Black Friday

Never again

Several years ago I did the unthinkable. I decided to get up very early in the morning, brave the cold weather, and get in line for a Black Friday deal. A store was offering a deep discount on DVD players for the first 20 customers. This was when they were still fairly new (yes I am somewhat dating myself). No, I did not push anyone out of the way to get that 20th spot. The cops were not called to handle a dispute between me and someone else, each pulling on one side of the box. Nor did I have to run over people to lunge at one of the packages stacked in the corner. I graciously got in line. A clerk then walked down the line and gave the first 20 people tickets to use on the deal. Thankfully, I was somewhere around the 15th person in line. I entered the store calmly, grabbed two DVDs (there was an allowance of two per customer), and headed towards the cashier.

At this point, it got interesting. A gentleman had entered the store looking for the deal. After discovering that they had all been taken he became very agitated. He demanded to see the manager. He looked at someone carrying two DVD players and angrily asked the person to give him one of them. At this point, I began to think what if he gets violent? What if throws a punch? What if he approaches me?  I can see it now, the headlines read: Local pastor gets in a Black Friday dispute over a DVD player. I quickly turned my back towards him so he didn’t see my two boxes, paid for them, and departed the store before I became a headline. I am not certain the outcome for this customer but I vowed to give up Black Friday shopping from that point.

As I approach the shopping season, I am reminded of this story because it saddens me. We are so blessed as a country. We are the wealthiest country in the world. We have options that people around the world would love to enjoy. We can go to the store and choose from one of twelve types of steamed corn. We have resources to buy our families practically anything we want. Yet, we become obsessed on deals to the point it irritates us if someone else beat us to it. Or, we become thrilled when we get that infinity scarf for $5 off. Don’t get me wrong. I am most definitely a deal seeker. I love bargains. In fact, I am so bad that after I find a deal I scour the ads for several weeks afterward to ensure that I got a good deal. Call it obsessive; I call it frugality. What concerns me is that oftentimes our joy at this time of year becomes attached to whether we got a deal or not, if we received the present we hoped for, or if we can get that special present for someone we love.

I love the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 14:17.

For the kingdom of heaven is not a matter of eating and drinking (or shopping) but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Amen Paul! No matter how hard we shop, it will not give us joy. A momentary thrill, yes, but not joy. Yet, sadly we continue to pursue it even to the point of demanding a DVD player from someone else.

Our joy comes from the reason we can celebrate Christmas in the first place. It comes from Christ.

This weekend I am going to choose to not be thankful for a deal. I am going to thank God for Christ and the joy that comes from him. This joy that is much more permanent than a material object. It is a joy that enables me to push back the consumeristic pull and say, “No I don’t need that to enjoy December.” Oh, I want that joy that allows me to shop with grace towards clerks and fellows shoppers, even the crazy ones. May we appreciate this joy that says, “OK, I have to shop because it is the cultural thing to do; however, I am really going to set my eyes on the true Joy-giver.” Let’s not survive December. Let’s enjoy it! Let’s grab hold of the One truly worthy of celebration.


I Love Freebies

I love freebies.

If I am at a store and spot a table where something is being given away, I stop and get it even if I don’t like it or need it.  If they are offering free samples at Jewel of “barbeque sushi on a spinach roll” I would probably stop and try it if it is free.

Last year, I was shopping at Home Depot.  As I came out of the store, they had a promotional table for contractors.  They were giving away a boatload of free stuff plus food.  I mean this is dialed up for me.  How could I resist?  So, I casually but intentionally walked by the table.  The person manning the table offered me a hot dog, chips, and pop.  I informed him that I was not a contractor.  He said, “No worries.  We are wrapping up for the day.  Take what you want.”  Timing is everything.  I said, “Are you sure?”  He said, “Yes.  In fact, take a couple of everything.”  Well, how could I say no?  I would not want to disappoint him so I guess I will have to take some stuff home.  So, I loaded up my arms with several screwdrivers, a few multipacks kits containing needle nose pliers and assorted small tools, and of course a couple of small screwdriver kits for precision projects.  Then, he said, “Do you have kids?”  I said, “I do.”  He handed me a couple of extra bags of chips and some pop.  “Take these for them.”  I was happy!  Christmas came early for me!  I got home excited to show off my spoils.  My wife was surprised.  She was thrilled at the free stuff although she did wonder how many screwdriver a person actually needs.  For me, obviously, a couple more!

