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December Newsletter- Strange Way To Save The World

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(C. S Lewis noted in his book Mere Christianity: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”)

Let’s see, about 6 weeks of Christmas songs, messages and greetings.   That’s the general span of what we do beginning the day after Thanksgiving through December 25th.  Our library has hundreds of this season’s songs and each of those in some way is about the celebration of that one, unique Bethlehem morning.  Near the end of this Christmas season, we will bring out our classic Christmas music and one of the songs that catches my ear each season is the 1993 4Him release, ‘A Strange Way To Save the World’.  It reminds me of our great ability as human beings to take the most profound thing in the world and not really think very much about it.  Oh, we give it a glancing mention in December of each year and then go on about our business. We do a couple of predictable things each Christmas season: (1) make it a season of kindness to our friends, relatives and acquaintances, and (2) summarize it as a season measured in large part by trips to the mall or Amazon.  Seldom do we stop long enough to concentrate on our salvation story and the real meaning of Jesus’ birth.  Think about it– in His story of redemption, many times the smallest, the strangest and the most illogical, are presented to us as Truth.  The seemingly unbelievable becomes the believable for us.  For example, this Savior was born in a barren desert land, instead of Babylon with its splendor.  Jesus was born to a cabinet maker rather than to royalty, the son of an unwed Jewish girl instead of a well established family.  Born in Bethlehem, rather than what was the cultural center of Joseph’s world, Jerusalem.  This miracle baby cried his first cry in a manger rather than a bed, in a barn rather than a synagogue.  This Savior would be King without an army, or title, without wealth, had no handlers to manage his image.  In fact, this Savior did not have a place to lay his head.  This Savior always seemed to be pushed forward as he voluntarily kept stepping back from anything that promoted himself.  He became our Leader of the only Truth and did that in a world set on believing a Lie.

The Faith we proclaim is not simply about personal improvement, not just about good and evil, but about the possibility, the power, to be transformed from one creature into a new creature.  It’s a strange way to save the world for sure.  This King associated himself with tax-collectors, thieves and a few women of poor reputation.  This King gathered his friends from the local fishermen and the like, telling them (and in turn telling us) that they would have to lose themselves in order to find themselves; that by decreasing they would be increasing, thereby seeing the presence of God increase in their lives.  That if we gave away, we’d then find things we hoped for coming back into our lives.  Going so far as to suggest that we must die to live, we must be meek in order to inherit the earth.  C. S. was so right, this Gospel is too profound to be founded by a seer, a mere prophet; it’s either the answer or the great fraud.

With this Son, Life just kept squeezing him to the top.  He amazed the scholars at 12 years old, yet did no miracles until the age of thirty.  His early ministry lasted just three years, having been judged, crucified and buried by the age of thirty-three.  His followers were scattered and all killed except one: John.  In three years, 36 months, this Savior, this Life, this man had proposed to have saved the whole cosmos.  His ministry was done.  Now that’s a weird way to save the world.  Now, we’re left some 2000 years later to put our trust, our faith, in a system that seems so illogical and to many a fable, probably to most a myth.

And, in this story the ‘strangeness’ continues.  People that are not perfect have been made perfect by the blood of this Savior.  The un-saintly have been declared saints by this Gospel.  The unholy are holy because He was holy.  In this story, the Joy of the Lord is our strength, not good self-esteem.  There’s hope in our patience and peace in our steadfastness in times of trouble.  We’re told to hold fast and ‘judge no thing before its time’ because we are a people that live by Faith, not by sight.  Here’s a Life not fueled by power, not by our might, but by His Spirit.  It’s a Trust that the more we get out of the way the more of His presence is revealed in our lives.  There’s more.  We’re free because we’ve been made a slave unto Christ.  We have to discover, and truly believe, that we have more Life because we don’t try to preserve our life.  We must learn that the modern cultural creed of ‘finding ourselves’ and our personal efforts to pursue our own happiness in the end leave us lonely, frustrated and disappointed.  Finding Him leaves us fulfilled; find Him and everything wonderful gets thrown in.  We learn that praying for our enemies and loving our neighbors have a profound effect on our lives as well as theirs.  In this deal, we will be the most mature when we come as little children and trust in our Father.

The song’s lyrics concerning Joseph’s point of view take it further.

‘I’m sure he must have been surprised at where this road had taken him, ‘cause never in a million lives would he have dreamed of Bethlehem.

