A Christmas “Miracle”

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Sometimes God uses ye olde tyme movies to remind me of how I should act as a disciple of Christ.  This Christmas it was the old 1947 classic, “Miracle on 34th Street.”  We watched it with the kids on Christmas Eve after church, and the message of this 60+ year-old movie really hit home for me.

First of all, the movie taught me that the more things change, the more they stay the same.  One of the big messages of the movie is about how commercial that Christmas had become.  This movie was made in 1947!  We tend to romanticize the time after WWII as an idyllic time of peace, godliness, and morality, but in many ways they had the same issues that we do in 2010.  They were verging on the most prosperous times in American history, and consumerism was beginning to run amok then just as it does now.  It was great to talk with the kids after the movie about the trap of consumerism and how we wanted to avoid it.

Secondly and more importantly, the turning point of the movie reminded me of an important lesson about church that God has been drilling into my head for the past 18 months or so.  The plot of the movie revolves around a man named Kris Kringle who believes he is Santa Claus; he gets hired by Macy’s to be their in-store Santa (a big deal in the days before malls and thousands of mall Santas).  Hundreds of kids come to see Santa to ask for the presents they want, and one kid in particular asks for a fire truck.  When Kris assures him that he will get his fire truck, mom gives him the evil eye and says that Macy’s doesn’t have any more of them!

Here is where the movie turns: Kris takes a notebook out of his pocket and tells her that Gimbel’s, the chief competitor to Macy’s, has just what she is looking for and it is on sale too.  The flustered mom can’t believe that Macy’s Santa would send her to a competitor and vows to become a regular at Macy’s because of their focus on customers!  The owner of Macy’s thinks it is a great idea, and soon every department store in America is helping their customers find exactly what they want, even if it is at a competitor’s store.  They do it because they think it’s genius marketing that will attract more customers to them, but Kris Kringle does it just for the good of the little boys and girls who should get the Christmas presents that they want.

This is a pretty good reminder of what our attitude is supposed to look like as a church…the Kringle one, not the Macy’s or Gimbel’s version.  Kris thought of those kids first.  The bottom line at Macy’s didn’t count; the needs (okay wants, but bear with me) of the children did. 

How might that look if we adopted that attitude amongst ourselves?  How would my life look like if I didn’t prioritize my wants and my advantage, but instead just helped people to achieve their goals and dreams?  How would my interactions go if I weren’t looking for my own advantage but for opportunities to show the love of God to them and serve them?  I think it would look a lot like Christ:

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ” (Philippians 2:3–11, NASB)

 
How would our churches minister if that was our goal?  Allow me to share a case in point: We had a family come to worship at our church a couple of weeks ago.  They just moved here from Georgia, and were in their words looking for a traditional Baptist church.  They were a very nice family who seemed like they were serious about their faith and were kind and friendly.
 
As a pastor it is tempting to try to show them why they should come to my church.  I am a shepherd and I think that our church is pretty awesome!  And since I think it is awesome, other people should also think it is awesome, right?  So they should come to WG because it’s a great place for them to grow in Christ and build authentic relationships with other growing disciples.
 
Only they were looking for a traditional Baptist church and told me that.  We aren’t by any definition a traditional Baptist church, and I am by no means a traditional Baptist preacher.  Frankly, we aren’t really what they are looking for.  There are a couple of churches near ours that have more of the “traditional” feel that it seemed like this family wanted.  So I had a choice to make: what’s best for this family, or what’s best for me and my church.
 
I naturally welcomed these folks and several others did as well, and told them that we would love to have them.  I also told them about the churches in the area that I knew were good biblically and were more conservative and traditional than we were.  They were kind, and I think that the drum kit and maybe my preaching style told them that we weren’t a good fit.  They haven’t been back and didn’t give me a card or anything to contact them.  I hope they took me up on my suggestions for church finding!
 
Now before you think I’m all cool, realize that I know the deal.  It’s a bit self-serving, but I would rather have the family find somewhere they really want to be than reluctantly keep coming to our church and never dive in with both feet.  And yes, it also feels good to help them in their search.  And I think that it honors Christ more than me trying to shoehorn them into my way of doing business.  So in all it benefits me to be other-focused as well.
 
For 2011, what resolutions are you making in order to have a more Christ-centered attitude in this area?  Where can you make a change to be more interested in His good and the good of His people than self-interested?

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from my family to yours!  The holidays at the Correias have been a bit out of whack, at least partly because it’s been unseasonably warm in Phoenix.  It’s sunny and about 65 degrees right now!  So Bing’s “White Christmas” isn’t exactly hitting home right now.

