Archives For christmas

House of Cards

December 17, 2010 — 2 Comments

Sometimes I feel like my ministry has the stability of a house built of playing cards. As if the slightest unexpected movement might knock the whole thing down.

I can have a great night planned for youth group and then a few disruptive students kill the mood of a small group. Next thing I know, my plans for an awesome discussion are co-opted by a loudmouthed 16 year old. I can envision an amazing camp or retreat experience, and then I find that we don’t quite have the budget to do all I hoped to do. Late at night, ten days before I’m preaching, I’ll discover a great idea for the structure of my sermon. Then, somehow, my week will become so busy that I don’t end up writing the sermon until Saturday night.

During this last week I felt like I was going to have another one of those moments where the cards were going to crash down.

Our high school youth group has been sponsoring two families during this Christmas season to provide presents for each of them. Both families have single mothers and two young children. Both families are facing extreme financial difficulties. It was up to our youth group to provide the presents for these families during Christmas time or they would have almost nothing to give one another.

During the first time that I announce this opportunity at youth group, the students are barely even paying attention to me. There are multiple conversations going on and despite my efforts to quiet them down, I know that very few people are actually paying attention to what I have to say.

The weeks pass by and we don’t receive too many presents from students. I know that we are getting closer and closer to the delivery date while our pile of presents remains the same. “This is going to be an embarrassment,” I tell myself.

One week before we are scheduled to deliver the Christmas presents we finally start getting more presents to give each family. Around this time, I receive a phone call from the program director who chose the families that one family won’t be able to receive our presents on the scheduled day because the mother has medical issues and needs surgery.

I am sad to admit that my first thoughts are not about the mother, but instead are about the changing logistics of my youth group plans.

“Lord, all I’m trying to do is provide an opportunity for our students to experience serving others. I’m trying to show them about following your command in Isaiah 1 to care for the fatherless. Why won’t this just work out?” I pray.

24 hours before we are scheduled to leave, I receive a phone call from the mother who we still are planning to visit and she tells me that she won’t be home when we deliver the presents, but her daughters and their grandmother will be.

Can this event get any worse?

I check the weather forecast for Wednesday night, and during the same hours of youth group there’s a 70% chance of snow showers everywhere. To quote Han Solo from Star Wars Episode 4, “It’s worse.”

The house of cards called my ministry feels very unstable at this point.

The Wednesday night finally arrives and I’m nervous because I have to inform the students that we’ll only be visiting one family instead of two. I don’t know if they will bring any more presents or if what they do bring will be wrapped. I don’t even know if many students will come since our only agenda for the night is getting the presents ready and delivering them.

I’m already emotionally preparing myself for a letdown.

Apparently, God had something else in mind.

By the time we get started over 30 students had shown up, many of them with wrapped presents in their hands. I could see the excitement on the students’ faces for what we were about to do. After we discuss some Bible verses that show us why we are called to provide for others, we got all the presents together and piled in our church vans.

There was no snow yet as we drove about 25 minutes to the family’s house. Pulling up to their yard, one of the two girls, who was four years old, was peeking out the window at us. I could hear how excited our students were getting behind me in the van.

Congregating near the front porch, the family invited us in their living room. All 34 of us filled their living room to the brim as we brought the presents in. There were so many gifts that they completely surrounded the girls. We let each of them open three gifts then and they were to save the rest for Christmas.

Our students were awe-struck as they watched these girls open their presents. The students loved getting to see a tangible impact in others because of their own actions. They caught a glimpse of what following Christ’s calling can look like.

On the way back to church the students were elated and they couldn’t wait to do that again with our second family when they are able to receive our presents.

One of my favorite memories was when the youngest girl opened her Adventure Bible that our Christian Education Director had provided. I felt so blessed to be a part of this entire experience. I was surrounded by my high school students who spent their own money to purchase really nice Christmas presents for people they had never met. Parents and grandparents of these students, and other adults in the church had also contributed many items. 8th grade Confirmation students wrapped many of the presents. Representatives from our whole church body had been involved in ministering to this family.

Seeing the young girl receive the Bible was when I got to see the everlasting impact our church was having. That moment made all those times of doubt and frustration worth it.

Now, I know that we are called to provide for people in need throughout our whole lives and even when we don’t get to see the fruits of our labors. I know that our Christian faith calls us to action not just once a year through an Adopt A Family program.

And that is the best part of the story. While driving in the church vans, students were asking me about our plans for 2011, and they got more excited about the mission trips than anything else. They were beginning to see that Christ calls us to mission throughout our lives too.

Reflecting upon all of this at home that night, I thought about my house of cards. I noticed that it was still standing. I began to wonder if maybe it’s a good thing that I have a tentative grasp of ministry. Maybe it forces me to depend on God to provide the real foundation for my ministry instead of myself. Maybe I shouldn’t strive to be in control because then I leave no room for God to show up and do mighty things.

But it sure can be scary to live that way!

First Love

December 11, 2010 — 1 Comment

Our church is going through a series for our evening Advent services on Sundays. The consistent theme through each week is Christmas movies. The other pastors and I sat down and selected some of our favorite Christmas movies.

