Not the holiest, but holier than thou.

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But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;  for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” –1 Peter 1:15-16 

Let’s gather up all the members of our church.  The ones who come every Sunday and the ones who stay home.  Let’s all get together and line up in a straight line.

Line up!  In order from most holy to least holy!

Now clearly, Margaret should be the most holy.  She’s made cookies for everyone in the hospital for the past 50 years.  After that, we should put Jason in.  He’s 15 years old, and he never gets in trouble.  He sings in the adult choir and speaks up in Sunday School, and he’s even nice to his younger sisters.

There will be arguments, and some contentious voting, about who goes where.   Who is the most holy?  Is it the church member who has the most scripture memorized, or the one out in the community, loving their neighbor? One way or another, we’ll figure it out.

As we near the end of the line, there’s some predictable grumbling. Nobody wants to be thought of as less holy than everybody else.  Just the same, we assign numbers for all folks in line, including ourselves.  You got #234.  I got a more respectable  #211.  If you’d like any tips on how to be a little bit holier, just ask me.

As we look up towards Margaret and Jason in front, we see them waving their number cards at the rest of us.  It takes a moment to see that Jason’s number is a #3, and Margaret carries a #2.

Wait–where is #1?

#19 has some high powered binoculars.  Looking far in the distance past Margaret, she sees the vaguest dot of a figure.   #4 and #26 are long distant runners, so they volunteer to scout ahead.

They return, out of breath, with some news you’ve already guessed.  #1, the Most Holy of all, is Jesus.  His holiness is so far beyond every one of us that the numbers we carry seem silly.  When it comes to being holy, we’re all at the back of the pack, together.

#310, last in line, throws down his number, and begins to walk toward Jesus.  “I’ve got a long way to go.  Who’s with me?”

And so, we all head towards Jesus.  Little groups made up all kinds of numbers.  Different paces, different obstacles, but one communal goal:  Not to be holier than the folks next in line to us.

Just to be holier.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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If This Were Your Last Christmas

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Last week, my wife Jan and I drove to Wichita to watch one of our favorite movies on the big screen:  A special 75th anniversary showing of “Meet Me In Saint Louis”.

It’s a delightful film that we watch every Christmas.  The film takes place over the course of several months, but the climax occurs on Christmas Eve, when Judy Garland sings the immortal song, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas”.

The lyrics begin:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be bright

It’s beautiful, but do you know what the original lyrics were, before Judy threw a fit to have them changed?

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last

It may be your last???  Can you imagine such a sentiment in such a joyful film?  And what if it were true? Picture loud speakers blaring, “Breaking News! This may be your last Christmas. Proceed accordingly.”

How would you respond?

If someone told me I’d have no more Christmas in my life, I’d be more sad than anything.  No more presents?  No more family gatherings?  No more candle light service? These things are supposed to be forever!

Well hang on.  Do you know there was a time when Christians didn’t even celebrate Christmas?  Like the first 300 years after Jesus death! That’s right.  The celebration of this holiday did not exist until Pope Julius made it a holiday in 350CE.

And I’m sure you know that December 25th is not actually the day Jesus was born.  The date was probably picked to coincide with other festivals occurring around the winter solstice.  Some say Jesus was born in the Spring, but who really knows?

And although gift-giving has been associated with Christmas at various times down through history, it wasn’t until the Victorian era that present exchanges began to resemble what we do today.  Similarly, Christmas Carols evolved down through the ages before many of the songs we sing began to take shape in the 1800s.

Each of these components had a “first”, back in history, and they may also face a “last” some day in the future, but none of these pieces add up to Christmas.  If we lost every present, or cookie, or party, or even the date on a calendar, none of these could signal a “last” Christmas.

The thought behind those “It may be your last” lyrics may actually be towards the “Merry” part of “Merry Christmas”.  It may be a suggestion that you’ll have future Christmases, just not  “Merry” ones. Perish the thought!

No, really!  Perish that thought — let it die right where it stands.  Christmas — and especially a Merry Christmas — requires so little of us it’s almost effortless to achieve.  Christmas requires Christ.  Christmas is merely a reminder of an all encompassing, eternal gift Christ has already given.  It’s ours for the taking; we need only be open to receive it.

At the heart of Christmas is the one gift that truly keeps on giving.

So bake your cookies with abandon.  Sing those carols — out of key is perfectly acceptable.  Hug your loved ones, and wave at your neighbors.  Every year the celebration changes some, and that’s a beautiful part of life.

But enjoy Christmas without fear of losing it.  You already have it to keep and to share.  Christ is warming your heart even now as you trim your tree, or wrap your gifts…

and don’t forget to enjoy the Garland.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Top 10 Essential Apps For Christmas

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Looking for something exciting, challenging, and helpful to take you all the way to December 25th?  Look no further.

We’ve assembled our TOP 10 Essential App List for Christmas this year.  Try these out and we promise you won’t utter a single “Bah Humbug” all season!

HERE WE GO!

10. APPROACH:  You’ll never make it to the manger if you’re not willing to move.  Spend some time in prayer remembering what Christmas is all about, and then get in gear.  Even as you approach Jesus, Jesus is approaching you.

