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Have you ever watched a kid? They run around all day and play.  They laugh. They cry.  They have pain but that does not stop them from continuing from their games.  Despite pain they play.  Children obtain freedom and a carefree attitude.  In note, children do not worry about where they are going or where they are going to eat or what they will wear.  They couldn’t care less.  They simply seek to live.

This is interesting to me.  Because the other day I was reading my Bible about Jesus talking with his disciples and he tells them. “Look if you want to enter my kingdom, live like him,” and then Jesus nods to the boy sitting as his lap. He tells the disciples run, play, be fun, enjoy, embrace, and laugh.  God must sit there and just say to quietly sometimes, “Who is this, Andy? He stresses about something but he does not have a clue about how to truly live.”

The more we, as people, desire knowledge on how to live the more complicated we make life.  According to Jesus, we should take notes from children.   Do you seek to run around and live without worry?  The life I live is something I am not always proud of.  I observe people walking around all day who fret about families, careers, and assignments. Now people, jobs, and exams should not be neglected for taken for granted but they should not control us. I do not want to offend anyone but life is not an assignment and I do not believe in a God who intended us to live like this; from frustration to fury. I believe in a God that intended for us to live like a child.  Goddesires for us to have freedom to love and a willingness to laugh at ourselves from time to time.  God plans for us to think; but not too much.  God always finds routes to provide for children.

Jesus did something else odd in the Luke 9.  He told the disciples to go out and seek people to share the good news, but do not plan ahead.  Jesus tells the disciples not to bring clothes, worry about food, or shelter.  Jesus said go unprepared for you need to see how God is always ready to provide you with gracious gifts.  What a mission trip? Jesus sought for the disciples to solely rely on God.  Just as the Israelites in the desert God provided food for enough food for only one day.

Children live day to day.  Kids only survive because their parents provide for them. The kids provide nothing except a body to be energized, a mind to be taught, and heart to be molded.  I believe this is how we should be, totally open to God shaping and molding us just as a potter makes something out of clay.

We must let go of control and take hold of the hand of God.

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Live A Legacy

Last weekend, I had the privilege of meeting Aaron Johnson.  He is an African-American born in segregated North Carolina in 1933.  His 77 years on this earth have been filled with many trials, perseverance and accomplishments in the area of civil rights.  His story can be read in the new book “Man From Macedonia”.

He sat with a group of us on Saturday night to visit.  We were able to listen to a preview chapter of the audio version of his book  which is soon to be released.  After that treat, he answered some of the questions we had pertaining to the world he grew up in and comparing them to the world we are living in today.  During the conversations, he made a comment that really stuck with me.  He said, “If you don’t have anything worth dying for, you don’t have anything worth living for”.  He also spoke during our church service on Sunday, giving us all the charge to “Leave this world in better condition than you found it.  Or at the very least, don’t leave it any worse”.  It sounds like a simple request, but in this “on the go” age, do we really take the time today or in retrospect to make sure we are doing just that?  Do you have the time in your life to take up a cause that is as big as Civil Rights?  I don’t know that I do, but I am glad that others can.  Does that mean that I don’t have time for a cause or have no “purpose” in life?  According to Aaron (and I agree), the answer is “no”.  If you have children, don’t they deserve good parents who will teach them?  If you are a child, do you take care of your parents?  If you are married, does not your spouse need someone to love them and meet their needs?  If you are a Christian today because someone shared the gospel with you, have you returned the favor and shared the gospel with someone else?  Causes and purpose come in all shapes and sizes.  Some, like parenting and marriage are even responsibilities and not options, though they are sometimes treated that way.  In fact, responding to ANY injustice or lifting up the downtrodden is the responsibility of all Christians and should be for even non-Christians.  We are called to make a difference in our lifetime.  In Ephesians 2:10, Paul says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God has prepared something for you to do in your lifetime.  Not only has he prepared it, but he gave you the talents to do it (Psalm 139:13-14) and also a helper to accomplish it (John 17:12-15). 

