Thursday, December 22, 2011

Keeping Christmas Well

'Tis the season to be jolly. That is the old lyric anyway yet jolly isn't what I'm feeling. Rather, I'm in a very reflective mood. This has been a particularly challenging Christmas season in more ways than one. With challenges come opportunities and within them revelations.

This year, I have been working part time in a large retailer to suppliment our income while developing the media production business. I haven't done this in many years and has given me fresh insight into our modern celebration of Christmas if it can be truly called that anymore. For many, I think calling it "Shoppingmas" or "Retailmas" would be more appropriate. Shoppers work to get the right gifts, many trying to top last year. Grandparents and parents engage in an unspoken competition to outdo each other. Even in a recesion, high end items fly off the shelves. People are surly, rude, and can be downright nasty to each other and to the staff of the stores trying to help them.

On the other side of this equation is the retailer who is desperate to make up for a bad year with strong seasonal sales. Deep discounts, aggressive sales, and a whole list of tactics and strategies are being used to lure shoppers to use their limited dollars with them. Large retailers opened as early as midnight for Black Friday with at least one opening at ten Thanksgiving night. Black Friday is one of the most important days of the year.

Please don't misunderstand my point. I am not anticapitalist. In fact, I am a full-blown, died in the wool, capitalist. I believe in the freedom of the market place. What I oppose is capitalizing on the birth of Christ for what amounts to selfish ends. So much of the life meant to be celebrated has been lost. I'm not against the giving of gifts. All I really want to see is balance. We need to remember why we give.

Retail is only half the equation. In the secularism being forced upon us, there is little room for the truth. Morality, righteousness, and true love are lost in the crossfire. Office Christmas parties are notorious for all sorts of inappropriate behavior, casual "daliances," and other shenanigans. To tell the truth, I've never actually been to a party like that and I hope that they are more a creation of our imagination than reality. Schools forbid true carols and even secular songs have a hard time making the approved music list. Sure, they still celebrate, but it's just another school party.

In all the giving, eating, and other parties, where is the Christ child? Is there really room for Jesus in this time of year? Have we become the inns of Bethlehem? Are our hearts too full of "holiday cheer" to open our doors to the real source of joy?

I'm not alone in my thoughts. Over the last few days I've seen a number of blog posts and commentators asking the same questions. Where is God in Christmas? Decades of consumerism and secularist control of education and the media have turned what is one of the holiest days on the Christian calender into nothing but a family tradition bereft of its true meaning.

I can already hear many of you starting to rail against the world and all its evils. Some of you are already blaming Hollywood, big business, or even the government for the loss of Christ in the holiday. There are a lot of potential targets for our ire. We've gotten pretty good at blaming others for our problems and failings.

If the truth be told, we, the church, are not much different from the world. I'm sorry to say that our own traditions and behavior pretty much mirror the rest of our culture. Okay, sure, we go to Christmas Eve services and maybe read from Scripture to our families, but otherwise, we are the same. We shop 'til we drop and stress family and gatherings far more than we do Christ.

Even in giving we mirror the world. People inside and outside the church give more at Christmas than at any other time of the year. Let me rephrase, many people, including Christian, only give to help their fellow man this time of year. Perhaps it is only in this season that our conscience is able to speak to us about ignorance and want, the two great evils declared by Dickens in his great novel, A Christmas Carol.

None of these things are inherently wrong. Many of the things we do aren't wrong. They are only a problem because they push out Jesus. We forget Him and all of our banners, signs, and postings that we are "keeping the Christ in Christmas" won't change that. We say it so often that it has become a cliche' of our times. Do you really want to keep Christ in Christmas? Then let's put Christ back into our culture.

In Dickens' novel, Scrooge's redemption came at Christmas but extended to his behavior the entire year. So it must be with us. Jesus didn't come to give us a holiday but for our redemption.

Just over two thousand years ago, the Living Word of God came and took on human flesh. He was born into a poor family in great discomfort. Indeed, were it not for the compassion of one innkeeper who made room for him in a place that people were not meant to stay, His birth would have been worse. A simple act of kindness kept the Lord of All Creation from being born in the street. Even a stable was better.

How like that we are now. Jesus comes in and we give Him our stable. For many of us, Jesus is still that babe in a manger. We may not think of Him that way consciously but that is all the authority and room we give Him. He came not just for our eternal life but to change how we live this one. Only by opening up the rooms of our heart do we truly allow Him to build redemption in our lives.

