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Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

O Come All Ye Faithful, Joyful and triumphant . . .

Come and behold him, Born the King of Angels . . .

All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee, Born this happy morning

Those words from a traditional hymn are on my mind this Christmas morning. Today the world celebrates Jesus, the Son of God who became human about 2000 years ago. Remembering his birth fills hearts with joy and mouths with song. People give gifts and feast with family and friends.

Venice - The Adoration of Magi in Santa Maria dei Frari.But not everyone is so happy this Christmas morning. Some miss loved ones from whom they’re separated by death or conflict. Some remember painful Christmas experiences. Some are alone. Some wonder if they really believe what they’ve been taught to rejoice about on December 25.

Life is not all “joyful and triumphant.” Sometimes we don’t want to greet the Lord because we feel that the Lord has abandoned us. We may feel forgotten, forsaken, far from faith.

If you haven’t experienced such darkness, expect it. Prepare for it. Bolster your faith in advance. Ask hard questions. Pursue truth no matter what it might do to what you’ve been taught. Befriend experienced, wise Christians who can mentor you through faith and doubt. Pray now for strength to persevere when you feel like you can’t pray.

If you have experienced such darkness, share it. Use that experience to bless people who are currently going through it. Let them know that they are not alone. Assure them that their doubt does not kick them out of heaven. Gently come alongside them. Be present for them. Be patient when they’re not ready to talk. Be willing to wait, to listen. Pray for them.

If you are experiencing such darkness right now, know that you’re in good company. Read through the Psalms to find words to express your experience in uncensored prayer to God who understands and expects our cries and questions and can handle whatever pain we spew out. Find words of lament from Psalm 22 arising in agony from the lips of the Son of God on the cross and know that questioning God’s presence is part of faith.

“Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light” (Frederick Buechner).

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Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTS_3_bisWhat characteristics do you consider when looking for a local church to join? What characteristics help you decide to stay in a congregation or to leave and look elsewhere?

This morning I read a blog post designed for church leaders. According to it, research has shown that “members have ideas of what a local congregation should provide for them, and they leave because those provisions have not been met.” In other words, “the main reason people leave a church is because they have an entitlement mentality rather than a servant mentality.”

The way of Jesus is more than something we receive. It’s something we give.

It’s more than something we believe. It’s something we do.

Today my nation remembers a man who gave and did. He wasn’t perfect, but he preached and practiced justice and reconciliation through nonviolence. He saw and proclaimed the heart of God, a heart still aching from our ongoing brokenness.

Maybe a better way to choose a “church home” is to find a group that has a place for you to use your specific skills and interests to participate in that “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). If you choose a faith community in that way, you’ll be less likely to leave for self-centered reasons.

Don’t look for a show. Join a mission!

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580px-Jesus_Christ_The_Child_by_Wissam_Shekhani,_ink_on_paperThe world’s praise to God heightens each December. Participation in worship events increases. Carols ring out. Stories remind. Christmas is a time of joy, a season of celebrating the birth of Jesus.

The season is not all joy. No season escapes evil’s bite.

As I type these words in a Memphis coffee shop, a television tuned to CNN takes me to Newtown. Bells toll there, “once for each life lost at the school.” Now bells toll in Miami, now in Washington, now in my mind.

And bells toll in our theologies, in our spiritualities, in our lives. Life and death, evil and good coexist and conflict. No truth, no promise, no belief can ever deny our experience of that reality.

The story of Jesus’ birth does not try to deny it but embraces it. That birth story begins with the crucifixion sight. The child’s life begins in “the shadow of the cross.” The story embraces the reality of joy and pain, redefining both.

K. Rex Butts says it well: “With the news of last Friday’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, I remind myself once again that Jesus has come and is coming again to rid God’s creation of its evil and injustice once and for all.” Amen, brother.

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Image: “Jesus Christ The Child Looking To The Sky” by Wissam Shekhani.

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Rumor has it that whatever you do on New Year’s Day is something you’ll do each day of the year. I hope I don’t read ancient genealogies for 366 consecutive days!

A more legitimate saying about New Year’s Day is that it’s a time to “turn over a new leaf,” a chance for a “fresh start.” That’s only partially true, of course. Our pasts and personalities and persistent temptations influence our futures. This day is, however, an exciting opportunity to reform ourselves, to realign our lives to our goals. What do you seek? What do you desire?

Ancient Israelites wanted sons who could fight in military combat. The culture respected people whose children were fighting men.

What do you want in 2012?

 

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Hezekiah is a good king in a time when many monarchs are evil, and his effectiveness arises from his faithfulness.

This morning I heard a preacher say that the greatest miracle of Christmas is not the baby in the manger or even the virgin birth but the God who cares. That deserves my faith. It reminds me how amazing the God Story is. Christ’s compassion compels me; life in the Spirit enthralls me. And, like King Hezekiah, I want to lay everything before the Lord.

As we celebrate Christ and anticipate 2012, let’s commit to living in faith. How can your life be more faithful? Lay it before the Lord and see.

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Some prefer Luke 2, but my Christmas reading is Second Kings 15-17.

Men kill to become kings and perform notorious evil. Azariah and Jotham aren’t too shabby, but the rest are whacked, and the kingly chaos culminates in calamity. Assyria captures Samaria, Israel’s capital, and deports its residents.

Why? Check out verses 7 and 8 of chapter 17:

All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the LORD their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods and followed the practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced.

On this Christmas Day let’s remember that Jesus calls us back to relationship with God and shows us what it means to live well.

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These chapters should be rated at least R. When I read the violence, I find no uplifting thought to write, no devotional message to encourage you. I search my feelings and find disgust and embarrassment and am tempted to rethink my allegiance to the Story of scripture.

Then I find redemption. In the midst of the gruesomeness, a small hope arises and grows. The murderous Athaliah exits the stage, and young Joash accepts the crown to become one of the few righteous kings of his time period.

When all seems evil, look for the growing hope. This Christmas we remember that Jesus is our hope of promised peace.

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