 God has set us up for great accomplishments in our lives, but we must agree to do it.  It is hard to believe that we have the power to thwart the Great Creator, but in this situation we do.  We can simply say to God, “No, I wish to only serve my desires”, and it will be done.  According to Jesus, many will choose this path, but he declares a downside.  In Matthew 6:2 Jesus admonishes us, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.” 

He then asks the question in Matthew 6:26, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” 

 Make the decision with me today to “Live a Legacy”.  Not one that men will revere, but the one that God has purposed for you.  If you are not sure what it is yet, start with the simple ones like being the best parent, child, spouse, witness, etc. that you can be.  Then spend time in prayer asking God to reveal his purpose to you.  But I warn you, it may not be what you have in mind, but I guarantee that it will be a grand adventure.

Square One Resources

If you would like to hear the message Aaron gave at Oakhaven on March 28th, click here to go to our podcast page.

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Over the past few months, I’ve had to do something I haven’t done in over 10 years; look for a job.  It’s amazing how things seem to change so drastically when you haven’t participated in them for a number of years.  I found this to be true in the “job hunt” experience.  Prior to this, I remember going out to businesses and filling out applications or dropping off resumes.  Mailing your resume was acceptable, but actually dropping it off sometimes got you an immediate meeting with your possible future employer.  Nowadays, things are much different.  Employers don’t seem to want you to come in so much.  I found that most want you to email your resume in, which in my prior years of jobhunting would have been taboo as it didn’t show much initiative.  It also seems to be the norm now that if you are a possible candidate, you get treated to a “phone interview” to see if you are worthy of further consideration.  When did all these things that once seemed impersonal and lacking in motivation on the part of the applicant become acceptable and encouraged? 

Face to face communication is something, it seems, that we just don’t have much time for anymore. 

 Cell phones are another great example.  Do you remember when it was rude to talk on your cell phone in public?  I was in a gas station the other day and saw someone talking on a cell phone go up and pay for their gas without any interaction with the cashier.  I’ve even seen people in restaurants give their order to the wait staff while conversing with someone on the phone.  We are too busy communicating to communicate. 

 The latest form of communication is texting.  Like most others over 40, I don’t get this one at all.  Why we don’t have more pedestrians hit by cars or walking off cliffs while texting is beyond me.   Everywhere you go, people have their nose in their phones reading and responding to text messages. 

 It’s bad enough when we fail to acknowledge those around us because we are on the phone, but now we don’t even want to talk to the ones we are communicating with! 

 I once asked someone why they would text someone instead of calling them and I got this response, “We don’t always have a lot to talk about so we can spend more time together writing short messages back and forth”.  To this, I must reply, “Huh?” 

Email is much the same.  I’ve had people email me a questions at work that require more time to type a response than it would to just call me, especially considering that my response will most likely solicit another question needing another response, and so the day goes.

 I’m not implying that we should abandon all these forms of communication.  As much as I seem to be complaining about them, I myself do benefit from them as well.  I would just like us to take time to slow down for some face to face time.  We are creatures in need of relationships.  We were created for it.

 In Matthew chapter 8 of the Bible, a centurion approaches Jesus stating that his servant is sick and in need of the healing that Jesus can provide.  Jesus agrees to go with him to his house but the centurion makes this statement:

“Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

In an effort affirm this man’s faith and also use it as a teaching moment for those following him, Jesus demonstrates his ability to perform miracles over long distances and heals the centurion’s servant.  This is a rare occurrence in the life of Jesus.  Jesus preferred to be face to face with those who needed him.  He put mud on the eyes of a blind man (John 9), He went to Jairus’ house to heal his daughter (Luke 8:49), Jesus put his fingers in the ears and touched the tongue of a deaf mute in order to heal him (Mark 7:31), He even waited days to raise Lazarus from the grave so He could be there in person (John 11).   Jesus put his hands on a crippled woman to heal her in Luke 13:10.  I could go on and on but I will end my point with my favorite account in Luke chapter 5:12.  As Jesus is walking with a crowd, a man with leprosy calls to him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”   While others stepped away from the “unclean” man, Jesus reached out touched the leper and said, “I am willing”.  And with the words, “Be Clean”, the man was healed.

