Tuesday, November 30, 2010

During Advent we live in two worlds...

There’s the secular celebration, with Frosty and Rudolph. People in stores wish us “Happy Holiday” and we may feel like asking, “Which one?” I’m tempted to wish store clerks “Happy Holiday” on Presidents’ Day and the 4th of July.

And there’s the other world, a world of wonder. We come to church and re-focus. We are reminded of why this is a special time. It’s not just the presents and parties, it’s not the decorations (and there’s nothing wrong with these things). The only thing that matters is the coming of Christ to a world in great need.

The two worlds frequently intersect. When they do, we’re given a wonderful opportunity to communicate JOY to the world. There are some Scrooges out there, some skeptics, even some pagans (who only observe the Winter Solstice), and many for whom the holiday is entirely secular…but there are also some who see the wonder and are open to hear the Good News of Christmas.

CS Lewis summed up the message of Christmas: 'The Son of God became a man to enable men to become the sons of God.' This is the message we proclaim to a world weary of the stresses of the season. To a people who have bashed expectations, we offer something firm and unchanging. The Messiah is born and can be born in us.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Trying Church

If you’re no longer attending church, what caused you to leave? Was someone unkind to you? Were the messages not meeting your needs? Was the music not to your taste? Did you have a doctrinal disagreement? Were you starting to get lazy? When was the last time you “tried” church?

Someone told me he had a bad experience in church so he stopped attending altogether. I responded that I had a bad experience at a restaurant so I don’t eat out anymore. That’s just as ludicrous, don’t you think? So something happened at your church. You can deal with it, or depart…but to stop worshipping only punishes you. Find some other place to grow spiritually; otherwise you may well stop growing.

Church has resources for spiritual growth. Here’s an analogy: you can work out without using a gym and you can learn without going to school, but these “institutions” make it easier. They’re designed to do so. In the same way, the church helps us be what God wants us to be.

This brings up the argument I hear that “I can be a Christian on my own.” Individualism is a big thing today. People rely on technology more than community. But how are you growing if not at church? Do you faithfully pray and read the Bible? Do you listen to Christian music? Do you read Christian books? Go on religious websites? What do you do about the Lord’s Supper? And what are you doing to serve the Lord?

Some people stop attending church because they’re unhappy with the only “version” of the church they’ve known. One advantage I’ve had as an Army Chaplain is seeing the vast diversity of worship styles—contemporary, traditional, liturgical, Gospel, emerging, charismatic, blended, and so on. I recently read a book by a woman who visited a different church every Sunday of the year. There are a lot of varying styles. Churches are somewhat like restaurants, when you come to think of it. They’re not all the same.

A former interim pastor of my church told me, “If you really love the Lord, you’ll crawl on your hands and needs to get to church.” Sounds a bit harsh, but get the intent—if we’re really are committed to Christ, we won’t let anything interfere with this necessity. We need what the church supplies. John Calvin said “You can’t have God as your Father without the church as your mother.” Going on your own is playing games with God. We need one another. Paul in the book of Romans says we need to “rejoice with those rejoicing and weep with those who weep.” Church supplies a place to do just that.

Worship isn’t optional. The bottom line is this: We worship because God deserves it, we need it, and Scripture commands it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A veteran's prayer for Veterans Day

Author of Liberty, as veterans we appreciate the acknowledgement of our grateful nation. It’s wonderful to be recognized for our service, but we’re simply glad to have had the privilege of serving. Not everyone who wanted to serve had the opportunity, yet their prayerful support sustained us in difficult times. We thank You, Lord of hosts, for opening the door so that we could give back to our country. Some of us didn’t have a choice, while others served in the all-volunteer military. Either way, we look back with fond (and a few not so fond) memories of experiences that helped define who we are today. And we can hardly take all the credit, for Your hand was upon us, strengthening us for the task. You made us fit for battle and helped us bring peace to a troubled world. Equip us all to be instruments of Your peace. All glory to You, O Lord, Amen.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thanksgiving prayer

To Thee, O Lord, we offer our thanks:
For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.