“Talking Heads…”

We see them every day.

They are the hallmark of 24/7 cable news. They fill up the air waves on “talk radio” and the numerous “news/information shows”.

Typically they appear on split screens. People shown from the waist or shoulders up – hence the term “talking heads”. They are present for the sole purpose of providing a perspective – to give a particular point of view. talking head

They are appearing for one of two reasons:

  • either to support the view or story line of the host of the show or,
  • to provide a contrasting opinion and provide the opportunity for debate. They are on to enhance ratings.

I spend a lot of time in my car. And as I travel I will often listen to the many “talking heads” via satellite radio which includes TV broadcasts. However, it is getting to be too much.

News and information has increasingly become less about news and more and more about:

  • opinion
  • speculation
  • creating a narrative which sounds good or feeds a certain perspective.

Opinions.

Everyone has one. Everyone looks at the world and can tell you what is right, what is wrong, what needs to change, what should remain, how to solve situations….and so on.

It used to be you would walk into a coffee shop and there you would find people engaged in offering their opinion over how to solve the present situations. There would be people engaged in debate over the issues of the day. It may still be the case, but the venue has shifted to the airwaves or the host of social media outlets.

Now, there is nothing wrong with having opinions. In fact it is much better to have one than not pay any attention to what is going on around us. However, in listening to the many “talking heads” this week I felt compelled to write about them.

The difficulty of opinion is that in an age where every opinion is valued and has equal weight it becomes impossible to discern which opinion matters most. “Experts” are no longer people with knowledge or insight, they are people who know how to communicate louder or more eloquently than someone else. Actual knowledge or wisdom is irrelevant. Which leaves us with the challenge of trying to discern what is real or fake, truth or a lie, which biases are present, and so on – in the midst of all the noise.

Discernment has become the key.

But it is hard.

It was predicted long ago that we would face this challenge. As the Apostle Paul wrote to a young preacher named Timothy he identified a time yet to arrive where people would look for those who would reinforce their own perspectives instead of truth.

In 2 Timothy 4:3–4 (NLT) we read,

For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths.

It seems like we are there.

But it also makes me wonder if in our confusion over who to believe, in gathering around ourselves those who provide a message we want to hear, if we are also struggling with hearing another voice?

Which voice has greater weight?

  • Is it the voice we like to hear the most – because they say what we think?
  • It is the voice with authority even if we don’t always like their message?

I am wondering where God’s voice falls?

Has He become another “talking head” who says things which get thrown into the mix of many voices? If so can we then dismiss it when we don’t like the message or it doesn’t line up with our preconceived understanding of what should occur? Does His voice become one of the many to listen to?

Where does His voice stand?

Hearing the many “talking heads” has made me stop and shift course.

Instead of looking for those who say what I want to hear, I am paying more attention to the context. I am making a concerted effort to recognize what is merely opinion (most of it by the way) and what is fact. I am also making a point to recognize that God is not just another talking head.

What God says, through the scriptures, is more than simply opinion. It is truth. It is what matters.

Jesus often said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Give me ears to hear. Help me listen for more than “talking heads”. Let me hear the voice of the One who always speaks truth. 

 

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HELP!!!

There are many ways to cry for help.

Some are quite overt – like  “HELP!” shouted from the mountain tops.

Others are not so clear. They are hidden. They might be comments which raise questions about what is really going on. They may be actions which allude to the need for some kind of intervention from others. They could be veiled in a way where you have to read “between the line” to identify if the person is really wanting help. ask-for-help-900

I raise this because there are times when each of us need help. Each of us need others to assist us in walking through what we are faced with. But, not all of us are at the place where we are ready to ask for it.

If you have ever tried to teach a young child to tie their shoes, or get dressed to go out in the cold, you know how difficult it is to have someone who obviously needs help to admit they need it.

Most of us have been there.

Most of us can admit, when we are way over our heads in what is before us, that we need support and help. We will accept assistance when we get to that place. However,  each of us has a different threshold to when we feel we have arrive at this moment.

Some of us are quicker to acknowledge the need for help, while others of us are very slow to recognize we are there.

What causes that? Why do we resist asking for help?

There are many reasons.

  • A feeling of Independence
  • Our Pride
  • Our beliefs about being self sufficient
  • And many more…

The point is while we all need assistance. Identifying that we do, seeking help or asking for it does not always come easily. And when it doesn’t something else occurs. We face incredible pressure.

This pressure has impacted people’s lives in ways we often talk about. Increasingly we are hearing or having discussions about the state of people’s mental health. I hear lots of discussions about the mental health of students who are anxious, depressed, overwhelmed to the point where they are unable to function.

