Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

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Can Santa Claus Come to Town … Every Day?

December 26, 2009

Santa: "I hope this isn't that dreaded 'New' Coke"

I love Christmas morning (which, if you know me, is really saying something …  I’m not a morning person … never have been.  In fact, you have to practically stick your foot in my back and kick me out of the bed.  But on Christmas morning, no matter the time, I never give getting up a second thought.  In fact, I look forward to it … maybe as much as my kids).

This morning, my oldest boy, Jack (6), came around the corner and the smile on his face, the tone of his voice, the excitement and the happiness …. absolute joy in its purest form.  “He came!  He came! Oh my gosh! He came!” There wasn’t an ounce of his 50 pounds that wasn’t blissful.  Which, of course, caused me to ponder a couple of really important things.

1) It reminded me what real, true joy looks, feels and sounds like. And made me question the joy I feel in my relationship with Christ.  Am I THAT joyous? And, if not, why? Shouldn’t I be? Was His gift not the equivalent of a set of $12.00 walkie-talkies?

2)  It made me fall even further in love with my boys – which I didn’t know was possible.  Making them this happy should be my objective more often than once or twice a year.

3) It reminded me, perhaps for the first time since last Christmas, how immensely gratifying and fulfilling it is to make someone else really, really happy.

It made me so happy and fulfilled me in such a way, in fact, that I sat several hours later, missing it already … wishing things didn’t have to go back to normal, to hum-drum, to enduring … wishing I could do it all again (well, all of it except the getting up before sunrise and the gift-wrapping).

Then, I realized … I could.  That there was nothing stopping me. I could be Santa every day, if I wanted to.  And, I should.  It wouldn’t have to cost me an arm and a leg, require the in-laws to sleep over or that I provide a receipt.

I could give.  Every day.  To someone.

Whether that requires me going a mile out of my way, or just a cup of coffee, a hot meal, an encouraging word or a few minutes of my time, I could give more than I do.

So, that said, I’m gonna try to recapture that Christmas morning feeling more often this year.

I’m gonna resolve myself to give more than ever.

Much, I know, has been given to me.

(After all He came!  He came! …. right?)

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Fruitcake: The Greatest Gift of All

December 18, 2009

I sat down recently to write a letter, vouching for the character of someone I love.  Trying as best I could to explain to a complete and total stranger what a wonderful person she is.  And, it was difficult.  Not because she’s not one of the kindest and sweetest people I know, because she is … but because … well, where’s the proof?  What has she done? What are the works, sacrifices, offerings, etc. that would serve as testimonies to the goodness of her heart?

It doesn’t do much good to offer “she just is … trust me, I know her” as an explanation.   This man is looking for proof of her goodness – and a great many people testifying to it is a statement and a bit of proof in and of itself, I suppose.  That said, I hope a sackful the size of Santa’s shows up on this stranger’s doorstep.  He’s a very, very important person in her life right now, after all … and will have a profound impact on her future very, very soon.

In the meantime, all she can hope for is that she’s made a profound enough impact on the lives of enough people that that bag full of letters shows up.  That, within them, are stories and memories that are convincing.  That show more than a lifetime of the best intentions.   And, I think it will.

All of this brought me to this question … what if it was me?  What if I were dependent upon all of those I count as friends and family to write a letter, vouching for my character? Explaining who it is I am?

Would I, in good conscience, even be  able to ask them for one?  Would I really want to know who they thought I was? Would they have to search their souls, calendars or picture books for hours to recall an example of love and/or goodness? Would they be able to fill a page with anything convincing?

And, to take that one step further, if you’re someone who claims to love Christ, have your actions reflected that love?  That commitment? What kind of sacrifices have you made on His behalf, for others? What kind of things have you done that have had a profound impact on the lives of others?

In Christ’s court, a list of works/deeds – proof of your love, if you will – won’t be required.  He knows your heart.

A stranger on the other hand … ? Well, he doesn’t.  And the only tangible proof of its goodness is what its produced … its fruit (or, this being the holiday season, fruitcake, of course).

Would others have any on hand to send along on your behalf?

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How big are YOUR stones?