In thinking about the Christian life, I wonder if we oftentimes approach Jesus looking simply for all the free stuff.  In some ways, it shouldn’t surprise us if we lean this way.  We emphasize the free grace of Christ.  We talk how Jesus is available to everyone without having to do anything – simply embrace the free offer of forgiveness.  Penance is not required.  We don’t have to earn it.  Prayer is free.  We don’t have to buy three minutes with God.  He is always available.  It is not a surprise then that we begin to assume that we don’t have to do anything in the Christian life, we simply receive it.

I think this is true for joy.  We expect God to give it to us.  And when it doesn’t readily come, we are surprised.  I have chatted with many people approaching joy this way.  In some cases, they get quite distraught that God would not dump joy on them.  It has even led some people to wonder whether God is real because there is an absence of joy.  When I probe these situations, I typically discover something interesting.  There is usually unresolved sin in that person’s life.  Yet, they don’t want to address it.  God is meant to bless us, not to fill our deepest longings.  God’s job is to cater to our needs not to be worshiped.  Obedience is optional; the need for joy is not.  We want the free stuff but let’s leave commitment at the door.

John probes this mentality in 1 John 1:4-6,

We write this to make our joy complete.  This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you:  God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.

Interesting.  Convicting.  John links joy to obedience.  If we want joy that is complete, overflowing, life-sustaining, can’t sit down because God is good joy, it necessitates obedience.  Joy is made complete as we obey Him.  It is not free.  It requires our commitment.  Oh, it makes perfect sense.  When we embrace God’s standards (obedience), He blesses us with the fruit of living in a right relationship with Him (joy).  I mean if God gives us joy while we live in sin, what motivation would we have to change?  Not much.  Honestly, not everything can be free lest it make us entitled.

As I think about joy today, I am reminded that it involves more than simply asking him for it, it requires seeing joy as the natural result of obeying Him.  Yes, it is a gift.  But it is also a privilege that is manifest as we live for Him – genuine joy from genuinely living for Christ.


I am a bit strange at times

I am a bit strange at times.

Oftentimes I think of the numerous tasks we do each day that seem to be a waste of time.  Let’s see… it takes 30 minutes to get ready which includes showering, brushing my teeth, putting on deodorant (probably not a waste of time), and going to the bathroom.  Then, there is eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  And before you comment, yes, I know dinner is beneficial as it gives me time to connect with my family.  But for me, I wonder how much more time I would have if I just didn’t have to do these daily tasks that seem to produce no tangible fruit.  I mean I don’t sit back and think, “Wow, I took a shower today.  Check.  I brushed my teeth.  Accomplished that task!”  However, I do so with other items that I think are valuable in my mind.  Time to chat with my wife.  Connect with my kids.  Read God’s Word.  I value these things so I do them each day with joy and anticipation.

I think the problem is that I want to get to the end product rather than go through the process.  It is the process that seems to be a waste of time.  I want to look nice.  I want to smell nice.  I want to feel nourished.  I don’t want black teeth.  I just want to skip the preparation time and get to the finished product.  Yet, the process is so necessary to the finished product.  So, in that sense, it is productive.

I think we oftentimes approach the Christian life in this way.  We don’t want the process we just want the finished product.  I want to be spiritually mature but I don’t want to wrestle in prayer.  I want to have intimacy with God but I don’t want to carve out more time to cultivate it.  I want to get rid of that sin but I don’t want to open up to someone about it.  If we want the end result, it requires investing in the process.

This is especially true with joy.  I talk to so many people that want to be joyous but are not.  They are grumpy at work, short with their kids, frustrated at life and irritated by neighbors.  Yes, I have been there.  In fact, I had a moment this morning.  I was tired and preferred to do nothing but responsibilities called.  I looked at my day and did not want to do it.  However, I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday.  Loved it.  My spirit was light.  I was in a good mood.  I joked.  I encouraged.  I was joyous.  Why didn’t it just spill over to today?

In John 16:24, Jesus says,

Until now you have not asked for anything in my name.                                                                             Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

These are some of the final words he shared before the cross when his own joy would be challenged.  It is interesting that joy is linked to our need to request it.  We have to ask for it.  It doesn’t simply happen.  It is a gift from God to us.

Joy doesn’t spill over from one day to the next.  We can’t bank it for tomorrow.  We have to ask God to give it to us.  The asking is the process towards the result.  It is like showering in order to be clean.  It is like brushing our teeth to have a nice white smile.  We ask in order to have joy.  Yet, the benefit with this process unlike our more “mundane tasks” is that the process itself nurtures dependence and intimacy with God.  This is most likely the reason He requires that we ask for it.  It draws us near to Him.  So, this morning, before my grumpiness overtook me, I quieted my heart and asked for joy.  It came.  Yes, the process is worth it.