Traditions and Changes

“Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.” You may recognize that line from the Steve Miller Band song, Fly Like an Eagle. (If you are too young to know about this song, fret not. Someone will most likely perform a cover of this classic at some point and you will think it’s a new song.) Time does indeed continue to progress into the future. Things change and even our dearest held family traditions evolve into new forms so that they might survive the changes of time’s progression.

I was made very aware of this dynamic during this particular Christmas holiday. We have many traditions in our family when it comes to the holiday season and I am thankful that my children have not only embraced those traditions, but look forward to them each year. However, time will not allow those traditions to remain exactly the same for too long.

In the past five years, the passage of time has brought changes to our traditions and has even caused us to form different traditions within the newly formed paradigm of our life. Three years ago, my father passed away which necessitated changes to our Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions. Both of these holidays were always important to my family growing up and we would often go to my parents’ place for a wonderful meal and time together. After my father’s passing, we began to a new tradition of having my mother and brother over to our house for Thanksgiving. It has been my privilege in this newly formed tradition to serve my mother who had so graciously served us for so many years. No, it’s not the same as it was in the past, but it is a new good thing that we look forward to now.

This Christmas brought our family another unfamiliar situation as our son had recently gotten married. Being that he is no longer living at home and has his own wife now, things have changed. We must now share our son over that holidays with his wife and with another family. We experienced our first Christmas not having our son home for Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, but coming over with his wife later that day. Again, a new good thing has formed as an old good thing has been released to the passage of time. During his visit, I found myself consciously willing my attention to savor every moment like one might be careful to consciously enjoy every sip of an exceptional cup of coffee.

My point in all of this is that we, as human beings, tend to resist change. The simple truth, however, is that we cannot stop time from “slippin’ into the future”. It is a foolish notion to attempt to vice grip the traditions we love into a ridged form that cannot survive the passage of time. Things change. That truth does not mean that we must completely abandon those memories we cherish, but if we wish to continue to make more, we must allow, yes, even embrace, the adaptation of those traditions over time so that we may fully appreciate the new good things that will come along with those changes.

I find myself in the place my parents once were when their children were growing up and changes were occurring to their family dynamic. And, if the Lord is gracious to us, my wife and I will find ourselves in the place of our parents now; enjoying grandchildren and seeing new traditions formed and old traditions reimagined around the new chapter of time.

Of course, with all of the changes the passage of time brings, one may wonder if there is any sort of unchanging anchor to be secured to through this journey of life. There is but one; “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8.

The eternal Lord does not change. Time cannot change Him because He exists apart from time. Peer pressure cannot change Him because He has no peers. Popular opinion cannot change Him because our opinions are uninformed at best and tainted by evil desire at worst. Jesus Christ is the only steady rock in this tempest of life we exist in. I encourage you to find your sanctuary and stability in Him.

As we all prepare to enter a new year, my hope for each of you is that you will savor all of the old good things that carry over and all of the new good things that will come into being, and that you will grow with the changes that life will surely bring.

Until next time… next year… may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

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Jesus Christ is Different

Some people like to lump Jesus Christ in with other religious and spiritual leaders as though they were all cut from the same cloth. The idea is expressed something along the lines of, “These teachers (Jesus Christ and several other names of various religious movements) all spoke the same message of love.” First of all, that statement, even if it is part of a meme on the unfallible Internet, is simply not true. One of the religious leaders often mentioned in that list was a warlord. Other were philosophers and spiritual gurus whose authority to speak on eternal matters came from nowhere other than themselves.

The second problem with the statement is that Jesus Christ spoke far more than just a message of brotherly love. It was certainly part of His message, but it was not the main thrust of His message or mission. The world, however, has diluted the true reason for Christ’s coming and has made His message more reminiscent of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure than it does Biblical doctrine. “Be excellent to each other!” A fine message, but it is not the Gospel.

