Serving Christmas

Today was Serving Saturday for The Church at Avenue South. It also happened to be the day that members of Kairos served the community at the Lexington Garden apartments in Madison, Tennessee.

Serving is good for me because it’s a good way for me to get out of my little world and go where people are way more thankful for a whole lot less than I have. I get reminded that I have much, and as the verse says, “To whom much is given, much is required.”

Perhaps the best gift you can give yourself during this season of Advent and Christmas is to volunteer and serve. I can think of no better way to break out of the narcissistic consumeristic version of Christmas as portrayed on just about every commercial.

It’s a lot easier to be content when you realize just how blessed you are, materially and otherwise. It’s also much harder to complain when you understand that so many people where you live are fighting a daily battle to feed and shelter their families.

When God became Incarnate in Jesus, He chose the poor as the first messengers of His arrival. He chose to be born through a peasant couple. His first missionaries were those raggedy shepherds tending their flocks nearby.

I still believe that God is with the poor and God is with us if we are with them. God’s heart has a special place for the poor in spirit who have no other advocates than those of us who claim to be His followers.

I wonder if instead of buying gifts for those who already have too much stuff, it might be better to give to those in need who can never hope to repay you or even properly thank you for what you’ve done. After all, isn’t that what God in Jesus did for each and every one of us?

 

Invited

But you, Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
        of the clans of Judah, are no poor relation—
    From your people will come a Ruler
        who will be the shepherd of My people, Israel,[b]
    Whose origins date back to the distant past,
        to the ancient days” (Micah 5:2, The Voice).

For some of you, this time of year is the time when you feel the most insignificant of all. You just happen to be scrolling through your Facebook feed and you see all the exciting events and parties that your friends are having that you weren’t invited to.

Maybe you end up sitting alone on your couch on Fridays and Saturdays because no one thought to ask if you had any plans for the weekend.

It’s easy to feel like you don’t matter to anyone. You are not alone. But you matter to Someone.

You’ve been invited to celebrate a birthday. Not just any birthday. This is the birthday of God-turned-fetus-turned-newborn wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.

The first evangelists of the blessed event were smelly shepherds. If anyone could feel like unwanted outsiders, it would have been them. Their occupation didn’t lend itself to a lot of socializing.

This year, Jesus invites you to celebrate His birthday. You don’t even have to bring anything– just you. It doesn’t even matter if you cleaned up and straightened up. All He’s asking is that you show up.

There’s not a single person in the Bible who found significance before God called them. Your significance ultimately isn’t in where you live, what you do for a living, or who you know. It’s Who knows you. It’s Who chose you.

At The Church at Avenue South, Aaron Bryant said that God is drawn to the insignificant, off-the-radar people.

Look at where God chose to introduce Himself to humanity. It wasn’t Rome or Jerusalem, but backwater Bethlehem via a peasant couple surrounded by barn animals and some of those aforementioned stinky shepherds.

God was (and still is) saying that all lives matter. Every life has significance. Simply being created in the image of God gives you incredible significance.

Just remember that when you’re sitting in the dark staring at your cat. You matter.

 

All Those Christmas Lights

blue lights

I confess that I am not the biggest fan of all-white Christmas lights on a tree or on a house. To me, it’s like the person is saying, “Happy Generic Winter Holiday!” They are so bland.

I prefer the multi-color lights. But I’m old-school like that. I also really like the blue LED lights. A lot.

A few years ago, I went with the family on a tour of several homes decorated for Christmas. One of those homes on the tour was the late George Jones’ vast estate. That was one of the best and from what I’ve heard was always one of the most consistently festive houses around Christmastime.

Yet it all started with a single light. That one star shining in the night sky that drew those wise men all the way from the East to where the Christ child lay. That’s what started it all.

It was almost like a neon sign pointing the way and saying in essence, “Your hope lies here.”

Few saw it. Even fewer found what it pointed to. Just three wise men and some shepherds. So many who eagerly longed for Messiah missed it because it didn’t come in the way they expected.

