Saturday, December 27, 2008

that was the week that was...

Is this how you remember Christmas?

Let's see--special worship services, kid's rehearsals, banquets, parties, gift-shopping, gift exchanges, gift returns, travel, cooking, wrapping, relatives...???

None of those things in and of themselves are bad, but the cumulative effect can be overwhelming. A purposeful and intentional management of time and a careful refocusing of attnenion on what truly matters helps...but the incessant expectations of the season are hard to ignore.

We traveled to San Luis Obispo to visit Bev's two sons and eight of our eleven grandchildren. Unfortunately, three of the four adults were sick and several of the children were fighting bad colds. I think a little viral breeze was in the air as well.

We managed to work between the two households, loved the grandchildren, carried the baby around (I think that's where I caught my cold),and generally enjoyed our quick trip. Bev's son who is a pastor is just coming out of a busy season and Bev's other son who is a small business owner is trying to manage the challenges of a diminishing economy. All in all, it was fast and fun time to be with family. We went to bed the final night both nursing sore throats and several days later Bev is still sick in bed with whatever she caught for Christmas.

We sandwiched in a long day at Stockton with my family--dinner, gift exchange, movie and a meaningful tiem of sharing together. Both my sister (broken arm) and brother (diabetes) are nursing fairly serious injuries so there was a shadow of concern that enevloped our time together.

So it is two days after Christmas. I resisted the temptation to take down the tree and box up the decorations (I did pack away the Christmas cd's which we have recyclced too many times). I want to savor the seaosn for a few more days and not get lost in "the week that was".

After all, this season represents more than a day, more than a week--it points to a pivotal day in history that potentially affects every other day and week we live.

I think I'll return to my easy chair and look at the Christmas lights one more time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

family dysfunction

I saw a holiday movie yesterday that mirrored a family's dysfunction. Elongaged sibling rivalry, marital infidelity, parental favortism, racial slurring, gang violence, intercity economics, broken relationships, war's scarring--all of these themes, and more, were molded into a ghraphic of a family out of sync. In the end, the underlying commitment of family members to one another, and a father's love for all of his family, resonate loudly in extolling the virtues of family love triumphing over family dysfunction.

I suppose all of our families have their own nuances of what others might perceive to be veiled neuroticism. There are family favorites ("She's the one who got the most attention!"), family secrets ("My parents always yelled at each other...and later made was disgusting!"), family phrases ("If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times...", family traits ("We like our fried food salted") and even family fashions ("All the men like to go without socks"), etc.

The holidays tend to bring us all together, and if these special occasions are left unguarded, tend to expose all of our family dysfunctions in living color. So what can we do about that before Uncle Ted and his six "wild" children arirve for Christmas Eve dinner?

1. Be purposely thankful for family; though imperfect, they are the only family we have.

2. Be passively forgetful about past unresolved family issues; allow kindness and forgiveness to rule the day.

3. Be positively hopeful that the holidays will provide new opportunities for trulyenjoying your...dysfunctional family.

After all, you are part of that family.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The light of the world...?

2008 may have left many of us speechless. Faced with a hugely divisive national election, the virtual “collapse” of the stock market, the plundering of individual savings and retirement accounts, the burgeoning unemployment rates, the financial bailout of banks and automobile companies…is it any wonder we are out of breath? And what can we say that accurately reflects our sense of justifiable concern and even outrage?

In the midst of such turbulence and turmoil stands the church. That may sound a bit dramatic but I see it as significant. I think of the words of Jesus to His disciples when He informed them, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand and gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16 NIV

People around us our floundering. Having placed their confidence in the stuff of this world, the foundation has literally been ripped away from under their fragile feet. The church, I believe, has an accelerated opportunity to be a voice for hope and a vehicle of help in these almost desperate times. It is a time to speak up—not a time to be speechless.

In the month of January we will be challenging you with this verse, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Matthew 16:26 NIV
Our topic, “Christianity: Finding a Faith that Works-Living a Life that Matters”, will be covered with four specific challenging messages—“Radical Faith”, “Revolutionary Mindset”, “Resurgent Living” and “Reckless Abandon”. Coupled with these will be our annual Gifts Fair on January 21st and our annual Day of Celebration on Sunday, January 25th, concluding with a potluck fellowship following our morning worship together. You won’t want to miss any of these special services…mark your calendars today!

How will we respond to the opportunities of 2009? What do we as believers have to say? What light do we have to shed in a world darkened by unmet needs and failed expectations? We can turn inward and concentrate on the immediate needs of “keeping the lights on”—not an unimportant task—or, we can “turn the lights on” and carry that light into our community, our places of work, our families, our sphere of influence. And we do that, I believe, in part when we do “good deeds” or, things that lift up Christ-- pointing men to Him—and they are led to give praise to our “Father in heaven”.

