Monday, December 28, 2009

Day of Money Changers (Counters) in the Temple

Today is the day we “count” contributions from Christmas Eve and the Sunday following. It’s an important count as we consider our year-end budget needs. I’m not allowed to actually count (or even touch) the money (a good call for pastors) so I came in to make coffee and bring cake to the counters (and lunch for the money counting staff).

As they count dollars in the conference room I decided I should count the gifts that made Christmas Eve the loveliest night of the year. Among the gifts I will treasure are:

Beautiful music. Ben, Dave, Brian, Aaron and Jenna produced a most amazing evening of music ranging from a rock version of Joy to the World to a beautiful lullaby with a Children’s Choir ensemble joining our Chancel Choir. Cameron’s opening to the services with See Amid the Winter’s Snow was perfect! Jenna’s Tonight, Who Would Imagine a King and A Baby Changes Everything were amazing! Britany’s O Night Divine was the perfect punctuation to a series of incredible solos. And, at least for me, Brian’s arrangement of How Great Our Joy! makes it Christmas!

A poem written by a young girl from Mission of Yahweh. She so beautifully captured the Christmas story.

The wonder and joy on the faces of young children when we’d bring them up front during the candlelight singing of Silent Night.

Lighting the Advent Candles with Kim, Kelli, Jennifer and Jamie. With Kelli graduating college in May who knows where next Christmas Eve may find us all.

There was a moment almost each time I gave the message when the congregation got the words to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer wrong. It’s “one foggy Christmas Eve” not “one foggy Christmas night.” For some reason that made me smile each time it happened. It’s good to worship with “misfit toys.”

The Grace Staff. From communications to worship to accounting and facilities and childcare even the pastoral staff – the effort put into Christmas Eve reflected hearts of love for Jesus. It is such a blessing to be surrounded by such an amazing group of Christ followers.

On Christmas Eve we “opened a jar of perfume” and poured it out as our gift to celebrate the gift of a Savior. I can hardly wait to offer that gift to Him 57 more times in 2010.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Kingdom Challenge Answered

Earlier this fall we invited the congregation to take a Kingdom Challenge. The challenge was simple: trust God with your finances by giving more over ten weeks.

This morning I received a check (payable to Grace) attached to a Kingdom Challenge card and a note that reads:

This is for…
…the black purse I didn’t need
…the herringbone tweed halter vest I really didn’t want
…the printed metallic scarf I put back on the rack
…the shawl collar shirt that I didn’t order
…and a slew of other things, “stuff,” that I didn’t need.
Merry Christmas!

This has to be one of the very best notes (and checks) I’ve ever received. The memo line on the check reads: “Stuff I didn’t need!

I’m convinced that in letting go of what wasn’t needed this Kingdom Adventurer discovered the true treasures of contentment, trust and joy!

That makes for a very Merry Christmas!

The Island of Misfit Toys

As we head toward the loveliest night of the year (Christmas Eve) for some reason I’ve been unable to get the Island of Misfit Toys out of my head. The island “surfaced” in 1964 on what has become the longest continually running Christmas special, “Rudolph the Red–Nosed Reindeer.”

According to Wikipedia, The "Island of Misfit Toys" is an island sanctuary where defective and unwanted toys are sent. The island is ruled by King Moonracer - a winged lion. Among the citizens (castaways) are:

Spotted Elephant (also is the island's bellhop),

Bird Fish is a toy bird who swims instead of flies,

Misfit Cowboy who rides an ostrich,

Trainer, a train with square wheels on its caboose,

A toy boat that sinks rather than floats,

A squirt gun that shoots grape jelly,

An airplane that can't fly,

A bear that rides a bike, and

"A scooter for Jimmy."

There’s also a "Dolly for Sue" (as she calls herself) who by all appearances is a seemingly normal girl rag doll with red hair and a red gingham (checkered) dress. However in 2007 on NPR “Rudolph's” producer, Arthur Rankin, reveals that Dolly's problem was psychological, caused from being abandoned by her mistress and suffering depression from feeling unloved.

