Tag Archives: hope

The Hope of Christmas: The With-Us-God

The influence of Christianity and celebrations of winter solstice came together by the 5th century. From that moment to the present, Christians of every tradition have celebrated the Advent Season and Christmas as the dawn of hope, the moment where the Eternal stepped into time and God forever became one of us in Jesus of Nazareth.

For much of history, commemorations were solemn, with Advent, like its Spring counterpart Lent, understood as a time of prayer and sacrifice. With the work of St. Francis and others in the 13th century, Madonna and Child become iconic and celebrations begin, albeit in modest forms. Martin Luther commended lighting the Tannenbaum (Christmas tree), transforming a pagan ritual into a celebration of Jesus as the Light of the world.

The Victorian era is the source of most Western/global Christmas imagery and festivities and only in the late 19th and early 20th century has Christmas become the holiday we know and love today. Many devout Christians still resist this celebration, disliking the pagan influences and the excuse for excess.

The Hope of Christmas is the promise of salvation and peace through the coming of Jesus. This humble son of a carpenter is declared by angels and shepherds, aging prophets and faraway magi as King of the Jews and Savior of humankind. Songwriter Michael Card declares:

“Behold the mystery fantastic and wild; A Mother made by her own Child.”

Author G.K. Chesterton offers this as we ponder the Incarnation:

Gloria en Profundis

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is split on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all-
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

The Biblical Story is not one of human ascent to the divine, but of divine longing and pursuit of our race of rebels. It is God that reaches out, God who searches, God who invites…and finally, God who comes in Jesus and makes the ultimate sacrifice for our eternal life. In the words of Linus, “That is what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

History Brings Hope: The Church in Times of Crisis, Part 1

As we weather the coronavirus, we must be vigilant and wise, while retaining helpfulness to our neighbors and hopefulness to a world awash in fear. This is a moment to be thankful for local churches and charities as people under economic and emotional pressure experience the weight of very trying circumstances.

It is right to lament and repent for the moral scandals that often plague religious communities. Today’s 24/7 news cycle brings negative news with an immediacy that is jarring…and helps us forget all the good things that are happening through the efforts of millions of caring people, including people in our local churches.

In this essay, I want to recount some bright moments when the Church expressed her best virtues and served sacrificially, even when under great duress. Generosity is baked into the gospel and the mission of the Church. The Apostle Paul spent years evangelizing Jews and Gentiles – and he called upon the non-Jewish believers in Christ to sacrificially give toward their Jewish brothers and sisters suffering under a severe famine in Judea (Acts 11-20; 2 Corinthians 8-9). In addition to examples of Jesus and biblical texts extolling helping others, here are some heroic moments that can inspire us in our current situations:

249-250 AD: Emperor Decius declares an empire-wide assault on Christians, including demanding that they sacrifice to Caesar, and the destruction of buildings and libraries. At the same time, a serious plague came upon several places in the empire (coincidence?). The governors charged with carrying out this evil edict petitioned the Emperor and requested a delay in persecution. Why? Because it was Christians that were offering care and comfort to plague victims! Even under severe pressure, they were caring for all, enemy and friend alike.

440s and 450s: As Attila the Hun and other outsiders carve up the Western Roman Empire, it is the Church that maintains order and distributes food amidst the conquests. The Popes negotiated with the conquerors and ameliorated (in places) some of the atrocities and enable food to get to the populace.

6th and 7th centuries: The Benedictine Order and other monastic groups are doing much more than praying. They are establishing the first hostels for visitor, hospices for the dying, and rudimentary hospitals for the sick. They also add to the overall economy with sustainable agriculture, waterwheel technology and generosity.

12th-15th centuries: Long before the Reformation, Roman Catholic scholars are teaching the goodness of free trade and natural pricing in contrast to the mercantile controls governments often placed on goods. The University of Salamanca in Spain led the way in affirming what we now know as the principles of ethical free enterprise, in service of, “The brotherhood of Mankind.”

The Reformation (16th century): We see a leap forward in affirming “ordinary” work as equally important to God as “religious” labor. Without denigrating the importance of sacerdotal leadership, all Protestant streams affirm the priesthood of all believers (see Exodus 19:6 and I Peter 2:9-10), offering one’s daily efforts as worship before God. And this led to unprecedented expansions in charitable giving, entrepreneurship, and economic change.

In the next essay, we will examine the last five centuries of goodness through the Church, without sugarcoating the historical challenges. May we be inspired in our context toward creativity and innovation.