 I know that Jesus’ life was busier and filled with more stress than mine.  Yet, Jesus found it important, even necessary, to spend physical time with people to build a relationship.  Let’s take one more lesson from the Great Teacher and do the same.  When it seems easier and more convenient to just make a call, take a little extra time and stop by in person.  Instead of making that long distance email, make the phone call so you can really ask, “How are you”?  Don’t let a text try to express your emotions, let a hug do it instead.  Let’s try to reach out to those around us and really let them know we care.

But if we are the Body
Why aren’t His arms reaching
Why aren’t His hands healing
Why aren’t His words teaching
And if we are the Body
Why aren’t His feet going
Why is His love not showing them there is a way

From “If We Are The Body” by Casting Crowns

 by Pat Crowe

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Tree Talk

Do little girls still need private places for dreaming?  Do they need to ponder about growing up or do they just do it? 

 My private spot as a child was the pine tree in my neighbor’s back yard–which meant I had to sneak over when no one was watching.  If the neighbor lady caught me walking through her yard, she’d insist I come in for lemon-aide.  Once there I had to view her latest pair of knitted slippers.  She had dozens of these slippers.  In fact I had several pairs myself–all colors–given to me by her for every birthday and Christmas that I can remember.

I’d also have to endure Skippy, a small, black dog that loved to bark and lick my legs.  I thought Skippy could use some manners, but my neighbor lady just thought Skippy was cute.

 Don’t get me wrong.  My neighbor was a nice lady.  In fact, she was as close to a grandma as I was going to get.  Years later when I married, she attended my wedding and gave me a seasoned iron skillet–twenty-nine years later, I still use that skillet.  But back then, when a girl had some serious thinking to do about life and war, and Bobby Sullivan, the sixth grader down the street,  orange knitted slippers with red poofy balls on the toes seems an unnecessary distraction. 

  My pine tree was taller than any house around and I was the perfect height to jump up to the first limb and swing my gangling legs over and climb aboard.  At the tippy top of this tree, I could look down on the world unencumbered and incognito.  It seemed like it was the only place I could be alone with me.

I always had pine sap between my knees, but it was a small price to pay for solitude.  This special tree was my secret place to think my young, confused thoughts through.  As a fifth grader everything seemed wild and out of control around me. The Cuban Crisis loomed and my Florida backyard had somehow become the target. Growing up in the 50s and 60s with bomb shelters, riots and beatniks convinced me that the adults in charge were losing their grip. 

One day, while swaying to and fro in my tree, I decided I was going to be different.  I vowed that as a mom, I would only cook spaghetti and hamburgers and never drink milk.  Shoes would always be optional and a ponytail always appropriate for any occasion.  Pedal pushers could be worn to church, and playing in ditches would not be off limits to any of my daughters.  I would live in peace with all nations, and all twelve of my children would have their own dog.

And then there was my body.  It was beginning to betray me.  I was getting lumps and bumps where I didn’t want them.  Boys no longer wanted to pick me first for their kickball teams. They wanted instead to write me notes about going steady.  How yucky was that?

Other days I would just climb up to the top of my pine tree and just listen.  The sights and sounds floating around me gave me confidence that despite the possibility the world could end at any moment, everything would be all right.  A basketball bouncing off the pavement and clean sheets popping in the breeze were reassuring. A dog barking in the distance, a mother calling her children home for supper, made my heart settle and my breathing become normal again.

The swinging motion of my tree, rocked me gently like a cradle calming my fears and making my spirit hopeful again.  Whatever my thoughts, I came down from my pine tree a little better equipped to face the next adolescent happening or the next bomb drill–whichever came first. 

