The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 160,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 8 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
In my mother’s family, my great grandma Daisy was the undisputed matriarch. Divorced during a time when it was both scandalous and humiliating, she refused any money from her ex-husband and determined to raise her five children on her own. Relying on faith, hope, and love, she made ends meet and became a living example to her children and grandchildren. Grandma Daisy died when I was five years old, but her imprint on my family has become clearer to me throughout my life.
When Taylor left for Uganda last summer, I sent with her a box of crayons that I discovered in a tub of family mementoes that languished in my basement. They were Grandma Daisy’s crayons and I figured that Grandma Daisy herself would rather have them being used for art therapy projects in Uganda than gathering dust in my basement.
On Christmas Day, we gave my mother a set of three photographs showing Taylor with some children from Uganda, of a picture colored by a young girl there, and a picture of a woman drawing with Grandma Daisy’s crayons. On the back of the picture was an explanation of the photo triptych. As my mother read about Grandma Daisy’s crayons being sent to Uganda with Taylor she began to weep.
I thought about that moment this morning as I read this amazing chapter. My great Grandma Daisy had little or nothing of earthly value in this life. Her life and her legacy were not about getting more, keeping up appearances, or getting ahead. Her life and legacy were about simple faith, eternal hope and tangible love. I know that, not from having known her personally, but from the testimony and evidence given by her children and grandchildren in countless stories, anecdotes and family treasures.
Today’s chapter says that faith, hope, and love are the only three things that last for eternity. As I watched my mother’s reaction to her gift and the deep meaning it held for her, I caught a glimpse of the truth of it. As New Year’s Day approaches and I weed through bags of trash, piles of broken down cardboard, and a host of new stuff to place in our house, my thoughts are given to the coming year. I’m thinking more than ever about where my time, energy and resources are invested, and about Grandma Daisy’s legacy. I’ve never been one for big new year’s resolutions, but I think this year is about decreasing my investment in a lot of things and increasing my investment in just three.
Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 1 Corinthians 12:29-30 (NLT)
Over the past two days, most of us have opened a number of Christmas gifts. Stop for a moment and consider something with me. The gifts we received this Christmas were determined by the giver. While I’m sure there are exceptions, I’m assuming you did not look at someone else’s gift on Christmas morning and take it for yourself. I’m betting you didn’t tell the giver that you didn’t want the gift you were given nor did you demand that you be given what another person had. We understand that we have been given a gift and it is ours to accept no matter what we may have desired, wanted, or wished for. It is a gift and we are to be grateful and appreciate what we have been given (even if we decide to try and make an exchange or return later).
So, why is this such a hard concept when it comes to spiritual gifts?
One of the most destructive tendencies I have observed in the church is the allowance we give to members of our body to freely exercise the delusion that they have been given certain spiritual gifts when the opposite reality is abundantly clear to all. One of the most loving and profitable things we can do is to help each believer truthfully identify, acknowledge and accept the ways in which they have been spiritually gifted by God the Giver, and the ways in which they have not been gifted no matter how much they may desire it. Our refusal to do so results in the Body of Christ carrying out our mission blindly limping along, unable to hear clearly, with one arm tied behind our back.
When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 1 Corinthians 11:20-21 (NLT)
This week has been a veritable plethora of Christmas gatherings and feasts. On Sunday, we enjoyed a huge multi-generational family gathering here at VW Manor. Our cozy little brick house was packed with family of all ages, from two to 85.
It’s always interesting to see what happens socially at large gatherings whether its family or community. Some people hang tight with certain people seem to avoid others. Some people are social butterflies while others are wallflowers. I spent a good part of the afternoon Sunday with the younger generation at the dining room table while most of the adults kept to themselves in the living room. It was fun to hang out with and talk to younger family members I don’t see or often speak with, especially as many of them are making the transition from young people to adults. It was great conversation and I enjoyed my time with them.
In today’s chapter, Paul was addressing similar social situations that were negatively affecting the local church potluck in Corinth. The early gathering of believers had a tradition called “love feasts.” All believers would gather and share a meal together, then end with serving the “Lord’s Supper” a which ceremoniously imitates the eating of bread (metaphor for Jesus’ broken body) and drinking of wine (metaphor for Jesus’ shed blood) which Jesus instituted the night before he was crucified. In the early church there was a huge social disparity at these Love Feasts. There were rich and poor, slaves and free peoples, Greeks and Romans and Jews.
Because of the diversity of peoples in the church, social tensions arose as people gathered in their cliques. The wealthier believers brought good food and hoarded it for themselves, eating quickly while less fortunate believers waited for what amounted to the leftovers. In many cases, by the time everyone had eaten and the church was ready to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, some had consumed too much wine and were visibly inebriated.
People are people. As much as some things change, human nature doesn’t change all that much over time. I see shadows of the same social struggles at a church potluck or a family gathering today as the situation we read about in Paul’s letter. Today, I’m thinking about the gatherings yet to come this holiday season and social gatherings in which I regularly participate. I don’t want to passively regress into comfortable social conventions, but let love motivate me to tear down walls between peoples, generations, and social groups.
I live in the land of the First Amendment. We have rights and we’re not afraid to use them. We have freedom and we’re happy to exercise it (often to excess). Human rights and freedom are good things. They are blessed things. But, I’ve come to believe over time that our rights and our freedoms tend, on the whole, to breed self-centric thoughts, actions and motivations. I sometimes scratch my receding hair line and wonder where it is ultimately leading us.
