, it has become a tradition in our household.  It is something that brings us great joy as we reconnect over shared experiences.

While many people may look down on traditions as idolizing the past, in the best sense of the word, traditions are means by which we remember and remain connected.

On this Christmas Eve day, possibilities for traditions abound.  Maybe its your favorite dish or place to shop that allows you to remember and reconnect.  Perhaps it is Christmas carols sung over the radio or your favorite Hallmark sappy Christmas movie that does it for you.  May I suggest one tradition that if it isn’t already part of your experience you make it one?  Head to a local church tonight.  Sing the carols, see the decorations, and hear the good news of a great joy which is for all people.  The tradition of Christmas Eve services aligns us with God’s good intentions for us and witnesses to the world that we have not lost hope but rather wait patiently, expectantly, and diligently for the provider of hope.  And if you don’t quite get it, don’t worry, none of us truly does if we are honest.  Christmas is a mysterious time of celebrating God’s movement to be with us for all eternity.  Simply go and enjoy the sights, sounds, wonders, and mystery.  And it is my prayer that you will be reconnected to the Giver of Hope in a way that changes your outlook about yourself and your neighbors.  That is the power of the tradition of Christmas Eve!

Advent Prayer

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 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, Isaiah 9:7 (NASB)

 

Advent Prayer
So we look for an expansion of your Kingdom in our generation. We trust that our more complete days remain ahead. Darkness has no power and its days are dwindling. So let us be strong in our convictions. Let us be compassionate in our relationships. And may we exhaust our days working through the power of the Holy Spirit to bring God’s good, perfect, and timely will to fruition. Amen.

 

Messy and dangerous or tidy and sanitized?

Acts 9:10 (NLT-SE)   Now there was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord spoke to him in a vision, calling, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord!” he replied.  The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.”  “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem!

Paul had found Jesus on the road to Damascus. Actually, it was Jesus who found Paul.  And not only did Jesus find Paul, he struck him blind and sent him into town at the mercy of those around him.  It was at this moment that Jesus asks Ananias to play a part in the story.  Notice how quickly in verse 11 that Ananias answer “Yes Lord.”  I am ready for sure Jesus.  Call on me!  And also notice how quickly  Ananias’ exuberance dissipated when he found out the purpose of Jesus’ visit.

You and I say we want to be used by Christ?  But is that lip service only?  Are we willing to hear the messy and sometimes even dangerous message Jesus brings us?  Or do we only want to hear from God what fits in our tidy and sanitized box?

Ananias was willing as it turned out.  And he was used to be the instrument through which God brought healing and empowerment.

If we pray the prayer “use me Lord” earnestly, God will answer it powerfully.  But be forewarned that it may not look like you want it to look.  Be forewarned that it may not even be something you have ever thought or dreamed of doing. Be forewarned that it may be something not even in your “strengths” box.  Be forewarned that you will never be the same.

New Year’s Resolution? No way!

If you are like most people (or me), January 1 came and left as quickly as the resolutions you set for 2013.  In fact,  I stopped making resolutions because of my own personal failure rate and it’s impact on me for the rest of the year.  But I read something from Donald Miller’s blogsite “Storyline blog” that made total sense to me.  Let me share a portion of the blogpost first before we go any further.

I don’t have to change all of my habits at once.

According to Duhigg, research shows we all have few trigger habits, keystone habits. Singular habits – when we do them, transform other areas of our lives. Keystone habits set off a chain of internal events, giving us willpower and momentum to do other things. Over time, these keystone habits form other habits, and we become completely different people. These habits can be positive or negative

post by John Sowers (full post here)

In fact, upon further reflection, something rang true for me.  As strange as it may seem, flossing my teeth is a keystone habit for me.  It is that one small thing that when I do it faithfully impacts everything else in my life. (I so wish I could say my prayer time or devotional reading…I really do and hopefully will one day)  But the fact of the matter is that when I floss, I have more discipline for just about everything else in my life. I didn’t think about it at first.  Then I read further down in John Sower’s post, someone else admitted to flossing and it set off sirens and bells in my soul!

