Monday, December 20, 2010

Love's Pure Light

Another favorite Christmas carol of mine is Silent Night.

This last Sunday morning, as our church celebrated Christmas by worshipping to many of our famous carols, we sang the third verse to Silent Night.

"Silent night, holy night.
Son of God, love's pure light."

I had never noticed the apostrophe in the word "love's" before.  I had always thought that it was the conjugated verb, to love.  I had thought it meant that the Son of God was in love with pure light.

But this missed the point of the line and what makes the whole verse a theological gem.

You see, love is meant as a noun.  And the noun is a metaphor for God Himself.  "God is love," John tells us in his first epistle.

The Son of God is "Love's pure light."  As it says in Hebrews 1: 3, "The Son is the radiance of God's glory, the exact representation of his being..."

Read it with the rest of the verse:
"Son of God, love's pure light.
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth."

Jesus, at his birth, is like the dawning of the rising sun.  God radiates his presence through the Son.

"...the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace" (Luke 1: 78b-79).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is one of my favorite Christmas Carols.  But do we really understand what this first line means?

This 500-year-old song first became popular outside of the church.  It was not written in Latin, but the common language of England.  And the tune was so upbeat that people could dance to it.  No wonder that the reform-minded author, Charles Dickens, mentions it in his wildly popular novel (and one of my favorites as well), A Christmas Carol.  Although he changes the word "rest" to "bless."

Because of its outsider, populist status, it wasn't even published until 19th century Victorian England.

According to Ace Collins in Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas (Zondervan, 2001), the word "rest" means "make or keep" and "merry" means "great or mighty." By adding a comma after "merry", the meaning becomes: "God make you mighty, gentlemen."

But I believe this still requires a little further cultural translation so that we can get to the heart of the sentence:

 "God greatly bless and encourage you, gentlemen."

In other words, the story of Christmas, the story of the birth of the Son of God, is an encouraging and uplifting story for all men.  "Be encouraged, gentlemen, for Christ was born on Christmas day, destroying the power of Satan and bringing hope for all mankind."

We have a message of great hope and joy for the world.  What better time to share that message with the world than at Christmas?

"Oh tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy!
Oh tidings of comfort and joy!"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Waiting for the Sunrise

In the final prophetic book of the Old Testament, Malachi promises a Day of the Lord where God's light will rise to vindicate the faithful.  The metaphor of a sunrise is powerful:

"But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall" (Mal. 4: 2).

"Advent" is the season of four weeks preceding the celebration of Christmas, the birth of the Messiah. It is the season during which we await his arrival.  With his birth, came the rising of the sun of righteousness.  The arrival of the Son of God is like the rising of the morally pure sun in a world dominated by the morally corrupt darkness.

During this season, we can get preoccupied with preparing for the material events--special gatherings and meals, decorations, and gift-giving.  These are all actually rather morally-neutral activities. Whether or not they are "good" things depends on our hearts as we do them.

Perhaps we need to make sure we also get engaged in the spiritual event that we are celebrating--the advent of the Son of God--while we are still doing the material events.  All it takes is a slight "tweak" to what we may already be planning.  While we're doing our decorating, let's allow our souls to be delighted with the beauty of it all.  When we sit down to a meal together, give people a chance to share a word of appreciation to everyone else.  When we exchange gifts, let's begin with a prayer of thanks for God's Gift to us.

"For God so loved the world that he gave...Jesus!"

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Putting the Giving in Thanksgiving

In 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9, Paul spends significant time laying the theological and ethical foundations for giving to the poor.  You see, the church in Judea was suffering from extreme poverty.

Paul decided to spearhead a huge fundraising campaign throughout the churches he had planted.  And he called the Corinthians to excel in "this grace of giving" (2 Cor. 8: 7).

Grace is a very broad term that denotes the favor that is bestowed by God on us, regardless of our merit.  And, having become recipients of God's grace, we are called to become conduits through whom God's grace is administered to others.  We become "stewards" of God's grace, faithfully administering it to others (1 Pet. 4: 10).

Having received God's grace by way of His abundant provision, we are now responsible to become stewards of that grace through us to others.  Another name for this charisma is "generosity."

Of course, the greatest example of the administration of generosity is God Himself, giving His One and Only Begotten Son.  He did it, not based on our merit, but based on our need.

Paul tells us that our generosity becomes a source of thanksgiving and praise that builds and multiplies.  "This service that you perform not only supplies the needs of God's people, but overflows in many expressions of thanks to God" (2 Cor. 9: 12, slight paraphrase).

This last weekend, our little church poured out their resources in a Spirit of generosity to supply the needs of our brothers and sisters in downtown Los Angeles.  I know I felt a kind of joy and thanksgiving as we gave of ourselves.  And the believers in Los Angeles expressed thanksgiving as well when we delivered our gift.

We can multiply thanksgiving by becoming generous in the same way as our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Cor. 9: 15).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I had an opportunity to go to an advance screening of the upcoming movie: The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  I have to say that it exceeded my expectations and may be the best movie rendering of Narnia so far.

