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.
Right now we are in a season of advent. A season in which we remember Emmanuel- God with us. Jesus came not to explain the existence of pain and suffering, nor to rescue us from it. His response to human suffering was to enter into it himself. He came to endure it with us- for us. God is here in the midst of our suffering.
There are no words for what happened in Connecticut this weekend. But my thoughts, along with everyone else trail to, “Why, God? Why?” I hear people claiming that these terrible things happen because we have removed God from our schools and political platforms. It kind of baffles me really, that people who claim to know God would say that. Suggesting that we have the power to remove the creator of the universe from our school buildings and society. That somehow we have just kicked Him…
And when you sin against other believers by encouraging them to do something they believe is wrong, you are sinning against Christ. 1 Corinthians 8:12 (NLT)
Keep in mind when reading books like 1 Corinthians that they were originally handwritten letters. In the case of Corinthians, it was a letter from Paul to the followers of Jesus in the Greek city of Corinth. Paul spent 18 months there sharing the Message about Jesus and building up a small but faithful group of believers. Paul moved on to other cities and regions. As with any group of humans, conflicts and differences arose among the new Corinthian believers. Word reached Paul about some of these conflicts and he wrote this letter to his friends to address these differences.
Back in the day when Paul was writing his letter the city of Corinth was largely pagan, and a person could visit any number of pagan temples in the city. They were mostly temples to the various Greek and Roman gods we all studied in English Lit and Western Civ classes. Corinth had two large temples, one to Apollo and one to Aphrodite. As part of the pagan worship rituals, animals would be sacrificed and the meat would be cooked up for a feast with the temple priests and wealthy patrons. Leftovers were taken to the local meat market and sold to the public.
A conflict rose up among the followers of Jesus in Corinth. Should you buy or eat meat that had been part of a pagan sacrifice? Some said it was no big deal and felt free to eat it. Others felt strongly that they were defiling themselves by eating it. While this is not a burning controversy in our American culture today, it doesn’t take me long to come up with a number of similar conflicts we have today about social behaviors and appropriateness.
I’m not a very legalistic person. At least, I’m not any more. I’ve become increasingly less so with age. Having meandered through God’s Message these past 30 years or so, it’s become clear to me that the people who ticked Jesus off the most were the religious legalists. Note to self: Don’t be one of those guys. Put me in Corinth and I would likely be found hanging out with the pagans and enjoying a nice steak without thinking a thing of it.
But, there is danger inherent in freedom for ourselves and for others. Freedom can easily creep into destructive license. Also, followers of Jesus are called not only to look out for our own needs, but also the needs of others. This includes the needs of our fellow believers, some of whom have a distinctly religious legalist bent. Exercising my freedom can confuse, discourage and trip up another believer. I have a responsibility to be respectful of others and their beliefs, even when “other” refers to fellow believers with whom I disagree about the appropriateness of certain social behaviors. I am not to be led by my “right” to exercise my freedom, but by love for others. This may require me to circumstantially choose to curb my freedom in order to graciously love and respect a fellow believer.
Today, I’m reminded of how difficult it can be to navigate human relationships. When do you speak? When do you shut up? When do you prod? When do you pull back? When do you choose in? When do you choose out? It takes wisdom, humility, deference, and a lot of love in order to do it well. God, please give me these in abundant measure.
Wendy and I live in an unusual situation compared to most married couples I know. We work for the same company and we both work from home. In our spare time we both serve on the Board of Directors for our local community theatre, operate the virtual box office together out of our home, and are regularly involved in shows and productions together on stage. On Sundays, Wendy and I serve together in the visual tech ministry of our church either directing video production or serving behind a video camera. The bottom line is that with the exception of some business travel, Wendy and I are virtually around one another 24/7/365.
Today’s chapter is a virtual web of situational and circumstantial advice, suggestions, and commands surrounding marriage, singleness, and relationships. It’s a little confusing to try and sort out all that Paul is saying and still get the context in which he’s saying it. Whenever I wade into a chapter like this, I try to look for the crux of what the author is getting at. I think the sentence I pulled out from verse 32 is it. Paul’s personal preference is for people to be single like he was, and to be free from earthly concerns so they can focus on eternal matters. He personally saw it as a good thing for people to be free to follow God’s calling without the complications of earthly responsibility.
Being married, and being around your spouse all the time, it’s easy for me to relate to the point that Paul was trying to get through to the believers in Corinth. Marriage creates earthly entanglements. Perhaps this is even more clear to me because my beloved and I are around one another so much. Because of me and the girls, Wendy’s mental focus is constantly shifting from what she needs to do herself to managing the house and the needs of others in the family. She never complains (okay, she rarely complains), but there is no doubt that I am a complication to her existence. The same is true on my side of the ledger. Besides the day to day priorities of making sure I’m looking out for Wendy’s needs, being married carries added responsibility of thinking about provision, planning, and legacy. I’m not just responsible for myself but for my family and the probability that I will leave this world before them.
Marriage creates earthly entanglements. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is an honorable thing and Paul acknowledges that those who are in marriage are called to serve their spouse well. Nevertheless, one must understand that marriage carries weighty and far reaching consequences. You can’t always do the things you personally desire or perhaps to even to do things to which you feel called because your higher priority is looking out for and meeting the needs of your spouse. As a single person, Paul observed the freedom he had to serve Jesus wholeheartedly without the entanglements of marriage, and he obviously thought it a good thing to do if a person could pull it off.
This morning, I’m thinking about Wendy and me and one observation that Paul didn’t make. Sometimes two are better than one because there is a better return on their labor. I am convinced that Wendy and I together accomplish more and do a better job than either of us would alone. We compliment one another’s strengths, sharpen one another’s dull edges, and protect one another from our weaknesses and shortcomings. The marriage brings earthly entanglements, but it also brings tangible, eternal strengths to our earthly purposes.