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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

One of the best scenes in the movie Elf is when the department store announces that Santa is coming and then Elf stays up all night decorating.  He knows Santa personally, and knows that they need to offer their very best to celebrate his arrival. He can’t contain his excitement about Santa’s coming. But when he gets there, it’s not the Santa he knows.  He says to him, “You sit on a throne of lies.”

 

 

As I watched this movie, this is exactly how I have been feeling about the Jesus I see portrayed in the media. When people talk about Jesus right alongside guns and hate and exclusion, I just want to shout, “YOU SIT ON A THRONE OF LIES.”

It seems that Christians and churches need to go back to basics and first ask the question, what does it mean to be a Christian?  Some people think it means being a good person or  going to church on Sunday. Observing the media, you would think it means defending ourselves with any force necessary, excluding anyone who is different, turning our backs people who need help, and pointing the finger at all of those sinners out there.

At it’s most basic level, being a Christian means becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. In my denomination we mark this by an affirmation of faith, usually at baptism or confirmation, where we accept God’s grace and publicly declare our intentions to become a disciple of Jesus. To follow Jesus, we have to know him (I know him, I know him!). Being a disciple means being a learner, an apprentice in the ways of Jesus. The way we do that is through spiritual disciplines that we do alone, such as praying and reading Scripture, and things that we do together like meeting in small groups, worshiping together, and serving others. Self emptying is a defining characteristic of Jesus. When we commit our lives to these things, we grow to be more like him.

While churches have been worried about declining numbers and bemoan the fact that fewer people want to go to church, I believe that this millennial generation has called us out and have failed to see Jesus in us as individuals or in our congregations. I guess that sounds harsh, but I think what’s happening here is that you can’t fake the real thing.

Every week, I see posts from church people asserting their right to say Merry Christmas to anyone anywhere anytime, citing “political correctness” as something to be rebelled against.

When I celebrated Hanukkah with new friends, they were telling me how difficult it was to find decorations for the party.  They went to Michael’s and some other stores that normally sell party plates, cups, napkins and such, but couldn’t find any that were Hanukkah themed. Finally, they found some blue paper plates with menorahs on them at Publix.  You gotta love the Pub.

This week, instead of flaunting her religious freedom to say Happy Hanukkah, my new Jewish friend sent me a Christmas card.  What a beautiful expression of love.

Ironic that it was this friend that looked the most like Jesus.

 

 

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Whenever a Christian movie comes out, I feel like I need to go see it, being a pastor and all, even though, most of the time, I come away from it rolling my eyes about the way that Christian theology and evangelism is presented. It seems that they usually have the worst actors they can find, plots that are full of clichés, and they seem to set up Christianity as this “us against them” war between Christians and people of other faith or atheists. This brand of evangelism, based on fear and hatred, is predominant in our culture, but is not the way of Jesus Christ. A fundamental Christian belief is that Jesus came to bring in a new kingdom, the reign of God. A person who has given their life to Jesus, has recognized that reign and become part of the transforming power of love that will bring about peace to all people. Instead of throwing rocks at people who have different beliefs, the way of Jesus is to take the first steps of being loving. Love builds up, but fear and hate destroy.

So, it was refreshing to see a truly inspirational movie in War Room. There were only really three times that I rolled my eyes, which is pretty good for me.

What I loved about it was the way it portrayed the power of prayer. When the wife prayed for her husband, she wasn’t doing it to fix him, but she was praying for God to give her a new life and a new perspective. She was praying for her own heart to be changed as she prayed for good things for him.

As a single person serving as a pastor, there have been times over the past few years where I look at serving a church like being in a relationship. I’ve always had high expectations for myself and for those around me. I bring those high expectations into the relationship with the churches I serve, wanting them to be as whole and as fruitful as possible. But I have had to really zoom in and see if my work is an outgrowth of prophecy or codependence. Am I truly loving them or just trying to fix them?

This comes from this disconnect I feel with this type of cultural Christianity that has more to do with branding and marketing than it does with discipleship. My friend Elizabeth wrote this in her blog about the machinery that gets revved up every year around this time from the people who claim that there is a war on Christmas:

It is a low-cost, low-impact way to take a public stand for Jesus…We want to be people whose lives are centered around the God we love, and we want that to be evident in how we live. The problem is, we also want our lives to be comfortable.It’s not enough to draw a line in the sand on a very surface-level issue and ignore the deeper questions about who we are in our lives throughout the year. A Christian life is more about how we spend our money, who we spend our time with, and why we do all the other things we do than which phrase we use to wish each other well for a couple months in the winter. Actual discipleship requires some serious self-reflection. It demands asking hard questions about what we think and why, and the answers tend to cause some major disruptions and awkward conversations when we inevitably realize that we haven’t been honoring Christ the way we thought we were.”