My mother once confessed to me that she woke up early one day and decided to catch up on some emails. She made herself a cup of coffee and proceeded to the computer. As she went through her emails and sipped her coffee in the dimly lit room, she noticed that the coffee seemed weak. She continued on reading and responding to emails all the while feeling that she was shortchanged by her coffee choice that morning. Only after returning to the kitchen did she realize that she actually forgot to put the k-cup in the machine and had therefore been drinking a cup of hot water. Ah, the eternal paradox of needing a cup of coffee so you can properly brew your first cup of coffee.

I share that story in order to draw the analogy that the world, through its purposeful dilution of the Gospel message, has offered nothing more than a cup of hot water. When one reduces the true message of Christ to simply “just love each other”, one removes the potency of the Gospel.

So then, what was the message and purpose of Christ’s coming? Matthew 4:17 – “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Christ’s message was, first and foremost, a call to repentance!

“Repentance for what?” you may protest. “I’m not perfect, but I’m nowhere near the worst. I’m a good person!” Have you ever considered why Jesus was killed? It certainly wasn’t because He was simply spreading a message of universal love. There is no need to speculate on the answer. Jesus candidly revealed why He was hated; John 7:7 – “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.”

That is correct. Jesus Christ was hated and rejected because He dared to call the world out on its evil. (An act that some individuals would label as being unloving.) What evil? Violence, greed, sexual immorality (of all varying kinds), blasphemies, hatreds, pride, etc. Jesus Christ testified that the world was guilty before God and that judgment was coming. Restitution before the Holy God would soon be required and we did not have the means to pay it. However, God’s love, even for the worst of us, compelled Him to provide a way to punish sin and thereby justly forgive us. Enter the Savior.

Oswald Chambers, in his devotional book My Utmost for His Highest, puts it most eloquently; “God does forgive, but it costs the rending of His heart in the death of Christ to enable Him do so. The great miracle of the grace of God is that He forgives sin, and it is the death of Jesus Christ alone that enables the Divine nature to forgive and to remain true to itself in doing so. It is shallow nonsense to say that God forgives us because He is love. When we have been convicted of sin we will never say this again. The love of God means Calvary, and nothing less; the love of God is spelt on the cross and nowhere else. The only ground on which God can forgive me is through the cross of my Lord. There, His conscience is satisfied.”

As we reflect this season upon the Christ Child in the manger scene, let us do so with a sober understanding of what the purpose of the Incarnation was. The manger was planned from the very beginning to be the start of a journey towards the cross. You see, Jesus is not the same as other prophets and spiritual gurus. He is greater than the entire sum of them! His message was and is far more important and eternal than theirs. Others may offer you a soothing cup of hot water, but what Jesus offers contains real substance. Oh yes, some of it may be bitter to the taste at first (no one really enjoys hearing that they are heading towards condemnation before God), but soon, if received, the cup that Christ offers will bring alertness and joy. It is the cup of His saving grace received through repentance.

And… it will also enable you to truly love your neighbor.

Until next week, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling. Have a very Merry Christmas!

It Will All Work Out

Don’t stress. It will all work out! … No, it won’t.

I apologize if I just caused you to do a spit-take with your coffee. I hate to waste good coffee. However, if I caught your attention for a moment, it was worth it. Please, refresh your cup before I continue.

Now, I realize that, as a pastor, I am expected to share more encouraging words than, “No, it will not work out for you.” What I mean by that statement is that it will not work out for you, whatever the strenuous circumstance is, simply because you wish it to. You see, I must speak truthful words as well as encouraging words, and truth takes precedence over encouragement when the encouraging word is nothing but empty fluff.

The fact is that universe will not balance things out in your favor. Please don’t be discouraged by this. It’s not you. It’s the universe. The universe is, well, an object. It possesses no intellect or feeling. It simply swirls around like cream in your coffee. It simply cannot work things out for you or me.

From time to time I see memes displayed on social media expressing the idea that you should just relax and believe that everything will work out just swimmingly in the end. Just have faith that it will. I saw one of these memes recently and, as my family and I are currently facing some difficult and stressful situations, appreciated the warm sentiment, but rolled my eyes at the lack of actual substance. It reminds me of the time my son heated up a Hot Pocket for himself for lunch and when he bit into it he found that it was completely empty inside!

