Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wisemen Shopping

Everyone with their Christmas shopping done, raise your hands.

Everyone who wants to give the people with their hands raised a “Noogie” raise your hands.

Everyone who thinks that the people who get their Christmas shopping done before Christmas Eve are a little too organized, raise your hands.

Thank you. Hands down.

Is this my weekly letter on an AA-like confessional?

“Hello my name is Rob and I am a Christmas Eve Shopper.”

I don’t know why I procrastinate. I just do. I know I need to buy presents. I know that all the cool stuff will be gone by Christmas Eve and I will be left to choose between an assortment of Snuggies, Chia pets and jars of pickled herring. Still I wait.

I’ve tried to excuse my procrastinating for economical reasons: “Our credit card cycle is later in the month, and if I wait to purchase gifts then we won’t have to pay for them for an extra 24 days.”

I’ve made an effort to illicit my doctor’s support: “Are you sure doc there is not a life threatening condition known as “Wal-Mart Intolerant”?

I’ve even attempted to make this a spiritual matter: “Since the Lord could return any day now, why buy presents for people who are going to be raptured outta here? I don’t want the brand new sweater I paid $7.95 on the clearance rack at Target just lying on the street in a pile after they’ve been caught up in “the Big Whoosh” to heaven and I don’t want their sinful relatives using the Chia Pet I bought after their gone either.”

The truth is—the reason I procrastinate is, “I hate shopping.” Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.

And I’m bad at it.

I’ve bought Karla plenty of lousy gifts down through the years. She no longer allows me to buy her clothes (my taste and hers are not the same); If the present is used for cleaning, she has promised to clean my clock with it (and I don’t think she means my Timex); and I’ve learned she doesn’t like footballs, Frisbees or any other sporting equipment—so what’s left to buy?

I blame the three Wisemen for my dilemma. They are the guys that started this whole gift buying frenzy. Had they not brought their gifts from the east then maybe we could just celebrate Christmas by singing carols and eating gingerbread. I sometimes wonder if they had to battle the crowded malls to get the frankincense if there would have been only two gifts. You think parking your Nissan Altima is hard, try finding a spot for a camel. Moreover, the Wisemen didn’t have to wrap the gold in a fancy box (gift wrapping another thing I am horrible at--by the way. The greatest invention ever: The Christmas Gift bag), they didn’t have to wrap the gifts but the Magi did have to make sacrifices to get the gold to Jesus. They probably weren’t asking,” Is my myrrh missing a vowel,” but neither were they saying, “Is it worth it to take these gifts to a King?” According to the Bible, when the Magi “saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” (Matthew 2:10-11)

All this to say, I don’t think the Magi were procrastinating or complaining about the gifts they needed to get-- because their trip wasn’t really about the gold, frankincense or myrrh—it was about worshipping the Christ child. It was about finding the King.

It’s the same with our Christmases. Whether your shopping has been done for weeks or if you are going to do it next Thursday afternoon in Walgreens remember this: Christmas isn’t about the gifts, it is about the Gift that came from heaven. It’s about worshipping that King!

Everyone thankful for that Gift raise your hand. Me too!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Severe Snow Warning!

Some of you may have heard that I am from the Great Lake State; aka The Wolverine State; aka The Winter Wonderland; aka Michigan. Because of that fact, there are a few experiences afforded me. I always carry the state map (at least the Lower Peninsula of the state map) on my hand; I know plenty of people that used to work in an automotive factory; and I am long suffering (I am a Detroit Lion’s fan).

From time to time I am made aware of some differences between my home state and my adopted state of Kansas. This week was such a week. As you might know, in Michigan usually from mid November until early April cold white flakes fall from the sky on a rather frequent basis. When Karla and I lived in Alanson—Alanson, by the way, is located at the tippy top of your ring finger when looking at the backside of your left hand—there was snow on the ground from late October until early May. In other words, Michigan gets a fair amount of the frozen sunshine known as snow. The hardy souls of Michigan shovel it, scrape it, ski it, snowmobile it, sled it, throw it, create art and angels in it, and in all ways embrace it.

In Michigan, a “Severe Snow Warning” means (believe this or not) that there may be a foot of snow on the way. It is a time when children are giddy with anticipation of the coming mountains of white, fluffy snow. Forts will be built. Snowmen made. The older youth see dollar signs as they use their dad’s snow blower to clean off the neighbor’s sidewalks and driveways. A Severe Snow Warning means (believe this or not) that an enormous amount of snow will soon be dumped on the affected area.

This week we had “a Severe Snow Warning” in Kansas. They were talking about this coming snow fall for weeks and weeks (OK maybe not “weeks and weeks,” but I think since last Thursday). By the way some weather forecasters were telling the story it would be the “Mother of all” Snowstorms. The city would be shut down. Life would be interrupted. Mayhem and destruction were distinct possibilities. The apocalypse was sure to follow.

Finally, oh so finally, the Monster Snowstorm of 2009 struck!

I awoke yesterday morning ready to break out my snow blower (the same snow blower that as it was being unloaded off the truck four years ago in the 100+ degree heat, the moving guy said, “You won’t need this.” I don’t think I used the old Toro even once all last winter in Kansas). Still, I was ready to shovel and scrape and remember the good ole days of frozen finger tips and hot chocolate warm ups. But instead I awoke to a grand total of an inch of snow maybe less!

