Friday Five – Christmas Letters

ChristmasLetter-lg.jpgWell, here we are, approaching Christmas and the end of the year, so you know what that means… the annual glut of Christmas letters coming through our mailbox, informing us about everyone’s life over the course of 2009. Here’s my list of five things that “bug” me about these letters:

1. Most aren’t informative.
• some are bullet-pointed lists
• that don’t tell me
• much of anything about you
• and your family,
• just a highlight
• or two

2. Some are too informative.
I’m sorry; you’re a friend or relative, but I really don’t need to know about your bunion surgery this past August. Tell me how it is with your soul, not your toe knuckles. (I was going to place a picture of a bunion here to make my point, but that was just too gross once I Googled images of bunions… ‘nuf said.)

3. A very few are just too perfect.
You know the type… we’re wonderful; our kids are wonderful with wonderful jobs and wonderful pets and wonderful grandchildren. Our time share in Mexico and Texas and Tennessee and Florida are wonderful. Our cruise in the Caribbean was wonderful and life is just, well, wonderful! Hmmm, I wonder how wonderful a little suffering would be?

4. Some only come once every five years.
I’m guilty of this one, so I’ve moved it wa-a-a-ay down the list.

5. Sadly, too many miss the real reason they should be sending these things – Christ Jesus is Lord, not only of Christmas, but over all the universe.
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Do you send out year-end letters? Have I stepped (stomped) on your toes (I’ll leave you alone if you just had bunion surgery)? Did you just remove the Sorensens from your mailing list?

We ought always to give thanks to God for you…

Last evening, Thanksgiving Eve, saw a small handful of the faithful gather at Cornerstone EFC to give thanks to God. We gather every Wednesday to pray, but this night was different. I had taken every household’s name and put it on a small slip of paper. Included on these slips were also every missionary family we support, every leader of our congregation, others in teaching positions, as well as service positions at Cornerstone. All these slips of paper were placed in a basket and stirred around a bit. Then, after I began leading us in prayer, we’d just pass the basket, take a slip and pray. Our prayers were short and concise – we simply wanted to thank God for each person/family/leader represented there. As we went on, it seemed the Spirit was pleased to work in us to produce such a sweet harmony of praying these notes of thanksgiving that no one was aware of the passage of time (a rare thing these days within the church). When we finished, we gave thanks to God for His many blessings upon us and our little church and headed off to our homes, in order that we might prepare to do the same again today.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Giving Us Cause To Be Thankful… And Prayerful

Tim Challies had a link to the Sacramento Bee’s website on Monday. The article, along with the pictures were stunning… and not in a good way. You may wonder why I’d post this on the day before Thanksgiving. Well, I link to this so that tomorrow, when most of us will be sitting around a table over-laden with the bountiful blessings of food, rejoicing with family and friends, we would remember to be truly thankful for the incredibly rich blessings God has lavished upon us. At the same time, I hope that we’ll be moved to pray for the world around us:

• that God would extend His hand into these situations, touch lives there and preserve these little ones

• that God would work in such a way among His people in places, like ours (that are so well off that we throw away enough food to feed such children for months at a time), that we would rise up out of our abundance and find ways to help

• that Christ’s name would be exalted through the work of the gospel because Christians are doing work that no one else will

Enjoy your day tomorrow. I don’t want to take away from that. Yet be really thankful, won’t you?

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The Easter Curmudgeon

Yes, the curmudgeon in me is back again. And this time, it’s Easter.

I’m really wondering what this: easter-bunny01.jpg

and this:easter-egg-hunt03.jpg

have to do with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday?

I know, all kinds of people will tell me about the symbolism of the egg for Easter. I still don’t get it. If an egg represents new life, then use baby pictures for new life and new birth. But candy eggs and colored eggs and hunts for them by little children who are about to get on one of the highest sugar-highs of their lives (with, of course, the exception of that other “religious” holiday, Halloween) has nothing to do with Easter. I know, I know, many churches will host Easter egg hunts and call them outreaches. Two local church-goers in Rochester wrote an editorial to our local newspaper trying to argue for the value of these kinds of things because “history is filled with the use of these symbols for Christ’s resurrection.” Really? History is filled with them? That must have been the day I fell asleep during Dr. Woodbridge’s Church History lecture.

