Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Bonus

Some companies give out a Christmas bonus (for the PC, a holiday bonus), or if they're technically driven, a performance bonus.  So here's something all of us can enjoy; one more point about the miracle of Christmas -- a 'Christmas bonus' if you will.

To paraphrase Max Lucado, God went through all this just for you.  If you were the only human on earth, the eternal Son of God would have come into human flesh with you, to be Immanuel, bringing humanity back into unity with God.  He would have died to pay for all your sins by his perfect, sinless sacrifice.  The hundreds of your sins would all be washed away by his sinless blood, and his rising from the dead on the first day of the week would have been your confidence of eternal resurrection. 

Even if it was only for you.  God loves that much!

Want some scriptures to read about this?  John 3:16, 1 John 3:16, 1 John 4:8, Romans 3:21-28, 6:23, 5:6-10, Eph. 1:3-5, for starters.  

How's that for a Christmas bonus?  This is one you can spend over, and over, and over...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Holiday (and everyday) Memories

The Lovely Joanne happened to see a fascinating segment of the CBS magazine show "60 Minutes" this week.  This was about people who remember everything that has ever happened to them, from an early age.  They can remember and re-live every instance from any day in their lives, even 20 or 30 years ago, with perfect clarity.  (You can find the full story here.)  

Even without that perfect memory, I have some good memories of the past, and some very bad ones.  I'd like to remember the good ones better, and forget the bad ones forever.  But memory can be a useful tool as well as an irritant.  Memory can help us avoid repeating the same dumb stunts over and over, and hopefully remember dates that are important to our loved ones. (Note to self, remember more birthdays!)

Another thought about memory:  God has decided to forget all our sins.  In Isaiah 43:25, looking forward to forgiving all humans because of his Son Jesus, he says "I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again."  That's a wonderful promise!  And it's straight from God's own grace, not from our good works or deserving it.  I'm very thankful God has forgotten my sins --  I'd certainly like it if nobody on earth remembered any of them either!

Louise Owen, one of the people interviewed for the "60 Minutes" story, said about her gift of perfect memory, "it makes me live my life with so much more intention and so much more joy...Because I know that I'm gonna remember whatever happens today, it's like, all right, what can I do to make today significant?"  That comment made me stop and ask myself the same question.  How can I make today meaningful?  What can I do to plant a good memory in someone else's day, or bring joy to someone?  Paul tells us to live the "new life" in Eph. 4:23-24:  "Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy."  Being "more intentional" as Louise said, paying more attention to the new life we've been given, will help us leave those good memories for someone else.  And maybe even for ourselves.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Gospel -- A Scandal from the First

He was conceived by an unwed mother in a comparatively poor family.  The scandal in her small town probably shamed her entire clan.  Her fiance nearly broke off their engagement in shame.  She didn't get a baby shower, because all her well-behaved friends deserted her.  When the time came to deliver her baby, there was no midwife, no adoring friends to fight over who got to hold the new baby first, nobody to bring in meals for the new mother.  Jesus' first look at our world took in the inside of a barn, which might even have been a cave hollowed out in the soft limestone, thick with cobwebs, dust and lamp smoke -- even worse than the kind of place Bob Vila sees on "This Old House."  

Angels told people about this newborn king.  But they didn't give their good news to the city fathers, or the local judges or priests or teachers, whose reputations could have generated welcome and notoriety for the newborn.  Instead, the heavenly messengers gave the word to shepherds, who were not only smelly, but generally seen by the good townfolk as just barely on the right side of the law, not to be trusted.  So even the first witnesses to the Messiah's birth were outcasts.  What a scandal!

So it shouldn't have been any surprise, when Jesus started preaching, that he spent time with prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen, and other disreputable types.  When Jesus told the parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22, all the 'good and bad' of the town were invited to the party, because all people need the Father's love.  He took heat from the religious establishment for getting too close to sinners.  They accused him of the same kind of sins as those he was around, but they had it wrong.  He was there to show all of them -- the religious posers and the honest sinners -- that Father God loved them, and the best way to do that was to spend time with them so they'd see as well as hear his message.  And he said, plainly, in Luke 19:10 that he came "to seek and to save the lost."  That was a scandal to the religious leaders, who assumed that good religious people should only be around other good religious people. 

Why all this?  Because if Jesus, the Son of God, had been born to a princess in a king's palace with royal attendants and gifts from Nordstrom's, and a scholarship to the best rabbinical school, then we could assume that he came only for the powerful and religious.  But grace, by nature, is scandalous!  God has adopted -- given complete forgiveness and acceptance into his own circle of love, without reservation -- to everyday sinners and losers like me and like you, through Jesus, freely.  If you don't understand that scandalous grace, can we talk?

God's scandal of grace was made plain in Jesus.  Now, most people don't believe God could possibly love somebody as messed up as them.  I was in the front of the line on that one.  But Jesus proved God loves us, by a humble birth in uncomfortable circumstances, and by scandalously accepting with open arms all the broken, messed-up people he could find.  He already loves you, right where you are. 

And that's the real meaning of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Not to Be Served But to Serve

I like to be taken care of -- who doesn't?  A massage on a tight muscle, a great meal, and many other treats in life make me feel loved and cared for.  I've learned to give those things away too, because they show love for someone else.

The core reason we celebrate Christmas is that God took on flesh, becoming Jesus, to be with us.  But Jesus wasn't here to be waited on hand and foot.  He corrected the disciples for their self-seeking attitudes in Matthew 20.   He started the lesson by telling them (v. 17-19) that he himself was to die under the hand of the Jews and the Romans.  He told them straight out that they weren't to act like the Gentile rulers, taking advantage of others (v. 25-27).   He capped it off by reversing the normal order for big-wigs, in v. 28:  "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many." 

He'd been teaching this to the disciples for some time.  In Matthew 14, Jesus heard about his cousin John, the baptizer, being killed by Herod, and tried to get away, but everyone followed him.  Verse 14 says "Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick."  Then (v. 15) "That evening the disciples came to him and said, 'This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.' "  But Jesus wasn't going to let the disciples get away with turning others away!  Through a miracle, he made them feed 5,000 men (plus women and children) with one person's dinner. (He multiplied the food, but they had to do the work of distributing it.)

Jesus is still doing miracles and providing for people today.  He provides the resources, but he expects his disciples (yep, that would be you and me) to carry the stuff around.  So, how do we do that?  Some people I know feed the homeless, either directly or by contributing to a shelter.  Others help take care of someone in their neighborhood who is in need.  It can be simple, and not even expensive:  baking cookies; visiting someone who is home-bound or stuck in the hospital; or providing warm clothing for a family in need.

In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus teaches on humble giving by saying we should provide for those who can't pay us back by giving something similar to us.  So why don't you and I make a special effort this month to do something for someone less able?  The message of the Gospel -- the love of God for people -- can begin with physical gifts that lead to spiritual breakthroughs.  It takes figuring out what they need and then deciding to provide it.  Just like Jesus did for you, and for me.  Just like he's continuing to do, and wants us involved in, today.  So let's get busy with Jesus!