Archives for the month of: December, 2012

change-neon

 

Do you smell that?  The sweetness of a new year hitting our nose.  Everything is new, there’s no record of wrong yet, you can be who you want to be, and the whole world is just waiting to be grabbed and shaken up.

Isn’t that why we love the new year?  Isn’t that why we make resolutions?  We hope that as a new year dawns, we too can become new and better than who we are.  I recently watched the 30 for 30 on Bo Jackson and the former Auburn AD said that the reason people loved Bo is that he was a better version of ourselves.  People thought, “he’s a better class of human,” and it gave them something to strive for.  So is that where you find yourself?  Sitting at the end of 2012 and questioning whether these past 12 months could have gone better?  Looking at 2013 as a chance to change who you are and what you are doing?  To that end I say – hang on!

2nd Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”  Yeah, yeah, I know that if you’ve been in a church for let’s say…two months, you’ve heard this before, but have you really thought through it?  The new has come!  The change you want is already within you.  The spirit has come and called you beyond who you are.  The kingdom is within you, and with it, all the power of Christ.  Do not be troubled, for the power within you has already overcome the world.

If you are not already living out this verse, begin now.  Don’t look for resolutions to be made, you won’t keep them (I never do).  Christ calls us to daily change, not on the start of each new year, only to forget and move on from that change within weeks.  May you be blessed in 2013, but more so – be blessed today.  Take part in the kingdom’s work today.  Take mercy into the chaos of other’s lives.  Take love to the unloved.  Cloth the sick, feed the hungry, visit those in prison.  Be Christ, see Christ.

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Monday night we gathered together, lit candles, and sang; it was Christmas Eve. We stood with many others around the world as we collectively sang, “Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.” I was struck as we sang all of the Christmas carols how central peace is to the Christmas story. It is a shocking break in a story that should be anything but peaceful. Homelessness, travel, and child birth seem to be pretty chaotic. There is also the whole fear for their life thing that Joseph and Mary had to deal with, yet peace is insistent.

This is the beauty of the incarnation. God became flesh and dwelled in our neighborhood. The coming of God means something big for our world. God’s love is bigger than we thought and it is visible in the one who became flesh and blood for us. God notices and is attentive to the deep human quandary in such a way that God becomes man. This is the ultimate act of listening and being present with creation. In Exodus, we read about a God who turns his ear towards the Israelites. These cries for liberation compelled God to action, just as the groans and cries of all of creation compelled the sending of Jesus.

The incarnation, the coming of God in human form, is not just a piece of Christmas folklore, it is God’s saving work for all. The incarnation is meaningful because it reminds us that faith comes alive in human history. The Spirit of God is at work in the public space. We spend time talking about the personal aspect of Christian faith, but salvation is much bigger than my individual salvation. God is working in all of creation. The story of God’s saving work is good news because the death and resurrection of Jesus speaks a better word into all things. Douglas John Hall says, “For it is the ultimate incarnational theology, a theology that insists upon encountering the real world and not an ideational construct called a ‘world’ and ‘cosmos’.” God loves all of creation in its particularities; God loves creation even in its brokeness.

You see, peace is so insistent because the prince of Peace came into our world. The chaos does not have the last word. The pain does not reign. When God comes into our neighborhood all things are changed. All that God made is subject to God’s saving work because Jesus came in real space and time. At just the right time God in Christ came and marked a turn in human history.

We, the people of God, are able to find peace because ours is a story of victory and ours is a God who experienced every bit of our world. Jesus is good news for all because Jesus experienced the whole human experience, even suffering and death. The incarnation is peace for the world because God meets us in the midst of our mess and proclaims this is not the end of the story.

I have been thinking about hope recently. The thing with hope is sometimes things do not seem hopeful. NT Wright begins his fantastic book Surprised by Hope with five stories. Most of the stories tell of tragedy and world suffering. In these moments the script that affirms hope for us does not always come through. These are the moments when darkness has shown itself and hopelessness seems like the right response. Last Friday, our country witnessed another one of these moments. It is in these moments the church must respond with robust hope because Christian hope has something to say even in the midst immense darkness.

Hope is what carried an old man named Simeon and the 84-year-old prophetess Anna to the temple everyday. Theirs was a story of waiting. Waiting for God to fulfill a promise. Luke tells us, Simeon grabbed Jesus, held him in his arms, and cried “For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to all your people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).” In the same way Anna fixed her eyes on the Baby Jesus and told everyone that would listen the redemption of Israel was near. This kind of patience is not practice without pain or tragedy. It is not like Simeon and Anna did not have days of disappointment. It was not as if Simeon and Anna were able to wait expectantly without any doubt or confusion. Just like you and me they were full witnesses to the darkness in our world. They heard the mourning of Moms and Dads. We are told Anna experienced the pain and grief of a husband’s death. Simeon and Anna waited expectantly for God’s promise because they had robust hope. A hope that was able to hold them up in the darkest moments, even with a brush with evil.

