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Showing posts from December, 2010

Making New Year's Resolutions?

Ordinarily, about this time of year, I make several resolutions for the new year. You know, the typical stuff: to lose the spare tire above my belt line; to be a better husband/father/pastor/writer/preacher/teacher/brother/friend; to spend less and save more; to exercise more/eat and drink less. But this December, a funny thing happened on my way to making my resolutions: I decided to pray about it. When I asked God, in prayer, what I should resolve, what I heard in response surprised me. (Although it shouldn’t have surprised me, because it’s something I’ve heard God telling me many times over the years -- a consistent message.) It’s this: “Lighten up a little, will ya, John?” How’s that for a New Year’s resolution -- to lighten up a little!? At first, that resolution might sound self-serving or even reckless, as if I’m giving myself permission to be irresponsible, lazy, or uncaring. Thinking of “lighten up” as an excuse for hedonism would take you in that direction. But if you

The Line to See Jesus

Just two simple thoughts today: one serious and one whimsical. The serious thought: several people have forwarded me the YouTube music video, “Where’s the line to see Jesus?” It’s based on a question asked by a little boy at a shopping mall. Seeing long lines of children waiting to see Santa, the little boy approaches the singer/songwriter and asks, “Where’s the line to see Jesus?” If you want to see the video yourself, I’d recommend the original version over the newer, slick, professionalized version (fair warning: both versions are over-the-top schmaltzy). But it isn’t the video’s schmaltziness that I want to address. It’s the question in the video’s title: “Where’s the line to see Jesus?” And I don’t just mean the long line that will form at the time of communion during Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and regular Sunday morning services (although that definitely is a line to not only see, but “taste and see” Jesus!) No, I hope you know that the answer to the question, “Where’s th

Just When We’ve Made Our Minds Up, God’s Dreams Interrupt…

The Gospel appointed for this, the fourth Sunday in Advent, begins with the words, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.” It goes on to describe the birth of Jesus from an unusual perspective: the perspective of Joseph. Jesus’ mother Mary was “betrothed” to Joseph. Remember what “betrothal” was in the Jewish marriage process.* It consisted of two steps. First, a formal marriage contract would worked out where a young man would be given marital and legal rights over a girl, usually when she was between twelve and thirteen years old. During this time of betrothal, the boy and girl would be considered “husband and wife,” legally, but the girl would continue to live at her own family home, usually for about a year. Second, after the year or so of betrothal, there would be a formal transfer or “taking of the bride” to the husband’s family home, and from that point on, he would be responsible for her support. During the time of betrothal, no marital relations were

Snow, and a Meaningful Advent and Christmas

(Photo credit: Steve Axeman) Well, first--as I sat down to write this (Friday morning about 10:00) it started SNOWING! There’s already enough to cover the ground. Yay! I love snow! Not just because I’m a Midwesterner who loves cold weather--we believe cold weather builds character, you know--but because when I see snow, I think of God blanketing the earth. Or should I say God re-blanketing the earth, with love, in the middle of winter, much the same way a parent re-blankets a sleeping child in the middle of the night. Snow “tucks the earth in” a bit. Snow quiets things down (at least until the snow blowers come out) and is comforting (at least until we have to start shoveling it.) I know some of you feel differently about snow, and even dislike it. And granted, loving snow is easier for someone like me who walks to work! But those of you who agree with me: let’s lift our coffee cups in a toast and say, in our best Dean Martin voice, “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” Ther

Capturing the True Spirit of Christmas

It seems this year there’s even more talk than usual about how over-commercialized Christmas has become. At the same time, there seems to be a concurrent sense of appreciation--a strong, favorable reaction--to things that seem to capture the true spirit of Christmas. Several years ago, when I wrote a column for the local paper, someone wrote in this time of year to say how they really want to feel “the Christmas spirit” but have had an increasingly harder time seeing through the malls and the parties and the pressures of the season. “Christmas morning seems like it’s all focused on presents,” they said, and “I don’t want to sound like Scrooge, but am I the only one who is glad when Christmas is finally over?” I’m grateful that our Personal Finance Ministry has been running a series called “Finding Christ in a Simpler Christmas,” and this week’s installment featuring “The Four Things Children Really Want for Christmas” is particularly appropriate, because as I said in my response to t