Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Little Christmas Perspective in Difficult Times

No, this isn't going to be a blog about the true meaning of Christmas. I think we are all aware that Christmas is the holiday in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. If that fact offends you then I guess you need to do some growing up. The world doesn't exist to merely make sure you are happy all of the time.

I want to share an experience I had one Christmas years ago in the hopes that it might bring a little perspective to your heart if you find yourself in a difficult situation this holiday season.

Christmas was right around the corner and finances were particularly tight that year. (Let me make it clear that we did not find ourselves in a financial bind because we didn't budget our money properly or because we refused to hold down a job. If you waste money or you refuse to work then you are in a financial crisis of your own making and have no right to complain about your situation.) Due to circumstances beyond our control the bills were overwhelming us and we were doing everything we could to stay afloat. What added to the frustration was the fact that I had a good paying job and was working enormous amounts of overtime, but we were still struggling to keep our heads above water.

We did manage to save some money to provide our kids with some gifts, but that year my wife and I couldn't afford to get gifts for one another. As Christmas drew closer I became more and more frustrated with the situation. It wasn't fair. I worked hard to provide and we were barely making it. It wasn't like I was sitting around expecting money to be handed to me. All I wanted to do was be able to get my wife a few nice things for Christmas. Was that too much to hope for? I remember expressing my frustration to God. I wanted to know why, when we were being responsible to work and to spend wisely, that we were in this mess. I wanted to know why we had bill collectors calling all the time. I wanted to know why we were living paycheck to paycheck when I had such a decent paying job. I wanted to know why I couldn't get my wife a gift.

As I sat one night, a day or two before Christmas, brooding over our financial situation a news story came to my attention. Two children had drown in a river while playing by the banks. It was then the Spirit of the Lord spoke to my heart and gave answer to my prayers of complaint. He pointed out to me that although we did not have a surplus, we did have food and shelter. While we did not have extra and things were very tight, the bills were getting paid (if not but a few days late at times). And while I could not buy gifts for my wife that year, I had my children this Christmas where another family would not.

I was totally broken in that moment as I reflected upon my blindness. I could only think of how that family who had lost their children so close to Christmas would give anything in the world to be in my shoes. I couldn't give much to my family that year, but I HAD my family there with me. I was not rich with gold and silver, but I was indeed rich. That Christmas Eve my wife and I did not exchange gifts, but I shared what God had shown me and we cherished the gifts that God had given to us.

Perhaps this year you find yourself in a similar situation; wishing you had more or could give more. Maybe you are frustrated looking at all the things you don't have and wonder when it will be your turn to be blessed. May I suggest to you that you stop, look around, and take a fresh inventory. Instead of comparing your situation to those who have more, try comparing your situation to those who have less. You may find that you are already blessed. It's just a matter of your Christmas perspective.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Our Own JoePa Moment

There's been quite a media storm in the news over the allegations of sexual misconduct by former Penn State assistant couch Jerry Sandusky. (And yes, I realize the term "sexual misconduct" doesn't really describe the horrific act that Sandusky is accused of, but our society seems to like watering down heinous crimes with words. However, that is another blog for another time.) The fallout from these accusations has been tremendous and widespread and, to be sure, it isn't over yet.
One individual who seems to be getting more media attention than anyone else (including the alleged perpetrator of these crimes) is long time couch, Joe Paterno. His illustrious career abruptly ended and his once great name now covered in shame, Joe Paterno has suffered the consequences of one choice. A choice, not of taking an action, but of not taking enough action. However you may feel about Paterno's dismissal and punishment the reality is still there. Regardless of whether you think the consequences are too severe or not severe enough, he is suffering them. This temporal situation, therefore, brings up a very eternal reality.
Joe Paterno would have, by many, been considered a good man. He has a long career of pouring into young men and getting the best out of them. He spoke often of honor and gave to the community and school in various ways. Yet one decision has tarnished all of that. A decision that was obviously not as horrendous as the actual crime, but certainly connected to it in a lesser degree. All the good he has done did not outweigh the one wrong in the eyes of his superiors or in the eyes of many in the community. One small act on his part poisoned all the good.
In the Bible, James 2:10 tells us, "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all." Most individuals consider themselves to be "a good person." Our good works, in our eyes, outweigh our bad deeds and so God will see us as good and we will enter His holy heaven, we think. Strangely enough, such logic doesn't even work here on earth. Consider the case of Joe Paterno. If all the good acts of this man can be tainted by one bad act then how much more will all of our good works be tainted by our bad ones in the sight of a holy God? The book of James is clear, it only takes one sin to be guilty of all and everyone has committed at least one sin.
So here we are, all running around like little JoePas before the Lord hoping the good we have done will somehow wash out the bad. It doesn't work that way; not before men and not before God. This is why we need a Savior. His righteousness and His blood wash away the stains from our goodness.

Certainly there will be more fallout to come from Penn State. More "good people" will be revealed as not so good. I hope that the victims receive justice and truth is revealed. However, as we watch all of this unfold let us consider our own tainted good works lest we stand before God one day believing we have done enough to cancel out our sin only to experience our own JoePa moment.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Aguilera Moments

As always, the Super Bowl this year was full of news making moments. Aside from the actual game and the winning team, Super Bowls have a tendency to create all kinds of side news to give us plenty to talk about. Whether it be the commercials or awards or wardrobe malfunctions, the Super Bowl generates plenty of headlines and conversations.
Super Bowl XLV was no exception. The biggest news after the Packers' win seems to be Christina Aguilera's botching of the National Anthem. People have been both critical and down right angry with her anthem mess-up. I must admit that I feel a bit of compassion for her as I must assume she is thoroughly embarrassed. I know that if I had made a mistake singing the National Anthem at the most watched sports event in America I would want to crawl under a rock.
However, I wonder if the mistake was something that could have been avoided. I'm just going to give my opinion, which of course may be incorrect as I have not spoken with Ms. Aquilera, but I think I'm at least on the right track. It seems to me that there are very few celebrities who can resist making things about them. This isn't the first time the National Anthem has been re-rendered by a music artist. Instead of humbly accepting the invitation and honor of just singing the National Anthem correctly, drawing attention to this great country, doing honor to the nation and its anthem, and then gracefully departing, these artists have to "make it their own" and feel the need to tweak the anthem to make it uniquely their rendition. As though they are recording a new version of an old song, all kinds of riffs and things are added so that the attention is drawn to how the artist did it. There seems to be an it's-really-all-about-me attitude.
This is when things tend to go bad because instead of just singing it, they are more worried about changing it for their glory and fame. Just sing the song and stop being so conceited is my advice. There are some things that are not meant to be reshaped. Better to sing it right and bow out then make a mistake or even butcher the piece.
While it may be easy to ridicule Ms. Aguilera I can't help but think that we all have "Aguilera Moments". Those times where we decide we know better and are more concerned about the focus being on us. Those times where we take God's word and plan for our lives and tweak it to better fit what we want. We go into such decisions with a triumphant sense of pride as we imagine how great it will turn out only to find, as some music artists have learned, we end up with a mess.
Maybe we can all learn a little lesson from a mistake made in the singing of the National Anthem. Our ideas aren't always the best and there are times when we should just do things the way they were meant to be done. This is especially true when it comes to eternal things that God has laid out in His word.
Proverbs 14:12 - "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."