Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"I" Problem (warning: this blog post is longer than most and may be continued...)

So I guess it's been like a perfect storm of things leading up to the authoring of this blog entry.  Unfortunately, some of the strongest illustrations cannot be included here because they would certainly be too offensive (mostly, because they would be too personal toward some). 

Let me start with the church and Christmas.  Is it just me, or did Christmas suddenly become about us?  And I'm not even talking about the worldly perspective, but from that of the church.  I saw numerous church signs, websites, and some tweets/facebook updates stately loudly and proudly that "Jesus came to earth for you!"    It must have been a mantra of one of the leading church growth gurus this season...you know, those that I have long unfriended on facebook and stopped following on twitter and reading their "leadership" canons?    I say this because I saw this message (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) in so many church circles this year.  Now it is factual that Jesus came to earth for you.  He came to save you, and me, and the world.  But the truth is that He came for Him.  You see, a faithful reading of Scripture will prove that EVERYTHING God does is for Him.  Everything.  So when He sent His Son, it was ultimately for Him.  Hey, we benefit, to be sure.  But it was not for man that God became flesh and dwelt among us.  But it was so we could see HIS glory, not our own.

A second event that swirled some clouds to form this storm within my soul took place at a public place.  I ran into somebody who I would have considered a "friend" some years ago.  I haven't seen this person in quite some time, and in the ten or so minutes we were able to spend, I heard a lot about him.  His new job and all his new responsibilities and office and stuff.  And then he left.  He didn't ask about me.  I don't know why I'm surprised.  He is a Christian and must have heard the message that Jesus came to earth for him.  It sure sounded to me like that was pretty much his sole focus...himself.

And then there is the book.  It was the one book I asked for Christmas (besides a NASB version of the Bible so I can follow along more closely as my pastor reads) and it is entitled "Radical."  It was recommended by a friend...one who asks about me and who focuses on things other than herself outside of Sunday morning.  She is someone who gave up a lucrative career to follow her calling.  She lives in a rented apartment and buys her clothes and furniture at the second-hand store so that she can be faithful to living a radically different life for Jesus.  It kind of makes me wonder if she made it to church this Christmas, at least in many locations.  Because I think she missed the memo that Jesus came to earth for us.  She is living as though He came to earth for Himself and to draw all people to Himself and that means she must live differently.  So Carla bought me the book and I have finished reading chapter 4 so far.   And the book lives up to its name so far, because in it the author is talking about how Jesus came to earth for Himself.  He came to transform lives so that transformed lives would live for Him and bring others to Him so that they can live for Him. 

Finally, there is "our" church.  Hosanna has been around for 20 years.  It was planted by the same guy who is pastoring it still.  But Hosanna must have missed the memo, because the church doesn't seem to think that Jesus came to earth for it.  Hosanna isn't a "successful" church and Gary isn't a "successful" pastor, at least in the eyes of the run-of-the-mill Christian church in America today.  After 20 years, they should have thousands in the seats and a $150,000 sound system and baseball and soccer fields "for the kids" and a coffee bar and at least 3 services on Sunday, a few on Saturday, and numerous the week of Christmas (so that people can learn that Christmas is for them.)  Gary should certainly have a title like "executive, senior, or lead" by now and should have a staff of many. 

But no.  Gary is bi-vocational and for 20 years while pastoring this little church has cleaned windows to pay the bills.  The church building was paid off last year...$150,000 worth.  There are probably 100 people there at the weekly service.  There is a part-time secretary.  I'm not sure who cleans the church, but I know it is very clean.  The worship team isn't perfect and I don't feel like at the Benedum Center for the next great performance.  The sound systems cracks and frequently makes a noise that can only be described as like a loud fart.

And yet this church is raising $30,000 to send to Liberia.  (That is in addition to what four individuals coughed up on their own to go and support the faithful use of these funds to build a school so 200 kids aren't cramped into a house.)  Nearly every week, someone is introduced as giving themselves to Jesus and a life of service to Him.  There are radical testimonies that are frequently shared.  People are living very different lives, and not unto themselves.  The Kingdom is coming to this little slice of Pixburgh.

So what's my point in all of this?  Maybe some contrition for buying into "it's all about me" mentality during the years of my pastoral ministry.  Maybe some sadness of heart for the fact that we have exchanged the truth of the gospel and its radical message of transformation and unabashed Kingdom living into a trite story about our own comfort.  Maybe some regret that I didn't take a bolder stand and have a fuller realization at times that life isn't about me. 

And then the hope...that I am part of a church, nay, a movement of transformed "folks" who are out to, yes, save the world.  That I have saved nearly $700 already for my trip to Liberia...whenever God opens that door.  For a job where I can go live the Good News to people who sometimes don't have enough good news, let alone Good News.  For a renewed sense of awareness and for a few Kingdom friends (like the one I share a bed with and the one I regularly meet for coffee and the one who suggested the book and the one "unsuccessful" yet faithful pastor who happens to serve (and I do mean serve) with the people of Hosanna and the ones who call themselves The Pittsburgh Project) who have this same burden and excitement and reckless abandon.  I praise you Lord.  May my life, my marriage, my work, my recreation, my resources, my friendships, my struggles, my joys, my conversations, and even my Christmases....be about you and you only.  Amen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Incarnation, er, I Mean Christmas!!!

Merry Christmas everyone.  At least that's how Christians often express their greetings in this season.  And why not?  I mean, are we not celebrating Jesus' birthday?   

Well yes, it's true we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas time.  But even more meaningful is the fact that we celebrate the Incarnation.  Ya, that's a big church word but it really means that God came to town.  He revealed Himself.  He made Himself known in the best way we can grasp it, as a person. 

My favorite Biblical rendering of the Christmas narrative (apart from Linus reciting Luke 2 from the ole KJV) is from John 1.  No, there are no mangers or angels or shepherds or little babies.  But there is the simple, yet most profound, explanation that "the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." 

So, yes, at this Christmas, I wish you a Merry Christmas.  But at this Christmas and throughout eternity, I wish you a Merry Incarnation...and understanding that the very being of God has been made known in Jesus Christ.  O come, let us adore Him!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

How to Decorate Your New Home for Christmas for Less Than $650,000!

So we haven't owned a home in 14 years.  Instead we've been living in homes provided by the churches we have served.  Now like anything, there is good and bad to that.  But we are truly enjoying owning a home and being able to invest in decor and decorations that we know (God willing, instead of the bishop) that we'll be here next year to enjoy them!  And we LOVE our house!!!!   We feel so incredibly blessed to be here.  In order to celebrate those blessings, we went out and bought Christmas decorations worth many times the fair market value of our house.  What a better way to prove you're blessed than to decorate!  I'm providing some before and after pictures so you can enjoy the season with us: