Christmas: It’s the most generous time of the year

Generosity is a beautiful thing.

And at Christmas, generosity shines brightly in the Creston Valley. Over the last few weeks, I’ve enjoyed a front-row seat to the stunning heart of my community as gifts were given, money was donated, time was offered and energy was expended, all in the name of sharing the joy of Christmas. Through the Creston Valley Ministerial Association Christmas Hamper program, over 400 families received a joyful boost of Christmas cheer–all of it bubbling up and overflowing from the generous hearts and hands of Creston’s amazing people, churches and businesses. And that’s not all–numerous other programs also received incredible generosity this time of year, alleviating burdens and elevating joy during a season that can be very difficult for many.

Wrapping gifts and offering soup — it’s all part of the Christmas Hamper tradition!

Seeing this generosity makes me thankful to be here, to be a member of this community and a pastor in this great valley. In a corner of the world known for its abundance, its people abundantly share.

At Christmas, generosity flows. Some might say it’s just a seasonal thing, when hearts are warmer than normal, or perhaps have grown a size or two throughout the year. Perhaps there’s something in the air during this time of little light, something that makes us want to give back–we who have received so much.

Young and old, everyone gets involved in spreading Christmas joy!

But I also think generosity comes more easily during a season when we celebrate the greatest act of generosity the world has ever known: when the Father sent his Son to make the world right again, overturning darkness with the dawning of light. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son”–not because he had to or was forced to or didn’t have any other choice, but because the Father, in his generous love, is a Giver, giving. Whether fully acknowledged or not, Christmas time is a celebration of the ultimate gift given, from the most generous being ever.

“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.” And into the world of darkness, generosity shone. And it continues to shine, year after year, day after day, season through cycling season.

An amazing army of ready volunteers fill the hampers each year.

So thank you, Creston. Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for being people of abundance who share abundantly. And thank you for giving in a way that reflects the generosity of our Creator and our Giver. Christmas is a most generous time of year–may you both give generously and receive generosity in the true spirit of Christmas this year, and may we all know the ultimate gift given, on that silent night, for the peace of this world and the good of all humankind.

 

We Need More Noticers

We need more noticers in the church.

“Noticers.”

The red squiggle is declaring this a new word . . . 🙂 so I’m breaking ground today. We need more noticers!

As a pastor, I am keenly aware of how much I miss–miss people, miss cues, miss opportunities, miss seeing who is right there in front of me. I miss people who desperately need to be noticed.

Oh, I don’t miss all the time (thankfully!). But still, I miss more than I catch. Which is okay. Why? Because I’m not supposed to catch everything.

We are. 

Become a noticer!
One of the things we admire about Sherlock is his uncanny ability to notice what everyone else fails to see. We can develop that ability, and together see much more!

That’s right–as the church, we need to be noticing what is often ignored. Which is why we need to be developing the spiritual gift of noticing as a community. Noticing the ignored, noticing the ones who are hurting, noticing the confused, the awkward, the numb. Noticing the new, the uninvited, the tentative.

To be people who catch more than miss, we need to turn up our commitment of notice. This spiritual gift must be employed whenever we gather as a church, as well as when we scatter into the community. It will make a huge difference in people’s lives.

I know that becoming a better noticer is challenging, so here’s a few suggestions to get us started.

In order to develop the spiritual gift of noticing, we need to:
  1. Ask God to give us his ability to notice what we normally miss, and the courage to respond to what he shows us. This really is a God-thing, and he will lead us to notice who he want us to see. We’ll find that he’s given us what we need to meet that person where they are at. Ask him.
  2. Slow down enough to see. You know how the faster we travel, the less we enjoy the scenery? The same is true here: The faster we move, the less we notice. We’ve got to slow ourselves down so that we can notice and respond to the people we would normally race past.
  3. Don’t just go to who we know. We all love our friends, and we gravitate toward those who are familiar and safe. I get it. But if we are to notice those no one else is seeing, we need to discipline ourselves to walk past our own comfort zones and into the unfamiliar and the new (and sometimes awkward!). In the context of a worship gathering, where someone could think you are ignoring them (!), talk about it with your friends–tell them that immediately following the benediction, you are going to focus on people who are on the fringes and are not being included, and that you will catch up with them later. They will understand! And hopefully they will join you in the challenge.
  4. Remember: You can’t notice everyone! Neither can I. But together, with God’s help, we can notice many more than we’ll miss–people who need to know God sees them, that they are loved, that they are welcomed and included and valued. More noticers = more noticed.

