Friday, December 14, 2007

Illuminating the Good News

I'm in the process of cleaning out my Yahoo!Mail inbox, an annual ritual. Fortunately, I only have 670 or so e-mails to rummage through this year, down from the more than 1,200 I went through last year. It may seem like a mundane task, but I actually enjoy reading old correspondence from family and friends. And occasionally I even run across a forgotten jewel, like the e-mail I sent to some family and close friends back in May 2005:


Have you ever wondered how Jesus was able to pare down
the entire Law of Moses to two all-encompasing
commands? Read Deuteronomy 30. Just the headings in
the NIV say a lot about the message, "Prosperity After
Turning to the Lord" and "The Offer of Life and
Death."

What I got from reading this chapter tonight is that
the law was ALWAYS about loving God, turning to Him
and relying on Him only. Legalistic people will try
and persuade you otherwise. They want to focus on the
"if you obey" parts instead of "the Lord your God
will" parts. Legalistic people always want to make it
about themselves instead of about God.

In verse six, it says the Lord will "circumcise your
hearts...so that you may love him...and live." The
whole point of the Law of Moses and the Gospel of
Jesus is to give life. Does that mean some mystical,
hereafter existence in a place called heaven? Look at
verse 20.

The very last line of the chapter makes it clear that
God will "give you many years in the land he swore to
give your fathers." In other words, the life will be
given here on earth. Its not just for the mysterious
hereafter.

When Jesus says he came to fulfill the Law, that means
he came to make that life possible for everyone, not
just a chosen few. He says that life is attainable if
we'll just love God with our whole being and love
others as ourselves.

I've been guilty for most of my adult life of looking
back on the Old Testament through legalistic eyes. I
thought it was the obedience that brought life, not
the grace of God. I also saw the New Testament through
legalistic eyes, thinking it was a "Sinless Life for
Dummies" guide. Now I understand differently.

If God is one who "gives grace to the humble," (Prov.
3:34) then he certainly must be looking for humble
people who will turn to him with all their being. That
has never changed. Deuteronomy exposes that truth as
the heart of the law. Jesus confirms it.

Grace means life, for the Jew and for the Gentile.
God's offer to humankind has always been abundant
life, in the Old Testament and the New. It comes
through relationship, not legalism, so choose life.
Love God and love others. Embrace the relational
Jesus, not some dead religion.

That e-mail must have lead my May 31, 2005 blog post, titled One Commandment. These are truths I still cling to even though I may not show it all too often. They are great reminders to me that love and humility are still key ingredients to my faith and core values to
which I should keep in the forefront of my mind. They should effect my actions more frequently.

With this being the season that focuses on the Incarnation, I thought it appropriate to once again reflect on the core message of the Gospel. The Good News is that God is Love and that love became flesh. May the Good News illuminate you this holiday season.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Commercialization of Christianity, not just Christmas

During the holidays, American consumerism reaches fever pitch as everyone rushes out to buy festively-wrapped goods. Do you think the wise men are to blame for “Black Friday?” People clamor over the latest toys and electronics for their kids, even succumbing to fisticuffs in the heat of the holiday rush. Can you imagine Mary and Joseph duking it out with patrons at the Bethlehem Inn for a place to stay??

The conquest of Christmas by consumerism is certainly not a new wave fad. Its an age old fashion in the United States. And sadly it is the by-product of the commercialization of Christianity, not just Christmas.

Just look at the state of the American church what with grand cathedrals called mega churches, home to bookstores, coffee shops, escalators and ATMs. Sorta sounds like a shopping mall, doesn’t it? There are books, DVDs, compact discs, artwork, Bibles, study guides and more available for a hefty profit…all to benefit “the ministry.” Take a second look at the lavish lifestyles of the new American pastor/CEO. I won’t delve into the scandalous Congressional inquiry of these ministers, as I think Columnist John Whitehead summed it up quite well in his recent commentary.

How did we let Christianity in America become so commercialized? There’s not a marketing solution to the problem of sin in the world. There’s just you and me, The Church.

So next time you want to rant about the commercialization of Christmas, take a look in your own church first. Has it become so “seeker sensitive” and introverted that it’s lost its missional focus? Do the people come first or the programs? And what are you doing to change it?

I don’t intend this blog entry to be a total rant, so I’ve included links below to some solutions to help combat the consumeristic approach to the holiday:

Unplugging Christmas

The Buy Nothing Movement

Help Others

Also, I found this guy’s blog an interesting take coming from a Jewish perspective.

The "me-first pandemic" has infected the church, so it is no wonder that Santa and the almighty dollar have replaced the Christ child and the true spirit of giving (i.e. putting others first). Heck, it's hard enough to find Christ or his greatest commandment at the center of what's become American Christianity over the last two centuries. Not to bah-humbug your holidays or rain on your Christmas parade, but think about this next time you're standing in a long line at 5 a.m. outside Wal-Mart or waiting with debit card in hand for your pre-liturgy latte'.

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