I hope you and I don’t miss it this time. I hope you and I don’t get so caught up in the parties and tinsel and wrapping paper that we miss the child in the manger, born to be a sacrifice.

Truthfully, I like all Christmas lights. I prefer the colored ones because they catch my eye but I like all of them. I like how creative people get when decorating and  how they still manage to come up with new ideas after all these years. Plus, it’s so much easier to admire others’ ingenuity than to actually attempt to put up Christmas lights myself.

 

Just Call Me Joe

Tonight at Kairos, Mike Glenn talked about Joseph. Not the one with the coat of many colors. The other one. You know. The one standing next to Mary in your nativity scene? That one.

Basically, most of us don’t know what to do with Joseph in our nativity scenes. He should be near Mary, watching over her and the baby Jesus. But what was his role that night?

Joseph was the one Mary handed her baby to on that night. Joseph was the one who named the child Jesus. Joseph would most likely have been the one who taught the growing Jesus a love for Scripture. Joseph was the one who raised Jesus who “kept increasing in wisdom and stature,  and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

Jesus was 100% God, sure enough. But He was also 100% man and the Bible says that He wasn’t born fully grown and knowing everything. He grew and learned the way any human would.

When it comes to the story of Christmas, Mary gets most of the attention. Well, Jesus, then Mary. Then probably the shepherds and the wise men. Joseph doesn’t get much recognition.

But sometimes when God calls us to do the work that nobody notices, that can be the most sacred calling of all. Sometimes, the most faithful men and women of God are the ones nobody knows about who labor faithfully for years without awards or platitudes but with the ultimate reward of heaven’s applause. They’re the ones behind the scenes not in front the camera or front and center on the stage.

If you feel like no one sees what you do for God, God does. If you feel like what you do makes no difference, remember that even the smallest act of kindness done in the name of Christ can make all the difference in the world.

Just ask Joseph.

 

An Essay I Wrote

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I may or may not have mentioned that I’m currently involved in an intensive discipleship training class at my church. Part of the class involved writing an essay.

I chose to write on the unique contributions that each of the four Gospels make to our overall understanding of Jesus and Christianity. It almost felt like a part of my brain got turned on that hadn’t seen much action since my seminary days of yore. Here is the result (with the reminder that it is an essay and reads like one):

“Each gospel has made its own unique contributions to the overall biblical canon and to our understanding of who Jesus is and what His purpose and mission were while He was here on earth. Although each of these is technically anonymous, there are enough clues and evidence, both biblical and extra-biblical, to safely say that these were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Matthew writes primarily for a Hebrew audience, emphasizing how Jesus is truly the prophesied Messiah. He brings in the genealogy of Jesus and parallels him to Moses on several occasions. Matthew brings out Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God and how it is both now and not yet. Many see Matthew as represented by a man, because he emphasized the humanity of Jesus.

Mark, the first of the Gospels to be written, focuses on Jesus as the Son of God, the true Messiah sent from God into the world. His Gospel is fast-paced, accentuated by his frequent use of the word “immediately.” He is represented by a lion, because he brought out the kingly nature of Jesus.

Luke writes to Theophilus, but likely his intended audience is both Jews and Gentiles. He gives a convincing defense of Jesus and the gospel for both evangelistic and discipling purposes. He is represented by an ox, the lowliest of animals, for his attention to the lowly and outcasts, such as the shepherds, and the Gentiles. His theme is the universality of salvation, how it’s not only for a specific race or region, but for all peoples everywhere.

All three of these Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels because they share many similarities, such as miracles, parables, and teachings. Matthew and Luke probably borrow from Mark, who in turn uses a source of collected sayings and teachings, commonly referred to as “Q”, to build his own writings upon.

John writes to a primarily Gentile audience in Ephesus and is by far the most intentionally evangelical of the Gospels. He writes that His purpose is to show that Jesus is indeed the Christ that those who read may believe and have eternal life in His name. He is often represented by an eagle for his high Christology and his lyrical and poetic imagery, as well as his epic style of writing, as evidenced by the opening 18 verses of chapter one.