We too have a reason for robust hope. It is not simply the hope of pearly gates and gold streets. We eagerly await the day when God puts all things to rights. We stand on tiptoes, even as the world groans for things to be on Earth as they are in heaven. For our adoption as sons and daughters of God and for the redemptions of our bodies. Jesus broke the chains of death declaring victory over sin and death. Now nothing can separate us from the embrace God’s love. The empty tomb says God’s reign is here  and it will soon come in full. The resurrection of Jesus announces in history that God’s salvation is present. Though the darkness and tragedy can dull our hope, the New Testament invite us to work in the tension.

I love the words of Robbie Seay Band, “Hope is the call that is ringing in my soul but I can’t pretend that I see much light in front of me.” Our hope is what keeps us standing and centered in the promises of God. Hope is what moves us forward toward God’s newness. The promise of the cross and the resurrection is God has broken into the world. We are witnesses to God’s work but we are still waiting. We are waiting for God to make all things new.

My oldest is five and is learning to read. I figured it best to put aside the World War 2 nonfiction book and try the bible instead, so last night we sat down and read the beatitudes. I tried to ask him what his favorite part was and frankly he wasn’t much help as he was having too much fun pointing out words he knew. Suffice to say, I started with the beatitudes because short of the greatest commandment, the beatitudes really sets up everything to follow doesn’t it?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3-10 NIV)

I imagine that as Jesus is saying all of this, people are sitting in stunned silence. This, despite using the words “meek” and “children” is a salvo fired across the bow of humanity. This is a set of phrases that says “forget everything you know, it’s all wrong.” Start with the first line “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What? The losers? The losers own the kingdom? This was/is a shot at those that propagate God for their own benefit. If you reread Matthew you’ll see a Jesus that’s a bit surly. Mostly he’s annoyed with the religious establishment and the beatitudes makes that extremely clear.
The amazing part about this is that all of these words still have full application today. Yes I realize you’re thinking – well obviously it’s the bible, of course it’s relevant today. To that I say, yes thank you, but my point is this: we today are just as obsessed with advancing ourselves as they were then. When people claim humans are more selfish now, or more cynical, or yadda yadda whatever, I just think about the fact that Jesus came 2000 years ago and spoke truth that is still relevant today. Is there any doubt that he’d say the exact same thing to us today as he did then? Do we not still struggle with meekness? Do we not still struggle with thirsting for righteousness?
I told my brother in law that if I could nail down just a few of the beatitudes I would be a much better human. The other great part is that these build upon each other, look –

Poor in Spirit -> Mourning -> Meekness -> Hunger and Thirsting for Righteousness -> Merciful -> Pure in Heart -> Peacemakers -> Persecuted for Righteousness

So essentially those that are poor in spirit more than likely mourn that state. As you mourn and realize how poor in spirit you are, you become meek and humble, then in that state you are able to begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness. As you search for that, you become merciful and as you show mercy and become mercy, you become pure in heart. As you become pure in heart through mercy, you become a peacemaker and then you are persecuted. Through all of that though you have the kingdom on your side. You have the full power, the keys, everything at your access. This, this is where the power of Jesus’ words become life, not only do you become a better human, you become a better saint. A better follower of Christ because more of the spirit is alive in you.

So where does this leave us? Where do we go from here (to quote Thom Yorke)? We start at the beginning, do we not? We need to come to Christ in brokenness, in our poor state. Get here and move forward with the power. Where are you?

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit” Psalms 34:18

What words can be said when the lives of innocent children are brutally taken? Are there any words? Is merely a time of reflection and holding our loved ones the only response? As a father I grieve with those who grieve and mourn with those who mourn. The thought of having my kids taken from me is horrifying and moves me to near tears. The actions and events seen today should never have been seen, should never have happened, yet here we are. Until Christ comes and makes all things new, we must continually suffer through horrific moments.

But take heart, for our God is a god of suffering. Our God is a god who suffered. He tore a piece of himself off and sent him here to the earth to suffer and die. This is a God that knows our pains, our anger, our emotion. This is a God that can in moments like this, hold us and comfort us. As his followers, we must do the same for those hurting. Be Christ to those in pain. Be Christ to those wandering in the desert. Be Christ this Christmas by showing compassion and mercy to those who hurt and need it.

We are not without hope. We are not without love. Christ knows fully what it means to lose the one you love the most. Christ on the cross himself experienced the epitome of loss – God himself turning his back. Christ felt the loss of himself in a way. This is the power of Christ and the cross – that Jesus himself bridges the gap so that we too may bridge the gap. Kevin spoke of the trinity being intertwined within us. That the creator himself is tied to his creation. This is beautiful and especially so in times of loss. The God that created all, knows all, looks at you and says, “me too, I’ve experienced loss.” Then he says, “come to me and find rest.”
May the families affected and those not related but still affected find solace and rest in Christ.