Are you up for the challenge? We need this more than ever–in our workplaces, schools, coffee shops and restaurants. We need this when we gather for worship and when we scatter for witness. The unnoticed are everywhere–but so are we!

Take action: This week, with God’s help, notice someone you would normally have missed. Ask the Spirit to give you guidance, and then do what he says. Pray for them, say hi, chat it up, serve them, just be chill–whatever seems right.  By noticing those we would normally have ignored, we’ll show and receive love in ways that really count.

Be noticers!

 

 

We gather AS the church, not AT the church.

  • Let’s meet at the church.
  • Welcome to the house of the Lord this morning.
  • Are you going to church this weekend?

What’s the problem with these three statements? The assumption that “church” is a location for gathering rather than the gathering itself.

The fact is, we never gather AT the church–we only gather AS the church. 

Let me confess something to you: I don’t like it when people call the church’s building “the house of God.” In fact, I despise it. I know–it’s an ole’ school way to refer to the church’s building, but by externalizing the “house” we lose something essential. The “house of God” is not made of brick or wood–it’s the people in which God lives by his Spirit. 

The actual house of God (the people) may own a building, or we may meet in a rented storefront.  The house of God may meet in a living room, or gather in a school gym. God’s house is mobile, gathering wherever we can fit.

Where we gather isn’t the point: that we gather is. Streaming in from our stressful weeks and our demanding work, often unfocused and frazzled, to re-connect with each other and worship Jesus together–that is what it means to gather as the church.

Where the Erickson Covenant Church gathers.
Is this a church? No, but it is where our church meets.

So go ahead and steward the church’s building, make beautiful and functional spaces, maximize the resources for the kingdom, honor the gifts given–but don’t make the mistake of referring to a location or a building or a space as “the church.” And furthermore, don’t let the physical space distract us from the real building God is concerned about–let’s make sure we are putting our biggest investment, our greatest concern, the bulk of our energy and priority on the actual house of God–the men and women and children in whom God lives and to whom God is calling us to go.

On Monday morning, Jesus-followers are out there, working and witnessing and serving in their communities, families, schools and work, loving others in the mix of life. And throughout the week, Jesus-followers look forward to the privilege and necessity of gathering again as the church to worship Jesus, to serve one another, to hear God’s Word, to be reoriented around the purpose of the Father for us, and to be sent back out into our world for another week of witness.

Being built up by the Holy Spirit into God’s living house AS we gather is what matters–where we gather was never the point.

Gospel Gone Viral: 3 Things Chewbacca Mom’s Video teaches us about the Good News of Jesus

By now you’ve all laughed along with the Chewbacca Mom as she shared her joy “with her friends on the internet-webs.” The boys and I heard Tennille shrieking upstairs as she watched it through her first time and we joined her for a second round of laughter.

Viral videos fascinate me. I love how they spread from friend to friend, network to network, moving from a few people to millions sometimes overnight. United Breaks Guitars, the Ikea Punster and the WestJet Christmas Miracle–to name just a few of my faves–always leave me wondering: what made this video go viral? And as I reflected on this latest explosion of Chewbacca mom–now the most viewed video on Facebook–I had to ask:

What does Chewbacca mom’s success teach us about the viral spread of the greatest news ever, the good news about Jesus?

chewbacca-mom-600First, by definition, viral messages are something you want to share. No, that’s too tame. Messages that go viral are messages that you just have to share. They can’t be kept to yourself. Even though we live in a media-saturated, YouTubed world, certain videos still gain traction because they are shared so enthusiastically with friends. Do I need to even make the connection with the news about Jesus, the greatest news that we’ve just got to share? There’s a reason the good news about Jesus swept the Roman world in the century following Jesus’ death and resurrection–it was viral news that spread from network to network, impacting everyone who heard it, because it just had to be shared.