What I love about Christmastime, though, is that it really doesn’t depend upon whether my experience matches up with the utopian songs of my culture.  It doesn’t depend upon whether the tree is trimmed perfectly or the gifts are expensive.  It doesn’t depend on whether I get to see my extended family or roast chestnuts over an open fire. 

What I love about Christmas is Christ.  Whatever else happens, tonight my family will gather with other families who are near and dear to our hearts and worship God.  We will sing, pray, and hear a message (okay, I will give it, but that means I have heard it in my head a hundred times already) about the great God we have.  He saw nothing redemptive in us, and yet sent His Son to live among us and die in our place because of His great love.

We will have the Christmas traditions that many have.  The kids will open a gift tonight before bed, and Laura will wrap gifts feverishly after they hit the sack.  (notice I said Laura will wrap gifts.  I will probably watch recorded episodes of Million Dollar Money Drop or Albert Finney in “Scrooge”, the GREATEST Christmas Carol adaptation in history)

We will open gifts in the morning, call family, and cook all day. 

The center of all of that tradition, though, is the gift of Christ.  We will read the Christmas story in Luke 2 together.  I will remind each of us that the gifts we give each other are a token of the gifts that the wise men gave to Jesus and a reminder of the gift that God has given us.  And hopefully, between Christmas Eve services at church and focusing in the morning, we will celebrate Christ this Christmas.

Merry Christmas from me to you!

How about you?  How are you trying to keep Christ in Christmas this year?

Linkapalooza!

I realized recently how long it has been since I put up a links post.  For some that might be a cause for celebration but hey, it’s my blog so deal with it.  Here are some of the funnier, more thoughtful, interesting, or weirder posts in recent memory that I have run across:

New Blogs or sites I follow:

Come on over and check out the Free Grace Alliance blog.  I am an FGA executive council member and organize and coordinate the FGA blog as well.  Come by and say hello!

Cato @ Liberty is an interesting political site.  Now you know where I stand. (if you didn’t already!)

Interesting Biblical Stuff:

When Jon Acuff rocks a Serious Wednesday post, he really rocks it.  Starts funny but finishes with a great message.

What if Mary and Joseph had Facebook?  Check out this really thoughtful and well-done video describing the birth of Jesus over Facebook.

I would rather be a great pastor than a great preacher.  Though truth be told, great preaching is important for every pastor.

This is a great post from Rachel Held Evans on entitlement at Christmas.

Mall ninajs of PRAISE!

Biblical and funny at the same time: churching up the house for the pastor to visit.  Do people really do this?

Thought-Provoking Items:

Yay Capitalism!  Well written discussion on Thanksgiving and what saved Jamestown.

Wow.  This video isn’t easy to watch but it is must-see.  As someone who has been affected by drinking and driving it hits home.  Careful with the kids on this one.

The effect of a generation of men raised by women.  I thank God for the many good men in my life.

Be aware of childhood stroke!  This month’s hero is a student I help mentor at our kenpo studio.  Brandon is a great kid.

Never forget.  December 7, 1941, the day that will live on in infamy.  An excellent collection of photos and some amazing stories as well.  On a related note, click through and then take a moment and ask God to bless those who sleep in the field tonight so that we can be free.

No I am not joking.  You need a 72-hour kit.  Here are mistakes most people make with theirs.

Funny, Cool, and/or Ridiculous:

Super-cool pics.  I am not nearly that creative.  More cool pics from National Geographic.

How could the duel scene in The Princess Bride get better?  Simple: light sabers.

This is just funny.

I love the contented sigh of this toddler drinking from a garden hose.  Go watch it.

Bad day in 3…2…1…

Coolest.  Truck.  EVER.

Dogs don’t like moving.  Hyperbole and a half has some language, so approach knowingly.  Her wit and cartoon skills are hilarious though!!  This post is really funny about her dogs reaction to moving.

Nothing Says “Merry Christmas” Like Yelling

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How’s your Christmas season starting?  Have you got the tree up and decorated and cards on the mantle?  I am starting to see some Christmas cards in the mail which is awesome, and really trying to get in the spirit of Christmas.

I really wonder, though, about whether this Christmas is different in some way than many in the past.  We are supposed to be coming out of a recession any day now, and apparently retailers are happy with the amount of money people are wasting spending on stuff no one will remember in June meaningful gifts for their families.  So why is it that I am not seeing more Christmas spirit?

