Archive for November, 2017


Christmas Traditions: Prologue

Week - Prologue_Hanging of the GreensThe Christmas season is full of traditions. We have community traditions, church traditions, even family ones. But have you ever had a tradition stop? You do something one way for most of your life, then all of a sudden for one reason or another, you stop doing it. Holidays aren’t the same, something is missing, and you just can’t get into the spirit of things. Why is it that these traditions are so important to us? Why do we defend them so much?

First, we need to see that we aren’t the first ones to experience traditions like this. Scripture is full of traditions. We have the Old Testament speaking about worship and sacrifice. I mean, Leviticus is full of traditions; how you should build an altar, how you are to sacrifice, how many people and which people do the sacrificing, and the list goes on and on. In Ruth, we find Boaz following a long-standing tradition of redeeming Ruth’s life when he removes a sandal and gives it to someone else. Joshua lays stones as monuments which is another tradition memorializing places and times when God has acted. Jesus is found in the temple and his response to his parents when they found him? Didn’t you know that I would be in my father’s house? It was tradition that he would be, as well as many others, in the house of the Lord, learning and worshiping.

Traditions are incredibly important! But why? I think there are two reasons they are important. They bring us comfort, and they also help us remember our past. There is a peace in repetition. The more you do something, the better you get at it. Things just feel right when it is something you have done over and over again. When you pick up that 7 iron, that bowling ball, that crocheting needle, that instrument, that pencil, the wheel of your tractor, or whatever it is for you, it just feels right. And when it feels that right, you get a sense of inner peace, of comfort.

I get that feeling when I grip my Berkley Cherrywood ultralight fishing pole. It just fits and I don’t have to think about how to cast, it just comes naturally. Picking up the guitar, not so much, but hopefully I will get there soon. What is it for you? What have you done over and over again so much, that it becomes second nature? I know you’re picturing it in your mind right now, and it brings peace to you. Unless it’s a 7 iron, because that will never bring peace, to anyone…

But you see, it’s like that with our traditions. We do them over and over again, or we see them every year, and when we do, we feel all is right in the world. We feel like it is finally Christmas when the angel appears in the front lawn, or the wreaths get hung up in the side windows.

The other thing our traditions help us with is remembering our past. Each one of the items we put up during our Christmas decorations will mean something to each of us. It may not be that wreath or that candle, it may not be that strand of garland or that nativity scene, but it will remind us of another item from our past. These items bring out memories for us and help us celebrate our pasts and help us retell our story, every year. Seeing a nativity scene always reminds me of one that my mom put out every year. I remember it had some straw, which kept thinning out every year until it was all but gone. I know that we lost a couple of figurines over the years, but Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus remained.

Christmas traditions are incredibly important to us, especially as we celebrate the traditional season of Advent. This is the time we prepare for the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. And so, as we celebrate this season, we will do so celebrating a few of our Christmas traditions. I invite you to join us at Lanark United Methodist Church throughout this Advent season as we look at the history, meaning, and impact of these traditions on our lives. We will look into the symbols we see around us this season, the Advent Wreath and Candles, the Christmas Tree and Angels, Poinsettias, Christmas Lights, and Nativity Scenes.

Let this truly be a season of preparation and anticipation, as we look forward to celebrating the child who would become King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

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Messy Thanks!

Messy-Thanks11st Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It’s Thanksgiving eve and whether you are preparing a large meal for family, or just going to a community dinner with some friends, we always seem to reflect on what we are thankful for. But I want you to think about something a little different today.

Does God ask us to give thanks in our good times, when we realize just how much God has blessed us? Does God ask us to give thanks when we get married, have our first child, go on vacation, get a new job, or maybe even retire from our job? Does God ask us to give thanks for his gift of Jesus Christ, whom he sent to die in our place, for our sins? Yes, yes, all of this! Give thanks!

But that’s not it. That’s not all, there’s more. God wants us to give thanks in all things. Paul writes this letter, telling us that we should give thanks in all circumstances, not just the good things, not just the things we consider blessings. God wants us to give thanks even in the messy things, even when we don’t feel like we should. Have you ever heard the poem “Thankful for Dirty Dishes?” It goes like this.