This movie inspired me to a deeper practice of prayer. Fervent, serious, committed prayer. Not the kind of prayer that says, “Oh, by the way, God, can you do all these things I want?” but instead a kind of prayer that says, “I am here, ready to do your will. Guide my feet and show me how to love like you love.” The kind of prayer that takes priority, not an awkward 5 minute devotional, but a serious time of pouring out one’s heart to God and being open to God’s leading. It takes an openness to being shaped by a force of love more powerful than anything we can imagine and asking for God’s abundance of love and fruitfulness to fill those areas of scarcity.

As we prepare to enter the season of advent in a few weeks, this movie inspires me to make it a priority to spend more time in deep, heartfelt prayer, instead of being consumed by the media and marketing and shopping and eating and over-booking of the holiday season.

Zack Hunt says this:

Of course, all of us have at one point or another or even right now turned this holy moment into a profane act of materialism that’s more focused on presents than the Presence that changed everything. But we’ve gone beyond the simple absurdity of attaching materialism to a holiday that celebrates the birth of a poor baby who would grow up to be a homeless man. By turning Christmas into a battle over ideology and marketing, we – not Starbucks or Target or anybody else – strip this holiest of days of the very significance we’re claiming to defend.

Starbucks changed their coffee cups to bring a sense of peace and simplicity to the holidays. How that became something for anyone to be upset about reflects just how misguided our focus has become. This year the only war I want to fight is one against those things inside myself that keep me from truly experiencing the reason for the season, the transforming love of Jesus Christ.

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Christmastide

IMG_4335The day after Christmas might just be my favorite day.  For some people, it’s back to business as usual once the excitement of Christmas day has passed.  One year, my aunt’s neighbor hauled her Christmas tree out to the curb on Christmas morning.  For some, once the opening of gifts is done, Christmas is over.  But for me, this is the really great part.

I realized this year how much of a shift we go through in wanting our Christmas traditions to honor the past, but then wanting to create a whole new self in the new year.  We vow to be fitter, more disciplined, and more frugal. But this time in between is the sweet spot.  With a belly still full from weeks of overindulgence in holiday food and cookies, I am not quite ready to go into that transformation mode just yet.

Instead, I am taking a few days to simply bask in the joy of my life, not how I want it to be in a perfect world, but how it actually is. In this moment I feel surrounded by God’s peace.

I have landed in this wonderful little community, a world away from traffic and noise, in a place with hard working people who value family and know how to love each other. It’s a small enough town to have some lovely traditions like the Christmas Stroll, where the churches on Main Avenue are decorated with lights and billboard sized Christmas cards and the churches open up their sanctuaries with performances of Christmas music and their fellowship halls with hot chocolate and cookies. It’s a town small enough that people who I have never met tell me that they have heard good things about me. But it is large enough to have some wonderful music programs in the schools and in the community and a local supermarket that carries a huge variety of vegan foods. In this agricultural community, a local farm drops off produce at my door.

One of the best things is that my family is less than an hour away and I get to be part of their lives. As I hear people telling my daughter to enjoy the baby while she is little, I want to whisper into her other ear, “Yes, enjoy these times, but it gets even better.” It gets better when you are able to see that little baby girl become a mother and love and nurture her own baby and to see her build a family with a man who adores them both. It gets better when you have another baby, who turns out to have a completely different personality and to watch her go from being the little sister to an amazing young woman who takes the world by storm. It’s wonderful to see them both value their imperfect, sometimes dysfunctional, but always loving family and make it a priority to spend time with them all at Christmas.

As I look at the Facebook posts of my family and friends, I feel blessed by the multitude of people who have shaped my journey and I give thanks for every single one.

Merry Christmas and may God’s peace be with you.

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This is my column today for the Henderson Daily Dispatch. 

Since I was a little child, I have always been aware of two different Christmases that take place in the same season. In one, we sing songs about Santa Claus and Rudolph and in the other we sing “Silent Night” and “Away in the Manger.”

As I grew up in this mix of two Christmases, there were times to make a choice. Do I get Christmas cards with a nativity scene, or the ones with a snowman? For most of my young adult life, Christmas joy seemed to revolve around whether or not there was someone waiting under the mistletoe. When I had kids, the most important thing became making their Christmas wishes come true. Church was always thrown into the mix, but it was more of the world than of the church.

