Monday, January 12, 2015
But as she gave it to me, she said, “I know you’re kind of Grinchy about all this Christmas stuff, but Merry Christmas anyway, Kevin!” In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I had shared with her my fairly intense disdain for how most of us celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. On the one hand, some people treat this holiday season like magic even though Christmas isn’t a remembrance the Bible explicitly tells us to celebrate, even though three of four Gospels mostly ignore it and even though our December 25th holiday isn’t probably celebrated anywhere near the actual birthdate of Jesus anyway…yet some dewy-eyed naïve people treat it as though these few days of Christmas/holiday celebration are supposed to magically and miraculously cure all the world’s ills. Humbug! Even now, as many in our culture try to scrub Jesus out of Christmas, they still struggle to preserve “the magic.” I actually saw a “holiday” greeting which said, “May the magic of winter give hope and happiness in the year to come!” Have you ever heard anything so utterly nonsensical? The magic of winter? I’ll admit a fresh batch of snow can be pretty and inspirational sometimes, but a winter magical enough to give me sustaining hope and true happiness throughout the whole year? Not last time I checked… I’m so tired of a “magical” Christmas, whether it claims to be Christian or not!
But I’m even more bothered and “Grinchy” about people who claim to celebrate the birth of Jesus and yet demonstrate by their lives they couldn’t care less about Jesus. It seems all they really care about is a holiday birthday party. If these people celebrated/recognized the birth of their own children the way they do Jesus’ birth, they would be utterly horrible parents.
In the fall of 1983, I took a creative performance class in college which required me to keep a daily journal. At one point in my very scholarly journal, I actually made the comment, “I don’t believe I will ever be anything but a leader because I just can’t stand following!” What an idiot! What a naïve buffoon! While my life never fully descended into crime and rebellion as many others have, suffice it to say there was a long period of my life when I had enormous issues with obedience and almost any sort of healthy submission to authority. Do you know why God kept me in the Army for twelve years? I truly believe it was because until I learned the true value of obedience and submission, God knew I would be of virtually no use to him. Yet even now, even after all the often painful, difficult lessons God has walked me through on these very issues, even now the words obedience and submission don’t come easy to me.
And I know I’m not alone on this stuff. Teaching or insisting on a biblical perspective on true obedience and submission to authority is a wildly counter-cultural idea even within a church context. Churches are absolutely horrible at this obedience and submission stuff! Talk to almost any pastor or church leader or simply hang around any church for an hour or two and you’ll see – our sins and failures in this area are positively epic! Attend almost any gathering of pastors in this country and, after all the anger, heartbreak and tears finally fade away, many of the rebellion/disobedience stories are so spectacularly bad they become almost comical!
Think about it. We live in a nation born, at least partially, out of a massive rebellion against the civilian authorities placed over us. And from this foundation, our nation idolatrously worships independence and autonomy like few other nations ever have in history.
As I picture all this sinful nonsense in my mind, I quite honestly picture an entire nation standing around the growing stench of its own arrogant graveyard singing Sinatra at the very top of its lungs: I did it my way! But folks, the brutal truth of the matter is that we don’t want to do anything “my way.” My way isn’t a way at all – my way is a dead and horribly defective way. We want to do things God’s way – and that is a very different song indeed…
Sunday, December 28, 2014
Warring Catholic and Protestant armies from various countries converged on Germany and reduced it to a state of misery that defied description. The German population alone dwindled from 16 million people to 6 million as a direct result of war! Near the beginning of this horrific moment in human history, a frail 31-year old pastor named Martin Rinkart was called to lead the state Lutheran church in his home town of Eilenberg, Germany. He was to spend the remaining 32 years of his life in that town ministering to the horribly sick, needy and dying. Because Eilenberg was a walled city, it became frightfully overcrowded and wracked with disease and famine during the war. Rinkart eventually officiated at over 4,500 funerals, including that of his wife. One particular plague in 1637 became so severe that, at one point, since he was the only pastor remaining in the city, he was burying as many as 40-50 people each day! And yet from within this time of suffering, Pastor Martin Rinkart wrote one of the most famous thanksgiving hymns of all time…
Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices,
Who from our mother's arms hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace and guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills in this world and the next.
All praise and thanks to God, the Father now be given,
The Son and Him who reigns with them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God whom earth and heaven adore;
Where do you suppose this sort of gratitude comes from when the neighborhood around you is in flames? Where does a lonely pastor find this sort of thankful attitude when he’s doing 40 funerals a week and disease and violence and horror is everywhere? Don’t you wonder?
The weather, wolves, latest schemes, schisms, thieves and robbers; anything to keep us awake. It seemed like we had been out there forever, doing this stupid job nobody cared about until something went wrong and a few of our father’s sheep got stolen. Day in and day out, digging stupid sheep out of the dumb places they constantly got into, fighting with the sheep, briars and each other, trying to keep the herds at least a little bit together, sometimes almost wishing something dangerous or exciting would happen just to break up the monotony!
Being a shepherd wasn’t exactly a high profile job back then. No sir, not very high profile at all! To tell you the honest truth, it was pretty much a bottom of the barrel, really no account kind of job – if you could even call it a job. I don’t really understand why...but being a shepherd means you’re pretty much a worthless person. You may have heard we shepherds had such a lousy reputation we aren’t even allowed to speak up as witnesses and give evidence in court...not that anyone has ever asked me to vouch for them. Who would care what I think?
Who would care what we think about anything?