Christmas

When I was little, one Christmas, I received two Megatrons as gifts.  One from my parents and one from my aunt.  We exchanged one of them at a KMART in Merced that now only stands in my memory.  I got Optimus Prime instead; thus, allowing me to join every other boy in the world who played with a good guy in one hand and a bad guy in the other.  

Another time, I was given an action figure of my favorite WWF wrestler, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat.  He was this bulky wax-figure whose limbs hardly moved which made it near impossible for my imagination to see him perform the various wrestling moves I watched him perform on television.  Then again, I didn’t have another action figure he could grapple with or, as the famed WWF announcer Gorilla Monsoon would have said, “They’re fighting from pillar to post.”  A good guy in one hand, the other empty.  No Randy “Macho Man” Savage, no Jake “The Snake” Roberts, no Bad News Brown.  Nobody.  These action figures were expensive.  I wonder how I reminded my parents that Steamboat was the guy I wanted?  Maybe I went to the store with them one day and simply pointed him out.  I sometimes marvel at the gifts my parents were able to get us for Christmas at all.  We were not super rich or super poor; if we were a gas tank, I gather we were right above empty.  Looking back, I sometimes feel ashamed at the things I asked of my parents knowing their budget was limited.  Instead of an overpriced video game system one year, I was given some off-brand video game system.  I can’t remember the name.  It had a gun but the game was on a videocassette and at the corner of the television set I had to place this red light.  As the game began, you are in the cock pit of a fighter jet.  You are chasing enemy aircraft through canyons, deserts and over the ocean.  As the targets lock on the enemy aircraft, your job is to shoot them down.  If the light on the television turned red, it was a hit.  It had a pretty cheesy score and narration.  But I had something.

All I knew as a kid, or should I say, based off of what television advertising and friends at school were telling me, this system was not what every kid wanted.  Though I never dared verbalize it as a child, I lived with the unrealistic expectation that I needed to have certain material possessions in order to survive.  In order to be fine.  Television advertising and wanting to fit in with the popular kids drilled this lesson into my psyche daily.  I didn’t know I needed the popular toy or popular piece of clothing until the television and the student body told me so.

“Oh,” I would say, “I guess my shoes must only be British Knights and LA Gear.  My pants have to be Silvertabs and my jacket must be a poofy NFL or NHL parka like I see the older kids at school wear.”

I know I always received more than I should have and that my parents did their best.  Whether it was a Christmas in Merced or visiting with cousins in San Francisco when they lived near Mission, near Valencia or when they moved to Daly City, I always had Christmas gifts, food and family to share it with.  As much as I had those things, I still always lived with the lie that it was never enough.  Life was not brand names and I was quietly insistent that it should be.  

Then I grew up.

Many years ago, before we had children, my wife and I told our parents and family we no longer were going to buy anybody gifts and that they should not get us any.  We figured there were too many needy children and families that needed more than we did.  We became principled.  At least for two years.  We raised money and gave to those who really needed, to those who lived in conditions lower than anything my wife or I ever experienced as children.  We did away with the Christmas tree and each and every Christmas decoration out of perhaps, misguided religious zeal and certainly because of the nauseousness brought on by consumerism.

Then we had children.  Very slowly some of those things came back and our principles loosened.  The Christmas tree was not going to damn me to hell and gifts are not going go spoil my children outright.  Nostalgia, I gather, also played a part but also the ability to bless my children.  There are gifts like I had gifts under the tree.  There is family like I had family.  What’s to complain about?  Sometimes I think I should create some sort of inventory card where my children could write down the exact descriptions of the gifts they received; this way, when they’re older and trying to remember the gifts they received, they will not be left, like me, to the whims of memory.

At the kitchen table, we teach our children to be thankful.  It is a difficult mindset to grasp as a child especially if parents are not setting the example.  We cannot grumble and complain and expect our children not to.  At the kitchen table, we talk about being content with what is before us, to not covet and obsess over the things others have that we don’t, leading us to question our worth, leading us to selfish pity parties and depression.  Of course, this is a dilemma that may only plague those of us who live in a world where excess is as obtainable to the degree we are willing to use or misuse our money or to the degree we are willing to use or misuse credit.  How odd and ridiculous, to be sad for more when you have enough.  And when all of that is happening, how can we see what Christmas is really all about?  

In Finding Forrester, William Forrester, played by Sean Connery, tells his young friend and protege Jamal, “The key to a woman’s heart is an unexpected gift at an unexpected time.”  When I remember that line, I think, what is more unexpected than a king born in an obscure manger?  What is more unexpected than Emmanuel, God with us?  What a most unexpected way for God to make Himself known.  Scripture says, “But when the fulness of the time was come [or, when the time was right], God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).  Not only did Jesus come at the right time but he also gave the unexpected gift of himself for us, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).  This is the key to my heart and the key to our family.  It is the most important thing to dwell upon, not only during a season that bears the name of Jesus, the greatest gift of all, but everyday.

See, when I was little I thought Christmas was first and foremost about Transformers, WWF action figures, GI Joe, scooters, clothes, video games, turkey, nacatamales and family; I thought it was about trees, Christmas programs and snow, decorations and He-Man, Cringer and Skeletor.  But I realize now, it’s always been and will be about the Master of the Universe. 

 

 

 

 

  

   

 

 

 

   

Unfriended

I couldn’t honestly tell you whether I’ve been unfriended on Facebook.  For one, I’ve not gone through my list of friends to research who is missing.  I’m just way too busy for that kind of research.  However, I gather that most of the people who have unfriended me have been offended by my posts that deal with Christianity, politics or morality.  Apparently we’re not supposed to talk about these things.  Okay.

But then I think about Jesus.  He was unfriended by lots of folks.  In John 6:48-51, Jesus says

I am that bread of life.  Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Not only were the Jews confused by what he said but his disciples were also.  Scripture says

When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? (John 6:61).

I don’t know how long these folks followed the Lord.  I don’t know if they witnessed his miracles, his speaking, his life.  They walked with him physically which is something believers today cannot relate to.  However, when the Lord talked about being the bread of life and eating his flesh and drinking his blood, that was way too much, apparently.  

From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him (John 6:66)

As believers today, we cannot be concerned, distracted or hurt when people stop following us on Facebook or offended by our beliefs.  If they stop following us, it is okay.  We should be able to disagree with civility.  We should never feel animosity, hatred or disdain for anyone who disagrees with us.  The Lord’s words of Luke 6:31 still and forever apply:  “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”  We would also do well to heed the Apostle Paul’s words when he says, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).  Love God by being bold for him and love people – period.  If they are through with you, wipe the dust from your feet, love them, pray for them, but move on.  Be about your Father’s businesss.

In the words of that great theologian P-Nasty, Christian, “You do you” and let others be.

Memorial

The world loves memorials.  The Marine Corps War Memorial has significance for me being a former Marine.  Then again, once a Marine always a Marine.  Okay.  I remember reading Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley about the lives of the men depicted in the Marine Corps War Memorial.  They raised a flag, they got a memorial.  In Boise, next to the library and along the greenbelt, is the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial.  We are currently reading Anne’s diary in my class and have found that she was dead wrong when she wrote, “Neither I – nor for that matter anyone else – will be interested in the unbosomings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl” (p. 2).  The world has certainly been interested in her life and in her words.  In 2011, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened to the public in Washington D.C.  King’s influence as a civil rights leader and Baptist minister can never be under-appreciated.  In a 1968 sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Dr. King said of himself,

“If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice.  Say that I was a drum major for peace.  I was a drum major for righteousness.  And all of the other shallow things will not matter.” 

Justice, peace and righteousness were paramount; nothing else mattered.    

In Mark 14, we read about a woman, Mary of Bethany, whose singular deed causes Jesus to say, “Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (V.9).  I’ve heard the gospel preached in the church, have heard the gospel preached on the streets and have done it myself; however, very rarely is Mary of Bethany ever mentioned.  

It was the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Jesus is at the house of Simon the leper, then Mary appears.  She has an alabaster flask and inside “very costly oil of spikenard.  Then she broke the flask and poured it on his head” (V. 3).  That was the extent of her actions and worthy of being memorialized.  But why?  She did not raise a flag during a dangerous battle.  She did not write a diary during a time of intense racial persecution where an existential threat was as real as the air needed to breath.  Nor was Mary of Bethany a famous leader of the people like Dr. King, organizing folks against prejudice, speaking to thousands on some hill side in Bethany.  No.  She poured costly oil on Jesus’s head.  

