Looking Back on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Paul Walker and the Start of Advent

This felt like quite the eventful weekend with Thanksgiving, Black Friday, the untimely death of Paul Walker and the start of Advent. Just about each of these deserve a post on their own and I’ll make that a goal this week.

Thanksgiving Day
I hope all went with yours. Ours was spent with family friends that included newlyweds, two recently engaged couples, a newborn, about a dozen kids under 10, silly games, a spontaneous worship service, great food of course (that included traditional turkey and middle eastern delicacies like grape leaves!) and conversations about law, faith, Lady Gaga and the history of how we Egyptians created civilization (God may have helped a little).

Throughout the weekend, I’ve been wanting to find time and at least think/journal about what I’m thankful for that does not include faith, family or friends. On one level, there’s not much else. On another, I find it stretching and hoping to get there. One thing that does come to mind is that I am grateful to find myself in a church context that allows for change. On one level, it welcomes it, on another, our organizational structure and culture are very careful with it. Change affects people and we need to be careful but good change is great for others and so we need to pursue what is truly better. Yeah, I’ll think I’ll try to blog about this soon.

Black Friday
Also hopefully this week I’ll post a bit on some thoughts on Black Friday but somehow I found myself defending the shoppers of this crazy day marked by mayhem, materialism and marketing (yes my alliteration skills are improving – thanks Eminem – I watch the last battle in 8 Mile every chance I get.)

Now, I too, resent the retailers and marketers for some of these disgraceful tactics of opening on Thanksgiving Day, ridiculous [Read more…]

For Those Not Ready For Advent, Christmas, 2013, Tomorrow …

Maybe you find yourself a bit behind schedule these days. Maybe the To-Do list is out of control. Maybe the last week of November and the first couple weeks of December are your least favorite of the year. They certainly were for me and though these days are better, I still remember how I used to wish I could fast forward to the new year during Christmastime.

Understandably, the thought of Christmas coming up in a few weeks is daunting because it means “We gotta do extra stuff and we can barely do the regular stuff.” Perhaps throughout the year, you told your loved ones that Christmas is going to be different this year – simpler, slower, focused more on family and others so forth. Then as you’ve been hearing the amazing things that others are doing for their families (“We’re bringing the whole family out to Hawaii after fixing up the entire Jersey Shore and feeding all the poor – Praise Jesus!”), you are reconsidering and the anxiety level slowly rises again.

Much of our fear is rooted in disappointing our family/loved ones. And that may be our first mistake this Christmas [Read more…]

Reflecting on the Third Week of Advent – The Joy Candle

Last week, our church lit the third candle of our advent wreath, the “Joy Candle.” Part of my Advent has been to celebrate and reflect upon the meaning of that candle throughout the week and blogging about it.

As we lit the Joy Candle, I remembered thinking what a dumb idea this was. It’s easier to walk around with hope and grace, you can look and be miserable but hey, you’re hanging on to hope and grace. We tend to think that being joyful should have affect your countenance and add a bounce in your step and parade around like your Will Farrell in Elf.

Many years ago, I used to think that joy was about “God making you happy” and spreading the “cheer” all around. But as it turns out, I had joy all wrong. I no longer think of joy as walking around with a cheesy smile on my face but more of a condition of the heart.

I’ve learned that true joy exists independent of our circumstances. For example, there are lottery winners that do not have joy and amazingly enough, you can find joy in the hearts of mourners at a funeral. For my purposes, I define joy as “the believer’s confidence in God.” If faith is the idea of “believing without seeing”, than joy is the by-product. It seems true to say that great faith tends to allow for great joy.

To borrow from the often quoted, C.S. Lewis, “Joy is the business of heaven.” It’s a great line, it’s a great sound byte and I’ve always [Read more…]

Reflecting on the First Week of Advent (The Hope Candle)

This week I’ve been praying for Hope.

It started by remembering all those that had a difficult time during Thanksgiving.  Some were in mourning, some were hospitalized, some are untreatable, unemployed, depressed, trafficked, poverty-stricken and in short, those who I’d rather not trade places with.  I found myself praying for the families connected to names like Sandusky, Fine and  Conrad Murray. Eventually I found myself saying a prayer for them.
This week also marked World AIDS Day.  If anyone could use hope, it’s the HIV/AIDS victim (and their families).  As you may know, [Read more…]

An Encouragement to Particpate in the Advent Conspiracy

I’m one of those no Christmas music til after Thanksgiving people. I have made a few exceptions like Bob Dylan’s new Christmas album and the amazing Sufjan boxset but what I am really thinking about is Advent. Really, I am. For many years, I’ve always felt unprepared for this season but not this one, friends. I even considered writing a pre-advent devotional book entitled “Get Ready to Get Ready” but I got pretty discouraged that the material pretty much was the Christian life. You know stuff like, “As we prepare our hearts to prepare our hearts, let us reflect on what it means to have the presence of Jesus with us now.” Currently, I’ve retitled the project to “Just Another Devotional in Distribution”. My imaginary editor told me that acronyms are sellers in the Christian retail world so “JADID”.)

Well as you can tell from the deep outpourings of my heart that I am ready for Advent. Similar to last year, I’ll focus on certain parts of Scripture, use a particular devotional, and am considering a couple other practices that I do not know how to communicate properly. But among them will be the Advent Conspiracy.

As a youth group, we have set a goal and I am hoping the Second Mile community will participate in some way too. I keep sharing our experience from last year, hopefully not out of a sense of self-righteousness but last year was one of my favorite Christmases. The short story and to keep it specific to AC was that Susan and I simply bought bags of fair trade coffee (from One Village) for most people, a few books (ask my sr. pastor which Tony Jones book he got), a restaurant gift certifcate and donated the money we saved. We bought a couple “normal” gifts for Nathan and each other (Susan got a macbook …. in October and I bought books that I would have bought anyway but this time … even more guilt-free. But they were great answers to people who measure your goodness by what you purchase for loved ones at Christmastime ;-) Anyway, I think I went to the mall twice: once we took Nathan to see Santa (which he didn’t enjoy) and once to buy something for a non-coffee drinking person – fruitcake of course. This year I plan on giving coffee, subscriptions to magazines like Generate and some Invisible Children items.

Everyone I know, and I think I mean literally everyone, has lamented to me at one time or another the absolute frustration of Christmas shopping and has complained of its commercialization. I am sure they have complained to you too.  So everyone we know feels this way. The Conspiracy helps counter that. I know some will think, “You don’t understand, I have a family that expects Christmas gifts – nice ones!” – yes that makes you American, welcome. Or more common, “I just don’t have anything left to give” – seriously, that’s what the Advent Conspiracy is about. Spending less, so you can give more and spend that time that you would have thinking what to get for the person that doesn’t want anything, shopping anyway and wrapping the stupid thing so at the end of it all, you can be closer to Jesus. You now get to redeem that time and hopefully do something constructive with it – you may even choose to worship (and I don’t mean just on Sundays and I don’t mean just in “quiet times”) but imagine worshipping during the Christmas season and spending time with people you love and maybe even showing love to those you don’t know.

Know that I and others like me are not trying to create a new legalism here. It would be easy to do that and may the Lord guard our hearts from that. If your Christmas is fine the way it is, disregard the advice and worship the way you would normally. But if you curse every time you hear “So This Is Christmas”, it may be time for a change.