And standing at the manger he saw with his own eyes the message from the angel come to life.  And Joseph said:  Why me, I’m just a simple man of trade?  Why Him, with all the rulers of the world?  Why here inside this stable filled with hay?  Why her, she’s just an ordinary girl?

Now I’m not one to second guess what angels have to say.  But this is such a strange way to save the world.

To think of how it could have been if Jesus had come as He deserved.  There would have been no Bethlehem, no lowly shepherds at his birth.  But Joseph knew the reason love had to reach so far.  And, as he held the Savior in his arms he must have thought…this is such a strange way to save the world.’

Now that’s our Christmas story.  Strange story!  This Redeemer came to a people that had been, and still are, considered the least, the last and the lost.  Those people had failed, multiple times turned away from God, been enslaved, made outcast; they were simple people in a simple time.  Why them, why then?  That’s such a strange people for a God to care about.  Some would believe, and it’s an easier sell perhaps, that He would come for the elite, the most, the strong.   While He did make us that by His Grace, He came for us as we were when we all were wrong and alone.   All other faiths come for a people that have earned a passage, a meet and greet experience with their god.  With Father, Son and Spirit, no one has earned anything.  God came to heal those that were lame, lift up those that had fallen, encourage those that were downcast, give hope to the hopeless, forgive those that deserved harshness.  God simply did what He asks us to do, believe things that are many times not true about us.  We’re to examine our hearts and not our weakness in order to find our place in this world.  Folks, that’s a strange way to save the world!  As Lewis implied, this is so strange, so outrageous that we cannot simply put it off as an odd but wonderful story.  No, this is such a strange way that we are only left with ‘I believe’ or ‘I don’t believe’!  I once read a quote from someone that went something like this: The answer to Sin is not human virtue (our goodness); the answer to Sin is Faith.  That statement wraps up so much of the upside-downiness of our Gospel.  We don’t have a simple ethic, or a superior morality.  We have a pretty unbelievable and strange story to believe.  Ours is to get it, get comfortable with it, embrace it, and trust it.

November newsletter: Photograph

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You could see the smoke from a mile away, and trouble always draws a crowd
They wanna tell me that it’ll be okay, but that’s not what I need right now, not while my house is burning down
I know someday, I know somehow, I’ll be okay, but not right now

Tell me if the hope that you know is true ever feels like a lie even from a friend
when their words are salt in an open wound, and they just can’t seem to understand that you haven’t even stopped the bleeding yet

I know someday, I’ll be okay, but not right now, No, not right now
Don’t tell me when I’m grieving, That this happened for a reason
Maybe one day we’ll talk about the dreams that had to die for new ones to come alive
But not right now

 

While I wait for the smoke to clear, you don’t even have to speak
Just sit with me in the ashes here and together we can pray for peace to the One acquainted with our grief
I know someday, I know somehow
I’ll be okay But not right now………………(Music: Not Right Now, written by Jason Gray)

 

I have a thing that Jane just doesn’t get.  Actually, she just thinks it’s weird.  That thing is sitting at my desk and watching the screen saver go from picture to picture on my computer.  You see, all the pictures on my screen saver are pictures I’ve taken over the years traveling in Colorado.  They always look new–fresh to me.  In them, I always seem to see something for the first time, no matter how many times I’ve looked at them.

 

Pictures can be valuable things.  They generally contain memories or histories and some, as in this case, just natural beauty.  But, pictures are only a momentary pause and they cannot represent anything more than that one time, the moment, they were taken.  At various times in our lives, we seem to stop and take a mental picture of our life and define our whole life by that single moment.  In a sense, we redefine our lives by what’s happening only on that day, at that exact time.  We get our picture out and show it to people as though, that’s it, that’s my lot in life, the way it’s going to be.  However, realistically, our lives typically don’t stop and stay in one condition.  Life moves, it’s more likely represented as a movie than by a single picture.  Sure, you can stop and look at a given moment and perhaps get discouraged by what you see at that time.  But truly, the Gospel is an agent of change, maybe in a moment, maybe not an immediate/overnight remedy, but a remedy just the same. Look at Paul’s snapshot: ‘…in stripes above measure, in prisons, more frequent, in deaths oft.  Of Jews, five times received forty stripes, save one.  Thrice beaten with rods, once stoned, thrice suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeying often, in perils of waters, perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils in the false brethren, in weariness and painfulness, in watchings, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness’ [2 Cor. 11:23-27] (Flash)! (Flash)! (Flash)!

