Hope and Fear

What is something you would like to happen in the New Year? What is something that is possible, but you do not want to happen?  These were my poll questions recently.  How you would answer those?

Not surprisingly people want good things for family. A cure for a disease and pain affecting a grandfather.  Calm at home.  A single mom wants to buy a home for her children.  A safe delivery of a healthy baby.  For children to make friends and enjoy school.  A stable job, steady work for husband.  For the soldier to come home safely.

On the national scene, respondents want politicians to “come to their senses.” Better immigration policy.  Truth from the media. Less crime.

Believers want people to experience true repentance and turn to Jesus. “If people don’t know the Lord, they’re missing out,” one said.

The second question elicited less varied responses. Some expressed concerns about their past decisions and the culture of sexual assaults and harassment.  But most respondents had the same concern: nuclear weapons, North Korea and WWIII.

The final answer to saber-rattling is not more military might. God’s answer to the threat of war is the Prince of Peace.  “For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, and cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. For a Child will be born to us…” (Isa. 9:5-6).  People united in Christ have reason to avoid killing each other, so let us pray for a great awakening in both the DPRK and the U.S.

God has spoken to our hopes and fears. We hope for good things to happen, but that hope is temporal. Our ultimate hope is for creation to be set free from corruption and for the redemption we have in Christ.  We eagerly await His promised return because He is our hope (Rom. 8:18-25, Col. 1:27).

As to fear, Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27). Why?  Because he was going away, only to return again.  The answer to both our hopes and fears is that Jesus is coming again!  That changes our perspective on what matters now.

Even if in 2018 our wants are unrealized and our concerns are, “Real satisfaction comes not in understanding God’s motives, but in understanding His character, in trusting in His promises, and in leaning on Him and resting in Him as the Sovereign who knows what He is doing and does all things well” (Joni Eareckson Tada).

Our omniscient, all-powerful, and perfectly good Heavenly Father knows what 2018 holds for you. His love for you casts out fear (1 Jn. 4:18).  Your hope is in Him.  May His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

2017 In Review

I have selected five events from this year that tell a story about ourselves and the God who made us.

Professor Robert Kelly was discussing Korean politics with the BBC on March 10 when his daughter Marian swaggered into the camera’s view wearing a bright yellow sweater.  Her brother followed.  His wife tried to remove the children in a panic, but the melee made the family an internet sensation.  Marian now has a fan following.

On August 21, we experienced the solar eclipse.  The 70-mile-wide path of totality was the first to travel across the contiguous U.S. since 1918.  Witnesses described it as a moving, even spiritual, event that exalted the Creator.

Harvey made landfall on August 25.  The Category 4 hurricane struck Texas dumping 50” of rain.  People rushed to help their neighbors.  “Mattress Mack” McIngvale turned his furniture stores into shelters.  Caravans of Cajun Navy boats, out-of-state utility repair trucks, and supply-laden tractor tailers rushed to the Houston area.  Faith-based organizations Salvation Army and North American Mission Board mobilized volunteers and relief.

Rep. Steve Scalise returned to Capitol Hill on Sept. 28 to a standing ovation after being shot three months prior.  He said, “When I was laying on that ballfield, I started praying.  It gave me peace knowing it was in God’s hands.”  The Capitol Police officers that neutralized the shooter and the doctors that saved Scalise’s life also received applause.  “The outpouring of love from you, my colleagues, both Republican and Democrat really does show the warm side of Congress that few people get to see,” he said.  Indeed.

In October, Kate McClure ran out of gas in a dangerous area near Philadelphia.  Homeless veteran Johnny Bobbitt Jr. emerged to tell her, “Get in the car.  Lock the doors.  I’ll be back.”  He used his last $20 to bring gas.  She set up a successful GoFundMe account for him.  The funds are managed by advisors so he can buy a small home, receive a regular income, and donate to charities.  He called this his “second chance at life.”

Our need for rescue, help, and healing, as well as love, generosity, and second chances will always exist.  In these times, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. The Lord of hosts is with us” (Psa. 46:1,7).  His identity is revealed as “The heavens are telling of the glory of God, and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psa. 19:1).  This same God Most High loves the most vulnerable.   “Permit the children to come to Me; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).  Our history is His story.

As His story book of 2017 closes, may it tell how you have come to love your Creator and your neighbor as God has purposed for you.

Christmas Invention

Actors Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer weave a quite a tale about Charles Dickens’ writing of his classic “A Christmas Carol.”  The new movie is called, “The Man Who Invented Christmas.”  Great actors, and I’m thinking this ought to be good.  The reviews are generally positive, but that name is a bit (probably intentionally) provocative.

Last year, Time Magazine published research on the world of Dickens in 1843.  Dickens began writing this story as a commentary on the sad state of the poor.  The emerging industrial economy dehumanized the working class, and exploited child labor with long hours in sickening environments.  He sought nothing less than societal change.  He believed the work houses that destroyed poor families were a scourge, and that business owners should take responsibility for their workers’ well-being.  Hence Scrooge’s grand change of heart. 

“A Christmas Carol” is about family, love, and hope.  It also shows human failings, poverty’s misery, and lost opportunity.  Dickens weaves these together around the theme of Christmas and via the supernatural, the human heart is redeemed.  The story still resonates, but Dickens did not invent the “good news of great joy which will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).

