BT Irwin Posts

A blog about looking for the Way of Jesus Christ in 21st century America

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Christmas wishes or Advent hope?

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Photo by Dan Kiefer on Unsplash

I wonder if, over the years, many Christians here in America mistook Christmas wishes for Advent hope.

When I was a kid, I looked forward to September for three big reasons: The Christmas catalogs from JCPenney, Montgomery Ward, and Sears came in the mail. As soon as I saw one of those catalogs on the kitchen table, I tore it open like a starving man tearing into a bag of bread. Within minutes, I found and circled the toys I wanted for Christmas.

Once the Christmas catalogs came, I studied them daily as if they were holy books. As soon as I came in the door from school, I found the Christmas catalogs and spent hours staring at the toys. Dreaming. Longing. Wishing.

It got so bad that Mom started hiding the Christmas catalogs when they came each September. She didn’t us look at them until after Thanksgiving.

What I remember about looking at those...

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A ship in harbor is safe…

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Photo by Joel Bengs on Unsplash

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. John A. Shedd (1859-1928)

How I wish to be safe in the harbor now.

How I wish to harbor myself and the people I love from wave after wave after wave of building collapses, climate change, high grocery prices, the nonstop lying of politicians and pundits (and the violence of their followers), school shootings, social media shit storms, tornadoes, viruses, and wildfires.

How I wish to harbor myself where I don’t have to make decisions of great and lasting consequences. Decisions that affect my family. Decisions that affect my neighbors. Decisions that affect the people who work for me. Decisions I might get wrong. Decisions that make me prone to the anger, criticism, and resentment of the very people for whom I’m trying to care.

Decisions that make me prone to the harm and suffering...

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Christmas lights

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Photo by Brian Suh on Unsplash

I love driving through the flat, wide-open farm country of northwestern Ohio.

From Interstate 75, I can see for miles in every direction.

I enjoy the view on a clear day under a blue sky, when I feel like I’m smooth sailing across an ocean of soybean fields.

But I like it even more at night. It gets so dark and empty in every direction (including up), it feels like driving on the other side of the moon.

Every holiday season, we drive through that black void when we come home to Michigan from visiting family in Tennessee.

In that dark, freezing, infinite emptiness, I find one of my favorite sights in life and that sight fills me with one of my favorite feelings.

Yes, in that dark, freezing, infinite emptiness, I always spot a house far off in the distance, miles from the interstate. I can’t see the house, but I can see its Christmas lights. Each...

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It’s #GivingTuesday. As a Christian and professional fundraiser, here are three things I want you to know about giving.

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Photo by Napendra Singh on Unsplash

I’m writing this on the morning of GivingTuesday 2021.

If you don’t know about GivingTuesday, this must be your first day on the internet or with an email inbox.

A few years ago, only a few nonprofit fundraisers like me knew much about GivingTuesday. Now, my inbox has been filling up for days with GivingTuesday fundraising appeals from DOZENS of nonprofits that have me on their mailing list.

I’m not saying those nonprofits are doing anything wrong.

In fact, annual donations on GivingTuesday go up every year. They now add up to billions of dollars in gifts to hundreds of thousands of charities and nonprofit organizations around the world.

I say that if the wave is growing, nonprofit leaders might as well ride it.

But this post is not for the people who ask for money; it’s for the people who give money on GivingTuesday and any other day...

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How the church of Christ lost its “saltiness” and how it can be made “salty” again

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Photo by Jason Tuinstra on Unsplash

When the Christ said that the church of Christ is the “light of the world” and the “salt of the Earth,” I take it to mean that we are the gentle, kind, loving conscience of humanity.

For example, when humanity gobbles up consumerism at all costs, we show and tell a better way with grace and humility. When humanity takes it for granted that he is most blessed who can buy as much as he wants, the church of Christ quietly acts on the belief that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts of the Apostles 20:35).

The biblical pattern is that the church of Christ is the best “light” and “salt” when it is in the minority, when it is not in power.

