Monday, November 26, 2012

One Heart at a Time

Twas the day before pins and needles day and all through the hall,
Come voices and footsteps bouncing off the wall.
The single ornament hung on the Peanuts Christmas tree,
With no other decorations, yet November still it be.

The children talked of presents to be had,
In hopes Santa thought they'd been good, not bad.
Time for Cyber Monday shopping and Christmas cards,
And maybe a game of kickball out in the yard.

Our preparation may look a little different than yours,
Less wrapped presents and more wrapped doors,
Before you think we're just trying to save cents,
Remember Christmas is not about presents, but presence.

I love poems, and I think they just sound better than regular words.  The days have been flying by.  In college, it seemed like three days after Thanksgiving, it was time for Christmas.  For some reason, I thought without finals to study for and papers to write, it would be different.


In Sunday School this week, we were talking about purity of heart and the duplicity and multiplicity we get caught up on that causes us to lose our focus on Jesus.  Purity of heart is seeking one thing; it's that easy.  This topic wasn't new to me, because I'd used the chapter we read from Ortberg as a basis to a bible study a few weeks ago.  It got me thinking that every year we talk about wanting to slow down, but we never do anything to actually make it happen.  Now, I am 100% guilty of this, but this is that duplicity, saying one thing but meaning another.  We want everything to slow down, but we're unwilling to give up a few things that busy our lives and want it seem to go too fast.

I want to take a minute to reflect on the things about the holiday season that make it go too fast.  What are we caught up doing that is so important?

2. Decorating
3. Wrapping all those gifts
4. Cooking
5. Writing and sending Christmas cards
6. Organizing Christmas/Holiday parties

The problem with this list is that we see nothing wrong with it.  These are all wonderful things that bring joy to us and the ones around us, right?  Maybe, but even if your Christmas is about selfless giving, it's still about the gifts.  This is the biggest problem, in my opinion, that pulls our attention away from that one thing, Jesus.  Really want to slow down this Christmas?  Try something new.  Purify your heart.  Remove everything from Christmas besides Jesus.

In bible study yesterday, we discovered some very important things about Christmas.  I'm going to summarize them for you, even though the details are quite amazing.

1. It's Jesus' birthday, not ours.  All of us look around not only for presents for our friends and family, but also make our own list.  It's interesting that on the day we're supposed to be celebrating Jesus' birth, His name doesn't make it on our gift list.

2. We seem to have traded Jesus for Santa Claus.  Santa brings presents, but Jesus gives presence.  Immanuel means "God with us".  For some reason, presents have become more important than presence.

3. Christmas isn't about warm-fuzzy feelings.  Unlike our popular Christmas carols' depiction, Jesus' birth wasn't all fine and dandy.  You say, "Oh ya, I know, he was born in a stable."  But have you considered that Mary, the woman who delivered the miracle, was poor, young(12 or 13), from Nazareth (the wrong side of the tracks), and an unwed pregnant woman?  Appropriately, tomorrow is "Pins and Needles Day".  The real Christmas was less about warm-fuzzies and more about poverty and anxiety.

So, what does that mean for us?  Christmas is a time for miracles.  Jesus' birth was miraculous, and God calls us to be miracle workers.  He syas, "whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me."  To nourish the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned and sick is our duty, but it's also an act of love.  This Christmas, instead of making a list a mile long of things to do, prepare your heart, purify your heart, and try to find a gift suitable for Jesus.

Remember, he's all about presence, not presents.

Saw this picture and thought it should be added...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Shine the Light

When you've given into your fearsWhen you've lost your will to fightLet me know what I can doLet me try to make it rightAnd I will shine the light, I will shine the light
Light is a pretty brilliant thing.  This week, we talked in our bible studies a little about light.  Now, Jesus said "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12), but then later on preaches to the crowd "You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14).  What is this light Jesus speaks of?  How can we possibly be capable of being the light when Jesus is the light?  I asked the kids to tell me what they knew about light, and I wanted to share a few of their insights.
1.  Light helps us to see.Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. -Psalms 119:105
2. Light is necessary for plant and therefore all life.For with you is the fountain of life; in your light, we see light. -Psalms 36:9
3. Light gives us the ability to see color.You are clothed with honor and majesty, wrapped in light as with a garment. -Psalms 104:1b-2a
4. We cannot and do not want to live without light.I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them.  I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. -Isaiah 42:16
It's amazing to me what we can learn from each other.  God teaches us in practical and simple ways.  The things the kids knew about light were analogies that are used throughout the bible.  What we spent the majority of our time on was this passage:
Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.      -Matthew 5:16
Christ gives us the gift of love and that love is meant to be shared with others.  Like the light that helps us to see, God's love helps us to live and teaches us how to love.  Unconditionally, without discriminating.  I am amazed sometimes at the words God sends me during the time with the kids, and tonight was no different.  Without thinking, I heard myself say that everyone is deserving of love.  God gives His love to everyone, so why would we choose who is deserving of our love? You may wonder what that has to do with light, so here's how the train of thought went: 
God lights a fire (love) within us, and just like lighting candles on a birthday cake, one flame can light all the candles and never lose any of its flame.  To put it simply, we were given an unlimited amount of love, and no matter how much we give, we will still be given more, and our love will never run out.  Are you hiding your love under a bushel basket, saving it up for the right people, or are you openly sharing it, knowing it will never run out?
As kids, we sang "this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine."  Now I find myself reflecting on these questions: Is your light shining?  Do others see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven?  

Monday, November 5, 2012

You've Got to Stand for Something

Life is busy, so I must apologize to the blogosphere for my lack of attentiveness; however, I have had a very interesting past few weeks, so I've got something to say (not the first time, obviously).  This is no deep revelation, but a simple lesson that needs to be reinforced in youth and adults alike.

One of my amazing co-workers shared with out students last week the story of Amanda Todd.  Now, if you watch the news, you probably already know the story, but if you're oblivious to current events like me, I'll share the basics.  Amanda Todd was chatting online as a 13 year-old.  For parents, I know this is a red flag.  As a girl looking for some attention and approval, she very much enjoyed the compliments made by her online buddies about her looks.  After chatting with an individual for a while, he asked her to flash him.  She did, and that person used the photo to blackmail her.  The picture circulated around the internet, and she began to be tormented and bullied by kids at school.  After battling depression and attempted suicide by ingesting bleach, kids continued to laugh and to make posts about her, saying that they hope she succeeded next time.  Eventually, she did.  But not until she made this youtube video describing her experience.

I know we hear a lot about bullying in the media, and you've probably told your kids that bullying is wrong.  The issue is not whether it's right or wrong, but what is it?  During our conversation, I began to see how this could be debatable, because we were operating on different ideas of bullying.  Everyone agreed that they wouldn't tell someone to kill him or herself, but laughing when someone does something stupid seemed acceptable to most.

I know we laugh a lot at people who are clumsy or say blonde things, but at what point do those comments become bullying?  Is there a numerical equation for how much is too much, or should you be able to judge how much a person can handle?  Webster defines bully (v.) as "to treat abusively; to affect by means of coercion or force."  "To treat abusively" seems like another hard-to-define phrase, because abuse looks different to people.  I don't think someone who laughs at that girl who walks out of the bathroom with toilet paper on her shoe is abusive, but that could be psychologically damaging to her if everyone laughs especially if it's not the first time.

My definition of bullying is currently unresolved.  I would consider any harmful thing said to another in order to express your superiority (social or physical) is bullying, but maybe there should be another term to define those "lesser" offenses.  I do think that kids having no issue with calling each other names based on their weight, height, religion, or sexual orientation is disturbing, though.  This tormenting (if it's not bullying) seems to be common and maybe just as harmful as bullying.  Instead of using a term like bullying to teach our youth what not to do, maybe we should just use God's own words:

Love one another, as I have loved you.       -John 15:12

No matter if you call if bullying, tormenting, or name-calling, it's not called love, and we are called to love.