Thursday, December 21
And hope rises
From the deepest place
The God who can explode the sky
With a word
Chasing jagged light with potent rumble
That God can collapse soul walls
Shatters cold, hard defenses
Hear the shout of thunder
And hope rises
From the deepest place within
Turned toward us
With the violence of His thunder
With the sweetness of His whisper
He is near
Hope is coming
He is able
Hope is rising
Wednesday, December 20
This morning's news brought further details regarding the accident: a group of teenagers (over a dozen of them) has been stealing Honda Civics in Calgary. They drive the cars, hard, and sometimes crash them, which caused city police to pursue the case aggressively in hopes of catching the culprits before someone was injured. Yesterday's accident dashed that hope.
The fact that boys are stealing cars, driving wildly, and crashing into things isn't surprising. Who wouldn't want a consequence-free crash-up derby? What catches my attention in this story is that the group of kids is so large.
A television documentary on marketing recently showed that the same thing that attracts people to certain products and brands (and causes them to remain devoted to those products and name brands) motivates individuals to join cults. The conclusion of researchers was that people will find a group to belong to, one way or another.
A void, claimed the researchers, that was traditionally filled by the church and social clubs is now being filled by cults (which include cult-like following of sports -- like WWF -- and movie stars, etc.) and product loyalty. Marketers are deliberate in unearthing the "code" that underlies our purchasing choices, and they are specifically shaping messages that will speak to us at the deepest level of our emotional and relational need.
It is fascinating to think that our nature is so hard-wired to pursue community; it is challenging to consider that the Christian church could provide the one thing that people are so intent on acquiring ~ so intent, in fact, that they'll purchase a certain make/model of vehicle, and then travel across the United States to socialize with other owners of the same car.
I find myself questioning my responsibility in this interesting cultural dilemma. What is my responsibility, as a God-lover, to those twelve young car thieves ~~ a group of young people who found their own place to belong? What is the role of the church? In the face of multi-billion dollar add campaigns, what product do we have to offer that is not already being offered on every billboard and shoe sole in the nation? And why is the community that they promise (and why is law breaking and danger) so much more appealing than the offer of Life, healing, eternal hope?
We, as Believers in Christ, are to be known by our love. Our love for each other. Our love for our Lord. If anyone is supposed to have this belonging/community thing down, it's us! If we love, will we become competitive in the market for community in this culture? If we set aside the programming and pasty-face Jesus and catch phrases and self-promotion, will we be more able to connect with men and women who are actively seeking connection? I don't know.
I do know that I'm not doing my part. But I want to do my part. I want to do my part in building/promoting a community where people are challenged, thrilled, healed, motivated, rescued. That is the role of the church in this.
My hope, my prayer, for the young men who were injured yesterday is that more than their bodies will heal; I pray that their thinking will shift and that they will start looking for answers bigger than themselves, bigger than their group, higher than the thrill of the chase. And I pray that we as Christians will be willing and prepared to offer community to just such men. May I be willing and ready to offer them a place to belong.
Tuesday, December 19
God walked down the stairs of heaven with a Baby in His arms.
It has been many, many Scrooge-like years since I subscribed to the idea that "Jesus is the reason for the season." He is not. He never asked to be. The God of the world is not particularly interested in a birthday party and, I think, He may occassionally blush with embarassment at the excess and pomp that His church spends on attempting to turn a glaringly commercial event into an acknowledgement of His great gift to the world.
He is, on the other hand, interested in reconciling with His created ones. He is interested in connecting with individuals who, caught up in the stresses and busyness of the remaining eleven months of the year, cannot see or hear Him. And so all of that pomp and excess (One worship leader that I talked to this weekend was recently given a budget of $15, 000.00 to put a church program together!) is not without purpose, without value.
As a friend and I worked this issue over in the early stages of this Christmas season, I was reminded of the kindness of a God who willingly meets with people who reach out to Him ~~ whenever they reach out to Him. For some, this is the only season in which they can connect emotionally with the Maker. He is a distant and silent God to so many. To so many. Through the familiarity and tenderness of this time, they can feel God. Some are privy to the everyday speaking and correcting and whispering of God, but some people never sense Him. And through all of the tradition of this time, they have a feeling that they can attribute to Him being near.
That softening, that outward reaching toward a loving Savior, shows itself in generosity toward each other and care for those less fortunate ~~ the reinacting of the central nature of the God who is Love, even by those who do not claim to know Him well.
So, while the Ebeneezer in me cannot accept that this season was set by God or for God, I gratefully celebrate that God is with us and that He quickly reaches toward those who, in this small window of time, are reaching toward Him.
Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love. ~ Hamilton Mabie
Sunday, December 10
Making my way down a residential street, I rounded the corner on one of our lilac-bordered main roads. A drama across the street caught my attention. A mother and her child were out for their evening stroll, the little boy trailing far behind his mom. The setting sun bathed their relaxed, coffee-brown faces in its end-of-the-day warmth, and they chattered to each other amiably as they made their way along the sidewalk.
At first glance, it was just a lovely evening picture. And then I looked at the child's feet and learned the reason for his slow progress: he was wearing a pair of men's shoes. Shoes that were many times too large for him. Big, black, cumbersome tennis shoes on tiny, little boy feet!
He clumped happily along, following his mother's urgings to, "Keep moving!", all the while working hard to keep his feet in those gigantic leather sneakers. He was a determined little guy and he continued along for a full city block before his mom changed direction and started leading them back the way they'd come.
As they moved their way back along the street, parallel to a long, weather worn fence bordering several back yards, a dog in one of the yards spotted them and began barking furiously. In its' attempts to protect territory, the dog lunged at the fence, growling and making an enormous racket.
The child froze mid-step, a man sized tennis shoe dangling from his wee foot, and screamed in fear. The shoes that had, to that point, made him feel grownup and man-like, had become like cement blocks on his little legs. They had him trapped and unable to run from the thing that was frightening him, to the the safety of his mother.
Mom, of course, scooting back to rescue her boy, scooped him -- shoes and all -- into her arms and carried him beyond the offending yard to quiet safety.
The image of the two of them brings different thoughts to mind (thoughts of a fun mum who allows her son the freedom to go for a hike in big shoes!), and it also poses some questions: whose shoes are we wearing? Are they shoes made for us, with a fit just right? Or are we stumbling along in shoes that are too big for us to fill (while we attempt/pretend to be someone we're not)? Maybe our shoes are too small, causing painful blisters and pinched toes (while, again, we attempt to hide what we really are).
Like that energetic and very patient mum, God will allow us to march about in all sorts of roles; He'll let us pursue ministries and programs and service of all sizes and shapes. But I wonder if His expectation, His hope, is that we'll just wear shoes that actually fit. That we'll take on the things He's designed us to take on.
God doesn't expect us to be anything other than what we are and what we are becoming: imperfect lovers of God becoming like Him. In time. That beautiful nut-brown boy did not become a man by putting on a man's shoes. In fact, when crisis came, the charade was quickly ended and rescue was necessary.
We do not become something grand or significant or worthwhile by adopting roles that we are not created to fill. And we do not honor God when we take on things too small, for fear of the larger calling.
So, it's time to go shoe shopping! We can strap on something that fits just right. It may take a bit of trial and error to find the perfect match, and time again to break the pair in, but the end result will be worth the effort: a niche in which to serve God and others with lightness and ease; a readiness to respond to His direction without being weighed-down or held back. Let the hunt begin!
Friday, December 1
I recently stumbled across the definition of the word "propitiation" (to dispense with the wrath of another person) and was startled to learn (how did I not know this?) that Christ's death on the cross, a necessary sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, was to appease the wrath of God (1 Jn. 4:10: ...and this is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as propitiation for our sins).
I'm chewing on this idea as I wonder at God's patience. And I wonder at His anger. And I wonder about the anger in my own life.
My sons receive the brunt ~~ the whole, really ~~ of my frustration. As the morning wears on here, I can list three instances of sharp tone and impatience in my response to my kids. Complaints provoke me. Dawdling ensures sharp reprimand. Squabbling sends me over the edge.
And I think about the patience of God.
The New Testament refers to Jesus as, among other things, an intercessor. Christ is going before the Father on our behalf requesting...what? Mercy? "Okay, Dad? I know they're driving you mad, but remember that I payed for their lives with my own. Stay your anger a while longer..."
I complain to the Lord a lot. Daily, probably. I dawdle in obeying even the most simple of commands. And I am quick to retain offense (I'm not great at squabbling...but I do a smashing job of holding a grudge!).
If the small slights of my children send me reeling (At one point this morning, I dropped my face into my hands and moaned, "No, no, no, no" ~~ my plaintive response to their insistence on getting the Christmas calendar's of their own choosing. Gifts, for goodness' sake! I was giving them "Happy December 1st!" gifts and they launched into a verbal tussle about who would get which chocolate-filled treasure!)...If the small slights of my children have me caving, I wonder how God manages to keep His cool?
Does He drop His head in His hands? Does He raise His voice? Does He threaten to remove priveleges and dock allowance? And how much, exactly, are we being spared by the presence of Jesus at His right hand, a constant reminder that our mess has already been atoned for?
I don't know. But as I consider these things, day to day, I'm growing in the fear of the Lord. Our God is not one to be trifled with. Infinitely tender and full of mercy, He is also wrathful and violently opposed to sin. I teach my sons that His hatred of sin comes from His desire to protect His children. God's anger is paternal.
Which makes it both fearsome and comforting at once.
I want to learn His way in this. How does the God of Heaven and Earth manage anger? And when He admonishes us not sin in our own anger, what does He mean by that? And who on earth is going to be the go-between betwixt us and the people at whom our anger is directed?
Many questions. Few answers. And a boat load of hope that if God has asked it of us and of Himself, then there is a Way. A way to live the patience of God.