Archive for December, 2007

Christmas Message

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

It is Christmas time again and like an old, drafty but proud house this ancient institution tries its best to keep the metaphysical out of this august holiday. No Christmas music, no Christmas decorations. Nothing that remotely resembles the real reason for the season. Oh a jolly St. Nick or an effeminate reindeer is allowed. Of course. But no Baby Jesus. Of course.

But it can’t be stopped. Like a cold front transversing the land, the wind blows slowly, ever so slowly, but consistently against this old house, this public school. More and more wind comes through the old windows, created to keep out more overt but less ubiquitous intruders—like rain and snow. But the wind, the spirit, continues to blow. Until it is at gale force and nothing can stop it. Nothing. A smile on a child’s face as he hears a good word. A faint echo of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” waffles through the hall. A subversive Christian slips and says, “Merry Christmas!”

What is to be done? The doors are taped, the windows caulked, but it is to no avail. The spirit still comes. Christmas comes. Nothing can stop it. Until one day we all pause and smile and remember, even in this old house, even in this old godless place, called public education, we cannot help ourselves—we greet each other with “Merry Christmas!” Tentatively at first, and then with gusto. It is as if the Christ child is born anew into our hearts. Or rather the child in us is reborn. That Christmas memory, candlelight church service, the memory of Luke 2 competes with and then replaces the dark hopelessness of our age. And it wins. It always wins.

Like Deborah in Judges 5 we sign our songs of joy and of hope in a hopeless land. We dance, and praise the Lord together. And we experience life anew.

There are days when I wonder what happened to me—the presumptuous saint who saw himself influencing milllions, making millions, changing worlds and making new ones. In Jesus name. But here I am, a lowly English teacher in a public school this Christmas season. I am exiled from home and family, living in a little garage apartment. But as I examine the spectacle unfolding around me, I give God thanks. I thank him for the wind. Oh, no, it is more than a wind. It is storm!

I thank my Father for the storm that Jesus Christ our Lord brings, even to this secular place. I thank Him for Angelique, and Debbie, and Vincent. I thank him for Mary and Stephen. The Christian thinker Henri Nouwen, at the end of this life, observed that God’s touch makes all things “beloved.” He has touched the unsaved and the saved alike in this old institution. Yes He has touched my heart again. And in the backwaters of life I hold my candle high and I thank God for this time, this place, these people. And I call them, and I call myself, beloved. Merry Christmas!

Second Coming of Jesus Christ Part III

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

We all want to shout, like that waitress, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus! My world is too crazy and I am hurting too much!” But, the message of the Second Coming and the First Coming (Christmas), for that matter, is that no matter what happens on earth, it is all going to end in victory for Christ and those who belong to him. Period. The hope of the Second Coming is that, beyond all our doubts, he is afterall Lord of all, the king of kings.

The doctrine of the Second Coming reminds us always to look to the future, but not to forget the past. We are a pilgrim people on the move. Our faces are forever set toward the future. As we resolutely and confidently move forward, we should keep glancing back over our shoulders to see where we have come. We keep remembering and hoping, but it is hope that gives us light for the journey into the unknown.

We still look for the coming of Christ. It has the long look. It reminds us that our lives are intertwined with the misery we see around us, but that we are forever faced to the future. Someday, we will face our returning Lord. He will consummate history, offer some explanation, justification, for all this heartbreak we experience and see around us. The Second Coming promises a clarity that we do not now experience.
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Second Coming of Jesus Christ Part II

Monday, December 17th, 2007

And, likewise, the Second Coming has created problems throughout the centuries. Around 200 AD a Syrian bishop announced that Christ was about to begin His reign. So, the bishop led all of his people out into the desert to meet Christ at His return. They nearly died in the desert. John Wycliffe,t he great Bible translator, waited for Christ to return in his lifetime. In the 1800′s a group of believers sold everything, climbed up on houses, and waited for the Lord. Finally, they sheepishly came down (after many weeks).

Setting dates for the return of Christ has been especially embarrassing. The Adventist leaders in the last century calculated 1843. When that proved to be wrong, they tried 1844. The Jehovah Witnesses thought it would be 1914. Indeed, hardly a year goes by that some one, often in California “the land of fruit and nuts”, does not predict the Second Coming. Hal Lindsay, author of The Late Great Planet Earth, is sure that the end will occur in 1988.
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Second Coming of Jesus Christ

Friday, December 14th, 2007

The New Testament is literally riddled with references to Christ’s coming again. The matter is mentioned in over three hundred places. Obviously it was a basic to early Christian doctrine.

It is neither basic to my denomination’s tradition. And, I must admit, a sermon by yours truly on the Second Coming (Parousia) rarely enters my repertoire. Why is it then that in the mainline churches one seldom hears the subject mentioned? Sects, the cults, conservative groups almost never stop mentioning it. They hammer on it night and day; they make films concerning it; they write books about it–many of which are best sellers. They preach about it incessantly. But the rest of us stay away from it. While so much of the Christian world argues about being premellinialism verses post-mellinialism we are standing around yawning. We treat the Second Coming as though it were only for the religious fanatics who knock on doors. What bothers us about the Second Coming of Christ?
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GOD IS DOING A NEW THING

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

December 26, 1993

I. INTRODUCTION

What do we do when things go well? When things are so wonderful that we cannot even describe our joy? I have had innumerable joyful days–the happiest being my wedding day. Another happy day was the day Karen and I heard that the state of New Jersey had a little boy for us to adopt: Timothy. What made it special was the unexpectedness: one day we had two children and the next day we had three! In fact, our children have been so wonderful, and such stinkers! How could we possibly imagine what life would be like!

Such was the case with Isaiah’s people–they were finally going home. After three generations of Babylonian and then Persian captivity, they were going home. “. . . I am doing a new thing!” (v. 19).
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GOD’S INESCAPABLE NEARNESS

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007

Philippians 4:4-8
“Rejoice in the Lord always!”–v. 4

Christmas Eve Service

I. HOW NEAR IS GOD?

I want to suggest something so obvious, but so radical, that it seems silly for me to say it: God is always with us: God is everywhere: God can do all things. And if I can convince you that this is true, I want to show you through the Christmas Story that this omniscient, omnipresent God loves us too.

We wonder, I fear, that it is true–that God is real. That He is here among us. I mean, we can believe in the stock market, in the Johnstown Chiefs (although that might be stretching it a bit!), in post-Christmas sales. But . . . can we believe that God is right here, right now, in our midst, right next to you . . . I hope, even, in our hearts . . . Can we believe this?
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A LITTLE PIECE OF THE HEAVEN AROUND US Parts II & III

Tuesday, December 11th, 2007

III. HOPE OVERCOMES

In some of the grandest poetry of the Bible, Isa. 60 pushes us to envision the most extreme, most incredible future that we can possibly imagine. Isa. Wants us to see God’s wonderful will for our lives. At the same time, Isaiah identifies the greatest obstacle to peace and wholeness: a deep, pervasive and
unarticulated despair. We simply cannot believe that lasting change is a real possibility. As the commentator Walter Brueggemann writes, “We know in the dark of the night of the unredeemed quality of our lives, driven for all our good intentions by fear and greed and anger . . . and we notice daily how those dark propensities are translated into deathly policies which contradict the wisdom of peacemaking.”

The good news is, however, that our haplessness can drive us back to God’s relentless resolve to redeem us yet. That is the message of Christmas: that God shall yet redeem even the darkest soul if we will only let Him come into our hearts.
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A LITTLE PIECE OF THE HEAVEN AROUND US

Monday, December 10th, 2007

“Arise . . . your light has come! — Isa. 60:1
December 19, 1993

I. NAMING

In my last church, in the Garfield section of Pittsburgh, lived a seven year old street kid. Living with her tired grandmother, and with no one, she oftentimes appeared at her grandmother’s house.

Giving her Roshanna a dollar, the harried matriarch implores, “Go away, honey, and play until dark. And stay away form the Penn Aiken Dairy!”
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GOD’S WISTFULNESS Parts III & IV

Friday, December 7th, 2007

III. THE WONDERFUL THOUGHTS OF GOD

As I have intimated, our periscope is an exclamation of disappointment, of thwarted love. The good which God purposed for his people has been missed. And it is all our fault! We will simply not follow His commandments! “Oh Jerusalem,” God cries. “How often would I have gathered you. . . If you would have known. . . ”

But we do not know. We cannot know. We do not see the bigger picture. In Tolstoy’s epic WAR AND PEACE, the protagonist–Pierre–loves a young woman named Natasha. . . but he take 1500 pages to tell her! And it takes Natasha the same 1500 pages to realize that she loves Pierre! But God told us that He loved us since Creation . . . but we forget.
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GOD’S WISTFULNESS Part II

Thursday, December 6th, 2007

II. READY TO GO HOME

Isa. 48 is addressed to a people ready to go home. To leave exile and return to responsible freedom.

But, to return to Jerusalem, after a generation in exile in Babylon, presupposes a new commitment to God’s commandments. God is aching in this passage. The God we meet here is like a yearning parent who, after punishing His children, wishes like everything that they have learned their lesson and He will not have to send them into captivity and bondage again. God is more ambitious, as it were, for His children than they are for themselves!
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