Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Reflections

Christmas Reflections, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
Yesterday my dad and I took a hike around the lake at Mountwood Park near Parkersburg, WV. There is this little rock formation nestled away in the hills that surround the lake, and I think it makes a great place to sit, think, pray, and even get photos taken. This time I did less praying and thinking--it was nearly dark, and my dad and I were trying to make our way around the lake. It was a little different twist on the holiday. I think it was the first time I had ever been hiking on Christmas.

But this year's Christmas was different on a number of counts. This year we had our meal and our gift exchange at my sister and brother in law's house. This year, my sister cooked the meal. This year was the first year we spent Christmas without my mom.

I understand that it's tough going through the holidays without recently departed loved ones, but I don't think I ever fully realized how much my mom did to make Christmas so enjoyable for everybody else. Even last year, when she was recovering from a bout of chemotherapy, she cut homemade noodles, baked cookies, and cooked the Christmas meal in it's entirety. My mom was greatly missed yesterday by all of us.

But my sister was amazing. Often, I am called upon to pray for meals, etc. at these family gatherings, but this year I asked my sister to pray (as a Christmas gift to me). My sister is not very confident praying out loud or in public, but she should be. She uttered one of the most heartfelt, genuine, thoughtful and beautiful prayers I think I have ever heard. It was a great gift indeed.

I intentionally stayed away from the phone and computer for the day. I knew that the moment I picked up either of them, it would be hard not to do work on the holiday. It was kind of nice to be disengaged like that. I typically call a couple of close friends on Christmas, but this Christmas it was probably good just to be close with my dad and sister.

As we spent time together, it was comforting to know that my mom is with our savior, and it is comforting to know that on this particular day, as we mourn losses we know that we celebrate an even greater gain. One day, everything will be put to rights in the world. But for now, we will celebrate the fact that in the middle of the hurts and joys, there is a God who comes along side us and enters into all of it with us.

Merry CHristmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Nativity Scene

Christmas Nativity Scene, originally uploaded by krisdecurtis.
Well tomorrow people all over the world will exchange gifts and unwrap presents in a worldwide celebration.

The celebration will only be a shadow though of what it could be. I mean think about it, how difficult is it for one to even begin to fathom the magnitude of the event we are celebrating.

Approximately 2000 years ago, God's perfect plan unfolded in humility. In a cave somewhere in the middle east, a little baby was wrapped up in "swaddling clothes". Even at his birth, kings wanted to kill Him. This birth meant that God had entered our world. In the middle of all of the pain and suffering and hurt God arrived. In complete vulnerability, Immanuel entered our brokenness to bring healing and reconciliation.

This was the first triumphal entry (to be followed approximately 33 years later by a second significant entry that was moving toward the consummation of His mission.

As a result of this amazing arrival, we have been freed from our captivity and slavery to sin and have the opportunity to spread the word about how our fellow man and woman can be reconciled with God!!! What a great message!!! What a great Christmas gift!!!

Take some time as the day progresses and the rush slows down to meditate on the wonderful arrival of our marvelous Savior! Take some time to move beyond the presents to the presence. Jesus our Immanuel (God with us) entered our world and set us free--that's a celebration that deserves all of our heart mind soul and strength devoted to Him in loving worship!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Way of the Heart Part I

solitude, originally uploaded by Villi.Ingi.
From time to time I like to share some insights I am reading in a variety of books. Recently, I picked up a book I read a few years ago, and began reading it again. The book is called The Way of the Heart and it is written by a Dutch theologian named Henri Nouwen. Over the next month, I would like to share insights from the book with you. It may be a once a week entry on my blog, or it may be more often. Regardless, I hope you enjoy this little twist to the blog.

The book deals with solitude, silence, and prayer and shares with the readers some of the practices of the early church (particularly the desert fathers) and their experience and lessons learned in solitude.

There are a number of quotes I would love to share, but for now I will give you this little nugget.

"We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our LORD. Without such a desert we lose our own soul while preaching the gospel to others. But with such a spiritual abode, we will become increasingly conformed to Him in whose Name we minister."

With that thought in mind, let me ask you this question? Do you have a space in which you can shake off the compulsions of a busy schedule and the countless voices who seem to vie for your attention?

As I read this section of this extremely brief book, I couldn't shake the fact that I have often struggled to find that desert space in my daily routine. Seems like every minute of my day gets invaded--like people are working frantically to build Los Angeles in the middle of my desert.

May you and I both find a space in our days for solitude, and for abiding in the loving presence of the King of Kings.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Moving to Michigan

Coach Rod at a B-ball Game, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
It's been a bit since I blogged--something has been up with my internet, and ironically, since the end of the semester, my week has gotten busier and not slower.

