Maybe you’ve seen the various articles going around about the 100th anniversary of WWI?  I’ve looked at various photos of the beautiful, yet abandoned, battlefields, but the most interesting thing I’ve seen is this quote about the religious impact of WWI.  It is from an interview with Philip Jenkins on his new book, “The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade”…

SO HOW DID THE PEACE AFTER WWI IMPACT CHRISTIANS WORLD-WIDE?

Between about 1915 and 1930, we are dealing with perhaps the greatest age of martyrdom and mass killing of Christians in history. That includes perhaps 1.5 million Armenians murdered, not to mention mass slaughter by the Bolsheviks in Russia.

That all had two key consequences. One was the creation of Middle East that was more clearly Islamic, with far smaller Christian minorities.

It also ended the long-familiar tripartite division of Christianity into the worlds of Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. Although Orthodox believers and thinkers obviously survived, their influence and impact collapsed with the loss of Russia. For the first time, people began to think of Christianity as bipolar—Protestant and Catholic.

*This quote is from this article on the TCG website:

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/peace-could-not-hold/

How Do You Love Your Neighbor? Die for Them?

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” –Luke 10:27

These are the words of Jesus, but what do they mean for us in our daily lives?  There is no doubt what they meant to Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame.  Beltrame was killed on March 23 in the terrorist attack on a supermarket near Carcassonne.  I don’t know all the details, but he died after having been exchanged for a hostage.  What is deeply moving to me is that this was not only an act of heroism.  It was one of faith.  The chaplain of the gendarmerie was asked about Beltrame.  This is what he said…

It turns out that the lieutenant-colonel was a practicing Catholic.  The fact is that he did not hide his faith, and that he radiated it, he testified.  We can say that his act of offering is consistent with what he believed.  He went to the end of his service to the country and to the end of his testimony of faith.  To believe is not only to adhere to a doctrine.  It is first to love God and his neighbor, and to testify of his faith concretely in everyday life.  In the happy or unhappy, even dramatic circumstances of our lives.  -Father Dominique Arz, national chaplain*

May we take the words of Jesus to heart and love our neighbors like Arnaud Beltrame.

____________________________________

*Quote and content translated by Google from https://www.famillechretienne.fr/politique-societe/societe/arnaud-beltrame-est-alle-jusqu-au-bout-de-son-temoignage-de-foi-234374

Prayer by Dana Gioia

I discovered this poem and it touched me deeply.  I don’t know the situation or the circumstances that birthed these words, but I resonate with them.  The joining of grief, art, faith, lament, hope…

Echo of the clocktower, footstep
in the alleyway, sweep
of the wind sifting the leaves.

Jeweller of the spiderweb, connoisseur
of autumn’s opulence, blade of lightning
harvesting the sky.

Keeper of the small gate, choreographer
of entrances and exits, midnight
whisper travelling the wires.

Seducer, healer, deity or thief,
I will see you soon enough—
in the shadow of the rainfall,

in the brief violet darkening a sunset—
but until then I pray watch over him
as a mountain guards its covert ore

and the harsh falcon its flightless young.

New Song: Gadol Adonai (Great is the Lord)

Last year, our family traveled to Mexico.  While there, we worshipped with a Spanish speaking congregation.  It was hard to follow along, I won’t deny it.  But there were moments when I understood what we were doing together.  For example, when the band transitioned from an upbeat praise song that I didn’t know into “Cuan Grande Es Dios” (or “How Great is our God”), I raised my hands and sang.  It was a taste of what heaven will be like when every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord and his people will shout praises.  This weekend, I’m hoping to have a similar experience as we sing both in English and Hebrew.  Yes, Hebrew!  AND You already know the song!  It’s the same song we sang last summer.  And I know, I know, it will be stretch for us, but we will take time to learn it together.  And when we get it, it will be powerful to hear God’s praises in another language.  We will sing the intro and chorus in Hebrew and the rest in English.  Here goes…

Intro: Gadol Adonai umehulal me’od, B’ir Eloheinu, B’har kodsho X2

I know, it’s going to be a challenge at first, but hang with it!  This comes straight from Psalm 48:1 which says,

“GREAT IS THE LORD, AND MOST WORTHY OF PRAISE, IN THE CITY OF OUR GOD, HIS HOLY MOUNTAIN.”

So not only are we singing in Hebrew, we are singing God’s word in the original language!  But I still don’t want to push it, so back to English…

Verse 1: I’ll come before Your throne, The God of my joy

I’ll give the fruit of my lips

And remember the great things You did, for me

Remember.  That word shows up in the scriptures 231 times.  Why, do you think?  I’m pretty sure it’s because God knows us so well, he knows that we forget.  I also love that this verse refers to Psalm 34 where we see that God’s light and care guide us into his presence and that is where we praise and remember.  Check it out…

Send me your light and your faithful care,
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
    to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God, my joy and my delight.
 -Psalm 34:3-4a

Moving on…

Verse 2: Behold the temple of God, is now with man

As His people all nations will rise

He will wipe every tear from their eyes

Death, pain and mourning will cease forevermore!