May 5, 2009

david-and-goliath-2Still trying to re-engage after my latest withdrawal into myself (despite my own best advice … you remember it, right? Talk? Engage? Share? Do as I say, not as I do, eh?),  I was about 50 pages into another good book from Gordon Dalbey (No Small Snakes – A Journey Into Spiritual Warfare) when I ran across something pretty powerful.  And, I wanted to share it, as it relates to the combat (spiritual warfare) that we, as believers, are called to engage in every day.

But, let me preface it with this – I agree with alot of what John Eldredge says about men.  Particularly, that we all desperately need to believe that we have what it takes (and that most of us don’t believe that).  That we are, indeed, men, in the strongest sense of the word.  That we (and pardon the connotation) have, you know … stones.

And, this passage has got to be as powerful an example of that as exists.

Reading from 1 Samuel 17:45-47:   “You are coming against me with sword, spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the Israelite armies, which you have defiled.  This very day the Lord will put you in my power; I will defeat you and cut off your head.  And I will give the bodies of the Philistine soldiers to the birds and animals to eat.  Then, the whole world will know that Israel has a God – and everyone here will see that the Lord does not need swords or spears to save His people.  He is victorious in battle, and He will put all of you in our power.”

This rather, well, bold proclamation – i.e. “you’re twice my size, three times as strong, have a spear, a sword, a javelin and an enormous army at your side … but, I’m not only gonna whip you right here in front of God and everybody (despite what many across the South may believe, this HAS to be the most appropriate use of that saying of all time, no?), I’m gonna take your head off.  And then, I’m gonna feed your army to the birds” – was made by  a young shepherd boy to Goliath – a giant of a Philistine soldier … a man of enormous size and strength and unparalleled combat skill.  A killing machine.

david-goliathIt’s nearly incomprehensible to most of us … to stand in front of such a seemingly impossible challenge.  Much less, to do it with such bravado.  But, then again, David had those stones … and, more importantly, an immovable faith in his God.  There was absolutely nothing that could stand in his way with God at his side.

So, imagine if you can, standing there, as David.

And then, tell me, why we can’t stand up to an envelope that comes in the mail.  To our boss.  To our circumstances.   Tell me why, when we have the same God at our side that David had on that day, we can’t swallow our pride?  Save our marriages? Reclaim our hearts? Defeat our giants?

But, you know what? That David strode into battle proclaiming victory wasn’t what hit me between the eyes.  It was what came next.  What came after David told Goliath just how far he was about to fall.

Continuing in 1 Samuel 17:48:   So it was, when the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, that David hurried and ran toward the army to meet him.

He ran toward the army to meet him.  He didn’t play 18 holes, go fishing, or turn on the game.  He didn’t ignore his wife. He didn’t toss the bill on the counter or in the trash.

He ran.

Towards an army.

Towards a giant.

He had what it takes.

… He had GOD.

Big lesson to be learned in that … no?

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Number of Christians in America Continues to Shrink

March 9, 2009

And we just can’t seem to understand why our country slips further and further into darkness …  Really?  It seems fairly obvious to me, though, I’m what is commonly referred to these days as one of those “right-wing, evangelical, conservative wackos”, so what do I know, right? 

atheist-ghost-buster_thumbnail2The further we get from God – and the priciples upon which this country was founded – the bleaker and more frightening things become.  I really don’t see the correlation between our nation’s (moral) decline and the growth in Godlessness as coincidence … and, as those numbers have mirrored each other for the better part of 60 years now, I’m not sure how anyone else can, either.  Can anyone argue that this country is a much more frightening place to live than it was even 20 years ago?

Anyhow, as we venture deeper and deeper into what may be  – at least potentially – one of the darkest periods in our nation’s history … a time when more and more people are entrusting their lives to the government than to God, we read the following:

 

More Americans Say They Have No Religion

Monday, March 09, 2009

A wide-ranging study on American religious life found that the Roman Catholic population has been shifting out of the Northeast to the Southwest, the percentage of Christians in the nation has declined and more people say they have no religion at all.

Fifteen percent of respondents said they had no religion, an increase from 14.2 percent in 2001 and 8.2 percent in 1990, according to the American Religious Identification Survey.

