Thursday, December 31, 2009

What Jesus Receives (Part 2)

So how did you do with your gift determinations this Christmas?  In the previous post, I mention the ways that we tend, whether intentionally or not, to place value judgments on others as we decide if we will give a gift at all, and if so, how nice of a gift.  And, when it comes to Jesus, although He deserves our worship and our very best of everything—like what the lady in Mark’s Gospel, chapter 14, gives Him—often He receives from us far less.  It says something about how much we value Him.  Certainly I don’t intend to allegorize the chapter (or any of Mark’s Gospel account).  These events really happened.  And yet we can’t help but notice that there are parallels in our own lives.

In contrast to what the lady gives Him, chapter 14 continues with several negative pictures of what He receives.  As Jesus re-enters the city, the time has come for the Passover meal.  He asks His followers, who had become His friends, to set up the dinner.  During the Passover dinner, Jesus foretells that one of them will soon betray Him.  As they all deny that they would do this to Him, most of us who also follow Him agree that we would never betray Him and walk away.  However, later in the same chapter, we watch as Judas does this very thing.  Again I think to myself, I could never do that!  But then I have to ask, in the way that I sometimes ignore Him, sometimes seemingly selling Him out, am I not committing what we might call a practical betrayal?  It might not seem as bad as what Judas did (after all, Luke 22.3 says he was driven by Satan at this point), but if I act like I’m not a follower of His, if I sell Him out, I’m practically betraying Him.  And if so, I fail miserably at giving Jesus what He deserves.

The next negative picture comes immediately after dinner.  Jesus tells His friends that they will fall away.  In fact, one will specifically deny Him.  Once again, each one says it won’t be him.  I’m sure I would have said much the same.  Peter asserts with no uncertainty that it will not be him.  However, before long, as the events of the night unfold, we watch as Peter puts his foot in his mouth three times before morning breaks, and on hearing the rooster crow, begins to cry as he realizes what he has done.  It’s easy to criticize Peter.  He almost always says the wrong thing.  But if I look carefully at Peter’s actions, here and elsewhere, all too often I see myself.  If someone threatens me, I pray I don’t openly deny Christ like Peter did.  But how often must I be denying Him when I fail to take a stand for Him?  Is this not practical denial before a watching world?  We Christians are hypocrites when we say we are followers yet fail to live for Him.  I hope I never verbally deny Jesus; but I need to work harder at not committing a practical denial of Jesus.  He has accepted me, and would deserve praise even if He hadn’t.

Finally is a negative picture that I can relate to even more than the others.  Knowing what is about to befall Him in an arrest, accusations, beatings, and even death, Jesus takes His friends to a garden to pray.  He takes the three apparent leaders, who have been closest to Him throughout His travels and ministry, and asks them to pray near Him.  He goes away a little further and prays—through so much anguish that He sweats and eventually bleeds.  He comes back to see that His close friends, His trainees, have all fallen asleep.  He understands that they are exhausted—so is He.  But He is only asking them to pray with Him; He will end up dying for them.  Placing proverbial salt in the wound, this cycles through two more iterations.  After finding them asleep the third time, He tells them that it’s “enough,” and then waits for Judas to come over to betray Him.  The disciples’ lethargy at first seems mind-boggling to us.  After all, by this point they should have understood at least a little of what was about to take place.  And yet when I see their sleep, I confess my own practical lethargy.  Instead of being inspired by the goodness of God in Christ on our behalf, I seem to have fallen asleep.  He asks me to do such minor things, but figuratively speaking I can’t stay awake long enough to do them.  In so doing I miss giving Him what He deserves.

The story of course continues.  After His death and resurrection, Jesus receives a small fraction of the glory due Him.  One day, He will receive the full praise He deserves.  This season has once again reminded me of the great gift and sacrifice that Jesus has made for us.  However, I’m learning that what Jesus currently receives from me is sometimes not a blessing to Him.  As we begin this new calendar year, my hope and prayer is that I would give Jesus the honor that is due Him.  It’s what He deserves.

Merry Christmas, and I hope you have a happy and blessed 2010.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What Jesus Receives (Part 1)

Do you place an upper-limit cap on how much you are willing to give certain people this time of year?

We just saw a scene from a film where the main joke is that the gift giver at a family gathering doesn’t realize that a gift cap has been set.  So he hands out his boxes completely confident that the recipients will enjoy his prized gifts.  Even after finding out that a cap was supposed to have been followed, he is secure in thinking that they will be thankful and happy, since the gifts are expensive.  The contrasts of his gifts with others’ gifts soon give the kids complexes and eventually set off a family fight.  In our extended family, especially among siblings, we often set a spending cap, but we all agree on it ahead of time!