These feelings are real and impactful.

And yet, experts identify that all of us can struggle with our mental health at any given time. Each day we can be at places where we are affected by the stresses and conflicts in our lives. And we can be overwhelmed to the point where our mental health is affected.

But, whether we recognize it or not. Whether we reach out to those around us to assist us or not. Whether we are agreeable to receiving assistance or not. The fact is we all need help.

Acknowledging that we do is crucial to our mental health.

The psalmist recognized this. We read this in Psalm 40:17 (NLT)

17 As for me, since I am poor and needy, let the Lord keep me in his thoughts. You are my helper and my savior. O my God, do not delay.

The psalmist identified that he was needy. We don’t know the specifics of the circumstances but what is clear is that there is an acknowledgement that he is aware of his need for assistance.

Are you?

Are you aware today that you need help?

There are things which will occur which are beyond you. There are situations you are unable to get past unless you have help. You require wisdom beyond your own. You need assistance.

Have you got those around you who are there to support, sustain you when you are overwhelmed?

It can be hard.

We don’t all have the people around us who are capable of assisting us. We can often find ourselves walking alone in some of the hardest times of our lives. But we are never alone.

Have you looked to God for help?

Another psalmist asked that question. In Psalm 121:1 (NLT) we read,

I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there?

But he doesn’t leave it there.

A little later he says,

The Lord himself watches over you! The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

None of us need walk our paths alone. God is with us.

I would encourage you to look to Him. He is there to help you.

I don’t know about you today. I don’t know what you are facing. Whether you are overwhelmed or not. But I do know we all face moments where we need help.

So before I get there today I want to acknowledge that for me – I need HELP! God help me today! I need you.

 

 

 

 

Hope for 2018

There are traditions during Christmas which add to the unique nature of this season. I have mentioned some of ours in previous posts. However, there is one that had special meaning for me this Christmas.

For something to become a tradition it requires time. It is not a tradition because it happened once. It becomes a tradition because it takes place year after year. The other thing about traditions is they become a tradition when they are passed down from one generation to the next. A generation starts a practice and then subsequent generations carry on the actions as they make the practice their own. Over time they become a regular part of family activities.

This Christmas one of my daughters helped carry on one of these traditions.

For years now, when my family – my parents and siblings – would get together one of the things we would do is start a puzzle. It provided an opportunity to do something relaxing and at the same time allowed for conversation as you work on re-creating the picture which was now scrambled picture in a 1000 or more pieces.

This has become one of our traditions.

Often I would ensure it continued as one of the gifts I gave to my parents was a puzzle which we would immediately open up and work on. It was a normal, traditional part of our being together. Something I looked forward to in part because it was the only time of the year when we did puzzles.

Well something happened this year.

My parents have more than enough puzzles and are at the stage where they are thinking of reducing rather than adding things to their home. There are puzzles we could pull out of the cupboard and make again. So while I looked for ones in the stores, I didn’t purchase one.

However, as it turned out I didn’t have to.

My youngest daughter got me a puzzle to work on with her. puzzle editedShe said it was so we could have time to do it together and visit as we did. We started it and spent a number of hours working on it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to complete it in the days we had together.

But, it made me think about the traditions we have and the hope we have as we enter a new year.

This joy of doing puzzles has been passed down from generation to generation. It was understood that making them was not only enjoyable, but provided the real importance of why we do them – to share our lives with each other. Somehow that was demonstrated, caught and instilled.

It was never demanded – “We have to have a puzzle at grandma’s or it won’t be Christmas”. It was not like that. It just happened. And as a result it became something we looked forward to.

And now it has been passed down to the next generation.

As we begin a New Year – with it’s appeal of a fresh start or a new beginning – we are enticed to think about what will occur in the next 360 or so days. And there is hope.

Hope that the difficult experiences of the past will be left there. Hope that things will be brighter in the days to come. Hope for better relationships, work environments, opportunities, and an endless list of what we can hope for.

Yet, I am filled with a different hope this year.

I am filled with hope that some of what I have tried to instill into the lives of my children will be passed on to them. Those things which are important, the attitudes which matter most, the understanding about how God designed life to be, I am hopeful that these things will be passed on to them. That as time goes by they will choose to do what matters and adopt them as their own.

And yet I am conscious of how those messages get imparted. What I say matters little. My actions will speak much louder than any words or advice I give. The example I set will have more credibility than anything else I do.

And so I am hopeful.

I am hopeful because it might be working.

