Thursday, November 17, 2011

Decorating for Christmas before Thanksgiving

The in-laws are coming. The in-laws are coming. After surviving six Thanksgivings without family, Karla’s folks will experience a Kansas Thanksgiving.

Plaza lights, here we come!

Because we usually go to Michigan at Christmas, they have never experienced a Kansas Christmas either. So my bride decided that we need to have the house decorated for Christmas when they arrive.

I protested, “We can’t decorate for Christmas before we eat turkey and cranberries!”

She said, “Why do you think that way, my dear?” (What she really wanted to say was, “Quit your belly aching and go grab the nativity scene from the basement, you lazy goober!”)

I said, “It’s against the law.” (What I really wanted to say was, “It’s against the law!”)

Since I mostly lose such arguments, I refrained from making any additional comments and retrieved the new nativity scene that we purchased this summer in Nazareth, Israel. This year we will display nativity scenes from past mission trips to Israel, El Salvador, Swaziland and Hobby Lobby. (Technically, Hobby Lobby is not a mission field. But believe me, if you are of the male variety, one perusal of the plastic flowers, frilly home decor and crafts-a-plenty store will tell any manly man that he is in a strange and foreign land.) Be that as it may, I like our Hobby Lobby nativity. It’s big, nice and the baby Jesus figurine doesn’t look anything like an infant version of a Batman villain—like the one we bought in Nazareth.

I am no Buddy the Elf when it comes to Christmas decorating. My particular role in the home Christmas transformation is mostly relegated to retrieving items from the basement, staying out of Karla’s way, and putting the wreaths on the outside windows. (Some men are “lights on the house” guys, I am not. I am not opposed to “lights on the house” guys; I just choose not to be that guy. Although, for what it’s worth, I do think that a “lights on the house” guy has a moral obligation to become a “lights off the house” guy by Ground Hog Day. Forget Puxatawny Phil, the real reason we experience six more weeks of winter is because “lights on the house” guy is not fulfilling his civic duty to become “lights off the house” guy.)

Even without stringing thousands of lights on my house, there’s a lot of work to do before my in-laws arrive this Tuesday. It will take all the waking hours of this weekend to get the house ready. Well, all my waking hours when I’m not preaching three sermons, attending two weddings or watching the Nazarene Bowl football game at MNU—MNU is playing Southern Nazarene in the first round of the NAIA playoffs. Besides the aforementioned nativities, there will be trees, garland, candles, bulbs, wreaths and figurines of one Christmassy variety or another that will need to find their perfect six week resting spot. Could I order an extra batch of gingerbread cookies for strength, please?

Likewise, if our desire is to have a great Advent Season (Advent begins Sunday, November 27th by the way), there is much to do. What makes an Advent season great has very little to do with shopping, baking and decorating before Christmas. Instead, a great Advent season is completely determined by the preparation of our hearts. As such, let’s give ourselves the gift this Christmas season of renewing our spiritual commitment and resolving to follow Christ in a steadfast manner. In the next few weeks, take time to read the Christmas story—several times. Read it from Matthew and Luke. Read the first chapter or two from the Gospel According to John, too. If you are really adventurous, read some of the Old Testament prophesies regarding the coming Messiah. Read these passages while listening to some of the great carols of the season. Don’t let the only time you listen to Christmas music be in the veggy department of Wal-Mart. Then take time to tell your children and grandchildren why we celebrate and why this season is much more than parties and presents. Take time to reflect and be thankful for the unbelievable glorious truth that Emmanuel, God is with us.

Just as having the house ready for the in-laws takes time and preparation, having our inward house prepared and ready for Christmas takes intentionality and planning—and possibly eating a gingerbread cookie or two―but that’s another story for another day.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Keeping at it

Permission to keep it real…. October was an extremely busy month. I am not sure if it is just that I am getting older (I know that’s true), but I think I am working harder and seeing less results than ever in my ministry. People are busier and less interested in Godly pursuits. This is not a complaint, just an observation. I am convinced that these are the most difficult days to pastor a church in the USA. I also believe every preacher in every generation has made such a statement. So what do we do? Keep at it. Never give up. Keep experimenting and trying. Making more and better disciples is too important to take a breather or complain or in some way stop pursing the hurting and broken people around us. Pray that we can create a culture— where there is a deep hungering for the Word of God and a deep desire to reach hurting, hungry and tired people.