Monday, December 15, 2014

"No Substitutes, please!" (The Holiday Edition)

Today was "Operation Christmas Shopping List." You know the drill! You get going with excitement, maybe a Christmas song on the radio and a little merry tune in your heart. Maybe you wear a little festive red and green jewelry or write your list on a pad of paper lined with snowflakes at the top. And you say to yourself with a contented sigh, "I just LOVE Christmas!" So this was me this morning.

But, as the day went on from store to store,  a little bit of my cheer was chipped away. It waned with every person that almost ran into me with their cart, every mean-hearted oaf that stole the parking spot I waited for (blinker on), every dollar that I thought about leaving my bank account as I calculated amounts I could spend on each person plus my bills that needed to be paid next week, and every jam packed check-out line of Santa's elves making their purchases.

The last straw was at my second-to-last store where the sales lady asked if I wanted a gift receipt. When I said "yes, please" she felt like it was her duty to inform me that she said GIFT RECEIPT and not just receipt, as if I hadn't heard her.  I said "Yes, gift receipt. May I have one for each item in my bag?" I said as sweetly as possible through my clenched two front teeth. 

Then, as if I stomped on her Christmas fruitcake, she huffily replied "Well, that is going to be kinda impossible because..blah blah blah blah and blah blah blah.." and all of a sudden the joy of Christmas escaped my heart and the Grinch-like ire made my face hot and compelled me to want to tell the lady that I hoped she received coal for Christmas and that all the needles on her Christmas tree fell off while she was at work. 

Tired, poorer, extremely hungry, and gift-receiptless, I drove home and continued to stew a little as I ate my salad, a healthy attempt to counter balance the 6 cookies I ate yesterday at the Christmas exchange. As I sat there, I thought "What really is the point of all if this?" Ugh! Scrooge and I could have been best complaining buddies today! 

Then, I decided, I needed to re-focus. So I read a few advent devotionals and verses to try to restore my Christmas merriness. John Piper and Sarah Young's advent devotionals basically both said the same thing and had the same affect of shattering my icy heart and making it "grow three sizes that day!" (for all you Grinch quoters out there!)

Both were talking about how our longing for more is so good and that the things on earth are to remind us of  Jesus, our rescuer,  who will take us to live with him one day in heaven to have life more abundant. And Christmas is a reminder and a foretaste of Jesus being with us, near us, rescuing us, restoring life, and calling us home to him.

“All other homecomings are foretastes. And foretastes are good. Unless they become substitutes. O, don’t let all the sweet things of this season become substitutes of the final great, all-satisfying Sweetness. Let every loss and every delight send your hearts a-homing after heaven. Christmas. What is it but this: I came that they might have life.” John Piper
When I read the line "..unless they become substitutes…," I realized that was what I had been expecting for my day. That the substitutes would fill me and fuel the Christmas joy that really can only be found in Jesus and the life he brings. As I thought further about Christmas, these are some substitutes that I am now using to remind me of the Sweetness that comes through our savior. Maybe they will encourage you too:
  • Giving Christmas Presents--This is a reminder of Jesus being the greatest gift of all to us! The gift that brought joy unending, wealth irreplaceable, brought relationship reconciled between us and God. 
  • Spending Money on Presents--Is a reminder that God paid a high price for my relationship with him and Jesus, my Christmas gift, strengthened and formed my bond with the Father. And because of that, I can give to others with joy.
  • Hanging or Seeing Christmas Lights- Jesus is the light of the world. And the wisemen, angels, shepherds, and people from all tribes, tongues, languages, and people seek him to light the way, brighten their lives, deplete the darkness and bring light to life. Hanging them up is a reminder to me that we are to bring that light to others, and be a vessel for the beacon of hope offered by Jesus, the light of the world, to people around us.
  • Baking Christmas Cookies- Baking cookies can remind me of the sweetness of Jesus' word, the Bible, sweeter than honey, and so nice to share with others. Its also a reminder that our sustanance comes from the Lord, who gives our daily bread, and even more by giving us sweet treats along the way of life.
  • Christmas Parties-  How good and pleasant it is to be reconciled and have relationships with others. We need each other. Christmas parties are not to show off our newest holiday wreath or the height of our tree, but to remind our souls that I need community. I am not created to be a loner. It also reminds me that Jesus reconciled us to himself and welcomed us into his home. And in heaven, there will be great rejoicing! As the Jesus storybook Bible puts it, the angels will be festively caroling at this party, "singing a beautiful song: "Glory to God! To God be Fame and Honor and all of our Hoorays" 

So with that being said, Who cares about the gift receipt anyways?  After all, Once you receive Jesus, you never want to return him, nor can you return him!  He is the best Christmas joy and gift we could receive and the whole reason we celebrate this season. Many hoorays in his honor today! 

Hope today this gives you a little snap back to our real Joy and Hope and a reminder that these things are substitutes for what is really ours because Jesus was born so many years ago.

This Blog brought to you by the real sugar that I put into my coffee this morning. No substitutes today for me! Give me the real stuff!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Take off the Grave Clothes and Go Out!

Sitting on the balcony of the staff condo this summer, with the Smoky Mountains filling my view to the right, and King Kong taking down the Wax museum to my left, I read the story of Lazarus (John 11:1-43) in a new light. A unique picture of the Gospel that I'd never thought of before.