 

I’m as guilty as anyone having occasionally frozen my misery, baptizing it with hopelessness and fear.  Over time, I’ve been adjusting that pattern of behavior.  About 35 years ago, I was in the middle of an important decision that, had I followed through at that time, would have turned out to be a mistake and made matters worse.  I thought I’ll just take things into my own hands, rid myself of the situation, the uneasiness and its weariness.  Instead of letting the Spirit of God speak to my heart and follow Him, I came very close to letting my brain rule and reign in that incidence.  Fortunately, that very day, Jane phoned me at work and relayed to me that one of her friends had just called and, while in prayer, she had received a message for me.  Hebrews 10:35 begins, ‘cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward.  For you have need of patience, that, after you have done the will of God you might receive the promise.’  From that day forward my picture-taking to define my life pretty much stopped.  I guess the end result is that I started believing more than ever before in Paul’s advice to ‘judge nothing before its time (season).’ (1 Cor. 4:5)  There have been huge, many times overwhelming, circumstances that Jane and I have faced over the years.  Many of those you’re aware of and some no one but she and I have any knowledge of.   Those two scriptures have been the rudder that guided us though the past few years. We simply know, are firmly convinced, that God is in the middle of our lives no matter what’s going on to us or around us on any given day.  There is no day that He’s not with us no matter what might be going on that day.  Knowing that, knowing that no matter what that day’s picture looks like, gives a confidence that will help you through some rough stuff!  Life can be unfair, cruel, unfavorable, or unstable, but the nature of the Love of God is right in the middle of all that stuff.  He is not just present in the beautiful, but in the storm.  Taking thoughts captive, measuring them by what we know about God is the rule of the day.

 

Additionally, when things do go against us, and we all have that happen occasionally, remember you have a Partner in all situations.  And, importantly, He is not a Partner that has to be persuaded, coerced or begged into stepping into the moment, but a Partner eager to hold, to hope, to encourage, and is a true believer with us.  That Partner’s the same One that stepped into the mess of Eden and joined His creatures in order to provide for them in the middle of their agony.

 

When Jane and I were in Chicago in 2012, she was paralyzed head to toe, on life support, had a battery of doctors and dozens of nurses that met each day to try and get her to tomorrow.  We took no mental pictures or defined our situation by any one day’s circumstances.  We weren’t letting the mental or physical picture that we could obviously see with our eyes define our moment.  We didn’t deny that things were serious, deadly even, but we couldn’t judge any of those days by anything other than what we had learned years before – to not evaluate anything before its season.  Four times in Matthew, once in Mark and two times in Luke, Jesus encouraged us not to take thought of tomorrow.  Jesus was not suggesting we should not hope for or should not plan for tomorrow.  Here, his reference to ‘thought’ is for us not to be anxious or paralyzed with fear about tomorrow.

 

The radio station has in many ways confirmed the necessity of having to ‘live by Faith’.  Someone asked me while we were in Chicago, ‘What’s God teaching you?’  Without thinking about it, my response was, ‘I don’t know about teaching us something new but He’s confirming everything good we’ve ever believed about Him. He’s doing that right here in this terrible moment.”  He is strong when we’re weak; He is faithful when ours has softened a bit.  Our journey has been more of a Faith in Him, rather than a faith in our faith.  I read a quote years ago that when paraphrased goes something like this: ‘God forgive me for trying to interpret You so much all the time instead of just trusting You more’.  Many times the question isn’t how faithful are we to Him, but it’s discovering how profoundly Faithful He is to us. Faith is not something we muster up, drum up, or an intellectual process.  It’s not trying to believe something, it’s relying and trusting Someone.  Faith is personal, intimate, the condition of seeing who God is with fresh clarity.  Life’s like a novel, written with a beginning, middle and a conclusion.  We only read it one page at a time, one day at a time.  Much of our life’s journey is hidden and revealed day by day.  Our role is to be embraced and comforted by His Comfort this day.

 

Paul once described himself as being the same, or constant, no matter his circumstances. Paul had confidence and contentment even in all of those terrible moments mentioned earlier in this letter.  Paul knew the essence of Isa. 59:19: ‘when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.’  As Jason wrote in his song…’I know someday, I know somehow, I’ll be okay’.  Maybe not in this day’s snap-shot, maybe not this single day, but I will be okay because of His Faithfulness, His presence, because of the simple and profound God of Love.

 

I’ll finish with this David Crowder lyric in his song Oh How He Loves:

‘He is jealous for me, Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are, and how great Your affections are for me.

Knowing that is the beginning of Eternal Life.

Carrollton with We Are The Monks

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