The second thing, which comes out very clear in the Chewbacca mom original video, is how she is simply sharing her joy with others. Her infectious laugh, her delight in the big reveal, her irrepressible enthusiasm as she dawns the mask and then shrieks and roars into the camera is pure, unadulterated joy. She just loves what she’s got!! When we experience joy, we want to include others in the delight.

cewbacca-mom-facebook
There’s nothing quite like a bike ride with Chewbacca, courtesy of Facebook.

The third thing that really struck me is her willingness to put herself out there.  Now, I’m sure she had no idea she’d become an internet sensation overnight, and she’s likely reeling from all the attention she’s getting. But on that day, following her celebrated purchase, when she propped up her phone on the dashboard to share with her friends, she put herself out boldly and without reservation. That’s part of the charm of the video: it’s just her–normal, awkward, unscripted, bumbling, honest, and so, so thrilled that she wants everyone to get in on it.

So what can we learn from this? The good news of Jesus, the most viral message ever and continuing to spread, fans out through similar means. Based on these three observations, here’s how the good news about Jesus goes viral.

3 Ways Chewbacca Mom’s Video Shows Us How the Good News of Jesus Goes Viral

First, it’s irrepressible news: The good news of Jesus is so good, so delightful, so amazing that when people discover what they have, and really get it, they just have to share it! I’ve seen this over and over again, as the good news spreads unstoppably through friendship and family networks.

Second, it’s all about joy: And this good news is shared not out of duty or compulsion, but as an expression of pure joy. Lesslie Newbigin, the missionary-theologian, likened the spread of the good news of Jesus to an “explosion of joy.” And that’s what we see, down through history and into today: when people really meet Jesus, the joy explodes!

Newbigin

And third, it’s shared boldly: With the innocent boldness of a child, we put the good news of Jesus out there for our friends to hear. We simply want others to get in on what we’ve found, so we prop up the phone (metaphorically) and share it out on the inter-webs, to our friends, neighbours, streets and homes, not knowing where the message will spread. And though it often goes unnoticed, there are those times when someone else hears it and catches the joy, and shares it on. And from person to person, family to family, the greatest message of all time, the most truly viral news out there, takes hold, transforming whoever hears it and responds to its invitation to follow Jesus.

  • Did you notice any other connections between her viral video and the way the good news of Jesus spreads?
  • Why does the most viral message of all sometimes feel like “old” news and how can we change that?

 

Saved From and Saved For

Knowing who you’ve been saved for is as important as knowing what you’ve been saved from.

Christian testimony often focuses on ways Jesus has transformed our lives. Rightly so. Just yesterday a friend told me how following Jesus has made him a better husband, father, friend and manager, creating in him a new found empathy, love and patience that is making all the difference in his daily life. I love hearing how how Jesus has helped people overcome addiction, restore relationships and recover from wasted years. Being forgiven and healed are hallmarks of the Father’s grace.

So share all the ways Jesus has saved you from sin aSaved from, Saved fornd hurt and despair, and share it boldly. But Jesus has saved us for something as well–for something and for Someone.

In Deuteronomy 4:20, Moses urges God’s people to remember what they have been saved from and who they have been saved for. “Remember that the Lord rescued you from the iron-smelting furnace of Egypt in order to make you his very own people and his special possession, which is what you are today.”

Within Christian thought, the iron-smelting furnace of Egypt has long stood as a metaphor for the slavery and bondage from which Jesus has rescued us. But what was the goal of that rescue? What was the purpose of this salvation? To create for God a people of his very own. This is so important.

