Monday, December 24, 2007

Are You Slowing Down Yet?

Our friends at CCC come up with some phenomenal videos - usually their VERY funny and incredibly creative. I thought I would post this latest one that is simple but the message is quite powerful. As we finish up this Christmas season, many of us will struggle to find a quiet place to reflect on the true meaning. From busyness to overcommitment, many will forget to spend a moment and thank God for sending Jesus humbly into this world. Glory in the Highest was sent down as a baby born in a manger on that silent night - one that would change the course of history forever.

I pray this video will remind all of us of the power of that quiet moment - a simple conversation with a loving God. Merry Christmas.

The Mystery of St. Nick

I don't often reprint articles, and this is a long one, but I think it's relevant to the season. Too often "political correctness" creeps into many aspects of our life. From Barbara Walters griping about a Christmas card from the White House that included scripture, to stores like Wal Mart and Target who can't decide if it's Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday, I hope this story sheds some light on the mystery behind "Ole' St. Nick."

It’s complicated. Like Keith Richards, the Santa legend is ancient, murky, and fairly disturbing. The cuddly version — grandfatherly St. Nick employing elfin labor to make toys for the children of the world — is only the latest in a long line of iterations. Santa has evolved.

The original Saint Nicholas was a Christian bishop in 4th-century Myra, geographically located in modern-day Turkey. As an adult, Nicholas gained a reputation as a generous man and the protector of innocents. These saintly traits largely arose from two horrific legends, both of which eventually led to his canonization.

The first is said to have occurred during a terrible famine. A local butcher, in need of something to sell, lured three unsuspecting boys into his shop. He killed the boys, chopped them into pieces, then stuffed their remains in a brine tub, hoping to cure them enough that he could sell the parts as ham. Nicholas was visiting the afflicted region at the time of the crime. Somehow Nicholas became aware of the butcher’s wicked deed. He visited the shop, uncovered the crime, and hastily reassembled the three boys. They came back to life, a bit salty but otherwise in good health. Despite the happy ending, it’s not exactly the kind of story that gets told at the Christmas Eve candlelight service.

In the second legend, a poor citizen of Myra had three daughters, but not enough money to afford a dowry for them. No dowry meant no marriage, and unmarried women in those days generally had one career choice: prostitution. The father was less than thrilled by this possibility, but too proud to ask for help. Nicholas discovered the family’s predicament the night before the first daughter came of age. Not wanting to embarrass anyone, he approached the family’s house late one night and tossed a bag of gold through an opened window. He did the same thing the night before the second daughter came of age. Both gifts were enough to cover the dowry, and both girls were spared the consequence of their poverty.

Before long, the third daughter was ready to marry, and the appreciative father wanted to find out who was behind the lavish gifts. When the time came, the father hid next to the window, hoping to catch their anonymous benefactor in the act. Nicholas learned of the father’s plan and improvised: Instead of lobbing it through the window, he dropped the third bag of gold down the chimney.

It wasn’t long before people began to suspect that the kindly bishop Nicholas, who had inherited money from his affluent parents, was behind these mysterious actions and a great many other secretive gifts to the poor. After he died of old age on December 6, 343 AD the people of Myra continued providing for those in need. In fact, they made a practice of giving gifts anonymously, always attributing them to the late Bishop Nicholas.

Before long, the bishop — who had worn liturgical robes of red and white — was canonized as a saint. Saint Nicholas became venerated as the protector of innocents, the patron saint of children, and a secret giver of gifts.

Of course, the traditional American idea of Santa Claus — along with his British/Canadian counterpart, Father Christmas — originates in the stories surrounding Nicholas of Myra. As far as saints go, St. Nick was especially venerated in the Netherlands, where he became known by the Dutch variant Sinterklaas. When the Dutch came to the New World and settled in New Amsterdam (today’s New York City), they brought with them the story of the now-anglicized “Santa Claus.”

And as is our custom, we Americans made the story bigger and gaudier, tacking on details from several unrelated sources. The karmic idea of rewarding good kids and punishing naughty children is rooted in old Norse folktales. The stuff about the reindeer and Santa’s sleigh got added once Clement Moore’s poem, “Twas The Night Before Christmas,” swept the nation in the early 1800s. Decades later, the magazine Harper’s Weekly commissioned several Thomas Nast engravings which depicted Santa in his workshop, reading letters and checking lists. The legend grew.

And here we are today. Kids leave cookies near the fireplace, parents are careful to preserve bootprints in the ashes, and Santa has transitioned into the 21st century. No longer does he oversee the building of simple wooden toys in his elf-staffed workshop. Nope. These days, little boys and girls — whether they’re good or bad, or rich or poor — probably expect Santa to drop a new iPod Nano in their stocking. Or, at the very least, the High School Musical 2 DVD. A wooden toy train? Unthinkable.