Each Gospel reflects the personality and background of the writers and brings out different aspects to the character, life, and teachings of Christ. Some emphasize his teachings, while others focus on His ministry. Yet all four together present a compelling portrait of Jesus as both God and man, Savior and Lord.”

My Favorite Gospel

luke

“The synagogue attendant gave Him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and Jesus unrolled it to the place where Isaiah had written these words:

The Spirit of the Lord the Eternal One is on Me.
Why? Because the Eternal designated Me
to be His representative to the poor, to preach good news to them.
He sent Me to tell those who are held captive that they can now be set free,
and to tell the blind that they can now see.
He sent Me to liberate those held down by oppression.
In short, the Spirit is upon Me to proclaim that now is the time;
this is the jubilee season of the Eternal One’s grace.[a]

Jesus rolled up the scroll and returned it to the synagogue attendant. Then He sat down, as a teacher would do, and all in the synagogue focused their attention on Jesus, waiting for Him to speak. He told them that these words from the Hebrew Scriptures were being fulfilled then and there, in their hearing” (Luke 4:17-21).

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me what my favorite gospel was. It had something to do with my personality type. I said my favorite was Luke, but I couldn’t really pinpoint why other than pointing out the way Luke notices and writes down all the little details.

I think I know why now.

I’m in a class at my church where we’re reading through a Gospel each week and this past week, I read Luke. Well, actually, the past two days. I’m a bit of a procrastinator.

More than any of the Gospel writers, Luke is a champion of the disenfranchised and the outcast. He’s the only one to mention the lowly shepherds who were chosen by God to be the first evangelists and missionaries for the newborn Christ.

He points out that Joseph and Mary couldn’t afford a lamb so they brought two turtle-doves instead.

He’s the only one to include the parable of the Good Samaritan, where the hero is a despised outcast, as well as pointing out that the Good News is for all peoples everywhere. For people like me. For people like you.

That’s why I love the Gospel of Luke.

PS They’re all really, really good. I recommend reading one (or all of them) at some point very soon.

An Advent Prayer for Every Woman I Know

advent_gr

Note: There will be two of these. One for all my women friends and one for all my men friends. The prayer for all the men I know will (hopefully) show up on here tomorrow.

I’m praying for you tonight on the Eve of the 2nd Sunday of Advent.

I pray God’s joy invades your hearts tomorrow as you witness the lighting of the Candle of Preparation. May you truly feel the love of your Abba for you in all its fullness and depth and height and completeness.

I’m praying you continue to revel in your femininity and that you let the love of Christ define you, not your marital status, your career, your children, your weight, your reflection in the mirror, or anything else. May you only believe the voice of the One calling you His Beloved Daughter above all the other voices (including your own) calling you a myriad of other names.

I pray you’re making your heart ready to receive the Christ Child this Christmas. With all the busyness of the season, it’s so easy to forget WHY we are buying all these gifts and celebrating with so many parties and get-togethers, but remember it’s Jesus’ birthday we’re celebrating.

I pray you can reach outside of yourself to bring comfort to the ones around you who grieve, hope to the ones around you who despair, and a cup of cold water to those around you in need of the basic necessities.

To all my single friends: may God bless you with a godly man who will sweep you off your feet and show you the true meaning of Romance, not out of a Hollywood movie or a novel but out of God’s Ultimate Love Story where He wooed His own Bride with tender words of compassion. May you find a man who will love you as Christ loves His Church.

To all my married friends: may you be reminded that while your husband and children are gifts, they are not your world. Jesus, who came to us so long ago, is the only one big enough and strong enough to be your entire world. May you see them through the eyes of Christ this year and be more than ever a conduit of His blessing to them.

May you be able to truly experience every part of Christmas this year and find the same awe and wonder that the Shepherds and Wise Men once did so very long ago. May the best gift you receive this year be a heart captivated and enthralled all over again by this Baby born in Bethlehem who grew up to be King.

Amen.