The next time you see a little girl who looks like she needs some extra space, point her in the direction of a friendly looking tree and give her a boost up.  Encourage her to climb toward the sun and to wave at eagles. 

Oh, and by the way, if you’re ever driving around town and spot chubby varicose-veined legs dangling from an overloaded tree branch, don’t be alarmed.  It’ll just be me pondering about life and other stuff and trying to decide on spaghetti or hamburgers for supper.

 by Deb Cleveland

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We are a full month into what was a “new year.”  I still haven’t figured out whether I prefer “Twenty-ten” or “Two Thousand Ten” but the year is well under way and I’m adjusting to a new way of referring to what year it is.

But the turning of the page of the calendar has thus far, not made much difference in the economy, or the War, or terrorism.  So the question is:  “Has there been any change in me?”

 If I’m not seeing positive changes and better habits after the first month of the new year, it’s still not too late to get started.  For today, let’s talk about what I consider to be the biggie in the category of resolutions and goal setting.

 Priorities, first things first and values.  I could call it time management but I don’t think that term quite captures it.  At the heart of every personal improvement we might choose to make in life there is the concept of priorities.  Do I wake up in the morning with an idea of what my core purpose is?  Do I give myself frequent reminders of what is at the heart of my life?  Perhaps the following will be helpful.

 Do I wake up in the morning with an idea of what my core purpose is?

 I read a story in Stephen Covey’s book, First Things First which impresses me with one of the great truths of life.  The story continues to appear on the internet and I’ve heard it repeated in speeches and sermons countless times. 

Perhaps you have heard it too.  It’s one that bears repeating.  I’ll re-tell it in my own words…..

 An expert in time management was addressing a group of eager young students.  To illustrate his lesson, he placed on a table a common 1 gallon mason jar and a good portion of palm sized rocks.  He carefully placed rocks into the jar until there was no room for any more.  “Is the jar full?”, the instructor asked.  “Yes”, said an observant student, from the front row.  “Are you sure?”, the instructor quizzed.

 “Yes…..most certainly”, the young student asserted.

 The instructor then reached below the lecture table and produced some gravel.  He carefully poured it in and tapped and shook the jar to allow the gravel to trickle down between the larger rocks.

 When the gravel filled to the rim of the jar, he asked again.  “Is the jar full?”

 By now, the students began grasping the principle being demonstrated.  “Probably not”, they said.

 “Now you’re getting it” the instructor said.  He reached once more below the table and brought up a container of sand.  Pouring it in, he tapped and he jiggled and shook until no more would fit.

 “It certainly must be full now, right?” he quizzed.  “No”, the students said, almost in unison.

 “Rightly”, the instructor said and smiled as he produced a pitcher of water from underneath the table top.  Pouring it in, he asked for the final time, he asked, “now what is the point of this demonstration?”

 Right away, one of his brightest and high achieving students blurted, “the lesson is that even when you think your schedule is full, you can fit more in”.

 “Wrong!” , the instructor asserted.  “The lesson is this:  Put the BIG ROCKS in first or you will never have room for them. “  “In other words, figure out what is most important in your life and get it in place first.  Sweat the small stuff later”.

 “Consider what you absolutely must have in place in your life: God, marriage, family, friends and service to others.  “  “Get all these things in place first and the other things will take their proper place and priority.”

 Jesus once said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you”  (Matthew 6:33).  That is the biggest rock of all and must go in first. 

It’s January 28th,  do you know where your priorities are?

 By the way, I recommend Covey’s book, First Things First, one of the best I’ve read on priorities.

And, oh yeah, I recommend The Bible….THE best, I’ve read on priorities.

– Gary Cleveland

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So What’s Next?

Well, it’s over.  It’s done. You know what I mean, Christmas.  I don’t mean Jesus, hopefully you and I will think about Jesus every day of the year.  But I mean the other part.  The stress, the hustle and bustle, the worry of, “Did I get them the right gift?”  All the stuff that takes our mind off Jesus. 

