Are You Ready?

Are You Ready?scrooge-bah-humbug-31
Psalm 25:1-5

Start with Bah Humbug!  Do you remember those words?  Charles Dickens wrote those words in December of 1843 and put them in the mouth of Ebenezer Scrooge in the little book “A Christmas Carol.”  I have never read the book.  I have seen the play done in theater, in a made for Television movie, in cartoon form and even as a musical, but I have not read this little book.  So, in honor of this great classic and to prepare for Advent and the season of Christmas, I have cracked open the ebook.

This is what captured my imagination and for me is the thesis and state of Scrooges life:

“External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, nor wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he,”

Scrooge was a man whose name exemplifies cold hearted.  We say of people who have no warmth or compassion or charity that they are a Scrooge.  The character has become a sad state of being.  When Scrooge’s nephew, Fred wishes him Merry Christmas, Ebenezer and Fred have this exchange on the matter of Christmas:

“If I could work my will,” said Scrooge, indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas,’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”
“Uncle!” pleaded the nephew.
“Nephew!” returned the uncle, sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
“Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”
“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”

Suffice it to say, Scrooge is not ready for Christmas.  The purpose of Advent is to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ.  For followers of Jesus this is our New Year preparation for our New Year Celebration.  We begin this time of readiness with a single vision and thought –  HOPE!

What is the state of scrooges heart here, what do these words tell you about the man?  Is he optimistic and hopeful, or pessimistic and hopeless?  In a thought he is cold hearted.  In the telling of a Christmas Carol we hear what may have made him that way.  May have hardened and froze his temper and made him a calculated machine of a man, who counts and tallies and coldly measures the sum of all humanity.  For Scrooge people are an asset or a liability, nothing more, nothing less.  But something happens as this Ghost Story unfolds, a cold heart thaws, and pain is revealed, regret and later transformation.

But why call this a ghost story?  Well, because Dicken’s did.  In his preface he wrote these words:

“I have endeavored in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humor with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.”

I have often wondered why Dickens named Scrooge, Ebenezer.  It is a Hebrew name and it means: rock or stone of help.  As we enter into this season of Immanuel, my mind and heart is pulled towards the hope found in the “Stone that the builders rejected” because He is our advent, our time of getting ready.

Author and Pastor Matt Rawle in his book “The Redemption of Scrooge” tells us, “Advent is different for us.  Christians profess that Christ was born, died and rose again.  The big reveal has been made.  The church doesn’t wait in expectation to what God is going to do; rather we live into the tension of where the divine meets the world, knowing that God has reconciled all things through Christ.”

But for us who know the story of Jesus, that little baby found in a manger some 2,000 years ago in the town of Bethlehem, surrounded by animals, Kings, shepherds and his parents – that nativity scene is not the whole story – because the story is still being woven and spun into a wonderful happening.  Jesus born in a manger and all the other things of his life, death and resurrection is something we know, but that work begun so many years ago is not finished, it is begun in us.

Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in hymn form.  It came in a few stanzas of writing.  He wanted it remembered like Christmas carols that he interspersed through his little book.  I love Christmas Carols because they are familiar, I remember them, they comfort me and they speak to my heart and spark a hope there.  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransomed captive maxresdefaultIsrael, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.”

That song of Advent left there sounds more like a funeral song.  It has a somber tone that speaks of despair, but then we hear the refrain: Re – joice, re – joice! Em – man – u – el shall come to thee . . .

This season of Advent is our time to regroup, refocus and to invest ourselves in this work of Jesus, our Hope, because this story is still being written.

The closing stanza of A Christmas Carol is Ebenezer joyfully entering into his nephew’s home, hugging Fred’s wife and rejoicing.  In that we see the hope of this Advent, this season of renewal.

Hear the words of Psalm 25:

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
As we wait, we hope.  May we be a rock of help to someone in this season of story writing.

Please pray with me.

Listen to Your Heart – What is My Heart’s Desire?

pastors-ponderingsThis past week or two have been a whirlwind of emotions for our country.  While going out to see my dad this past week to help with his care, we were overwhelmed with news media about election results.  As many of you know there were riots in Portland, OR.  That’s where I flew into and out of this past week.  My daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter were driving from eastern Oregon through Portland and were concerned about their safety – I was concerned as well.

To add to the craziness of life, the stock market plummeted.  Then it soared, reaching new heights.  I have to tell you, my emotions these past weeks have mirrored the Stock Market.  These past several days have been a roller coaster.  And not the safe ones that we encounter at Six Flags, but the carnival ones that are torn down and reassembled on a weekly basis.  The events of the past couple of weeks got me thinking about where my security is, where my heart is, in uncertain political as well as personal times?

Staying in my parents home was surreal.  Mom is present, her fingerprints are all over the house, but she is not there.  That was  profoundly seen and experienced when I made the meals that my dad and I ate.  I would ask my dad where this or that was, and my dad would say, “well your mother keeps it here, I haven’t seen the need to change the location.” We talked about her often and how she made this house they lived in for three decades a home.  Upon a meals end I would say to my dad, “well the meal was successful, neither one of us has food poisoning!”  He would grin and nod.  As a footnote: my dad cooked while my mom was in the hospital some 46 years ago when my brother was born.  The burnt hamburger helper and something that no one could identify, made he and I sick, my other brother, the middle child, wisely refused to eat what was placed on the table and opted for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  He is still known as the smarter of us Elliott boys.