Now that I am older, these two Christmases seem even farther apart. There seems to be a secular Christmas and a sacred Christmas. In a sacred Christmas, the season of Advent is a time of waiting, where Christians reorient their hearts to a more genuine and sincere faith, using their resources to help those in need. Gifts are given as a sign of love, but the focus is on the birth of Jesus and the activity revolves around worship and service in the church family.

The secular Christmas, however, seems to have gotten out of control. Gift giving has turned into a shopping bonanza that now starts before the Thanksgiving meal has even been digested. People literally risk their lives out there to get bargains. While the virtue of frugality is admirable, there is something unhealthy and unholy in what Black Friday shopping has become. Instead of observing Advent as a time of waiting, the secular Christmas jumps right into the celebration of parties, feasting and spending. Parents who have been busy and distracted throughout the year try to make up for their regrets by maxing out their credit cards to provide luxuries for their children that earlier generations could never have even dreamed of.

On Dec. 25, for those who celebrate a secular Christmas, it will be over. When all of the celebration stops, family members return home, gifts are put away and the debris of the day is cleared, some will have a sense of post-Christmas disappointment. They will spend a few days returning unwanted gifts and buying themselves things that they wanted but didn’t receive. In 6 months, most of those gifts will be forgotten or discarded. Only the credit card bills and the extra pounds will remain.

But for the sacred celebration, Christmas day is only the beginning. In celebrating the 12 days of Christmas, hearts are renewed for the service of God’s kingdom. Each day will be spent with the joy of living into the good news of the reign of God. People who have been weighed down by the things that bind them in the world are free to live a life of joy and peace as followers of Jesus. They follow The Way that leads them to health and wholeness. Instead of having a letdown feeling, they continue the celebration of joy, with the focus on what God has done in their lives instead of what shopping has done to their bank accounts. In six months, they will be able to look at the fruit of the Spirit that has manifested in their lives and in the lives of those they have served.

If your Christmas has too much world and not enough Jesus, wander into a church this week and let your heart become transformed.

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Today is the first day of Advent, which starts the Christian Year.  Instead of waiting until January 1st to turn over a new leaf, we can refocus on tending to our spiritual lives today.  While popular culture has already urged us to start celebrating this blowout of shopping, food, and celebration,  telling us what all we have to buy and do so that we can have the perfect Christmas, the Advent season is a more quiet, soul searching time of waiting that reminds us that God meets us where we are, no matter how messy our lives are.  God brought light and love into a broken world and called us to reorient each of our lives toward that love.  I feel like every year I uncover more broken pieces in myself and want to more fully bring them to the surface so that they can be healed.

In January, we usually have New Year’s resolutions that are based on our will and determination.  But submitting to God’s power in our lives during this season of Advent is less about what we can achieve on our own and more about what God can do in each of us.

It’s easy to get carried along with the current of Christmas that all of the media, advertising, and marketing are trying to sell us.  I found this website from the Center for a New American Dream, for some ideas about simplifying the holidays and making this a more genuine and meaningful time.  This is also a really wonderful time to connect to a meaningful community of faith.

http://www.newdream.org/programs/beyond-consumerism/simplify-holidays/

I wish everyone a season that is filled with love and peace.

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The period of Advent is over.  It’s time to joyfully celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas.  These themes are not from any kind of 12 days of Christmas tradition, but on the sermon themes that I have preached over the past few months on Financial Peace and Abundant Living.

December 25 – 1st day of Christmas – Peace

Make peace today with someone you need to forgive or give a gift or token to someone you just don’t like very much.  If the loss of a loved one weighs heavily on your heart, ask for God’s peace in releasing that person to God’s care.

December 26 – 2nd day of Christmas – Riches

Give thanks for your many blessings.  If you are in a place of financial peace, start acting on ways to be more generous in giving to others.  If you have anxiety about money, take an active step towards financial peace by committing to a class. Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University breaks it down into 7 baby steps.  Adam Hamilton also has a great class called Enough.  Take this time to evaluate your financial situation.

December 27 – 3rd day of Christmas – Purpose

Are you living out God’s purpose for your life?  If you are, then how can you help someone else find their purpose.  If not, spend today in silent prayer, seeking God’s direction in your life.

December 28 – 4th day of Christmas – Rest

Make a list of things that are truly restful for you.  Make a plan for a weekly Sabbath day where you do something restful and immerse yourself in prayer and scripture.

