Monday, December 30, 2013

Searching for the "New" in the Coming Year

I would like to know how many times I have decided that I would become a new person, a better person; more aware, more caring and more capable, that I might make a difference in the world. The hardest part of trying to make oneself into something better is found in the old adage; “Take 2 steps ahead and you find yourself 3 steps back”. It has taken me a lifetime thus far to figure out how to overcome those objects that keep getting in the way and even then I am not always as successful as I would wish to be. I have been accused of seeking power, the spotlight and even putting myself ahead of everyone else, so that I could get ahead. I remember trying so hard to present myself as someone who could help a congregation, only to be told that I was a power monger and that I would only use that church as a stepping stone to some greater potential down the road.

What becomes the hardest to accomplish, is to identify the real problem behind the obstacles that get thrown either in your way, or at times even in your face. Have you ever started out with the greatest and best intentions only to find yourself used, or even used up, by those you wanted to help? It happens. Not all the time, but from time to time. When it becomes a pattern, you really need to stand back and ask the deep questions about life, hope, practice and then faith.

To become new with a purpose takes more effort than most can ever imagine. It seems like it should be so simple just to remake yourself. Ask someone who is trying to lose a few pounds, or change the direction of a deteriorating relationship… or how about those who have, for whatever reason, lost their way and the world has either condemned them or perhaps the judgment they face everyday overwhelms them, before they get to put their best foot forward. To reconstruct a life that has flaws, fallen into decay or to even decide that there must be a better you that can make a difference, can be a most trying and overwhelming task.
I think back over the stories that were read to me as a child. One of those that I found most confusing and challenging was that of one of the judges in the Old Testament… Samson. Have you heard of him before? He was a strange sort of person that God chose to use to portion out His judgment in a manner that most would qualify as extraordinary, if not totally senseless in light of how we expect Him to work His will. Samson did some great stuff, but he lived like there was no tomorrow, like the only thing in life was his own satisfaction. In the end it caused his downfall, but gave him the opportunity for God to show his power in judgment for the wrongs of His people.

In the New Testament is another curious example, when really considered in the fullness of the story, and that is the person of Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the great missionary and theologian. Saul a devoted Jew was set to exterminate the Christians, but when confronted by Jesus, he changed. You see, here are two examples of characters who struggled with who they had become, what they were and wanted to make a change for the better… One died in the process and the other died because of the process, but both became people used of God, because they died to themselves. This is no easy concept but rings true even in the everyday life of those who want change and are willing to die to themselves, their emotions, their cravings, their mediocrity. They want to step forward with a new perspective, new desire and stand outside of themselves to gain the goal they desire to attain. And the cost is great! No matter the decision made, the cost is always far more than you could have imagined.

It is because of the realization of the enormity of the cost and the inability for some to push through the barriers they face, that so many tend to fail… perhaps we all do far more than we realize, in one way or another. To become new is more often a dream, than a reality for most. Let’s take those New Year’s resolutions that crop up this time of year. Too often we find ourselves unable to continue; wanting to, is so different than the actual stamina needed to carry it off. Maybe resolutions have become fads, that though well intentioned, become just another attempt at keeping up with others. We most often have to internalize these things before we undertake them if we are to succeed.

So I want to become new again. Maybe what I mean is that I want to be renewed. Some time ago I saw and then posted a cartoon that showed the cartoon character Tigger and he was saying; “I want to bounce again!” Maybe that is where I stand in my retirement, though retirement has not made me sedentary and useless. It has given me time to review, regret and try hard to pray through those things that are not the highlights of my life. So, I guess  what I want is to be renewed. The best part of faith is that we serve a wonderful God who not only forgives as we confess those shortcomings (just like he did for David, Peter and Paul from the Scriptures) but who renews and rebuilds for greater paths, greater blessings toward a greater work for Him. Is that too much to bite off, too great a wish to consider, too much for a God who took a Prince of Egypt into the wilderness only to bring him back after 40 years so he could lead His (God’s) people out of captivity and head them towards the Promised Land? I think not.

Maybe some who are reading this, if you have gotten this far, want a renewal in your life too. I have only one message for you today….. You will never succeed on your own strength, will and ability. I have written this before, but it is worth a re-mention. It is only when we die to ourselves, our own natures, wants and personal vision of what should be, that we can actually attain what God wants us to become. Sound hard? You can bet your bottom dollar it is! So why do we fail so often…. Is it just the self that gets in our way? No… it is also satan! He is out there to remind us every day that we can’t do it, even if we have God on our side. All this while he is convincing us that we need to do something altogether different. Lies that influence our hearts, minds and lives come not from a God that tests, but from satan who will use whatever means to break us down and turn us back onto the old track.

So  as you sit down and consider your coming year and those things that you want to remake, redo and renew… consider first where God is in all of that decision making process. I am trying to do that daily. It is not always easy, as I too can crumble under the weight of obligations, natural repercussions of daily sin that may even be committed unknowingly, along with the daily grind of trying to breathe for Him… He breathed the breath of “life” into me… I want to be continually aspirated by the Holy Spirited, so that every breath I take is by His grace and for His blessing.

May your take on the “new” that you have in mind, include what God wants first… it is part of moving toward the edge and my oh my… what a view from there. It may just change your perspective or the outcome you desire. May the Lord richly bless the coming year for you and yours!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Gifts of Christmas

We don’t have to think too hard to remember our most precious Christmas or even our most favourite Christmas gift. I read a note that was written to a friend of mind this morning about one such article in her life… that very special Christmas and that very special gift.  Each year millions of children gather around Christmas trees all over the world and open those wished for items that appear on Christmas morning. But do all children get what they wished for? No sadly, not all children are so fortunate. Many go without for reasons as varied as they are many.