What is your keystone habit?  What is that one thing that aligns the rest of your life and creates discipline in your life in other areas?  I believe if we will focus on that “one” thing and not all the “other” things we want to accomplish, we just might find the rest of our life coming together as well.  I personally have a whole host of things I feel called and compelled to take up this year.  I’d better get to flossing if I have any hope of making progress.

A Treadmill and the Inauguration

I’ve got to admit that as the years pass by, I grow less and less concerned about who is in the White House and more and more concerned about my role in the cause of the greater good.  I was on the treadmill this morning as President Obama took the oath of office and officially started his second term as leader of the free world (I know, I know, he was actually sworn in yesterday in a private ceremony, but go with me here).  What struck me was the brevity of the actual oath of office.  Short sweet and to the point.  Short enough for us to focus upon and yet filled with great meaning about the duty and responsibility for the office holder.

The one line that did catch my attention was the opening welcome when Pres. Obama greeted all of us fellow citizens.  Yep, that is the key for me.  All of us working together wherever we are and whatever we do.  The difference we can make together is greater than anything a government could do and more lasting as well.   It made me resolved to continue to advocate and work for social and economic justice in our society and the other cultures of the world.  My calling leads me to not worry about who is in office be they Republican or Democrat.  Their’s is a different and important calling for certain.  Rather my calling is to spread the news that the practice of forgiveness, generosity, and compassion is the way that leads to life no matter which political party is in power.

So I will continue to pray for Pres. Obama tonight along with the other government leaders.  May their decisions be profitable and actions just.  I will also continue to recognize that we as followers of Christ have an important part to play that transcends a four year election cycle in importance and urgency.

Can you hear me now?

“Communication is not about SPEAKING what you think. It’s about ENSURING others hear what you mean.” — Justin Mayo

As someone who regularly speaks, I am not quite sure I agree with Mr. Mayo.  The communication process has many components that work together to create a message.  As a pastor, I am often surprised by what people tell me they heard during a sermon.  It is not unusual that what they heard was not something I had planned or even thought about.  It’s like a piece of art.  Interpretation of the message tends to be very personal.  We hear messages through our experiences and our preconceived notions.

I wonder how often I miss God’s message because I haven’t been open enough to truly hear?  I wonder if my times of study and prayer are more about validating my own desires instead of hearing God’s heart?

My challenge today is to open my heart enough to truly hear the message God is speaking to me today.  Rather than simply hearing what I want to hear, I want to hear what God wants me to hear.  Far too often that means I must understand my own hang-ups and default way of thinking in order to create a space for God’s message to penetrate and change me.

Jesus said if we want to gain his life we must lose our own.  I see how that relates to my study and prayer just as much as my eternal salvation.

Resist at your own risk

All human nature vigorously resists grace
because grace changes us and the change is painful.
Flannery O’Connor

To understand what it means to be a Methodist, we must understand this concept of grace. As we discussed last week, grace comes from the Greek word charis which means gift. Grace is God’s gifts to us. There are many and they impact us throughout our lifetime. God gives the gift of salvation and forgiveness. God gives the gift of mercy and the gift of purpose of life. God gives peace in the midst of our circumstances. And the list goes on and on.

But as with any gift, we must receive and open it before it can have any impact upon us. And that is the reason many of us leave God’s gifts unopened, unused, and they therefore have no effect. Flannery O’Connor puts her finger on one primary reason we “resist” God’s grace. It means we will be changed. And change is difficult and painful at times.

You see, we grow accustomed to our life the way it is. We are comfortable in it even though it may be chaotic, unproductive, and even destructive. Others may call it dysfunctional, but we call it normal. And we like it. Our life’s theme is “the devil we know is better than the one we don’t.” And so we resist, we put off, and we ignore God’s gift to us for the fear of change.

If that is you today, know that God is abundantly patient. God is always ready to give the gift you need. So it is not too late. Also know that there are plenty of people God has called and who have responded who are willing to help. They belong to a group called the church. And it is my sincere belief that it is within this community, wherever you may find it, that God’s grace abides in sufficient abundance to get us through whatever we face.