These are days to look up and reach out. These are days to speak up and shout out the message of hope in Christ. The gospel is “good news”, something not found in the front pages of our newspapers nor heard from our television pundits who share the tragic stories each week of human failure. The “good news” helps us lift our eyes away from the deceitful promises and the disappointing products of our dependence upon ourselves. It forces us to turn to the light of the truth of God’s word and a life of fulfillment we can experience in Christ, even when our world is diminished and darkened by evil.

2009 is here. What shall we say? What shall we do? Let’s stand together, like a city on a hill that cannot be hidden or ignored. Let’s carry the light of His Word and the message of transformed lives into a world that is watching…and waiting for the church to speak up and live out its faith consistently.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The grid and grit of human relatrionships

"Why can't we just all get along?"

That thought has more than once echoed in the corridors of my heart as I have sought to mediate relational problems. In my own life, I have had to take a close look at the part of me that exacerbates conflict and I have had to ask myself, "What value is there in insisting on being right in this situation?" More often than not, therein lies the fertile ground of division--my need to be right, or my "rights"!

It seems in recent weeks I have observed a proliferation of relationship issues; perhaps it is the season. Families come together and long-term issues, often ignored, are reignited. It is also a time when people are inordinately stressed--shopping, spending, special events, etc. The combination of all of these factors--and the predictable unpredictability of human emotions coupled with pride--creates a distasteful recipe for conflict.

How do we move through the grid of difficult human relationships? How do we deal with the grit of hurt feelings and unresolved conflict? There are, obviously, no magical formulas that can catapult us to the instant euphoria of peace, but there are some things we can individually determine for ourselves to "as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone", Romans 12:19.

Here is a list of questions I have formulated for myself in assessing difficult relationships, or, as Joyce Landorf identifies them in her book, relationships with "irregular people".

What can I own that belongs to me that has contributed to the the tension? What have I done to deal with the part of my responsibility I have owned?

If I have not done that, am I willing to take the first step to acknowledge my part and to ask forgiveness of the one I may have offended?

If I have dealt with my responsibility appropriately, what part of what is unresolved can I relinquish? Can I release my feelings regarding this without ownership of responsibility on the other person's part?

If I am stuck here, can I set boundaries for myself that will redefine the relationship on terms that allow for my willingness to forgive and "move on" while at the same time protect me from further hurt from someone who "just doesn't get it"?

God's grace is the defining enabler in situations where resolution seems impossible. "Be kind and compassionate one to another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). This scriptural admonition includes the "each other", and implies reciprocity or mutual participation. Take the first step by obeying God, and, then, relinquish the rest of it to God. Do not make your healing dependent upon the "adversarial" party's response, and be held hostage there.

Rid of the grit of your own anger and hostility you are now free to move through the grid of relational difficulty and to find a place of personal peace--even if that "irregular person" has not responded as you hoped.

The Christmas season can be a time when you extend a gift that may not be returned, but you will be blessed, and others potentially as well, "because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!" II Coriunthians 9:14.

Monday, December 01, 2008


I recently had my annual eye check--thirty months actually--and was relieved to find I had no glaucoma or signs of diabetes-related eye disease.

Close inspection revealed a cataract forming on my right eye, but my left eye was almost 20/20. Between the two eyes and the resultant correction--one sees better at a far distance and another up close..what's with that?)--I can merge the two and see pretty well. I have about 2-3 years before the cataract has to be dealt with, and I am more than willing to wait.

I have trouble in the morning focusing. Either the sleep in my eyes has sealed them, when I have slept well, or, the morning light is almost blinding, when I have tossed and turned all night. The eyes, I am discovering, are a sensitive commodity, and they deserve my care and attention.

The new glasses are bifocals and require a downward look when I read and an upward posture when I am looking ahead. Sometimes I get confused and the resultant fogginess and stumbling make me feel like I am in the advanced stages of "senioritis". When I steady my focus--as prescribed by my vision correction--I get around fine.

I think I need new glasses for the new year. All too often my perception of things up close gets "fogged" because I look through the lens of long distance and think, "It's never going to change". On the other hand, occasionally I take a look at the long-term through my up-close lens and I mutter to myself, "This process will be too painful".

Once in awhile I get it right. I take a look at the short-term through the right lens and I can see the value in the process in which I am engaged. Occasionally, as well, I peer anxiously at the long term and realize that meaningful change does not happen overnight, and I draw a deep breath and thinking about ebjoying the ride.

Christmas is coming; I'll take a new pair of glasses!