What a great reminder that beneath all of our carefully decorated and attired Christmas facades are a bunch of misfit toys. I’ve often thought that at times I serve the First Church of Misfit Toys led by a staff that shoots grape jelly.

The good news of Christmas is that God’s love makes room for misfit toys to welcomed to the family.

By the way, my favorite misfit is a jack-in-the-box named Charlie – which means he is actually a “Charlie-In-The-Box “ and as he laments, “Nobody wants a Charlie-in-the-box.”

God does and so do we. So I am praying that all the Charlies, Bird Fish, ostrich riding Cowboys and Dolls for Sue join us on Christmas Eve to celebrate good news of great joy for misfits like us.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Schindler's Struggle

In preparing for this weekend’s Advent Conspiracy message on Giving More I was reminded of the closing scene in the movie Schindler’s List. If you know the movie the basic storyline has Oskar Shindler rescuing Polish Jews from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. In the closing scene Schindler despairs that he could have done more. He laments:

I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don't know. If I'd just... I could have got more… If I'd made more money... I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I'd just... I didn't do enough! This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person. For this I could have gotten one more person... and I didn't! And I... I didn't!

In a sense Schindler’s struggle is one we face in ministry.

The cost of an orchestra for Christmas Eve could dig four wells in villages where people are dying from a lack of clean drinking water. The price of a drum riser would sponsor a Compassion Child for a year. The resources required to produce a Christmas CD could purchase 30 cows through Heifer International.

And yet orchestras and drum risers and Christmas CDs are good things – actually very good things.

The daily challenge is to live with a bit of tension as we steward God’s resources.

It’s an old tension.

When Mary poured out expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet Judas (admittedly with impure motives) criticized her:

Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor?

Yet Jesus’ praised her extravagance toward Him and we are told that the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Perhaps that’s the key to resolving the tension. Orchestras and drum risers and Christmas CD’s can fill the world with the fragrance of love for Jesus. So can digging wells and sponsoring children and giving cattle (which I believe to be a very Texan sort of way to give).

Perhaps this Christmas we can be bold enough to be generous toward one another and toward God.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rainy Tuesday Thoughts

It’s been a day (actually few days) when I’ve been reminded that the church (any church including this one) isn’t perfect – and neither are the church’s pastors, staff or members.

In those moments I’m reminded of words written by John Calvin (I don’t think I’ve every posted anything about Calvin even though he did turn 500 this year):

Since all men are somewhat beclouded with ignorance, either we must leave no church remaining, or we must condone delusion in those matters which can go unknown without harm to the sum of religion and without loss of salvation…

The church is holy, then, in the sense that it is daily advancing and is not yet perfect: it makes progress from day to day but has not yet reached it’s goal of holiness…

…neither the vices of the few nor the vices of the many in any way prevent us from professing our faith there in ceremonies ordained by God. For a godly conscience is not wounded by the unworthiness of another, whether pastor or layman; nor are the sacraments less pure and salutary for a holy and upright man because they are handled by unclean persons.

John Calvin, The Holy Catholic Church, IV.i.12, 17, 19

Perhaps Thomas Merton had similar thoughts on his mind when he wrote some of my favorite words for those of us called to ministry:

…the sacrifice that is demanded of adult Christian men and women: the realistic acceptance of imperfection and of deficiency in themselves, in others, and in their most cherished institutions.

They must face the truth of these imperfections, in order to see that the Church does not merely exist to do everything for them, to create a haven of peace and security for them, to sanctify them passively. On the contrary, it is now time for them to give to their community from their own heart’s blood and to participate actively and generously in all its struggles. It is time to sacrifice themselves for others who may no longer seem to be very worthy…

It takes great heroism to devote one’s life to others in a situation which is frustrating and unsatisfactory, and in which one’s sacrifice may even be, in large measure, wasted. But here above all, faith in God is necessary. He sees our sacrifice, and he will make it fruitful, even though in our own eyes there is nothing apparent but futility and frustration. When we accept this grace, our eyes are opened to see the real, unsuspected good in others, and to be truly grateful for our Christian vocation.

Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness