Romans 13:11-14 CEB
So he we are again. Another year is drawing to a close and the Christmas season officially begins with the lighting of the first candle of Advent. Traditionally, Advent takes place the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. A candle is lit, symbolically representing a theme for the week. The four weeks are hope, peace, joy, and love. I appreciate advent because it personally helps we use themes to understand the importance of Christmas. This year I am looking at different holiday movies and comparing them to the different Advent themes. This week is hope, and what better movie to compare the theme of hope than, It's a Wonderful Life.
To begin, I wish to focus on our scriptures. Matthew goes into the unexpected nature of hope. We don't know when hope will be fulfilled. If we did, it wouldn't be called hope, it would be called plans. Paul, in Romans, goes into another aspect of hope we might tend to forget: good and bad hope. Hope doesn't live in the darkness. Hope doesn't live in this world. Hope is born of light.
George Bailey personifies both good and bad hope.
The first hope is so obvious everyone in the town can see it. He hopes to get out of Bedford Falls, see the world, make a name for himself. The world was his oyster and all he needed to do was shuck it. And, everyone wanted to help him. At his graduation, the pharmacist bought George a suitcase. The taxi driver gave George a free ride around town. Everyone wished him the best of luck. Then his father had a stroke and passed away. His plans had to be put on hold as the investors would only keep from selling his father's business to Mr. Potter if George would take his place.(Mr. Potter was concerned with keeping his pockets lined instead of helping the people of Bedford Falls. If he succeeded in taking over the Bailey Building and Loan than he would keep the residents in their slums)
This leads right into George's second hope, the good and real hope: George wants the people of Bedford Falls to live a happy and fulfilling life. In the movie, George always speaks the false hope while lives into the real hope. When he finally finds himself in a place where he might end his life, it is because his real hope appears crushed, not his false one. You never see him fighting for his way out of Bedford Falls, lost in depression when he can't go on his honeymoon, or buying into Mr. Potter's three year deal to work for him. What you always see is his open willingness to sacrifice his future for the Bailey Building and Loan, give up his savings to keep the business open, and sacrifice his life to make up the business deficit. His hope of a better future tomorrow, not an easy fix today.
When it comes to Christmas, we need to start the season picking which hope we are going to live into. The Israelites had a real and false hope too. The real hope was for redemption and the false hope was for vengeance. They wrote of a warrior king would would come and smite those against the people of Israel. What they got was Jesus, the fulfillment of the real hope they had in their hearts.
Today our false hope is much more superficial. Are we going to fit in with the popular crowd? Will we get the expensive present? Are the decorations going to look good? We should be much more concerned with living into the real hope of Christmas. Peace. Joy. Love.
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It is my hope that your Christmas season is filled with God moments.
Part of marriage is the blending of traditions to make new family traditions. One of the places where this is seen the clearest is in Christmas. There is a give and take.
When Linc and I first met we each had a very specific tradition. At the beginning of Advent I would watch A Muppet Christmas Carol. The weekend before Christmas Linc would watch, MST3K: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Yes, it was ripped on a VHS and featured those old commercial breaks. We made it our tradition to watch both movies. Eventually it morphed into a weekly movie experience. Now our tradition is as follows:
Linc reminded me, early this year, of our list when he said we wanted to add A Charlie Brown Christmas and A Mickey Christmas Carol to it. It made me realize we have surrounded our season with films. Halloween we watch A Nightmare Before Christmas and Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin. Christmas Eve we watch, It's a Wonderful Life. It got me thinking, could Advent draw on those movies we love and connect them to a Christian context?
So for Advent we will be going to Hollywood and drawing connections from some of our holiday favorites. This list won't look like my personal family list. I give them to you today so the DVR's can be set, we can pull out the popcorn, and celebrate the Christmas season together.
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 CEB
This meditation is part of a synchroblog with The Despised Ones
Our Christian experience should be like guitar strings. It should be filled with tension. We should feel the pull between be fruitful and multiply and drop everything and follow Jesus. We should feel the strain when we are called to a new life in Christ while understanding we are daily dying at the foot of the cross. There are so many tensions out there. We should believe God is going to give us the gifts we need to accomplish what we need to accomplish, but we should always be aware we are incomplete and insufficient. While knowing we will never reach perfection in this life, we find ourselves always striving for it. The individual should be in tension with the community. The spiritual should be in tension with the physical. When we don't feel that tension. When the choice is too easy. When we are not being pulled from more than one side. Well, that means something gave and we are no longer completely living in God's will.
So that's where my mind was when the topic of Christian Celebrity was dropped in my lap with not even a scripture to help me out. Then a few weeks back the Daniel scripture was practically handed to me on a silver platter. The pieces began to come together.
Well, in some ways we need to be tread very lightly around our Daniel history. He had quiet the reputation. He was like the Johnny Appleseed of his day. What I mean is, he was so loved by everyone around him, the Israelites and the Babylonians, that tall tales were written about his exploits. He was truly a big deal. I don't say that lightly. He was epic for his time. This was the Daniel who would trust God and keep his life, even among a den of lions. His tall tales are truly wondrous. The biggest being, Bel and the Dragon. To explain Bel and the Dragon I first have to reintroduce Daniel and the Lions Den. In the story Daniel is working for King Darius in Babylon. (Yes this is the same Babylon the Israelites are exiled to, but we will get to that later.) Daniel is the best at what he does and he is so good Darius is considering giving him a promotion over all other people in his field. This makes certain people, who want the job for themselves jealous of Daniel. They conspire to seek a way to get rid of him. These prefects and counselors decide to go to Darius with a plan. They praised the king, raising up how wonderful he was. He was so wonderful everyone should avoid worshiping everything for thirty days and only worship Darius. What's a king to do? Of course that sounds like a great idea so Darius signs off on it. Daniel, knowing the king had signed such a decree cannot keep from worshiping God. He stock was in God and only God. He goes to his room, where there is a window that opens up facing Jerusalem, and prays to God three times a day. Those against Daniel used his prayers to implicate him. Darius wanted to save him, but knew he couldn't. He put Daniel in the lion's den and hoped his God would save him. The next day he came back and found out Daniel was saved, as Angels shut the mouths of the lions so he would be safe.
Now Bel and the Dragon kinda becomes the Tall Tale to Daniel and the Lion's Den. I want to add this before I continue. It's not in our Protestant bible. It is apocryphal. So what I am about to share is considered outside our understood canon as part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ.) Now, let me tell you the story. Bel, was a false idol. The king thought Bel is real because the offering of food left for it was always eaten the next day. Daniel rightly points out that a clay statue cannot eat or drink. This makes the king angry and he asks his priests to explain themselves. They set up a trap for Daniel. So the kings asks the priests to set the food out again. If the food is there the next day the priests would be executed. If the food was gone the priests would be redeemed and Daniel would be executed. (Beginning to sound familiar?) Daniel takes the bet and sprinkles ash over the floor which capture the priests foot prints and find them guilty. The priests are put to death. Daniel is given permission to destroy the idol.
Following this there is an honest to goodness dragon who is a “real” god. Daniel makes deadly cakes for this dragon which are eaten and causes his death. This angers the Babylonians who insist Daniel should be thrown into the lion's den as punishment for killing the god. (Now it should sound really familiar.) For a whole week Daniel is saved from the lions daily ration of two humans and two sheep. When the king finds out about Daniel's death he goes to the den to mourn him only to discover he is alive. The people who threw him in are thrown in instead and Daniel's story becomes proof of God's greatness. So the story transforms from one night in the den to a whole week. Also, I didn't add this, but an honest to goodness prophet was dragged by his hair to feed Daniel while in the den.
I share these stories and its relation to the Lion's Den story we know to bring home how much the people celebrated and expanded the story of Daniel. This was a man loved by both Babylonians and Israelites. He lived in the palace but was still an exiled citizen. This was Daniel's tension: to be both despised and celebrated at the same time. He interpreted dreams for the King, but these interpretations were really for God and God's people.
I believe God used the dream from our scripture to tighten Daniel's tension a bit. He was probably living a pretty cushy life. He was living in the palace. Perhaps we was beginning to forget his roots. He might have been too comfortable. This would be the reason Daniel was so distressed by his vision. The dream would have jarred him into the reality of the tension he was living in.
The reason I feel so confident in this idea has everything to do with the dream he was having. From the chaos rise up four giant beasts. Now these four giant beasts were metaphorical for four kingdoms Daniel would have been well aware of. They were: Media, Persia, Greece, and Babylon. Yep, Babylon, the very place where he worked and was exiled. As the dream ends even Babylon cannot stand to God and the divine kingdom. Also, unlike the previous chapters where Daniel interpreted the dreams for the king, someone had to do the interpretations for Daniel. In other words, it was a dream specifically for Daniel.
There are two things I think we can do with this today. First, Daniel was extremely popular for the Israelites. Dare I say, he was a celebrity. But, God does not call us to worship a celebrity, God calls us to worship God. When entering a house of worship, God's name should also be bigger than the pastors name. We are not on this journey for Joel Olsteen, or Pat Robinson. We are on the journey for God.
Secondly, we need to be more aware when we are getting too comfortable. My favorite spiritual song lyric comes from Ginny Owens: “But you never said, it would be easy. You only said we'd never go alone.” We grow and learn when we are active, not when we are idle, and most definately not when we become idols. We need to be striving to live in the tension of life. Without that tension how are we to play into the song of Christ's redeeming love? We have to be willing to feel the tension of God's will against our call.
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Daphne Reiley is the co-author of A Tapestry of Love: The Spirituality of Caregiving. She is also a member of the pastoral care team at Sandy Springs Christian Church, in Sandy Springs Georgia, and provides spiritual support to shut-ins and caregivers.
After a long day filled with small successes and frightening setbacks, how do we as caregivers find a way to fall asleep and get the rest our bodies, minds, and souls need?
As caregivers, we are woven into a tapestry of many expectations—those of the one for whom we care, our own, even society‘s. The weight of those expectations bears down on us by the end of the day. So on days when our loved one doesn‘t recognize us or falls and injures herself, we end up that night reliving the day in our minds, looking for ways we failed. Yet, most of the time, there is simply nothing we could have done to have prevented the fall or other accident, and definitely not a cognitive slip in a progressively worsening mental disease! The habit of realistically and authentically reviewing our actions over the course of a day can help us gain control over these times of self-condemnation.
Having a relationship with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit sustains us in our lives as caregivers. Without that healing relationship, we end up exhausted, followed fast by the onset of resentment, anger, guilt, and often depression. A discipline of spiritual practices forms our personal tapestry of support, replacing the tapestry of expectations, providing relief from and an understanding of the exhaustion that plagues caregivers. In A Tapestry of Love: The Spirituality of Caregiving, Joseph LaGuardia and I discuss many spiritual practices that will help to form that tapestry of support. My personal favorite happens to be the practice of examen.
The more we submit to a grace-filled self-examination, the better we come to know ourselves. As we develop more authentic self-knowledge, we begin to see ways in which we judge others and ourselves harshly rather than recognizing common struggles compassionately. A good way of developing authentic self-knowledge is through a daily practice of examen.
The classic pattern of “Examen of Conscience” in the Roman Catholic monastic tradition involves five steps:
If you want to learn more about spiritual practices that are particularly helpful for caregivers, check out our website www.ATapestryofLove.com that contains blog posts, a resources page, and a link to order your own copy of A Tapestry of Love: The Spirituality of Caregiving!
Luke 20:27-38 CEB
How does one start a new year? This is the question I tried to answer. This is the first post in a new year for Fig Tree Christian.
