Monday, November 19, 2012

Being grateful

Thanksgiving carries a lot or meaning for me.  In my home growing up, it was the day we busted out the Christmas decorations.  It was the first day Christmas music could be played in our house, and we put up the tree and hung the lights.  My dad would get out his Dickens Village, his trains, and our house was transformed every year from 8:00 a.m. – noon Thanksgiving Day.  My dad thought the best way to celebrate Thanksgiving was by beginning our preparation for Christmas. 

It also meant the agony of watching another Lions loss on national TV.  We would quickly follow that by eating away our pain with the traditional turkey and fixings feast — affectionately called “therapeutic eating.”  The afternoon would wrap up with a nap.  Not much has changed over the years for me.  As a matter of fact, nothing has, including the Lions and the nap.

Along the way, though, new traditions have come; shopping at 3:00 a.m. for Black Friday sales, the Ohio State/Michigan game, and transitioning from alternating holidays with our kids and my parents to my kids and their children alternating with us.  

For us around here, it means a break.  This break reminds us to reflect on what we are thankful for.  We have a lot to be thankful for, but today my thoughts have gone to a place in the world currently ravaged by missiles.  It is a place where no one celebrates Thanksgiving, and very few celebrate Christmas.  They aren’t getting a “break” this week.  As a matter of fact, they might be thrown headlong into war.  It is a confusing time for them, and a challenging time for us to think about.  What is it that makes us thankful during times such as these?

I want to say our thankfulness is shaped by the first verse in Chapter 11 of Hebrews, and the four-letter word contained therein; that word is “hope.”  “Hope” is a word we will hear a lot between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It will come at us as we walk through Advent, anticipating the coming of the Christ, “hoping” for a better day.  We long for things that can’t be seen, as Scripture says, with conviction.  We’ve never known a world without war, disaster, hunger, pain, and death, but we long for the day when all that will end.  We know that what is happening in parts of our world isn’t the last word, because we have hope.

Hope.  For us who live in the West, hope is easier to think about than it is for others who sit in refugee camps and bomb shelters.  Though this may be the current reality for many, we long for things that have yet to be seen.  So this week as we reflect on all we have to be thankful for, hang the decorations, put up the lights, watch another meaningless Lions game, shop while listening to Michael Buble, let’s also remember those for whom no music is playing, no decorations are going up, no game is being watched (there is mercy somewhere), and no turkey is being eaten. Let us remember those for whom hope seems a long way off.

Text for the week:  Hebrews 11:1

Friday, November 9, 2012

Another way

Not sure you realized it or not, but this week Skye brought us full circle.  Some of you weren’t here during fall 2012, but we spent that semester talking about the story of this amazing father found in Luke 15.  We talked about the two ways expressed in the lives of the two brothers and the fact that we all knew there had to be another way.

Skye brought us back to this story this week, and broke it down for us like this: we either see our lives as lived for God, a life of Christian activism – older brother; or life from God, where we live for what he will give to us – younger brother.  Both leave us feeling empty and longing for something else. We all know deep down inside there is something wrong with the way both brothers in this story are living, but at times it’s difficult to determine what that looks like. 

Thankfully, there is another way. 

This week, Skye put it like this: life with God.  In his thank you tweet to our campus, his stated prayer for us was that God would bless us with Himself.  That leaves us with a decision to make by answering the question, Is that enough? 

I would say, without a change of heart, the only answer to that question is no.  We will never be satisfied with our lives if we continue to see God as an object to be controlled by what we ask for.  Many in our society have limited God to a cosmic Santa Claus, crediting him for good, or blaming him for the bad that comes their way.  When things go wrong, we wonder where he is.  That is what Skye was talking about Wednesday when he said that our lives are not about what we do, but how we see.  I often ask the question, What are you hearing? This week I want to ask, What are you seeing?

How we see shapes what we do.  So we don’t respond to the need in the eastern part of the U.S., then expecting God to look at us as differently or better.  We have to fight off the urge to play the comparison game over the next couple of weeks, and just respond because there is need. We must realize they are like us, undeserving of the hand that has been dealt them, experiencing great need, and so we respond for these reasons — period.  We don’t do this to earn anything from God that we haven’t already received.  We don’t participate in service or ministry as a form of penance. 

Without this new heart that we’ve talked about all semester, what we do is just activism or point tallying.  My prayer for us is that the things that we do come from a heart that is shaped by the One who made us, so we act without expecting anything in return. 

Text for the week:  Luke 15:11-32

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Coming home

I love going home.  There is just something about it.  Mom’s cooking, naps, riding the golf cart, chasing deer, Texas sheet cake, and have I said naps?  Home is full of memories, mostly good ones.  Home is the one place most responsible for who I am.  It was always safe for me, a place where I felt loved and accepted. 

Over this next week, a lot of people will be coming to our campus.  They’ll be coming back to a place where they have eaten, laughed, made friends and taken many naps.   Not to sound too mushy or like I drank the Kool-Aid, but this is a special place for a lot of folks.  In a sense, they’ll be coming home. 

I listened to Stephanie’s message at the sophomore class chapel about the “freshmen mating season,” and the pressure to find the “right” person.  Standing joke aside, this is a place where many have met that “right person.”  But it is so much more than that.

It is a place where many received an education that has led them into their vocation.  They have graduated, or gone on to grad school, preparing them to be teachers, lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, physical therapists, counselors, pastors and much more.  It is the place where they not only received an education, but their vocation was shaped by a faith that was deepened through the experiences they had here as well.  They will tell stories about a chapel service, revival, friendship, or a small group — all have played a role in making them into the person God was calling them to be.  For some, this is where they got their feet down spiritually.  For others, this is the place where they owned their faith.  For others, it was a place where they realized that not all life’s questions could be answered, and they are okay with that.  Here is where friendships were made that have lasted a lifetime.  All this at our Alma Mater, Olivet.

So for hundreds this next week, coming back to our campus is like coming home.  You will see them at the basketball game, football game, the Gaither Concert, in the planetarium, eating, laughing, in the Quad, telling stories reminiscing about their days as a student, wondering where the time has gone.  Just like some of you.

So this week, remember: They’re not just invading our space, they’re coming home.