One of the characters says roughly, "Before you can conquer the darkness out there, you must overcome the darkness inside."  The movie is about facing our inner darkness.  When we do, the monsters on the outside can be conquered.

I was totally impressed with Will Poulter who plays Eustace, the young, snarky cousin of Edmund and Lucy.  His transformation through personal pain is at the heart of the movie.  Reflecting on the experience of being transformed and healed by Aslan near the end, he says that it was painful but good.  Like pulling out a thorn.  It hurts but feels better afterwards.

Also, for young children, the sea serpent is really scary.  Parents, you should judge your own kids' ability to handle a big monster.

When Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund that this is indeed their last visit to Narnia, he also says that he exists in their world by another name.  The purpose of their visits to Narnia was so that they would get to know him there.  And what a great truth.  We make a big mistake when we stifle children's imagination, thinking that it will lead them into error.  C. S. Lewis' imaginative fairy tales help us to understand the wonders of God and eternity.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Simple Instructions

I think the most complex set of instructions I've ever had to struggle with were for my patio barbeque.  And it didn't help matters that the English was probably translated by a non-native speaker at a factory somewhere in Asia.

It made me think, "What are the simplest instructions in my house?"  The truth is, I deal with them every day.  They are on my shampoo bottle:
1.  Lather
2.  Rinse
3.  Repeat

In Matthew 22, a teacher of the law asked Jesus what the greatest single law from the Torah was.  Jesus answered, "Love God."  And secondarily, "Love your neighbor."  Jesus wraps up his discussion by saying, "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matt. 22: 40).  Or to paraphrase it, "This sums up the Torah."

So, you could say that the entire ethical imperative of Torah may be as simple as that bottle of shampoo.
1.  Love God
2.  Love People
3.  Repeat

What would our world look like if the Church were involved in fulfilling those two simple commands, and then kept doing it over and over again?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Timing Is Everything

The Greeks had two key words for "time"--chronos and kairos.

Chronos denotes the passage of time.  That's why a watch is called a "chronometer."  It measures the inevitable flow of time, like a massive river.  55 years of my finite amount of chronos has slipped by.  How much do I have left?

Kairos denotes a moment in time.  An appointment with the doctor is written in my calendar at a specific time. My airplane ticket has a time-of-departure (kairos) written on it.  A groom asks his best man to "get him to the church on kairos." 

Kairos can be seen positively as "the opportune moment."  But negatively as "the moment of crisis."  Opportunity and crisis.  If I miss the appointed time, it is gone forever.

So what's the point?  How much of my chronos is wasted because I am not recognizing the kairoi that are presenting themselves to me?

Our modern lives are full of time-wasters. And those time-wasters are becoming more and more high-tech. TV, the Internet, texting, video gaming, etc., etc. Involvement in so many things tends to numb my spiritual senses to God's promptings.  Those kairoi keep slipping by as the chronometer keeps ticking.

Are you making the most of your chronos?  Are you paying attention to God so that you don't miss those kairos moments?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Love This Election

We're in the final week of a very hotly contested election season. And people from all parts of the political spectrum have contributed to the generally acrid environment. I find myself feeling pretty upset at times.

In the midst of such malevolence, is it possible for Christians to live out the clear command of Christ in John 13: 34, "Love one another"?  And the even more difficult command in Matt. 5:44, "Love your enemies"?

If you are an apprentice of Jesus, hopefully it has dawned on you by now that the Christian life is IMPOSSIBLE to live.  That is, it is impossible if you are merely living it in the power of the flesh. The "flesh" is Paul's way of talking about the life whose volition is still centered in the sensual self.

"With God, all things are possible."

In 1st Corinthians, Paul contrasts the "fleshly" person with the "spiritual" person. The Holy Spirit is given so that we can live out of a new volitional center--our spirit, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Our sensual, ego-centered self does not disappear, but becomes submissive to our new God-center.

Christ is the hope of the world. But he is making his appeal through us, his apprentices in kingdom living.  If we truly want to be the salt and light that we have been called to be, we will cry out to him to supply the power to truly love others, yes even political foes. Christ died for all.  Can we love those whom He loves, regardless of politics?  The answer lies in the transformation of our hearts, through the power of the indwelling Spirit, so that we operate under the rulership of God--true Kingdom living.

What would this election season look like if the church became The Church and Christians began loving one another--even their political opponents--like Christ loves us all?  Just a thought.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hello World!

When Tiger Woods went pro in 1996, he held a news conference where he announced the beginning of his professional career.  "Hello world!"

I don't know if I can actually compare myself to an internationally recognized sports icon who is probably worth more than the GNP of Venezuela, but my first blog feels like a "coming out" party--a kind of rite of passage--for an old-timer like me.  My idea of "social networking" has been collecting more business cards than anyone else at a weekend leadership seminar.

I have to admit that I feel, not only a sense of excitement, but a lot of fear as well.  I will need a lot of help to keep going forward.  Cause it's probably true that you can't teach an old dog new tricks.  But I'd like to prove them wrong.

So, "hello world."