But, I finally got access today at sozo--the friendly little coffee shop in downtown Morgantown. So I had to write about this latest move to michigan.

I can't believe that we lost both of our coaches to Michigan within months of each other. I've been to michigan a couple of times, and I've even spent some time in Ann Arbor. I'm really not sure what the allure is. (Of course I did go in winter, and most of the time I was there was cold, rainy, snowy, and miserable.)

For me it is kind of tough to see, but I don't have all of the details. I have friends who played under Beilein and Rodriguez here in Morgantown, and it was definitely a shock and adjustment for 'em. People are being tight lipped about Coach Rod's move in general. Here's a statement from Athletic Director Ed Pastilong. Not a lot of detail and commentary are floating across the web and other venues. I think most fans and friends are simply shocked that someone from WV who played for WVU would leave a "dream job" like this to go out of state.

So what prompted coach Rod to leave? He just won a BCS bid, and will not even be taking the team to play in the fiesta bowl in January. He has one of the fastest backfields in the country here in Morgantown. He had just signed a huge contract with WVU a year ago (like 3million?) And now this?

I don't get it. I'm saddened by his departure, but life goes on I suppose. It seems like the era of coaches who invested their lives into a program are coming to an end. The days of Coach K, Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno, and others are coming to an end.

So what do you think about Coach Rod's upcoming move? One person placed the blame on the agents who help coaches find jobs like this, but really, is there any fault in those guys? What''s the real root of the problem?

Speaking of root, maybe that's just the problem. Do we contemplate roots anymore? I think we live in one of the most transient cultures in world history. Maybe the move is just part of the reality that most of us have very little real sense of community. For instance, can you name five of your neighbors? Do you know what they do for a living, and do you really know anything about em?

Just a little food for thought.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Winter Time Tree

Winter Time Tree, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
Last week I was able to snap this photo of one of the trees behind my house. I think we received about 6 inches of snow Wednesday and of course you have already read about how that precipitated my experiment with the bus system here in Morgantown.

It's almost a week after that snow, and now it looks like the snow was never here. We've had rain, rain, and more rain (which could have been snow if it were colder), and so it has started the migration to stay inside and out of the weather.

It seems like winter settles in, and one hardly sees the sun here in Morgantown. Although, when I took that photo, it was blue skies and white snow. I love the way the snow looks lying on the top side of all of the branches. I like it when there aren't tracks or anything and it looks like a clean blanket over the earth. But in order to really enjoy it, one must walk in and through it.

I think it is easy as the winter weather approaches to find a million reasons to stay inside. It's too wet! It's too cold! There's no place to go! Nobody will go with me.

I think it's times like this that we've gotta fight the urge to stay inside, and get out and enter the adventure.

I remember a few years ago, I made a commitment to walk/run 1000 miles in a year. I remember one day I had planned to go to coopers rock to hike. It was cold, and I got out of work late--there really wasn't much point in going. But I grabbed my parka and hopped in my car and drove.

I was the only person in the whole park. I walked back through to raven rock. I ended up walking back in the dark, but the entire time was amazing. I heard snow and ice fall like crystal all over the trail and the wilderness. It was truly amazing and beautiful. Some of my most brilliant times with the Creator, and some of my most amazing experiences in life have come in the woods in the winter.

So as winter creeps in, what are you going to do to overcome the inertia that leads you to stay indoors? Get out into wilderness, and get into the mix. Or at least get out of the house for a bit. I would hate for you to miss out on the beauty that may just be right outside your door . . .

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Ultimate Gift

The Ultimate Gift, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
As we wrapped up our semester at h2o, we took a look at several responses to the gospel.

In the stories of the Incarnation, we see a wide variety of responses to the birth of Jesus.
Herod and those in power, do everything within their power to see Jesus killed. The Magi come from a faraway land to worship the King, because several hundred years before, somebody told their people about the future birth of the messiah. The shepherds also journey to worship and celebrate his birth. The magi and the shepherds weren’t exactly considered the “in” crowd, but yet, these are the folks who come to worship the King of Kings. Mary and Joseph, respond with faith that is amazing, mary pondered in her heart the comments and the worship demonstrated by others toward her son. Joseph demonstrated radical faith when he trusted circumstances that defied all physical and biological laws—a virgin birth.

And then there’s us. What do we do with the birth of Jesus. I think the birth of Jesus presents us with some major challenges. I mean, everybody in the era of Jesus had a response to his birth—and there is so much this birth teaches us about God and about his kingdom and about our own hearts.

