Wednesday, November 26, 2014

November 23, 2014 - A Holiday Survival Guide

John 15:1-14

For some reason, I look forward to going to the mailbox every day.  I don’t know why, as it’s usually nothing more than junk mail and bills, but you never know when a surprise may come along.  As we near the holidays, the mailbox gets a bit more interesting, as the holiday gift-giving guides arrive almost daily.  I brought a few of my favorites with me this morning.  Yes, they are all from music retailers.
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone would send us a Holiday Survival Guide?

Every year, somewhere around the beginning of November, I ask myself the same series of questions – where has the time gone?  How did the year slip by so quickly?  How will I survive the holiday schedule?

Perhaps you ask some of the same questions, or some version of them.  Time certainly does seem to fly by, and here we are again, on the cusp of the holiday season.  It is, certainly, a joyous time of the year, and as I note that the holidays have arrived so quickly I do not want to sound like a Grinch.  I love the holiday season.  I love the relaxed time of Thanksgiving to be with friends and loved ones and to enjoy the blessings God has placed in my life.  And I especially love Advent, even though it is such a busy time of year.  I love the activities and worship services, especially Christmas Eve worship (my favorite service of the year); I love the festive atmosphere; and, I’ll admit, I love the quiet that comes with Christmas day and the few days after.

But I will also admit that I feel a good number of stresses during the holiday season, and I imagine you do as well.  There are so many things to do, so many places to be, and it seems as if there is not enough time in which to do everything or to be everywhere.  For those reasons, I would like to offer A Holiday Survival Guide this week.

The text for this week’s message is not a passage associated with the holiday season, but I believe it offers some very good advice.  The text comes from a long passage in John’s gospel that tells, in great detail, of the Last Supper.  We associate the events of the final days of Jesus with Easter, but I find it to be a great passage as we head into the holiday season for a couple of reasons, chief among them the fact that as Jesus had only hours left with the disciples he got down to serious business in what he had to say.

1 I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.
You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.
If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.
Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.
10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.
13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.
14 You are My friends if you do what I command you.

Here are three brief suggestions for how you can survive the holiday season –

Deal With the Dead Wood.
I am not a craftsman.  You probably know that by now, as I’ve talked a couple of times about the 3-plus years it took me to add an addition to the deck on the back of our house.  It’s not exactly a work of art.  My dad was a craftsman.  A steelworker by trade, he had several side endeavors as well (much needed when raising five kids), one of which was a business as a gunsmith.  As he built guns, he sometimes took a rough, old plank and carved it into a stock.  He could take an old chunk of wood and create something beautiful from it.  As the stock took shape he would add checkering.  If you are unfamiliar with the craft of checkering, it is the art of taking small hand tools – about the size of a fork and with one or more sharp edges – and carving intricate patterns into the wood.  It’s painstakingly difficult and tedious work, but when done well, makes beautiful designs.

My first creation with wood took place when I was in the seventh grade.  I took a wood shop class and decided to build a bookcase, and to make sure it was built correctly, my dad purchased the wood and marked all the cuts that needed to be made.  At school, I cut the wood, assembled it, and wondered why it was so rickety and poorly constructed.  My teacher, in a moment of pity I suspect, took it apart and reassembled it, making sure it was solidly built.  I had wood, with everything already lined out perfectly, and still couldn’t put it together properly.  But I still have the bookcase, all these years later, and you can see it in the following picture.  The only reason it is still together is because of the woodworking talents of others.

In the passage we read this morning, Jesus talks about dead wood, and the need to cut away what is dead so that new life may come.

The past haunts us at Christmas unlike no other time of the year, causing us to drag around a lot of dead wood in our lives – disappointments, failures, struggles, and so many other things.  Some people are able to take that dead wood – all those old wounds, and hurts, and disappointments and allow God to fashion it into something beautiful and life-giving.  Others allow that dead wood to be a burden that keeps them from the joy and the blessings of life.

We can allow God to deal with the dead wood in our lives, fashioning it into something beautiful, or we should allow it to be burned.  Deal with the dead wood in your life.

Drop the Comparisons.
There’s something about the human condition that engenders competition. 

In my family, we could be fierce competitors.  We played all manner of board games and cards and we competed with great gusto.  Anyone that couldn’t take competition didn’t need to be seated at our table!

We compete through our favorite sports teams, we compete with our neighbors for how our yards look in the summer and how they look decorated at Christmas, we compete with out coworkers, and on and on it goes.

But more distressingly, we compete in ways that are damaging to our hearts and minds.  We believe we must compete to have a house as big as our neighbors, a car as new and as expensive as the one across the street, and we believe we must take the same, expensive vacations as a coworker.  We compare ourselves to others in so many ways, and in doing so we fail to realize that God has created us as a unique and special creation, and we don’t need to compete with anyone!

Know Your Value.
In 1989 I purchased my first computer – an IBM PS2 Model 30.  I was starting another degree program in seminary and was required to have a computer, so I drove to Computerland in Frankfort.  Does anyone else remember when you had to go to a special store to buy a computer?  It came with a monochrome monitor that flashed a C prompt when powered on.  I vividly remember the salesperson telling me that it came with a 20 meg hard drive and 250k of RAM memory – and that was all the memory I would ever need!  Can you imagine!  But it also had a new innovation – a 3 ½ disc drive, although I also needed a 5 ¼ inch disc drive because so much of the software required that format.  I’m a little embarrassed to tell you what that computer cost, but it was enough that I had to go to the bank and get a loan to buy it.  It was $3,000.00.  $3,000.00!  After it was out of date I kept it for a long time because it cost so much money.

Isn’t it amazing how something can go out of date so quickly and lose value in such a short period of time?  The first thumb drive I purchased had 256 meg of memory and cost $75.00.  Now you can buy one with 10 gig of memory for less than $10.00 in a check-out line.  How can things lose value so quickly?

Because we live in a throwaway culture, and a culture that does not understand value, we can allow ourselves to believe that we hold no value unless we meet particular requirements imposed upon us by society.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  We are valuable because we are children of God, created in his image, and contain value simply because we belong to him!

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