Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Sow Sow New Year, Pt 1

"Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many day you will find it again. Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land."

Signs of the economic convulsions of our times are everywhere. There is new violence in the Middle East. Scandals continue to plague the government, the private sector and the Church. Confidence in the notion of a better tomorrow is in a tailspin. What should we be doing in times like these?

I believe Ecclesiastes 11 gives us the answer through a couple of powerful images: One of these images is to "cast our bread" another is to "sow our seed". Sowing must take place in good times and in bad. We can't predict things beyond our control. We can't wait for "the perfect time" to sow new seed. In this passage, God gives us a wisdom for all times (good or bad): keep on sowing (see verses 1 through 6). You are, in fact, living today off of seed you sowed yesterday. The person who tries to live today off of seed they sowed this morning (or plan to sow next year) is in trouble.

In urging us to "cast our bread upon the waters", the writer is not calling us to feed the ducks at the local pond. A more literal rendering of the Hebrew helps us to better understand his point:

"Send your substance [out] over the face of the water [i.e., the sea] that you may find it [again] many days hence."

To send our substance out "over the seas" is to make an investment. It is the language of exploration, of trade, of discovery. It is to put ourselves and our "substance" out there in seven or eight different ways. "You do not know what disaster may come upon the land."

Circumstances are not always under our control, but if we have been actively extending our time, talent and treasure in broad ways, we will be far less subject to the kinds of crises that inflict those who "put all their bread in one basket", so to speak.

This is not only good financial advice (diversify!), but it is a recipe for living. In good times and bad, we need to continue to press out into the potential opportunities -- to cast our bread and sow our seed -- in a variety of places where it can be blessed. In my next post, I'll write more about what this might look like, continue to refelct on the Ecclesiastes passage, and begin to make some practical applications you may find helpful.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Trillion Dollar Christmas

This Christmas, I am in awe of how many people are suddenly in severe financial crisis -- and not far away people on the other side of a TV screen -- but people I personally know. I can't believe how crazily the "Big Three" automakers are reeling while banks are changing hands right and left or folding up altogeter like a cheap umberella.

I can't believe all the empty storefronts (large and small) and the la-de-da way the US Government is throwing around words like "trillion" and the State of California is throwing around words like "15 Billion" (that's shortfall dollars, not burgers served). I can't believe this guy Madoff and his gift for pulling off a $50 BILLION dollar swindle right under the noses of his "regulators". I can't believe this Governor in Illinois or the other political song and dance men. It's like somebody changed the channel in America from The Brady Bunch to Saw II without giving us a chance to crawl under the covers.

In the midst of this madness comes Christmas, like it does every year, with its echoes of Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis and Charlie Brown. This year, however, there is a chill in the air - and I don't mean Global Climate Change. This Christmas, the lights are up but nobody's home. In fact, people are lucky if they have a home to come home to at all. It's a strange new version The Christmas Story where, instead of receiving his "major award", Ralphie's dad gets foreclosure papers posted in his front window and then drives his Oldsmobile into a ditch.

Churches are hurting too, and charities like the Salvation Army. The other day I was at South Coast Plaza where a female bell ringer was standing silently next to a kettle ("bell ringing" is now forbidden at tony malls, so it seems). In another nearby community, some mega-Grinch complained about a Salvation Army representative being allowed on Post Office property, even though this had been going on for years. They're "anti-gay" -- those Salvation Army storm troopers -- and have to be stopped says he. The powers that be said "oops" and moved the offending bell ringer to another location where far less money would be collected for a charity that is broadly recognized for its generous kindness to whosoever will. Dear God, is this what Christmas in America has come to?

My point is that sentimental Christmas is not up to this perfect storm of political correctness, financial crisis and collective fear and loathing. Santa's sleigh is stalled in line at the WalMart and not even Rudolph's red nose can penetrate the gathering gloom. O'Reilley might be handing out "Merry Christmas" bumper stickers, but instead of being a familiar traditional greeting, the phrase has become a defiant political statement along the lines of "hell no, we won't go".

What we need is REAL Christmas -- the Jesus-centered kind. That's because the Bible reminds us that the First Christmas took place during a period of political oppression, social turmoil and religious sterility. "That", God said, "is the kind of environment that is just right for my Messiah to come". This is the Jesus, the True Gift of Christmas , that we need in times like these. He is the One who climbed into this world "silently, so silently" before shaking us to the core when the time was just right.

