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Archive for November, 2015

Life Notes

Broken Hearts are Roomier

Then it was that, broken in spirit, he began to lose much of his arrogance and to come to his senses…    2 Maccabees 9:11a

Don’t look now, but Christmas time is here. The season that is supposed to be about new birth, fresh starts, hope, peace, love, and joy too often manifests differently. At least it does if we are not intentional about keeping the annual Christmas chaos at bay. What often happens to me is I give in to the pressures of buying gifts, decorating the house, and attending every party possible. These should be joyful activities; but when overdone, they become burdensome. Before long, the stress of unmet expectations has me exhausted, miserable, and ready for the season to be over – often before it has truly begun. There is not room in my life for the Christmas clutter and for preparing my heart to receive the Christ child. I do poorly trying to do both, so I feel it best to choose one and let the other have whatever space remains. Granted, with two grown children, it is easier to choose the Christ child than it was some years ago.

broken heartThe problem originates in the limits on our time, money, and heart-space. We can only fit so much into our days, only spend so many dollars, and only give so much of ourselves. At some point, there is no more space in our schedule, our budget, or our heart. When we reach that point, something must break, and I suggest it be our hearts. I am not recommending a literal breaking of the heart itself, but a breaking – a reassessment – of what we consider of primary importance in this season. Our heart, in this metaphor, represents our highest priorities. Why should we be upset if we do not meet someone else’s unreasonable expectation? Is that really our problem? Why would we place similar expectations upon ourselves? When we break something unnecessary out of our heart space, we immediately make room for something else. We must be careful, however, that we do not choose another shallow, poorly screened lover for that now-open space. Being discerning is appropriate whenever we allow something inside of us.

I do not know anyone who claims to have ample time for self-reflection and study of the deeper meanings of Christmas and the impact the season should have on us. When we break our hearts away from unrealistic and unproductive pressures, I suggest filling that space with prayer and meditation. My new book, Uncovering God in Christmas, is intended to help (see details below). In her song Coming Around Again, Carly Simon sings: “So don’t mind if I fall apart, there’s more room in a broken heart.” Open a space for the Christ child this season. Allow that Holy Presence to change you from within by making room for the new birth. It will be the best gift you receive this Christmas!

Come home to church this Sunday. Fall apart, come broken, and come back to Christmas.

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Life Notes

Puppy Love

He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:2-3

puppyRecently, I spent part of an afternoon in the kingdom of heaven. Our friends have two, nine-week old Great Pyrenees puppies, and my family was invited to share their company. What do puppies have to do with the kingdom of heaven? Quite a lot, I believe. Although there are no references in the Bible to puppies, Jesus refers to children many times in the Gospels, and often in the context of how we need to become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, the parallel I am drawing is between puppies and children, in that both have simpler, more inclusive concepts of love that they express with greater enthusiasm than their adult counterparts do. To the extent I am correct, we may need to become like puppies to enter the kingdom of heaven. In the presence of these adorable little fur balls, I felt heaven had come to earth.

Never having seen (or smelled) us before, these puppies greeted us with their entire being. We were loved and accepted from the instant they saw us coming. Their enthusiasm and longing for our presence was palpable, as they jumped, licked, wagged, and pawed with everything they had. There was no inhibition on their part, just pure joy in their fellowship with us. They did not care about the color of our skin, how we were dressed, the sins of our past, our religious affiliation, or our sexual orientation. They were simply thrilled that we chose to spend time with them. And isn’t that what God wants from us? Pure, uninhibited longing to be in God’s presence? Why would God’s joy in such a reaction from us be any less than our joy in the reaction of these pups?

Donny Osmond recorded an earworm of a song in the 1970’s called, “Puppy Love.”

 And they called it puppy love, oh, I guess they’ll never know,

How a young heart really feels, and why I love (her) so.

How does a “young heart really feel”? Do we remember? Those of us hoping to enter the kingdom of heaven, whether during or after the present life, might want to spend time remembering. It is easy to forget the pure and innocent love and trust our hearts once had. According to Jesus, we should find our way back to that sort of love. How can we restore that uninhibited, unconditional, overly excitable puppy love? By stripping away the judgmental, biased, exclusive, and hard-hearted assessments we too quickly place upon others. Once gone, our hearts fill with the simple love and joy of children (and puppies).

