Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Thursday Night

Once upon a time there was a peaceful gluttonous Thanksgiving Thursday followed by the shopping wars and chaos of Black Friday.  Now those days have blurred into one.  Much has been said this year about Walmart workers having some job action, towns passing ordinances to not make retail employees work on Thanksgiving, and people promising to stay home and not support making retail workers work.  Personally, and I am sorry if this offends anyone, but I do not have much sympathy for retail workers having to work on Thanksgiving.  We have always expected gas stations, supermarkets, drug stores, and convenience stores to be open on Thanksgiving, so why all the fuss now about retail workers?  I used to work in retail and the grueling furious grind of the holiday season filled with shoppers not filled with the holiday spirit is part of the job.  The profits made this time of year help to pay Christmas bonuses and overtime for the many workers who like to pick up extra time or the seasonal workers who pick up an extra paycheck this time of year.  For all the talk, though, the stores did open and the people did shop.   I went to the movies last night with my wife and brother and the highway was packed solid just as bad as the worst of rush hour on a weekday afternoon only it was 9:30 at night on a holiday.  My wife, mother, and brother went out last night late after the movies and came home empty-handed because the lines were somewhere between insane and ridiculous. 

Personally, I see no problem with going out shopping after company has gone and Thanksgiving dinner has been reduced to a turkey carcass and a pile of dishes.  After the way we all stuff ourselves, it might actually be healthy to get out there and walk a bit.  Unfortunately, there are many who forsook Thanksgiving altogether.  These people literally camped outside whatever store was offering the deal that they wanted for days.  There was no time with family.  There was no Thanksgiving.  There was just a desire to get a good price on a large television or computer.  For those, they truly need to reexamine their priorities.  This time of year really has become all about shopping.  We like to get the ones we love the most the things they want the most but we forget about the most important thing. We forget the chance we have just to spend time with them.  I think it is important to step back and ponder an oft-used passage that should be used to evaluate what we do and how we do it in all areas of our lives, even in the holiday season. 

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.  Colossians 3:23-24 NKJV

Some may wonder how this verse can possibly apply to Christmas shopping.  Many of these are the same people who think they can separate anything they do in life from their walk with God.  This passage defeats that very notion in its opening salvo in saying "And whatever you do."  It does not say those things you do in church or while you are around your church friends.  It also does not say what you do in some kind of official ministerial capacity.  It says "whatever you do."  In other words, it says in anything and everything you do.  This "anything and everything" includes Christmas shopping. 

So, everything we do, we are to do it heartily.  We are not to be slackers or lazy in anything we do, but we are to give it all that we have.  There really should be no such thing as a lazy or slacker Christian.  We should be the best employees, the best husbands and wives, the best mothers and fathers, the best friends, the even the best shoppers.  Now I am not defining "best" in terms of skill because there are many things that no matter how hard we try we will never be really good at.  American Idol has proven that many times over!  Of course, I should not speak because not even the shower wants to hear me sing!  By "best", in this case, I mean those who try and push the hardest.  A popular example would be Tim Tebow.  He does not have great quarterback skills (to put it mildly), but he played with so much heart that his team turned a bad season around last year and made it into the playoffs.  It certainly was not done by the skill of his arm, but it was definitely done by the strength of his determination. 

Now the frantic shopping may claim they are doing it heartily, and they are.  However, there is a caveat.  It is not just about doing whatever we do heartily, but "as to the Lord and not to men."  The motivation behind all that we do must be that we are doing it for the Lord.  You can not forsake time with family and in giving thanks to God to wait on line for a television for the Lord.  You can not be rude to cashiers for the Lord.  You can not tear items from the hands of other shoppers for the Lord.  You can not even retaliate for someone taking something out of your hands for the Lord.  You can not trample pushing and shoving your way into a store for the Lord.  You can not put shopping above the friends and family you are shopping for as you are doing it for the Lord.  They just do not mix.  You may be shopping for gifts for other people, but ultimately even that you are doing for the Lord and to please the Lord.  Everything we do must in done in that context. 

And, finally, Colossians give us the reason: "knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ."  Ultimately, we are servants of the Lord.  We may shop for other people, work for other people, and do things for other people, but all that we do we do as servants of the Lord.  More than servants, we are His bondservants, or slaves.  Nothing can ever supersede His authority over our lives and nothing we do can be done outside the context of being His bondservants.  While all of us in Christ have eternal life, the Bible indicates that there are even greater rewards for those who faithfully serve the Lord.  I know that no one will have it "bad" in heaven, but there are ones who will have greater rewards.  Those additional rewards are premised on our works and those works will be judged when we stand before our Lord.  In the end, it will not be about how aggressively we shopped for that great deal on a new toy or how long we waiting in line for a television forsaking our family on holidays.  In the end, our rewards will be premised on works we do for eternity.  In other words, our rewards are premised on hearts we touch for Jesus.  Most televisions, computers, toys, clothing, and whatever else we get this year will not even make it to next year and none will make it to eternity.  People are what matter and how we represent Christ to them, all the more this time of year, are what truly matters. 

And that is really what this season needs to be about.  Thanksgiving marks the "official" beginning to the holiday season.  It is not about toys, electronics, sales, gifts, food, or any of that other stuff that the world has attached to Christmas.  Nothing is wrong with any of those things in an of themselves and I am not saying to be a scrooge and not give gifts.  What I am saying is to remember that it is all about Jesus and reaching people with His love.  My parents have (and pretty much still do) lavish Christmas gifts upon me and my siblings.  I always had whatever "toy" I wanted and even now, if they can afford it, they buy it.  Most of those toys are rotting away in some landfill somewhere and whatever I still have will one day meet the same fate.  It is not that I do not love and appreciate everything I have ever received, but nothing in this world is permanent.  Technology is replaced by new technology making obsolete the toys of yesterday.  Interests change over time and what was once important to me has become meaningless to own.  I sell many things on eBay in unopened boxes still with gift wrap attached.  In fact, I currently have a music box for sale that still had a card inside from a grandfather to a granddaughter about how he wants to get her many music boxes over the years.  Maybe she cherished it at the time, but now it was sold at a garage sale for a couple of dollars with no indication it was ever even taken out of the box.  What I am sure of is that the grandfather and child have had (and prayerfully still continue to make) wonderful memories of their time together that will be held inside their hearts for the rest of their lives. 

The point I am making is that gifts become obsolete, broken, warn out, useless, and unwanted.  Good memories with family and friends do not, but they remain what we truly remember each holiday season.  Good memories with your church family are eternal and it is only those memories that will survive from this life into our eternal lives.  If you truly want to give a gift this season, share the one gift that will never become obsolete over time, share the love of Jesus and share the gospel.  Its nice to be thanked for a gift today that will become obsolete tomorrow, but just think what it will be like to be thanked in Heaven tomorrow by someone you never knew for the gift of Jesus that you shared today.  Christmas is not about temporary gifts given to each other but God's eternal gift to mankind.

Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10-11 NKJV

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