 As we wind down from the Christmas, we also are winding down to the end of 2009.  As we look forward to the coming of a new year, we anticipate a year as good or better than the year that is coming to pass.  So the question now is, “My New Years Resolution”.  If you are like me, it will be the same as the one last year.  I need to drop a little weight.  Wait, let me clarify that.  Last year I needed to drop a little weight.  This year I need to drop a lot of weight.  That’s how it goes sometime.  We set goals for ourselves but sometimes have trouble achieving them.

 As we approach this New Year, I ask that you make one resolution.  Actually, I ask that you don’t wait until January 1st.  You can do it now.  Be forgiven.

 Guilt is a powerful thing.  Somehow we got off track.  We have this idea that guilt is a sign of doing something wrong and the need for punishment to follow.  Nobody likes punishment, even when it’s for our own good, so we hide our guilt.  We do just about anything to hide it. 

Did you ever get into a discussion where you have absolutely no leg to stand on but continue to fight a fight you don’t even believe?  I have.

 God never meant for guilt to be acted upon in this way, but we sure seem to like it.  God meant for guilt to be a way for us to know that we have done wrong and need forgiveness.   In this way, we should be motivated to admit our wrongs to the ones we offended and ask for forgiveness and accountability to help us change.  Where it goes wrong, is our ability to forgive.  As I mentioned before, we prefer punishment so we can show the offender just how bad they are.  Sometimes we say, “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget”, implying that you will be on the hook forever.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that wrongdoing should have no consequence. But I’m writing this to appeal to you, to what guilt is doing inside of you at this moment.  It’s time to let it go.

 Read with me a couple of stories from the Bible that show how God approaches those in need, or rather, how those in need approach Jesus and his response to them. 

 The first story is from the Gospel of Mark.  It takes place after Jesus is approached by a man named Jairus whose daughter was dying.   Jesus is on his way to Jairus’ house when this event takes place:

 So Jesus went with him (Jairus). A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, “Who touched me?'” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:24-34)

 Take a look at this woman.  She has been plagued with an illness of bleeding for 12 years.  What is meant by bleeding is her menstrual cycle.  Ask any female how she would feel about that.  It says she spent all she had on doctors but only grew worse.  She’s broke.  Not only this, but women were considered “unclean” or “untouchable” during their menstrual cycle.  So not only does this woman have nothing, but she is also shunned by her society.  But her faith in what she has seen in the one called Jesus, led her to believe that if she was able to just touch his cloak, she would be healed.  So she fights the crowd and does just that, and immediately the bleeding stops.  Now let’s look at Jesus’ response, He knows what just happened.  He stops, turns around and asks, “Who touched me?”  Based on his disciples reaction, it was obvious that many were touching him.  But one was different.  The woman comes to Jesus and falls at his feet in fear.  His response?  Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

 She came to Jesus expecting everything from Him.  She had need and the faith that he would take care of her need.  She touched his cloak and was healed.  But that was not enough for Jesus.  He stopped, turned around and went back to meet this woman who knew his ability to free her of her burdens. 

 Now read with me a second story.  This story takes place in the house of a Pharisee named Simon.  He had invited Jesus for a meal, and a party crasher follows them in:

Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

  Here we have another woman who has “lived a life of sin” coming to Jesus.  She says nothing to him, but kneels at his feet and washes them with her tears and dries them with her hair and then anointed them with perfume.  Unlike the woman in the first story, this woman comes to Jesus expecting nothing.  Her guilt has motivated her to come, but her shame tells her she is not worthy of anything.  Simon apparently feels the same as he has already sentenced her in his mind and has also condemned Jesus for allowing her to touch him.  Jesus, knowing Simon’s thoughts, intrigues him with a parable.  After Jesus convicts Simon of his sense of piety and judgment of the woman, he also convicts him of not showing any of the hospitality in his own home that the woman has.  I wonder how this woman felt as she sobbed listening to them talk about her?  I wonder what her reaction was when he told Simon, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