Thank you for dirty dishes;

They have a tale to tell.

While others may go hungry,

We’re eating very well.

With home, health, and happiness,

I shouldn’t want to fuss;

By the stack of evidence,

God’s been very good to us.

We should be thankful for those good things, but also for all the ordinary things. I’m thankful for annoying relatives, for needy brothers and sisters, and for that aunt who always wanted to pinch my cheeks and talk to me like a baby, even if I was thirteen.

I’m thankful for all these messy things because life doesn’t always have to look like the perfection that we used to see all the time in sitcoms, magazines, and now see on social media. Life is messy, there’s no getting around that. And we deceive ourselves when we believe that our life can be that way. I mean really, think about it, do you know anyone who has that perfect life, the perfect family, the perfect house, or even the perfect Thanksgiving Day celebration?

Sure, we all try and there have been years that I’m sure you were disappointed when things didn’t turn out just the way you wanted them. The turkey was dry, the kids were too noisy, someone forgot the corn in the microwave, or the hostess that year forgot to take the neck out of the turkey before cramming all that stuffing into the bird.

Life is not lived in that perfect, utopian world. It is lived out in our everyday lives, and those lives are messy. So why don’t we thank God for the messy things in our lives. So, sometimes it is good to give God thanks for those messy things, those ordinary things, those difficult things. God wants us to give thanks in everything, and that means the messy things. Giving messy thanks!

If you were to give God some messy thanks, what would it be? Remember that God wants you to give thanks in everything, because we need to see that Romans 8:28 is correct in telling us that all things work for the good for those who love God. Where have you seen this good, where have you witnessed God’s power to transform things for the good, where have you witnessed messy thanks?

Ordinary

SnowThis year’s weather has ushered in the holiday season a little earlier for me. Anytime we get cold temps and a light snow that actually covers the ground, I begin to look forward with anticipation, to all the holidays. I wonder if you feel the same way? I look forward to this because I know that through special worship services and other celebrations, that I can expect to witness God in great ways. I expect memorable advent services and especially Christmas Eve worship as I feel the presence of God in those places. It’s easy to do. It’s easy to feel God in those special places.

This is the same with other times in our lives, those places we would call our mountaintop experiences. Whether they are a weekend spiritual retreat, a Christian concert, or a large family gathering, they all make it easy to witness the love of God and his presence with us in those times. I’m sure you can remember times when this was very evident to you as well.

But this only makes the normal days stand out even more. Those big days, special celebrations, and mountaintop experiences are spread out. They aren’t one right after another. I don’t think we could handle too many of those days, one right after another. We would get exhausted. Our lives are meant to be spent in all places, mountaintops, valleys, and the everyday navigation of the plains.

I guess we could say that it is pretty easy to witness God’s presence and power in days of celebration as well as those times we spend in the valleys. We praise God for those times that we celebrate and we are thankful for God’s strength in times of grief and pain. But what about the rest of the time? What happens in those days of midweek work schedules, kid’s sports practice, cooking dinner, or loading the dishwasher? Where is God in those times? Why is it so hard to notice God’s working in those times?

I really think that it due to our run, run, run nature. We are so busy running from this place to the next, always looking for something new to do or experience. We don’t have the time to stop, even for a moment, and reflect of what is going on around us. I think that if we truly did that, we would see God in everything.

God doesn’t show up in just those big places and times, he’s even in the mundane things that we do every day. God is present in our conversation with the person who is taking our order for lunch. He is in that phone call with our parents or grandparents. God is present in that interruption during our incredibly busy day. But, if we don’t slow down, we will never notice it.

