What Happens When the Reason for the Season is Forgotten?

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It was a normal enough Monday afternoon.

Monday was behaving in typical fashion, and I was just waiting for the work day to finish.  Suddenly my phone beeped at me calling for my attention.  As it was late Monday afternoon, any distraction would do.  So I checked to see what the notification was for.

It was a tag on Facebook to an article that has had the thoughts in my head turning ever since reading it.  The article comes from a blog called  Scary Mommy and the title of the post is “When the Heck Did Easter Become the New Christmas?”  (Click the post tittle to see the entire post).  One section in particular caught my attention and stuck out to me:

What happened, America?  Easter used to be the simple holiday; the one you barely even had to acknowledge if you weren’t celebrating it for religious reasons.  Now, it’s yet another day of the year we’re expected to shower our kids with mountains of plastic crap they don’t need and organize a full day of meals, gatherings, and activities.  – Ashley Austrew,  posted at http://www.ScaryMommy.com

The statistics referenced in the article were startling!  Has commercialism and/or consumerism taken over this religious holiday?  My answer would be not really in our house.  We choose to try to spend more time and energy on the religious significance of the holiday.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t take part in some of the fun traditions.  Mr. Max will be eagerly searching for his basket on Easter morning, but it will contain mostly candy.  We do tend to add non-candy items to the basket as well, but they are small things  — a small stuffed animal, a book, and a couple of neat mineral rocks as geology has become a new interest of his.

While we do enjoy watching the search every year, these fun family activities aren’t usually our main focus during the holiday season, be it Advent or Lent.  A part of our family traditions yes, but not the main focus.

Oddly enough though this consumerism attitude has come into our home ever so slightly this year.  Just last week Mr. Max was telling me about all of the things he is hoping for in his basket this year.   My response to him?  “This isn’t Christmas you know.”

There always seems to be something taking place at our church that my husband and I look forward to during holiday seasons as well.  We have been able to pass this tradition on to our son too.  He will tell you that he looks forward to the Christmas Eve service at Midway each year.  I look forward to singing the hymns that are only sung during this season.

We are very focused on the fact that this holiday is in remembrance of our Saviour going to the cross for us to give us the gift of sacrificial saving grace.  It is the celebration of Jesus triumphing over death and his redeeming love for mankind.

With the wheels spinning in my head it isn’t long before I am wondering if there is a reason Easter is becoming the new Christmas.  Is  it possibly because the folks that are buying the gifts to beef up baskets are more focused on the gifting part of things rather than the religious aspect of it?

Is there a connection between the loss of religion in general in a Post-Christendom culture and the increase in spending at Easter?  Does removing the religious origins of this holiday cause us to spend more on the gifts/baskets because the focus is now more commercial/consumerist?

Is spending up because faith is down?

—  The world is perishing for lack of the knowledge of God and the Church is famishing for want of His Presence. – A.W. Tozer – The Pursuit of God  —

We have seen time and again that we seek to fill voids within ourselves that can only truly be filled by God.  We struggle to be self-sufficient.  We don’t want to depend on anyone else.  So it would stand to reason that as we forget the religious significance of Easter it is leaving a void in our souls.  We as humans seek to fill this void by shopping:

  • we shop for basket fillers
  • we shop for the perfect Easter outfits
  • we shop for food for a fabulous feast
  • we shop for decorations to make our homes more festive for the season

Isn’t it odd that we are even celebrating the holiday if we aren’t celebrating it for the religious reasons?  In our church communities we mourn that Jesus Christ seems to be absent in the ways our society celebrates Easter (or Christmas).  We pray for the unchurched who are missing “the reason for the season.”  How many times have we heard this expression said?  How many times have I said this very thing?

Does this signify that we are fearful that the evil one is winning the day, even though we know he has already lost the war.  Perhaps it isn’t just the unchurched that have lost faith.  The claim could be made that perhaps we as Christians are trying to take over for God in a way and make sure that the reason for the season becomes the focus again. We are showing a lack of trust in Him who knows all that has been and all that will be.