I will illustrate with my experiences over the last week.  On Black Friday I went over to my mentor’s house to help him with his Logos Bible software (he is quite the Luddite and I am a Logos nerd).  I had a great time with Fred and his wonderful wife, and since I was on that side of town I wanted to make one stop to perhaps pick up an item on a crazy Black Friday sale.  I finally got to the store at about 11:15 AM, and the place was hopping as I expected.  I found the sale item I wanted and, when the clerk addressed me, I wished her a Merry Christmas.  She smiled nicely, thanked me, and said that I was the first person who had said that to her this year. 

Well, I thought, it’s just the day after Thanksgiving.  No harm done!  I asked her about her day in retail and she said it had been pretty crazy (naturally), and that people had been really upset when they ran out of “door buster” items.  (This was at Scottsdale Gun Club, which means frustrated armed people; then again all the employees are armed so they probably aren’t too worried about angry customers!)  I bought my item and thanked the clerk and again wished her a Merry Christmas.

Fast forward to today.  I had to take my wife’s laptop to the electronics mega-giant we bought it from (Fry’s Electronics for those who are familiar) for service, as it was having BSoD-level errors.  (actually the CMOS battery died and it perhaps has a motherboard fault for those who are computer geeks)  I had to stand in line for about 10 minutes to get to the service counter, and while I was waiting a lady in front of me approached the counter with a digital camera.  The service guy explained to her that the camera had a cracked view-screen, and that the warranty didn’t cover misuse or being dropped or issues like that.  He was quite polite.

Well when her husband came up and heard what was going on, you’d have thought the clerk had called his wife a dirty name and then punched her in the face.  He hollered and shook his fist.  He turned red and used language that made me glad I didn’t have my kids around.  “WELL WHY WOULD I BUY A WARRANTY IF IT WOULDN’T COVER DROPPING THE CAMERA?” He yelled loudly enough for the words to echo through the store.  He quaked in indignant rage that their warranty wouldn’t cover being dropped and that the salesman didn’t explain that to him!

Every sane person in the store was thinking what I was thinking.  Dude, warranties don’t cover you drop-kicking your camera.  If I decided to play Frisbee golf with my laptop I wouldn’t expect the store to replace it when it broke!  Furthermore, it certainly wasn’t the poor service tech’s fault that you didn’t read the warranty paperwork.  And…in case you hadn’t realized…it’s three weeks to Christmas.  Simmer.

As I was standing there, I thought of two reminders from the book of Proverbs and a third from James:

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.  (Proverbs 15:1)

The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things. (Proverbs 15:28)

And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. (James 3:6)

I spent 5 Christmas seasons in retail, so my heart went out to that poor guy who had to take the abuse from a jerk with a chip on his shoulder.image The clerk handled himself like a professional, and after dealing with the Grinch he came back to the counter.  I shook his hand and told him that he should be commended for holding his temper, and then wished him a Merry Christmas as well.  I dropped off the laptop and went to get another item we needed, (surprise, surprise, the techs were very helpful with my issue after I was kind to them!) then headed for the exit.

The checkout line at Fry’s is like the line for Santa at the mall.  it snakes on forever at the holidays with an employee at the end directing customers to the next available teller when it is their turn.  When I got to the head of the line the lady who was in charge looked a tad bored and somewhat frazzled.  No shock there, as it’s the holidays and she works retail!  So as I approached I wished her a Merry Christmas as well.  She was pleasantly surprised and said thank you.  When I asked why she was surprised, she said that I was the first person all year to wish her a Merry Christmas.

Okay, that’s getting old.  Fast.  That’s not what the angels announced to the shepherds:

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14)

Peace among people.  Joy and love and respect, laughter and lightheartedness and worship of the God who loved us so much He became a man to pay for our sins.  What a concept to spread this Christmas!

So join me, will you, on a Christmas crusade?  Not a crusade to crush secular humanism or to make everyone remember the finer points of the narrative in Luke 2, as important as those might be.  Join me in the crusade to help everyone slow down a minute and enjoy Christmas a little.  Join me in wishing people a Merry Christmas and asking them how their day and their holidays are going before being frustrated that they don’t have another Tickle Me Elmo.  Bring some joy with a nice handshake and a heartfelt wishing of God’s blessing on someone this Christmas.  Take that time especially with those in retail, and your mailman, and the people who serve you who you don’t pay a lot of attention to.  It’s Christmas, so let’s act like it and spread a little “peace on earth” around, shall we?

How about you?  Have you been experiencing the Christmas Grinch this year?  Is it just me, and you’re seeing the Christmas spirit all over?