This past Saturday at our Focus Point Worship Service, I challenged those listening to take out their smart phones. These devices have the ability to set a daily alarm and this gives us a great chance to remind ourselves to take the time we need. So I will ask you the same thing. Set a daily alarm. You can make for anytime you want, whether it is 10:36, 3:42, or 8:56, set it for a certain time every day and when it goes off, stop whatever you are doing and reflect on the day. Look for places where you have witnessed God and maybe not realized it at the time. Do this for a week, a month, or forever, and see what kind of difference it makes in your life to know that God is not just in the big things, but he is also in every minute, even the boring, mundane things we just dredge through. God is on all things!

The Last Word

All-Saints-Sunday-SlideThis past weekend we celebrated All Saints Sunday. This is a special day where we name and celebrate those saints in our lives that have gone on to be with the Lord. But before we get there, we need to do a little reflecting on our own lives.

Someone recently encouraged me to watch a movie called ‘The Last Word.’ In this movie, Shirley McLain played a woman, Harriet Lawler, who was in control of her life, a little too much control. She was deeply concerned with how people were going to remember her, so she hired Anne, an obituary writer for the local paper to capture her life, to write her obituary before she died. I guess you could call that control. What she found out, surprised her. She found that no one, not a single person had anything nice to say about her. I remember some of their responses. “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Silence. “If she were dead, that would be nice.”

Watching this movie in conjunction with All Saints Sunday, pointed to a reflection on how people view each other’s lives. Was this life a worthy one, or maybe that one. I guess I began thinking about my own life and how I lived it. I thought about 1st Thessalonians 2:12, where Paul is talking about how he encouraged the people to “walk in a manner worthy of God.” Now, we should know what that means. We are called to live our lives to the glory of God, to proclaim with our words and actions, the love of God through Jesus Christ. We are to love our neighbor, help the poor, clothe the naked, and take care of the sick. This is a life worthy of God. But it is in times like these that we stop and take inventory of our lives. We begin to ask questions like; have I done all of that? Have I reached out and helped others, have I loved everyone? Did I stop and help that person the other day?

Although I find good reasons to reflect on the past, mainly so that I can learn from it. After you have done some reflecting on yours, I urge you not to dwell on it. It may not be the best that you can remember, but I’m reminded by a line from the movie. After Harriet was confronted with her past, she set out to change it. She realizes that her life has not been one that will be remembered, and she sets out to make it different. She says; “My life isn’t over yet.”

That’s good news. She has the ability to change it, and so do we. She wants to write a story before it’s over. Being the reasonable woman that she is, she decides to read hundreds of obituaries to find out what makes a really good life. She came up with four things. Now I have to say, that I don’t agree fully with the four things, so I will add a fifth for you.

  1. Loved by family
  2. Admired by coworkers
  3. Touched someone’s life unexpectedly
  4. Wild Card: Something different – with passion
  5. How did they live a life worthy of God? Using the gifts given?

Now, we have to admit, this is a basic list, but I think it covers much of our lives. Many of our experiences fall into one of these categories. So if you looked at this list, can you see how your life would measure up, not to others, but against this list? And if it doesn’t, if there is an area that you see can use some work, you can go out and choose to make it different.

Maybe you find yourself in a little bit of Harriet’s shoes, where you aren’t sure how your life will be remembered, or maybe you can relate to Anne’s character who just doesn’t know what her purpose is in the world. She is afraid to step outside of her comfort zone. She is metaphorically ‘dead’ in her job as an obituary writer because she is afraid of what other people will think of her, and of her ‘other’ writing.

She is afraid to make her ‘mark’ on the world, she’s afraid to live. But these two learn something together, they each teach each other something. And this something is spoken by a 9-year-old at risk child, Brenda. She tells them, “You gotta be something, God put you into the world so you could be something.” So, let me tell you the same thing this morning. God put you into this world so you could be something. Not just anything, but who God designed you to be.

Life is full of risks. The question is, are you willing to take a risk to do something great? Are you willing to lay aside all of your fears and self-doubt, in order to reach the goals that God has set for you? Like Harriet Lauler, your life is not over yet, your obituary has not been written. You have so much left to do here, in this church, in this community, and in this world. What do you want it to say about you when people look back over your life and remember you?