Love During a Pandemic: A Special Message of Hope

Dear Friends,
We are praying for God’s peace and wisdom for all as we endure a very challenging season. This is a moment for hopeful realism, for faithfulness under pressure, sober thinking, and eternal hope. I encourage us all to read Psalm 46 and Hebrews 12 – in these “shaking” moments, God is working, refining our character and allowing the Church to be a beacon of spiritual power and sanity.

Here is a special work by Kathy, entitled, “You See Broken; I see Mended” The “I” is the Lord, who brings the power of the Cross to bear in every situation.

This painting was being finished with another theme – that of heavenly power and purity. In the process of moving it, it was torn. At first, it felt like everything was ruined…but Kathy saw an opportunity and wove a cross into the painting. One of God’s names in Yahweh-Rapha, the Lord our Healer. The Hebrew term for healing includes the image of mending by stitching. God love to take the scars and tears and create a wellspring of compassion and wisdom. 

Friends, today we have an opportunity to share faith, hope, and love in a world paralyzed by fear. Yes, we need to follow sound guidelines and navigate health concerns with wisdom. But we have many channels open – from personal conversations to virtual communication. Above all, we can affirm and demonstrate hope and share Christ with all around us. We are not immune to suffering; however, we serve a Lord who suffered and triumphed over all sin and sickness, sorrow and sadness and in his resurrection, Jesus offers a preview of the glorious future awaiting all who place their trust in him! (Hebrews 2-5; 11-13)

Let’s stay faithful to our local church in this moment. We do this by attending the online services, generously giving, and being available to help those in need. Our pastors and communities need us more than ever. Let’s stay faithful in prayer and support of the ministries we care about. These organizations are serving sacrificially and our generosity matters.

Understanding this hour: the spiritual warfare is real!

As we grow in character, experience new depths of community, and work for the common good, it is important we remember that we have an adversary, who, unlike our wonderful Lord, is out to deceive, dehumanize, destroy, discourage, and distort present circumstances. Our best posture in humble confidence in our Advocate, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings. We combat our enemy with love and truth: exchanging deception for integrity, dehumanization for affirming God’s image in all, destruction with creativity, combatting discouragement with hope, and confronting distortion with pure hearts and skillful hands, bringing beauty to brokenness.

May the Lord bring his comfort and peace to you during this unique Lenten Season.

Reflections and Laments from Dallas, Texas (July, 2016)

Dallas tragedy.
No words.
I am weeping over the historical and systemic injustices still rampant in our land.
As a citizen grateful for first responders and law enforcement, I am weeping for families left desolate.
I am weeping bitter tears over the extremists that gain from inflamed tensions while people of conscience of all colors and classes seek some way forward.

Since the loss of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and the polarization of both political parties, we have lost the moral and spiritual center that grounds peace, reconciliation and shalom.

There is hope: authentic, deep, moral and spiritual awakening rooted in humility and sacrificial love.

There is hope: when we begin with the infinite value of every person and the dignity and equality that flow from this conviction.

There is hope: when we desire peace for our posterity over the passions of this moment.

Weeping and hopeful today.

 

 

 

Telling the Truth: Political Realities, Part 3

People and politicians (who are the elected subset of “the people”) are full of contradictory feelings and ideas. The tendency to overgeneralize and universalize is rampant. Who speaks for “the people?” Why are we so quick to opine on what African Americans, Hispanics, White Blue Collar folks, Evangelicals, Women and even LGBTQ folks think on any and every subject? If we are going to engender consensus on vital issues and chart a prosperous future for America and the world, we must end such facile thinking and begin to regard people with more respect and expect more of the political leaders elected and supported by the people.

Each person capable of moral action and self-reflection is unique. This does not mean they are disconnected and do not share beliefs and qualities of particular groups. America’s founders understood the tensions between individual liberty and the common good, between public service and political factions. Some of the founders and framers hoped there would never be political parties, just gentleman (few could foresee the female franchise) farmers and citizens serving for a season and returning to work after their public service was complete.

This idyllic vision quickly gave way to parties and philosophies competing for voters’ attention. By itself, two or more parties are not bad for the public, provided all parties and people share enough common virtues for social cohesion.

For 2016 and beyond, catering to constituencies must take second place to framing a vision and set of values that people of many backgrounds can embrace. This is much more than a “big tent” ethos or chanting, “we have something for everyone.” Such pandering has led to the severe challenges we face today.

Progress begins with personal character being more important than perceived competencies or charisma. Back in the 1820s, a member of Congress wrote a letter back to a disgruntled constituent: “You elected me for my moral character and sound judgment, not to procure public resources.” Imagine politicians saying to the voters, “You cannot have everything you want from the hands of government.” If this kind of integrity is united with a spiritual awakening, there is hope for America and the world.