Northern New England surpassed the Pacific Northwest as the least religious region, with Vermont reporting the highest share of those claiming no religion, at 34 percent. Still, the study found that the numbers of Americans with no religion rose in every state.

“No other religious bloc has kept such a pace in every state,” the study’s authors said.

In the Northeast, self-identified Catholics made up 36 percent of adults last year, down from 43 percent in 1990. At the same time, however, Catholics grew to about one-third of the adult population in California and Texas, and one-quarter of Floridians, largely due to Latino immigration, according to the research.

Nationally, Catholics remain the largest religious group, with 57 million people saying they belong to the church. The tradition gained 11 million followers since 1990, but its share of the population fell by about a percentage point to 25 percent.

Christians who aren’t Catholic also are a declining segment of the country.

In 2008, Christians comprised 76 percent of U.S. adults, compared to about 77 percent in 2001 and about 86 percent in 1990. Researchers said the dwindling ranks of mainline Protestants, including Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopalians, largely explains the shift. Over the last seven years, mainline Protestants dropped from just over 17 percent to 12.9 percent of the population.

The report from The Program on Public Values at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., surveyed 54,461 adults in English or Spanish from February through November of last year. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 0.5 percentage points. The findings are part of a series of studies on American religion by the program that will later look more closely at reasons behind the trends.

The current survey, being released Monday, found traditional organized religion playing less of a role in many lives. Thirty percent of married couples did not have a religious wedding ceremony and 27 percent of respondents said they did not want a religious funeral.

About 12 percent of Americans believe in a higher power but not the personal God at the core of monotheistic faiths. And, since 1990, a slightly greater share of respondents — 1.2 percent — said they were part of new religious movements, including Scientology, Wicca and Santeria.

The study also found signs of a growing influence of churches that either don’t belong to a denomination or play down their membership in a religious group.

Respondents who called themselves “non-denominational Christian” grew from 0.1 percent in 1990 to 3.5 percent last year. Congregations that most often use the term are megachurches considered “seeker sensitive.” They use rock style music and less structured prayer to attract people who don’t usually attend church. Researchers also found a small increase in those who prefer being called evangelical or born-again, rather than claim membership in a denomination.

 

Evangelical or born-again Americans make up 34 percent of all American adults and 45 percent of all Christians and Catholics, the study found. Researchers found that 18 percent of Catholics consider themselves born-again or evangelical, and nearly 39 percent of mainline Protestants prefer those labels. Many mainline Protestant groups are riven by conflict over how they should interpret what the Bible says about gay relationships, salvation and other issues.

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Sleepwalking

March 6, 2009

asleep-b-wHave you ever noticed how easy it is to get through an entire day, week, month (life?) without ever really thinking? Processing? Engaging?  

I don’t know about you, but, if I’m not intentional about those things, my Mondays just blend right into my Wednesdays, which become my Fridays and, before I know it, weeks or months have passed, been lost.  I can just cast aside the effort it requires to think/process/engage, do what needs to get done … sleepwalk right through.

I see things … I hear things … I do things  – and often, very well … but they’re thoughtless objects, sounds and tasks.  I’m present … but, I’m not really there

Whether it’s the hills on my commute that I never really see, the co-worker that I talk to for hours a day, but never really hear … It’s amazing.  And, what ends up happening, I believe – and this is dangerous – is that I am affecting/influencing those I know, work with and love, without giving any thought as to how.   Whether I know/like it or not, my thoughts (or thoughtlessness), actions (or inactivity) and words (or the lack of them) influence everything and everyone in my life.  And, if that’s going to be the case, don’t I owe it to them – and most importantly, to God – to give those thoughts, actions and words some thought? To be intentional about them? To have/be the type of influence He wants me to have/be?

Anyhow … I’m figuring out that if people would just stop for three seconds, and ask themselves a few questions, they’d realize that they probably are – as I so often am – sleepwalking through life … or at least, portions of it.  Those questions – at least for me – are:

1. What just happened? or, What is about to happen?

2. What do I really think about it? Not having an opinion is not an option.  What do I really think about it?

3. Where is God in it … ? and how would He have me process it/react to it?

There are so many things that God is doing in our lives, so many opportunities He’s presenting us with … and, if we’re not awake … not LOOKING for them … we’ll miss them.  It’s just so easy to listen to the radio, surf the net, watch TV, read a book, have meaningless and shallow conversations and pass things off or not give them the benefit of a few minutes of real thought.  At least for me.  What about you?