When we consider the Christmas holiday, it provides a great time to take stock of our life and who or what we are living for. Jesus is Lord at birth, and we each have a response to this simple truth. How we respond to Jesus says a lot about what we really believe about Him and what we believe about ourselves. You see, every day we have a choice—we can live for the glory of our own kingdoms or we can lay down all for Him.

If we are honest, much of our lives are spent building our own kingdoms with little consideration for His. We’ve become a world of exploiters—we exploit creation, and we exploit each other. When we live for our own kingdoms we bring conflict, abuse, addiction, shame, disorder, and confusion.

When it comes to Christmas presents, God gave us the ultimate gift—Himself. And he presents us each with an opportunity to consider. What could we give him in return? Those who were far away and those who were near brought the best of what they had.

Wise men and women who still seek Him will find Him. When you find Him, bring the best gift that you can—the gift of your heart!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Mafalda and Charlotte

Mafalda and Charlotte, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.

Yesterday, a group of friends and I took a trip to the Sundale Nursing Home in Morgantown to do some Christmas caroling. That's where I met Charlotte and Mafalda. Charlotte is on the left, and Mafalda is on the right with my friend Brittani. About 20 of us converged on the place and spent about an hour singing to residents of the facility. These two ladies were just so full of life during our visit, I had to get my picture with them. i told them it's not often I get to be photographed with a couple of beautiful ladies like them, and they (along with all of the other residents) were just thrilled with our visit!

It was a very emotional evening for me. My mom's last days on this earth were spent in a similar facility connected to a hospital. Some of the folks we sang for were like these two ladies, and some were not very responsive at all, but it was really clear that all of them really appreciated the visit and the music. When we asked if anybody had a favorite Christmas carol, we received the response--"All of Them!" So we sang a few songs in different rooms and in the hallways.

As we started singing the first time, I found tears welling in my eyes because I just thought about how these people seemed to be sequestered away from the rest of the world, and could easily be forgotten. I was supposed to be happy when I was singing these christmas carols, but I kept vacillating between joy and sadness. Joy in singing and sharing with these folks, and sadness thinking about these really special people being forgotten.

So today I'm writing and reflecting on the experience. Multiple people asked us to come back and visit again soon. It was hard saying that we didn't know how possible that would be. While I felt joy in sharing a little light on a dreary winter day, I think I left with sadness.

I thought about my mom a lot. I still miss her. I guess being in this place made me think that these men and women were somebody's moms and dads. I wonder if these people see their family often. I wonder what their days are usually like--mafalda and charlotte said it gets pretty boring and monotonous--I can only imagine.

I guess my heart gets overwhelmed when I think about the needs that this world has, and it makes me long for the day when Jesus will make all things right and all things new. So I guess sadness and joy are understandable responses to a night like yesterday.

Overall, it was an incredible experience, and a good reminder of the very real needs all around us every day to love others.

As Christmas approaches, think about how you might spread a little Christmas joy around your neighborhood. Charlotte asked if she could give me a hug, and when she tried she couldn't lift her arms, so I told her if it was ok I would hug her--I think she really appreciated that. So many lessons God was speaking to me last night, but I only have time for brevity here.

In the end, the question must be asked, how will you demonstrate the love of Christ to the world around you? The need is great, but our God is greater, and he has challenged each of us to be a light. May God enrich your life as you love Him and love others.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bus Ride

Lonely bus ride, originally uploaded by MirandaRae.
Yesterday I performed a small experiment during my day. We received about six inches of snow during the course of the day, and so my day was slightly adjusted as a result. The streets around my house are among the last to get cleared when streets are being cleared and salted, so I have learned to make alternative travel arrangements. When you drive a small car with low rolling friction tires, and you live in a town that is built on a hill it is not wise to attempt to drive—the odds are stacked against you.

Yesterday, I had some meetings at Chestnut Ridge Church, but my automobile plus the steadily falling snow made that seem like it wasn’t a viable option. But then I got an idea. Morgantown has a bus system that they are looking to expand called Mountain Line. (There may be a bus that goes to your favorite place to shop in town, or that would take you to and from your place of employment.) I wondered if they had service that stretched out to the Cheat Lake area. I called and asked, and they said they had a bus that went right by the church. The bus left every 90 minutes from the depot, and one was leaving 15 minutes from when I called. Of course, there were also delays caused by the inclement weather. (Even big buses have some difficulty along the snowy winter hills of Morgantown.)

Although my bus was about 40 minutes behind schedule, I was still able to make it to the church in time for my meetings. It cost me a whopping 75 cents to travel to the church. Of course it did take slightly longer than traveling in my own car, but I also didn’t really have to pay attention to the roads—in theory, I could have made phone calls, worked on my computer, read, studied, composed emails, wrote notes, or a number of other tasks, but I didn’t. I spent most of my time talking to John, my bus driver, while we journeyed through some rough weather to reach my destination.