The puzzle at Christmas is a small thing. It is a tradition that is moving to the next generation and for me it is “cool” to see that take place. Yet, it speaks of a much larger more consequential process – of passing on insights and wisdom from one generation to the next.

My hope for 2018 is that more of that occurs.

Why go through the same mistakes others have made? Why not learn from them by avoiding pitfalls and soaring to even greater heights than previous generations?

Time will tell if that will happen. But here’s being hopeful.

 

“Fear Not…”

The week between Christmas and the start of a New Year is always interesting. It provides us with the opportunity to look back and forward at the same time. We look  back at what the previous year was like and we look ahead to what is about to begin – a fresh start, a new beginning.

I trust you have seen value in “Reflection” which is why you continue to read it. I hope it has contributed to your faith journey or at least has sparked thoughts about faith. That is my intention in writing. Thanks for your engagement.

In thinking about what this last post for 2017 would focus on,  I was tempted to look forward at what 2018 could bring. However, there has been one lingering thought about the story of Jesus birth which has continued to resonate with me. It comes from these words –  “Fear not!”Fear-Not-600x400

There were many occasions during the events surround the birth of Jesus – the first Christmas – where fear was the overwhelming emotion of the day.

  • Mary heard she was going to have a child under impossible circumstances.
  • Joseph was given an improbable task which required commitment above pride.
  • Shepherds were given a startling message by messengers who lit up the night sky.

In each case the initial reaction was about to be the same – fear.

Fear is an emotion which can grip us when we least expect it.

  • An event occurs.
  • We receive news.
  • Danger presents itself.

…to name just a few of the causes where suddenly fear is present.

The thing about fear though, is it occurs not just because of the situation itself. Fear arises in part because of how we react to our circumstances. Something happens and our minds race. We are taken down paths we never dreamed of going. “If…”

Most of our fears end up being about what might occur. “How am I going to manage if…” “What will I do if …. occurs?” “Where will I end up if…”

It can be overwhelming. It can be paralyzing.

Fear is like that.

There are scary situations in life. I can think of a moment when I was a teenager when an incredible fear came over me. I was walking home from hockey practice and a truck started coming towards me attempting to scare me. It worked.

I was frightened with what I thought was good reason. I remember climbing over a snow bank to get away from the truck only to have it circle around and come back toward me, causing me to climb back over the same snow bank. The fear intensified.

Only it was unwarranted. The intention of the driver was to create fear. And it worked. Besides… I was holding a hockey stick at the time. I didn’t need to be afraid. I finally realized that as the truck drove away.

Fear can take over our rational thoughts.

Which is why these words “Fear Not” are so intensely powerful.

As I think of the coming of Jesus I find – Mary, Joseph and the Shepherds – were given specific messages. And yet, the messengers tasked with delivering their specific word to them, offered them these words first – Fear Not!

Before they even gave them the message they tried to calm what were certain fears.

Our natural respond to a number of circumstances is fear. When we are faced with:

  • Something overwhelming,
  • Something we least expect,
  • Something hard to understand

Our immediately reaction is to allow fear to take over.

However, fear was never intended to be a way of life. Fear causes us to do things which are irrational. It causes us to act in ways which are unproductive. It causes us to become paralyzed or reactive without any clarity of thought.

Fear is not helpful.

And so before Mary, Joseph or the Shepherds could let fear take over God made a point of saying to each of them – Fear Not.

Why?

He did so because they would need to walk in something beyond fear. They would need to walk in faith. They would need courage to follow through with what was occurring or about to occur around them. God’s message to them was going to change their lives and fear would not carry them very far.

So…Fear Not!

Don’t give in to fear. Don’t let fear of what might be keep you from being who God made you to be. Don’t allow fear of the future keep you from stepping forward in faith.

These two words are powerful.

They are also relevant for this moment.

A lot of uncertainty is ahead of us. There are many paths, choices, decisions, obstacles, questions in front of us. Some may lead to… Some may cause… Some may create….

But…

None of us are aware of what will occur in the days ahead. However God does. And the message He gives us is the same as He gave these individuals of old – Fear Not!

It is not because the roads ahead was easy or simple. But they are words of faith because He would walk with them.

We don’t have to react in fear – not because the situations before us are easy, simple or insignificant. In fact they may be overwhelming, challenging and disruptive to everything we know. Which is why these words from God to us are so powerful.

  • Fear not…because I am with you.
  • Fear not…because I will guide you.
  • Fear not… because I won’t let you go.
  • Fear not…because I have purpose for you.

As we end 2017 and begin 2018 my words to you are – Fear Not! Embrace them.

