Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Imitation: Not flattery anymore

I came across 1 Corinthians 11:1 in my Life Journal reading this morning. It is a curious and challenging little sentence. St. Paul has just finished a long dissertation to the Corinthian Christians about the importance of watching out for others and keeping a faithful witness. He has just finished saying that he strives to put aside his preferences, needs and desires so that he might communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone. After all of that comes this phrase "imitate me as I imitate Christ."

My initial reaction is one of astonishment! What an outrageous thing to say! It borders on the arrogant. Paul seems to be suggesting that he is setting such an extraordinary example to the Corinthians of a faithful Christian life that they can copy his example. I find this stunning. However, when I give it some deeper thought I realize that what Paul says is what every Christian ought to be able to say. The bold truth is that people watch what we say and do every single day. They watch our language, our behaviors, our values, our honesty and our ability to follow through on the very principles we espouse. On further review, this is not some bold, wild statement from Paul of Tarsus it is essentially the call for every Christian.

As a pastor I am often uncomfortable about living in a fish bowl. I am aware, like it or not, that my life is measured, my life is evaluated, my behavior is closely monitored by those who are under my spiritual leadership. I could resent this but the truth is the moment I stepped into a pulpit and dared to speak on behalf of Jesus Christ my life became the tablet upon which my speaking would be displayed. Even though I am fully aware of my own brokenness and my own inability to be all that I pray I can be, I must strive to live this life with integrity.

Paul's was a life of integrity. It is in the context of his "walking his talk" or, to put it another way, "practicing what he preached" that he can say "Imitate me as I imitate Christ."

That is not so outrageous, after all. In a world and society that craves and profoundly lacks integrity. This simple statement is the essential minimum standard expected of Christian leaders.

Dr. BJ

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Crazy Season is Coming

The volume increases following Halloween. The trappings were up, the drum beat had already begun but the volume increased following Halloween. The drum beat is the enticement to enter into the secular, commercial observance of an event corporately known as “the Holidays”. The “Holidays” extend from Thanksgiving through the observance of the change of calendar we call “New Years!” They now include Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice and an event called by many names (Yuletide, X-Mas) but is usually known as Christmas.

It is chic and popular to decry the “Commercialization of Christmas”. But I have come to observe that most of us give our annual lip service to how commercial Christmas has become; we wag our heads we make those tsk tsk noises, we even vow to not “get sucked in"; but, in truth, very few of us do anything about it. Knowing there is a problem and doing nothing about it is to choose to simply be a part what we hate. In the Celebration of Discipline study group we have just studied the discipline of “simplicity”. In the interest of “simplicity” here are some “do’s” and “don’ts” I would suggest to help us reframe the “Holidays”.

1. Unplug: The Holiday drum beat pounds us down. Radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, Internet, stores, malls and cities and towns are all blaring out the same commercial message. BUY, BUY, BUY!!! Your children will be miserable if you don’t give them the biggest, latest and best. You won’t LOVE your family unless you buy, buy, buy! UNPLUG the noise making machine. Give you family a Media respite. Take an evening and play some board games together, spend a day at home without the noise. Unplug.

2. Set Limits: Do this now before the noise gets too loud. Set a reasonable limit on what you will spend for gifts – better yet make some space and time and create something unique and give them as gifts. Set a reasonable limit on the time you will spend at parties, gatherings, extra outings, shopping, etc. Set a reasonable limit on the extra activity. Christ Community will have ONE Sunday School program (on December 14). We will offer a variety of Christmas Eve celebrations to fit your schedule (December 21; December 24 at 5, 7, and 11).

3. Refocus: Here’s how:
A. Choose to have fun. Rather than the miserable, worn out, I hate the holiday’s attitude that many of us adopt, why not choose to have fun. Celebrate the sparkle, revel in the differences, and be playful and creative. Let your inner child out to play!
B. Choose to focus on relationships. Instead of form letters make a phone call. Instead of formal greetings meet a friend for coffee. Instead of material things give the gift of time, of fellowship, of relationships.
C. Choose worship. I could expound on the reason for the season and all the other trivial and common expressions that are popular this time of year but the truth is the celebration of Jesus birth is all intermixed with all the gift giving, party making, and overindulging that make up the holidays. What matters is what will I choose? Will I make it all about the material, the funny foods, and the external trappings of the season? Or, will I make it all about remembering that the savior of the world has arrived, born in Bethlehem to a young mother named Mary. Adeste Fideles (O Come all ye Faithful) has my favorite refrain of all the Christmas songs. It puts it best:
Venite adoremus
Venite Adoremus
Venite Adoremus, dominum
O Come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Dr. BJ

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Back from Africa

Hi everyone:

Sorry I haven't written in a few weeks. I've spent the past 17 days travelling to/from and being in the East African country of Uganda. I am working with a training program called Nexus Seminary Uganda that was the brain storm of Ugandan Rev. Davis Matovu and is being supported by my good friend Rev. Alan Howe.

In the past two weeks we have journeyed into the rural areas of Uganda, we led seminars in places like Kayebe and Kikyusa and participated in the graduations of students in Gombe, Kayeba and Luzinga. The goal is to train 2000 rural Ugandan pastors. We have about 1930 to go. We also launched a new training site in a place called Caini.

These journeys are life changing and world altering. I am amazed and occasionally overwhelmed by the hospitality, deep desire for learning, and passionate love of Jesus Christ that my friends in Uganda have. These good people have little or no material belongings but what they do have is a commitment to relationships and to the Lord Jesus Christ that has twice now restructured my heart and renewed my faith.

It was great to go, it is good to be home.

Dr. BJ.