15 Days Til Christmas

I checked the calendar, then checked again.

I counted twice.

1) 10th

2) 11th

3) 12th

4) 13th

5) 14th

6) 15th

7) 16th

8) 17th

9) 18th

10) 19th

11) 20th

12) 21st

13) 22nd

14) 23rd

15) 24th

Make that 3 times….

There are 15 days til Christmas, not counting today.

Today is here.  (No need to count it.)  Christmas is…Christmas! (No need to count it.)

I’ve 15 days….

My tree is not up.  My house is not clean. The gifts are not bought. Christmas cards are not sent.

I sing the carols.  And, I attend the parties.

But, my heart is not in it.  My mind doesn’t celebrate.  It’s a burden and a hassle – an intrusion…interruption…imposition….

Don’t get me wrong.  I know the Reason for the season.  It’s all about giving (I mean getting) and doing good to others (I mean getting all the good I can) and celebrating the KING of Creation (I mean the king of commerce) and family, food and fun (meaning self).

Lest you label me Grinch, let me explain my dilemma.

My neighbor is Kurdish. “It is our culture, you understand,” these are the words expressed to explain the fasts and celebrations experienced as they move through the year.

And, once, only once, three words were added: “It is our culture, you understand, like your Christmas.”

“Like your Christmas” – WHAT?  We celebrate Christmas because it’s who we are culturally?  The calendar rolls toward the end of the year and culture dictates CELEBRATE!?

Um…yeah.

Truly…what religious significance does Christmas have?

“Christ was born today” is what the song says.  Do I believe that? No. I don’t believe Jesus was born on December 25 any more than I believe Rudolph pulls Santa’s sleigh.

Do I think it’s good to celebrate Jesus’ birth? I do think it’s good for Christians to celebrate the coming of the Christ, the Messiah…Jesus.  It’s a celebration of Christianity that should spill over onto those around us.  But, it shouldn’t be a cultural celebration.  And, it shouldn’t be consumer driven.  And…it shouldn’t be in December. That confuses the message of who Jesus is and why Jesus was born (and when).

A cultural, consumer driven holiday – that’s what it’s become here in the US.  Perhaps…just perhaps that’s what it’s always been.

My neighbor created a maelstrom within me – who am I culturally – and who I am religiously (dare I say spiritually?) – that raises the question: What happens when who I am culturally conflicts with what I believe religiously and hold to be true spiritually?

For too long culture and religion have been intertwined where Christianity is concerned. Traditions – whether born in culture or religion decree what we do, when and how.  Some say our culture reflects our religion.  Perhaps that’s true.  As I look around me, I sincerely hope not.

Perhaps it’s time for this Christian to step away from Christmas and take a long hard look at what I do and why I do it.  And, see which (culture or religion) is the driving force behind what I celebrate and how (and why).

We Christians make so much of Christmas. A month of celebrations and a year of planning.  We say we’re celebrating the birthday of King Jesus. But, if that were the case wouldn’t all the $ spent go toward making His kingdom a reality for all?

I’m torn and confused. My culture and traditions are Christian.  My religion is, too. But, spiritually, I feel drawn to abandon all and simply embrace Jesus and the kingdom of God He spoke of.

Culturally, that’s a radical attitude.  Religiously, it’s considered heretical. Spiritually…ah…would that not be freeing?

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Common Ground

I’m familiar with holidays, events and traditions that involve and include my nationality / culture / history / world view / religion / belief system / whatever it is that makes me…me.

I’m coming to see that those of others hold just as much weight as my own do. And, my choice not to celebrate in no way negates the importance or significance of that which others embrace and practice.

My neighbor is not of my culture.  We are…different.  One is not better than the other, nor more important. Both are valid.  Both are of value. Both have worth.

My neighbor’s world view is not shared by me – but that doesn’t make it wrong.  It just means it’s different.

Today, my neighbor brought over two huge plates of food, piled high and deliciously fragrant.  Today was a celebration…a holiday that she and her family kept…a part of her culture.

She chose to share it with us.

What a delicious sharing it was.

What was on the plates?  The only things I recognized were potatoes, green beans, golden raisins and chicken.  The rest were wonderful mysteries that delighted our taste buds and satisfied our appetites.