This morning over our morning coffee and tea Wendy and I read an editorial from the Wall Street Journal by Melanie Kirkpatrick about believers in North Korea, where religion is banned altogether. There are no freedoms there and the average human has no rights in the eyes of the state. Christians are executed, their families imprisoned and persecuted. “Church” for believers in North Korea could literally be sitting silently in proximity of another believer:
North Korean Christians necessarily worship in secret. Many of the congregations are small family units consisting of just a husband and wife and, when they are old enough to keep a secret, their children. Other times a handful of Christians form a kind of congregation in motion. A worker for Open Doors explains how it works: “A Christian goes and sits on a bench in the park. Another Christian comes and sits next to him. Sometimes it is dangerous even to speak to one another, but they know they are both Christians, and at such a time, this is enough.”
And yet, as history has proven time and time and time again, our faith flourishes in the midst of persecution (and slowly recedes over time with freedom and license):
Yet despite this repression, something is happening that many characterize as nothing short of a miracle: Christianity appears to be growing in North Korea. Open Doors International, which tracks the persecution of Christians world-wide, puts the number of Christians in North Korea at between 200,000 and 400,000.
Today is Christmas Eve day. I’m looking forward to feasting with family, to gifts given and received, and to time with those I love. This afternoon Wendy and I will drive down the street and openly join thousands of others to worship and celebrate our Savior’s birth. Half a world away, our spiritual family members may secretly and fearfully sit on a park bench with one another. They will not make eye contact. They will not speak to one another. There will be no feast, no gifts given, and no open worship. They will simply sit together on opposite sides of a bench and silently join hearts in celebrating our Savior’s birth.
I get the sense that in terms of God’s economy they are spiritually the richer for it. Nevertheless, I will pray for them and think of them as I worship, and feast, and receive, and make merry. They put all that I will experience today and tomorrow in much needed perspective.
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
The holidays are full of extra special celebrations for our family. Wendy celebrates her birthday today (Happy Birthday, baby!), followed by Christmas, followed by our 7th wedding anniversary on New Year’s Eve, and then the New Year. This year is extra, extra special because Wendy hits a mile-stone.
Let the celebrations begin! And begin they did, in a big way, last weekend.
Last last summer Madison informed me that she and Taylor would like to surprise Wendy and whisk her away for a girls weekend. So the scheming commenced and plans were laid for the girls to take Wendy to Kansas City for some female fun. On Thanksgiving Day, the girls were together in Colorado so celebrate Madison’s milestone birthday (21) and during our holiday Face Time session the girls told Wendy about the “Hot Moms Turn 40” weekend they had planned for her. Tay and Wendy left Friday afternoon and picked Madison up at the KC airport. They went out to eat, went shopping on the plaza, went to the play Inspecting Carol, and returned to Des Moines on Sunday.
Clayton and I met the ladies at Americana for brunch. The girls and I then went to see War Horse at the Des Moines Civic Center. It’s a play Wendy and I had wanted to see ever since our trip to London a few years ago. It was a great show. We met up with Clayton again and spent a little time with Grandpa and Grandma VW before going to the 6:00 showing of The Hobbit.
We’re at that stage of life when family spreads out and getting together is a rare occurrence. It was so much fun for Wendy and the girls to get three days together and for all five of us to share an entire day. It was certainly a nice kick off to our two weeks of celebrations.
On Wednesday night all of the VWs and Keithleys gathered back and Grandpa and Grandma’s so that the family could see Madison before she flew back to Colorado where she’s scheduled to work over the holidays. Wendy and I brought in some Felix & Oscar’s pizza, Wendy made peanut butter, dark chocolate espresso cupcakes for Madison. Grandma made chocolate cake with fudge frosting for Wendy’s birthday. We ate and laughed and enjoyed the time together before rushing home to avoid the blizzard which was hitting town.
Tonight the festivities continue as we celebrate Wendy’s big day. We’re excited to meet up with our friends Dave and Maria who are in town from Michigan. Then it’s off to one of Wendy’s favorite restaurants with the VLs for a nice dinner.
If I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment. But I have no choice, for God has given me this sacred trust. What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. That’s why I never demand my rights when I preach the Good News. 1 Corinthians 9:17-18 (NLT)
Four or five years ago I was approached by a publisher who wanted to make a book out of my chapter-a-day posts. I won’t lie to you. I was thrilled and flattered. Being an author has always been a bit of a dream. At that point in this blogging journey I’d just about blogged on every chapter of the New Testament, so I quickly made plans to package that for publication as a book of devotional thoughts. I made preliminary arrangements with the publisher, hired an editor and began the task of compiling and cleaning up the material.
When the contract came from the publisher and I began to read it through, I suddenly woke up to the hard reality of the situation. I would be signing over the rights to the material in all of those posts to the publisher. I would have to delete each one from my blog and take them off-line. I would no longer have any control of the content. It would be the publishers material to package and sell as they wished, and it would no longer be in my hands.
I will never forget the conversation Wendy and I had that day. It was Wendy who saw the obvious and did not hesitate to answer. “I think your posts reach far more people than you realize,” she said to me. She then told me directly that she felt that it was the wrong decision to package and sell what has been, and should be, freely given. She was right and I knew it as soon as the words left her lips. Just like Paul relates in today’s chapter, I was called to proclaim God’s Message [which is another story I’ve been reminded that I need to share in a post someday – thank you, Kevin]. I am compelled.
Perhaps I will still realize my dream of being an author someday. It will not, however, be my chapter-a-day posts. I threw away the publisher’s contract that day and told them I was respectfully declining their offer. The posts would remain on-line and freely available to anyone who cares to read them. My payment is the simple knowledge that you’re reading these words.