Come home to church this Sunday. Woof, woof!

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Life Notes

A Reverse Mission

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Matthew 5:7

In his book Here and Now, Henri Nouwen writes, “I have become aware that wherever God’s Spirit is present there is a reverse mission.” He refers to the common realization that those whom we believe need our help – our mission field – often have more to offer us than we have for them. Nouwen continues, “The poor have a mission to the rich, the blacks have a mission to the whites, the handicapped have a mission to the ‘normal,’ the gay people have a mission to the straight, the dying have a mission to the living. Those whom the world has made into victims, God has chosen to be bearers of good news.”

hugging the homelessI first heard about reverse missions on a mission trip to Honduras. While my church sends mission teams to Central America every year, I was surprised to learn that Central American churches send missionary teams to the United States, too. This was an easier idea to process once I spent time with some of the people of Honduras. Were they poor? Certainly. Did they lack some fundamental needs like clean water? Yes, they did. Did I return home feeling I had done God’s work in Honduras? No, I did not. I came home feeling like God’s work had been done to me in Honduras.

When we feed the hungry or house the homeless, we perform acts of mercy – meeting a need that another cannot meet on his or her own. Jesus says those who are merciful – those who give mercy – will receive mercy. This is exactly what Nouwen writes. And it fits perfectly with what I experienced in Honduras. What I gave, what I accomplished on behalf of those I went to serve paled in comparison to what I received. My first hint of a reverse mission occurred at the church services I attended the day after I arrived. There was energy and joy beyond anything I had experienced in church before. Congregants praised God with abandon, and reached out in loving fellowship to others (including our mission team) as if we were long-lost members of their own family. I was perplexed that people lacking in so many basic necessities could be filled with such joy. But they were.

I went to Honduras on a mission – to give some of what I have in the United States to the people of Honduras. I left Honduras with the knowledge that much of what we value in the United States is of little or no lasting value, and much more valued here than it should be. We are distracted from our true blessings of love, relationship, and fellowship, by the sheer abundance of our dominating distractions, like perpetual internet access and cell reception. Our relationships become shallow and impersonal. Deep, loving, and healing connections happen face-to-face, not text-to-text.

Come home to church this Sunday. Be a blessing; be blessed.

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Life Notes

The Rat Race

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and (rats) consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor (rats) consume and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6:19-21

ratsWith apologies to self-respecting rats everywhere, we humans often refer to life – particularly our work lives – as a rat race. I suspect the term is intended to represent a large group of self-absorbed, desperate beings doing whatever they can to survive, often at the expense of each other. I imagine a group of starving rats fighting over meager scraps of garbage on the subway tracks of New York City. Many of us spend the majority of our waking hours trying to get ahead in life, in whatever way we define ahead. Unfortunately, for too many of us, getting ahead in life means getting more stuff than our friends and neighbors – a battle we can never win. Lily Tomlin is credited with saying, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”

A cancer of discontent eats at us from the inside. The stuff of the earth – cars, nice homes, guitars, clothes, flowerbeds – is tantalizing. Someone at work upgrades to the latest iPhone, and we believe we must upgrade ours, too. Someone else shows pictures of their tropical vacation, and we charge our way to a similar trip. “Keeping up with the Joneses” is one way we express this obsession with laying claim to as much of the earth as our desperate attempts allow. We focus on what we lack, instead of the abundance we already have. One problem with comparing ourselves to others is that the comparison is not with one other person or family, but a conglomerate of persons and families. Typically, it will appear we are significantly lacking, when compared to the combined abundance of many.

Jesus warns us, in the Gospel of Matthew, against storing up treasures of the earth – those things that can be stolen or that wear out over time. Our hearts reside with what we treasure. When our hearts are invested in that which does not last, our hearts will be broken over and over again. Like a cancer spreading within, we simply cannot out-buy our desire for more stuff. Learning to be content with what we have requires a significant change of heart and mind. We can be happy with another’s nice, new car without feeling the need to buy one for ourselves. When we believe we will be happy with one more possession, we fall into the trap of consumerism – that happiness and things are directly related. The truth is that more stuff never brings more than transitory happiness. True and lasting happiness is a product of gratitude and contentment.

Come home to church this Sunday. Leave the rats and join the saints (and the sinners)!

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