Just as with Scrooge, a truly redeemed life is a transformed life. Of him it was said that he kept Christmas very well. His pledge was to keep it all year not just for a day. That needs to be our pledge too.

Jesus said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34, 35 NKJV) When asked the greatest commandment, He answered, "‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40, NKJV) Love, not just of God but one another, is at the core of our faith. This love is central to a redeemed life.

A life lived in love is a generous one. It's easy to give to family and friends, those who we know and love. But a true heart, one fully immersed in the love of Christ will give to those who cannot return the gift. Strangers and the poor need the love of Christ and it is to them we must show the love of God. Giving not only a few dollars but time and real love will impact this world far more than a sign or a banner. This is more powerful than all the Christmas presents we give each other, more powerful than all the parties, and greater than any shopping season.

Do you want to put Christ back into Christmas? We must preach the Gospel and live transformed lives. If we change the hearts and minds of the people by the power of His grace and love, the world around us will change. It will take a lot of work. The momentum is against us but God is more greater than any force working against us. As we follow Christ more diligently, the world will respond.

Let it be said of us that we keep Christmas well throughout the year.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Saying What Needs to Be Said

The time shall soon be a upon us. Very soon I shall keep my promise to return to the air. The logo you see to the right represents a great deal of time and prayer. Jesus' Outsider will soon take the place of A Madman in CrazyTown and boy will it be different. This blog will also reflect that difference.

I have greatly missed being on the air the last few weeks. After three and a half years of podcasting, not being behind the mic has been a little disconcerting. It's a little like being tied down to a chair with a gag in your mouth while watching the world around you fall apart. That might be a little extreme, but that's how it's felt. It's been hard not to jump the gun. There's so much to be said.

That's the point isn't it? There is a lot that needs to be said that few are willing to say. Sure, tons of hosts and preachers will talk about the good stuff of following Christ. Everyone wants to hear about the blessings, healings, and maybe a nice dose of prosperity. We don't even mind if someone talks about how bad the world is and how much better it is to be a Christian. Afterall, it's us versus them, right? Aren't we the righteous standing firm against the sinner, waging the culture war for the good of all? If you listen to the majority of preachers, Christian talk show hosts, and other Christian celebrities, that's certainly the impression you get.

That's not how it is, not by a long shot. Unfortunately, those are popular messages and ideas. What's not so popular? That's a really long list. We don't talk about how much sin is in the church and how it's destroyed our authority to stand to the real evil. We've lost our resolve. We've also lost the perspective on who we really are and our true role in the world. We've rejected the lost, each other, and many Biblical mandates. The Church is far from the pure and spotless bride Jesus wants to come back for when He returns.

Someone has to be willing to say the hard things, both the good and the bad. Jesus told difficult truths that sometimes resulted in the people, especially the religious establishment, enraged and ready to kill Him. Yes, He preached love and a lot of powerful and positive things that needed to be said. He also talked about subjects that no one wanted to hear like suffering, persecution, and holiness. His words had power, authority, and conviction. Lives were transformed then and are still being transformed today.

I'm not afraid to say what's not popular or even difficult. There's one simple reason for that; I don't care about being famous or popular. I care about being true to the call that Jesus put on me and being obedient to His word. If I never receive one listener or one reader, I will still speak and write. That's my job.

So, you're probably wondering why the show is called Jesus' Outsider. Okay, maybe you're not but I'll tell you anyway. It's really simple. I am an outsider. Yes, I've been a part of some very big events and gone to "it" churches. I've been (almost) a part of the "in" crowd for years. To tell the truth, even when I'm part of the group I never feel like I belong. I just can't join in their visions and direction. I walk apart.

I'm not saying that their direction and vision are wrong. In fact, there are many people faithfully service Christ, as much as any human can, within these communities. Like all sinners saved by grace, they are doing so imperfectly just like me. There are parts they leave out and things they don't see. God has given me the gift to see and pay attention to things that others do not. I see the cliques, the hurting within our walls, and the sin in the camp. I am also blessed to see when unsung saints who hold no title or position bandage the wounded and bring the Gospel to those who are ignored or even despised. I have the perspective of one who is truly outside the mainstream despite being in the thick of it. I'm going to share it all.

None of this makes me special or anything else. Like you, I am a sinner saved by grace in need of a daily dose of His Spirit and His word. I'm just a little different. That's all.

I expect to be on the air the first of the year. I have a lot of work to do between now and then but I will spend some time each week writing this blog to get the wheels rolling. Let's shake things up together.