Yes, God was at work in the most unlikely places and through the most unlikely people during the most unlikely times when His Son took on flesh and blood and walked among us. If Christmas has any real meaning anymore it is that what really matters transcends the contradictory nature of our times and drives right towards the heart of things. If you're looking for THAT kind of Christmas, here's a hint: you won't find it in Bedford Falls or Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree. You'll find it, like the shepherds, tucked away and nurtured by those who are in awe of the risk, the simplicity and the power of it all.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

An Interview With Frosty the Snowman

In a JUST MY TYPE blog exclusive, I was able to snag the following interview with the illusive "Frosty the Snowman"...

JMT: So, Frosty, you've been a major Christmas season figure for some time now. How is that kind of fame affecting you?

FROSTY: It can get kind of crazy. The paparazzi are everywhere, I can tell you that, and being that everyone knows I dress in an old silk hat, corn cob pipe, a button nose, I'm not that hard to spot. I hate to admit it, but recently I hired some security.

JMT: That bad, huh? Sorry to hear that. But, moving on...I've always wanted to know: what is it that a snowman actually does anyway?

FROSTY: Well, as you know, I have a very limited season each year in which to make my mark. I usually do a couple TV appearances, run down to the village with a broomstick in my hand and play "catch me" with the kids, stuff like that.

JMT: I assume you've seen the TV biobic featuring you with The Magician and the rabbit and all. Any comment?

FROSTY: Yeah -- total trash! I've been trying to sue those guys for years for that unauthorized biography.

JMT: Wow, sorry to get you so...frosted, Frosty. That really hits a nerve, doesn't it?

FROSTY: You bet. Sure, I've had some run ins with the law and such, but mostly with traffic cops for failing to come to a complete stop -- but that story is way out of bounds.

JMT: On a different note, can you explain the origins of the whole "thumpety thump thump" thing in your theme song?

FROSTY: Sure. Originally it was: "Naaaa-naa-naa-nananana, Frosty" then that ripoff Beatle stole it for Hey Jude before we could get the song out there. So we had to go with something we were pretty sure no one else would want in a song. It was my manager who came up with "thumpity" and -- you gotta admit -- you don't hear that anywhere else.

JMT: Well, look Frosty - it's been great talking with you. Good luck on this year's appearances and all. Is there anything you'd like to say as we bring this to a close?

FROSTY: Yeah. I'll be back again someday...

Monday, December 8, 2008

Still Haven't Found (What I'm Looking For)

"For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10)

There is something about that U2 song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" that never quite clicked with me. These days, however, I have been thinking a lot more about it. Something about it has come to capture the ongoing changes in my spirituality -- especially when it comes to the church.

I love the church -- always have, always will. But in all the years the church and I have danced together, something has eluded me in my relationship with her. I admire her inspired expressions -- the great preaching, the music of praise, worship and devotion that has both brought me to my feet and put me on my face. The care for one another and the sense of history and perspective I have learned from her. The community and connectedness I have experienced within her fellowship. I love it when I see the church engage the great social, moral and cultural issues of our times with integrity, passion and authenticity and I love seeing the vision for life together in Christ being reborn and reshaped in each new generation and in different parts of the world.

But I still haven't found what I'm looking for.

That's the conclusion I came to the other day. I have had moments, pieces, glimpses of "what I'm looking for" in and from the church throughout the decades. There are aspects that have answered my "deep calls to deep" longings for the Kingdom of God I have experienced via church life. But my search continues nevertheless.

As I step our into our new church network endeavor and refocus my life around house church and simple and focused mission, it is awakening something that has felt neglected within me. It feels good -- and a bit strange -- like a reunion with an old friend that is at once invigorating and awkward. Nevertheless, no matter how wonderful things may become in our new endeavor, I'm sober about the fact that there is no perfect and lasting modality of church. There is no church group, no form, no ministry, no leader or doctrinal sweet spot that gets it all done for all time. I have resigned myself to the reality that, while on earth, I will ever be a pilgrim searching for more of the heaven my heart cries out for.

So, for now, what I can say with certainty is this: "I still haven't found what I'm looking for -- but I'm closer now than I have been for a long, long time."