Archive for the ‘advent’ Category

So Much Time

December 24, 2021

“It’s not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do. It’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have.”

A foggy Christmas Eve

The photo was taken this morning in northern Illinois. Actually this shouldn’t deter Rudolf and Santa, since the song talks about evening. But, still, this Christmas Eve began warm and foggy for the end of December in the US north.

Everyone who has waited until the last day to purchase those Christmas gifts will be delayed this morning.

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in America the Christmas season is less about Advent and more about having too much to do in too little time. Parties, family dinners, meet friends, prepare and mail cards, purchase the best gifts. When Christmas comes we are not celebrating, we are exhausted.

Maybe we should absorb more of the wisdom of the quote I found. Maybe we choose to pack too many things into the limited amount of time. How about chucking most of it and just relaxing and enjoying?

The Final Approach

December 23, 2021

The airplane has reached the vicinity of Chicago’s O’Hare airport. The pilot not actually flying the plane on this leg speaks on the intercom. “We’re in our final approach to O’Hare. Flight attendants please take your seats…”

Things get quiet. You wait. And wait. That final approach feels like time has been suspended and half of the trip is just this final approach.

[I’m sorry. At this point, I cannot get the chorus lyrics of Europe’s eminently bad hard rock song The Final Countdown out of my head.]

Two days before Christmas. This is the final approach. It seems like forever. On the other hand, the pressure of not enough time for gift purchasing and wrapping and meal planning and ingredient buying and last visits.

Maybe our bodies and minds remind us to pause, breathe, refocus on the object of the long approach. The arriving. It is the re-living of the moment of awareness of Jesus entering our world. And remembering the changes following him wrought in our daily living.

Intelligence is Scarce

December 22, 2021

Om Malik writes primarily about technology. I’ve followed his writing for more than 20 years. I appreciate his sensitivity and thinking. While researching on the Web regarding the Omicron variation of the SARS-CoV2 virus, he observed, “Information is plentiful; intelligence is scarce.”

Writing today on his blog 300 Words a Day and quoting from his book Saint John of the Mall (I love Jon’s imagination), he wrote this conversation with John the Evangelist, “That gives me theological whiplash,” I said. “What did Jesus say?” “Throughout that time, he was simply saying who he was. But because they were listening to him a phrase at a time and not a paragraph at a time, they were getting distracted, getting stuck.”

Going to rock solid source material and reading “a paragraph at a time” fosters intelligence. Reading spiritual writing watching for the working of the spirit builds on the momentum.

The celebration of Christmas is only a few days away. Advent, the time of preparation for the birth, is drawing to a close. Are you prepared? Have you read again the stories in Luke or John about the coming of Jesus. Not read just a phrase at a time, but read as a complete story?

Pause for a time each remaining day and read for intelligence. Prepare.

Travel Weary

December 14, 2021

Yesterday was a travel day. Ride to the airport. Hang out, then board the plane. Arrive Florida and ride to the hotel. It’s not strenuous, but I am always a bit tired after a travel day. I get a little extra sleep, then I’m ready to go.

Being in Advent season, we hear about Joseph and Mary traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem while she is about nine months pregnant. Walking and perhaps riding a donkey. No wonder she was ready to deliver when they arrived.

They had to be tired. While she is still recovering from childbirth and with Jesus not really a toddler, word comes through the rumor mill that the King wanted to kill the baby. So, another, longer, trip to Egypt for safety.

They had to be tired.

Despite the Christmas card pictures and the serene looks on the faces in the manger scenes as re-enacted, they were no doubt tired and relieved.

When I read stories in the Bible, I like to read them just like stories. Allow my imagination to enter the story and feel myself there. This story was not some philosophical exercise. It was real people facing real expectation, tiredness, worry, relief, worry again, tired again.

But they eventually returned to normal life. We don’t know when. But they did. Just so, we also endure these cycles.

Thinking Both And or Neither

December 10, 2021

Yesterday I played with words. I liked the name and marketing of an old software company, Think and Do and turned it into a spiritual formation challenge—Faith and Do.

That in itself was playing with another pair of words, usually set up as an either/or statement. This has been argued and worried over for more than 1,000 years—faith versus works is how it’s usually portrayed.

My brain looks at all dichotomies presented to it and automatically begins to look for either both/and or neither alternatives.

Maybe someone presents you with the choice of attending this megachurch or or that megachurch. Perhaps you look and decide neither. There is another alternative of a smaller house fellowship much like the early church described in Acts.

People in the gospels were presented with an early either/or choice—John (the Baptiser) or Jesus.

Actually, it was not necessarily a choice. John had a ministry to prepare the way for Jesus. (I cannot think those words without hearing the song from Godspell.) John challenged people to change their ways and prepare their hearts for the coming of the Messiah.

Jesus came and built on that momentum. He showed how to live in this new Kingdom of God once the way was prepared. There’s more to the story, of course, but this will do for now.

We can think of this remaining couple of weeks of Advent as a time of John. We prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus, celebrated on Christmas Day. First this, then that. Once we have prepared for the journey we must then actually travel.

This is a time of recreating that preparation for many of us. For others it may be the first preparation. That’s Advent.

But then we must actually go. Like Jesus left us with—a commandment to love God and our neighbor and a commission to go and make disciples. We celebrate this on Christmas Day. Then the days following, we go.

People On The Journey

December 1, 2021

Yesterday I started the metaphor of Advent as a journey. Unlike a preacher outlining an entire sermon series six months prior, I just began with an image and a word.

Then I realized that most of the people in the world have heard of the myth of the settling of the American west. You know, covered wagons, cowboys, fighting with the native inhabitants to take their land, farmers and ranchers “taming a hostile land”.

