Rituals and Christmas Lists

Black Friday…Cyber Monday… Our Biggest Sale of the Season… on and on it goes, this gift-giving frenzy that characterizes an American Christmas.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those anti-gift-giving rants that invariably pop up every year. I happen to love gift-giving! OK, yes, and gift-getting, too!

However, reading Isaiah 1:10-20 this morning has reminded me how we can get so caught up in the ritual that we completely lose sight of its purpose.

For at least the past decade, my family has employed Christmas lists. They used to be written on paper, then copied and shared. When email came along, we began sending them electronically. This made life simpler because we could also share what we were giving each individual (except the gift recipient, of course) to eliminate wasted time standing in long post-Christmas gift return lines. Then Amazon developed Wish Lists, making it even easier to create our magnificent gift registries, share them with each other, let Amazon keep track of purchases by simply taking the item off the list once it wasamazon-gift-list purchased, and–the ultimate convenience!–now Amazon even allows us to add items to our list that are not found in Amazon’s vast warehouse! Perfect, right?

 

It was really fun for a while, but I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with it the past couple of years. I have become so caught up in this path to gift-giving…so enamored with the tool for facilitating gift-giving…that the method has supplanted the underlying reason for the action itself. The giving of a Christmas gift is meant to represent my love for the person I’m giving it to, and the gift should be a result of thoughtful consideration.

Back to Isaiah… The prophet exhorts us to hear the Lord’s rebuke to the Israelites, who have become so enamored of the rituals of worship that they have completely forgotten what the rituals¬† are intended to do: remind us of the One we worship, why we worship Him, and what He most desires from us and for us.

I worship in the Anglican tradition, which has plenty of rituals. I’m grateful that we are encouraged to make use of those which are helpful in our worship rather than become a slave to any of them. When we process in for worship, the lead person lifts up a cross. As I follow behind it, I’m reminded that I follow the risen Christ. When I make the sign of the cross, I do it because at that particular moment in the worship service I’m reminded of Christ’s sacrifice for me, or of the mystery of our triune God. After the offering is collected, the priest lifts the basket heavenward as we sing, and I am reminded that all things do come from God and with grateful hearts we give back a portion of what’s been given to us. All of these rituals are designed to help me remember and reflect on God’s goodness, to foster a humble purity of heart for worship and obedience. This is God’s desire for me and from me, so that I will be fitted and ready for the day when the rituals will no longer be needed because the Kingdom has come in its fullness and worship is the continual reality.

Whatever rituals you may use in worship or in celebrating Christmas (I’ll leave you to ponder which might need attention!), take a little time this week to consider whether they are achieving their intended purpose or whether they have become more prominent than they were ever meant to be. If the latter is true, don’t resort to drastic measures. Rather, allow that awareness to guide you gently back to a proper perspective.

I think I’ll take a little break from Amazon Wish Lists and shop locally for one or two gifts that will be a total surprise!

 

My part to play

David and Paul. Two very famous men in the Bible, each in his own right. Both were warriors, David employed slingshots and swords while Paul used words. One man remembered for his adultery, the other remembered for his zealous persecution. Both transformed by God’s love for them, and their love for God. Two men separated by hundreds of years, each instrumental in God’s plan for his Kingdom.

Did either of these men know the impact their lives would make? I doubt it. Scripture tells us that each knew that God was with them, guiding and empowering their ministry. They surely dreamed of the legacy they wanted to leave, but I can’t imagine that they could begin to comprehend how their actions–their very lives–would impact the Kingdom of God for all eternity.

I, too, have a role to play in God’s Kingdom. From where I sit today, I can hardly imagine that it is anything near the magnitude of David’s or Paul’s contribution! Nonetheless, by God’s grace, I still have something to give. To allow false humility, fear, or low self-esteem to dissuade me from doing my part is to throw a monkey wrench into God’s plan.

Surely Nathan knew that confronting the king was taking his life in his hands, yet Nathan responded obediently to the Lord’s direction. He went to David and pointed out that he had despised the Lord and done what was evil in God’s sight. Rather than killing Nathan, David confessed his sin, repented, accepted forgiveness (and the consequences of his adulterous behavior), and was restored to his role in God’s plan. While Nathan was a prominent figure in David’s life, in comparison to David, his role in God’s big picture plan is minor.

Or what if Ananais had submitted to his fear of Saul, rather than to God’s instruction that he go lay hands on blind Saul so that he would regain his sight? What a critical moment in God’s plan! Yet we never hear another word about Ananais.

Not all of God’s faithful are renowned.

I cannot clearly see the whole picture of God’s plan. Yes, I understand some of it and, the more I study scripture and pray, the more revelation I have. But I can’t fully realize the impact of my contribution to the whole of the story. I can only do what I can in this time and this place, obedient to God’s instruction. Today I can pray for someone to be healed. Today I can point the way back to God’s grace and forgiveness. Today I can trust that, whatever my role–whether it is known throughout history like David or Paul or Nathan or Ananais, or whether it is only known by those in my little corner of the world–it is an important part of God’s plan.

So is yours. You have a part to play, too. And when we all play our parts well, we join Jesus in bringing God’s Kingdom near.

role-model-624x391

 

The Key to Fruitful Ministry?

I thought about Jesus’ words: “If you abide in me, and I abide in you, you will bear much fruit.” Jesus didn’t say: “Try to find a balance between abiding and fruit-bearing.” He didn’t say: “Work hard to produce much kingdom fruit, but try to find a way to make your life sustainable so that you don’t end up in a moral ditch.”

He said to aim at abiding. The way to being fruitful was precisely abiding; and abiding would never be fruit-less but always result in the creation of kingdom value.

John Ortberg penned these words and as I read them today, I wonder if he wrote them expressly for me. (We have met, after all. It was at a conference in 2009–I’m sure he remembers me well. Okay, okay…definitely not.)

I commend The Barnacles of Life to your perusal. It’s well worth your time if you are a minister of any kind–in the church, in the home, in the marketplace. In other words, if you are following Christ, you might find Dr. Ortberg’s exhortation an excellent reminder of how to be most effective in ministry.

As for me, I’m just pondering what life–ministry–would be if I truly gave up striving for “fruitful ministry” and instead focused my energy on abiding in Christ Jesus in the midst of whatever I am doing each day. It would take a lot of discipline. Need to break some old habits and thought patterns. Might not¬† Won’t be as easy as it sounds. In fact, it will take a lifetime (and then some!) to master. But maybe, just maybe, my soul will become far less cluttered, and my ministry far more fruitful. fruitful vine

Amen and amen!