Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's About the Cross

Today, a gentle, loving, Christian man passed away. He was a saint if I ever met one. Not too long ago, I had the privilege of working with him and I was shocked to my very core one day to hear this humble servant of God express great disappointment in himself and admitting that his greatest desire was to be a better disciple. This man whom I admired and held in high regard as a true and dedicated follower of Christ was almost in tears as he confessed his feelings of inadequacy in reflecting the glorious nature of his Lord and Savior in his daily living. He was an exemplary model of what it is to live in a committed and loving relationship with God and yet he felt he fell far short of the example he so desired to be. Yesterday he said that he knew he was going to die and that he wasn’t afraid. This man was able to say that because he had given his heart and his life to the Lord and trusted in Christ’s sacrifice to redeem him from his sinfulness. He held firm to his faith that Jesus was born, lived, died on the cross, and rose from the dead so that today, my friend could celebrate Christmas in the presence of the King.

This week, we celebrate the birth of Christ. We will gather with our friends and family and, in grand American tradition, celebrate with much food and gift-giving. In the midst of the holly, jolly merry-making, we will rush and dash and fluster about to get here and there and do this and that. Somewhere in the holiday frenzy, let’s be deliberate about taking time to meditate on, be thankful for, and celebrate what is now so undeniably true to my friend – Christmas is about the cross. Yes, we celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas, but we must not forget, nor neglect, that Christ was born to die on the cross for our sins. This became abundantly clear to me a couple of years ago when I first heard what is now, and most likely will always be, my favorite Christmas song. And since they sing this truth so much better than I could ever write about it, I’ve included the song (compliments of YouTube) below. Take a few moments now, listen, and remember why it is that Christ’s birth brings us such great joy and hope. May you have a very merry and blessed Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

People Get Ready - Jesus Is Coming!

Today, in this last week of Advent, I’m asking myself if I am prepared for Christ and for the Christmas celebration. Not long ago, I heard someone say that Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of the birth of our Savior and for His coming. I’ve heard that statement many times before and never gave it a second thought, but that day, something about it kept tumbling around in my mind. It occurred to me that during Advent, we are to prepare for two events, not one: 1) the celebration of the birth of our Savior and 2) His return. In the past, I had assumed that statement to be repetitive or merely separating Christ’s birth from the rest of his life and ministry here on earth. However, now I believe that Advent is an opportunity to prepare our lives and our hearts to celebrate his birth, his life and ministry, and for his inevitable return. Am I prepared for that?
In Mark 13:32, Jesus tell us that no one knows the day or hour of his return, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son - only the Father knows. Jesus didn’t say no one knows “if” he is returning. He said no one knows “when” he will return except, of course, the Father who knows and orchestrates all things. If you’re like me, you probably haven’t given Jesus’ return much thought. If you’re like me, you’re expecting to see Jesus face-to-face when your body dies and your spirit goes to be with him. But do we really anticipate that Jesus may return before we die and if he does, will we be ready? What does one do to be ready for that?

Looking again to Jesus, in Mark 13:34, he says that it’s like when a man is going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Like that man, Jesus will return and I need to be dedicated to the task I’ve been given in anticipation of that return. So what is my task? It’s the same as yours - to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)

So how are you doing with that? I admit - I could be doing a lot better. I love God, but it’s not in my sinful nature to love God completely and there are some people in this world for whom I have no love. Because of my sinfulness, I will always fall short of the perfection which God’s holiness demands. It’s only through the forgiveness that is so readily available in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that I find myself celebrating instead of shuddering in God’s glorious presence. It seems that for the moment, through God’s grace, I’m as prepared as I can be to for the Christmas celebration and for Christ’s return.

My prayer for you this coming week is for you to be filled with the joy and hope that the birth of Christ brings and the peace that his return promises.
About the pictures:

Pittsburgh, PA (Dec. 2009)

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Little Drummer Boy

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV)

Two weeks and counting until Christmas Day! Christmas music is playing on my computer and in my car. The tree is up and decorated in silver, blue and purple, and the gifts are wrapped and sitting under the tree waiting for the glorious celebration of the birth of Christ and the sharing of gifts that brings much joy to the day. Don’t be mad at me that I’m done already. As a church secretary, the next two weeks will be busy enough. I love to listen to Christmas carols as I work to help remind me of the joy of the season when all I’m feeling is the stress the season so often brings.

