Sunday, November 28, 2010

Welcoming the Early Christmas Lights

I am a traditionalist. I don't think we should decorate a tree, listen to Christmas music, or generally think about things Christmasy until December 1.

Don't get me wrong - I love the Christmas season. I sing the songs - from "Here Comes Santa Claus" to "Messiah" - with great gusto. My house is (largely due to the efforts of my bride) decorated with the best of them. I go to the parties and dutifully watch "It's a Wonderful Life" and the Grinch every year.

But I also understand those who are fed up with the commercialization and the over-production of the season. I laughed all the way through John Grisham's Skipping Christmas.

So I want my Christmas, but I don't want it overdone. And, usually, I only want it in December. The competition between the Christmas decorations and the Halloween costumes in Target bugs me.

This year is different. The calendar falls so that Advent starts in November. Most of my neighbors had their lights up by nightfall on Thanksgiving. A couple had their lights up before that. Even we got our tree up on Thanksgiving night.

For some reason, this year I am ready for it. Christmas cannot start too soo for me. I wonder why?

Surely part of it is a genuine thirst for Advent, for a reminder of the coming of the Christ child and the hope that means for all of us.

Perhaps some of it is a longing for good news to end a year that has been trying in a lot of ways. Serving as executor of the estate of my uncle has been a constant reminder that he is gone. Friends have died; other friends are sick. Family strife has struck some very close to us. We live in a world of recession and "maneuvers" in the waters off Korea. The divisive political rhetoric continues to turn up the volume and the vitriol on both sides.

Undoubtedly, part of my feeling this year is because it is the last year that my oldest child will live at home. He has made a point of wanting us to decorate the house "fully" this year, his last Advent here with us. What has been something of a task in the past this year seems to be more of a joyous gift, both to him and to the girls as well.

Whatever the reason, though it is still November, I am ready for holly and mangers, flying reindeer and Magi, gift wrap and candles, carols and hymns, Santa and the baby, "Ho Ho Ho" and "And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. But the angel said unto them, 'Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord!'"

Bring on the good tidings of great joy! And go ahead and turn your lights on.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What I Have Learned at the Chiropractor's Office

I had some back pain, so I went to a chiropractor. He is helping my back pain. That's a good thing.

But that is not what this blog is about.

I go to a chiropractor who is an evangelist for his particular brand of chiropractic. Literally, he is religious about it. His staff is religious about it. They preach the word. They offer written materials. They constantly cajole me about their methods. They make promises of a greater life.

And I am unmoved. I just want him to make my back feel better.

I have a better understanding now of how non-believers may react to Christian witness. The following are my reactions to the "message" I get every time I go to my chiropractor's office. They could also be your reactions (or the reactions of someone you know) to church, Christianity, the witness of a Christian friend, or the gospel message of Christ.
1. These folks are extremely nice to me, and I appreciate that, but that does not mean that I am going to believe what they believe, or what they tell me to believe.
2. These folks sincerely believe what they say they believe. I have no quarrel with that. I am not persuaded by their sincerity to change my own mind.
3. These folks walk the walk. They cleanse their toxins and go to their burst training and take the supplements and get regular adjustments. As far as I can tell, they are not hypocrites. But I am not moved.
4. These folks have gone out of their way to educate me. They offer me written information. They invite me to seminars, dinners, and meetings. I do not have the excuse that "I don't understand."
5. These folks care about me. I believe that.

So why am I not fully sold on everything? Why won't I buy into the full program instead of just "settling" with having them make my back feel better?
1. Their message is inherently unbelievable.
2. Their message runs counter to what I know and to what I read and hear everywhere else.
3. Their message is too demanding of my time, energies, and commitments.

Sound familiar? All three of those are reasons that my friends routinely reject (openly or subtly) my Christian witness.

So, here is the question: Is what we Christians have to offer any different from the cultish, slightly nutty lifestyle that the very nice people in the chiropractor's office are selling?

I think it is. Christianity is not a lifestyle, a religion, or a philosophy. Christianity is a relationship. Ultimately, what we Christians "have to offer" is not a program - it is an introduction to Jesus Christ.

I believe with everything that is in me that Jesus is alive. I worship Him as my Lord and my Savior, and I believe that others need to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. Still, as soon as I say Jesus is my "living lord and savior," I know that some will be turned off. I become "slightly nutty" to them. As soon as I talk about a Christian lifestyle, some will write that off as too demanding. Others will simply not understand it, since it runs counter to what they hear in the rest of the world.

What I can do is introduce you to the One who has changed my life. I have to trust Him to take it from there. Yes, I can answer your questions. Yes, I must model what it is to be Christlike. Yes, my lifestyle is radically different because of Christ, but it is silly of me to want you to change your lifestyle if you don't first know Jesus.

Some will come to church for good music, or good fellowship, or beautiful architecture, or any of a score of other reasons. They are not interested in everything Christianity has to offer; they just want us to make them feel better. Like the nice young receptionist in the office who just shakes her head when I turn down yet another invitation to a free dinner, we can be truly offended when those who come to our church do not "make a commitment" when and where we think they should.

Ultimately, I have not bought into the message at the chiropractor's office because nothing has touched my soul and convinced me that I need a change. The nice folks have not introduced me to anything or anyone who knows and understands me and can move me toward the truth of their message. So I remain unmoved.

We Christians should learn a lesson here. Reciting our rituals and our benefits is easy, but I do not think it is what Jesus taught us to do. Telling people how we live and how they should live is convenient, but it skips too many steps. We Christians should not be surprised that a "witness" that sounds like an infomercial for a faddish trend fails to attract disciples.

We Christians should remember that we are Christians because we met and said yes to Jesus.