note to reader: The Twelve Gifts of Christmas was a series of posts I’d committed to writing, but three things derailed it. 1. My wife became ill on Christmas Eve with an inner ear virus that gave her severe vertigo. She’s better now, but still in recovery, so my increased care giving responsibilities displaced my writing time. 2. We brought home a new puppy, and with Donna’s illness, she wasn’t able to help with him much at the start - more writing time gone. 3. The 12th day of Christmas was January 6th, and while there’s much to say about that day, I’ve not yet found the right words, so am remaining silent on the subject. There are three days of Christmas missing, but I’m working on them, and will have a free booklet out, surely in time for Christmas 2021 - unless something else happens ( James 4:13)
THIS NEW SERIES is written because the price tags have been changed on everything in our culture to such an extent that many of us, though we consider ourselves spiritual because of our belief system, and perhaps church attendance, are squandering the precious days of our lives consuming and dishing out toxic waste, as we succumb to cancel culture on the left and right, as we allow anxiety, or loneliness, or lust, or failure, or fear of the future to push us into a cauldron of darkness, poisoning our spirits and sidelining us from our calling. I’m writing to invite you back - back to joy, back to the present moment, back to using your gifts, back to becoming a person of hope.
There are several threads that run through the teachings of Jesus which, when woven together, create an unbreakable rope, a line that will lead us ever closer to the life for which we’re created. One of those themes is Jesus' invitation to “life more abundant.” Jesus’ offer of life is given as a direct contrast to his declaration that there are forces in the world intent on preventing the life for which we’re created. Jesus calls the adversary ‘the thief’ in this passage, and declares that the thief, seductive and deceiving, always has as the goal to steal, kill, and destroy. If we’ve grown up with familiarly regarding this passage, it’s easy to allow this unholy trinity of evil outcomes to roll off our tongue without giving them any thought at all. We’d be foolish to do so though, for the theft, death, and destruction are happening right under our noses, right in our churches, and we’re too blind to see it. For example:
Satan comes to steal:
Our time - We live in a culture that’s intent on reducing us to consumers, and every minute I’m consuming, I’m not creating anything — not learning a new language, not writing an encouraging note to someone, not solving a problem, not making beautiful art or music, not learning a skill. Instead, I know the latest Netflix series, or the latest scandal about Q, or the entire roster of the Super Bowl teams, along with well formed opinions about the best commercials, or who’s going to win the Golden Globes.
One could argue that any of this, all of it perhaps, has its place. And yet, you’re born into this world with a destiny, your unique ways of blessing others through whatever it is that your hand finds to do. That’s why the preacher in Ecclesiastes says “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” This is it friends, our only life!, so make sure that the bulk of your time is spent investing in your children, or your craft, or your business, or your creating through art or words, or whatever it is that you’re made to do as a means of blessing this broken, thirsty world.
The present - Closely related to the theft of time is the reality that “this present moment” is stolen from most of us, as we’re seduced into obsessions, hopes, and anxieties about the future, and regrets, shame, and bitterness about the past. I’ll write much more about this soon, but note that a formative read for me this past year was, The Power of Now. The author observes that for most people ‘fulfillment is just around the corner’ and related to the next promotion, vacation, drink, purchase, worship experience, end of the work day, or sexual conquest. As a result, the potential to live with creativity, gratitude and blessing in the present moment is stolen, forfeited as it were, by our obsession with what’s next. As I read it, I thought of Jesus’ words, “Take no thought for tomorrow...” and realized how easily we gloss over that exhortation, and how rarely we follow it.
We need to get serious and do battle with Satan’s attempts to steal our time by talking our hearts and minds away from the present moment. We do this by creating a relentless commitment to living in this moment, the NOW that is the only real time we have. One important way to move into the present is to meditate on this: “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” We don’t know what tomorrow holds regarding vaccines, politicians, Covid mutations, or terror threats, let alone our own personal health and that of our families. Yesterday is behind us and gone. Both our successes and failures have evaporated into that mysterious ether known as ‘the past.’ All we have is this precious, present moment - for creativity, hospitality, gratitude, love, steps toward justice, actively blessing another. I find that the constant reminder brings me back to the present moment.
Our Calling - When we’re reduced to being predominantly consumers, our calling’s been stolen from us. Not only are we the poorer, since we’re not made to just consume media, but the world is poorer too. What oppression remains? What beauty is missing? What person is lonely? What student is bored, or paralyzed by shame? What vulnerable person is unsafe because we didn’t follow the path to embody the life for which we’re created?
The point isn’t to guilt anyone into action. Rather, it’s to observe that each of us really are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and therefore have a unique calling to bless and serve our world with the gifts we’ve been given. Doing this requires the learning, development, and use of our gifts, whether art, cooking, cleaning, serving, teaching, healing... whatever it is, we need to be doing it ‘with all our might.’ Getting on with it because time’s passing quickly, and hours, days, years even, are being stolen from us as we wallow in anxiety, self-pity, and shame, which leads to a final form of theft:
Our dignity - Decades of pastoral experience has taught me that the biggest problems in this world aren’t our failures; it’s our reaction to our failures. We fail. God's design is this: rather than naming it with confession and receiving forgiveness, at least from God, we move on. We’ve learned and grown, and are able to bask in the goodness of a God who demands, not our perfection, but our willingness to continue the journey of transformation by learning from our failures.
Instead, as we learn from the story of the first failure in the garden of Eden, we run! We run from God. We deny our failures. We blame other people, or our circumstances, or our story - anything but naming our failure, receiving forgiveness and moving forward. As a result, we remain stuck, either in hiding, or blindness to our failure, or victim mentality, when we could be on a journey of growth.
The best way to avoid our dignity being stolen is to allow ourselves to rest in the loving arms of a God who has promised he will “never leave us or forsake us,” a God who leaves the ninety-nine in search of the one who’s lost, a God who has proven, through the long narrative of history, and many of our own personal stories, that God is fiercely, irrevocably, unconditionally, infinitely, FOR US. I find that meditation on the many great truths about who I am, as found in scripture, enable me to move toward being more “rooted and grounded in love.” When this happens, I confess more quickly, am able to receive forgiveness and move on, and am in less need of human approval because no matter what people think, I’m known and loved by at least one... and what a One - the Creator of the Universe.
As one author says it: “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”