Friday, November 30, 2012

What to get Jesus for Christmas?

Just coming off of a blessed Thanksgiving holiday and launching headlong into the Advent season can leave a preacher a little breathless. You may be feeling the same way. 

The season of Advent, that scurrying, hurrying, flurrying time that comes in the days leading up to Christmas can put even to most sedate and calm person into panic mode as we try to get the many things done that we always do during this time of year.

Since it is the season in which we celebrate the birth of God’s only son, it seems fitting to not only think about a gift, but really try to give that gift to him. So, it begs the question, what would Jesus like to have for his birthday?

Hum…we give him a lot of things. Christmas parties, special visits to folks where we deliver a song and a Merry Christmas wish, cute plays acted out by equally cute children, big, loud, festive parades, concerts of sacred music, special performances with hand bells, piano, organ and chimes, and last but certainly not least, we buy gifts for each other. We do all this and much more for Jesus on his birthday.

Though I know that Jesus appreciates all that we do in celebration of his birth, I wonder…are these things really what Jesus wants for his birthday. I read a comment this week from a colleague of mine who was wondering the same thing. His idea of a perfect gift for the King of kings was that we take a little time and spend it just hanging out with the Lord of lords. I believe that my friend is on to something here.
What would it look like to just hang out with Emmanuel during this most busy time of year? How about a trip to see the Holy One at the soup kitchen? I’m told he likes to eat there nearly every day. Or maybe we might talk to the Christ child as we listen to Christmas carols all by ourselves in the quiet of the house after everyone has gone to bed. I’ve also heard it said that Jesus lives in the pages of his life’s story found in the Scriptures. We could join Savior of the world there. And I know that during the wee hours of the night, Mary’s sweet Jesus is always there to sit with me as my lonely heart struggles to pray.

Whatever we decide to do this year to honor Jesus’ birthday, may we try to remember that it is our self that Jesus most wants. He wants us. For some crazy reason, he loves us. The love is greater than anything we can even imagine. So to hear from us in the quiet of an evening, morning or mid-day will be exactly what pleases the Lord Jesus on his birthday.

So I say…if that is what he wants, I’m going to try to give Jesus exactly that. I will give Jesus me for Christmas. What will you give him?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Staycation

Brothers and sisters, I urge you, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggles in your prayers to God for me... Also, pray that my service for Jerusalem will be acceptable to God’s that I can come to you with joy by God’s will and be reenergized with your company.  May the God of peace be with you all. Amen. (paraphrase from Rom 15: 30-33 CEV).

Greetings from Morganton, NC
I know. I know. Preachers only work on Sundays. So why do they need a vacation? Well, since you asked, I'll tell you.  No, really, let me explain.
This past week I have enjoyed a Staycation. I stayed at home in Morganton where Ed and I have our "non-parsonage" house.  And I have to say, I needed every minute of that Staycation.  I did the typical things you do on vacation, visited local attractions: the Mitsubishi dealership service department (twice), Target, TJ Maxx, Best Buy and various thrift stores. Went to the movies every night. I ate out and cooked in. I went to bed early and stayed up late, and slept as long as I wanted to. In other words, I relaxed and rested.
People who work in church ministry can attest to the non-Sunday rigors of pastoral life. Though we may not be needed, pastors are on call 24/7.  You may not believe that a preacher is willing to drop everything at a moment's notice to attend to someone. You may not get that a pastor's mind and heart is on his or her parish 24/7. But 90% of the time you would be wrong. Most pastors that I know never stop thinking about, waiting on, or praying for the individuals of their "flock."
Pastors are called to be present for God's people. They carry the concern for the state of the people's spiritual health. Pastors hold sacred the reality of life, death, hell and the grave for the people they serve. The burden for others rarely leaves a woman or man who has been called to be a shepherd of God's people.

I, along with anybody who accepts God's call into pastoral ministry, live for the moment when I know that persons under my sphere of responsibility are at one with God; that they are okay spiritually; that they are at peace with God; that they know where they are going when they die; that they live fearlessly in the light of God's grace. Trouble is, we pastors only rarely get to experience that moment.

We do catch glimpses of its possibility, in worship, in times of fellowship, in ministries of outreach, in occasions of learning, and in moments of prayer. But know? for sure?...well, that is what we think about and pray about 27/7. That kind of attention, holding so many in one's heart and mind, believe it or not, wears a person down. It wears a person out. It can even make a person wonder if they have been truly called to such a life in the first place.
So from time to time, a preacher needs to be re-created, to be re-freshed, to be re-called. I am so thankful for my time away this week. I am thankful that God has been able to touch me once again and recreate, refresh, and recall me. I am also thankful that God trusts me enough to allow me to carry the seeds of the gospel; that God trusts that I have a heart worthy of carrying a pastoral love for God's people. That is the story of my staycation, and I'm sticking with it.