December 29 – 5th day of Christmas – Creation

One of the first steps of God’s act of creation was putting things in order.  Spend some time today putting your life in order.  Then, find your God given ability to create, to make something with your own hands. You can work with wood, knit, sew, paint, color, bake, plant, write, compose, or do something else creative. Enjoy this creative playtime.

December 30 – 6th day of Christmas –Hope

What are your hopes and dreams? Ask God to guide you as you make a list of all of the things that you would like to do in your life.

December 31 – 7th day of Christmas – Grace

Celebrate the coming of the year 2013 with joy in your heart as you experience the grace of God that forgives you for all the times you fell short in 2012.  Open your heart to God more fully working through you in 2013. Extend grace and forgiveness to others.

January 1 – 8th day of Christmas – Love

Let God’s love fill your heart today and every day in this new year. Instead of making harsh resolutions for yourself this year, ask God to guide you to communities that will help you in being in better health. If you are going to love others, you have to love yourself as God loves you.

January 2 – 9th day of Christmas – Health

Walk with others toward the goal of better health.  Join Weight Watchers, Overeater’s Anonymous, or participate in the Daniel Plan.  Do this with a small group for better accountability.

January 3 – 10th day of Christmas – Knowledge

Renew your mind. As the Holy Spirit guides you, choose something to learn about.  For ideas on literature that shapes the Christian conversation, find the book A Mind For God by James Emery White.

January 4 – 11th day of Christmas – Community

If you don’t already have one, develop a community.  Join a small group at church, invite people for coffee or dinner, or take a class of some type.  Find people who will be part of your life on a weekly basis and grow with them.

January 5 – 12th day of Christmas – Belief

Read the Apostle’s creed and reflect on each of these beliefs.  Commit to becoming a more faithful disciple and follow Jesus more closely this year.

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Loving warmth of God: redefining expectations of the holidays

Dec. 14, 2012 @ 09:44 PM

Pastor Heather Burdick, City Road United Methodist

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Pastor Heather Burdick, City Road United Methodist

In this busy season, most of us have had that moment where we feel that there is something else we should be doing, but we just can’t fit it all in. This time of year brings so many expectations and sometimes we try to do it all. It’s at this point that we have to define what is most important in our lives.

The other day, I was talking to a neighbor who told that the person who lived in my house before me went all out with wonderful Christmas lights and decorations. Immediately, I felt like I was letting the neighborhood down because I’m not very good at putting up Christmas lights, so I haven’t done any outdoor decorating. Then, there was a special Christmas breakfast where I brought store bought cookies instead of making the homemade Christmas tree shaped cookies that Martha Stewart made on the Today show. This would be a good time to mention that I have yet to purchase the first Christmas gift this year or mail my first Christmas card.

In year’s past I might feel that I don’t have the “Christmas spirit” because I haven’t done all of the things that we normally think of as festive activities that mark the celebrations of Christmas. But, this year, maybe we can all redefine our priorities and realize that these are not the most important activities. While I haven’t made the time for shopping, baking and decorating, I have had time to immerse myself in a daily advent study and have spent more time reading scripture and connecting to God in prayer. I have had time to be with people and give them my unstressed and undivided attention. I have had time and resources to give to the local charities that do such meaningful work in our community.

It’s nothing new for people to have different expectations as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Before Jesus was born, people were waiting for a Messiah. Many were living in situations of injustice and darkness. Their only hope was the promised coming of the Savior of the world. While they expected someone who would be a powerful military leader who would conquer the current leaders by force, Jesus ushered in this era of peace and love in a way that was very different from what people expected. He taught by example what it looks like to love through self-giving and that being his disciple means following him in serving instead of expecting to be served. He showed us that doing the will of the Father is more important than doing what we want, but that in that obedience to God we find our ultimate fulfillment.

The joy that we celebrate this Christmas comes from finding our true, authentic identity in God, and connecting in love with all of God’s children. It inspires us to recommit ourselves to a more faithful walk in growing closer to God.

Maybe over the next week I’ll have a chance to bake those Martha Stewart cookies, put up a dazzling light display, and buy some thoughtful gifts for the people I love, but I know that the true Christmas spirit doesn’t come from any of these things. It comes from a heart filled with God’s love. My Christmas wish is that you will all experience the warmth of God’s love this season.

This is a column from the Henderson Daily Dispatch Faith section, Saturday, December 16, 2012.

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