Monday, December 15, 2014


"For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?"  (I Peter 4:17)

"Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."  ( I Corinthians 10:12)

I haven't been to see any production of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" this year, nor have I read the story this year.  I have (probably like most Americans) read that story and seen it acted out in drama many times.  As a kid and as a young adult, I was a "big" Christmas person.  I confess that since I joined the ranks of the "over thirty crowd" roughly half a lifetime ago, I have not been much of a Christmas person.  I love the Lord Jesus and I do enjoy Christmas carols and the Biblical accounts of His birth and early life.  I've frankly found the whole materialistic and high pressure secular Christmas holiday to be very hard to take at times; and I must admit to owning a pair of "Grinch" stockings that I wear only on Christmas Day- no kidding!   I've got to admit, though, that I loved watching the old "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" holiday special once again this year, and I do love Charles Dickens' story of the reformation of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Sometimes it amazes me what thoughts will pop into my head seemingly "out of the blue"!  Today, I had such a thought, and it's led me to write this piece and share it with you.  My thought was, "If you (or I) had a nighttime visit by the Three Spirits of the Ebenezer Scrooge story- how well would you (or I) fare?" 

I know.  Your first thought is probably, "But I'm nothing like Ebenezer Scrooge!  I'm not a mean and cheap miser!"  We like to think well of ourselves, but could it be that we'd be in for as much of a shock as Mr. Scrooge was?  One of my favorite television shows of all time is Northern Exposure which ran on the CBS television network in the early 1990s.  The show is about Dr. Joel Fleischman, a recent medical school graduate, who spends the first few years of his career as a physician in a tiny and remote community in central Alaska.  Joel is a young New York City Jew who despises his life in Alaska.  My son Jon's favorite episode of Northern Exposure is also my favorite episode:   It's the "Yom Kippur" episode from around the show's third season.  In that episode, Dr. Fleischman takes the Jewish Day of Atonement off, but he's in for a shocking surprise of Dickensian proportions!

Mystically, miraculously, and supernaturally, his elderly rabbi from New York appears inside his simple, rustic house.  The rabbi announces that he's got a VHS tape for Joel to watch.  At first, Dr. Fleischman wants nothing to do with it, but the rabbi is insistent.  In fact, faithful viewers know the VHS tape contains clips of previous episodes of the show.  Joel Fleischman sees himself as a friendly and competent physician who contributes much good to his community.  The video clips (of "Yom Kippur past") tell a very different story.  One shows the doctor yelling insulting and cruel comments to "Ed" a simple and idealistic twenty-something guy and also similar comments to Maggie O'Connell, a local "bush pilot".   Joel has a lot of excuses for the rabbi, who is not impressed.  For "Yom Kippur" present, it's not a video clip but a vision Joel sees of Marilyn his faithful Native American secretary/receptionist struggling to make ends meet on her meager salary.  The rabbi points out that she has a number of needy relatives she financially supports, leaving little for her.  Joel Fleischman had no idea.  There are also two "future" Yom Kippur visions.  In one, a Greyhound bus is pulling away from the town's bus depot and about a dozen local citizens talk about what a jerk Dr. Fleischman was and how glad they are that he is gone.   There's also a graveside scene regarding a sick man that Dr. Fleischman had no compassion for who is now dead.  The whole "Ghosts of Yom Kippur" thing has a profound effect upon Dr. Fleischman.  This Yom Kippur was not just a token Jewish holiday for him- it was a day of serious reflection and repentance.

Now, back to us.  If you're a fellow born-again Christian reading this, you may be thinking something like, "Well, yes, LOST people need to receive Christ as their personal Savior and Lord and be born again this Christmas."  And, yes, they do!   But what about you and what about me?

Has God ever given you one of those experiences like Joel Fleischman had?   Listen, after having had the small church I pastored closed up, and then being out of the ministry for five years, I've had a lot of time "in the woodshed" with God.  One of the reasons I liked Northern Exposure so much is that I'm a lot like Dr. Joel Fleischman!  No, I'm not Jewish and I'm not from New York,  but I can be selfish and critical and independent and impatient, and yet see myself as just the nicest and most pleasant guy who ever came down the pike!  It took a few years for me to come to grips with a lot of my own failures from pastoring, and honestly, I'm still coming to grips with them.

You know, Ebenezer Scrooge hated change.  He hated it!  He also hated accountability!  He did not like those guys from the charitable agency coming and asking for a donation.  He put his focus in the wrong place- on his business and on his money.   In my own case, I put the church and its success or failure first and foremost in my life.  I don't think my motives were completely wrong, but the final outcome of it all was, well, not good.  More than anything else, Ebenezer Scrooge was in denial.   He was in deep, deep denial.   In my own life and ministry, I was in denial.  Have you read the Lord's message to the Church at Laodicea [in Revelation chapter three] lately?  You may recall that this was the church which said, "I'm rich, I'm increased with goods!  I'm in need of nothing!"  Yet, the Lord said they were "wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked"!  Possibly their biggest fault was that they were blind- or frankly, in denial!

Most of us [and I'm talking about most of us born-again Christians]  need a good dosage of what Ebenezer Scrooge got in "a Christmas Carol" and of what Joel Fleischman got in that Northern Exposure episode!  This would absolutely revolutionize our personal lives and it would absolutely revolutionize our churches!  I say with tears that I wish I could preach this somewhere this month.  I can't.  But I can "preach" it here!  Listen, I have not "arrived" as we evangelicals say.  I am painfully aware of my sins and shortcomings, but as much as I don't like a lot of the secular aspects of Christmas, I'm so glad for that "sweet little Jesus boy" (in the words of that old Negro spiritual) who came to be born and give His live and His love so that I could be saved.  

If you've got the guts- take some serious time alone with the Lord and His Word this month.  Ask Him about your own life- past, present, and future.  In the words of an old chorus, "Let Him have His way with thee".  It just might end up being the most meaningful and transformative December you've ever had!


Rob Woods said...

Thank you for sharing such a good and reflective message. I was blessed.

Bob Baril said...

My son Jon read this and informed me that the Yom Kippur episode of "Northern Exposure"is actually from the show's FINAL season (1994-1995). I didn't realize it was that late in the show. It's truly a brilliant and powerful episode.