Well, hello again. :)
How is everyone's holiday season going so far? I must say I fluctuate between stress and peace right now. Happily, I am able, every day, to check something off the list and am down to a very few unfinished presents.
What I am greatly enjoying is the quiet time I am spending in the mornings continuing in the Bible study I started a few weeks ago along with the Advent devotions. As so often happens, the readings tie in well together with other things I am listening to and reading about right now.
Recently I subscribed to the Woodland Hills Church podcast. The church is one that my friends attend in the St. Paul, MN. It is a huge church - probably much bigger than one I would like to attend in person - but Greg Boyd and the other pastors there preach powerful, convicting, relevant messages every Sunday on what it means to daily practice kingdom living. I am enjoying the podcast very, very much.
Two weeks ago, one of the pastors, Sandra Unger, spoke about the generosity of Christians. Some of the things she mentioned really pricked at my conscience and I know I will listen to this sermon again. She shared with the congregation the very funny SNL skit, "Don't Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford," which you should treat yourself t right now if you've never seen it.
After the video, Unger went on to say, "...the kingdom of God goes even beyond the SNL skit and asks the question, 'Even if you have the money, should you buy it?... We are very limited in our ability to step in and meet a need if we are constantly outspending our resources."
Unger also talks about our giving, particularly at Christmas. She does not wish to dismiss the giving that is taking place every year around this time, but she adds a few thoughts to it. She mentions the giving like the shoeboxes we fill to send to less fortunate children, as an example. The gifts, she argues, are important ones, and are valued by the recipients, "but," she says, "my truth is that I did not give sacrificially - the gift cost me 'nothing.' I didn't give the way Jesus calls us to give. And I think that if our giving - and not just at Christmas- doesn't involve sacrifice, then it's not all that it could be. It seems like that there should be things that I cannoot buy and vacations I cannot take and cars I will not drive and houses I cannot build, because my generosity in the kingdom of God makes those things impossible."
She goes on to talk about regularly having money available for giving that we might give happily and generously when we see a need. I am thinking about these things as we come to then end of one and begin a new year. Personally, I do not feel I have a whole lot financially I can give, but I want to be able to think of ways I can give more sacrificially in the coming year.
I know that this new year is going to bring even more trying times for folks. I see this as a great opportunity to be Christ to one another. I know it is easy to get swept up by our culture, but my hope is that Christians all over will be reaching out to others as times get hard. Unger pointed out in her sermon that 76% of Americans call themselves Christian. "Is it possible," she asks, "that some of those people in the crowds at Wal -Mart that crushed that young man to death, call themselves Christians?"
It's powerful stuff and we should be thinking seriously about it.
The theme for the second week in Advent in the little devotional I'm reading was the second candle which symbolized hope. I want to practice being hope in a dark world now and in the coming year. As Christians, Christ is our hope and we are this hope in this dark world. If we are behaving as the world behaves and scrambling furiously over others for stuff we just do not need, how are we different from the rest of the world? How will we represent hope in a struggling economy? How will we be Christ to the world?
William Sloane Coffin said, "Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart's full of hope, you can be persistent when you can't be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I not optimistic, I'm always very hopeful."
I want to be practicing hope as we move out of 2008 and into 2009. And as the new year moves ever closer and I begin to think about goals and resolutions, I want to think about ways I can continue to give and push myself to give more sacrificially as well. Just some things I'm thinking about these days.