You have to feel for St. Nick. The legendary protector of children and distributor of anonymous gifts to the poor has turned into a victim of the worst kind of western entitlement and consumerism. Kids are more demanding. Chimneys are smaller. Families are leaving skim milk and low-fat cookies instead of the real stuff. It’s hard out there for a right jolly old elf. Somewhere deep within the folds of Santa’s suit, we’ve lost the story of St. Nick.

I’m always an advocate for stripping away the Santa Claus stuff at Christmastime and focusing on Jesus. But there’s a wide chasm between baby Jesus and Santa Claus, and maybe it’s a lot to ask a Christianity-averse culture to make that long journey from one side to the other.

Perhaps a better idea is to move them toward the middle by resurrecting Saint Nicholas of Myra. Annoyed with all the Jesus talk? Don’t want to celebrate Christ at Christmas? Fine. Then let’s celebrate someone else. Let’s talk about the 4th-century dude who kept little boys from grisly deaths and kept little girls out of the sex trade. Let’s talk about the revered religious figure who freed those in bondage, who restored life to the lifeless, and who refused to overlook the suffering of the innocent. Let’s talk about the man of God who gave out of his prosperity, who dispensed grace with no strings attached, who lived to bless those trapped in poverty.

Let’s talk about Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, Sinterklaas 1.0.
Because when we peel away the red robes and silly hat and centuries of tradition, we might just see something, in the Santa legend, that we Christians recognize: It’s the Gospel. It’s the Good News. It’s the face of Jesus. It’s hope for the hopeless, liberty for the captives, abundance for the poor.

Maybe the distance between the North Pole and Bethlehem isn’t so great after all.

This story has been adapted from an article that originally ran in issue 30 of RELEVANT.

Author: Jason Boyett

Jason Boyett is the author of Pocket Guide to the Bible and several other books.

Putting the Ivity in Creativity

This quote via these guys strikes me as an interesting one. How many of you would agree with its premise?

Next question - how does this apply to the church? Is creativity measurable in a worship experience? Then there's the question of impact. What if one person's life is changed forever because God chose to work through a creative moment? Does that make it irrelevant for everyone else? Is it less important for others in that moment?

I'd love to hear your feedback on how creativity impacts you. Your thoughts?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Creating Memories (In 30 Days or Less)

Christmas is a natural time of the year when families create life-long memories together. But this post by this guy reminds us of the importance of the holiday season.

We're also launching an new series (and a new campus!) on the first weekend in January entitled, "30 Days to Live." This could possibly be one of the most important series in the history of Meadow Heights Church. It will not only launch a new year and a new campus, but it could launch a whole new chapter in your life as well. DON'T MISS IT!!

Here's a sneak peak!

What if you learned you had just 30 days to live? How would your life be different? Is it possible to make the most of every day, right now?

As we begin a brand new year, join us for “30 Days to Live.” Once you hear the stories of some real people facing challenging circumstances, and experience God’s truth, you’ll never look at life the same.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Amazing Movie? Maybe...maybe not.

I finally had the opportunity to watch the film "Amazing Grace" over the weekend. The film itself was not all that spectacular, but the message that lept from its frames was quite powerful.

William Wilberforce was a man of passion - he fought for something that he believed in from the depths of his soul. He stopped for no one and his endless pursuit of his dreams finally became a reality near the end of his life. His pursuit was not simply for justice in the world, but a fulfillment of an obligation and duty toward God. As Wilberforce puts it, he did not find God...God found him.

Two of the best quotes from the movie come from John Newton, the former slave ship owner now reformed. He was the original author of the words we now know as Amazing Grace.

God sometimes does His work with gentle drizzle, not storms. Drip. Drip. Drip.
Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly. I'm a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.

It was amazing to watch William Wilberforce pursue life with an unending passion. I think we all start out with this in our hearts, but somewhere along the way someone has told us to stop dreaming. We tend to settle for the status quo and our dreams die along with a small part of us. It's not always how we live life on the outside, but what is going on in the depths of our soul that really matter. Anyone can live life...dreamers that activate their passions change the world.

What part of your dream have you allowed to die?

Friday, December 14, 2007

Owning the Moment

I attended an event last weekend that reminded me of two important leadership lessons:

(1) Never apologize for a project, event or group in advance. All you're doing is making yourself feel better and your project/event/group feel worse. Most of the time your audience can't tell the difference anyway, but now you've brought attention to it and they'll be focusing on the wrong things.

(2) Never try to build up your project/event/group right after you've apologized for them (see #1). Why did you just spend five minutes telling us it wouldn't be as good as you hoped and now your trying to sell us on the brilliance of your project/event/group? We didn't buy it before and we sure aren't going to buy it now.

