December 28, 2010

Brides and Grooms

I was just asked to perform a wedding for some friends of mine. Believe it or not, it is one of the many convenient services offered by Average Joe. I've officiated many weddings. (sounds like a sporting event, huh?) This is part of what someone in my profession is often asked to do.

And just for the record, I've never seen an ugly bride. Now I've seen some rather "plain" people show up for rehearsals, (Okay, I know...which is Average Joe? Pot or kettle?) but never an ugly bride. There is just something about the white dress, the sappy music, and the gravity of the event that creates a unique mixture that can transform the most ordinary young woman into a walking work of art.

However, in view of this, there is another fact of which I am absolutely certain. When the bride begins her journey down the aisle, there is nobody in the room who sees this woman the way her groom does. Oh, we can appreciate her beauty or notice her transformation from the ordinary to the extraordinary, but only a groom knows the overwhelming joy of seeing his bride from the heart.

Now, if you are waiting for one of my sloppy stories that is both graphic and sentimental, you're out of luck. I am simply making a point about perspective and the ability to truly "see" and drink in what is rare and exquisite. I've always found it interesting that the Kingdom of God is called the "bride of Christ." But in view of this, I kind of get it...

... Jesus said to Nicodemus, "unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (italics mine)

In other words, "Nicodemus, you can't see my Bride as I see Her. You do not possess the heart to do so. So, let me renew your life by giving you a heart that's fit to see the beauty of my Bride, so that you'll love her too."

The Bride of Jesus, the church, is too beautiful to be seen by the ordinary and uninspired. You see, these people see His Bride as just another woman who is out to rob them of their strength, time, and money. They see her as a nagging taskmaster who seeks to trap them in a relationship that is one-sided and unrealistic.

And the reason they can't see her beauty is because they can't see her with their hearts. His Bride has to be seen from the perspective of a heart that has been reprieved by the Father, reclaimed by the Son, and renewed by the Spirit.

Rebirth must take place before we can SEE the kingdom as does our Lord. We can only see the Bride in all her glory when we can see her through a heart like that of Jesus, her bridegroom.

And the only way we can have a heart like this is through the renewal that comes by being born again.

December 15, 2010


‘Tis the Season…

Every year at this time, we become inundated with movies and television shows about Christmas. If you are a child and watch these shows, you will be convinced that evil people are lurking everywhere just waiting on their opportunity to “steal” Christmas.

Really, isn’t that the plot to every show? Christmas is in danger of not coming…but wait, Charlie Brown, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, The Great Pumpkin, The Easter Bunny and Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick all team up to defeat the hideous Chieftain Underlords of “Christmas Haters Local Union 221!” How many times can Christmas be saved?

And then we sing songs…

From The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: “we’ll tell scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago…” (Sorry dude, that’s Halloween)

Then we sing a song about a snow man that dies at the end of the song. (It’s the "He Stopped Lovin' Her Today" of the Holiday Season)

And don’t you know that Mary just got baby Jesus to sleep and was ready for a latte and a bubble bath when The Little Drummer Boy showed up? (I actually had a grown up ask me where to find the story of the little drummer boy in the Bible…seriously)

And then there’s Ebenezer Scrooge. The name alone boils the blood of every eggnog-swillin’, colored-light-hangin’, hall-deckin’, tinsel-lovin’ Clark Griswold in the world. Who wouldn’t dislike a miserable old soul, who’s not only on a downward spiral to despair, but is furious that he can’t take everyone on the journey with him? And while there is little in my life that parallels his, I agree with him on one point…

Christmas has lost its focus.

Every year we attempt to make Christmas bigger and better than last year. Every year we take the holiday season to the next level on the absurdity scale. Every year we are challenged by retailers to thoughtlessly do more spending on things with less meaning. And since most of us lost the ability to think for ourselves sometime during the Clinton administration, we just foolishly allow ourselves to be sucked in.

Wake up everyone! NEWSFLASH: Christmas is about a baby.

Its about a baby who was God. That’s right, the same God who created everything we see and know, stepped out of heaven, emptied himself of his glory, and became part of His creation. Why, you ask? For the same reason Christmas has become so hideously overdone…we didn’t get it!

We didn’t get it…that a Holy God just wanted the people He loved to be holy too.

We didn’t get it…that we needed the intervention of perfection to cover our disproportionate flaws.

We didn’t get it…that forgiveness was on the tips of our tongues.

We didn’t get it!

So God chose the necessary over the convenient. He sent His Son…to be a baby. He sent His Son…to be an example of His love. He sent His Son…to start a revolution of righteousness. He sent His Son…to become sin on our behalf. He loved us so much that he would become a baby and hope that through His perfection, maybe somebody would “get it.”

You see, instead of trying to “one-up” last year and make Christmas more exciting…maybe we should realize that the story we have to tell about this baby is exciting enough. You see, I don’t get stoked over lights, tinsel, trees, and eggnog. I get stoked when I hear the story of a cold night, a barn, and a God who leapt from the starry midnight sky and landed in the arms of a teenage girl. I get stoked that God came near.

Here's part of the "story of the baby..."

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High." (Luke 1:30-32)

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

...and that's enough.

December 13, 2010

Cheer (the detergent)

What many of you may not know about ol' Average Joe is that I do my own laundry. I like my denims and flannels handled a particular way, and my wife doesn't seem to mind that I choose to tackle this responsibility know, one less thing.

I learned to do laundry the hard way. . . I ran out of clean clothes during my first quarter of college. Truth is, I didn't run out of clean clothes; I ran out of clothes that didn't reek. Therefore, I was forced to find a Laundromat.

In the Laundromat, I learned things that were just as educational as any other aspect of my college experience.

-I learned that yellow and blue actually do make green. . . a fact my kindergarten teacher had attempted to explain to me many years earlier.

-I learned that white underwear can take on a non-masculine appearance when washed with a red sportshirt . . . and that there is no acceptable excuse for a man to own pink drawers.

-I learned that a full capacity washing machine in fact did not mean "full capacity" . . . a fact discovered after standing in the drum and packing down my clothes in order to save the fifty cents it would have taken to wash another load.

-I learned that though women wouldn't, men will wear their "fruit of the looms" as long as there is still one shred of elastic remaining.

My cousin, "Big O," (now Dr. Big O) also taught me that detergent is an impressive substance. One day, while waiting for my clothes to tumble to a dizzying dryness, we read the Cheer box.

A box of Cheer contains ingredients to lift dirt from clothes, soften water, protect washing machine parts, reduce wrinkling, and prevent yellowing. Add to this list the fact that it contains whiteners, colorant, and perfume, all for less than a dime an ounce, it is truly a miracle in a box!

You know, we humans have made great progress over the years in the area of hygiene. God took care of the Israelites by giving them laws concerning how to take care of filth (see Leviticus). There was a time when we thought disease was an act of God. Then we came to realize that it was sometimes a product of human ignorance. And, we've been cleaning our act up ever since.

But why haven't the scientists come up with a concoction to clean our hearts and minds as efficiently as they clean our clothes? Where is my box of "Suds for the Soul" that lifts dirt from our lives, softens our hearts, cleanses our minds, protects our inner parts, reduces spiritual yellowing and wrinkling, and makes us sweet and good?

They didn't need to! This ingredient was created long before Cheer. All of the above is accomplished by the blood of Jesus.

By the way, don't try Cheer to cleanse yourselves. . . it tastes awful!