We need to remember that the “light” of which the Christ spoke was a flicker in vast darkness. “Salt” is just a particle on whatever food it preserves.

Over the years–at least the years in my...

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Is it thankful thinking or wishful thinking?

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Photo by Rumman Amin on Unsplash

Marketing works best when it gets us to think about what we lack.

Marketing gets us to think about what we lack now and quickly imagine how a good or service will make our wishes come true later. Giving thanks becomes more like wishful thinking about the future. “Thanks in advance.”

Marketing may be the maker of the default setting in the American mind.

When we are very young–so young that we may not even know our ABC’S–we learn how to learn what we do not have. We learn how to imagine a future when we get what we do not have here and now.

This is how I gave thanks when I was young.

I thanked God for a big, long future in which I expected to get everything that I dreamed would make me happy and whole.

The problem now is that I am no longer young.

How do I give thanks now when the future is getting smaller and smaller?

Some of the people I...

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You are a casserole

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Photo by sheri silver on Unsplash

If I make a big bad choice after lunch, I can often link it to a small not-so-bad choice I made around breakfast.

For example, let’s say I say something snippy to my wife as we’re getting ready for the day. I feel bad about it, which often means I feel bad about myself. The temptation comes over me to think of the day itself as bad or to think of myself as a bad person.

Once I start thinking about the day or my self as bad, I will find it hard to not act on those thoughts for the rest of the day.

So, for example, I may choose to go through the McDonald’s drive-thru at lunch instead of eating the healthy leftovers at home. And why not? The day is bad. I am bad. Bad people make bad choices on bad days. Why should anyone expect anything else?

This is what counselors and therapists call “all-or-nothing thinking.”

The day is either all bad or all...

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I could never outrun Roger Shriver (and now I’m glad I didn’t)

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Roger Shriver was an “old man” as long as I knew him.

The truth is, he was about 58 years old when I first met him. Since I was in kindergarten at that time, he looked very old to me.

But Roger would challenge any one of us youngsters to a footrace in the church parking lot. He would blow our young minds by winning every time.

What is special about that last sentence is not that a seemingly “old man” could outrace boys in their prime.

What is special is that Roger challenged us in the first place.

I didn’t know what to do with him when I was a kid. Every time I was at church, this “old man” tracked me down to ask me questions about myself and impart wisdom.

I mean he tracked me down. We didn’t just cross paths in the church lobby. I think Roger came to church with an agenda to speak to every kid in the place. Whatever made him want to talk to us kids got stronger the more we...

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When shrinking is growing

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Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

One of the highest highs of my life is preaching and teaching in small churches in small towns one or two weekends a month.

The pandemic ended that for almost two years.

Last weekend, I was happy and thankful to stand in a pulpit again.

The congregation that hosted me is one I didn’t know until I showed up to preach. I learned that the congregation had about 70 members before the pandemic. Now it has about 35.

The people held their chins up, but I could feel grief hanging in the air.

They could see ghosts in those empty pews.

In congregations like that one, I often get the feeling that those who are still there don’t know how to make sense of what is happening.

They believe in God. They believe in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

If the “Good News” is so good and powerful and true, why aren’t people beating down the church doors?

Empty...

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Armchair politician? Try being a local public servant instead.

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Photo by Sangga Rima Roman Selia on Unsplash

About a year ago, my city’s council and mayor put me on the zoning board of appeals.

What does a zoning board of appeals do?

Let’s say that you want to put up a new sign on your building, but the sign you want to put up is bigger than the city ordinance allows.

The zoning board of appeals–five of your fellow citizens and neighbors–will hear your case and either rule in your favor or hold you to the ordinance.

City ordinances may cause drowsiness, but I find each case that comes before us to be thrilling.

Business or property owners come before us and make their best arguments for why the city ordinance is not fair or should not apply in their case. Most of the time, they make strong cases and we rule in their favor.

Sometimes, they just don’t want to be bothered by the city ordinance.

In those cases, we rule against them.

Some...

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