Are you kidding me? I’ve seen more snow on the walls of my freezer.

In my home state we call that “a heavy frost.” We don’t even cover our tomatoes for an inch of snow. We wear shorts, t-shirts and flip flops and wonder when is “Winter comin’” when there is a mere inch of snow on the ground. We…. Ok, I’m exaggerating. We might not do those things, but when a grand total of one inch of snow is coming it is not called a “Winter Storm Warning” and it is not the talk of the news reports for three days in a row.

I write this not to solely complain about the hysteria of the weathermen in my adopted state, but also to reflect upon this Advent Season. Advent for the Christian is the season of preparing for the arrival of the Christ child on Christmas Day—but the Advent Season also carries with it the knowledge that Jesus is coming again. Like weathermen with an approaching snow storm, the Bible is full of warnings and reminders of that Second Coming. The warnings are not about the prospect of slippery roads and snow days for school children—but about the coming of the end of all things. In Revelation 3, Jesus said, “I am coming soon” (Revelation 3:11). In Mark he said, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch” (Mark 13:32-33). In other words, the end is coming. Make sure you are ready.

I’m afraid that when thinking of the Second Advent and that “Jesus is coming again” we treat it like the news was being shouted by some wild haired, crazy guy on the street holding a big sign saying “The End is near.” Or at best, we treat the news like a hysterical weatherman on the local news is discussing a nonexistent snow storm and we conclude, “Well it might happen, but it won’t be today.” We don’t seem to treat it with the giddy excitement of children missing school or the opening of presents on Christmas Day.

This fact remains: Jesus is coming again. I don’t know when. I’m not painting my big sign to say “the end is near.” But I know He IS coming again. And like Jesus tells us, I want to “keep watch.” I want to be ready for that day. I want to make sure that my relationship with God is current and up-to-date. As we await the advent of his second coming, I want to be giddy with anticipation for the time when all believers will be faithful, joyful and triumphant.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Weird Week

My weird week began, when my previously only occasionally irritating phone, decided on Saturday that it would become a permanent irritant and refuse to turn on. I don’t know why it stopped working, it just did. Knowing that a friend had some used T-Mobile phones lying around his house, I called to borrow one. Thankfully he agreed to allow me to use his daughter’s old phone until I can get a new one later this week. So now my ring tone is some crazy rap song and there are several teenage girls’ phone numbers in my possession. If someone listened or looked at the phone I am using without knowing the full story, I’m sure they would assume my name is “Pastor Creepy.” Weird!

The weird week continued when I was preaching in Sunday Morning’s second service—a sermon that was to be enhanced by my preaching in a darkened sanctuary with only a single light bulb to illuminate the message (you had to be here…); the only problem was that the light bulb worked for approximately 1/100th of a second. UGH! Thankfully, Pastor Kevin found an alternative lamp and after a minor delay the sermon was droning on. Still, it was not the way I envisioned the sermon to go. (By the way, in spite of the “technical difficulties” several people became Christ followers on Sunday Morning!)

The weird week rolled on when we received a call at the church that someone had hacked into our phone lines and had made hundreds of calls to (get this) Liechtenstein. You read that right: Liechtenstein. According to Wikipedia, Liechtenstein is one of the world’s smallest countries (about the size of Overland Park), has a smaller population than Lenexa and it is the world’s largest producer of false teeth and sausage casings (insert your own joke here). Liechtenstein was also the recipient of numerous phone calls from the Central Church of the Nazarene from Saturday Night until Sunday morning at 8 AM. Maybe there was some Liechtenstein phone-a-thon going on. Weird.

There were other weird things occurring this week like the temperature going from a pleasant 60 degrees to a freezer-like 30 degrees overnight. The wreathes that Karla had me put up when the weather was balmy last Saturday are now blowing in the wind and scraping on the windows. Twice now, I’ve awoken thinking some burglar is outside my bedroom (Quite honestly, if I were a burglar it would probably be easier to break in a first floor window rather than my second floor window, but in my sleep I’m not thinking logically). Speaking of Christmas decorations (the wreathes, remember?) my house looks like an elf convention gone badly—there are Christmas supplies everywhere. Weird!

I’ve been to hospitals, counseling sessions, and Tuesday night was the District Pastor’s Christmas Party. As you well know, pastors are “party animals”—thankfully the weirdness of the week did not include anyone doing anything that will cause them to lose their credentials. Although I must admit that our own Pastor Cory Stipp would have been elected as the best dressed if such an election were held. To quote the rapper on my borrowed phone, “He was looking fly.” Weird!

I know I am not alone. Famous people like Tiger Woods and football coaches, Bobby Bowden and Charlie Weis, also have had a weird week. Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes our weird week happens as a result of someone else’s behavior, sometimes we are the reason for our weird week, and sometimes life just happens that way.

Remember Paul’s words for weird weeks: So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last forever. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, The Message) In other words, Hang in there in the weird and wacky weeks. God is in control. He’s on the throne. Keep trusting Him!