Archive for December 2008

valuable virtues

December 31, 2008


                                                                                                          December 31, 2008


                                                       “Valuable Virtues”


     Bernie Madoff!

      Just putting the name in front of people causes extreme reactions. Numerous celebrities have hit on hard times because of the money that was lost in the multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme.

      But worse then that is the billions that have been lost to charitable causes. Some of those causes directly assisted people who have been living below the poverty level.

      How does one look himself in the mirror knowing that his schemes will have a direct adverse effect on hundreds of thousands of people?

      I’ve been pondering that, not that I’m sinless. In fact, this whole Bernie Madoff situation has made me think about how many people have been affected by my schemes and selfishness.

     As persons of Jesus, what guides us towards “goodwill”? What detours me towards “my will”?

     As I study the person of Jesus I notice that his values flowed out of his virtues. He was just, hope-filled, loving, faithful, disciplined, among others. He knew who he was, what he believed, what his purpose was, and what his purpose wasn’t. He knew what he needed to do to be “on-mission”.

     How Jesus related to people, religious and irreligious, what he communicated, how he structured his time, what he saw as most important, all flowed out of his valuable virtues.

     What would you say Bernie Madoff’s virtues are?

     What would you say your virtues are? One of the definitions of “virtue” is “a worthy practice or ideal”. What would you say are your worthy practices and ideals? Put another way, “what do you practice that you also preach?”

     As we end a tumultuous year, it’s a question that needs to be front and face-to-face center for each one of us. If we are virtue-less, something else will fill in the space. Greed, lust, hatred, and jealousy have taken a number and are all waiting in line, like 5AM Black Friday shoppers at Wal-mart.

     It’s disturbing to know how Christians in general are viewed by the world, and characterized by the media. If you’re looking to do a composite drawing, mix in judgmental, mean, homophobic, condemning, and hysterical and you’ll come out with what “the picture” is. (This afternoon as I was driving home I got behind a pick-up truck that had this bumper sticker on the back window: “Bitter, gun-totin’, religious freak”. I kept a safe distance behind him.)

     I know…I know…it’s unfair, and yet in many cases accurate.

     How far removed from the worthy practices and ideals of Jesus!

     As a new year begins perhaps a personal deep look into the mirror of our soul needs to take place. Maybe a long gaze, looking for the ideals we reflect.

     Bernie Madoff is just another in a long procession of people and principalities whose roots had been planted in sandy soil. As the parable tells us, when our lives grow out of a shaky and shifting foundation something is bound to happen…and it usually isn’t for the common good!

Tipping God

December 30, 2008



At a gathering of our neighborhood pastors recently one of the pastors mentioned that one of his neighbors works in a restaurant waiting tables. This woman has shared openly with my pastor friend that she has a certain contempt for Christians, even though she relates to him in a positive neighborly manner. Her contempt is linked to her job experiences. She works almost every Sunday and involuntarily cringes as she talks about all the people who come into the restaurant after attending church Sunday morning. What her experience has hammered into her heart as fact is that Christians- more accurately “Sunday morning church people”- are the worst tippers and biggest complainers (“I caught myself. I almost said whiners!”) They demand the most and give the least.
One of the other pastors at our gathering, Keith Hedstrom from Ascension Lutheran, made the cynical, but on-target, comment at that point. He said, “We shouldn’t be surprised! A lot of our church attenders just left a tip for God right before that.”
In case you’re wondering, this is not a reflection on giving the tithe. It’s a pondering on the relationship. We tip the server at the restaurant we’re dining in because he has given us great service, been there with the drink refills, taken our steak back for an extra few seconds of flame, cleaned up our spills, brought the extra side of honey mustard salad dressing, made sure the bread basket never stayed empty for long, and with great care put the uneaten food that we plan on making another meal out of into a take-out container.
Do you see it? It’s all about me! That’s the proper visual of a good server- making the dining customer feel special, a little pampering for a few minutes.
As Keith humorously revealed, however, sometimes “church people” put God in the position of server. Our lives, our beliefs, and our attitudes reveal that we think we’re sitting at the banquet table and God is running around filling our water glasses. And if he serves us well we leave him a decent tip that week…or maybe not.
Some might reply, “Yes, but Jesus washed the disciples’ feet at that last meal gathering in the Upper Room.” That is scripturally accurate, but it’s one of those biblical stories that makes me very uneasy. He concluded that foot-washing experience by saying to his disciples, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
In other words he was willing to serve them, even though everything in the culture at that time said the students should all be serving him. As I read and picture that story happening, however, I still have a feeling that the disciples, those closest to Jesus, must have felt pretty uncomfortable about what was taking place. Jesus was giving them a view of the role he was willingly taking…and that they must be willing to take.
Back to God the Father! Sometimes I realize that I have placed myself at the table and I’m looking for God to pamper me. My degree of satisfaction is elevated or plummeted by how he answers my wants and whims.
Tipping the Almighty. To quote a phrase one of the young people I know uses, “That’s messed up!”

Missing Mary

December 30, 2008

A good friend of mine used to tell me that if the rapture happened I could have his lawnmower. I don’t want to get into a discussion about pre-millennial, post-millennial, non-millennial, super-sized millennial, vegetarian millennial (A belief that Jesus will come back and save people from having to eat any more Brussels sprouts.), “Cubs-millenial” (A belief that Jesus won’t come again before the Cubs win the World Series. Which might as well be a thousand years!)
Regardless of your position on the second coming, I pondered it this Advent season quite often. Usually it was as I passed in front of a nativity scene in our church building, because Mary has been missing! If she was raptured it means that figurines are getting ahead of humans in the “exit lane”.
The interesting thing for our church is that very few people noticed. The mother of Jesus comes up missing and the scene still looks the same to people. Granted this nativity set was on the floor, below eye level, but not even any of the children noticed.
It gives a different bent to “single-parenthood”. Joseph’s figurine suddenly looks a little bewildered, a little dazed.
Of course, there has been numerous attempts in recent years to kidnap Mary out of Christmas anyway. She doesn’t fit well in the “happy holidays” push. Store employees are a little awkward about saying “Happy holidays and how about that Mary?”
This year I heard that a group of people were trying so hard to get Christmas out of the vocabulary of the season that they re-did the lyrics to some songs. It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Thursday didn’t really catch on like they hoped. The Twelve Days of Winter was a little slow also.
A city in Washington renamed their parade for this month to the “Twinkle Light Parade”. I’m assuming that Mary didn’t show up on a float there either.
Back to us! Mary’s missing! There’s a space in the floor-covered hay. Next year it could spread to the shepherds.
This is not a plea to rescue Christmas. There’s been no ransom demand of any substance so far. God doesn’t need Christmas rescued, or even Mary (especially if she’s already been raptured).
It’s more of a call to see, to think about, to live out, and to proclaim the story of the incarnate God. It’s to notice when things start coming up missing in the season. It’s just too easy to let the miracle in the midst of the humanity disappear. It’s too easy to lose track of the details- like men on camels traveling long, long distances to see Jesus… or angels appearing to “average Joe” shepherds… or Zechariah going mute for nine months as a sign that God had appeared to him…or…should I go on?
For our church “Missing Mary” is a humorous little side story that is raising our awareness of how easy it is to lose the essence of the event. As word has spread about the missing mother of Jesus it’s raised our Christmas consciousness. Perhaps we’re even a little more sensitized to the elements of this season as a result of it.
Oh…and by the way! If anyone has seen Mary, please let us know. Sorry, no monetary reward, but alleviating the bewildered and dazed look on Joseph’s face will assuredly bring some gratification to you.