Hug a Gift Today!

What was the best gift that you ever got?  A lot of us have been getting gifts all of our lives for various occasions and reasons.  Some amazing gifts, and some maybe not as memorable.  I certainly remember a gift of a new 1975 Chevy Vega (at the time $4000) from my parents for doing well in high school and then getting a full college scholarship.  That was pretty cool at the time because I never expected it. I mean, Christmas around my house was usually a lot of pajamas, underwear and slippers…maybe a board game.  Nothing like the apparent abundance of gifting I have seen in my very own family since then.  Now don’t get me wrong, giving is a good thing.  It springs from a desire within us to express our love and sometimes our gratitude – right?

But what’s got me thinking today, having just come out of the most ‘giving’ time of the year, is how these many gifts are received.  I mean, how many times have you seen a kid beg for a gift, maybe a new bicycle.  Nothing else mattered in the world, but if little Jimmy could just get that new bike all would be perfect in the world – or that video game, or that new iPhone.  But, soon enough the ‘new gift’ thrill would fade away.  As gift givers I’m pretty sure we all have become just a little pissed off when we would see that oh so important gift left out in the rain, or broken, or lost.  Such is the price of abundance.  From much comes a numbness to appreciation.  Ask anyone who has nothing, and you’ll usually find the opposite – gratitude for the littlest scrap.

OK – nothing new here. That is, until I thought of my own gift abuse.  Now that you’ve had a chance to think about your greatest gift you may have come to realize that it wasn’t the bike, or the car, or that trip to Maui.  Maybe you’ve realized like me, the greatest gift you got was when a special friend, family member, or mate came into your life.  When a loved one who changed your life, literally changed the path of your existence, for the better.  But then it takes you 30 or 40 years to realize it.  Years where at times you took the gift for granted, maybe broke it or even lost it, because you thought it was yours to abuse.

And then I got sad with that thought.

And then I got glad, knowing I still had a chance through the grace of God and the gift itself, to receive it again, to see it as it was the very first time, to embrace it and cherish it and be aware that the gift was indeed from God; finally understanding that any abuse of a gift from God is a sin, in that like all sin it moves us just a little farther away from Him.  And then I became better for that knowledge, for knowing that we are each gifts from God to one another – perfect gifts because He knows exactly what we need.  And, so much better than underwear, or even a car, because God’s gifts are forever.  Hug a gift today!

 

The First Christmas Tradition

Tradition – the spread of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way

For many years now our family has had ‘breakfast’ for dinner on the eve of Thanksgiving.  We started when our kids were quite young and normally would visit an IHOP or anywhere we could get breakfast served.  Not sure exactly what we were thinking at the time we came up with that one.  Maybe we were just trying to get some special family time before the chaos of the next day that comes with large gatherings of our family.  In any case, that tradition managed to stick.

I’m guessing that each of us may have their own family traditions this time of year sparked by the more universal traditions that come with the Christmas Season, some of which were started before Christ was even born!  I mean, there is still discussion as to Christ’s birth date and it simply being a nod to the former pagan celebration of the winter solstice.  So, here are a few others that I thought you would find interesting:

The Vikings made a habit of bringing evergreens and sometimes full size trees into their homes during the cold dark winter to remind them that life would again bloom once the snow melted.  Christians later saw evergreens as a symbol of eternal life and sometimes decorated them with apples (think Garden of Eden) and hence the later use of those red shiny glass balls that have put many a family pet in the emergency room.

Christmas tree lights started as candles on trees to express Christ’s role as the light of the world (and unfortunately caused more than a few fires).  Thankfully, those have been replaced by the present day variety of lighting we now use to decorate our homes.

Most of us know that Santa Claus was actually Saint Nicholas, the Greek Bishop of the 4th century famous for his generous gift giving to poor children.  But did you know that the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings comes from the story of three particular impoverished sisters who left their stockings drying over the fireplace?  Saint Nicholas threw gold coins down the chimney which landed in the sisters’ stockings (and get this) so that they would each have a wedding dowry and not have to become prostitutes!  (According to MSNBC via Wikipedia.)

How about candy canes?  Looks like a German choirmaster in 1670 wanted to keep the kids quiet in church during Christmas Eve, so he commissioned a local candy maker to make some ‘sugar sticks’.  And, in order to justify giving kids candy during mass he asked the candy maker to add a crook to the top of each stick, which he argued would help children remember the shepherds who visited the infant Jesus!  Is that what you think of when you are sucking on one of those tickets to type-2 diabetes?

So, here is the point.  It’s easy to lose Christmas in all of the hype.  Should we be hyped?  Of course!  It’s only the most significant act in the history of this universe, including its creation.  But let’s not lose that significance in the lesser traditions that most of us have no clue why we are doing them.  Let’s consider a new tradition, a reminder of where all others spring.  Let’s start each day with the thankful knowledge that God became human in the form of an innocent, vulnerable baby so that we could know His extraordinary, unconditional love for all of eternity.  And all we need to do is say yes to that offer.

Traditions speak to who we are, where we come from and where we can expect to be.  So, let’s start this new tradition of finding Christ in everything we do this time of year, and in so doing remember why indeed it is the most wonderful time of the year!

But who do you say?

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

Many of you may be aware of the crowd-sourced online dictionary, Urban Dictionary, where contributors present their own forms of words or slang, and provide alternative definitions for existing words or phrases…it’s kind of fun.  For the heck of it one day I looked up Jesus Christ and found several proposed definitions; as of today there are 74.  Interesting.   At the time, we had recently studied the section in Matthew 16:13-20 where Jesus asks his disciples who do people say he is, so I thought that I would submit Peter’s response to UD (Number 3 on the list):

 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

 Pretty definitive I would say especially since it is supported by Jesus’s immediate response,

17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 

So very simple put, our Christian spiritual journey is a reconciliation of our personal response to the ‘who is Jesus’ question with the response endorsed by The Man Himself. Would you agree?  Thankfully, many more gifted authors including C.S. Lewis get into this fundamental tenet of Christian belief in great detail and I would recommend spending the time necessary to come to Peter’s conclusion, if you haven’t already.  Our ability to respond in an informed manner to probably the most important question we will need to answer in our lifetime has eternal consequences – so give it some legitimate consideration.  (I thought that if it took as long as I spent getting my college degree that would be pretty reasonable.  It didn’t, as the evidence is quite compelling if you are willing to approach it with an open mind.)  But it is the next verse in this passage, spoken by Jesus, from where I got my latest revelation:

18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[a] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[b] will not overcome it.

Up until this week, I thought that Jesus was placing the entire weight and future of the newly founded church squarely on the shoulders of Peter (and the other core disciples), like, “Hey guys I gotta go now!  Make sure you get this church of mine up and running til I get back!”   But now, to me, that thinking seems flawed, as it is not individual men, but their beliefs that form the bedrock of all great institutions.  And since this entire exchange begins with the question of who people believe Jesus is, it makes more sense that the rock Jesus is referring to is not so much Peter the man, but Peter’s belief that Jesus is the Son of the Living God (and all that belief brings with it) which forms the foundation, the rock, on which our church is built – right?  And although Peter and the rest of the disciples were truly the right team at the right time, would not have God’s plan of salvation ensued regardless of who he selected as His earthly messengers?  (Do you think slavery would still exist if Abe Lincoln decided to become a dairy farmer?  Some causes are just too significant to be attributed to single individuals.)  So then, aren’t we, and all those believers that came after Peter, also disciples of Christ, obligated like Peter to spread the Gospel and demonstrate our belief?

Yeah, that’s what I thought…believing is a powerful thing.

Check out the Video of the Moment alongside for more…

The Devil’s Bad Day

During a recent YouTube journey I came across the classic recording of the Beatles, All You Need is Love.  The recording was originally part of a worldwide live broadcast called Our World which took place on June 25, 1967.  (Remember? 🙂  It’s only been 50 years!)  As I watched and listened I got to think, ‘Boy, that must have been a really bad day for satan’.  Here we were, humankind, coming to the age old realization that love is the answer.   How freaked out was satan when the record immediately shot up to number one and became the anthem for the Summer of Love.  What went through his head?  ‘Uh-oh, I wonder if this time it will stick?’

I mean this wasn’t the first time that we, as a race, had heard this message.  The Old Testament speaks about loving your neighbor as yourself.  And certainly Jesus’s entire earthly ministry was built upon His new commandment, “that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:33-34)  And, who has not attended a wedding and heard St. Paul’s amazing dissertation on love (1Cor 13:1-13),…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Truth is truth, and truth scares the heck out of the devil.  But you know what scares the devil the most – us believing the truth, us living it.  So imagine his chagrin, when the most popular foursome of all time is live, singing around the world, ‘all you need is love’.  I mean even Mick Jagger (Mr. Sympathy for the Devil himself) is on the video joining in.  He must have thought his days were truly numbered.  (I guess getting tossed out of Heaven was probably a down day, but that day wasn’t all bad for old beelzelbub since he did sort of get what he was looking for when he wound up here on earth, bustin’ our chops.)

But how bad a day would it be if we all actually ‘got it’…actually made love our goal, all day, and then every day?  What if we actually took the Lennon and McCarthy hymn to heart and looked at each of our problems, our sufferings, and those of others and figured out a way to love our way through them?  Well, I’m thinking that would remind our evil antagonist that indeed we do have a plan b, the best one around, and that we just might be able to turn some of those evil grins upside down.  What do you say?  Are you into doing a little chop-busting of our own?  Give the devil a bad day.  All you need is love.

 

Trinity – Can’t have one without the other (two)

For most Christians, one of the more difficult concepts we have to handle is the fact that our God exists in what has come to be known as the Trinity – One God, Three Entities.   Now this may initially look to be in conflict with the age old Judeo-Christian standard which makes us mono-theist believers.  (Whaaat?  Three Gods??)  This potential glitch occurs because as humans we hear, ‘God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ and we immediately create categories, roles, and players for those roles.  Well, not so much really.  So, I thought I was pretty clever a few years back when I figured that the Trinity could be explained simply by imagining that our One God existed in three states – sort of like water – depending on the circumstance.  And although I could visualize an ice cube sitting in a puddle with steam rising, it didn’t seem to be ‘divine’ enough.  God is not some magic trick.

Then today, being the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, I was reminded by our pastor not to overthink it.  We usually get into trouble when we try to limit some of the eternal mysteries of God by applying our extremely limited human experiences.  But if we make a relatively small adjustment in context and start with the appropriate Bible verse, it starts to come together. Read 1 John 4:8, Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  God is love.  God is not a person, at least not in the way that you, or I, or even Jesus is a person.  God exists as relationship, as a loving relationship – God, the Father, the Lover; God, the Son, the Beloved; and God the Spirit, the Love between the Lover and the Beloved.  Now apply that to any loving relationship, Husband/Wife, Parent/Child, Owner/Pet, all are sourced from the source of all love, God.  Our ability to love and be loved is the essence of our creation and existence.  It is the reason we are.  Period.  (I hope that helps you as much as it helped me.)

Note:  I have to reiterate like all of our Christian beliefs, this concept of the Trinity does not in any way contradict any apparent laws of science that I am aware of…This belief that God and science are mutually exclusive of one another is just downright silly – right?

 

Just Passing Through

I never thought about my age much.  I guess turning 18 was an event because I could drive, and back then you could drink legally at 18 in NYC.  Ironic, when you turned 18 you could drink AND drive…how convenient.  And when I turned 21 I could vote.  Ronald Reagan was the first President I ever voted for, and it’s been a sharp downhill decline ever since.  Other than those ‘legal’ landmarks I never really gave my age much thought.  But, I will be celebrating bit of a personal landmark today as I turn 60.  Not a big deal I guess; lots of people make it to 60…glad to have joined that group.

My mom nearly made it to 94.  Now, 90+ is a big deal I would say; one that will give you some perspective.  Even at 60, I would need to stretch out another 34 years!  Pretty sure I’m not up for that.  That would be like living the past 34 years over again starting way back to when I was 26, in 1983…just before getting married, no kids and still working in Manhattan….whoa!  I would need to live those next 34 years with certainly less vigor, less good health, and all the wear and tear that comes with time.  I also would get to see more of the great joys and sorrows that come with living, along with some pretty amazing things – maybe even flying cars?  (Think about the technology of 1983 and where we are today and where we will be in 2051 – anyone got a fax machine or a cassette player?)

There is a reason that while we occupy this earth we don’t get to live forever.  It’s pretty simple in fact.  First of all, who could stand it?  I mean, forever?  There just is something that isn’t right here, and the reason a majority of mankind prays for a better place.  This really isn’t the place we were intended to permanently dwell, and for that matter, neither is under a pile of dirt.  It is merely a crossing. It has to be.  I mean, would God create us and then allow us to age, decay and then no longer be?  Where is the joy in that for Him as the Creator and we as his creations?  We are talking about God here, not some 6-year old with a can of Play-Doh.  So take heart dear present and future members of AARP!  Our true existence is still yet to be!  Regardless the birthday, there is still so much to look forward to for each of us: redemptions, resurrections, reunions, and relentless bliss in our heavenly home town!  Until then my birthday lesson is to just be happy to have made it this far and this blessed

The parts that make you whole

There was a time a few years ago when I coined a phrase that came to me one day, “Perfection is the Lord’s prerogative and the fool’s mission.”  I thought it was pretty nifty at the time because, as an A-type neurotic, I was trying to convince myself that seeking perfection in myself and those around me was not really doing any of us any good, and in most cases, really bad.  I hoped that by living this mantra, and wishing not to be that fool I was talking about, my neurosis would fade and I would be justified in slacking a bit.  Yeah, well…But then, I kept on coming across this verse in the bible, “Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  My first reaction, like most, was, ‘Whaaaaaaaat?’ How in the world am I supposed to be, not just perfect, but the epitome of divine perfection?

Well, with a little bit of biblical research I discovered that the true translation of perfection in this case is ‘complete’.  Be made whole.  Be complete not only in your earthly composition, good at what you do, good at your relationships, good at being a person, but also good at being a Christian.  Good at being like Christ.  Good at being holy.  And with some more thought and prayer it came to me that as with all things that seem impossible, if I asked, God would show me how.  In fact with a little more introspection, He had even provided me with the pieces I need to be complete in the persons of my dearest family members.  God has provided me with perfect examples of the specific Christ-like behavior that were missing in my very own make-up, so that I too could have that chance at the perfected completeness of Matthew 5:48.

The first example is Ellie – a wife that has always demonstrated true patience and faith.  Ellie personifies patience in every situation and with every person.  And no one would know this better than me, the primary beneficiary of this extraordinary warehouse of tolerance.  It is Ellie’s patience that has kept us married for 33 years.  Coupled with this amazing patience is inexhaustible faith.  Ellie’s faith in others is a lesson that I am still trying to master.  For most of our relationship we have come from opposite ends when it comes to trusting people and believing the best about them.  She’s always been a ‘cup’s half full’ type of person.  And boy, that’s a breath of fresh air for a kid from the Bronx.

Then there is Ben – a son that models a near perfect temperance of attitude.  I’m pretty sure that no one that knows me long enough would call me even-keeled, whereas Ben is never too hot or too cold.  One of the great lessons anyone can learn in life is the power of perspective.  How important will this be tomorrow, or a week from now, or a year?  If anything, Christ is always reminding us to keep the long view and not get hung up on the small stuff – right?  In a life where everything is ‘critical’, how can you tell what’s really important?  Ben manages to keep his perspective and he does it with a sense of humor and wit that is always seemingly understated and most times brilliant.  If there is anything that I need in my life it is perspective and it is Ben who delivers it regularly with humility and measure.

And of course Julie – a daughter that never ceases to inspire me.  She has been overcoming adversity ever since the nasty little bits of my genetics slipped through the cracks of her mom’s baby maker.  For someone still so young she has had too many opportunities to give up and check out.  I know I would have.  But she remains as tenacious as ever.  Julie is an over-comer.  She is an exceptional example of persistence and living a day at a time.  She continually teaches me the virtue of getting up when you are knocked down and starting over.  There are times, each day, when I’m about to quit on something or someone, or on me, and I think of what that sweet girl of mine has endured and my little pity party comes to an end.

So, I now see, it is with the divine gifts of these virtuous bits of perfected humanity that God places before us on our road to completeness that become our salvation.  Seek them out, hold them close and give thanks that they are there by God’s good grace as part of the journey to becoming made whole.

Built to Suit

Here’s a thought that struck me the other day.  You may have heard this passage from the bible where, immediately prior to Christ’s death and resurrection, He was trying to console His disciples regarding His departure.  (They were a bit freaked out of course because His gruesome death on a cross was not what they thought they signed up for):

“Let not your heart be troubled: you believe in God, believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many mansions (dwelling places): if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you…”   John 14:1-2

So what stood out to me after reading this was this concept that Christ needed to prepare a place for us.  Really?  What type of preparation is Jesus talking about?  Didn’t God and Jesus have this figured out already?  Didn’t He anticipate that He was going to need someplace for all of these saved souls to abide?  And, is He not able to just wave His hand and voila! Done?   What is He talking about?  I mean, even though Jesus was a builder by trade, I don’t see Him strapping on the old tool belt and adding on a few rooms and a bath onto His Father’s heavenly crib for a few billion of His BFFs.  Right?

So, since Jesus always meets people where they are, let’s consider the audience.  As a builder on earth, it would not be a stretch for His followers to imagine Him making arrangements for their eternal abode.  It’s something we simple humans can get our heads around.  (Remember He is trying to console His friends and family.)  And in His divine genius and compassion He understands our worries and concerns and wants to put them at ease.  After doing a little reading I also now understand the message a bit better.

First of all, never limit God’s capabilities.  Regardless of the number of us, there will be ample ‘room’ for everyone because everyone is invited, and like any good party planner, God has planned for the possibility of us all showing up.  What Jesus is addressing is this inherent human concern about making sure we have a reservation, a spot just for us, and that we won’t be shut out.  Get that out of your head.  It’s God, He’s done the math.  They’re not going to stop the line at 8:00 PM and send you back to the parking lot.

Secondly, Jesus is assuring us that we will be totally welcomed.  Not so much like a last minute addition to the Thanksgiving table, where you might be sitting at the kid’s table on a metal folding chair; On the contrary, welcomed as a sibling to Christ and child to God the Father Himself; And not in some room over the garage or detached casita, but right in the Main House where the Big Man lives, with the very strong probability of running into G while grabbing a late night snack!  (There’s an image.)  This welcoming message also conjures up for most of us, childhood memories of being safe and secure and warm and fuzzy in our parent’s home;  A time and place where the everyday challenges, temptations and struggles of our earthly adult life were unknown…Home.

Third, His preparation includes serving as our point man and spokesperson.  He is personally making us right with the owner of the House.  He is settling any open tabs and clearing all debts.  He is making a straight way for us.  And, He is not only doing that at the destination point, but He is doing it right here, through the Holy Spirit, right now within each of us. This reminds me of a term in the construction industry: ‘built to suit’.  It means that a landlord or contractor builds a custom space or building to meet the exact specifications of a very particular tenant.  The LL works closely with the tenant to make sure that all of the unique circumstances are addressed so that the tenant and space are prepared to provide the optimal occupancy experience.  It is an arrangement that requires participation from all parties.  So apparently as tenants, we also need to be properly prepared, if we are to make this all work as intended:

…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (with the knowledge that it is) God working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. Phil. 2:12-13

It also came to me that this would not be the first time that a place has been prepared for us to commune with God.  And, that there were some very specific preparations made in the beginning, over a period of six days (or millennia, eons, eternities).  A place we called Eden here on earth, and I think very similar to our next address in Heaven, simply because it was where we and God dwelt for a time.  And although that may not have worked out so well the first time, God’s not a quitter and His love and desire for us as co-habitants is relentless.  In fact, these last two points have me thinking that if the preparation is more in terms of us rather then in our destination, we might be in store for a quick spin around the block and wind up right back here on earth, but this time earth as a New Eden.  Indeed, what else would be needed if we all came off the bus ‘clothed in Christ’?

So the bottom line in my mind is that our Heavenly Father and His Son are ever busy.  Always working, always figuring out what each and every single one of us are going to need to feel absolutely ‘at home’ in our true Home.  Cool, huh?  But remember, like most construction projects, I would leave a few weeks in the schedule for potential ‘special circumstances’.  🙂