We are going to see this as we dig deeper into studying the temple, but now we are the temple of God.  This is clear in two different places…
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple,” writes Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”  And he also writes, “In him (that’s Jesus) the whole building (that’s us!) is joined together and rises to become a holytemple in the Lord” (Eph 2:21).
Back to Hebrew…

Chorus: Hallelujah ki malach Adonai Eloheinu, Hallelujah ki malach Elohei Tzvaot

This comes almost directly from the last book of the bible where John sees a vision of heaven.  He writes,

“Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude…“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns”. -Revelation 19:6

Just like my taste of heaven in Mexico, at the end of time all people in every tongue will praise God.  But the song also gives us a chance to slow down and meditate.  We aren’t in glory yet.  So until we get there we need to remember and rejoice.  As it says in the psalms,

Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord
    and delight in his salvation.
My whole being will exclaim,
    “Who is like you, Lord? -Psalm 35:9-10

Bridge: Rejoice, oh rejoice my soul, And give honor to him X2

The primary work of the church is worship. . . . Evangelism and other functions of ministry flow from the worship of the church. . . . I have discovered in my own life that corporate worship is the taproot of my life. It is the source of my spiritual life and growth.

-Robert Webber, Worship Is a Verb: Celebrating God’s Mighty Deeds of Salvation, Second Edition

Hillbilly Nativity

What was it like for Mary and Joseph?

As we get closer to Christmas, I’ve been wondering what it would be like now…

trailer

The first thing they noticed was the broken window.  The inn had been full so the broken down mobile trailer out back and down the dirt road was the only place available.

The second thing they noticed was the strong smell of cat pee.

“Oh LORD, please help us,” Joseph whispered as they stepped on the rubber mats covering the floor since the carpet had been torn out.  

The dirty, bearded man in the kitchen of the inn had said this place was available and that he’d turn on the heat.  Apparently that meant turning on the stove top burner simultaneously heating the living/dining room and filling it with the smell of natural gas.  Joseph moved quickly to the stove turning off the gas before they exploded in a huge fireball and then returned to the living room to help Mary sink down into the old Lazy-boy chair.

“This chair is so broken, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get out of it,” Mary sighed as she rubbed her bulging belly.

“I’m sorry.  It’s just a night or two,” said Joseph, “and then we’ll be able to go home to Nazareth before the baby is born.” 

“I hope so,” replied Mary, “that would be…AHHH!”

“What?  What’s wrong?  What’s wrong?” asked Joseph.

“AHHHH!” said Mary.  “I think that’s what they call a really, hard contraction.”

“Well those can happen a week or two before a baby is born, right?” Joseph asked, while knowing that this wasn’t one of those times.

“Maybe sometimes that happens,” gasped Mary, “but my water just broke so I don’t think this is one of those times.  AHHH!”

It was at that moment that both Mary and Joseph had the same thought simultaneously.  They both wished they were home instead of this leaky, smelly trailer.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

We know that Mary and Joseph were in a cave, probably by themselves.  There are some other things that we can assume from the text, but the one thing that we know is that it wasn’t an ideal situation.  But here’s the thing, they were in the middle of God’s perfect plan.

Our family is in a similar situation in that we are waiting for a baby in what many people would call a less than ideal situation, but we believe we are are also in the middle of God’s plan.  This Christmas, wherever you find yourself, may you find your ache for peace, hope, joy and love in Jesus.  He is the one born to first time parents in a place no woman would want to give birth.

It was a mess and yet…and yet he came anyway.  He came to be with us in the middle of our own mess.

Your mess.  My mess.

That’s an amazing gift.

Merry Christmas.

_______________________

BTW, that is not my image.  It’s from The CarpetBagger Blog.  Thanks!

Since the reformation, Christians in my tradition of Protestantism have struggled to find a balance between faith and art.  One writer has compared the relationships to an “on again-off again dating relationship”.  Christians “make out” with art, get disgusted and walk away.  And in all fairness, art has a tendency to push boundaries farther than people of faith would like.  But art at it’s best helps us experience beauty, paradox, mystery and transcendence.  These are all attributes of God.  These are all aspects of his being that we struggle to understand and experience.

Art also speaks a visual language that can speak to people who aren’t ready to hear the truth of the gospel.  I have a friend who is a believer artist and calls his art “a bridge to people”.  He has numerous examples of people asking questions about his art pieces that enables him to enter into dialogue about Jesus.

All that to say, I was struck by this article from a lapsed Christian museum curator…

It is probably not for me to comment on the possible reasons for the decline in church-going, except that I am myself a symptom of it, having been brought up to take it for granted that I would attend church and now being an almost entirely lapsed Christian. 

What should be obvious is that, as a culture, we have not lost a need for an understanding of, and interest in, the unknowable: the origins of man; our purpose in the world; the ethical requirements of our behaviour towards one another; the belief that there is more to life than the satisfaction of material wants; the importance of understanding other people’s culture as well as our own. These human needs used to be satisfied to some extent at least by church attendance. But no longer. We no longer, or at least the great majority of us, no longer look to the church for the understanding and satisfaction of these needs. But these needs for the immaterial, for the experience of transcendence, for the mysteries of life as well as its material wants, have not just gone away. They have to be satisfied in some way. That is why contemporary art has moved into the space of the unknown, the exploration of the ineffable, through the experience of transcendence. Contemporary art is not just secular, but sacred as well.

-CHARLES SAUMAREZ SMITH, “The Sacred And The Secular In Contemporary Art“, http://standpointmag.co.uk/ , Nov 28, 16.

 

Worship has become narcissistic, focusing on me and my praise of God; and spirituality has turned toward a preoccupation with my journey of faith and my spiritual condition and experience. . . When we become narcissistic, the place of worship and spirituality in God’s narrative is lost. . .

-Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals

…The church as a living witness to God’s narrative became the place where the consumer could buy a product that fulfilled his or her needs.  Of course, the church does fulfill needs, but they must be placed within the cosmic narrative, thereby reducing the individual’s focus on self and turning his or her contemplation to God’s saving deeds, whereby the whole world is made right.

-Robert E. Webber, Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals