December 25, 2008

The Best Gift

This Christmas morning the thing that left the biggest impression on me was my daughter - her selflessness and the joy she found in giving to others. I don't know what 6 year olds are supposed to act or think like - I have nothing else to gauge it on - but I watched as my daughter very gratefully opened her gifts, gave hugs and thanks, and then delighted in giving the gifts she had made to her family.

Over these last weeks she has been tirelessly working on cards, crafts, and other handmade gifts that are of little monetary value, but those of us on the receiving end consider priceless. The card my daughter made me will probably be the highlight of my Christmas...the best gift!

I keep asking the Lord to birth within me this selflessness and joy that comes from the blessing of giving myself to others. This is Christmas.

December 16, 2008

Please Place the Item in the Bag

It's becoming clear to me that many seemingly intelligent individuals have yet to grasp the purpose of some things. When they fail to do this it brings much frustration to those of us in the general public who are even moderately aware of how things are supposed to work. Let me explain.

The new "Self Check Out" aisles at the grocery store - these are designed for a few reasons. First of all they are there for people who are purchasing a few things; you know, like 2-10 items. They are not for the person with 37 items, 14 of which are produce, a jumbo bag of dog food, and the one golden item in the store with no sku # on it. These aisles are also for people who somewhat understand the concept of electronics - someone who could operate an old-school Atari or a CD player. Not the lady at the store today who scanned a carton of eggs 14 flippin' times today! She started arguing with the machine as it spouted back at her, "Please place the item in the bag". This was evidently not as clear to her as it was to the rest of us watching and waiting. And finally, these are not - I repeat, are NOT - for people writing checks! This brings us to the next issue.

Checks. People still writing checks at the grocery store, at Target, at Lowes.... Are you aware that they invented this magical device called a check card? It's marvelous! They swipe the card, the money comes straight out of your checking account, they give you a receipt, and you can record the withdrawal when you get home...rather than while you're standing there in line with 7 people waiting behind you! Hi there. Welcome to the 21st Century. 

God has given me the privilege (or curse) of not being able to avoid getting behind these nice folks. Do you know them? Tell them to smile and wave at the nice, patient guy behind them! He has nowhere else to go & nothing else to do.

I love visiting the grocery store. It's a magical land of discovery. Food, chocolate, and people! What more could you ask for?

December 15, 2008

Witnessing Worship

God's people have done serious injustice to many of the terms and words that are integral to our faith and the way we live life. We have done wonders of confusing things even more than ever. For instance, think back to your childhood (if you grew up in "the church") and remember the old poetic chant: "Here's the church, here's the steeple, open the door and there's all the people!" Hands folded, we began with "Here's the church...". From that very young impressionable age we were being taught that the church was a building - that you opened the door to "the church" and there were all the people. Wrong. 

The church is not a building. The Church is the people of God - WE are the church.

In addition to our verbal butchering of "the church", we have created a horribly shallow and safe idea of the meaning of "worship". When you say the word worship, most people in the church - most Christians - think you're automatically talking about music. "Are you coming to the worship service this morning?" "What style of worship does your church do?" "We don't raise our hands when we worship!" We stand guilty as charged of not only confusing the rest of the world as to what the Lord himself calls and identifies as "worship", but we've confused ourselves to the point that we don't even know what we're talking about anymore.

I believe that over the last few days I have witnessed "worship". It has not been in or through something that I (or anyone for that matter) would have chosen or desired. Basically, I've come to my parents home to assist my Mom in making sure that my Dad can die peacefully and with dignity. You don't think about these things until they camp out at your doorstep and begin knocking. The whole experience so far keeps leading me back to Isaiah 58.

The Lord comes with great indignation and lets His people know that so many of their "pious acts" and their "fasting and penance" is like noise and static to Him. Why? Because while they're fasting and praying and singing...they're fighting among themselves...they're going through the motions...they're still living for themselves. Does this sound like some of us? Some of our churches? Could it be we think we're worshiping...and we only sound like noise?

God's response to this is to tell us what true worship looks like to Him: freeing those who are wrongly imprisoned, welcoming and caring for the poor and hungry, giving clothes to those who need them, and - please don't miss this - NOT HIDING FROM RELATIVES WHO NEED OUR HELP. Paul exhorts Timothy (and us) that "those who won't care for their own relatives...have denied what we believe." Worship is starting to look a little different.

My Dad has exemplified Isaiah 58 with his life. Many Sundays as I was growing up I wouldn't see him in the "worship service". I would wonder, "Does my Dad just not like to praise God?" Yes, I would seriously question this. Well, the reason he usually wasn't present is because he was in a room praying with someone or counseling them, or in the parking lot helping someone jump-start their car, or listening to someone who just needed an ear. My Dad worshiped - he just did it more with actions than with words. Now I am watching my Mom exemplify this as my Dad's body is rapidly and brutally sucking the life out of him. I believe that she has determined that this man who has lived his life attempting to live and serve well also deserves to die well. I know that's not a comfortable or attractive talking point over coffee...but there are times that life says, "I don't really care what you're comfortable with!"

Sitting here, wiping someone's face, bringing them tea, rubbing their back, trying to answer their semi-incoherent question, "What is happening to me?" - this doesn't feel like worship. But I believe that it is resonating in heaven and bringing joy to the heart of the One who will eventually say, "Jerry, it's time. Let's go home."

May our actions and our lives be worship. Because the Lord says, "If you do these things, your salvation will come like the dawn. Yes, your healing will come quickly. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. 'Yes I am here,' He will quickly reply."

Isaiah 58
1 Timothy 5 

December 13, 2008

Why Bring the Kingdom?

The Book of Acts exists for one reason: the Kingdom of God. Jesus spent countless hours and took all sorts of opportunities to explain to those following Him that He had come to bring a "new" kingdom - a kingdom like none the world had ever seen. He said weird things like, "The Kingdom of God is like...a farmer who planted good seed...a treasure a man discovered hidden in a field..." and so on. Jesus sent out 72 other disciples and told them, "Whether people accept your message or tell you to get lost, make sure and announce to them that the Kingdom of God is near!" Evidently, this Kingdom is important.

I brought up the Book of Acts because of how it begins. Luke explains that after Jesus rose from the grave He met with them several times and "talked to them about the Kingdom of God." Interesting.

So Jesus spent 3 years with these men and others close to them, He fulfilled all prophecy spoken about Himself, He died on the cross, rose from the grave, conquered sin & death, has now appeared to His disciples several times, and as He does His favorite topic of conversation - the thing He sees as most valuable to repeatedly bring to their attention - is the Kingdom of God. Upon arrival Jesus brought this new Kingdom with Him. Now He is telling His followers that their main responsibility is to be bringing this Kingdom here, through the way they live, the things they say, and through their love for one another. Wherever you go...bring the Kingdom!

No sooner had Jesus gotten this out of His mouth and the disciples chime in and question, "Lord, are you now going to...restore our Kingdom?" Lord, we know that you've taught us, you've lived sacrificially among us, you were beaten and bruised and crushed and killed for us, and you've explained in detail that our lives are now about YOUR Kingdom...but just one question...when are you going to restore OUR Kingdom? Lord, we're totally great with your agenda, but is there any way You might give some attention to ours? 

[This would normally be the appropriate place to ridicule the disciples, making an example out of them. The problem with that is, WE are still asking this question today. What about OUR Kingdom?]