9. APPREHENSIVE:  This is not a relaxing weekend in Branson.  It’s a life-changing adventure filled with risks, unknowns, and even a little uncertainty.  Hearing the Christmas story should shake you up a little. It’s a good thing to be a little apprehensive.

8. APPETITE:  Cookies and Presents can bring great joy.  They can also bring gluttony and greed!  Be intentional about what you should be craving.  Love, Peace, Hope, and Joy are present in abundance.  Here’s to having a healthy appetite.

7 APPRECIATE.  The sky on Christmas Eve always inspires me, if I remember to look up.  Being with my relatives is fun, if I have the right attitude.  The Miracle of Jesus gives me chills, if I truly listen to the stories.  There’s so much going on that you might miss the whole point of Christmas, unless you focus your heart to appreciate the heart of it.

6. APPRENTICE:  We celebrate two Christmases each year, the cultural one and the Christian one.  Both can be fun and exciting, but it is the Christian experience of Jesus’ birth that can nourish us our whole lives long.  There are young people (and some older ones too) who may only learn this version of the story if you apprentice them.

5.  APPROXIMATELY.   Don’t worship a well-wrapped present or a beautifully set table, when the sole source of perfection is cooing from the manger.  As for everything else?  Approximately good is good enough.

4. APPLAUD.   Children’s programs at church.  Concerts around town.  Carolers at your front door.  Joy is contagious, and the hard work of those who step up front to share their offering can ignite in us a passion we might otherwise have been missing.  Find reasons to applaud this year, especially for the Greatest Story Ever Told.

3.  APPROVE.  What if you gave Christmas five stars on Yelp and shared an amazing review with everyone you know? Christmas doesn’t require your approval, but the Good News spreads all the faster when you make your two-thumbs-up shown.

2.  APPEAR.  The incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us, is more amazing than a magic trick. Don’t look away, and don’t minimize the Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.

1.  APPLY.  What are some of the most important life lessons you’ve learned from Christmas?  The joy of giving.  Peace on Earth, good will to all.  Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere!  Christmas is supposed to change us, to inspire us all year round.  How will you apply what you’ve learned?

There you have it!  Our Top 10 APPS for Christmas.  Keep in mind — just because they’re free, doesn’t mean they’re not high quality.  Best of all, I’m allowed to offer them right here!

Who needs an actual APP store?

Well, Apple might be appalled to see this page approvingly appreciated.

Have a Great Week,

Mitch

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Under Your Bed

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“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light.  –Luke 8:16

We have a slim plastic container with out-of-season clothes.  We have a wooden closet door that’s come off it’s track.

We have an inordinate amount of dog hair.

What’s under your bed?  Cob webs?  Single socks?

Monsters?

It’s that last one that really interests me.  We talk all the time about children fearing monsters under their beds, but adults do too.  The monsters just change.

Really, most of my deepest fears are monstrous, even if they are difficult to visualize.  Under my bed lurks the fear of losing a loved one.  Feeling stuck in life.  Nuclear war.  Major health problems.  Losing my faith.  Being rejected and unloved.

Those are some from my Top 10 list.  What are yours? Monsters tend to haunt us most at night as we try to sleep.   From under the bed we hear a taunt, or a muttered worst case scenario, or the chilling moan of hopelessness.

Yikes!  Should we take a deep breath, dive under the bed, and expose all those scary things to some light?  Makes sense to me, but Jesus specifically says ‘No’ in today’s scripture.

Don’t hide your light under the bed.  Don’t waste your light there.  Instead, he recommends letting that light blaze before others.

Do you think he’s right?  Should we just ignore our lurking fears and go all publicly shiny? My first instinct is to say Jesus is wrong, here.  Experts say that we can’t help other people until we help ourselves.  You know, the old airplane instruction:  Put on your own mask before you assist others.  Is Jesus on the wrong track?

Ah, but on second thought, Jesus isn’t really saying you should cower to your fears and let them fester down there under the box springs.  He doesn’t mean you should never wrestle with your demons.  On the contrary.  You should drag them out of the shadows, and show them who’s boss. Go to therapy.  Talk to a friend or a pastor.  Journal. Pray in church or in your comfy chair.  Get to work for the Kingdom.  With all that faithfulness, monsters don’t stand a chance.

Anywhere is a better place to work on your monsters than under the bed. You do not need to ruminate in the dark before you can share the light of Christ with the world. No, shine brightly and your monsters will come to you, ready to submit. And you’ll be doing more than just helping yourself.  You may ignite something in people all around you.

Remember, a light under your bed can illuminate Dorito crumbs and dust bunnies,

but a holy light held high can push back a world of darkness…

including yours.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

 

Love The Children Now

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Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  –Jesus Christ

I don’t have a solution,
But something is amiss,
The problem is appalling
And I can tell you this:

I wouldn’t want to spend my nights,
Upon a concrete floor,
Or caring for a toddler,
I’d never met before.

I wouldn’t want the same three meals
each day for many weeks
Without a way to brush my teeth
Or wash my dirty cheeks.

I wouldn’t want to be apart
from family so long.
To be an innocent, a child.
Who has done nothing wrong.