However, perhaps we are looking at this trend all wrong after all.  Maybe the Enemy has started his victory dance a little too early.

What better way to start a conversation with someone on the status of their belief or unbelief than to ask them, “So, what does Easter mean to you?”  This little question will lead to wonderful doors that will open up for conversations on the concept of saving grace to take place!

When we share the Easter Gospel with someone, we are sending out the Word of God.  Essentially we are offering a life line.  Planting a seed.  We can’t make people take ahold of the message we are offering to them.  But we can know with confidence that if we sow the Word in people, the Holy Spirit will come back to gather the harvest when the time is right.

Hallelujah!!  He is risen, he is risen indeed!

Death has been conquered!

No one can remove the reason for the season as long as there are still faithful people out there spreading the love of God.

Keep sowing the seeds of the gospel.

It always produces.

Always.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. – Isaiah 55:10-11 (NRSV)

 

 

Irish Reflections and Discipleship

I was born with Irish blood.  In typical American fashion it isn’t 100% Irish ancestry that I can claim.  There is a mixture of Russian, German, French and Polish decent in there as well, but the biggest portion of ancestries running through my veins are of  Irish and Polish origins.

Last night I made both the Irish side and the Polish side of my tummy happy with corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes in anticipation of St. Patrick’s day.  Today I must confess my Irish eyes are smiling (which is a great song!) and that I am proudly wearing my favorite green shirt:

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This is also the day that I am most likely to watch the old Disney movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People.   However, that is where my following of St. Patrick’s Day traditions ends.

And that is also where my musings begin.

Throughout the day many people will partake in another St. Patrick’s Day “tradition”.  Drinking copious amounts of green beer.  The irony here is that this “tradition” didn’t come from Ireland, but rather was started in New York City in the early 1900’s.

Perhaps the saddest piece of this whole day as it is celebrated in our culture is that in no way does any of it actually tie back to or tell the inspiring story of the man who is celebrated on this day.  Rather than celebrating the life and legacy of a true man of God, we have commercialized this day in our society and have shifted the focus to pursuits that tend to be more negative in nature instead.  Bad Irish jokes and drunkenness have become the order of the day.

St. Patrick was a real person.  In fact, most of what we know about him comes from his own works.  This was a man who embodied forgiveness, humility, obedience, and a willingness to go when God called him to go and make disciples.

If you have never heard the actual details of his life, St. Patrick was actually British!  He found himself kidnapped from his native Britain and family of some wealth, enslaved, and put to work by Irish marauders as a shepherd in Ireland at the age of 16.  For several years he faithfully went about the duties of his new-found life finding strength in his ever-deepening dependence and relationship with God.

And God was faithful to Patrick.

One night in a dream God spoke to Patrick and gave him instructions to run away from his current post, to head for the coast where he would find a boat home.  This was a very dangerous thing for a slave to do and if caught could be life ending.  However Patrick trusted in his God and went.

He did indeed find a boat home and was able to return to the home he was stolen from.  Once there he decided to dedicate his life to the God who saved him both through the grace of salvation and from his physical bonds of slavery.  Patrick became a priest and was made a bishop.  At some point during this time God again spoke to Patrick in his dreams more or less telling him that he should now return to the land of his captivity, not for revenge, but to lead the people there away from the pagan ways they were living to lives of redemption and salvation through Christ.

Again, Patrick heard the voice of his God and listened to his call.

St. Patrick went back to help save the very people who had enslaved him.  After returning to Ireland, this man went on to convert large portions of the population of Ireland to Christianity and is responsible for the building of many churches there.

So today rather than celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by drinking green beer be a radical rebel!  Share with someone the inspiring true story of this man who lived long ago.  Walk in the footsteps of St. Patrick and help introduce someone to the saving grace found in Christ alone (another great song!).  Lead lost people to the one true Shepherd.

 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10-9:10, NSRV)

 

 

Turning Over a New Leaf

A meditation  on Psalm 32 based on the Leader worship resources for Lent, published by MennoMedia for the fourth Sunday in Lent 2016.

