December Pastoral Letter
This is the pastoral letter I sent out as part of the Bethany ARP Church December newsletter:
In many ways Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Some of it is the food to be sure, but there’s also the sense of grace that all seem to have on this day. It is one of the few special times of the year that hasn’t been ruined by advertisers and crass, ugly commercialism. In fact there is some cartoon memes you can find that poke fun at the way Christmas has taken over the space between the 25th of December and Halloween. We all know the history of why we celebrate it and how it come to be when it is. Yet if we spent some time to consider the reasons for our culture’s inability to mess with turkey day it makes easy sense. It’s a moment in time that isn’t about us. We don’t “get” anything from it other than maybe a tryptophan dream sequence. If there is anything to be achieved it’s the opportunity to talk about what others have done, and especially what God has accomplished for us in the greatest mercy ever provided in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. It also points to something in our culture nowadays which has come to believe that the first question that needs asked about any activity is, “what is there in it for me?” or “what am I going to gain from this moment that’s going to bring pleasure”? We are definitely living in what has been a multi-generational project to make the self the primary center of importance in life. Of course, there is nothing new about this. The names of Cain and Esau have become synonymous with greediness and the way ego can destroy a person’s future for the temporary delights of the present. One of the truisms of the Bible is that any time we place ourselves before our God, or others, trouble comes in due time. We are to love Jehovah first, and focus on our neighbor prior to assessing what it is we want. There is one particular passage that reminds us of the danger of selfishness. The apostle James notes: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” Whenever we think about sin what the Bible says here is proven true. What causes trials in your marriage? Is it not when you do what you want without considering your wife or husband? The same is true for any of our relationships, including the Church. We are a body of believers who are called to rest in the beauty of preferring brothers and sisters before us. That’s one of the many reasons why we are called to pray with one another, and worship with one another. It is a mutual benefit that, according to James above, gives us peace, teaches us to have gentle and merciful hearts, and grants the blessed experience of seeing those around us grow in holiness and comfort in Jesus. That’s what we should want more than any other thing. Seeing our neighbor rejoice in the joy of the Holy Spirit is the best gift ever.