Christmas in July (focus)

In only a few short months, Christmas decorations will hit store shelves and the countdown to December 25th will commence.

NOW is the time to decide how you will celebrate the birth of Jesus in 2013!

Each of us has a history when it comes to the holidays. Much of what we have come to expect or require comes from what others have expected and required throughout the years.

Of course, we can continue to perpetuate cycles that are grounded in someone else’s idea of what makes for a meaningful Christmas… or we can build momentum toward authenticity by simply shifting our focus from tradition to expression.

Expression of our love for the God who could not stay away.

Expression of our growth in the ways of the Kingdom.

Expression of appreciation for those whose lives we are tethered to.

Expression of the child’s heart residing in these aging bodies.

Don’t get me wrong – tradition isn’t the enemy. But tradition can be a bully if we choose not to keep it in check.

This year, why not choose your focus instead of defaulting to an old one?

Ask yourself what word, phrase or question matters most to you – then use it to guide your holiday decision-making over the next six months. Perhaps these questions will help you in the process of finding your Christmas focus:

  • What is my fondest Christmas memory? Who was there? What made this time special?
  • What do I look forward to most when I think about Christmas?
  • From this vantage point – six months out – what one thing matters most to me about this particular Christmas?
  • When I – and my loved ones – look back on Christmas 2013, what word(s) do I hope will come to mind?

Compile your words. Consider the connections. Ask God to show you how the celebration of His birth can bring something new to life in you. Through you. Then sum it up as succinctly as you can.

That’s it for today… Choose your focus!

It may sound ridiculously simple, but it just might be the beginning of a very beautiful thing.

 

And You Are Loved III

 

 

 

Hoop Jumping L4L.02

Hoop jumping

Image by Oliphant via FlickrThe WORD

The WORD

“Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem. They asked him, “Why don’t your followers obey the unwritten laws which have been handed down to us? They don’t wash their hands before they eat.”

Jesus answered, “And why do you refuse to obey God’s command so that you can follow your own teachings? God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Anyone who says cruel things to his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say a person can tell his father or mother, ‘I have something I could use to help you, but I have given it to God already.’ You teach that person not to honor his father or his mother. You rejected what God said for the sake of your own rules.

You are hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he said about you: ‘These people show honor to me with words, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is worthless. The things they teach are nothing but human rules.’” Matthew 15:1-9 (New Century Version)

Remember that one of the disciplines we’re working to develop during Lent is listeninglistening to JESUS as He speaks into our lives from His Word. Go ahead – read it again (feel free to read it from your favorite translation – here’s a link to many different versions if you’d like to give a new one a try: Matthew 15:1 at Blue Letter Bible).

Initially, I thought we’d just ease our way into Jesus’ world, Jesus’ thoughts and Jesus’ agendas. Start with the easy stuff and progressively get to His more challenging teachings, maybe as we get closer to Easter. Break ourselves in slowly. But, good grief! There IS NO ‘EASY’ when it comes to what Jesus had to say! These are fighting words spoken to the keepers of the Law. Fighting words that could get a prophet killed; the Messiah crucified.

Jesus has, in these few sentences, accused the leaders of the church of passing off their ‘traditions’ as Gospel. The Jewish hand washing rituals that were spoken of by the Pharisees and Law teachers were not something that God had taught them to do. Jesus says that they are teaching man-made ideas as commands from God, passing off their rituals as God’s ways. This was an especially brazen act in Jesus’ day, when the average Jewish devotee did not have his/her own copy of the Holy Scriptures. What Jesus is saying is that the leaders of the church were taking advantage of the people, furthering their own agendas by failing to distinguish them from the actual teachings contained in the Word of God.

The horror! No wonder Jesus called them hypocrites – a word that meant ‘actor’ or ‘pretender.’ ‘Poser’ is what we might say today. People whose perceived authority enables them to misuse their power, mislead the innocent and make it harder than necessary to walk in the ways of our God.

Amazing. That NEVER HAPPENS TODAY! (?)

The APP

A lot of us know a lot about the Bible. A lot of us have read much of the Bible for ourselves over the years. But a lot of us have not, and we’re taking for granted the sincerity of our faith-leaders when we base our belief and understanding of God on their say-so; on second-hand information.

The APP for today isn’t easy. (Neither was yesterday’s, by the way.) In order to apply these words of Jesus to our own lives, we have to be ready to make it personal. By that, I mean that we have to be ready to study God’s Word for ourselves, taking responsibility for what we’re learning.

The modern day church has created – perhaps inadvertently – a generation of couch potato Christians. Worshippers who are really just groupies, looking for the best show on Sunday morning. Followers who are out to have their ‘ears tickled’ by teachers and leaders who are still passing off their traditions and agendas as Gospel truth.

Much of today’s church, like the church at the time of Jesus, requires a whole lot of hoop jumping that is not biblical, and many of us are so entrenched that we aren’t even aware that such a thing is going on.

This isn’t right. Jesus said so.

To take this text literally, I believe we’re being called to ask the burning questions that are already floating to the surface as the Spirit stirs the pot…

Why do we do (this) in our worship?

What are the roots of our faith practices and traditions? Are they scriptural?

If something feels heavy and burdensome, isn’t that a clue that someone other than God is putting that thing on me?

I don’t know about you, but I sure want to be able to tell the difference between God’s ways and His best for me and the hoop jumping that goes on when we buy into the hidden (and not-so-hidden) agendas of those whose traditions are more sacred than the Word itself. This is not to say that all church leaders and teachers are like the hypocritical Pharisees and Law-keepers that Jesus refers to – there are beautiful shepherd-leaders and Spirit-filled teachers in every denomination and non-denomination today. But how will we know that what we’re being taught by others is a sincere, Spirit-led interpretation of the Word if we don’t compare what we’re hearing to the Word itself?

Today’s APP could be aptly titled: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. And Read the Bible. And Know What It Says.

Some of us have been spiritually bullied long enough. We’re tired of jumping through hoops of tradition, empty ritual and shallow words.

Today, pick up your Bible.

Pick up your Bible, and READ.

And this weekend, READ and REST. I’ll see you back here on Monday, as we continue to experiment with being Literal 4 Lent.

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