This woman who came expecting nothing but to say sorry for the things she had done, got everything with those words.  Jesus says to her, face to face, eyes locked, “Your sins are forgiven.” “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

 This story reminds me of a discussion I was having with someone close to me.  I was talking about the forgiveness that God freely gives each of us, and especially about myself and my short comings.  The intentions of my friend were good, but all she kept saying was,” No, you’re a good person”.  I appreciate the compliment, but in fact, what she was asking me to do was bury all the bad things I have done and just focus on the good I have done.  God wants us to do that too, but in a different way.  Don’t bury your sins and let them eat you from the inside out.  Bring them before God and let him give you forgiveness, true forgiveness.

 God says in Psalm 103:11-12:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his (God’s) love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he (God) removed our transgressions from us.

 When we come before God with our deeds in hand, He not only forgives, but He forgets.  He doesn’t ask us to hold on to our sins, He removes them.  We can start over fresh.  As I talked with my friend and she tried so hard to save my “feelings”, I finally had to say, “Don’t deny me my forgiveness”.  Don’t make me bury my guilt and hold on to it when God says I don’t have to.  Let me have the forgiveness that God has promised so I can move on to becoming new. 

 Take another look at these women of faith.  One came expecting everything, the other came expecting nothing.  In the end, they both got more than they needed.  They got to see their savior face to face.  We have proof here that it doesn’t matter how you come to Jesus, what matters is that you come.  If you come boldly and expect him to receive you, He will.   If you come humbly, feeling unworthy, He will show you that you are worthy. 

 Make the resolution today.  Don’t wait until New Years.  Don’t even wait until tomorrow.  Be forgiven today.  Let go of it today.  Let God remove it from you.  He is willing and ready for you to meet him face to face, just turn around.

 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10)

 -Pat Crowe

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It’s the “hap- happiest season of all” so goes the line of a popular Christmas song.  Lyrics like this are intended to inspire us to focus on joy and peace and good will to all men.  What a great idea!   And it is indeed, wonderful when this music inspires us and encourages us to fill this season full of  caring, sharing and togetherness. 

 But let’s face it.  Our expectations usually far exceed the realities of the season.  In fact, we set ourselves up for a cycle that courses from disappointment to disillusionment and finally, depression.  So let’s consider a few practical ideas to help us avoid being entrapped by unrealistic Holiday expectations.

 Do you remember how Christmas was for you as a child?  Recall the wish list and the endless pouring over those Christmas catalogs and sales flyers until the pages wore thin?  Wasn’t it grand how they would decorate those department stores and shops with lights and tinsel?  Christmas carols were played over the loud speakers inside and outside of the stores.  And those Christmas television specials gave us ways to savor the holiday spirit indoors as we gathered around the set.  It was the only time of the year I could stand to hear Perry Como sing.  (I know…..I’m really dating myself on that one.)   At commercial time when everyone ran to the kitchen for more egg nog, Mom would stay by the set to copy down the latest recipe from Miracle Whip.  Back in those days before anyone knew what cholesterol was, they put that stuff in everything from asparagus to pancakes.  Well, anyway, you get the message.   Christmas was a part of the national landscape.  It never dawned on me in those idyllic days there could possibly be a dark side of such festivities and gaiety. 

 This was before I came to understand that the holidays provide no real respite from the cold realities of death, disease, poverty and dysfunction.  Sadly, this time of year with its bright lights, TV specials and merriment often serves only  to contrast all the more the sad desperate issues we are facing.

 So, what do we do?   We put on an act.  We act as if everything is OK.  We fall victim to harmful myths and traps custom made to take advantage of our desire to find meaning and purpose during this season.   We become desperate to create in our homes and our lives the fantasies we see in the Christmas T.V. specials.  To mask our emptiness, we plunge into the deluge of commercialism and are tempted to run up our charge cards.  

 Let’s expand a little on some of the holiday myths and suggest a few ways to avoid them.