A well-wish from a friend should always be taken as it is offered and be received with gratitude. However, if you are looking for “meat” to sustain you through a tough period in your life, placing faith in faith is simply a futile endeavor.

I mentioned that I recently rolled my eyes at one of these memes. Internally, I balked at the expression of empty encouragement to have faith in faith knowing that it was like plugging a power strip into itself and expecting it to function. As I did that, the Lord dropped a question into my heart; “While it is true that having faith in faith is futile, you have faith in God. So, can you trust that will work things out for you?”

That question hit me right between the eyes. While sentiments suggesting that everything will work out in my favor simply because I desire it to do so are truly empty, God’s promises are not empty. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” For those who put their faith in God, love God, and are devoted to God, they are children of God and therefore enjoy the privilege of the Sovereign Lord looking out for them. That doesn’t mean we get to have everything our way, but we do get to have things His way (which is far better) and He will work all things for our good… even when we don’t see how that could possibly happen in the beginning.

Are you going through a struggle now in life? Is your life filled with questions that you need answers to? I would encourage you today to no longer place your faith in faith, but to instead devote yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ and place your faith in God and He will work even the toughest of circumstances that you face for good. Contemplate that while you finish your coffee.

Until next time, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.

Ornaments of Life

It’s a quiet Saturday afternoon on December 1st and, of course, I’m taking a moment to enjoy a cup of coffee. The song, Mister Grinch is playing in the background and I am sitting beside our Christmas tree admiring the ornaments.

For some, the ornaments on their tree are merely decorative. However, for our family, most of the ornaments hold a special significance. There are certainly a few that we purchased simply because we liked them, but many of our ornaments represent different aspects of who we are.

There are ornaments depicting some of our favorite television shows or Christmas specials. There are ornaments that salute my time served in the United States Airforce. Other ornaments mark the first Christmas of each of our children and we even have one from our first Christmas together as husband and wife. There are a few ornaments giving a shout-out to the champions of Super Bowl 52, the Philadelphia Eagles. (You may remember that they beat the New England Patriots and sent Tom Brady stomping back to the locker room with a pouty face that rivals that of Eli Manning.) There is an ornament that honors my late father and ornaments that shine a spotlight on our family’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and, of course, an ornament expressing our love of coffee.

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These ornaments highlight different aspects and memories of our family and our journey through life. Perhaps the ornaments on your tree don’t reflect such things but you still, in a sense, accumulate “ornaments” over your life. Think of Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, and how the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, built an invisible chain around himself due to his miserly attitude. In a more positive sense, we each collect a tree of invisible ornaments as we journey through life. Christmas is a great time to reflect upon those “life ornaments”, being that we tend to spend far too much time focused on the negative aspects of our life.

Not only do I want to encourage you to reflect upon the ornaments of your life, but to also be mindful of the new ornaments that will be added to your life-tree this season. Something I prompted our congregation, through our church newsletter, to do this season is to take the time to cherish each moment of the holidays. These times tend to become so hectic and stressful that they pass us by quickly. It would do us well to stop, brew a cup of coffee (in a French press since it will force us to slow down) and take the time to sip and enjoy the season.

This is the only time in history that you and your family will be in the stage of life you are in now. Your kids will never be this age again. You and your spouse will never be this age again. Your parents will never again be at the stage of life they are in now.

We never know what the next year holds. By next Christmas you may have a different dynamic in your family; an addition, a loss, a marriage, a move… a variety of changes could happen. This Christmas is the only one in time that things will be exactly the way they are now. Therefore, cherish each moment and the ornaments that will be freshly hung upon your life-tree this season. Don’t let these moments pass you by through wasting time complaining about the past or worrying about the future. Make sure to get many more life-ornaments hung this year!

Until next week, may your coffee and contemplations be rich and fulfilling.