God rescued us from where we were to bring us to where he is. His goal was our inclusion. We were saved from sin so we could be his kids. Compelling witness to Jesus flows from our confidence in God’s including love, enabling us to help others become God’s people, too. As the Apostle Peter states, “. . . you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9 NLT)

We’ve been saved from so much. And we’ve been saved for God.  And it’s from that place of confidence we can tell our story of God’s goodness to others, making our witness more compelling than ever.

Deuteronomy 4:20 NLT

Political Junkiness: When Our Online Behaviour Harms Our Christian Witness

When Christians trash and mock politicians and their allies, they harm their witness to Jesus.  

Over the last year, new governments rose in the nation of Canada and in the province of Alberta. Internationally, we perch on the edge of our seats as the next season of American leadership is decided by democracy. With political change comes passionate heat. But the ones from whom we expect more light than heat often disappoint.

Scrolling through social media before, during and after the elections was very revealing. And disturbing. I watched Jesus-followers reach into the slop to sling immature taunts more at home in a barn yard than a public forum. I was appalled at the ways Christians (who should know better) spewed on people publicly, especially on Facebook. Disagreement on important issues sank quickly into mocking ridicule for whichever political leader they despised, then extending to anyone who dared agree with that leader. It was ugly. It was unhelpful. And it harmed our witness to Jesus.

Day after day, post after post, followers of Jesus forgot who they follow and brought disrepute to Jesus in how they behaved online. It was sick.

Don’t get me wrong. Thoughtful disagreement, passionate push back on the issues that matter–that we want.  Strong positions on economic
or environmental policies are good. We desperately need insightful people to clarify the issues and forward the concerns driving the various political platforms, without reaching for the idiocy of superficiality. We need people who can envision good futures and move us toward them. And we need leaders who maintain dignity and respect among the crowds who’d rather mock someone’s hair than discuss their foreign policy.

But here’s my main issue: Our witness is more important than our politics. And when Christians mock political opponents and ridicule people’s political choices, they harm their influence for Jesus. Not because they disagree with them, but because of how they treat the people with whom they disagree. When a Christian passes around demeaning memes or posts disgusting personal attacks, it hurts fruitful conversation. Disrespectful behaviour doesn’t serve to enhance our understanding of why others vote the way they do, nor does it help us understand the concerns and convictions informing their perspectives. But it can sure serve to alienate us from them. Let’s remember what we teach the kids about cyber-bullying:  You can’t mistreat someone online and then expect them to be your friend in person. 

Springfield BulliesToo often we forget that our online presence directly impacts our daily witness. When you mock a political leader like a grade 8 thug, how will you sit down with a friend from that political position later in the same afternoon and share the good news of Jesus with them? (I do hope I’m not assuming too much by expecting us to have friends we love who hold other political perspectives.) When a quick survey of our Facebook posts reveals more hatred for certain politicians than love for a certain King, we’ve got a problem. And we need to repent.

How we speak online influences our witnessWhat should you do? Go ahead and hold your political perspectives. Think through the issues carefully, with Jesus’ kingdom in full view. When appropriate, state your position positively and clearly. But for Jesus’ sake, don’t be a bully. Don’t be a snark. Don’t ridicule or call people names. Don’t be that Christian, who seems more allied with the latest (or potential) Caesar than with the greatest Messiah. Paul, himself incarcerated under a less-than-stellar government, reminded Christians to be mindful of “outsiders” in their prayer and speech, so that nothing would hinder the message of Jesus getting out here. It was in that context he encouraged them to “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Surely this applies to our online political conversations?

Instead, be a prayerful presence. Be a poster of good news. Re-post writers who are helping us think through the issues, or even raising concerns about certain candidates in helpful ways. Listen, ask, connect. Make sure what you say online would further your relationships in reality, not create barriers to Jesus in the lives of friends.

After all, governments will continue to rise and fall. But Jesus has already been installed as the King over all the nations. And we are called to remain faithful ambassadors of his kingdom to every nation, in every time and place.

As Christians, how can we do better online?

Can you give examples of helpful, Jesus-honoring disagreement which clarifies issues without mistreating others?