Vast amounts of time and energy are spent this time each year in hope of determining who receives what.  Isn’t it an interesting game we Americans play when it comes to making these determinations?  Sadly it often degenerates into thinking through how close you are to a certain relative or coworker, in order to decide if he or she should receive a card, or maybe a gift, or maybe a really expensive gift.  Often the decisions made are quite arbitrary, and it’s easy to quickly lose sight of the reasons that are supposed to be behind giving a gift.

What if you and I only ever received what we deserved?  Would you receive nice things?  Would you receive nothing?  Would you actually receive something bad, as result of what you earned?

I couldn’t help but see some connections with these thoughts in Scripture, and thought I would share here what I did in my LIFE Bible study community.  We are in an ongoing study through the Gospel according to Mark, and we have reached the week that immediately preceded Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Earlier that week, Jesus had entered Jerusalem to celebratory shouts of “Hosanna!”  But His outlook, humanly speaking, would soon take a turn for the worse.  As chapter 14 begins, we see some religious leaders plotting His demise, which Jesus has predicted three times by this point in the Gospel account.  And then in what should be a joyful, reflective time at Jewish Passover, we see an amazing contrast in what Jesus receives, as opposed to what He deserves.

However, the first picture is a positive one, showing what He actually deserves.  While still in the neighboring small town of Bethany before going back into the city, Jesus is seated at a dinner table with friends.  As was common for the day, they are reclining on the floor around a low table.  A lady comes to Him with a container of expensive ointment which she subsequently breaks open, and pours over the head of Jesus, which is an ancient sign of dear respect.  Instead of praising her apparently loving sacrifice, the men around her start to criticize her.  They tell her that her logic is flawed: instead of anointing Jesus, she could have sold the costly ointment and given the proceeds to the poor.  Jesus defends the lady’s sacrifice, saying that she is wise since He will only be with them a short time, and then announces that the story of her sacrifice will be told for years to come (which is what I’m doing right now).  According to Jesus’ defense of her actions, she appeared to know exactly what she was doing, and why.  Jesus was receiving the glory He actually deserved.

I want my offering of my life to Jesus to be as sacrificial.  But the One who truly deserves praise often does not receive it.  All too often, I look more like the next few pictures from Mark 14, which aren’t so attractive.  More to come.

Catching Up

Wow, the illness I mentioned in earlier posts really knocked me out for several days, which put me behind at work, as well as these year-in-review posts.  For anyone who read the first few, thank you.  I obviously have had to revise my efforts at daily December posts, but there are a few more items from this year that have left a lasting, positive mark that I will share here.  I simply wanted to explain where I’ve been.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Year in Review 2009: SimChurch Preview

Tonight’s post will be extra short, as my sickness recovery took a retreat, and I’m not feeling well at all this evening.

My light and temporary illness causes me to think even more about the Chandler family.  I’m still praying for Matt Chandler, lead pastor at The Village Church near Dallas, Texas, who underwent surgery today to remove a significant portion of the right frontal lobe of his brain after a seizure last week prompted several tests.  His faith and resolve, reflected in a statement posted this morning before surgery, is powerful.  I encourage you to read it.

As for the year in review part, tonight’s post looks forward into December for a book I plan to read.  My attention was caught recently by a book title released in October, and was further heightened when I looked at the author’s name and I realized I know him!

SimChurch cover Although I haven’t read it yet, this month I plan to take up SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World, published by Zondervan.  Douglas Estes is an old friend from church and seminary, who now pastors and teaches in California.  We actually ran into Douglas and his family recently at park here (back towards the Eastern shores), when they were in town to visit their extended family.  I’ll write more about the book and Estes later, but you know this volume has to have some cred when his doctoral thesis from the University of Nottingham, UK, was titled, The Temporal Mechanics of the Fourth Gospel: A Theory of Hermeneutical Relativity in the Gospel of John (Brill, 2008).

Again, more on this later.  For now, after some rest I have to go brush up on my temporal mechanics.

[This is the fourth in a series, based on a blog challenge.]

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Year in Review 2009: Tweeting Congressmen

Since about midnight almost 24 hours ago I have been quite sick.  Chills, aches, fever.  I missed work and our staff Christmas dinner.  No fun.  But I’m on the mend.

Today, when not sleeping off my illness, I tried to think of the best article from the year.  Although I’m in the habit of reading lots of articles, most are from news websites about politics, society, culture.  Not usually the kind of magazine analysis that might make for a more memorable article.  However, for some reason I very randomly remembered a piece from early in the year.  We certainly would not call it the year’s best article, but it spoke volumes about how media—specifically SoMe—is changing the way we live.