 

 

Peace…

The message is as familiar as the story.

If you pause to celebrate Christmas… the coming of a baby born on the outskirts of the village of Bethlehem 2 millennia ago… you have heard the words many times. They were heralded to inform unsuspecting shepherds about what had just occurred not far from where they were tending their sheep. However, these words contained more than a wake up call.

They were a declaration by God.989bd-angelandshepherds

God was informing, stating, making known, what He had just done and gave insight on His intention.

If you are not familiar with these words, they are as follows:

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14  Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, Good will toward men.

(Luke 2:10–14 KJV)

It was an amazing message of hope to those not expecting much hope.

As I contemplate Christmas, I am drawn to one specific part of this message. It is these words.

14  Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, Good will toward men. 

(Luke 2:14 KJV)

It is a statement where the two realms collide. The heavens and earth.

In one place – glory. In another – peace.

Peace.

Wishing for peace on earth is a given. It has become a famous or infamous line for beauty pageants. If one of your hopes is “world peace” you can’t go wrong. Who is going to argue against “Peace on Earth”.

But peace is not a given. Peace is not simply something you wish for. Peace is something which is needed, even required. For without peace there is…

War…Conflict…Stress…Tension…

I could go on.

There are other words defining what occurs when peace is absent in our lives. We see it all around us in things like: Politics, religion, our relationships, in families, at work, at school…

We certainly need more peace.

Except…

We were told through this angelic pronouncement that “peace on earth” had come because this child was born into the world. Was there peace only for those few moments on a star filled Bethlehem night? Is peace something which can be constant or is it fleeting?

This child came to bring:

  • Peace on earth – and yet there is conflict.
  • Peace on earth – and yet we see war.
  • Peace on earth – and yet our lives are stressed.

Why?

I see two possibilities.

  • One is that what was promised was not a real promise – it was simply a hope for a better tomorrow. It was momentary peace that could never be attained again.

Or…

  • We have missed what this child came to do.

Peace on earth could be seen as a utopian dream. A great thing to strive for, but not something attainable. We can talk about it but will never actually see it achieved.

This would be the easiest answer to this message of “peace on earth.”

It means dismissing the tension and stress we experience, overlooking the conflicts and battles as simply a normal part of our world. While peace is a “nice thought” it can never truly be achieved. Peace should not be expected.

But what if….

What if “peace on earth” meant “peace” was possible?

What if this pronouncement meant that each of us could now live our lives in peace? What if this message to the world meant that each of us could have peace govern our hearts? What if we could be comfortable – we don’t have to strive, fight, claw our way through life – instead we can be at peace regardless of our circumstances? What if peace was a state of being we could experience because of this child?

If this is what was stated – then… how do we get there?

We get there if we respond to the rest of the message.

This child was “the Saviour born to us”. 

A Saviour is only required when rescuing is needed. When we can’t get there on our own and need help – that is when we need a Saviour. Which is the case when we think of peace. We can’t achieve peace by ourselves. History bears that out.

A Saviour is required for us to live in peace. Someone who will enable us to be at ease in the midst of storms. Someone to calm our fears. Someone to provide security in the midst of chaos. Someone to alleviate stress in our lives.

This child did all of those things as He grew to be a man and walk amoung people. He brought peace to those around Him. And the question for us is if He did it then can He do it now?

It is why He came. He came to bring that to us – He can bring that to you and I this Christmas. If…

If we take this offer of peace and embrace the One who brings it to us. If we seek His strength and don’t rely on our own. If we seek the life He gives us as opposed to trying to manufacture life as we want to create it. If we look to Him we can find peace.

It is what was promised. It is what is possible. It is more than a hopeful message. We have the opportunity for peace through this child – through Jesus.

I want to extend to you and your loved ones peace this Christmas!

Food for Thought and Christmas

What would Christmas be without food?

So much of our celebrating the birth of Jesus focuses on everything from our Christmas baking, to the turkey, ham or whatever else we use as we gather together to eat a meal as part of our celebrations.

Every family, it seems, has specific foods which are a must when Christmas rolls around. They are what makes the season so special, as this is often the only time of the year when these specific foods are prepared.

For years, when we would set up our Christmas tree, my job would be to make crème puffs as the decorating occurred. (I think it was so I wouldn’t be involved in the decorating of the tree!) This was the only time of the year when I would make them and so they became part of our Christmas traditions.cream puff - home

Likely you have certain ones as well.

There may be foods which are a necessary part of your Christmas. These traditional foods help us reinforce the unique nature of this season. And why not. Food is something we all require or need. But food does so much more.