Some in the house were appalled by Mary’s actions.  They said, “Why was this fragrant oil wasted?” (V.4)  Wasted on the Lord?  They would have rather seen Mary sell the oil and the money given to the poor.  But then Jesus speaks.

“Why do you trouble her?  She has done a good work for Me.” (V.6).

“For you have the poor with you always, and whenever you wish you may do them good; but Me you do not have always” (V.7).

“She has done what she could.  She has come beforehand to anoint My body for burial” (V.8).   

She did something good.  She did what she could, with what little she had because Jesus’s time was at hand.  To be sure, this ointment was precious and valuable.  Mary could have sold it and kept the money for herself.  But instead, she gave it to Jesus.  Maybe she sensed His time was at hand and she wanted to give Him some final gift as a symbol of what He meant to her.  Mary is a memorial because as a Christian, her example, is a good one to emulate.

The question is, how much of what we have as Christians, do we give to our Lord?  Do we give all like Mary?  If not, why not?

We can use our precious time in service to others as a service to God.  We can visit those in prison.  We can use our talents to give Him glory, to not boast in what we can do but in what He’s done for us.  This is a memorial.

We can use our possessions to bless others; to bless our brothers and sisters in the Lord, to bless strangers, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry.  This is a memorial.

In short, we look at our lives, we look at what we have and what we’re capable of and ask: How can I give this thing, whatever it is, lovingly to my Lord for everything He has done, and He’s done a lot.

Jesus never raised a flag in battle but He did conquered death (2 Timothy 1:10).  He never wrote a diary filled with words but that’s all good because He is “the Word” (John 1:1) and his words “are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).  

As much as other memorials, memorialize the acts and lives of people, they pale in comparison to what Jesus has done:

Here is mankind’s estate:

“For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8)

“and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).

But God intervened on our behalf, He is not distant or impersonal:

“just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 28:20).

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

As we believe on Jesus as an all-sufficient Savior:

“We shall be saved from wrath through Him; For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Romans 5:9-11).  

This is work worth remembering and being thankful for.  About Jesus, Dr. King goes on to say:

“Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he stands as the most influential figure that ever entered human history.  All of the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together have not affected the life of man on this earth as much as that one solitary life.  His name may be a familiar one.  But today I can hear them talking about him.  Every now and then somebody says, “He’s King of Kings.”  And again I can hear somebody saying, “He’s Lord of Lords.”  Somewhere else I can hear somebody saying,”In Christ there is no East nor West.”  And then they go on and talk about, “In Him there’s no North and South, but one great Fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide world.”  He didn’t have anything.  He just went around serving and doing good.” 

Serving and doing good is the Christian’s mission along with proclaiming the gospel and giving Him glory.  In this sermon, Dr. King talks about what he would like his eulogy to sound like when that day comes.  And as I read it, I think, this is the kind of life that leads to a memorial.  But not a memorial for us primarily, but as a memorial to God for changing us in the first place to be able to live this kind of life.  Dr. King says:

“Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. 

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. 

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. 

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. 

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,

If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong,

Then my living will not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,

If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,

If I can spread the message as the master taught,

Then my living will not be in vain.”

Nor will ours.

  

 

 

Welfare

All is colored with despair.

Nowhere to go,

no one who cares;

he humbles himself

and goes on welfare.

He takes without working

and has much

he’s not earned.

The wealth of another

he receives undeserved.

Reviled for taking

and hated for needing.

All who know him

are suspect of his pleadings.

For work he’ll not do,

this work he can’t do.

No sweat at the brow,

no tilling of land,

no arthritic fingers;

his fat calloused hands,

outstretched ask for more,

nothing is withheld him

because great is the store:

Take no thought for your life

what to eat, what to drink;

Why worry for clothing,

consider the lilies.

Welfare for the poor in spirit,

welfare for a contrite heart.

Welfare takes an angry fist,

and opens it apart.

Welfare takes iniquity

and casts it far away from thee.

Welfare gives a second chance

to turn to Him – a God romance.

Welfare until each dying breath,

welfare has defeated death.

For those who bow their wounded knees,

aware that they have blown it all,

and living with a joy unspeakable

are the greatest recipients of all.

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Inspired by a sermon delivered by Jon Prigge, Teaching Elder at Columbia Bible Church, Meridian, Idaho.