One of my new favorite carols is “The Little Drummer Boy.” I know it’s been around for fifty years and I’ve heard it every year of my life, but it was only last year that it made its way to the top of my list of favorites. I’ve always thought the story in the song was cute, but that’s all it was – a cute little story. Last year, I heard a new rendition that not only caught my attention but sparked in me a new understanding of my relationship with Jesus.

In this new rendering, the words “I play my drum, I play my drum for the one who saved me” are repeated numerous times. The shepherds had sheep and the wise men had gold, frankincense and myrrh, but the little drummer boy had nothing to give and still he was compelled to come worship the King, albeit empty-handed. As I heard this new version for the first time last year and again this past week, it occurred to me that this isn’t just a story about a poor, little boy who had nothing tangible to offer his King. It’s a song about me.

On Christmas Day, as I come to give glory to the King, I also have nothing to give him worthy of the King of kings, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the World. What shall I give to the one who created me, who breathed life into me, who gave me all I have, who loves me beyond reason, and who died on a cross to save me from my sinfulness and bring us into an eternal relationship? I can give only what I have – me. I’m a caring, encouraging woman and the Lord has generously blessed me in creativity and ability. I can offer that as my gift to the King, not just for one day, but every day of the rest of my life. If what I do for others is doing for him, then I can give compassion to the lonely and hurting as my gift to him. I can listen to and encourage a troubled friend for him. I can use the creativity and ability God gave me to give to him in a new way each day. Still a small, seemingly insignificant gift, consider the recipient, but just as the little drummer boy, it’s all I have. And like the drummer boy, when my song is over, I hope that Jesus will smile at me too.
About the pictures:
Pittsburgh, PA (December 2009)

If you would like to hear the version of "The Little Drummer Boy" that I spoke of in today's blog, click on the youtube link provided:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZS4bCGErBY

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Controlling the Christmas Chaos

The Advent/Christmas Season is a mixture of the best and worst time of year for me. This is the season of preparation for the coming of the Lord and of the celebration of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. This is a time for family togetherness and for spreading Christmas cheer. However, it is also a stressful time for me personally and professionally. As an Administrative Assistant for a church, my workload increases significantly. Everyone in the church wants to plan and advertise their own special celebration and I sometimes feel like a contortionist trying to coordinate everything. Add to that the personal stress that comes from trying to find money in my tight budget to get everyone I love that one very special gift, the hollow pain of missing my son during the celebration of the season, and the attempt to fit even more gatherings and special activities into my already full life and it’s a wonder that I don’t give up celebrating Christmas all together.

I admit I can be a bit of a Type A personality. Okay, I am a Type A personality. My mind is constantly checking over a list of things I need to do and I’m compelled to check things off of that list as quickly as possible for fear of not getting them done in time. At Christmastime, there are so many things on that mental list that I lose focus trying to juggle them all. My struggle for control manifests itself through insomnia and in a sudden lack of patience which lead to exhaustion and depression leaving me in a state of confusion and with an inability to make even simple decisions. The more I try to organize the innumerable variables that Christmastime presents, the less control over everything I seem to have.

When I am so overwhelmed that I feel like I’m drowning in frenzy, I find myself crying out to God, as I did this week, to help me push all of it aside. I beg him to help me focus on celebrating Jesus instead of leaving me to wallow in the chaos. I implore him to help me get things organized and settled. That’s when he reminds me of one very important detail that I somehow forget too often. He reminds me that the control I’m seeking is not mine to have. Many years ago, I gave Jesus control of my life – every moment! In a previous blog (“Finding God’s Message in the Puzzle” - August 6, 2009) I concluded that I don't have control over what will happen. In fact, I never did and to embrace the kind of trust in God that he deserves, I need to stop clinging to the illusion of being able to obtain that control. I’m in such turmoil now because, once again, I’m trying to obtain something only God is wise and powerful enough to handle.

The peace and joy I’m lacking and desperately craving will come when I give up my foolish demand for control and seek to follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance as he reveals his will to me. I need to trust that God’s perfect timing will prevail and that the things that must be done will get done as they should. I must let go of the stress, the micro-managing of every detail, and the fruitless pursuit of control so that I can grab hold of the peace, the joy, and the love of the Lord that are waiting for me.
About the pictures:
Pittsburgh, PA (Thanksgiving Day)