Confidence breeds confidence. As the leader, proceed with the confidence and surety that this will be the best possible execution of the project/event/group that can happen at this particular moment in time. Own the moment. Afterwards you can spend time celebrating and evaluating. Don't spoil it for everyone else - work to create a defining moment, even if it's a small one. Your audience will remember that little defining moment much longer than they will your entire performance.

Finally, evaluate why you felt compelled to use #1 and #2. And remember, people end up where you lead them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Gift Cards Are For Chumps

Gift cards are for chumps. I love that line. Seth Godin hits a home run with his thoughts on the holiday season. If you're like me, you still have some much needed shopping to do. You'll have great intentions but time will run short and you'll do the inevitable - purchase a gift card for someone.

I mean after all, then they can get whatever they want with it right? Wrong. Listen to these stats:
Last year, more than $8,000,000,000 was wasted on these cards. Not in the value spent, but in fees and breakage. When you give a card, if it doesn't get used, someone ends up keeping your money, and it's not the recipient. People spent more than eight billion dollars for nothing... buying a product that isn't as good as cash.

I know what you're thinking. You're just being thoughtful. It's a GIFT card. You can't give them the cash right? That would be "Christmas Taboo" - like there are rules somewhere. Who decided that cash wasn't a great gift? We get a gift card so it looks like we looked for a gift and we don't end up the chump. But guess what? Gift cards are for chumps!

So forget about it this year. It's a scam. It's a business driven model that has proven to be effective only for the companies, not the consumer. It's time for cash to be king. Hello Mr. Ben Franklin!

One Million Witnesses

At Meadow Heights Church we talk a lot about practical ways to share your story. People can argue about religion all they want, but no one can argue with your story. Especially when you are a living example of how Jesus has radically changed you at the core.

ChurchRelevance points us to "One Million Witnesses." It's an incredibly creative way to share your story and help those in need as well. Here are the details:
For a minimum donation of $10, you can create a block featuring your testimony. The first 100,000 blocks go to helping Living Water International build about 100 wells. Non-profits to benefit from the remaining 900,000 blocks have not yet been determined.

Stop by the site and check it out - it's a great way to help!

Jesus: Political Revolutionary?

I was talking with an old friend the other afternoon as we were both waiting on a concert to begin. Several minutes into our discussion he asked me a question I wasn't quite ready for - Did I consider Jesus to be a "political revolutionary?"

My first response? Of course! I focused on the word revolutionary and immediately associated that with Jesus. Most everyone you ask would tend to agree. By His very own nature, Jesus was a revolutionary. There is no doubt that He revolutionized what it meant to be a worshiper of God, to seek the truth and know that grace is abundant. He absolutely changed the course of history! So to agree that Jesus was a revolutionary was not a very big leap.

But how about political? Was Jesus political? While Jesus never engaged in an active role in politics such as government or the state , was it fair to say the He had an impact nonetheless? Obery Hendricks Jr., in his book "The Politics of Jesus," claims that Jesus employed seven political strategies during his time on earth:

"To say that Jesus was a political revolutionary is to say that the message he proclaimed not only called for change in individual hearts but also demanded sweeping and comprehensive change in the political, social, and economic structures in his setting in life: colonized Israel," Hendricks writes.

It is true that Jesus changed the course of society by promoting care for the sick, healing those in need, feeding of the hungry and many more. Those are all hotly debated items in the political arena. Does this mean Jesus was a political revolutionary simply by association? Most political revolutionaries have used deadly force to accomplish their agenda. This is not true of Jesus. At His core He was a man of great love and compassion to say the least.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue. I'm not sure there is an easy answer but I do know this - the conversation will be an interesting one! My friend and I closed our brief talk and I could see that gleam in his eye. He had been thinking about this one quite awhile and was no closer to a complete answer than he had been on first thought. But for that moment it didn't matter - he had started another on the same journey.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Dreaming a God-sized Dream

I had a great conversation with a young man last week. He is trying to figure out what God is asking him to do with his one and only life. We had some great discussion and I was able to challenge him on his future. I've noticed that a lot of teenagers and twenty-somethings are wonderful dreamers, but if they aren't challenged at some point they tend to fall into an idealistic trap. Here are three pieces of advice I gave him:

(1) Dream. Don't stop dreaming. Some of the greatest ideas come from those who dream. There's something incredible about creativity that is directed by God.

(2) Decide. Once you've explored your dreams, it's time to decide. After careful prayer, thought and wise counsel, decide on a course that will honor God and achieve your goals. After all, you can't keep dreaming forever.

(3) Do. You can dream and you can decide, but if you don't develop a plan of action, nothing will be accomplished. Dreamers by themselves never changed the world - it's the one who implemented a plan that made the dream a reality.

I closed our conversation by letting him know that there will be many people along the way who will tell him he "can't do it." Don't give in! After all, with God all things are possible!

What advice do you have for today's young adults?