Posts Tagged ‘Starbucks’

“Glory to God in the Highest,” Day 27: A Gift, Not a Wage

December 27, 2016

I recently created a 31-day Advent/Christmas devotional booklet for my church called “Glory to God in the Highest.” I will be posting a devotional from it each day between now and the end of the year. Enjoy!

Scripture: Ephesians 2:8-9

glory_cover_finalI have a friend who’s a non-practicing Jew. Last year, he asked me the following question: “So are your parishioners upset about Starbucks not putting Christmas decorations on their holiday-themed coffee cups?”

I said, “No! In fact, the only Christians I know who are upset are those Christians who are upset about Christians being upset!” Or something like that… The point is, every Christmas season we hear about some new battle in the “War on Christmas.” While there may be battles worth fighting in that particular war, a trivial thing like a coffee cup or a cashier saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” isn’t one of them.

If we’re going to get upset about something related to the “War on Christmas,” let’s get upset  about that very anti-Christmas, anti-Christian song that plays on our radios round the clock during Christmas season. I’m talking about the song “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”: “He’s making a list/ He’s checking it twice/ He’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.”

Nice children get toys, the song says. Naughty children get lumps of coal.

Think about it: According to this song, Santa isn’t the giver of gifts. He’s in the business of doling out rewards and punishments.[†] You’ll get rewarded if you behave well—if you perform good works.

By contrast, when we talk about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the gift of forgiveness, grace, and salvation, good behavior and good works have nothing to do with it: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Salvation is a completely free gift.

I admit we Methodists, of all people, often struggle with this idea. We get confused because we talk so much about what happens after salvation—that process called sanctification. As a pastor, I talk about it, too. But please, please, please… make no mistake: The gift of salvation—forgiveness of sin, eternal life, adoption as God’s children—is not conditioned by what we do after we’re saved.

Consider a Christmas gift: What if you forget to send a thank-you note right away? Or, when you do, the note is poorly written or insincere? Or what if you never send a note at all? Will the gift-giver come to your house and take the gift away? Of course not! If the gift-giver tried to take it away, then he or she was just proving it wasn’t a gift after all.

In fact, we have a name for those kinds of “gifts”: they’re called wages.

A wage is a payment for services rendered. If God paid us what we deserved to be paid, based on what we do, we wouldn’t be able to read this: because God would have wiped us off the face of the earth already.

No. The gift of salvation isn’t given because we deserve it. It’s completely free.

The gospel of Jesus Christ begins with this premise: Every single one of us is on the “naughty” list. We are, in other words, sinners. The question is, what are we going to do about it? Or maybe a better question is, “What is God going to do about it?”

Think of the God’s gift of eternal life in Christ as a present under the tree. The giver has written your name on the tag. He purchased it for you because of his great love wants you to open it. But he won’t force it on you. He wants you to receive it freely. It’s your choice.

Are you ready to receive this gift? Begin by praying the following prayer:

Almighty God, I confess to you that I am a sinner in need of your forgiveness. I know that because of my sins I deserve nothing better than death and hell. But I also know that you loved me too much to leave me this way. I am sorry for my sins and with your help I am turning away from them now. I believe that your Son Jesus is Lord. I believe that through Jesus—through his death on the cross and through his resurrection form the dead—you are offering me forgiveness and eternal life. Enable me to receive that gift now. I promise, by your grace and power, to be a faithful follower of Jesus for the rest of my life—in this world and in the world to come. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

If you prayed this prayer, please let me or someone else know. My email address is brentlwhite@gmail.com. I would love to help you as you begin this journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

This idea, along with some of the language, comes from “The Gift that Never Stops Giving,” mockingbird.com, Accessed 11 December 2015.

Thank you, Jesus, for the bad news of the gospel

November 13, 2015

In her November 10 post, “Taking the Merry out of Christmas: The Offense of the Gospel,” blogger Anne Kennedy reflects on two recent events that relate to the taking and giving of offense: the mostly fabricated indignation about Starbucks’s holiday-themed cups and the controversy at Yale relating to racism and free speech.

Before getting to her main point, she takes a well-deserved swipe at the Huffington Post’s “Christianity” section. Referring to the pastor who created the original viral video about Starbucks, she writes:

His chief offense, as I can tell from reading this article in Huffpo, is, and it should be predicated with ‘shut up stupid Christians’, is that he is an ordinary beefy American who is ruining the gospel, which Huffpo knows all about, shut up shut up shut up.

How curious, I thought to myself, that Huffpo believes the gathering up of offense is a Good Thing–you can see it all up and down their page–but as soon as someone who might be identified as a Christian considers it, it becomes instantaneously a Bad Thing.

I like this:

I think the true offense, and why Christians must, absolutely, be constantly told to Shut Up, is because it is the Christian’s job to reveal and speak about the very dire reality of humanity’s true offense. Offense is a problem, but it’s not ours to take. It is God’s to measure and judge. We offend him, every single tiny second. Our sin is a stench rising up in his nostril and sometime he will have enough and come and destroy the offender. If you haven’t flung yourself on his mercy before that you will find all your angers and minute micro aggressions have brought you to a place eternally perishing. The Christian’s job isn’t to take offense, it is to announce the offense of the sinner and plead with the sinner to repent. Starbucks has a lovely, carefully crafted little pagan deity on its cheerful red cup, a cup that pours out coffee to a humanity spiraling into the depths of depravity and sin. That young lady, screaming her rage, later cupping her warm coffee and scrolling down her expensive handheld device, is a sinner in need of mercy from God. She is the offender, not the offended.

Christians do have a purpose in this dark time, but it’s not spread a message of peace and love. Not initially. It’s to say to the person who is gathering their threads of offense and weaving them into a warm, cozy blanket of offense, “Stop It.” And that is the best, most sure way to offend everyone that I can think of.

As she rightly points out, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ—as opposed, for example, to the lesser gospel I blogged about on Wednesday—begins with bad news. In a vain effort to grow our churches at the expense of the truth, we pastors often try to gloss over this bad news.

But you know what I’ve discovered in my own life? Even this bad news, when you let it sink into your bones, is incredibly good news: What a relief to know—apart from God’s grace, left to my own devices—what a hopeless sinner I am! At last I see there’s a reason I struggle like this! There’s actually a reason, as St. Paul says, that “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

Years ago, I heard an interview with actress Patty Duke, who lived for years with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. She said she was so relieved when her doctor finally told her that something really was wrong with her, and that this problem had a name.

Humanity’s main problem has a name, too—sin. Left untreated, it will destroy us and people we love, both now and for eternity.

When you realize the “very dire reality of humanity’s true offense”—and your own—that all you can do, as Kennedy says, is to “fling yourself on God’s mercies” and cry out, “Help me, Jesus,” that is a wonderful place to be!  Because that’s the place at which God’s all-sufficient grace meets you.

Thank you, Jesus, for this bad news!