I think what I can do for this week is share the pitfalls we as readers and writers come up against. We have metaphorical Pharisee's and Sadducees today, and each comes in different form. This message today is simple. Be careful who you read and what they say.
The Sadducees are kinda like the Gnostics. We have tons written about them but nothing first hand. For the Gnostics, most of their first hand experience was purposefully destroyed. Their wild and crazy ideas led to the Apostles Creed. People were so offended by what the Gnostics said, it organized the church. The Sadducees, on the other hand, as the Jewish writer Josephus put it, were boorish. Their wild and crazy ideas did not lead to unity. They supposedly were more about division and, in some ways, creating it. They didn't really get along with anyone. Even Herod was suspicious of them. They were by no means buddies with the Pharisees. Well, they did seem to get along with one group, the Roman elite.
Realize the Sadducees were not around to play nice except with their friends, if their friends got them invites to the parties or special gifts. Today we have our Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees are the leaders in the church who refrain from change because good change would cause them to lose power. The church is dying and these people are more concerned with themselves. Leadership comes in many forms and doesn't preclude anyone with a 'Rev.' in front of their name.
The Sadducees are far more powerful today. They are the bloggers on the internet who use their soap box to spread an agenda instead of a message. They look to page hits and take scandalous points of view to get those hits. They get away with it because people don't question what is said on the internet. We are becoming lazy. We are at fault. What this scripture does is call out those who were just after power grabbing rather than true educating. The message is simple: Stop keeping our focus on the dead issues. God is for the living. Now there are good and bad writers on the internet. I know some really good ones. This isn't an all or nothing game. We just have to realize, just because it goes by a Christian name doesn't mean it's worth reading. (Or in the case of the Sadducees, worth listening to.) That's all I have to say today. Engage back- including me. I will always admit when I am wrong. I am after the truth, not an agenda. Finally, don't allow Sadducees to hold the megaphone on the internet.
Today marks the one year anniversary since the internet launch of Fig Tree Christian. The best way for us to celebrate is to say thank you to everyone who has helped over the year.
Thank you to the congregations who have helped
Central Christian Church- They participated in the fundraiser and sold t-shirts. More than that, they wore the t-shirts at the General Assembly and showed their love to a fellow Christian organization. Thank you.
First Christian Church in Hendersonville- They felt called to send a love offering to us which allowed us to do the first Good Samaritan Gift. Thank you.
Thank you to our guest meditations
Rev. Frank Sherard- He was the bold Christian who kicked off guest meditations and became our first contributor outside of myself. Thank you.
Rev. Paul Appleby- He wrote a guest mediation and has been a supportive voice in the background. With his wife, Sage Appleby, they are grade "A" cheerleaders of the faith. They are strong supporters to Fig Tree Christian. Thank you.
Chaplain Kimberly Russell- Yes, she is my sister, and she is the person to turn to when I need to work out a theological issue or brainstorm the next step. She has written two guest meditations. Thank you.
Thank you to the Georgia Region
The Georgia region of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has shared its excitement and support of Fig Tree Christian. They have sent myself to the Leadership Conference and has stayed in contact to try to find ways to support this ministry. Thank you.
Thank you to those who have donated
For privacy issues I don't want to mention these supporters of the faith by name. Just thank you for believing in the mission of Fig Tree Christian enough to give a financial contribution to the ministry. Your gifts throughout the year has made it possible to bring fliers to the Paulding County area. Thank you.
Thank you to my family
On Thursday anyone can check the website after 8am EST and find a beautiful meditation with pictures and a meaningful message. What one would not find is all the praying and soul searching that happens in between that time. If it wasn't for the support of a loving husband we wouldn't be where we are today. Thank you Linc.
Last but not least- thank you to everyone who shows up every week!
Whether you come every week to read or you are sharing the word with your friends and colleagues. Thank you. You only show up as a number on my end, but I pray for each of you on a daily basis. I love y'all, and you are the reason I do this every week!
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