There is something about sharing a meal together. It is engaging. Food brings us together. It allows us to share life with one another. That is…if we have the right focus.

When you are the cook, your focus can be on whether everyone likes what you have spent considerable time preparing. This can consume your thoughts to the point you are not very good company. You are too focused on the food itself and not the people around the table. You want the food to be tasty and appealing, but that is not the point of the experience.

Food is a means to do something much more significant. It is a means for us to share our lives with each other as we do something we all require to do – eat. Food brings us together and should be a relaxing, enjoyable experience.

Some cultures place much more emphasis on the time spent around a table than others. Instead of taking minutes to devour, what took hours to prepare, they spend time enjoying the experience of being with others around food.

As I write this I am in Quebec City and my experience with the French Canadian culture has been one which demonstrates how meals are an experience to be enjoyed. Time is taken to savor each course and enjoy the company you are with. It can be an experience which lasts a couple of hours. In fact that is almost expected.

A large part of our Christmas celebrations revolve around food.

As I thought about the part food plays I recalled an event which took place a number of years ago. My family was invited to a friends place for a meal. It wasn’t at Christmas time, but it was another special occasion.

We got there early so we could visit and after a little while moved to the table to sit down to eat a wonderful meal. The table was set and everything matched with the exception of one place setting. It had a noticeably different plate. red-plate.jpg

I was told to sit by this red plate. I was given this explanation. Since it was near my birthday and we were going to be celebrating it that evening this was to be my spot.

I don’t recall whether I asked the question or the information was just offered. However, I was given the significance of why I had this specific plate to eat off of that night. It wasn’t just because they ran out of matching ones.

In this family, every time there was a birthday or similar special occasion – any time when someone was being celebrated – they were given this red plate to eat off of. It indicated how they were unique, special and were deserving of honor. Being the guest of honor they had a special plate reserved for that purpose.

I remember feeling honored.

We can talk a lot about making people feel special and how we should honor one another, but this went to a different level. This family had found a way to tangibly demonstrate what they talked about.

As I think about the food and the meals we will be sharing together I thought about that red plate.

I thought about how we spend a great deal of time, energy, and passion to ensure that everything is just right for this special time of year. We talk about how this season is about Jesus, how He came to earth as a babe, how He is the reason we celebrate.

And then I wondered….

If that is the case, maybe we need to do something tangible so it is more than just something we talk about.

There are many things we can do to demonstrate what we say is so important to us as we come together to remember the birth of the Christ Child.

One of those could be to set out a “red plate” for Jesus. A place to acknowledge that we have come together to eat a meal to celebrate not ourselves, or the special day, but the One who has come so we could have life – Jesus. After all it is in honor of Him.

A Sign…

We see them everyday. They are everywhere around us.

Signs.

Signs are present to sell us things, to point out what is coming up, to give us directions, and to warn us to be on the lookout and so on. See the source image

The deer could have used one of these.

My daughters likely saw the sign indicating they were driving in an area where deer typically cross the highway. If only the deer would have a sign to say “look both ways”.  It would have saved another deer from using one of our vehicles as a wall. (3 deer and one bull in about a year)

Car melissa 2Signs are all around us. They are so common they become invisible. If you drive on the same road often enough you don’t see the signs anymore. They are there but we hardly notice them.

If you hear something long enough we can become numb to it.

In the midst of this season of celebrating the coming of Jesus into the world we can be faced with something very similar. We hear the story so often we can miss what is right in front of us.

We can miss the sign.

On the night Jesus was born, God announces His birth to some unlikely folks outside of Bethlehem. On the hillside were shepherds who were tending to the sheep under their care. When suddenly…

We know what happens next.

Angels appear.

One Angel and then a host of angels come and provide shepherds with a message of “Good News of Great Joy for all people”. Their appearance has been heralded through the ages.

But their message has one statement which is often missed. We read it, but do not fully get what it is telling us. In Luke 2 as part of the angels’ message we read,

11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11–12 (NLT)

Did you miss it?

These shepherds were told they would recognize the Saviour of the world by a sign. A sign? Ever wonder about that sign?

Sure. It is “A baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Ever wonder about how odd this is? Why so specific? Why not just a baby in a manger? That is strange enough in itself.

There is so much more to this sign.

In fact this whole encounter with Shepherds is more significant than we may recognize at first glance. Who were these shepherds? We tend to see them as farmers. Those with a noble profession, working with animals, being on the land, etc.

However, that is not how they were perceived in Israel in what was to become the first century.

