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keep christ in…

Let’s be honest.  People are not going to decide to follow Jesus because of our merchandise that say, “Keep Christ in Christmas“.  That just offers one more opportunity to pigeonhole Christians. I mean, seriously:  do we really need to gift-wrap  ammunition for people already antagonistic towards Christians?

In fact, it seems that the more one publicizes pithy little sayings and reduces the gospel to “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven” soundbite (or my personal favorite, “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned” [are women not included?!  Ok, that was a cheap shot]), the more the Gospel (that is the good news of God’s love!) gets diluted.

Yes, we water down the Gospel, this phenomenon that has changed the world and still holds hope for the world.

Christmas wasn’t instated by Jesus Christ.  In fact, his birth was not central to many early Christians’ faith.  The fact that only two books in the Bible (Matthew and Luke) begin (or include) the story of Jesus’ birth certainly doesn’t mean that His birth was not important; on the contrary!  But it does mean that many thousands (at least) of people trusted in Christ without political ambition, without trying to coerce people who are not “called by His Name” to celebrate Him.

In fact, I wonder if Jesus cares as much about the arguments we make.  We often say it ourselves, that Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas.  So, why do we get all bent out of shape this time of year when people who aren’t Christians don’t want to celebrate his non-birthday?  Why is it that only one day in the year we remember God who came to be human?  Should not the advent of our Lord be celebrated and shared more than during the winter?

How many abuses have been done to others by Christians?  How many in the name of the babe in the manger?  How many have we, today, participated in, excluding others?  How often have we Christians been unloving or indifferent?  Not just to those who do not believe as we do, but to those who are our brothers and sisters, those who also claim the name of Jesus?

I’m all for celebrating Christmas.  This is probably my favorite time of the year.  But I can’t help thinking we’re fighting the wrong battle by trying to “keep Christ in Christmas.”  After all, is it really our job to keep Jesus somewhere, all neat and tidy?  It’s like we’re trying to appease the gods, relegating Jesus to His one time of year.  Maybe we should be trying to get Christ out of Christmas and into the rest of the world.

Perhaps instead of fighting to “keep Christ in Christmas” (or prayer in schools, or the 10 Commandments outside courthouses, or God on our money or in the Pledge – insert your Christianese battle here), let’s do something that really will impact our world:

Let’s put the Christ back in Christian.

That’s something we can control a bit more.  And it’s something surely more pleasing to God than trying to “take back” Christmas.  After all, what are Christians supposed to be known for, fighting and winning political battles over our rights, or pursuing justice and mercy for the oppressed, setting the captives at liberty, loving their neighbor??

Should we be known for making enemies by making the Gospel as offensive as possible, or realizing that the whole Gospel can be reduced to one statement, “to love your neighbor as you love yourself“?  To be sure, the Gospel is scandelous – who else’s god is celebrated as coming through an unwed teenager?  It can be offensive.  Unfortunately, Christians today have taken that job upon themselves, making ourselves offensive in an effort to claim the right to our own “pursuit of happiness.”  Christian has become a descriptive of culture instead of transformation.

Let’s decide to put Christ back in Christian.

That seems to be a better use of our effort.

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they like jesus

but not the church...

but not the church...

I’m disturbed.

Ask anyone on the street:  What do you think about God?  What do you think about Jesus?  What do you think about Spirituality?

Then ask them:  What do you think about Christians?  The Church?  Christianity?

I’ll bet we’d find that people – from all walks of life, religious and irreligious (with the exception of Bill Maher, perhaps) – have a positive reaction to God, immensely respect Jesus, even practice some sort of Spirituality.

But Christian changes everything.  Descriptives emerge:  bigotted, intolerant, homophobic, subculture, controlling, hate.

How in the world did we change the world to the point that the world likes Jesus (at least in their limited understanding, but like him nonetheless they do) but can’t stand His followers?  Certainly there are wrong perceptions, but the fact remains that perceptions shape people’s realities.  And as Christians, we’ve given more than enough fodder for people’s negative perceptions to become reality.

