Tuesday, December 23, 2014

the Hope of Christmas

This time of year there is a huge emphasis on being “merry and bright.” In church the atmosphere is one of celebration, of glitz and light and joyful music, of triumph. Merriment and pageantry, festivity abounds.  And so it should!  We are celebrating God come to earth, the culmination of a promise given at the beginning of time.  The tree and the lights and the music and dance and drama and gifts have become part of the celebration, to the point of extravagance—and again, I am not finding fault, after all, how extravagant is it for the God of eternity, the Creator of the universe, to join his creatures for the sole purpose of death and resurrection and redemption?

My thoughts are simply this; to those who are bent and weary with burdens that simply won’t let up, those for whom grief and pain are constant companions, those who are quite simply, spent. The thought of needing to put on a fa├žade of “merry and bright” can be overwhelming.  For them, the expectation of festivity is not a preparation for joyful ceremony, but rather one more task on hearts already so very taxed.  May I say that the degree of celebration is not a marker as to how much you love Jesus and appreciate the gift of his coming to earth?

I submit that it is every bit as worshipful, every bit as appropriate and genuine to lay aside some of the frolic and simply dwell on the Hope.  Jesus birth did not signal the prompt end of oppression. His coming did not bring immediate ease, the suffering of Israel did not cease.  In fact there were many more long years of war and turmoil, of persecution and tumult and being scattered. 

Jesus’ birth was the declaration of Hope.  Hope that in the midst of suffering God had not forgotten or abandoned.  Hope that God was not merely enthroned on high, but was present, he was now, he was sharing the pain, the hurt, the grief.  Jesus’ coming meant that there was Hope that the current circumstance was not all there is, the promise still stood. 

That promise stands today. He remembers the frailty of humanity. He knows, not simply as one who has seen, but as one who has borne, the fragility of our spirit and emotion.  And he does not merely remember!  He does not share our burden as one who can only sympathize.  Christ Jesus is unique in that he not only knows our infirmity, he has the power to carry us through it.  This is the Hope of Christmas. 

I invite you to lay aside the guilt of “not doing enough for Christmas” and focus on the Hope. The Hope that although suffering may not cease immediately, that you are not left alone in it. The Hope that though the burden is so very great, you are not alone in carrying it.  The promise that although your Christmas may not be filled with lights and pageantry and spectacle, your Hope is just as real; for does not a candle shine most brightly in the darkness? 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Do Unto Others

Even people who have never picked up a Bible love to quote from it, and while I don't have research to back me up, I think one of the favorite and most often misquoted/misinterpreted scriptures is some version of "Do unto others as you would have done to you." (The other most misquoted has got to be "Judge not that ye be not judged" but that is a whole different blog post. Or two.)  I have seen some pretty interesting takes on this; even what I just wrote above is not exactly what the Bible says. The two scriptures that  Golden Rule quotes are usually derived from are:

Luke 6:31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
Matthew 7:12 
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.

There is so very much that one can say about these scriptures and the principles that are taught in their context.  I will not attempt to explain  exhaustively, or even partially what they mean. I would like to think for a few minutes about what I think they do NOT mean. 

My thoughts were brought here this morning by a friend's status update.  Basically, she tried to treat someone the way she would like to be treated and it didn't go well.  Story as old as time, yes? 

First, let me say we aren't responsible for how others act, only for ourselves. We can't say, "oh, they were mean" and then return evil for evil (how come the scripture telling us not to do that isn't on greeting cards and coffee mugs?).  The other person's action or reaction does not excuse me from doing what I know to be good. 

Secondly, and what I was really thinking of when I read my friend's status was this:  treating others the way we would like to be treated does not always equal "being nice."  This is a big pill to swallow, I know.   It has been drilled into us since preschool to be nice.  Especially as Christian women, we are supposed to, above all, be nice.
But more than "nice", I value being treated justly, rightly.  No, thank God, I'm not treated the way I often deserve (ouch), but our obedience to the Golden Rule doesn't mean we must open ourselves up for abuses.  
Don't forget Micah 6:8, we are to do justly and love mercy--this is what God requires of us.  I believe that within the context of mercy, within the context of "do unto others", it is entirely appropriate to treat people with justice.  This means that I do not have to, under the guise of "being nice", open myself up for others to take advantage of or misuse me.  I do not have to extend the same privileges of trust and friendship to every person in my life.  Everyone should be treated with justice (while loving mercy), but not everyone gets the same access to my heart/emotions/home/bank account. 

There will always be people who take advantage, who hurt us, who misuse us.  Jesus told us this would happen to even expect it and that we are blessed if we are persecuted for righteousness' sake.  But not all of our hurt comes from righteousness' sake...sometimes we are so focused on being nice that we don't think of being just. Treating people with justice isn't mean (although they may not like it). Doing unto others as I want them to do to me may not always be pleasant.

I expect that if I hurt someone, that I will have to work to regain their trust.
I expect that people will speak with me truthfully, even if it is painful to hear.
I expect that if someone needs to set boundaries or alter their expectations of me, they will.

I need to be brave enough to treat others in these same ways. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

cereal, soup, and dumpsters

Recently I've heard several references to "pick the meat and spit out the bones" or, "there's a lot of good in it, just ignore the other"  and other thoughts along this line.   I've been thinking about this and while I totally understand, I think that we need to use discernment in this process.

Analogies can be tricky... they can help make a point, but they can also distract from the point as you try to reconcile all the bits that don't really carry over.   I am going to hope that in the analogies that follow, it helps to clarify and not to confuse.

Lucky Charms
 This is where we cherry-pick and only take what we like in order to make a point, ignoring not what is questionable, but what is actually beneficial.   I would say it's like picking through the bowl and only taking out the marshmallows and leaving the cereal.   This is super easy to do and happens with everything from scripture to statistics. We need to guard against it not only in our own life (reading something that is whole and complete, but only taking in what is convenient or suits our agenda) and also in the content of those we choose to listen to. Are our preachers and teachers giving the whole truth or just the marshmallows?

Chicken Soup
...or stew, or meat and bones, whichever way you look at it, this is the "good" way to pick and choose.   I call it "chicken soup" after my dear daughter who loves chicken soup and can eat her way through bowls full of the stuff and at the end leave a whole heap of carrots behind.  The carrots aren't bad or harmful, they just aren't to her taste.
I own and read and use as reference many books that I don't fully agree with every thought the author presents. However, it's not bad or or harmful, and it does make me think.  Listen (or read) critically, weigh the information, and keep the good stuff. Even what you don't choose to "eat" has been beneficial in making you think through it (much like carrots giving flavor to the soup).  If we only read or listened to people we completely agreed with, our lives would be much smaller.

Dumpster Diving
Sure lots of great things probably get thrown away and if you went digging for them, you could find them.  But at what risk?  Rotten food, germ ridden sharp objects, and other items that are downright hazardous are also in that dump.  To me, this is like reading or watching media that has obvious bad philosophy or doctrine and justifying it by saying that there are lots of "good parts."  

The first consideration  (for me) would be, "is there a better place to get this?"   Whether the "this" is entertainment, advice, or information, is there any other source that wouldn't require so much picking through?   If so, then choose the other option, if not, then really look long and hard at what it is that you need so badly that you are willing to dig through putrid trash to get it.
Discernment is both a learned skill and a gift from God.  When we seek to fill ourselves with Truth, he will honor that and give us wisdom and discernment to do so.  

Proverbs 18:15 - The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge

1 Thessalonians 5:21 - Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.