In the last 2000 years, mankind has invented many Christmas traditions, such as special services, gift giving, and holiday songs.  But those, including “A Christmas Carol,” are only the trappings.  The first Christmas was part of God’s “eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:1).  The angels explained it to Mary and Joseph and proclaimed it to the night time shepherds.  The star lighted the way for the gift-bearing, eastern Magi. 

Bethlehem was neither the first nor the last episode in the story.  Jesus didn’t begin as, nor remain the Babe in the manger.  His purpose was to implement the eternal plan.  He separated from his heavenly home to take on the weakness of humanity and to suffer at the hand of those he loved.  He bore all of our sins so that he could offer the greatest gift of all, eternal life.  He did all that “for the joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2).  Joy to the world, indeed!

A Hebrew prophet 700 years before the Nativity wrote, “My servant, will justify the many, as He will bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:11).  That servant was the child born unto us called Mighty God (Isa. 9:6).  Because of the cradle there would be a cross; because of the cross there is hope.  Christmas morning was the dawn of hope, brought to you by the Eternal Father who loves you.

This was the plan all along, “invented” by God.  So, yeah, enjoy what sounds like a good movie, but don’t let the title fool you.  Dickens was a gifted writer, but Christmas was invented far before he came along.  Isn’t that Merry?

Message Methods

I am a patron of a certain chicken restaurant.  I hope they don’t take exception to my friendly observation that their ad campaign is just wrong.

 The award-winning campaign has raised brand awareness and improved sales and profits.  The ads have cows urging people to eat chicken instead of beef.  Their bovine writing adds to the humor.  Here’s what’s wrong.  The cows in the ads are of the Holstein breed.  Milk cows.  As the son of a dairyman, I assure you I don’t require convincing to avoid eating a Holstein.  Wouldn’t a Hereford or Augus have a more personal interest in beef sales than their lactating cousins?  Just sayin’.

 Pardon the leap from cows to Christmas, but some get tripped up on that message too.  Well-known atheist Richard Dawkins says he loves Christmas, and celebrates it with family and friends.  He once wrote in the Washington Post, “Christmas belongs to anyone who wants it, and just because I gave up believing in a god doesn’t mean I gave up believing in the love and joy of family.  I did not give up the joy of celebration with my abandonment of the absurd.” 

Perhaps Dawkins would be less dismissive if the Christmas story had been a mass marketing event.  What if God coming to earth was a worldwide spectacle, not just for shepherds, replete with brilliant beings and melodious music?  He should arrive to a richly-appointed palace on earth, not a smelly barn for cows and chickens.  How absurd that he didn’t descend from the sky with all nations paying tribute, not just a few wise men! 

 The Advent of God in the flesh was more personal, like direct marketing.  Os Guinness writes, “God has disclosed himself to us in a form that is a shocking surprise, and one that contradicts and confounds all our human expectations and ways of thinking.  The Word became flesh and spoke in a human form as one of us.”  About the Babe he adds, “What a mystery, what an absurdity if not true, and if true what a wonder!  The God of all power chose to become weak to subvert our puny power, the God of all wealth chose to become poor to subvert our meager wealth, the God of all wisdom chose to become foolish to subvert our imagined wisdom.”

 Jesus came not only to convey a message in a way that would reach you, but to embody that message.  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” he said (John 14:6), explaining that “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 18:37).  Given the rest of the gospel, neither the method nor the message are absurd!  God coming to Earth is a wonder worth welcoming.

The Gift

The story you are about to read is true.  It’s about a gift easy to dismiss.  It would be delightful to receive, if you understand the gift.

One cold December day, a busy mother placated her bored young son by offering him one of the craft kits she received monthly by mail.  He chose the one for a small, wooden planter box with delicate brass trim forming a faux clock face.  He cut, nailed, stained, and glued.  The finished product couldn’t have been better.  Mom was pleased with her idea and his craftsmanship.

His grade school class had their Christmas party, and they swapped gifts with their beloved teacher.  A substitute teacher took charge the last few days before the holiday break.  Our young pupil realized that the sub wouldn’t receive a gift from anyone in the class.  Then it came to him.  He would give her his prized box!

With mom’s concurrence, he carefully wrapped the gift and took it on the school bus.  Stepping quickly to the classroom, he delivered it to the teacher’s desk.  As the class watched, the busy teacher opened it.  “That’s nice,” she said.  He explained proudly, “I made it.”  “No, you didn’t,” she said as she set it aside.

The teacher wasn’t looking for a handcrafted gift from a tenderhearted child.  To her, the personal and loving gift was a childish lie.  Before we judge the respectable teacher too harshly, do you consider the most precious and costly gift ever given – that Babe in the manger, the Christ of the cross – with a dismissive glance?

Why is that easy to do?  You cannot find what you do not seek.  Blaise Pascal said God is “willing to appear openly to those who seek Him with all their heart, and to be hidden from those who flee from Him.”  God could have provided the Gift to the world with glorious fanfare and worldwide recognition.  Instead, the Advent was humble, yet seekers found Him.  “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13).

Who is this Gift to humanity?  Jesus is your Sabbath rest from your work to earn favor with God (Heb. 4:9).  Jesus prepared an eternal place for you and He is the Way to it (John 14:6). Jesus brings meaning to a mean world, promising that the poor will receive the kingdom, the hungry will be satisfied, the weeping will laugh, and the scorned will have their joyful reward in heaven (Luke 6:20-23).

Today the personal and loving Gift is still offered, and received by faith.  “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  Wise men and women still seek and find that delightful Gift.