Are you awake?

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Of service and tellers

March 1, 2009

A couple of weeks ago, I was – for the last time – treated horribly by Regions Bank.  I’ll spare you the grizzly details, but suffice it to say, they made a mistake that I was going to have to pay (dearly) for … and they bullymade it abundantly clear that they really could care less.  In calling them, I may as well have been barking at the moon.  (You know that feeling of complete and utter helplessness? That feeling you get when you’re so angry, you can hardly speak?)

I was just a little guy, after all …  so, if I followed through on the threat to close my accounts, who cares – right?  Now, from a business perspective, I wished I’d had the clarity at the time to remind them where their paycheck came from.  I,after all, was the revenue (customers’ money being what they invest, charge interest on, etc. to make their own profit,  obviously)!  They, the employee, were the overhead!

Was this how they’d want to be treated if the shoe were on the other foot?  Did they care if I, as I promised I would, told everyone who’d listen, for years to follow, how awful my experience with Regions Bank was?  The answer was an emphatic ‘no’ on both accounts.

After taking several days to digest it all, I’ve discovered the lesson to be learned here.

To these Regions support personnel, I’m a nobody.  A stranger with no immediate impact on their daily lives.  They can pass me right over and no one will know the better.

Or could they? The truth is, you never, ever know who you’re dealing with.  That, and the fact that it’s just the right thing to do, is one of the many reasons to just … well, treat people right.

I’m a literary publicist.  I work with authors, agents and media.  One of my authors just so happens to be a best-selling business author.  Said author just so happened to be in town last week to discuss ideas for/the contents of his next book.  The subject matter?  Customer service.  I told him of my experience with Regions.  And it’s possible that, in next year’s book – to be seen by untold thousands of potential customers, trade publications for hundreds of different little-guy-stands-up-to-bullyindustries throughout the world, media of every variety, etc. – Regions Bank and the way that customer service representative treated this “nobody”, will be cited as the perfect example of how NOT to treat your customers (how’s that for sweet justice? Striking a blow for the little guy?).   So, when they thought I’d simply hang up the phone and call my brother-in-law or my carpool pal before cooling off and just letting it go … they sold me a bit short.

Now – would this cause Regions Bank to close its doors? Of course not.  Could it cause a couple of hundred people who’d been considering opening an account with them to decide otherwise? Absolutely.  And, a few thousand dollars a month from each of them, over the course of 8,9,10 years … is a very, very substantial sum of money.

To their credit, after I called a senior VP at their headquarters, he returned my call.  He replaced my money.  He even sent a nice letter, apologizing for my troubles.  But, should I have had to call a senior VP at their headquarters to receive service? No.  The bank – which, to me, is represented by my only contact with them, the customer service representatives and tellers – should be empowered to take care of me and should have enthusiastically done so.  They could have, perhaps, made a believer out of me.

panhandlerI think you see where this is going, from a spiritual perspective.  We – as the body of Christ … as the church – have been empowered to take care of  those in need.    We shouldn’t put them off, thinking instead, “let God deal with it … I’d rather not bother.  He, or someone/anyone else, will take care of them.”  “The least of these” shouldn’t have to call headquarters and appeal to the senior VP of the universe for the most basic of needs … to complete the most trivial transactions.

After all, like the bank, He’s provided the means, already – and He’s empowered an army of  “tellers” and customer service representatives, to deliver them.

Bottom line? I came to Regions Bank with a problem … which, an astute business person would have seen, instead, as an opportunity.   They failed miserably to deliver and lost me forever.  We, as Christ-followers, must be more astute business people.  We’ve got to see the problems and troubled people we encounter daily as opportunities.  Opportunities to lend a hand, lift someone up, make someone’s day, give someone hope. We, like anyone in any customer service interaction, never know who we’re dealing with … what kind of trouble they may be in … how close to the edge they may be … how badly, despite their outward appearance or the size of their bank account, they need to know Jesus Christ.  If we handle it better than Regions did, enthusiastically answering the call when it comes in … we just might make a believer of someone.

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