It is NOW time for the people of God to make the decision - which Kingdom are we living for? We cannot keep one foot - one hand or half our heart - in this kingdom and think we're going to effectively and wholeheartedly bring the new Kingdom with us. Jesus said a few things about this. (Matthew 24, Luke 14)

Are we bringing the Kingdom? This is the question for every "follower" of Christ to answer. Don't know how to know, how to tell, how to determine whether or not you're life is bringing about the Kingdom of God? Look around you. Look at those close to you. Look under your own roof. And answer this simple question: Are you making disciples? Are you showing anyone - even just ONE - what it looks like to follow Christ? Are you teaching, leading, influencing anyone - even just ONE - to make the decision to "seek first the Kingdom of God"?

So whoever you are, whatever you're doing, wherever you go, with whatever means necessary through love and mercy...bring the Kingdom! And whoever crosses your path...make sure and announce to them that "the Kingdom of God is near you now". 

Bring the Kingdom.

Matthew 24:14, 28:18-20
Luke 10

December 10, 2008

The Blue Streak

My neighborhood is great! On one side of me I've got this sweet elderly couple and on the other side this awesome young family. Kids up and down the street, neighbors talking in the yard. It's your typical American middle class neighborhood. Except no mailboxes. We have the big ugly community mailbox which, as I think about it, keeps anyone from having a Nascar mailbox with flames on the side, attached to a big piece of wood that used to be part of a power line. Maybe I really like the community mailbox. Either way, my neighborhood is great.

But this past spring I began to feel like I was in a movie - one of those flicks where people start suspecting that their new neighbors are aliens or terrorists or something. I came home one day and this house caddy-corner across the street from mine had this freakish electric blue paint on it - just in one little spot. I thought, "That's weird!", and I went on about my business. But what was even more weird was that the blue streak stayed there....for days....for weeks....for several months. I just began to think that maybe someone took the whole "blue streak" metaphor a little too far. And then it happened.

One lovely day in the late summer/early fall I was driving down my street, coming home from work, when off in the distance I began to see something, almost like one of those hazy mirages you'd see on a 10-mile stretch of road in the hot desert. But as I got closer it began to get clearer. Holy crap. They painted the whole house electric blue. [Pause for a moment and try to visualize] In fact, one of the painters was still working on the side of the house. He looked like one of the guys from Blue Man Group (if that helps you grab hold of the color I'm talking about). 

I couldn't even pull in the driveway - I just sat there in front of my speechless awe. I glanced back down my street noticing that, while no house on the block (or in the neighborhood for that matter) was exactly the same, everything was painted some earth-tone. Everything just sort of went together. I began to go over in my mind all the possible things said in the conversation that ended with, "Ah yes! This is one. The color of my dreams." I came up with nothing.

I don't know the people in the electric blue house. I honestly never even saw them move into the house (adding to the whole alien-abduction movie feeling). I know people on the street have conversations about "the blue house" and "the people in the blue house" and "What were they thinking?" and so on. Honestly, it's dumbfounding. But I've begun wondering and asking myself, "Why haven't you marched your sorry backside over there and introduced yourself to your neighbors? Am I too busy? Will someone in a blue house even like a guy like me who lives in a house that's 3 shades of taupe? Why?"

Could it be that you don't want to like them because they disrupted your seemingly perfect little world? Could it be - as metaphorically nauseating as it is - that you're judging the inside by what the outside looks like? Is this really happening?

It's time to bake some cookies, gather the family, and go meet the electric blue family. Maybe they'll invite us in and we can throw paint on some timpani drums and bang them really loudly for hours. Well, it could happen.

I do know one thing: giving people instructions on finding my house has become a whole lot easier!

December 6, 2008

Wait For It...

Waiting. We are not creatures who are very fond of this activity. In fact, most of us would rather get a root canal than wait. Maybe I should speak for myself - I would usually rather hit myself in the thumb with a hammer than have to wait. I've never actually had a root canal so I've got to stop using that reference. Waiting can be painful and grueling. Waiting on that someone to call. Waiting to find out if you got that job...or you'll have to keep looking. Waiting to see whether or not the treatment is actually going to work this time. Waiting. 