According to their religious laws, being a Shepherd required doing things which would make you “unclean” and therefore unable to participate fully in the nations life, particularly its religious life. You would be disqualified. Here is how it worked. The tasks of your job require you to do things which make you unclean. You would then go through a process of purification to once again be considered “clean” in order to participate once more. However, because of the frequency of the tasks, which make you unclean, and the length of time required for purification, you would never be “clean”.

Shepherds, because of their work, were therefore considered “unclean”.

As a result they didn’t frequent the synagogue. Their status marginalized them. They were avoided. There work was necessary for the life of the nation – the raising of sheep. But they did it at personal expense.

Yet God chooses to announce this message of hope to them first. That is a sign.

What we also need to realize is when He told them to go look for this babe in a manger they knew where to look. Surrounding Bethlehem there are caves used to provide shelter for animals and shepherds alike. They were there for just such an occasion where you could get out of the cold and be protected. These shepherds knew about these caves as they likely used them often for themselves and their sheep. It is where the feeding troughs were – the manger was.

It is where Mary and Joseph went when Jesus was born.

So they knew the place.

But part of the sign indicated there would be this snuggly wrapped baby. It seems odd. Yet, these caves had another purpose. They were also used as places to bury the dead. The dead would be taken to these caves, prepared for burial and once left there, stones would be rolled in front of the caves to keep animals out.

Because of this purpose, strips of cloth, used for preparing the dead body, would be left in these caves in case they were ever needed. So it is likely Mary and Joseph used what they could find. These strips of cloth – with a different intended purpose – were used to snugly wrap this new born child – the Messiah – the one who would later die to give hope to the world.

It is quite a sign.

It tells us that this child would be born to die. His whole purpose in coming is so He could give His life for the world in order for hope, joy, peace would come to it.

This message of “good news of great joy for all people” is given to the one group who is continually excluded – shepherds. It reveals that none of us are excluded when it comes to this message of hope. Those considered to be continuously “unclean” become the first people God invites to rejoice with Him that the Saviour has come. Because He has come for them.

We are all included in this message. It is a message of hope for us. A sign for us.

Do you see the sign?

Deck the Halls…

You can tell Christmas is on my mind…at least the decorating part.

For the past few years I have provided a weekly reflection (usually posted on Wednesday) with what has been on my mind. They have intentionally been random thoughts as events, news items, things I have read or experienced that particular week, have inspired my writing.

However, as we begin this season of celebration, melissa'sI am going to change that up a bit.

For the next few weeks, instead of separate thoughts, I have decided to reflect on this amazing moment in time when Jesus was born.

I hope your own thoughts get inspired.

So here goes…

The Christmas season is officially upon us as a couple of key events – Thanksgiving (USA’s version), Black Friday Sales, Cyber Monday shopping from home, and Giving Tuesday to counter the consumerism – have come and now gone.

For decades the emphasis of Christmas has been about what we find under the tree on December 25th.

As a result finding ways to get that perfect “something” has framed the event. Christmas is about the giving and receiving of gifts. The more the better. The bigger the more impactful. The “perfect” one will create a lasting memory. These have defined Christmas.

For almost as long, this focus on gift giving has sparked a pointed response. Pushing back at consumerism, particularly occurring in North America, has targeted the commercialization of Christmas and attempts to keep the focus of Christmas on the Christ Child. “Keep Christ in Christmas” has been the mantra.

In the past decade or so an additional concern has arisen. Not only is commercialization requiring active counter-measures, but so has how we greet each other. Whether it is “Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, or Merry Christmas” how you respond to your neighbor says something about your beliefs and can sometimes lead to intense debates.

The “political correct” police* are out in full force to force compliance or appropriate recognition and so are those who see “political correctness” as insanity. Arguing over how we greet one another in our pluralistic, diverse cultural, communities has become a sport. One which is less than productive.

*(For those living outside of North America – there isn’t an actual police force to enforce political correctness. There are however, those who scold others and try and enforce compliance of certain expressions – hence the “police” term.)

Is it January yet?

With what this season brings, I can see why people can’t wait for it to be over.

What is wondrous – God becoming flesh to dwell among us – has become less than exciting. What offers hope for the world – this gift of God coming to everyone – has become about an opportunity to further divide and separate people into different camps. The “Happy Holiday” people from the “Merry Christmas” ones. Those who shop and those who limit their buying, etc. Those who have a Santa as part of their decorations and those who reject any image other than the Nativity.

Is it over yet?

So far, I have not heard any of the typical debates as other news items have taken over. But it is early. There is still time for the arguments to be dusted off for another round of debate.