I chose Home Alone.

Some of you might be wondering why on earth I would choose Home Alone out of the plethora of excellent Christmas movies available. In my defense, I’ve always been partial to the movie because Macaulay Culkin is just a few years older than me, and I thought that he always got to do cool stuff in the movie. Besides, John Williams composed the score. Need I say more?

In watching the movie for our Advent series, one scene particularly stood out to me. During the first twenty minutes of the movie we see the McCallister family preparing to leave on a family trip to France right before Christmas. Now when I say “McCallister family” I mean the whole McCallister family – aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, and parents. The house is full the night before their departure.

It’s a crazy scene where rooms are crowded, pop gets spilled, messes are made, and siblings fight. Young Kevin, played by Macaulay Culkin, is sent to the attic to think about the trouble he has caused throughout the evening.

Adding to the chaos, the power goes out in the middle of the night and the family wakes up late. They all rush to the airport as quickly as possible, running to the gate. Relieved to find that they haven’t missed the plane, the McCallister parents settle down in their seats, ready for a nice family vacation.

But they forgot one little detail.

Kevin is still in the attic of the McCallister house… and now he’s home alone.

As a random side note, I have to observe that this movie is very dated because if this scenario happened today, everybody in the family would have a cell phone, and the minute Kevin’s parents realized he was still at home, they could have called a friend and had them come look after Kevin. But cell phones weren’t really around in 1990 so that’s why we have Home Alone, and Home Alone 2 for that matter. Home Alone 3 and 4 should not exist for a multitude of reasons, though…

When I think of the season of Advent, I am reminded of the beginning of Home Alone. Without fail, Advent always hits me by surprise. During November I’m usually thinking about my Thanksgiving plans, bemoaning the fact that I already see Christmas decorations in stores, and usually I’m pretty busy with tons of fall activities and programs. Thanksgiving comes, I enjoy a bit of a break for a while, and next thing I know, the first day of Advent is that coming Sunday.

To be honest, most of my thoughts are about either how the weather is already so cold, or how happy I am that the weather is still nice. I might also be stressing about what to get for Christmas presents for my family, and how hard it is having two families to think about now. Usually I’m adding more things to my Amazon wishlist and planning out how I will spend my anticipated Christmas money. While putting up Christmas lights I’m usually muttering that I wouldn’t have to be on a freezing roof with arctic wind gusts blasting my face if I were in California for Christmas.

With all of those possible thoughts and plans, I can safely say that I usually am not thinking about Advent. My mind is racing all over the place and it never stops to consider Advent.

And this is exactly how Kevin gets left home alone.

His parents get so caught up in all the little details of getting their family to the airport that they forget one of the biggest details of all – their son. There ware so many things that need to get done, that are screaming for their attention that they forget to be attentive to one of their own kids.

I am reminded of a famous passage in the Book of Revelation, that contains a letter from Jesus to the Christian church in Ephesus. This church is a very active church in a cosmopolitan city. The Ephesians have been very diligent in looking for false prophets and discerning the truth from falsehood. However, in their constant action, they have forgotten something. Jesus says in Revelation 2:4, “You have forsaken your first love.” The church in Ephesus has lost its first love, its love for Christ and its love for each other. These Christians have been so caught up in what they were doing that they have forgetting for whom they are doing it all.

During the season of Advent, I can feel just like Kevin’s parents and just like the Ephesian Christians. We have extra church services, extra giving projects, children’s programs, musicals, Christmas shopping, Christmas decorating, and bad weather all rolled up into one month. And the list could go on. For some of us we also face difficult family issues or unmet expectations as we gather together with loved ones.

As we face all of this, we often forsake our first love. We frequently forget why we are doing all of this in the first place. In response to this loss, Jesus gives us three short suggestions in the following verse – remember, repent, and do.

The first step is to remember our first love, to remember the reason we celebrate Christmas, to remember who Jesus is and what he’s done for us. Hopefully, as we remember what Jesus has done for us, we will be moved to repent, to let our hearts be transformed into something new. Only after we’ve had a change of heart can we go out and do something about it. Jesus calls us to live differently because of the love he shows us.

So here’s my challenge for us: In the midst of all the craziness we face during Advent, let’s remember our first love. Let’s seek out Jesus in some intentional ways. This might look different for each of us. That’s ok. Here are some suggestions for remembering our first love.

Spend time each day reading through one of the Gospels during Advent.

Devote 10 minutes a day to writing your prayers in a journal.

Go to a worship service that you might not normally go to.

Participate in a program that enables you to give to others in ways you normally don’t.

Practice tithing if that is something you usually don’t do.

Try setting aside an activity that takes up a lot of your time like watching TV, or reading a particular magazine.

Maybe even consider temporarily giving up something that is good so that you can have more time to reflect on Jesus’ presence in your life. Maybe stop going to one of your activities at church and spend that time with your family or in God’s word.

Wherever you are in your faith, ask God to show you how you can be intentional this season in getting to know Jesus. For some of us it might mean adding something new, and for others it might mean stripping familiar things away.

So let’s hear it. What helps you remember Jesus, your first love, in this time of Advent?