I'm discovering that our hatred of this apparent state of inactivity - and our occasional unwillingness to participate in it - cause us to miss the hand of the One who created us and to miss something bigger and better that He had for us on the other side. It is not just loose rhetoric that Isaiah tells us that "...those that wait on the Lord will renew their strength." Most of the time we view waiting as simply that - waiting. We don't realize that we're being allowed to go through this process because the process itself does something to us.

Waiting is a refining fire. It begins to strip away these outer surface layers of self-centeredness. Waiting causes us to decide whether or not we are going to be creatures of trust & faith or control & entitlement. Waiting is out of our hands. Waiting sets the table and offers 1 of 2 main courses: worry & want...or prayer. Dinner is served.

I don't know what you might be waiting on: news, healing, that someone to finally arrive, satisfaction, tomorrow.........or the next day. Whatever you're waiting on please know that the waiting is where WHO you are is formed, shaped, refined and revealed. Yes, it can be painful and No, it will probably not be over as soon as you'd like. But in the end, you will "...rise up on wings like eagles. You will run and not grow weary; you will walk and not faint."

And that is worth waiting for.

Isaiah 40:27-31
Philippians 4:6-7
Matthew 9:17
Zechariah 13:9
Psalm 40:1-3

December 4, 2008

Is Christ Ruining Christmas?

Our church body is journeying together (as are many of you & others) through the Advent Conspiracy this Christmas. So far, it has been refreshing, convicting, and is changing & reshaping the foundation of how we think and what we do during this season. If you aren't involved or don't know about Advent Conspiracy ( I encourage you to learn more and join us on the journey.

Now let's talk Christmas.

I don't make any assumptions about what anyone else grew up thinking, feeling, or experiencing at Christmas. I only know my own experiences. But I do have a pretty good idea that the Mayfield family Christmas was a pretty fair representation of most families habits on the morning of December 25th. I remember as a kid spending weeks (if not months) making out the "Wish List". I recall being fed some particular lie (excuse me, false truth) about someone who "sees me when I'm sleeping" - which now horribly creeps me out - and who watches my every move, checking off some imaginary list, coaxing & persuading me to be on my best behavior so that ultimately I could get everything I want. READING the truth - seeing this in print - makes it sound a whole lot worse than it felt back then. The truth stings sometimes.

As I've been forced to re-examine the heartbeat of this season - and my own heart for that matter - I keep finding myself going back to some painful words of exhortation found in 1 John 2:15-17. John wrote, "Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love the world, you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world. And this world is fading away, along with everything it craves. But if you do the will of God, you will live forever."

Understanding now that as a child you are already tempted to think that the world revolves around you and that you are somehow entitled to receive everything on your magic "wish list", is it not horrible and sickening irony that the very day that we are meant to celebrate Christ coming into this world to redeem it (and us) from self-destruction is now the pinnacle of promoting and advocating the "lust for everything we see"? Do we realize as parents - as the people of God - that if we're not careful we will lead our children into a lifestyle of lust? We can begin to teach them to crave the very things that are fading away?

Think I'm being too critical? Think I'm blowing this out of proportion?
I'm 36 years old. I'm a pastor. I'm still recovering from this mindset and mentality.

If CHRISTmas is about CHRIST - and it is - then let's make it about CHRIST.
If you're scared to let go of Santa...if you think he's going to be offended or his feelings or going to be hurt...make sure that you understand that the real Saint Nicholas would probably vomit all over his white beard if he saw what we have turned him into. The great coaxer and persuader of pointless moral behavior. felt weird. But we told our kids the truth. And don't worry, they won't ruin it for your kids! Well, I take that back. If telling someone the truth - that Christmas is all about the One who came to pursue us, redeem us, love us, and save us - that Christmas is all about us shining the LIGHT of CHRIST to a dark world - if that would ruin Christmas....then I hope your Christmas is being ruined as we speak!

Dig Deeper:
John 1:1-14
John 3:16-21
Luke 2:32