Those wagon trains leaving St. Joseph, Missouri heading across the plains and the mountains for wealth and a new life in California encompassed people with a number of roles. Each of which can be a metaphor for people on this advent journey.

There were the scouts. They had been there before. Most likely they spoke the languages of some of the native inhabitants. They were skilled at picking out the best trail where wagons could go. They were also skilled at sensing danger and warning the rest. Their wants were simple. They sought the adventure of discovery and journey.

We had the Boss. The Master. He was the organizer and manager. He had been there. Perhaps he was former Army. He knew how to keep the rookies going. Alternately prodding and counseling. Shepherding resources. Organizing defenses when the train was attacked. The people had to trust him completely.

There were the pilgrims. They left a way of life that did not satisfy their souls and needs. They dreamed of a better life somewhere else. But they couldn’t do it on their own. They gathered into a community. Hired someone with experience to guide them and scouts to find the way. Some made it to the end. Some stopped along the way. Some made it.

Where are you in this journey? Why are you here? Are you in the right role? Do you lust for the wrong role? I always wanted to be the Boss. In reality, I’m a scout.

All roles are valid. The important thing is to be in the right one at the right time.

A Vision of Human Spiritual Development

December 24, 2020

“…be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” —Philippians 2

The Apostle Paul writes to a small group of Jesus-followers in Philippi. We know from Acts 2 that the movement grew exponentially because of the way the early followers lived. Here is a brief glimpse of that life.

He did not instruct them into something new. He reminded them of their coming into fellowship together and with Jesus. His hope is they never forget it…and never stop living it.

Our challenge as we sit here socially distant from others and most likely not in church on Christmas Eve maybe for the first time in our lives, reminds us in these ways of becoming a Jesus-follower even in these circumstances.

The times require even more than ever humility, forsaking selfish ambitions, infusing our selves with humility.

Thus we truly prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas no matter what our unusual circumstances this year.

Trust

December 22, 2020

I trust people–until (or if) they prove me wrong.

I made a list in my notebook of those who broke promises, owed me 5-figure payments, looked me in the eye while shaking hands and then acting as if no deal was ever agreed to. I looked at the list. All except one were white, Evangelical males. Interesting, if not meaningful.

At this time of year, Advent, we hear the “Christmas story” told many times.

There they were, ordinary people, trying to live a life. Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and several others. They were visited by messengers of God. They trusted. We remember them 2,023 years later. They changed the world.

Jesus trusted his Father. He invited people to follow him. Twelve guys accepted. Eleven trusted him. We remember them all.

A guy came along a bit later killing Jesus’s followers. He met Jesus. He trusted. He changed the world.

I’m sure we all have had trusts betrayed. But whom do we trust? Who doesn’t let us down.

I hope that we all are also trustworthy toward those we meet. Trust is a most important quality of character.

Happy Winter Solstice

December 21, 2020

Of course, happy summer to my friends in Australia, Brazil, South Africa and other locations south of the equator.

One of my Persian friends posted a picture on Facebook about their traditional observance of the longest night of the year. Candles, special foods, reading traditional poetry. Cool. That surely beats grumbling about the dark and cold.

We moved 150 miles (241 km) north last spring. That means the nights are even longer than back home.

But we don’t really know. With the pandemic settled in for the season, we hardly go outside anyway.

Some people don’t like the dark. I wonder at times if we convince ourselves that we must be depressed with the dark because everyone says we should be. Enough people are depressed that psychologists have come up with a name, that means a diagnosis, that means treatment (and a fee).

But we know from recent history that the days will start lengthening. Ancient peoples could tell for sure that they had turned the corner four days later. Therefore the celebrations four days later, the day we call December 25. The celebrations that the Christians co-opted and turned into a feast day, a celebration of a new birth.

Use the darkness to settle in, slow down, read, play games, contemplate the fire in your fake fireplace. Use these few weeks to recharge in order to greet the end of the pandemic with renewed energy. Change your attitude from discouragement to celebration, like my friend, the Persians.

Jesus, So What?

December 17, 2020

I devoted some hours yesterday to thinking about market disruption in the industrial automation and control market. Is there a new technology that will upend the incumbent market leaders much like digital photography (incidentally, invented by Kodak) rendered Kodak almost instantly obsolete?

And I thought, it was really all about what serves the customer and solves its problems.

I intended to write something from the Desert Fathers this morning when my mediation took this idea of serving the customer into the realm of churches, and eventually Jesus himself.

Christians are in the season of Advent, the time of preparing to celebrate Jesus’s birth as a human being. Some people focus on the celebration. In parallel, there is a secular side of Christmas–family dinners (not this year), getting (and maybe giving) presents, wishing people peace and joy, and wishing for snow (depending upon where you live).

I’ve observed churches for almost my entire life. Most of them say they want to attract new people “to Jesus”. And I’ve sat back and watched and asked, “So what?” Why? What happens afterward?

Andy Stanley, founding pastor of Northpoint Ministries in the Atlanta area, invites people to “make better decisions and live a better life”. I like that mission. It sounds much like Jesus who also invited people to make better decisions and live a better life. That is the “so what” that people ask when they commit to joining an organization (or buying automation and control equipment).

I’ve seen too many people say that they’ve “accepted Jesus into my heart” and then noticed that nothing changes about their lives.

If we have not made the changes that comes from really living in the kingdom of God, then we have missed the message. It is not so much what we say about Jesus; it is very much about how we live our new life. That is the “so what” that is too often missed. Maybe our reading for this celebration of Jesus’s coming, we shouldn’t just read the “Christmas story”, but maybe we should go to Matthew 5-7 and read Jesus’s words to us.

Make better decisions; live a better life. Beginning now.