Every Christmas we were reminded that there were so many who were not as fortunate as we were, in one way or another. One year in particular I had asked for an item that was very unlikely to be received. I can’t remember if I wrote a letter to Santa or not, but I did mentioned it to my Mom and I wished every day that I might get what I so hoped to receive. There on Christmas morning was what I had wanted… or was it? You see I had asked for a sword! Simple request eh! No, not all requests are simple or simply understood, either by the person requesting or the person granting the request. So it was that what I found happened to be a beautifully carved sword made from a swordfish's sword. Yup! That is what it was alright! The moment I opened that gift I was surprised, yet my heart sank. It was not something that I could swing around and hack at branches with, fight off vicious pirates and defend some fair maiden while in combat with her enemy. It was in fact only a decorative piece that would one day become a symbol of the love that my Mom had for me in giving me such an important part of local history.

The man we bought fish from was a particular friend of ours. He came from a town nearby and visited every week and on some days stopped and chatted over a cup of tea. Mom had asked him about a swordfish sword for me, just to have to play with and he brought several that Dad tried to cure and prepare, but to no avail, they all rotted and became more than nasty! He one day told Mom that he could get a real sword made by a local craftsman that lived quite near us and so it happened that he delivered, just before Christmas, this very special item that has become a real treasure in my life. It was not what I expected, but something that became so precious indeed.

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes and down through the years I have disguised them as churches, roosters and Christmas sleighs. I have weighed them down with cans of tomato juice and one year with even a brick and a piece of railroad track… in fact it made the gift so heavy that I nearly strained my back trying to get it off the table, about 20 years ago. I have become more practical of late and perhaps that is not always a good thing. And, my wish list has changed drastically too. I get more interested in the quiet reflective moments, even though they are hard to get. So I spend time trying to prepare my heart and mind, looking for the joy, in why this all came about. Not the presence of family directly, but the presence of the Christmas Season and how it affects us as family. Have we prepared our minds, hearts and our lives for this annual event with the right wishes and the correct expectations?

I try to be reminded every day of the value of what took place on that first Christmas. But do I stop enough to consider and reflect on that “very special” eve in history really? A friend reminded me that so often we put our best foot forward for a few weeks at Christmas, choosing, wrapping and distributing gifts, only to go back to the business of life in January and put away the lonely, the forgotten and at times those special friends that only become important enough to visit, during the Christmas season. A sad statement but one that rings true more than we like to admit.

So it was on that first Christmas Eve in Bethlehem town. A people waiting for a savior were told that what they had longed for had arrived, and though eyes turned to a little child in a lowly manger, he was not what they were expecting. What did they want? They wanted a king among men, who would deliver them from the tyranny of those who cared not for their lives, but only their money and what they could provide in slavery and trade. So while the angels sang of the Saviour’s birth, and shepherds left their fields to see this miracle, the Son of God fell short of their expectations and life returned to its drudgery, and high expectations became disappointments. They could not see the true value of what God had given them… so many today are in that same place in life… they can not see; as they can not understand that God’s love was so great that He came; “Emmanue”l, meaning God with us and dwelling among us.

So many gifts are also opened and then forgotten. A popular thing to do today is “re-gift”. "Why", some would say. Well, we receive things that serve no purpose in our lives, having no real value to us and so as a matter of course we either discard them or we give them to someone who may be able to use them with thanksgiving and appreciation, being able to use them where we did not. Is that what happens to the “Greatest Gift” of all? Do we shuffle through the traditions that may have belonged to parents, grandparents, guardians and our communities and use them as a sort of celebratory cover for our desire to just have another party? I pray not. Christ was the “final gift” that came with strings attached, conveyed from the Old Testament and confirmed in the New Testament. God’s people must humble themselves before Him and in doing so attach themselves to him with life, desire and obedience in all we do. Yet He came as a free gift to those who would accept Him. Giving our lives is not easy. Always desiring to go and do what He wants of us in not always easy, and total obedience is impossible. So it is a no win situations, right? No… Not At All! In this little child wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger was LOVE BOTH ETERNAL AND PRESENT. When we accept this gift (like opening one on Christmas morning) we may sometimes feel disappointment, as He was not what we were expecting, because we do not always fully understand what it is that we have done… we only know that He is a gift.

There are so often still the challenges that both alarm and disappoint us, but when we have Christ he is always there. When we confess our shortcomings, our sins and our fears, He loves us even more and forgives, because the Christ Child became “The Christ”, the "Sacrifice for our sins". We do not use God as our trump card, our get out of jail free card or our MasterCard to all wealth and prosperity, but we have assurance that when we do fall and call out to Him, He hears and picks us up again into His loving arms and shields, heals and restores.

My wish list this year includes new eyes to see the face of Jesus before I see anything else, new ears that I may hear His voice as he speaks direction, affirmation and peace into my life, and a new readiness to respond, go and do so that I will be His voice, His hands and feet in this world. I owe a debt that I cannot pay and He has paid a debt that He did not owe… just for me. The gifts of Christmas are not simple, they are complex, yet not so complex that we cannot accept and then once accepting, hold them close and dear to our hearts. They grow richer, more important and life giving as we hold them dear. Walk over to the edge of the manger and take a long look in…. do you see Him looking at YOU?… Being near the edge here may just change your perspective on life.

I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Blessed New Year!