Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's Firecrackers or Apple Seeds?

As the new year approaches, the thoughts of children everywhere turn to firecrackers! Stands pop up along roadsides with enticing signs offering two for one deals. The air on New Year's Eve will be filled with the sounds of pops and whistles causing neighborhood dogs to quiver in fear.

Now I enjoy a good fireworks show as much as the next person, but I've never been one to get into the homemade version. My children are like every other child who wants to fill the night with noise, while I worry that they'll hurt themselves in their haste. But, New Year's Eve usually means firecrackers nonetheless. That's what started this random thought.

When I think of firecrackers, I remember they make noise, they can be fun to watch, they can hurt you if you're not careful, and they don't last very long. Sounds like a lot of people I know....and that's the point. Remember, I'm not a big fan of firecrackers...I'm drawn to something much quieter...like an apple seed.

In the Bible, Jesus told the parable of the sower and in that story, some of the seed fell on shallow earth and sprang up quickly. Since these seeds had no real root, they just as quickly withered away. Some of the seeds fell on good soil and grew and produced 30, 60, 100 fold. Therein lies the difference in a firecracker and an apple seed.

As humans, we are often drawn to the flashy, quick rise to fame of the firecracker. What we forget is that the flash only lasts for a moment...fades quickly at best and can be dangerous at worst. Unfortunately, many young Christians are like those firecrackers. Sometimes in their zeal, they even manage to hurt those around them. They mean well, but like the firecracker they can be full of noise and then leave nothing but a puff of smoke behind them. Come to think of it, that's not just young Christians...that's people in general!

Contrast that to the lowly apple seed. Nothing really flashy there. Plant it and you'll have to wait a long time to see any results. Before that seed can become what it was created to be, it must die to itself...something we don't really see. Then slowly, that seed will grow into a shoot, then a sapling, then a tree, then finally...after what may seem like an eternity...the tree will produce fruit. Inside each seed lies the potential for thousands of other seeds, each with the same potential to feed those around it and grow. Have you ever met someone like that? You just get the feeling when you're around them that the fruit and wisdom they offer didn't happen quickly. It is precious fruit that took a lifetime to develop...and they don't look much like seeds anymore. While some are young in years, they have obviously died to self. Others, while they have had a lifetime to do this, somehow just resemble wrinkled old seeds...or firecrackers that have simply burned out.

Every New Year, people make huge resolutions like firecrackers...quickly made and forgotten. If instead, we can remember life is much more like planting a seed, perhaps we'll begin to see the difference in ourselves and those around us. It's not too flashy, and it's not much fun to watch, but if we're living for more than just the moment, we'll realize it's the way to go. Here's wishing you happy planting in the New Year.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rainfall and Potholes

The other day, as I was taking my son to school, I passed a spot in the road that I've learned to avoid because of a persistent pothole. As I carefully slowed in anticipation, I thought about the fact that this pothole has been "repaired" many times, but after every heavy rain, it appears once more. Once again, those 'random thoughts' started turning in my head.

That pothole shows up after every heavy rain. Maybe the problem isn't the rain, maybe the rain is simply revealing an ongoing structural problem that is simply being given a bandaid to try and repair it. That's alot like our lives. Rain doesn't cause the problems, it simply reveals them. The Bible says it rains on the just and the unjust alike, the difference is how that rain effects them. Life is going to have problems, but often we blame what is happening to us on the problem when in fact it is a "structural defect" within us that is simply being revealed.

Perhaps my problem isn't lack of funds; perhaps it is how I have set up my lifestyle. Perhaps the problem isn't my health; perhaps it's the choices I've made or my lack of self discipline. Perhaps my problem isn't that grouchy person I have to work or go to school with, (or even live with); perhaps it is my low self esteem or lack of patience or selfishness (how dare they ruin my day!) Perhaps the problem isn't my teacher or boss; perhaps it is what kind of student or worker I have shown myself to be. Perhaps the problem isn't what the person said or did; perhaps it's my anger. You get the picture.

This analogy can go into many different realms. Perhaps the problem with anything isn't what we perceive it to be. Perhaps it is simply revealing an area we truly need to make changes to in ourselves or our nation. Since I can't seem to do much about the nation, (see earlier blog about no one asking me!) then I guess it's up to me to make the changes in me.

If I don't like the way my kids act, I might need to look at my behavior toward them and others. (They do learn from me, especially that which I wish they didn't!) If I don't like the way my neighborhood is, perhaps I need to look and see if I'm making a difference there. If I don't like the way things are done at my job, perhaps I need to look at what part I might play in the problem, whether in attitude or action. If I don't like the way my government is doing things, perhaps I need to look at what I am doing to make a difference in that area. Now, I realize there are areas that "hit us" that we had nothing to do with! We can't control those things - only our reactions to them. Maybe the reason for our storm isn't so much for us, as to help someone around us see how we go about weathering what life throws at us. Maybe they need to watch us "fix the potholes" so they will know how to accomplish the same in their own lives.

We all have "potholes" in our lives. It's up to us to take the time and effort (and sometimes painful expense - metaphorical and sometimes actual) and fix it. Putting another patch on it may seem to work for a while, but rest assured, it will rain again. If you don't want to constantly have to avoid that pothole, you're gonna have to do something about it.

May you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy "Pothole Fixing" New Year.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why a stable?

The following "random thought" actually came about a year ago while teaching in Kid's Church just before Christmas. I don't think I've ever heard this before....in fact, I had never thought of it before the words began to come out of my mouth that Sunday morning.

It was a typical Children's Church service a week or two before Christmas. I had a wonderful group of kids, most of whom I had known since they were born. These children knew the Christmas story quite well, so making it real and new was quite a challenge. I had told the story and tried to paint a picture so that the children could experience the story anew. It was then that I asked the question - "Why was Jesus born in a stable?" Of course, the response was "Because there was no room in the inn." Then I asked a question even I hadn't considered before. "Why wasn't there room at the inn? Did God forget to make reservations?" Of course, we all laughed at such a ridiculous question. Obviously the birth of Jesus being in a stable was no accident....but why would God allow His Son to be born in a stable?

It's not like God didn't know when Jesus would be born. Yes, the city was crowded, but couldn't God have made room for this family in an inn somewhere? After all, He's God! He knew when the angel told Mary she'd have a son that they would be making this trip 9 months later! He could have made arrangements! I understand that there are many different views as to what this stable might have been, but it doesn't change the fact that a stable isn't a place for a baby to be born! That's where animals are born....animals like sheep and goats and cows. The kind of animal you'd use for a sacrifice.

You know, every time I think about that, it causes a lump to rise in my throat. Jesus, the King of Kings was born in a place where sacrifices are born. He was laid in a manger - the place where the animals would go for food....The Bread of Life, Jesus - born as a sacrifice.

This Christmas, as you take time to read the original Christmas story, may your heart be filled with the knowledge of God's love for you. Merry Christmas.