Why do we have to go there? I am thinking about those who claim to be followers of Jesus. Why does the Christmas debates have to become part of the seasonal norm?

Do we do it because the story is so familiar we no longer get excited by the event itself and instead concentrate on what will get our blood pumping? Is it because we are conditioned to seek what’s wrong with the world and look for opportunities to have a “us” vs. “them” debate? Is it because we need to be right and so a “for” vs. “against” opportunity allows for us to claim superiority? Is it because there are underlying currents of pride, racism, prejudice? Is it because we lack respect for people or hate change of any kind?

It is worth thinking about our motivations.

However,  I am choosing to do something else as this season rolls around for another year. I am going to “Deck the Halls…”

I am going to do my best to purposely overlook all of the “noise”. Instead I am going to focus on celebrating this season. I am going to decorate (I have a very limited role here), bake (a bigger role), greet, shop, attend, and enjoy the season and what it brings.

I am going to celebrate because God became flesh. Jesus came at a moment in time when little hope was present. He came when things were gloomy and full of despair. He came when He was least expected.

And because He did…

Hope arose. Life became full of meaning. Purpose was found.

Not only is that “good news of great joy for all people” but it is what all people need to experience today. So I am going to do what I can to spread this message of cheer this year by being a messenger of cheer.

I invite you to join me.

Belonging…or Tribalism

Each of us have basic needs.

It doesn’t matter where we live, our background, our ethnicity, our culture, our environment, we all have some basic needs. We all have the need to be loved and the need to love others. These are foundational to who we are.

There may be other requirements which are important in order for us to survive or thrive in this world, however, at the core of who we are as people we have this basic need to love and be loved.

Which is why “belonging” is so important to us. belonging

This “need” places us in community. It pushes us to find our place along side of others so we can give and receive love.  It causes us to desire to belong with at least one other person.

I am sure we all have a story about belonging –  A story describing how great it is to know what being in community feels like. We also have stories of the lengths someone has gone to in order to “fit in” to be “a part of” a specific group of people whether a personal story or one we have witnessed. Take a moment and think about one of these.

What these stories reveal is this need to fit in and belong is intense.

Actions, we never thought possible, can be taken simply to ensure we remain with or become part of a community. These occur as the need of belonging is so foundational to seeing our greatest need met.

So it is understandable.

We can rationalize why we would step out of character and do things in order to ensure our need to feel loved and to be able to love others is met. It is fundamental to who we are and so we can understand why at times extreme measures are taken to meet something so core to our existence.

And yet…

Something has gone so awry.

There has always been an extreme in belonging. us-v-themSome have always leveraged our most basic need to push us to abandon our character just to fit in. Gang initiations come to mind – where illegal and/or violent actions are used to “allow us” or “make” us fit in.

Some have always manipulated or used others by dangling this basic need in front of them.

But lately it seems this has gone beyond belonging.  We seems to have moved into tribalism.

Tribalism – is defined as being “conscious and loyal to one’s own group”. It is further defined as “seeing our group as being more important than other groups”.

Belonging is one thing. Being part of a “tribe” is one thing. But “tribalism” is something else entirely.

This move toward tribalism occurs when we see our own tribe as superior to all other tribes. When this takes place we have move down an unsettling path.  A path which looks like this…

“I will stand with, I will be loyal to, my tribe and any members of my tribe simply because they “belong” to my tribe.  I will remain loyal to them regardless of whether they deserve my loyalty, respect, support or not. I will stand with them, even if their actions would be rejected if they were a part of a different tribe. I will not waver in my support because they are part of my tribe and so I will remain with loyal to them no matter what.” 

This seems to be occurring on a number of fronts these days. Politically we find tribalism has arrived as party matters more than anything else. In faith communities we see elements of tribalism surfacing in various ways. “I will support someone’s business because they are part of my “tribe” even if they are dishonest in their dealings with others.”

At the core it makes me wonder how much we are willing to look past simply so our tribe remains in power, finds success or we are able to continue to belong to it?

It is unsettling to watch this shift occur.

I wonder if some of this is because we don’t really feel like we belong. We see our basic needs being contingent on our being part of a community and so we will do everything in our power to remain connected – including viewing our own community as superior to all others so we can continue to belong to something.

I have the opportunity to spend a great deal of my time with other “tribes”. And in doing to I could easily move into a tribalism place as well. Much of what I see is different than my own experience. It would be easy to move there, especially as I often see tribalism in full force around me.

I don’t go there. I am wonder why I don’t go there?

I could. But I don’t. Why?