 MYTH No. 1    Everyone has fun during the holidays.   In reality, there are as many homeless, hungry and sick people as there are any other time of year.  There are more masks worn during the Christmas holidays than there ever were at Halloween.  To live in a state of denial during the holidays will only make the post-holiday season all the more difficult with which to cope. 

 MYTH No. 2   Families grow close at Christmas time.  The truth is,  dysfunctional and addictive behaviors don’t take a holiday break.  If anything, they become more pronounced during this period.  People typically abuse drugs and alcohol during a holiday period just as much as at any other time.  This can make it difficult for families to achieve the closeness they desire to have.  Don’t expect that a strained family relationship will suddenly become better simply because of a seasonal festive environment.

 MYTH No. 3  Christmas brings out the best in people.   The holiday season can be productive of good things but it also can encourage us to overindulge in eating, drinking, spending and sitting idle.  In fact, many times these behaviors become more culturally acceptable and are even encouraged during this party-saturated period.  These factors can arouse in people the tendency to become irritable and quarrelsome at work and at home.

 MYTH No. 4  The great energies expended in creating such a festive season will bring great rewards.  Unfortunately there is no guarantee that your great efforts will bring praise from the recipients.  Keep your expectations at a reasonable level.  Decide that you will enjoy giving to others regardless of how the gift is received.

 POSITIVE THINGS YOU CAN DO TO MAKE THE HOLIDAYS ENJOYABLE –

 Focus on the Moment at Hand – Enjoy the small things.  Make a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and go over to a window where you can view nature.  Consider how  Winter is God’s way of letting vegetation slumber so it can reawaken in the Spring with all its majestic beauty, sights and fragrances. 

 Reach Out to Someone – Think of someone who could use some encouragement.  Write them a card or letter.  Give them a call on the telephone.  Pay a visit to someone who might not have visitors during the Holidays.   Have someone over to your home for a meal or holiday refreshments.

 Consider the Reason for the Season – December 25 is an arbitrary date, and no one is sure what day Christ was actually born, but the tradition of celebrating His birth is pretty special.  So, contemplate the origin of the Christmas celebration tracing back to the birth of Christ.  Consider the wisdom in celebrating Christ on a daily basis as opposed to a seasonal basis.  If you are not satisfied with your knowledge of Jesus and how his life affected history then resolve to understand him better by reading His story in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible.  As they say, wise men still seek Him.  You will be empowered greatly by developing this relationship.

 Focus more on people than things –  Merchandisers are running full bore at this time of the year.  Advertising will seek to convince us that unless we spend lots of money on gifts we will not get the most out of the holiday.  We might also be disappointed in the gifts we received and allow that to cast a shadow over our time with people we love and care about.  Most of us might as well admit that this one carries more weight than we would like to admit.  Think it over and make a choice not to let this rob you of joy and fulfillment.

 Spend quality time with your family and friends-  Even with extra time off work during the holidays, we can allow ourselves to become a cog in the swift moving Christmas machine.  Determine that you will seek to slow down, to unwind and relax.  Allow yourself time to take a walk, play a board game with your family or phone someone you haven’t spoken with in a while.   This adjustment should leave you feeling rejuvenated and energized more than anything wrapped in even the prettiest of paper.

 A HOLIDAY WISH

 It is my hope and wish for you that the holidays are joyous and productive of many good things.  I encourage you to examine the core reason for the celebration of this season.  Consider the importance of celebrating the life of Jesus Christ everyday not just during one season of the year.  Jesus came to create something more than a seasonal tribute to his birth.  He calls us to follow him….to be his people….to wear his name. 

Observe the babe in the manger but don’t forget the man on the cross.  Be moved by the story of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus and how there was no room for him in the inn.  But make the connection about our   tendency to make no room for him in our everyday lives.  Consider the meaning and purpose Jesus can provide to a life focused on him and his teachings. 

Have a Merry Christmas!  I mean that in the fullest of Ways.

-Gary Cleveland

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