And, as far as the bunny goes, this is where I really get lost. There is absolutely no connection between this creature (unless it might be this one big-bunny.jpg)

and the resurrected Christ.

So, I’m doing away with it! That’s it. Let the foolish stop all this foolishness! easter-cancelled.jpg

What Easter BunnyNope! No more; I’ve taken care of it.

Let’s celebrate Maundy Thursday in a better manner: a somber service that ends in near darkness and silence.

Let’s remember Good Friday with either a similar time of quietude or with some humble rejoicing in the truth that Christ has died and achieved the victory over sin and death.

And then, forget all about the church egg hunt with an over-sized rabbit with a moth-balled costume. Gather together and rejoice for our Lord is risen. He is risen! Hallelujah! He is risen indeed!

Have a Blessed New Year

Beginning a New Year
Well, happy new year, to any who may bop in and read this. I have, for the past 20 years, taken the week between Christmas and New Years as vacation. This year was no exception… except this year we didn’t travel (first time in over 12 years). We just stayed put and let them (family) come to us this time. Very peaceful… I highly recommend it.

The big question on Sunday morning was where to go to church. As a pastor, I have always found it terribly uncomfortable to take time off, yet worship at my own church. I’ve tried this twice in 20 years and it’s not “vacation.” It seems that even if you announce you’re “off”, everyone sees you and comes to you with questions/problems/requests. So, we knew we’d be worshipping elsewhere this morning. One of the larger churches in town just moved into their brand new multi-million dollar building, so we thought we’d go and check it out. The sanctuary seats at least 1,000 and it was quite full for the second service (being New Years Day, the early service was probably quite sparse).

Now, it is also very difficult for me to worship in another church, at least, that’s what I’ve found. It’s not that the service might not be worshipful; it’s that I’m too busy trying to fight off the attitude of being critical about everything: music, songs, people, sermon, etc. I ask the Lord to help with my attitude and He’s doing His part. However, my end needs holding up (okay, I can hear the jokes already).

This morning was no different. I entered with a desire to truly worship the One True God. But the first three songs were so “me” centered – what I’m going to do to make Jesus great this year, what I’m going to do to be worshipful, how much I love Jesus – well, needless to say, I was put off right from the very get go. It wasn’t until 3-4 choruses into the service that we sang, “Before the Throne of God” and I was able to get my eyes off all my good efforts/filthy rags.

Sermon listening is also difficult for me as a pastor: too busy taking notes for my use later, critiquing style & delivery, did the man stay in the text or just use it as a jumping off point. Once again, I was in the thick of it today. Actually, the message stayed true to the text for the most part: Hebrews 8.1-13 and the new covenant. Communion was to follow and this served as a good tie in to the “blood of the new covenant.” However, one illustration and the connecting thought hit me as “dangerously Gnostic.” The new covenant is written on our hearts. Excellent. Illustration: pastor was once in the Air Force and flight training in the classroom was boring. It didn’t become real until sitting in the cockpit and holding the stick and actually flying. I would have been satisfied with just that explanation. However, the pastor said, “…it was fact because it was part of my experience…” In other words, the new covenant is just a bunch of “dry as dust” information, but it becomes a fact when it becomes a part of my experience. I wanted to stand up and say, “No, I don’t think so. The New Covenant is a fact whether I experience it or not. My experience only lets me know that I have believed in His name and received Him.”

There was also a point, during the observance of the Lord’s Supper, where he went on and on and on in introducing the cup. He wanted to stress the point of the sign of the new covenant, but he went off on their new building and our new year and the new opportunities for service and ministry and new beginnings for those who have had troubles, difficulties and such throughout the past year. I think I know what he’s trying to do, but next time, do it during the sermon, not during communion. And next time, simply let the new covenant and its sign in the cup be the new covenant and its sign in the cup.

One other reason (among dozens and dozens) why I’m glad I pastor a smaller church: three people out of 1,000+ greeted us. No one knew if we were guests or even asked. The personal touch was magnificently absent. Praise the Lord for churches less than 100 that greet, welcome, visit with and invite new-comers home for Sunday dinner! Well, these are things for my checklist of things to avoid at my own church. Someone hold me accountable and God grant me grace to glorify Him in all things.