Forget the funding battles,
Forget building the wall,
We must not be a stumbling block
to children, young and small

Each side, entrenched, the battle waged
The fix? I don’t know how,
but surely Christ would call a truce,
And love the children now.

Mitch

 

You suck.

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Anyone who eats blood must be cut off from their people.’”  Leviticus 7:27

For the past several weeks Jan and I have been watching the 90s/00s cult favorite show “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.”

It’s our third time.

The show may or may not be your cup of comedy/horror/drama, but we tend to rank it as some of the most clever writing ever on TV.  I’m not recruiting new fans, so don’t go snooping on my account.  I just wanted to explain why I’ve got vampires on the brain.  (on the neck?)

In the show, vampires are evil.  Mostly.  They are undead creatures that literally suck the life out of their victims.  I am convinced that you and I have some vampire in us.  I’ve never met someone who doesn’t.  In our most unhealthy moments we can leech other people’s energy and power. We’re needy like that.

I can recall a dating relationship from my high school and college days.  I could never figure out why we stayed together so long.  We always fought, we weren’t compatible.  We didn’t even much like each other.  She’d hurt me, and I’d hurt her. It wasn’t healthy, but for some reason we just kept feeding off each other. It was a bloody mess.

In my later life, there were times when I felt weak, helpless, and powerless.  Instead of asking for help or reaching out, I found myself manipulating people to my own ends,  unhealthily trying to steal their trust and energy.  I’ve scared a few people away that way.

Think about the energy flow between you and others.  Who gets fed from the relationship, and who leaves feeling a quart low? When a healthy balance of give and take doesn’t exist, who is feeding on you, or who do you find yourself stealing life from?

In Leviticus, we learn about ancient Israel’s system of sacrifice, in this case, a pigeon:

 The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off the head and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. –Leviticus 1:15

This was how people dealt with their sins and deficiencies, by splashing the blood of an animal against the altar, and barbecuing the meat as an offering to God.  All the way up through the time of Jesus, this was the practice.  We look at this as an archaic and perhaps misguided practice, but instead of stealing an animal’s blood and energy, today we tend to steal each others.

Do you think this pleases God?  Not at all.  No more than killing animals as an empty sacrifice did.  Blood, more than anything, must be associated with life.  God given, precious life.  To misuse another’s life is to deny God’s purpose and power.

The next time you feel that unholy thirst to take what isn’t yours, look at the cross.  It repels vampires, after all.  And as for blood?

Jesus is offering his for free.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Have I been discounting Jesus’ pain?

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Rank the following in order of importance to your faith:

a.  The Life and Teachings of Jesus
b.  The crucifixion of Jesus
c.  The resurrection of Jesus

It’s amazing to me how varied people’s answers are, when I ask this.  What’s your order?

Mine is a, c, b.   Even though I know  resurrection is the gift at the heart of my relationship with God, I can’t help but think about how much Jesus has taught me to walk in the light.

I suppose I go back and forth between a and c.  But b, crucifixion, never makes it out of the 3 spot.

I was reading about crucifixion, about how extremely painful a form of execution it was.  How the nailing of the hands, which was not always done, would have added another layer of agony.  Add to that Jesus’ scourging, whipped until he was bloody, and there’s no discounting the suffering he encountered.  It was unspeakably bad.

And yet I do not give it the attention I give the other parts of the story. Have I been discounting Jesus’ pain?

I’ll admit, it occurs to me that there have been many others to die on a cross.  Many to be tortured, punished, put to death in cruel and unimaginable ways.  I’ve seen the pain of warfare and the harm of disasters.  I am aware that these human bodies are mortal, and fragile.  It’s all part of being human.

Jesus died among the worst ways possible.  But there were two thieves hanging there with him, enduring the same fate.  There have been saints who have been martyred in the same way as Jesus.

Crucifixion?  It’s a terrible way to go, but for me, it’s not the showstopper of Holy Week.

Until I think of this:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  —1 Peter 2:24

The physical pain of the cross would pale in comparison to the spiritual weight of the world.  He “bore our sins” in order to heal us, an unthinkable feat.  Without Jesus’ pain, the Easter story would be very different.  The entire Jesus story would be very different.  The pain of the crucifixion anchors Jesus as our champion, taking on all the sin the world can throw at him.

And still…I can’t stay there.  I can’t give the crucifixion the same due I give the resurrection, or Jesus’ ministry.  Here’s why:

Whereas there is a place for me in the crowds that followed the life and ministry of Jesus, and a place for me inside the wondrous empty tomb on that Easter morn, I find no place for me on the cross of the crucifixion. It’s too powerful, too dark, too dangerous.

I can look at the cross, and pray at the cross, and pick up my own cross, but I cannot climb up and embrace the burden of this kind of pain.  There is only one who ever could.

And so, this Holy Week, I invite you to spend some time with all 3 parts of Jesus’ story.   .  There’s a reason it is referred to as the Greatest Story Ever Told.  If some parts are more painful to watch than others, just do what I do:

Take a good long look,

 

But keep a safe distance.

 

In Christ,

Mitch

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