I would like to thank you all for praying for my dad.  He is doing well.  We have things in place for him to be successful and live independently.  I as well as my family is thankful for your prayers, phone calls, and kind words of encouragement.

So, with a roller coaster emotional heart I began to think about where my treasures in this world reside.

Thanksgiving is a time where family seems to be important to us.  We treasure their proximity to us.  We gather.  We feast.  We laugh.  We love.  We treasure our time together.

But what happens when life changes and times of yester year are in the rearview mirror?  People have moved on.  Moved out.  Where then is our treasure and how do we truly find hope.  We have our memories of those we love.  Those are precious things.  Many of us treasure those memories, those blessings of the day.  I dabbled in those memories this past week as I looked at pictures that captured time shared with my mom and dad living life with their grandchildren.  For a time, I wanted those days back.  I found myself trapped in the past joy filled emotion that they brought.  I longed for things to be the way they were.  Have you ever wanted that?  Longing, desiring the things that we remember as simple times, better times?  I treasure those memories, but, and I say this with some reluctance, nostalgic reluctance – Are my memories of the past tainted with nostalgic romantic notions?  I would  like to tell you that I remember things with perfect and objective accuracy, but really, I see many memories as rosy colored reflections, close maybe, but not accurate.   Because even though I loved those times in my memories – I have to tell you that there were conflicts in some of those gatherings.  Time has made the troubles, the conflicts of those past events slip by like leaves on troubled waters.  The reality is that my memory is often flawed when it comes to past events.  Emotions have a way of doing that, don’t they.  So the past that I treasure, is not always as perfect as I would like.  In some ways the past is like stuff – it accumulates.  Sometimes that stuff can clutter and get in the way of life, like in hoarding things, so that we can have more and more stuff.  Some memories can do that as well.  We can grandiose and treasure some memories so much that we can become trapped by them, they can clutter our lives and bury us in the past, sometimes a false past, sometimes just a stuck past.

I was walking with my dad around the outside of his house and noticed a lot of piles of things, as well as outbuildings made to hold things.  I asked what this or that was for, he said, “well I may need that someday.  I may want to use that on . . .”  To me it was clutter, to him the clutter was something that made him remember the past.  I am not sure which of us has a better perspective on the piles of stuff around the house, or in the various outbuildings but it got me to thinking about treasures as it pertains to my hearts desire around said treasure and this scripture came to my mind:

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus said these words and they are recorded in Matthew 6:19–21.  I hear in these words Jesus talking about material things.  Stuff that is here today and gone tomorrow.  We all know that the accumulation of stuff is ever with us.  We have a whole industry known as Storage units, where all that “treasure” can be kept.  I have storage stuff as well.  When I asked my dad about all the stuff, he said, “well I won’t have to deal with it when I’m gone, you and your brothers will.”  For him it was for someone else to sort through and deal with.  Jesus tells us the same thing when it comes to stuff.  Someone else will deal with those things that you have “treasured.”

Jesus calls us to somewhere else in our living of life – he speaks of heaven, he whispers of real treasure with a heart that will reveal what our true self values.

How do we know the worth of something?  Often we seek out and ask an expert, an expert in value.  When Teresa and I wanted a home loan, an appraisal was done on our homes value.  They looked at the home’s structure, how much land we had and then they looked at comps  (What properties similar to ours were selling for in our area).  They valued based on the ever changing market value.  Before the rust set in, while the rust set in.  But the value was not based on the future price of our home.  That is not really known.  There is only one home that we really know the value of . . .

Jesus talks about heaven as a future reality, a future home, all while living in our present.  In many ways Jesus is a venture capitalist.  But his venture is the adventure of heaven.  He asks us to look at our hearts, really ask ourselves what it is that we value in the here and now and how that will translate into eternity.  Jesus is asking us to see the possibilities of what our time and efforts spent in this world can mean for the world that will never pass away.

Where does your heart, your inner self tell you, you belong?  The heart can be a system check on what you hold as important.  To see where your heart is, what you value, think about what you would say if someone asked you – what can I pray for you about?  When you hear that question, what immediately comes to mind?

It may be a flood of things, but for a moment ask yourself, what stands out most to me.  That may give you an insight into your treasure, your heart’s desire.

I often think of security.  I want my children and their children safe.  I want my family safe and secure.  But is that a reasonable desire given that all of life is a risk.  And without risk, without some form of stress we do not thrive and grow.  Have I somehow stored in my heart something that God does not value?

This past week at my parents home, while I pondered the nostalgia of the past, there came a reality check, a heart’s desire check if you will.  It came in form of a one year old little girl.  She walked on unsteady feet and explored her world.  Her parents did not stop her ventures, they allowed her the adventure of discovery.  They were close, but not hovering.  They allowed some form of failure, but more importantly they celebrated in her discoveries as her little victories.  Risky to allow one so young to explore, yes it is.  But how will we learn if not by risk.  And how will we know our heart’s if we do not live for a future and a treasure that seeks something that will not fade, or rust, or trap us in ourselves, but release us to the joy of heaven.  Our treasure is one another, experienced in the now, and treasured in the reality of heaven.  Where is your treasure hunt taking you?  And are you finding your true self, your lived out life, in your hearts journeys?  Find it and you will find life, Jesus real life.