Mary and Martha, two sisters, plead for Jesus to come. They want him to intervene in a circumstance of hopelessness and save their brother from death. But Jesus doesn't come right away. And Lazarus dies, seemingly too far gone for anyone to revive him. At any hospital, the time of death would have been called out, and an eerie calm would come before the weeping would begin. 

When Jesus arrives, Martha looks at Jesus and says "If only you had been here, my brother would not have died."  And Jesus consoles her and says in his Jesus like crypticness "Your brother will rise again. I am the Resurrection and the Life." He then sets out to see where they have laid Lazarus body.

When Jesus sees Lazarus death tomb, He is overcome and begins to weep. A dear treasured friend, laying lifeless before him.  A crying that only happens over one so deeply loved. A mourning that goes to the gut and pierces the heart of the one who's body shakes in sadness.

But then Jesus does a peculiar thing, He asks that the stone to the grave be removed. Just imagine the horror of having someone ask to exhume a buried body! Everyone around would have been either disgusted or embarrassed or horrified. I can just hear Martha say, "Jesus, please! Don't do this! It will already smell bad, he has been there for 4 days!" But, he insists. and he prays, that the people standing there would benefit from what they will see.

And then, the beautiful, crazy and amazing part. He calls Lazarus out! He calls him to live! He calls him to come out of the grave! To rise and come to life! Lazarus comes out of the grave, but still bound with his grave clothes. He probably couldn't see that well and probably had pain hit him as his eyes were exposed to the light, and his dead body started to receive life again. Maybe He felt the pins and needles as his body tingled with blood flowing into all his limbs again. 

And Jesus says, "Take off the Grave clothes and Let Him go!"

The beauty of the Gospel is so parallel in this story:

  • The Hope for Believers: Mary and Martha, the power of God came to save their brother after they thought it wasn't possible and hopeless and too late. This is a reminder to those of us that feel like Mary and Martha, that it is too late to see salvation come to loved ones that we have long prayed over! Oh, that we would believe, that with Jesus, no matter if his timing feels late, He is never too late to being hope to the hopeless. What a reminder of why I share my own story in hopes of others salvation.
  • The Deep Love of Jesus for People: Jesus is the Ressurection and the Life. He knew what was going to happen. Yet he weeps over the dead and mourns at the tomb that encrypts his loved ones. Jesus mourns over the sinner that is encased in sin, bound by the grave, and lies dead. He weeps over our dead state and longs for our lifeless bodies and souls to receive flowing blood again--His saving Blood. 
  • The Freedom from the Grave: When one hears the voice of God to Live, he can trust it and come out of the tomb. No matter how surreal it feels, even if the light is painful, there is freedom in the response to live and rise and come out! It wasn't pretty to see the grave clothes exposed, but it didn't matter. Life had come to the dead man and he no longer was bound by the grave. This is true for us when we hear his voice and respond.
  • Beyond the Grave: Jesus is helping the saved, the alive, to leave to grave clothes. To take off the strips of death that bind us, and go out in freedom, in our new selves, not bound any longer to death and decay and the tomb! That is redemption! Not just salvation,  but salvation and a new self, free from the old, dead self.

This picture of the Gospel touched me deeply this summer, as I realized that the Gospel speaks hope to the hopeless, speaks life to the dead, demonstrates the Saviors deep love over those that are not living but are encased by the tomb, and frees us from all that entangles, that we may go out, and that our story would be a witness to others.  That we would tell of the tomb we left, and the grave clothes that sit in a pile and no longer entangle us. That we would live out of our new selves and call others to listen to Jesus call to come out of the grave and be free.

This Blog brought to you by The Tomb Ride, an attraction that costs too much and is not worth it in Pigeon Forge that, upon exiting, makes you think, "Glad that's over."

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Top Ten Things I Remembered This Week that I Love about the Midwest

10. Very few places in the world offer the 95% probability of meeting someone that knows the one friend you have from that one small town off of I-80.

9. Yes, there really are places where people are as wholesome and as good as they seem.

8.  Where the local girls softball team is the talk of a whole airport terminal.

7. The celebration of different anglo cultures is an important topic of conversation, especially as one discusses the difference between Dutch, Swedish and Czech festivals. And how about those Tractors in Parades!

6. You can't beat a midwest church potluck! Casseroles galore and homemade desserts for everyone!

5. Slower pace of life sometimes makes you appreciate the things that actually matter.*

4. Who knew Farmer's markets could span over multiple mile blocks, putting all other attempts at a Farmer's market to shame?**

3. Seasons exist! Tulips blooming in spring and the celebration of winter's end can only make you smile! ***

2. No southern pretenses, but a definite understanding that you are immediately family by proximity.

1. When your dear heart friends live or come from here,  it makes life richer and more blessed.

This Blog inspired by The Moores in Des Moines and the Poferjes of Pella.

*This excludes slow midwest drivers. I don't miss this. Not even a little bit. Nope, not at all.

**Except the metal working man that sold me a metal basket that I thought he made. Turns out he forgot to cut the tag off that said "Made in China." He must be from somewhere besides the Midwest.

***Unless you are the grumpy Dutch lady working in the Tulip Time office on Tulip Festival day. She must be a disgruntled Czech trapped in a Dutch town.