I am not sure I have come to a full conclusion. However, what I do know is that I don’t struggle with belonging. It is not that I have this strong community of support around me. It is not that I am overly connected – in fact I am less connected in many ways than most of those around me.

Yet, what I do know is I am loved.

I know Jesus loves me. I belong to Him. And that is all I need to know.

This allows me to be comfortable in my own skin and not wrestle to belong or ensure I am part of a “tribe” to feel support or value.

Maybe that makes the difference…

I wonder…

 

Accused…Guilty?

Who’s Next?

In recent weeks there has been a flood of accusations about past behaviours. Some have been new, but suspected revelations. Others have shone a spotlight on what was widely known. Some have shocked and left disappointment.

Regardless, the nature of these accusations have revealed something we may not think much about. The fallen nature of people.

As these have been leveled there have been a variety of reactions by those accused. There has been everything from denial, to shifting of blame, to attempts to justify or dismiss what they as perpetrator have been accused of. pointing-finger

The “public” has reacted in various ways as well. There has been quick condemnation, anger, disillusionment, and wonder at how these could not have surfaced earlier.

I have not paid close attention to the myriad of details revealed by the victims. Nor have I spent time listening to the explanations of the accused. It is not that I lack empathy or don’t feel anger toward those who have abused their positions of power.

It is just that…

With these numerous revelations and accusations I have wondered about something else. Who is next?

My thoughts have drifted to thinking about whether the answer to that question is something we can ignore or brush aside. Or whether it is something we need to face head on.

Because the answer is you. The answer is me.

If truth be told we know it to be the case.

I am not speaking about these or a specific accusation. Rather something broader.

What I realize is that if someone were to shine a spotlight on any of our lives there would be things which would illicit regret. There would be actions which we would hate to see exposed. There would be thoughts we would never want to let out for everyone to witness.

(Just think of those in the public eye who have said something they wish they had kept to themselves. That could easily be you or me.)

But…We are not perfect – we may answer.

Okay…none of us are…but… it is this just about being human… or more than that.

You may recognize these words,  “all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:3)

This comes across like an excuse for any behaviour. “None of us are perfect. We all have imperfections. So don’t expect anything different.” 

But, this was written by Paul, a man who had a past he had to deal with.

We are not told a lot about his early life. He had a “religious” upbringing but we are told little else. In adulthood we are made aware of him as he was focused on defending his faith more than anything else.

This stirred a passion in him. He was focused on protecting, preserving, ensuring the lifestyle he knew would remain. And to do that he focused on persecuting, even destroying, those who followed the teachings of Jesus. They were going against his understanding of God. He pursued them, arrested them, and at the very least had these followers of Jesus thrown into prison.

He was zealous. And his actions brought fear everywhere he went, especially by those who followed Jesus. He was embraced, however by those who had similar purposes to his. Those who benefited from their position and authority as leaders in their communities, as people of influence.

That was until Paul encountered Jesus.

Then everything changed – including his name from “Saul” to “Paul”.

This encounter significantly altered his life. He became an intense follower of this same Jesus who he had denied and questioned as having any credibility. This new life of his impacted other followers of Jesus, although much differently than it had before. He arguably impacted other followers like no other believer in the first century and became the message bearer of his new faith. And yet, he was always aware of his past.

In describing his life he wrote this…

15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 1 Timothy 1:15 (NLT)

Notice the last phrase. Paul saw himself as the “worst of sinners”. The one most in need of grace. The one most in need of forgiveness.

These were more than just words to say. Paul knew the truth about his life. And whether people saw him as a great spiritual leader or someone to look up to – he knew the truth. His past never left him. It was why he became a follower of Jesus – because Jesus came to save sinners of which Paul did see himself as the worst.

This enabled Paul to live his life differently than most. Pride, privilege, power, feelings of being above others and the law was present in Paul’s life. Until he met Jesus.

After that happened – he understood he needed to be humble. He realized that grace and mercy were essential. He saw himself as the least rather than the greatest. Anything positive that happened in his life was beyond what he deserved.

And so…

What do we need to learn from Paul?

We need to learn to be less smug, self-righteous or quick to condemn. We need to recognize that “there but for the grace of God go I”. We need to consider that the next person to be fully exposed could be you or me.

This will lead us to adopting a different posture. One of humility and mercy. One of respect and honor toward others. One of being gracious and grateful as opposed to feeling entitled.

I don’t know how you see yourself today. However I do know the more we see ourselves as Paul did the more the life of Jesus gets seen in and through us. The more we walk in pride, and superiority the more we see our past become our present.

Guilty?

We all are. But that is why Jesus came.