While her food filled our bellies, her generosity and outreach to us warmed our hearts.

My neighbor and I share little in common – but we have found common ground. She is a good cook and I am a good eater.

Mary Kay Cover-up

The book was returned to me in a small black, pink, and white plastic Mary Kay bag.

As I received it, I must have returned a quizzical look because the one returning it said, “I placed the book into the bag because I didn’t think it looked religious.”

Had she not said that, I would have thought she had slipped it into the bag to protect the dust cover.

I glanced down at the bag.  Large red letters – S WIE – were visible through the handle cut into the bag.  I knew they were letters from the author’s name but my mind took the scrambled letters, edited them and came up with the word WISE – in Capital letters…all red.

This intensified my confusion.

At first I thought it was a joke, but my friend was conversing with someone else so I didn’t inquire.  I just took it, thanked her, and moved on to my seat.

Hubby looked at me. I shrugged as I placed the bagged book on the chair beside me.

Her words returned to me: “I placed the book into the bag because I didn’t think it looked religious.”

Religious.

I slipped the book from the plastic bag and looked at the front cover.

There was a drawing of a woman’s face – bright red lipsticked lips and overdone eyes.  Perhaps that was what the woman referred to…but it was ironic that the book was placed in a Mary Kay bag if that was the case.

I had read the book, but it had been over 2 years ago. As hard as I thought, I could not recall anything that would cause me to think the book needed to be tucked into a bag and hidden for the return to its owner.

I sat and pondered the book, the bag, and my friend who had returned the book.

I wondered…did she read it?  Or, did the front cover of the book keep her from going deeper?

I placed the book into the bag because I didn’t think it looked religious.

It wasn’t a religious book, but it was written by a Christian. My friend did return it while at church, but the only people who would see her with the book was a mutual friend who had already read the book and random people she stopped to speak to.

So…what prompted the cover-up?

I wish I knew.

What I do know is that this event has made me aware of my own cover-ups. And, it’s made me question…why?

And, what happens if I stop the cover-ups?

Scary thought.

Intriguing thought.

Take note of what you cover up, what you use to cover it up, and why.  What do you think would happen if you stopped the cover-ups?

Faith is a Verb

A friend of mine, who is not a pastor, preaches today.  The topic?

Faith.

I read the final draft of the sermon last night.

It stirred me.

At first, I wasn’t sure why.

It wasn’t an emotional appeal to have faith, or to increase our faith. There would be no finger pointing and no Bible thumping during the sermon.

It stated simply and plainly what faith is and what it looks like when acted on – or activated.

Not only did the sermon stir me, it knocked the breath out of me as well.

It wasn’t until hours later that I realized why the sermon impacted me so.

Faith is a verb.

Faith = Action.

That’s one of the first things stated in the sermon.  In fact, I believe it was point #1.

There were no verses listed to back up that statement and no elaboration was made scripturally.

But, the point was made and it poked me – hard.  (Perhaps conviction IS the work of the Holy Spirit after all, and all the speaker needs to do is…speak simple truth.)

I searched scripture for verses to back up Faith = Action.

It didn’t take me long to find the first.  Others followed quickly.

The definition of faith given in the Bible is found in Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

If faith is action, as evidenced by the above scriptures, and faith is the assurance of things hoped for (as defined above)…where’s all the evidence of God’s promised kingdom and a better life?

As I look at the world around me, I think someones’ faith lacks something important – action.

Remember – if I point at you, I have three fingers pointing back at myself.

It’s said that we are the only Bible some people will ever read…the only sermon some will ever hear.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10:14 – ESV)

Do you have faith?  What is your faith doing?  Faith that is not active is dead.

We say God loves, God forgives, God cares, Jesus saves, the Kingdom of God, the Way of Jesus, and on and on….

We pray for and await the coming of God’s Kingdom.

Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

The Heavenly Kingdom isn’t something that’s yet to come.

It’s here.  It’s now.

It’s faith in action.

It’s what draws others in to learn of him in whom they have never heard so they can believe in him in whom they have not believed.

Faith without works/action is dead.

What is your faith doing right now?