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
 Blessed is the one
    whose sin the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit. (psalm 32:1-2)

We have been thinking about ourselves and our relationship with the Father as a relationship between the great Author and his collected works.  We are each living ink.  Our stories are still flowing from the pen of life.

During the first few weeks of lent we focused on turning over the pens of our lives and allowing the great Author to write our stories for us.  As well as how to find light in the dark texts of life and also that we can leap off the page and become living ink in our lives through the relationships we have with others.

Today we are going to think about turning over a new leaf.  The focus statement for this week says,

“Turning Over a New Leaf.”  As we turn over the page of each chapter in the grand covenant narrative, we find ourselves invited to “re-turn” to the open arms of Christ and his ways, and to experience his good news of reconciliation.

So what does it mean to turn over a new leaf?

Perhaps the most familiar story in the Bible of someone turning over a new leaf is in the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke 15:11-32.  We all have heard this story of the man with two sons who chose two very different ways to go in life.

The younger son thought all he needed to be happy was his share of his fathers wealth.  He took it and went out to find his happiness. seeking his identity in the world.

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
 For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer. (Psalm 32:3-4) 

God desires a personal intimate relationship with each and every one of us. He sees the way we each have tried to follow after the world.  He sees each sin that we commit in an effort to chase after the world to find happiness.  And yet he still calls each one of us back to him with his arms opened wide to receive us.

Why should we go to him?  Because no matter how long we chase after things in this world we can never find something that truly satisfies us.  Just as the younger son in the parable learned, even with all the wealth and privilege an inheritance can bring you are still constantly looking for the next thing to try to find fulfillment. Eventually you fall so low even the pigs have it better.  And you are just as miserable as when you had the wealth that couldn’t buy you contentment.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin (psalm 32:5)

For contentment comes from the Father.  Our identities do no come from this world.  They come from the Father.  When we find our identity in him, he helps us to turn over a new leaf.  We can begin to become the living ink of the Father using our lives to tell about the stories he is waiting to write with in the lives of others.  Stories of love, redemption and humility.

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
    while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
    will not reach them.
 You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance. (Psalm 32:6-7)

When we turn over a new leaf we must turn it over in complete and utter submission to the Father.  We must go forward in total surrender to God’s will.   We come to the Father broken people, broken both by the world and by ourselves.  It is only in our obvious brokeness that we can begin to heal through the Father.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. (Psalm 32:8)

But there was a second brother in the parable.  He too sought to find his identity.

We must be careful when turning over a new leaf of righteousness that we don’t then become like the older brother in the parable.  This brother too was separated from his father.  He was so wrapped up in being a righteous man and doing everything to the letter of the law that he lost the righteousness that comes through the Father and instead he became self-righteous, finding his identity in the wrong kind of legalistic righteousness.

Do not be like the horse or the mule,
    which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
    or they will not come to you.
 Many are the woes of the wicked,
    but the Lord’s unfailing love
    surrounds the one who trusts in him. (Psalm 32:9-10)

The father is patiently waiting for this son to turn over a new leaf and come home to him as well.

Just as he waits for me and for you.  He patiently waits for each of us.  We just have to stop and listen.

Come as you are where you are.  Bring your brokeness to him!  He seeks to heal us.  He ignores our brokeness to pull us in.  He seeks to restore us to our identity in him.

Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
    sing, all you who are upright in heart! (Psalm 32:11)

So this week I invite you to re-examine the stories currently being written in your life.  Is it time to turn over a new leaf?  For myself this is a daily thing.  Each morning I must turn over a new leaf and start the story again.  Asking the Father for his loving guidance to help me find and live my identity as a new creation in God through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Then, and only then, can I become living ink.  An ambassador for the Father, taking this living ink out into the world around us that is hurting.  Helping the lost to see they need to come back to the open arms of the Father.

C. S. Lewis once said,

If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the logical explanation is that I was made for another world.

Come back to the Father.  He is waiting with open arms.  Turn over a new leaf and leave behind whatever has pulled you away.