The February article in the Washington Post was titled, “A Tale of 140 Characters, Plus the Ones in Congress.”  It was in regard to how, and how many, U.S. Senators and Representatives used Twitter during President Obama’s first address to Congress.  One Congressmen, during the address, tweeted:

“Aggie basketball game is about to start on espn2 for those of you that aren't going to bother watching pelosi smirk for the next hour.”

Entries like the above prompted Post reporter Dana Milbank to write:

“At a time of national emergency, when America needs the focused attention of contemplative and reflective lawmakers, they are dispatching rapid-fire thoughts in 140 characters or less.”

Since the article is archived, I only found the limited quotes above.  If you would like, you can pay ProQuest/WaPo for access to archives in plans that range from $3.95 to $29.95.  Another sign of the times, I guess.

I opted to go with the free preview.

[This is the third in a series, based on a Blog Challenge.]

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Year in Review 2009: Ray’s Pizza

The Bell #best09 Blog Challenge prompt for the day is to share a good restaurant moment from this year.  I had a restaurant moment just today with my friend Matt.  Jason’s Deli.  Half a Club Royale and a cup of Spicy Seafood Gumbo.  It was a good restaurant moment.

Come to think of it, any time I get to eat out is a good restaurant moment.

But one restaurant event that I thought might be blog-worthy comes from May of this year.  I’m quite certain I will write more about my parents’ adventure in coming days, but the basic idea is that during the week of Mother’s Day, my wife and I took my parents to New York City and Washington, D.C.  My parents had never been to NYC, and my mom had not been to D.C. either.  The trip was so much fun, and a blessing in many ways, but again, I will write more about it in short order.

For tonight, though, I will share a pic from one particular restaurant moment that I had forgotten about.  Here’s the scene.  We’re dragging my aging parents through NYC, taking the subway instead of walking whenever possible, and taking elevators to the subway whenever possible.  However, despite our best efforts to keep Mom and Dad from much physical exertion, getting around to all the NYC sites takes some energy.  It was time to eat, and we wanted some great pizza, so we stopped into Ray’s Pizza on 7th Avenue, just north of Times Square.

My dad’s health is worse than my mom’s, but you wouldn’t know it from this photo.  I quickly snapped it on my phone, and my mom gave me permission to post it.

Dad and Mom at Ray's Pizza

Part of Mom and Dad’s Big NYC Adventure.  Gotta love it. :)

Year in Review 2009

Last night I hurriedly completed an entry that probably didn’t make much sense to anyone who loosely follows what I ever-so-loosely write.  So let me explain.

One of our friends, Jenn, who is now a newlywed Cali gal, tweeted about Gwen Bell and her Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.  While I had not heard of Gwen, I thought this looked like an interesting global call to keyboards everywhere.  Gwen gives prompts for each day of December to post about the most memorable and #best09 happenings.

As I tried to quickly type up my short post for December 1, my sweet wife had the chutzpah (read with sarcasm) to ask me if there were any other dudes taking the blog challenge: “Is it primarily girls?” she asked.  I wasn’t sure what to think next: Was she just being facetious, or was she questioning my manhood?  Since I am still unsure of the answer to my question, I would like to use this post to affirm my manly goals in this series.

I have always been intrigued by the annual year-in-review-type shows that grace our television networks, especially “news” networks, this time of year.  Even before Thanksgiving had arrived, I saw an ad for a documentary that will replay the year’s top stories.  And I used to be unduly critical of shows that talk about the year’s best when we still have 1/12 of the year remaining.  I felt it could set low expectations of Decembers everywhere.  But now I see the benefits of remembering.

So, for a blog poser like me, this challenge gives the opportunity to share a year in review—to revisit all those things I should have posted throughout the year.  Let’s just say I’ll be taking the blog challenge in order to catch up from procrastination, which is very manly, and will make my wife very proud of her man.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Year in Review 2009: Kauai Trip

Although I have no idea who Gwen Bell is (please, no offense, Gwen) ;), on the tweeted idea of our dear friend Jenn, I am accepting The Best of 2009 Blog Challenge.  You can watch for #best09.  More about that later.  I also have no idea how many days in December I will complete this, but since I have exactly five minutes left to complete today’s challenge idea, I need to make a quick entry.

Today’s idea is for the best trip of 2009.  I was blessed to have a few trips to choose from, but a free trip (courtesy of my sister-in-law Melissa) to Kauai, Hawaii has to top the list.  It’s hard to top Hawaii; it’s hard to beat free.

I’ll post pics later, but I don’t want to miss today’s deadline. :)