Of course, I did pick the worst time to ride the bus in one sense. We were in the middle of a huge winter storm, so more than likely the buses would all be behind schedule. But at the same time, it was the best time. When better to take a bus than when smaller vehicles should not be on the road. Lot’s of people site the time it takes to journey by bus as the main reason not to ride on one, but I think there is a lot that can be done with that time.

One of my old roommates lives in the DC area. In order to arrive at work each day, he takes a bus and then gets on the subway. It is inexpensive and relatively efficient transportation for many people. And the more people who use it, the better it gets.

For most of my trip yesterday, it was just me and the bus driver. There may have been a half-dozen people total at the bus depot. As the city of Morgantown expands, it only makes sense to encourage residents and students to consider alternative modes of transportation. Walking or Riding a bike can work for most trips for a large portion of the year, but sometimes our trips in the city are a little longer, or they require multiple stops.

Wherever you live, if you live in a semi-urban area, take some time in the next few weeks to try the bus system. As more people use these public transportation systems, they can only get better.

Did you know that only 8% of the world’s population even own cars? So driving isn’t a luxury for them. Did you know that 89% of Americans own one or more cars? Maybe you live in a place where public transportation isn’t available, or your job requires access to a vehicle at all times. That isn’t the case for most of us. So instead of spending time digging your car out of the snow and stressing out over the drive to work, maybe give your local public transportation system an opportunity to serve you. It never hurts to try something new, right?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Do THEY Know it's Christmas? Give Life

DSCN0705, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.

It's been a little difficult getting back into the groove of blogging and catching up with multiple tiny projects and people who I haven't seen since before thanksgiving break. But I should be getting back in the groove now.

So we are continuing our series at h2o Do THEY Know It's Christmas? and this week's message is entitled Give Live.
You know I think that one of the biggest temptations in the Christmas season is to forget about those who live on the fringes—I mean the real fringes. I think we have this huge fear that we are going to miss out on something if we don’t have everything we desire. But we have sooo much more than we need, and I think there is a purpose in it all. I think that maybe Jesus gave us so many resources and so much wealth so we could actually use it to bless others.

Another option is that he really just wants to give us tons of nice stuff solely for ourselves, and he really doesn’t care about other people, but I strongly doubt that.

Jesus tells us in Luke 12,

"Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

God has given us the ultimate blessing by giving us access to the Kingdom. He tells us to sell our possessions—not because our possessions are bad, but because we can give to those who have REAL needs when we see our own excess, and we can demonstrate to others what life looks like in the Kingdom of King Jesus. If we took serious as Christians our charge to be ambassadors of the Kingdom, I bet we would make a major dent in poverty in our world.

Where are treasure is, there is our heart. Where are you looking to find your treasure? Ultimately, our treasure is Jesus, but it is so easy to believe our treasure is found somewhere else. In fact, marketing companies are spending billions to make you believe that your treasure and your life is made up of the abundance of your possessions, but it is simply not true.

I think deep down we don’t want to ignore those who have nothing, it’s just that we get duped into believing we are the ones who are deprived. It’s really easy to feel like we don’t have enough stuff, and fail to have a heart of gratitude. I mean, how much do we really need. How much could we give up for the sake of others if we took the time, or took advantage of the opportunities around us?

How much would we be willing to share? We take for granted so much stuff in our world. Sometimes I think we get our priorities all wrong at Christmas, and really all year round. Having nice stuff isn’t a bad thing—I hope that I am not coming across that way; it’s just that I think that we can spend so much time, effort, and energy on ourselves that we neglect some really great needs in our world.

As you consider Christmas this year, and as you consider your life in the years to come, will you consider ways in which you can show your love to your fellow man and remember “the least of these”? You alone may not be able to end hunger, but maybe God wants to use you to help take a step toward one more person not going hungry. You alone may not be able to bring clean drinking water to the world, but maybe some of your spare change can be given to help “one of the least of these” to get access to medicine that will prevent them from dying of dehydration from diarrhea or other ailments.
Maybe as a family, or as a small group of friends you can do something for people who you’ve never met. People who won’t be receiving the latest ipod, or something from the fall line at banana republic, but who simply want the technology that will allow them to afford medical attention for their family. . People who don’t have any use for a cd or a plasma screen tv, but who simply want to hear the sights and sounds of another day of life.. People who have no use for a gift card at the olive garden, but who simply want to have enough food for their family today.

Maybe this Christmas you can start a new tradition of caring and Give Life.