Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The War On Christmas

Unless your head has been in the sand for the last few weeks, you've already heard the annual rumblings about the War on Christmas. 
I too have wrestled with concerns about what seems to be a blatant attempt to wipe away the true meaning of the Christmas season. It seems that nothing is sacred anymore, that there is a group of people who are absolutely unwilling to acknowledge what this holiday is about. 
And those people are Christians. The war on Christmas is not when people say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." It's not when cities refuse (or aren't allowed) to put up manger displays. It's not when people call Christmas Trees "Holiday Trees." That's all pretty dumb but it's not a war on Christmas. Only a simpleton would think that forcing someone to say words, regardless of whether or not they know what it means or why they're  saying it, would constitute the proper observance of Christmas. No, it's not those who don't follow Jesus who are engaging on a war on Christmas. It's Christians. You & I, fellow believers, are the soldiers in the war on Christmas. How?
--When we refuse to live as we are called. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, right? And why did Jesus come? To guarantee a holiday where we go into debt to buy junk for our kids that they'll be tired of in two weeks? That's may be how we celebrate it, but that's not why Christ came to the earth. Jesus came to seek & save the lost. He came to save sinners from our sin, to adopt us into his family and radically transform us into his image. Philippians 3:16 tells us to live up to what we've already attained, i.e., to be who God has declared us to be in Christ. That's the point of Christmas, and so when we refuse to do this we are living in open defiance of the purpose of our salvation. I'd call an open rebellion against your rightful ruler an act of war, wouldn't you?
--When we refuse to commit to the local church. Many of us have this mountain man idea of Christianity. The local church is a place to stop in from time to time to get supplies, stock up on coffee & tobacco & sugar, then head back out to live on our own. The problem is the idea of doing Christianity on your own isn't an idea we find in the New Testament. Jesus died for individuals, but he also died for the church. In other words, he died for individuals so that they'd come together and make up the church. And when we refuse to commit ourselves to that local body--to submit to the leadership and to one another, to serve and be served, to give of our time and spiritual gifts and money and die to ourselves for the sake of others--we are rebelling against that for which Jesus died! If we refuse to commit to the local church we are living in open rebellion against our King--an act of war.
--When we refuse to share the gospel. Christ's birth was the beginning of international mission trips. Or maybe intergalactic trips. Or inter dimensional. Whatever. The point is that the one with the good news came to where those who needed it were and shared it with them. And just before he ascended back to heaven our King gave us marching orders: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Jesus came to save sinners, then sent saved sinners to tell others sinners about how they can be saved. And that's been our calling ever since. If we refuse to share that gospel with others we are living in open rebellion against our King--an act of war.
The War on Christmas is a real thing--but we're fighting the wrong enemy. Let's stop expecting lost people to act like saved people. Let's don't demand that others treasure what we treasure. Instead, let's show them--by our lives and our words--the matchless glory of King Jesus. Instead of getting in a tizzy about someone not saying Merry Christmas, let's show them why Jesus is greater and more majestic and more wonderful and more beautiful than anything else in this world. Let's repent of our rebellion and recommit ourselves to being who Jesus has declared us to be, who he died to make us.
Now if anyone needs me, I'll be at Starbucks having some coffee.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

I Don't Like Cranberry Sauce

Need I say more?

I don't like cranberry sauce and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Seriously, take a look at that stuff. The only thing that should hold its shape after being dumped from a can is Spam & dog food--both of which are more appetizing than cranberry sauce. 
Unfortunately, this gelatinous pile of goo has become a Thanksgiving staple. I'm not sure who made that decision but I'm certain of 2 things: 
1, I wasn't consulted & 2, it's downright unAmerican. Seriously, can any rational person argue that our native friends introduced the pilgrims to this stuff? Of course not. But we continue this horrible charade year after year.
Imagine for a moment, though, that my distaste of cranberry sauce led me to quit celebrating Thanksgiving. Imagine that I threw a hissy fit when I saw it on the table and walked out of my family's celebration, vowing to never return until the cranberry sauce was thrown away forever. That would be pretty silly wouldn't it? More than that, it would be selfish. I may not like cranberry sauce. But there are others around the table who, for reasons known only to them & God, do. What difference does it make, really, if I like it or not. I'm not the point of Thanksgiving. The adult thing to do is to simply smile and appreciate that those around me are enjoying their meal.
Here's the point of this rant. There are actually 2 points. 1, I don't like cranberry sauce. But 2 (and this is the really important one), there are a lot of things in churches that are like cranberry sauce. Not in the gelatinous, holds its shape in an unnatural way kind of thing. But in the 'If I don't like it it's OK to not participate' kind of way. 
I say that because through the years I've learned that while no one would think it's acceptable to boycott Thanksgiving just because you don't like one of the dishes on the table, for some reasons we think it's OK to boycott fellowshipping with our brothers & sisters in Christ when there's something in the worship service that we don't like. 
For example: "They don't sing the songs I like." "They sang that song too many times." "It's too hot." "It's too cold." "The preacher preaches too long." "The preacher doesn't preach long enough." (just kidding about that last one-nobody says that, ever) "That person took my seat." "That person didn't speak to me." "That person won't stop speaking to me." "I'm not being fed." "They don't bring it down to my level." "It's too loud." "It's not loud enough." "There are too many little kids." "There are too many old people."
On and on it goes until we get this huge list of reasons why we can't be a part of this church, or why we can't fellowship with that church. You know what all those things actually are? 

Cranberry sauce. 

On Sundays we come to sit at this table that is groaning under the weight of the glory of the gospel. We prepare to feast on the riches of our great King, the one who loved us and gave himself for us. Or at least, that's what we say we're going to do. In reality we must be there for ourselves because as soon as we see that dish of cranberry sauce, we push away from the table exclaiming, "I'm out!"
Just as it would be silly to refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving over a dish we don't like, it's equally silly to refuse to belong to a body of believers over things that aren't done exactly to our liking. Just as it would be selfish to refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving for that reason, it's equally selfish to refuse to be a part of a local body over peripheral things that don't matter. 
Our hearts betray our own selfishness. Whether it's personal preferences regarding worship services or our favorite theological positions we often refuse to fellowship with other believers, either in our body or in other local congregations, over things that are about as significant as cranberry sauce. 
Now don't misunderstand--there are things worth breaking fellowship over. But that list is much shorter than we realize. Jesus shows us this in Mark 9. John reports to Jesus that the disciples found a man casting out demons. They shut him down because, according to John "...he does not follow us." In other words, this guy was eating cranberry sauce. He's not like us, not with us so he must not be doing it right. Jesus' reply is so powerful. Mark 9:39-40, "Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side." 
Does Jesus say that doctrine doesn't matter? Of course not. His point is that this guy was bearing obvious fruit. So rather than throw a fit and shut him down, rejoice in the work of God.
In our churches there will be things we don't like. Unless it's a doctrinal issue that compromises the gospel, it's just cranberry sauce. There will be theological disagreements in the body. Unless it threatens to keep someone out of heaven, it's probably just cranberry sauce. So celebrate the Savior. Celebrate the diversity of the body--diversity of preference, of opinion, of thought. Rejoice in the common ground we share; that we are great sinners, but we have a great savior, a savior who is greater than our sin!

But don't eat cranberry sauce.