Christ offers us something different

 

Christ is unique.

 

Consumerism offers the momentary satisfaction from a gift received.

Christ offers lasting joy in the midst of any situation.
Christmas parties offer a nice evening of fun and enjoyment with friends.

Christ offers permanent companionship with no concern over availability or unconditional love.

 

Christmas desserts offer a temporary delicacy that fill our taste buds.

Christ offers lasting fulfillment that never dissipates.

 

Christmas vacation offers a few days of rest with no work responsibilities.

Christ offers spiritual rest that restores our soul.

 

Christmas lights offer a festive mood to show our neighbors and friends.

Christ offers us the opportunity to be light of the world that can change a life.

 

Christmas sales offer the chance to buy some long needed things for our home.

Christ offers the ability to change our homes from the inside out.

 

Christmas meals offer the opportunity to enjoy our families with whom we don’t visit often

enough.

Christ offers enduring fellowship through the promise to never leave us nor forsake us.

 

Christmas bonuses offer a sense of satisfaction over a job well done.

Christ offers that eternal validation that we are sons and daughters of the King.

 

Christmas music buoys our hearts at the thought of joy and peace.

Christ offers us eternal redemption which is true joy and peace.

 

Christmas traditions offer a sense of connection between the past and the present.

Christ offers divine purpose that we are part of something glorious in all of human history.

 

Yes, Christ is unique.

 

 

It’s not too late…

It’s not too late to celebrate Christmas.

I am not talking about the incessant shopping we are forced to do at this time of year.  In some respect, it is wonderful to buy gifts for someone else.  I like thinking about something special for my family – that open mouth and surprised look on the faces of my kids when they open something unexpected on Christmas morning.  Yet, the advertisers continue to blitz us with ad after ad regarding specials.  Deeper cuts, more discounts, end-of-the year sales that no one should miss out on.  It is easy to get sucked into shopping more and more because we don’t want to miss out on that great deal.  I for one have had enough shopping.  It is now time for me to reflect on the true Gift.

The calendar continues to remain full.  There are numerous activities still on the schedule.  They are fantastic events ranging from a Christmas program to serving the homeless.  I am looking forward to each of them.  Yet, it is easy to see these activities as things to do rather than events to enjoy.  December becomes a time of survival rather than celebration.  For many, this is the challenge.  They are trying to make it through the holiday parties and family obligations so they can get to that day or two where they can do nothing.  I for one have had enough surviving.  I don’t want to wait.  It is now time for me to celebrate eternal life in Christ.

Christmas is difficult for many people as there are small or even large family rifts.  Christmas is a dread as they think of making nice for a few days before retreating to their own home.  Or, there is a fall out with a friend or coworker.  Emotions of frustration or anger pop up as you think about the slights and hurts by someone you love.  Joy is sucked out as you replay the situation in your mind again and again.  Thus, Christmas is hijacked by someone else’s actions.  I for one have had enough drama.  It is now time for me to remember God’s grace through Christ in my life.

Christmas is next week.  December is slipping away quickly.  And there is a real possibility that we will find ourselves waking up in two weeks wondering what happened to the Christmas season.  We will be disappointed because we did not truly embrace the meaning of Christmas – the birth of our Savior.  It is not too late to celebrate Christmas – not the Christmas of gifts, parties and food, but the Christmas where Christ is central.  Christmas, where we marvel afresh at the amazing truth that God entered our world to provide hope and peace.  Christmas, where we find lasting peace and joy not found in presents and food comas.  It is not too late to carve out those moments of awe where we sit silently rejoicing in the glorious news that a Savior has come to us.

Gun Violence: Enough is Enough

I am an independent when it comes to politics.  I hear an issue then process it through my values.  I personally strive to have those filters framed by Scripture.  A mentor once told me that I need to read the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other.  This is good advice.  Political parties should not dictate my views.  God should preeminently guide my thinking.

Based on this thinking, I have to ask when are we going to reach our emotional limit on gun violence in our country?  It seems that there is a new act of carnage every week.  Some arise from mental disease or emotional disturbance; others are prompted by religious fanaticism.  We see the bloodied images of people lying on gurneys as they are rushed to the hospital.  Gun control and gun rights experts are interviewed.  Polls are taken about society’s pulse on the issue.  Then, a couple of months pass before the cycle repeats itself again.  Yet, nothing changes in our country.  If anything it gets worse.  It is crazy.  I don’t understand it.  When is enough going to be enough for something to finally happen to change in our society?

Change begins with us.

As believers we need to be passionate and clear about the moral evil of gun violence.  People are made in the image of God.  One of God’s first decrees focuses on this issue in Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed.”  Murder is wrong because it assaults the divine image present in each of us.  The issue is not primarily violence; the issue is God’s creation of life.  Life is a gift from God.  Violence is not simply an attack against another person it is an attack against God whose divine fingerprint is present in each of us.

As believers we need to have common sense wisdom.  We have the mind of Christ.  Proverbs encourages us to cultivate wisdom in our minds.  Believers should exude good thinking.  I am sorry but I just don’t understand the rationale, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  Ok, is this statement true from a purely logical standpoint?  Yes.  However, common sense states that it is a lot harder to kill someone with a knife than a semi-automatic.  I don’t recall ever hearing about a “mass knifing” in America.  I wonder if these statements are more a reflection of one’s association with a political party or justification for gun ownership than a biblical worldview.

As believers we need to cultivate the society that reflects our heavenly hope.  In heaven, ‘swords will be turned to plowshares and spears into pruning hooks’ (Isaiah 2:4).  There will be no weapons in glory.  There is no need for a metal detector in heaven.  If so, Christians should strive to embody the qualities that will reflect this eternal reality.  We should be pure because it will be the only standard for us one day.  This is the reason Christians should be against pornography; it contradicts God and opposes the standards He desires for this world.  If this is true, should we not also reflect God when it comes to how we respond to other people, peacefully rather than with violence?  Christians would certainly agree to this point.  If so, we should significantly minimize the instruments, specifically semi-automatic weapons, that allow a person to inflict violence?

I close with some sensibility.  I am not against guns completely.  I went to a father-son camp this past summer.  We shot rifles together.  We enjoyed positioning cans and blocks on a post in order to shoot them off.  It was fun.  I have friends that hunt.  They enjoy November as it allows them to sit in a tree stand and shoot for leisurely sport.  Yet, my son doesn’t need an automatic weapon for target practice.  And if he would want one for such a purpose, that is a problem.  There is no permit for semi-automatic deer hunting.  There is no purpose for it and it is quite ludicrous to imagine so.

So I return to my original question, when are we going to reach our emotional limit on gun violence in our country?  When is enough enough.

What if we took time to listen?

The video showing the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald galvanized the nation last week.  The police officer who shot the 17 year old teen 16 times in a senseless act of violence was charged with first degree murder.  Monday his bail was set at $1.5 million as he awaits trial.  The political pundits spoke into news commentary about the problem of race in our nation.  Statistics emerged about Chicago having the most cop shootings in the country.  Accusations of cover-up and lack of accountability headlined the local newspapers.  Everyone had an opinion on the situation.  I was no exception as I thought about how a city I call my own could have experienced such a tragedy.  Protests occurred in the Deep South where racism still exists.  Chicago is supposed to be progressive and enlightened.  Clearly, racial tension knows no geographic boundaries.

The night the footage was released I was chatting with several people who happen to be African-American.  It is interesting to hear their sentiments on the footage.  There was a sense of deep sadness over the loss of life due to a “civil servant” losing self-control.  No excuse was provided for the officer.  It was clearly an unwarranted act that demanded justice.  Furthermore, surprise was absent from the conversations.  Having walked through racial profiling and discrimination, the unfortunate death of the teenager did not shock this group.  They could recall countless stories of similar acts of hatred although not to the degree of murder.  It was a matter of time before something like this occurred.  Yet, they did not express venom towards the officer but rather genuine sadness and frustration that such discrimination still exists in our country.  Furthermore, it was not simply the crime that bothered them but the cover-up.  No accountability or personal ownership existed among the police department that was supposed to protect the public.  They displayed balance by affirming that numerous police officers are good and fair.  But most of all, they were concerned about their ride home and those of others.  They prayed for safety.  They prayed for peace.  They were going to be traveling to the very areas where the shooting took place.  As a result, they knew protests and riots would occur.  But, they hoped in a city they loved that no escalation would occur.  In their hearts they longed for believers and churches to step up and model a different kind of response, one of reconciliation – that Chicago would be an example of how to handle such a senseless act.

I found myself humbled in that moment.  I was listening to someone not paid to provide political commentary.  This was not a suburban person calling from the comfort of their own home about the state of racial issues in America.  The comments were not from a person in their car stuck in traffic as they head to their comfortable and safe suburban home.  No, these thoughts and emotions arose from someone who has lived the discrimination.  It was personal to them as they were African-American thus better able to understand the racial plight of their own people.  They were people who would drive the streets, see the protests, and fear for their own safety.

This moment reminded me that it is dangerous to comment on someone else’s situation unless you attempt to understand what it is like to walk in their shoes.  Before I provide solutions to the problem of race, it is best that I listen to those that have experienced it.  It is quite naïve to presume the experiences of someone else.  Yet, this is what we do.  We respond in haste based on opinions developed through media, political affiliation, religious background, or family perspectives.  These responses don’t get us closer to a solution.  But listening will.  Listening cultivates empathy.  Listening creates openness to understanding.  Listening helps us see the personal dimension of such tragic events.  Listening helps us express love and is the first step towards reconciliation and eventual healing.

“Be quick to listen and slow to speak.”  James 1:19