The question for us is not necessarily how to change their perceptions, but how to change how we shape those perceptions.

In other words, regardless of what narrow (and I mean this positively, not negatively) beliefs we have, how can we communicate love to our world.

More importantly, how can we communicate God’s love to God’s world.

Because as much as people may like Jesus…

…Jesus likes them more.

floyd’s coffee

Floyd's Coffee Shop, Portland OR

Floyd's Coffee Shop, Portland OR

This morning never really started.

My Blackjack II running Windows Mobile 6 decided that when its time zone changed, every appointment in my calendar would also be set back 3 hours.

That translates to several rude 4:00am awakenings to shut off my phone telling me to wake up to go to class.  Needless to say, Andy Sikora is no fan of my phone.

Not only that, but a friend in Spokane decided to call me at 7:30am Eastern Time, waking me again at 4:30am Pacific Time.  And I got at least one text message from a person who shall remain nameless at 5:30am.

So, already not being a morning person, finally waking about 6:15am, I was in serious need of coffee.

Enter Floyd’s Coffee.

I’m not exactly certain how good their coffee is because I was in no fashion an unbiased consumer at 6:55am.  I needed a shot of caffeine.  I needed a large coffee.

Now, I am no coffee drinker.  I prefer chai.  But I needed it straight from the drip, thick and stimulating.

And it was good.

Floyd’s Coffee.

God bless Floyd.

day two continued…

breaking camp...

breaking camp...

With Gillian safely in the car, we set out for Sturgis via Yellowstone.

We made it to Target.  This Target is the greatest Target we’ve experienced.

Happiness abounds.

The baby food was 20% more for the same price – Nathan’s happy;

There’s a Starbucks inside – Niki’s happy;

Momma’s happy – everyone’s happy.

Minus the freezing night, this day is starting to get good.  Seriously.  Niki has already rebounded from her nocturnal sleeplessness:  she counseled a woman in the bathroom who was concerned that her son was going to college in Alabama; she bought her 4th pair of sunglasses this year (Nik is singularly the unluckiest sunglasses owner in the known world.  She goes through several pair each year…it’s good she shops at Target).  And she came out with coffee and chai.

A good start indeed…

Well, no sooner did we leave Missoula than huge road signs reminded us of our historic surroundings.  Today was much more interesting than yesterday.  Instead of Historic Montana Valley Book Store, there were things much more important-sounding:

Grant-Kohrs Ranch Historical Site (your guess is as good as mine)

Old Montana Prison Museums (note the plural museums; do we really need to see more than one prison museum?)

– the incredibly explanatory, Historic Point near Beck Hill Rd.  Yes, I’m 100% serious:  Historic Point.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Speaking of not making things up, my new favorite sign ever is Rock City’s “World Famous Testicle Festival.  I hesitate to write this, but the fact than anyone on God’s green earth can read this in 4-foot-high letters along Interstate 90 compels me to include this.  A testicle festival!  Of all things to celebrate… I would say, “only in Montana“, but I have to be honest:  I would be surprised if Arkansas did not have something similar.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

Nik & Josh in Gallatin National Forest

Nik & Josh in Gallatin National Forest

Further into Montana, we exited I-90, drove through Gallatin National Forest towards Yellowstone.  Rusty, Charity and Little Dude made their photo debuts as we drove through incredibly beautiful surroundings.  Horses, cabins and trails all over the place.  And only a few looked unabomber-ish.  Hey, it’s something you think of in these parts; comes from living near northern Idaho for a few years.

road trip: night one

koa camping in missoula

koa camping in missoula

We pulled into the Missoula KOA about 7:30pm or so.  We had very few expectations of a campground whose directions included, “Right behind Famous Footwear”.  We were pleasantly surprised, however, by the quiet we experienced, given that there were a few hundred campers:  RV, tent and a few motorcycles.

…well, more than a few motorcycles.

Setting up camp proved to be pretty easy.  Nathan started off crying and the dogs began getting restless, but everyone quited down pretty quickly.  The campground itself got real quiet about 8:30, before we had a chance to blow up our air mattress.

It’s a very noisy air pump.

So, Niki, being more concerned about disturbing others and getting kicked out of the KOA than comfortable sleeping, decided to just roll in out and not blow it up.  We soon wished we blew it up.

We froze.  And tossed and turned on hard rocky ground.  It was miserable.  Unprepared for cold nights (it’s August, for crying out loud!), we even forgot a hat for Nathan.  Niki improvised:  taking one of her fluffy socks, we cut a slit and popped it on his head.  Perfect.  Nathan had no clue that we were so cold.

Or miserable.

Lucky kid.

Tuesday morning we called a Best Western.

Josh

road trip: day one

traveling east through idaho

traveling east through idaho

Monday.  4:30 came early today.  Unfortunately it was 4:30pm, and the not the earlier one.  Packing took much more time than we were planning – somewhere along the lines of 5 days’ worth of loading.  Kinda takes the fun out of uprooting life, putting it on a semi trailer and driving 10 days cross-country with an infant, two dogs (one of which resembles a horse) and a cat.

But 4:30pm found us in front of McDonald’s, eating our first meal of the day on the way out of Spokane Valley.  30 minutes later we were passing Lake Coeur d’Alene, Harrison, and Mullen, ID, reminiscing our first trip through those ways:  our move from Florida to Washington.

That first time through the 4th of July Pass scared the bees out of us.  It was completely dark, navigating the winding roads through Idaho before opening to the plains of Post Falls and Spokane.  On top of that, the only gas we could find was a 4-pump, off-the-highway-a-ways-down-an-unlit-road, scary movie station.  And it was foggy.  And there were crazy drivers driving big redneck pickups.

This time our trip was during the day and we really saw incredible beauty.  I recalled cycling the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes last July 4th, passing each town now at a much higher speed:  Harrison, Kellogg, Smelterville (which is as beautiful as it sounds), Mullen.  It’s hard to believe that we have already lived in the NW for more than 3 years.

Idaho was quite scenic.  Montana, too, was idyllic.  We remembered Montana from past trips and because the eastern side is bleh, decided to skip that part.

We had no idea how historic Montana would be.

Everything in Montana has deep history.  Or at least that’s what the signs say.  Either it’s “world Famous” or it’s “Historic”.  I’m serious.  Here’s a small sampling:

  • Historic Bar and Grill
  • Historic Casino
  • Historic Montana Valley Book Store (this was one of my favorites of the day)
  • Historic Ranger Station (again, I’m serious.  These people must have very little to do other than make things historic)
  • Historic Huson Mercantile

One proprietor near Kalispell decided against the “Historic” tag; Bob instead went with “Bob’s Outfitter:  Montana’s Most Complete Outfitter”.  Brilliant!

All this in the first hour of Montana driving.  Montana would be fun.

Josh

worthless religion

How often have I been in small groups, in Sunday morning services, even in staff meetings and proved how utterly worthless religion was to me at that given time?

I don’t mean that religion is worthless and am not talking about religiosity. I mean, how often have I defiled true religion, as James relates it in James 1:26?

“If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.”

He’s not talking about “cussing”, employing four letter words that earned our mouths a bar of Dove soap, and he’s not giving “religion” a black eye. In fact, he says that religion is good.

What makes religion worthless are not the words we mutter when something stressful happens or the “profanity” that comes out when your engine seizes up. What devalues the religion that we so often claim is the poisonous speech with which we regard another human, the words I whisper out of the hearing of their subject, the gossip that ruins relationships and assassinates character.

And all this before I leave the church service on Sunday.

How have we, as followers of Jesus, gotten this far off track? You know what I mean: the thinly-veiled tidbits of gossip that we pass off as prayer requests, the preaching we do in our audible prayers, the “concerns” we “share” with other “concerned Christians” that only further alienates the subject of our concern.

James has advice for us today:

“Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must…refuse to let the world corrupt us.”

I think he’s telling us to keep our mouths shut.